The day the world ended I was immediately killed while standing in line at my favorite coffee shop. If you’re a bit morbid and curious like me, you’ve wondered how you’re going to die while you’re still alive. I never would have thought it was because a giant meteor hit a small town in Arkansas, wiping out all of America, Canada, and most of South America in a rolling cloud of smoke and debris. The rest of the world followed closely behind as planet earth reacted to the impact. Sure, a few lucky people survived in Russia and Australia, but I’m not really sure I should call them “lucky”, having to deal with the new life they’d been given on a scarred planet that would never be the same.
The first thing I did after waking up from the blast was let out an unhinged giggle. My parents had hoarded supplies and guns for years, preparing for the eventual decline and downfall of society, and it was all for nothing, as we had died exactly like the dinosaurs. We had just had a lesson on irony in English class the day before, and I knew there was irony there somewhere, and I just giggled, sitting in the ashes for three straight minutes.
I’m not sure where everyone else went when they died, but I stayed right where I was, just sans body. Being in California, thousands of miles away from Arkansas, the rolling wave of physics had collapsed the city into mounds of rubble. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time where the meteor had hit, but I did know that whatever it had been, it’d been huge.
I looked around the land that was empty of people but was anything but empty. Evidence of our habitation was everywhere; it was just in ruins. I recognized a few bricks where the coffee shop had stood. Pipes stuck up out the earth, some spraying water, others hissing gas. Electrical wires were everywhere, tangled and heaped and twitching. Fires licked and flicked in several piles scattered throughout what had been a sprawling city. I could even hear a few car alarms wailing under the crushing collapse of buildings.
I stood up shaky, despite not having legs, and dusted off my lap that dust hadn’t settled on. If it had been a normal day, I would have walked the half-block to school with my warm cup of coffee, my rainbow unicorn backpack slung over one shoulder, my fluffy bunny hat complete with rabbit ears snug on my head, and my sparkly pink Converse shoes blinding drivers as they idled in traffic. I might have been in high school, but I didn’t have to dress like it. The whole point of clothes was to express yourself, and I wanted to express happiness and joy to everyone I met. The world was too full of sadness and anxiety.
Well, it was.
After the meteor, it was just full of dusty drywall and crumbling bricks. As far as I could see, I was all alone. Not even the brightness of my yellow daisy shirt could battle the desolation that sunk into my heart. The human race had been selfish and destructive, sure, but it had also been courageous and powerful, full of tiny miraculous moments that defied any attempt to quantify them.
The worst thing was that I had somehow been left behind. A city full of millions of people and there was only one ghost left to roam the rubble? I refused to believe it.
I wasn’t going to get to go to school that day, or to skip home in the afternoon to help my mom with her baked goods business, but I did need something to do. As tempting as it was to just sit and enjoy watching the wind make tiny tornadoes of dust, I decided I needed a mission to keep myself from going insane, if I wasn’t already.
I was going to find another ghost. Surely, certainly, there had to be at least one more ghost roaming the planet. I refused to believe that I was the only one left. Out of all the stories I’d read, ghosts existed because they had unfinished business, whatever vague thing that meant, and there was no way I was the only person left with something I had to do.
“Alright, Emily,” I said to myself out loud, just to see if I could use my voice. It felt small and lost on the wind. “Let’s go exploring. No ghost is a good ghost unless they’ve got somewhere to haunt.”
I was still wearing the same outfit, but my backpack hadn’t made the transition with me. It was just me in my t-shirt, jeans, and my trusty shoes, but as a ghost, I suppose I didn’t need much.
I had expected to scramble down the rubble pile that had been the coffee shop, getting maybe a few scrapes from the sharp edges of brick and steel, but my ghostly feet had no trouble. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I didn’t have any weight and wasn’t capable of shifting the stones as I worked my way down. I knew I had a lot to learn about being a ghost and I wish I had more scientific reasoning as to why I was still there and yet not part of the physical world at all.
Sadness crept into my heart with each step I took. It was amazing how generations of human industry had been obliterated so quickly. After descending the mound, there were just more mounds, one after the other with little valleys of lesser rubble between them. There weren’t any sidewalks or roads left. Sometimes there was a bigger hunk of building that had managed to keep to itself but nothing that resembled any kind of recognizable structure. I saw a few trees that were intact but uprooted, their wispy tangles of dirt waving in the dusty wind.
At first, I was sad for my family. I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again. Surely, they weren’t alive anywhere in this desolation. Perhaps they’d been turned into ghosts, but I doubted that since so far, I hadn’t seen any others. They had probably passed on to the next place, and if I couldn’t figure out how to get there, I wasn’t going to see them ever again.
I was sad for my friends and all the dreams they’d had. Shelley had wanted to be a nurse and help people deliver babies. Jack had wanted to be an inventor. The last invention he’d shown me a few days ago in his garage had been a car sized radio of sorts that he claimed to have been able to send messages into space.
I paused in my trudging walk as I took hold of that last thought. Space. Surely planet earth had been hit by something from space. Could that have been related to Jack at all?
My heartbeat increased a little as it sped ahead of my thoughts, knowing what I was about to do before I was about to do it.
Did ghosts have hearts? Whatever it was, it felt like that heartbeat sensation.
I didn’t have anything else to do so why not just go check in where Jack’s house used to be? It wasn’t easy to see where I was compared to where things had been. I kept working through piles of what I found familiar. After the coffee shop, it was easy to find the area where the school had stood. It was a larger place of land that had all of the similar colored bricks and tangled metal.
After that, I wasn’t but a few minutes before I figured out where Jack’s house used to be. Miraculously, their giant tree with an old tire swing had somehow kept its ground after the impact. The area around it was completely unrecognizable except for a pile of yellow siding I recognized as the outside of their house.
My body literally soared for a few steps as I saw what could only be the back of Jack’s head, wavering and translucent like my own body. He was sitting on the highest point of rubble of what used to be his garage. His back was to me, and as I got closer I could see his shoulders shuddering.
“This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening,” he was saying over and over as I climbed the rubble behind him, silent on my ghost toes.
Startled, he spun around. “Emily? Is that you? You look so… grey.”
“Gee. Thanks. You don’t look too great yourself.”
He held up his hands as if studying them for the first time. “I’ve killed everyone, haven’t I?”
I sat down next to him and saw he had been staring at the remains of his space invention. “What do you mean you killed everyone?”
He tried to pick up a bit of metal but his hand passed right through it. He sighed. “I used my device to call down an attack from aliens who decimated the entire planet. I can’t believe it, and what’s worse, is that I’m almost a little bit happy that the thing actually worked.”
“Jack,” I took his hand and could actually make contact. I couldn’t feel the heat from his skin because he didn’t have any, but I enjoyed the sensation of holding his hand anyway. “How do you know it was you? Anything could have done this.”
He slouched more into himself, and I’d never seen such a sad sight. “I got a return message right before impact that simply said ‘Challenge Accepted’.”
I giggled. I couldn’t help it. “Are you sure it wasn’t just Derek from next door messing with you on a walkie-talkie?”
“Pretty sure a walkie-talkie isn’t compatible with my space communication device, SCD for short.”
“Well,” I said, tucking my legs underneath me. “It’s not like we have anything else to do. Why don’t we go find out?”
He squeezed the ghost plasma that was my hand and smiled. I had lived for that smile when I was alive, and perhaps I’d live for it while I was dead, too.
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Great descriptions. I particularly loved "A rolling wave of physics".
Oh, thank you! :)
This is a wonderful angle on a post apocalyptic story! And it was very well written— good job!
Thank you for reading! :D
This was so interesting! An entirely new direction for a ghost story to go. I’m excited for what’s to come next. I was a little confused as to why there was no description of the people who died, or bodies among the rubble. It seems to me that that would have caused a deeper impression on the character.
Thanks for reading! :) A valid point about the bodies. I guess I'm not sure how much would be visible under all the buildings that fell on the people, but I'm sure there would be at least a few visible body parts! This does seem a little too happy for the situation. I'm going to pretend she's such a happy bubbly person that she doesn't want to notice the gross remains? :P
Jeni, Wow! This is incredible! Your descriptions were fantastic! Your first line grabbed my attention and I was held captivated by your words until the very end! Fantastic job, keep up the good work! By the way, I checked out your blog! It's super awesome! I think your book reviews are fantastic! - Felicity
Aww, you're a sweetheart! Thank you!