by Ann McDonald, Ireland.
The world was quiet. It seemed more… peaceful, at least since I was here last.
The last I remember of the Earth, it had been destroying itself. It was both flooding and drying out. I can remember seeing those poor desert creatures dying from dehydration, crops unable to grow in the solidified ground, plants shrivelling up under the thick blanket of smoke which was slowly consuming… well, everything.
I was sent here to finish it, not that there was much left. But as always, there were some desperate life forms clinging onto anything and everything. Trying their best to survive the barren wasteland they had come to know as home.
Bar the abandoned vehicles, the streets were empty. Taking a quick look around, I knew why I was here. Kneeling down gently by a worn-down tyre of a long-forgotten bike, I saw it – a tiny patch of moss. As I ran my hand over it, it blackened and disappeared. With that, there was no more life left in the Americas.
It had been years since “It” began, I recalled. I couldn’t say exactly when, though… Decades? Perhaps even centuries? The droughts led to low water supplies, infections and diseases ran rampant in cities… If the humans had acted sooner, so much pain and suffering could have been stopped. But, as resources became scarcer, they decided to turn on themselves.
The loss of trees proved particularly fatal for many species of plants and animals. Their shelter was gone, and many couldn’t survive with the now unregulated temperatures of their habitats, though many tried. It affected me, too. Almost put me out of work. But I digress.
A small chirping brought me back to my senses. Where…? Ah, yes. Europe. I glanced around and noticed a little cricket by my feet. It began hopping away, leading me to a large farmhouse. A safe haven for those who were left, it seemed.
Inside, in what I gathered was a kitchen, was an elderly dog and a few birds. How had they survived this long? Would anyone even know at that stage? I certainly didn’t, it wasn’t my job to ask questions.
The cricket hopped gently into my outstretched hand, graciously accepting its fate, ending its suffering.
The birds came next. I picked each one up slowly and carefully, kissing their heads ever so gently before releasing them, allowing them a mere few seconds of flight and freedom before they dissolved into nothing.
The mutt lifted his old head slowly, scarcely aware of what was happening. His blind eyes managed to find where mine would have been, pleading with me for affection. I crouched down beside him, allowing him to lift his ancient head onto my lap.
“You’ve been good, my friend. But it’s time. It’s time for you to go home,” I told him softly as I stroked his furry head.
He licked my bony head and gave a sigh, just before his laboured breathing came to an end. He disappeared to the Beyond to join his Masters.
I had one last stop… Asia.
Asia was the worst affected, but its people were the most determined to survive.
There was almost nothing. Buildings were all but rubble, the cars were merely skeletons… It was mostly hard ground and a thick mist.
A quiet whimper reached my ears after a few moments of searching.
I followed it, finding a small figure as its source.
A baby. A human baby. The last life.
I removed my suit jacket and used it to lift him out of the arms of the deceased. She must have been dead a week. I cradled him close to me, surveying the scene. The dead woman, the remains of dead rodents, the lingering smell of a campfire. Further examination showed that there had been an elderly woman, and a young family. The elderly woman, she had… she sacrificed herself for them, hoping they’d live a little longer, poor dear.
It was a wonder how they had all had managed to survive. I would visit after every disaster the Earth had faced, although in recent times the visits became fewer and fewer. There was no point going to release souls when we knew they’d release themselves soon enough. I was only here to officially end this era, to allow the Earth to be wiped, to let Them heal her, and to try again.
The whimpering got quieter and quieter. He was but moments away from the Beyond, that much was clear. His small bones were almost as visible as mine, his dark eyes bulging from their sockets.
I felt Sad.
He, of course, knew what was happening. Babies were exceptionally clever, yet most never grew up to keep it.
Nobody would ever see him walk,
Or go to school,
His first heartbreak,
His own child…
He was Alone and Suffering.
It was my job to help.
I rocked him gently, to ensure he was at peace when he left.
“You would’ve been one of the Greats. I’m sorry you have to go like this, my child. Perhaps… perhaps the next life won’t be so bad,” I told him softly.
He looked up at me and nodded. A small smile fell onto his lips as he closed his sore eyes for the last time.
I felt him squeeze my thumb before he left.
As I wait for my time to come, I have a brief thought…
Would the humans take better care of the Earth in the new world? I certainly hope so… It was beautiful, at one point.
And this is it.
That is the End.