So, a friend of mine made the suggestion of a bunch of bloggers trying to write a short story based on a single photograph. Now, I tend to shy away from serious fiction, as I lost the taste for it several years ago (when I lost the taste for most other things), so rather than a straight narrative, it turned out to be something of an introspection. In any case, below you’ll find the picture, and below that you’ll find the story. Don’t judge too harshly, as I said, it certainly isn’t my forte!
Cold, alone, but not without hope. Walter Smith, the last man on Earth, breathes a breath of resolution. Staying alive isn’t a problem; one can always find food, shelter, pass-times, the means to continue one’s existence. Staying sane? Staying happy? That’s a different story. Can one so alone flourish without the motivation of support, the potential of love; of sex, of intimacy, of kind words from a familiar face?
The bridge stretched far beyond his tired feet, as the snow settled gently beneath them, compressed under each step with a soft crunch; like smashed glass, grinding below a distant door frame. He turned up his collar, dripping already settled snow flakes down the back of his neck, the shock of the cold hitting him like an espresso. He could see cars ahead, lights and signs of life; but perception is tainted by distance, and there was no movement to be noted beyond the clouding breath that hung in the air before his mouth; no sounds to be heard beyond that crunching grind that had blended into ambiance with its tedious ‘tick-tock’.
He paused for a moment, dragging his weight to the edge of the bridge. He took off his glove to rest his bare palm on the cold steel. The words and thoughts and ideas of a million dead men flowed along the unbreakable structure, and he reexamined the gravitas of his role that day. Such an advanced race, the pinnacle of which rested on the shoulders of one man; one man looking down over the edge of a bridge, at the icy waters below. He knew what he could do; what he should do, even. Life for him was hard, and thankless, and without mercy or alleviations. However, when you stand with fifty thousand years of human civilisation behind you, two hundred thousand years of human progress, the haste to make it go away seems unjustified and undignified. To discard such a gift without fighting to the final round would have been a discredit to the infinite chain of microscopic events that led to that cold January morning, with Walter’s steady hand resting on that icy steel; the steel that was built up and twisted and moulding by the strong, stoic hands of better men than he. His life would no longer be a gift that he longed to return, or a curse that he longed to be rid of. His life would be an antagonist; an arch-nemesis that he would have to battle mercilessly and relentlessly to take from it what he needed. He was a man; the same man who built that bridge, the same man who conquered Rome and hauled stones up the pyramids and sent rockets into space. Walter Smith was mankind incarnate, and he wasn’t going to be stopped or slowed by the invisible jesters of chance and misfortune.
The steel on his hand had found a new home in his burning eyes, and he turned toward the city; the swirling, twirling monument of human achievement and human arrogance. He quickened his pace with every step. He wiped away a lingering tear, the last of its kind that will ever dare present itself on Walter’s cheek. He was running now, and felt lighter and faster and more streamlined than ever, free from the shackles and chains and weighted anchors of his apathy and remorse. He was speeding closer, the empty buildings rising up before him, the empty streets stretching away.
But then it all came back, and as he raced further towards the city, the car horns fired up; the yelling, the shouting, the hustle-bustle of life condensed into a distant volcano of audial stimulation. He could see the movement of the stationary cars, as if everyone had organised a moment’s pause to fool him, playing tricks to goad on his isolation. Lights began to flickering, and the populous marched on to the streets as though life had been in class with Walter, and he was witnessing the flourish of graduation.
Walter Smith wasn’t actually the last man on Earth, but then that really makes no difference to the story, does it.