She walked the empty street, whistling as she went. Already, nature was reclaiming what man had taken. The pavement, split and cracked from freezing winters turned to blistering summers, was overrun by golden dandelions and delicate white Dame’s rocket blossoms forcing their way through any gap. Stray dogs watched her warily, crouching besides buildings with broken windows and boarded up doors.
The last of humanity had fought hard, yet selfishly, to persist through the disasters, hoarding food and barricading themselves in their homes. Eventually, they perished too, from sickness or finite resources or each other.
The last time she’d seen a person was over three years ago, so when she heard broken wails somewhere in the distance, she frowned. What animal could make that sound? Was a TV or stereo still on?
She picked up her pace, the chains of her necklace clinking against the zipper of her leather jacket. She’d always liked that individualistic style, and in this world, she could look like anything she wanted. There was no one left to judge or catcall.
Small suburban houses lined either side of the road. Once neatly kept lawns were overgrown with weeds. Some gardens had burst beyond their original boundaries, covering entire yards with pretty colors.
It seemed that the noise was coming from one of the houses, a particular one with a stone bird bath besides the porch and a wind chime that sang in the breeze. This house wasn’t boarded up, and when she tried the door, it was unlocked.
The wailing grew louder as she entered, and the gasping breaths in between each burst of sound made her almost certain that there must be a real person there. But how? Everyone else had died long ago.
The house was undisturbed, as if it had frozen at the last moment that life had been normal. Pairs of shoes messily left on the welcome rug. A newspaper laid open on the kitchen table. A half-full glass of water on the counter-top.
Past the kitchen, the living room, however, was in an apparent state of disaster. The glass coffee table at the center was shattered into fine pieces that sprinkled the carpet. Framed pictures were crooked on the walls or face-down on the floor. A coaster had been thrown at the TV, cracking the screen.
Finally, her eyes landed on the source of the wailing, who had quieted now that a stranger had entered. The little girl, no more than ten, huddled in the corner of the room, her arms tight around her folded knees. Locks of ragged brown hair stuck to her tear-stained face.
“W-Who are you?” the girl asked, her voice trembling.
A brave one for speaking first, thought the woman. She remembered the flowers clustered around the front porch. “I’m Violet. And you, little one?”
“I’m not that little,” the girl grumbled, daring to stand up. Her orange sundress was stained with dirt and ripped at the bottom. “I’m Jane.”
“What happened here, Jane?” Violet asked, beckoning around the room.
Jane shrugged. “Me. I was mad.”
“Because no one’s left.”
Violet frowned. None of this was making sense. “How long have you been on your own?”
“Too long. It’s awfully lonely.” Jane sighed and stepped carefully across the carpet, avoiding the glass. “I didn’t think I’d see someone ever again.”
Violet squinted at the little girl. Her blue eyes were piercing and strangely familiar. They didn’t look like they should belong to an innocent child. “Nor did I.”
Then again, her own wise brown eyes probably didn’t look like they belonged to a twenty-two year old, so she shrugged off the feeling. The kid had probably been through a lot, and you can always see someone’s suffering in their eyes.
“Well, you shouldn’t stay here,” Violet spoke up again. Her gut told her that this was a stupid decision, but it had been so long since she’d seen another person. She almost missed them. “Why don’t you come with me?”
Jane cocked her head. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know yet. The world looks beautiful these days. I’d like to see it.”
“It doesn’t seem beautiful to me. It seems empty.”
“There’s beauty in stillness.”
“There’s beauty in chaos,” Jane countered.
Violet frowned, looking down at the girl. “You know a lot for a child.”
“I’m older than you think. And I read Harry Potter.” Jane grabbed Violet’s hand, pulling her out of the ruined living room. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Then I’ll take you elsewhere,” Violet answered, squeezing her hand. She took the lead once they exited the house, and she immediately knew where to go. “There’s a special place I think you should see.”
They walked in silence, and Violet smiled to herself. Birds chirped, the wind curled through her dark hair, and the sun warmed her skin. It was so peaceful, so pure.
Eventually, Violet stopped outside a baseball field that now was really just another grassy field, though the bleachers, dugouts, and chain link behind the batter’s box alluded to what once was. “I saw them here earlier when I was passing through. Be still, or you’ll scare them away.”
A mother deer rested in the shade near one dugout, her inquisitive eyes watching her two young fawns. One stood, warily contemplating its sibling as the smaller of the two bent its spindly legs and lunged. The larger one bounced away, and the process repeated. They leapt around the field, playing with a simple joy that Violet couldn’t help but feel in the depths of her heart.
However, the girl next to her seemed unamused. Her lips were set in a straight line, and her wide eyes regarded the scene with a tinge of bitterness. Jane had dropped Violet’s hand, and now she crossed her arms across her chest.
“Do you not like deer or something?” Violet murmured.
“The Little League used to play here,” Jane remarked. Her voice wasn’t lowered in the slightest, and the mother deer’s ears perked up. “The coach and his son died of that sickness. They used to bring snacks to games.
Violet’s smile fell and she swallowed uncomfortably. “Everyone dies eventually.”
“Except for you and I, right?” Jane twisted her neck to look up at Violet. Those blue eyes flashed, and realization struck Violet.
“It’s you,” she breathed.
“Harder to recognize like this, aren’t I?” Jane responded. “You don’t think of people like me.”
“Of course I do,” Violet hissed, backing away from the girl. The mother deer seemed to sense a change in the atmosphere, and she stood. Within seconds, her and her fawns had dashed away. “I made people like you.”
“And killed them,” Jane fired back.
“If you want to get technical, you killed them,” Violet muttered, but she knew it was a weak response.
Jane sighed. “You know what I mean.” She looked down at her sundress, holding the edges in her hands. “This girl was real, and her name was Jane. She didn’t die from the sickness, though. Looters got into her house. They killed her last.”
“Don’t you see how horrible humans can be? That’s why they’re gone. That’s why I did this.”
“And did the innocent deserve their punishment?” Jane dropped her dress and met Violet’s stare.
“It’s over and done now,” Violet’s voice lowered.
“Yes. Yes it is.” Before Violet’s eyes, Jane shifted and transformed, growing taller, and her dress melted into a simple, black robe. Death’s bright blue eyes peered out from the shadows of his hood.
Violet kept her human form, and this made Death even angrier. “You destroyed them, and yet you have the audacity to make yourself look like them and walk their Earth.” His voice was deep now, an ancient thrum of rock and bone.
“It’s my Earth. I made it. They damaged it, and I had to do something.”
“When’s the last time you visited? I can’t even remember. You weren’t here like I was, in the thick of it all. They created things here, not just ruin. Some people were bad. Most weren’t. They were trying to change.”
“Too late.” Violet turned away from the tall figure, walking back down the street.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me,” Death yelled at her retreating form. “You need to understand that what you’ve done was wrong.”
Violet whipped around. “Wrong? I’d say I’m above such human morals.”
Death shook his head. “It’s a sad day when humans behave better than a god.”
Violet’s skin glowed with an ethereal, golden light. She wouldn’t be able to hold this form for long, especially not with her emotions so high. “I’ve purged this world so it can start over. So I can create something better.”
“And then kill it when it doesn’t meet your standards,” Death snapped.
“Perhaps I need to create something better than you,” Violet bit out a warning through gritted teeth.
Death’s shoulders slumped. “Perhaps you do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it all turns out exactly the same in another millenia. You give your creations choice, and then you grow angry when they actually choose. You, a creator, are destined to destroy all that you make.”
Her lips widened in a dazzling, grim smile. “And you are destined to follow in my wake.” The light burned away pieces of her skin, shining out of her in intense rays, but Death didn’t flinch.
“Is this the way you want to live?” Pity crept into his tone.
“It’s not living. It’s existing, and it’s the only way I know how.”
“I can teach you another way.”
A beam of light burst from the center of her chest, but it vanished as soon as it touched his robe, absorbed by his darkness. They were two sides of the same coin, unable to be rid of each other, a cosmic balance.
“Death teaching me how to live?” She threw her head back and laughed, light pouring from her mouth. “That’s curious.”
He extended a ghostly hand. “The offer still stands. We can be better. We can choose too.”
Her physical body burst into a ball of light, bright enough to rival the Sun, and suddenly she was far away from the baseball field. She wondered if she would’ve taken his hand if given a second more.