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The world was rotting, and he was the only one around to witness it. Buildings were crumbling slowly, rust eating away at metal and mold eating away at everything else. He picked his way through the library, thinking of how much he preferred rust to mold. Mold was all encompassing, preying on once living things. Mold covered the scattered skeletons of the people he came across as he walked aimlessly from town to town. Worst of all, mold ate away at the words printed in the books that humanity had left behind for him. Any poems or stories that the mold destroyed were lost to him forever, and in the case of this library, that was a huge amount of information. He seethed with anger as he searched through the library, flinging books that weren’t books any longer. He should have known better. Libraries and old book stores, they were too obvious. All the books had been taken or thrown carelessly to the floor in the world just before the end. They were left at the mercy of decay. Everything in this library was destroyed. He would do better in old houses, where books had not been the main concern of looters.
The books were his only surviving connection to human thoughts that weren’t his own. It must have been years, although how many he couldn’t say, since he had seen a living person. He walked out of the decrepit building into the late afternoon sunlight, making a mental note to check the surrounding houses for stray volumes.
The last remnants of human presence were being reclaimed by nature, trees growing up through the pavement. He wove his way through them, passing broken store fronts and gas pumps that hadn’t worked in decades. Ducking into convenience stores here and there, he searched for cans of food, adding each find to his pack.
For so long, this had been his life. He grew up alone, eating, sleeping, and wandering. He couldn’t remember anything else, except faded memories of his father, when he was still alive. His father was the only living human he had ever known. Not that he minded. His books had given him a complete enough picture of what humanity had been, and his father hadn’t been much of a shining example. From what he could tell, people had spent most of their time hurting and hating each other in one way or another. It made him happy to be alone.He was already in enough constant physical pain without adding messy human connections. His insides ached and stabbed at him constantly, growing in severity every day.
He kicked some fragments of concrete as he walked around a traffic circle, skirting the thorn bushes that had sprung up in the center. In the distance, he could see the remnants of a large brick building. The Y on the side was damaged, but marked the place as an old community center that he could use for shelter. He started toward it, intending to cut through the patch of thicker forest standing in his way. Ducking through a rusted old fence, he took only a few steps before spotting the first standing slab of stone. Only the faintest grooves still existed on the face of the headstone, and he had no hope of reading the name that had once been written there. The forest in front of him was littered with the graves of people whose names were lost. He sighed, shaking his head. This explained the thicker patch of trees between him and his shelter for the night. Cemeteries had been abandoned before anything else in the world before the end. It wasn’t so much that he minded traveling through them when it was necessary, but he could never help but feel the weight of the lives that he walked over every time he entered a cemetery. It was as if they had destroyed the world, and were rewarded with peaceful sleep. They mocked him with their headstones.
He stood abruptly, realizing that he had knelt down with a hand outstretched to touch the grooves in the nearest stone. Shaking his head again to clear it, he continued on. Many of the headstones were still upright, despite the trees growing up between them. The silence pressed in on him from all sides as he moved slowly through.
He lifted his chin curiously, tasting a freshness in the air that he had never encountered before. It stirred around him, breezing through the trees and bringing with it the faintest trace of a sound he had not heard in years…a human voice? He froze, panic and confusion stilling his progress. Listening intently, he dared not move a muscle. Maybe he had imagined it? There was no one here, there couldn’t be. He had always been alone. The sound came to him again, louder this time, and he realized he had a name for what he was hearing. It was music. As he listened to the rich melody, the terror spiking through his chest gave way to longing. It was a wordless song, and he suddenly found himself rushing toward it, his heart swelling involuntarily. He ran through the trees, trying not to topple any headstones in his path. Reaching the source of the sound, he stopped just out of sight to peer around a tree into a small clearing. Before him, four statues stood side by side. The grass around them was tall and unkempt, but no trees had grown in the small clearing to shift the stone out of place. The dappled sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees growing overhead made the clearing look as if it were glowing gold and green.
There in the middle of it all, was a girl. She was dancing, or at least he thought that was what she was doing. He had only read about dancing, never having the opportunity to see it with his own eyes. She twirled gracefully, breathing deeply as she sang. He skin was far darker than his, a beautiful ebony that stood out against the white dress she wore. Her hair was kept in what seemed like hundreds of small braids that floated around her as she spun, her face lifted toward the sunlight. The smile on her face as she looked toward the sky made him smile in spite of himself, and he took a few steps forward without thinking.
The girl must have heard his approach, because she spun toward him, her grin widening as she looked at him. “I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice was like music even when she wasn’t singing. “It’s been so long since I’ve had skin to feel with and lungs to breath with. It’s easy to get carried away.” She was looking at him expectantly, still swaying slightly, and he realized she was expecting him to speak to her.
To be continued!