He should have died three days ago with the others. That’s when the last of them died…pale corpses letting go of their souls one by one as their bodies bled the earth red underneath. But here he lies, hurt, torn apart, covered in the maroon of his own dried blood yet inside of this mess there remains a heartbeat and two deep, brown eyes that stay glistening and alert unable to see past the bodies and carnage and vultures.
They just left them there to die as enemies are want to do…not just enemies but friends, comrades, the living all made their distance with the dead and dying…although he has yet to die. The smells have become intolerable, the silent whisper of the wind deafening, pain as such it makes death preferable but nevertheless, he still lives.
He’s had nothing to drink in all of this time and he hasn’t eaten either. He hasn’t moved or held on or fought to live, only waited but something has kept him going. He watched the others trying and failing to hold on. They were no worse off than he, all beaten and stabbed and burnt and sliced and anything else the enemy could think to do to someone. Some of the men were religious, some of them were becoming religious as they lay their in their own viscera…apologizing for the lives that they lived or didn’t live and each and every prayer went unanswered. He hadn’t asked to live, to be spared amongst the thousands. He was tired of the slings and arrows and the endless fighting and killing over the most inconsequential of material desires. He’d been hurt before, throughout his life and that day as the armies met there was not the least ounce of faith that anything would protect him or even that his cause was the just.
He merely showed up to die like all the others. They showed up because showing up somewhere is always easier than forcing them to come after you. They armed because that’s what they were ordered to do by the men with better weapons and more organization. They hated the enemy because he was against everything they were told they were for. They got into lines and formations because it made them feel important to be part of something bigger than themselves. And they charged…they charged because the man behind them was charging and they didn’t want to be trampled underfoot…they charged because they’d come all this way…they charged because their fathers and their fathers’ fathers had charged…they charged because they were all just cowards. None wanted to kill, none wanted to die but even more so they didn’t want to be singled out or castigated or shunned and they didn’t question because they didn’t want to be shouted down or dismissed or mocked and so they all charged and they all killed or died or both… everyone except him.
He knows he could move if he wanted to. He stays still because he’s made his choice. He doesn’t want to be pushed into anything anymore…not by men or his own hungers or needs. He only wants to blend in with the natural harmony all around him. The sky is blue up above and the vultures do not judge him. Again he does not want to stand out, he just wants to be a part of something. But that something doesn’t want him.
When he does stand up and shake off the dust he’ll see what the world has left to him. He’ll see the mountains of dead and the rivers of blood. He’ll step over body after body in each of the ruined cities. He’ll realize that he’s alone, that he has finally been singled out and like it or not he must begin to decide things for himself.
Sooner or later when he finally realizes that he’s not like them, the dead, he’ll wash the blood off of his body and cut his matted, filthy hair. There may or may not be other survivors, he won’t know unless he finds them. But even if he does he’ll know that they will be like him, scarred and beaten, cast among the dead, to feel where everyone else is numb and to take in the taste of rot with every breath of air. There may be others but they will have nothing for one another aside from fear and mistrust…innocent social interaction forever lost to them.
Right now he’s half on a rock and half on another body, suffering because that’s what he thinks he’s supposed to do because that’s what the dying did. But he’s not dying, he’s alive and unlike those bodies littering his field of view when he feels he really feels.
He’ll only be able to stay on his back for a little while longer…feeding his illusion that he’s not the last living, thinking, feeling man for miles in every direction.
Bio – Ryan Priest is a prose and screen writer in Los Angeles. His short
fiction has appeared all over the world in different publications such as
Punchnels, The Speculative Edge and Menda City Review. He thanks you for
reading because he truly, honestly, worries that the written word is dying
a slow and agonizing death in the 21st century.