He stood at the top of a hill, his long white beard flowing in the wind. Scars on his hands and wrinkles on his face: this man had been aged by something other than time. The trials he had faced were evident in his eyes. They were missing a glint of joy or hope. Sadness resided in his deep blue eyes, as blue as the sky high above the rolling green hills.
He looked out onto the hills, searching for something he could never find. The hills were green, yes, with basic plant life, but they too were scarred and weathered before their time. The land was bare and decimated. Life had been stolen from the hills, and it was just now being slowly returned.
There were no birds in the cloudless sky. No animals darting low on the ground. No trees swaying in the wind. No insects to pollinate the flowers. No flowers to decorate the hills. And “hills” was a loose term: they had been nearly flattened about forty years ago, when the rest of the world had suffered as much as this little area of land.
The man with the long white beard stood on the hill, his arms hanging hopelessly at his sides, his shoulders slumped in utter defeat. His eyes scanned the hills again and again. There was nothing.
There had been nothing for the past forty years. He had visions of his family, of his wife and his daughter, but that’s all they were. Visions. His family was gone. Gone with the animals and the trees and the high parts of the hills.
The man with the long white beard had long since given up on finding them, or anyone, for that matter. He had searched the land, searching for someone or something to talk to, but there was no other living being left. His voice ached and cracked out of disuse. His throat burned when he tried to make a sound. Some years back he had given up. If there wasn’t anyone to talk to he wasn’t going to waste his voice on the wind.
But the man with the long white beard hadn’t given up on finding someone. Surely he couldn’t be the last man alive on Earth.
But he hadn’t found anyone in forty years. If they hadn’t died then, with everyone else, when the earth was destroyed, they probably had died by now.
Over the years the man’s will to live had been waning. There wasn’t anything or anyone to live for. There weren’t any rules to follow or regulations to live by. There weren’t any books to read, movies to watch, celebrities to fawn over, or governments to criticize. There weren’t any hungry to feed, poor to give to, wars to fight, countries to lead, sick to heal, sad to comfort, or terrorists to stop. All the man with the long white beard had found to do was to walk. Explore this new, damaged Earth. And search for people that didn’t exist anymore.
But there, over the next hill! The man’s heart jumped as he squinted at what he thought he saw. The sun shone into his eyes on this cloudless day. He shielded his face with a withered hand.
There it was: a girl. A young girl with flowing brown hair. She was running over the hill, skipping and leaping. The man opened his mouth to shout her name, he knew her name, it was his daughter. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. It wasn’t that he couldn’t make a sound, the man with the long white beard had just forgotten what sounds to make. He knew this girl, and yet he couldn’t remember her name.
Tears spilled over the man’s face. Sunlight glinted in his eyes, causing him to look away, and when he looked back at the hill where his daughter had been, the girl was gone. The man with the long white beard couldn’t remember her name. He couldn’t remember her name, or what she looked like. His sobs were the only sounds in the empty air. They shook his body and brought him to his knees. It was just another vision, but as the years went on the visions became less and less complete.
First, they stopped talking to him. The man couldn’t remember their voices. Then, they stopped looking at him, because he couldn’t remember their faces. Now they ran from him, because so much of his family memories were lost to the man with the long white beard, buried by years of solitude and decades of hopeless searching.
The man wiped the tears from his face and shakily stood back to his feet. He knew he was the last man on earth. There was no one out there; forty years of emptiness had proved that much. But if he really was the last of the human race, he wasn’t going to be the last man lying, or kneeling, weeping and hallucinating. He was going to be the last man standing.
And with that determination the man with the long white beard stood to his feet to continue his vigil over the decimated earth.
(Short story inspired by The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey) (Feel free to comment with any opinions or suggestions)