The thing about the end of the world, is that it doesn’t feel like an end. It’s more of a.. Quiet decline, of sorts. You barely notice. People disappear, die, but it’s slow. The world doesn’t truly end until the last person dies, because the world itself, is, of course, not dying. The thing that ends is you and I. Our world.
That’s how Oscar, a sunburned man still clinging to scraps of an old, moth eaten, torn, brown checkered business suit, didn’t realize it was the end of the world until the very last person he knew had died, and he was all that was left.
He meandered from his sunken little shack, out into the new day. He looked over to a calendar stuck to a bit of old fence that had been marked and remarked at least a hundred different times, and he didn’t even bother to try.
If he looked far enough- and he couldn’t anymore, as he had lost his glasses long ago,- he could just make out the fires from the sunken skyscrapers of the nearest city. The fact that the fires were so far away as to not be visible, made it a day that he could fill his lungs and breathe without risk.
He walked over to his friend, whose eyes laid hollow before him. With shaking breath, he picked her up and laid her in the shallow grave he had dug overnight.
He dropped to his knees in front of the grave.
He tried to clear his throat, and hacked up a storm. Eventually, his lungs settled, and he mused “Would.. Would anyone, uh, like to say some words?” He turned to the other graves surrounding the open one. “Darlene? Jack? Betty? Ah, you always hated Bonnie, I know, but won’t you say something? You know I’m uh, not the best in crowds.”
“No one? Okay, I guess I’ll say some words my... uh, myself.”
“I always -” and he was cut off by his stomach growling, “cared for” another growl,“my darling friend,” and growling once more with gusto. “But I’m very hungry, and my stomach seems to want to say a few words as well. So let's cut this… short. Sorry, Bonnie. “
He quickly stood up and kicked the dirt near her grave. He had broken his shovel last night, sadly, while digging the grave for his dearly departed friend. So, he had no choice but to kick the dirt over the grave in order to bury her, looking away all the while. When he looked back, the dirt was not to the top of her grave, but it seemed to suitably covered her, so he felt it a good enough effort.
He walked back into his shack, ducking where it was sunken, and shoved his hands around in the cabinets that were at the very back of it.
“Oh. Right. Right, right right right.. Well, for dinner I can have a gourmet spider and cobweb salad, and for dessert, Chocolate Nuggets, gifted from our friend, the rat who keeps eating my shoes. Forgot I fed the last bit of food we had to Bonnie.”
He sighed and ducked even further down to grab a travel backpack that was resting near his ruined mattress.
He wended his way out of his sunken disaster of a home, and turned to the graves, doing a little wave. “I’ll see you later, guys. I’m going on a food run.”
He walked to the edge of the compound, to a tall, crooked fence in front of him. He kicked it, and since it was old and rusted it gave way enough that he could squeeze through with only a few scratches and, hopefully, if he was lucky, no lockjaw later.
He held onto the straps of his travel backpack and looked down at the grass when he was able to. Every once in a while, he would see an oddly colored ladybug, or a flower with too many petals, and he would stop to squat and coo at them
Eventually his journey took him to the city, where everything was aflame and the air was thick with smoke, and the skyscrapers and freeways had long since collapsed, no living things to coo at there, So he shoved his hand into his backpack, felt around, and put on his gas mask, while singing his little ditties, instead.
“So i’m the type of guy that loves to run around, I uh- .. no, huh. Not how the lyrics go.. Well, That’s fine. Uh… doo-bah-dee doo doo badabaaaba” and so on he went with nonsense singing, doing little dances every once in a while to break the monotony. Iif he was feeling really bored he would grab and swing around street lights that happened to still be standing, as if was in that old movie about singing about the rain, while skillfully jumping over fallen power lines and debris.
He had been walking and singing and doing little dances while he walked around the ruins of the city for at least a few hours when he was cut off by a raspy voice calling out. “Help me, help me, It hurts.” He sprinted over to a collapsed building and saw what appeared to be hands coming out from under the debris. He dropped into a squat and pulled the debris off of them, looking up to make sure nothing fell back down on them, as he moved.
“Oh my goodness gracious, are you oka-auuuugggghhhhh!” he looked down and saw that the thing he was assisting was no human, not anymore, anyway. Their skin had turned black as midnight, and their eyes were horribly red, and there were far too many goopy things that resembled eyes. He jumped up from his slav-squat as quickly as he possibly could.
“I’m so lonely. Help me more. Come closer. Come closer, help me, help me,” the thing continued on, as it started crawling, or more accurately, slithering towards Oscar, grabbing at his legs and trying to bite at him.
“Eugh! Mother mother mother mother, gross!” squeaked Oscar as he kicked the slimy thing away. He looked around frantically, snatching at the debris around him and threw it back at the thing, trapping it once again.
He held onto the straps of his backpack just a little bit tighter as he quickly made his way away from that building. He thought it was awfully silly that he had a moment of thinking there were any other people left at all. Why would there be? It had been long enough that anyone left would have gotten sick and gone away, and he had the somewhat daft notion cross his mind that not many people are making new little people, these days. He sighed at himself and shook his head.
He looked around himself more closely as he walked, mumbling the names of the buildings to himself.
“Coats & Hats, Children’s Toys Split Into Arbitrary Colors, Excess And Abundance… Leather Lein (On Your House.) Youch. I guess I could boil the leather? But that’s nast- Oh! Extremely Expensive Urban Grocery Store! That might have something edible!”
He practically flew inside the grocery store, hurriedly opening his backpack as he went, so that he could more easily shove some of the remains of food he had just found inside of it. Which he did. As much as he could carry. Everytime.
But then he was startled, when he heard muffled crying, again. “It’s just one of those weird.. Grabby-grabbys, Oscar,” he whispered to himself, and he did his best to just ignore it.
He continued to grab food and medicine and little trinkets that looked cool to him, like a plastic figurine of a dog playing the saxophone, which was really cute, Bonnie would have loved it, but eventually, by the 15th minute of the crying that he could hear, he felt too awful to keep ignoring it. He snatched a pocket knife out of a pocket of his backpack, and quietly made his way towards the sound.
And it was… Something disguised as a person. He thought? Maybe it was a person? Possibly? It was so hard to tell anymore, so he lightly.. Tapped at the thing that had curled up into a ball in the corner of the store, using his foot real gentle-like.
The thing jumped slightly, and then curled tighter, covering it’s face with it’s arms. “Don’t hurt me!” it muttered.
“I’m not going to hurt you!” Oscar looked down, and saw that they looked young. Really young. Thirteen, maybe? Or maybe they were only seven? They were hiding their face, and Oscar was never that great with kids, or at guessing ages, or with numbers.
“You’re a person?” the still curled up child asked.
Oscar squatted next to the small person, and they flinched. “Haha, yeah. All fleshy human people meat on this guy. Where’s your parents, kiddo?” And at that query, the kid started sobbing, quietly, but intensely. “Woah woah woah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just trying to- Uhhh, I can help you, what makes kids stop crying… Do you like toys?”
“Are you too cool for toys? I felt the same way when I was your age- Uh, however old you are, anyway, sorry, been a while since I’ve talked to a kid-, but toys are cool, you know! It takes so much effort to find those things these days, and-”
“What are you doing here?” squeaked the child, cutting him off.
“Oh, uh… Hungry!” with one hand he patted his stomach, and with the other he stealthily slipped the knife back into his backpack, unseen.
“You need to get out of here. You’re gonna get surrounded!” They shook their little hands at Oscar, rather frantically, for emphasis.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about? You’re gonna die here if you don’t leave now. We shouldn’t even be talking. It’s too loud. They’ll hear-” And then a window shattered.
At the startling noise, the child covered their mouth with their hand and curled up tighter.
“What? There’s more of them?” Oscar spoke far too loudly. Even with Oscar’s eyesight, he could see the things moving, and snaking their way towards the two.
These seemed even more disgusting than the thing he had encountered under that building, if you can believe it. They were nasty. They were grody. Gross, gross, gross.
Oscar scream-whispered “Let’s get out of here, darling child, before I puke.” He was hunching, but he was no longer squatting, and he was starting to put his hand over the kid’s head, protectively. They were lucky to be in a corner of the store, hidden, but the grabby-grabbys were getting ever closer.
“I have to stay.” The small person barely whispered.
“What? Well, as the oldest one here, I think, I say that’s butt-balls. Up on Oscar’s shoulders, let’s go.” He hoisted them up and planted them right on his shoulders, as if the child was as light as straw. As he lifted the kid, they scrambled to grab a purse they had been holding onto. They didn’t fight much, but they didn’t hold on to anything but the purse, either. Oscar very quickly slung his backpack back over his shoulders as well, struggling to juggle both the kid and the backpack, darting past the grabby-grabbys, deftly, all the while. They stayed true to the nickname Oscar had assigned him, grabbing and biting at their as he ran by. And he ran right out the same broken window that he had entered through. He ran and ran, and ran further still. and the grabby-grabbys persistently followed them. He noticed with some relief that the child had finally started clasping at his neck, so that they wouldn’t fall and get left behind.
“We’re gonna make it out of here, we’re gonna get out of here, we’re gonna be okay,” he yelled to the child as he ran.
“You’re sweaty. It’s gross.” Responded the child. He finally made it to a street corner, in an alley, and somehow managed to lose the grabby-grabbys, somewhere back in the decayed, smoke filled streets.
“Oh thank goodness. Okay. Be real quiet, kid.” Oscar muttered.
There was a car, crashed into a wall in the alley. And inside he detected movement from two… people? Nope. just more slimy, gross things lookin’ to get his organs.
“EUGH, those ones are real gross. I’ll have to deal with these things to get home.. Off my shoulders, go sit over there, there we go, whoo, you’re a big kid, aren’t ya?”
“Don’t hurt them!” And at that Oscar pulled a pocket knife out of his backpack, ran to the car, and disposed of his most current problem.
The kid very, very slowly walked over to the car when Oscar was done, and Oscar could swear the kid looked at one of the two grabby-grabbys, one that still had a few long strands of hair clinging to their blackened scalp, and whispered something that sounded like “Mom”, but that was one of those things that Oscar was especially good at pushing to the back of his mind and pretending he hadn’t heard.
“Okay. Let’s get out of this urban nightmare, huh, kid?”
He clasped the kid’s hand, and to his surprise, they clasped his back. “Okay.”
They were both very, very quiet on their way out of the city. But eventually the asphalt gave way to grass, and Oscar started singing nonsense dittys again, and the child managed a small snicker, or a smile, every once in a while.
“Hey, why were you in that scary place all alone, anyway?” Asked Oscar.
“I was waiting for the .. uhm, the uh… the…”
“Yeah, I was waiting for them to come and get me, but I was too scared to face them.”
“You were waiting for them to get you?”
“We all have to go some day.”
“Yeah, but we don’t have to go by getting torn apart by mutated weirdos!”
“That’s what you think.”
“Okay then, silly.”
They made it to the compound, and Oscar felt that having the child duck under the hole he ripped in the fence wouldnt be safe, so, instead, he simply tossed them over the barbed wire fence without any warning to the child.
“There you are, now! Whoo! I was pretty good at baseball in my time, you know. You okay?”
The child was still wide-eyed at their landing, holding onto their little purse as tightly as they could close to their chest, but they nodded.
“Great, great!” he clasped his hands together, ducked under the fence, and joined them inside the filthy rat-trap of a compound that he lived in.
He held the child’s hand as he led them to his sunken, wreck of a shack.
“You stay right there, I’m gonna start din-din.”
He flipped on a generator that made a horribly loud noise, and connected a hot plate to it, pouring a scavenged can of soup into a rusty, dented pot.
When he was finished, he turned and went back through the door of the shack, and saw that the child was leaning against a ruined mattress, eyes struggling to stay open- Oh, it dawned on Oscar that they just slept with their eyes open. Gross, he mused to himself. Oscar felt bad about waking them, but they looked so skinny and small that their face was practically only cheekbones and eyeballs.
“Hey there, kid, I’ve got dinner! Gruel a la Oscar.”
They startled awake, but then settled down quickly. He handed his new partner in crime a bowl of the ancient, expired soup, and heard a barely audible “thank you.”
“Don’t even mention it!” He squatted next to the child, holding his own bowl tight.
“Okay, okay. Let’s play Three Questions. I’m going to ask you three questions, and you have to answer. Then you can ask me three questions, okay?” Oscar offered, in his most kid-friendly voice.
“Okay.” The child gave him a quirk of the lips.
“What’s your name?”
“Mischa, isn’t that Russian? Oh my goodness, you couldn’t possibly be that far away from home how are you even alive, that’s where the b-” he saw the child’s face turn and he slapped his forehead with his hand. “Oh, ah, no, silly me! Don’t wanna waste my questions. Okay, second one.. Where’s your caregivers?”
“You’re all alone… Well, that makes two of us. Or did, anyway. Thought I was the last person on earth! Guess I’m just the last adult. Okay, one last question. What’s in that bag you’ve been holding so tight to your chest?”
“Are you going to steal it? Please, please don’t.” Mischa held the bag closer to their chest.
“Of course not! I just want to know what’cha got.”
“Movies? Movies! That’s great! I have a, ah, a tv and a movie-player but no movies! You and I are gonna make a great team, I’m sure of it.” Mischa looked… frightened. Well, that just wouldn’t work, now would it? How could Oscar fix this? He felt like a dog trying to cheer up a dying owner- Dog! Of course.
“I’ll be right back, Mischa!” He ran, and then ran right back, holding the souvenir of a little dog playing a saxophone that he had picked up.
“I got that toy I was talking about! Here you are, now.” He dropped the figurine into their hands, narrowly avoiding dropping it into their bowl of soup.
“Do you have any questions for me, Mischa?”
The child held up one finger.
“Are you dying?”
“Oh! Oh, well, we’re uh,” he coughed as if to expel the awkwardness, but realized quickly that was a poor idea. “ I’d say we’re probably both dying, but I’m not dying right now, if that’s what you mean. Not coughing any glowing green goo or anything like that, yet.”
They sat in silence, and ate. And when they finished, he led the child to the tv in his sunken shack, which he connected to the horribly loud generator. Mischa popped one of their movies into the tape player, and they sat in front of TV. And, if they both coughed up a storm as they sat together, and if they coughed up something ever so slightly redder than ideal, well, that would be fine. After all, we all have to go sometime, and they had time enough to watch a movie or two, together.