It Didn't End The Way it Did In Fairy Tales
TW: death, blood (explicit); 490 words
It didn’t end the way it did in fairytales. You know, the ones where they end happily ever after in a castle with people cheering and throwing rose petals.
This time, it ended with his body in my hands, disintegrating into black dust. His blood was everywhere. My hands were coated. My face was wet with tears. Not again. I lost again.
It wasn’t the first time this happened, either. The first time, I’d died. Skewered on a sword wielded by a faceless knight.
The second time, we’d both died. He tried to protect me from a stray arrow.
The third, seventh, and fourteenth times it was fire.
But this was the first time he’d died before me. The twenty-first time I’d re-lived this damn day. And I was no closer to figuring out how to stop it than I had been the first time.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It wasn’t like I was being transported to some mysterious room and told why I was being sent back each time I died. My eyes would close, I’d see a flash of light, and I’d open my eyes in the barracks, the sounds of readying soldiers all around me. The clang of their metal boots against the hard stone greeted me each time.
The second time, I thought I was hallucinating. I remembered dying; the pain, the agony. I thought maybe this was the afterlife, doomed to relive my last day over and over.
So I decided to test the boundaries of my afterlife. I didn’t rise immediately like I would have. I waited in bed, waited until he came for me to rouse me from my slumber.
And he did.
I knew then that this was no afterlife, not when the touch of his hand on my face was so real. I could feel its heat, its warmth as he brushed a hand across my cheek.
So what was it then? I tried explaining it to him the third time, how I’d somehow already died twice and was back again. Tried explaining how he’d died to protect me, yet somehow we were both alive, here, talking about it.
He told me I’d been dreaming vividly, touched my face again, and left. I never mentioned it again.
But then I’d died once more, charred to a crisp by a flaming catapult, and reawakened once more in my bed.
I knew there had to be a reason, some curious phenomenon as to why I was reliving this same day over and over. Some course of the battle I had to change. But I didn’t know what it was. I’d tried and tried, and each time died and died.
The twenty-first time I failed in a different way. I’d let him die before me.
As I held his disintegrating body, I felt a sword cleave through my neck, and my twenty-second time began.
I stand on the outskirts of the mossy city, the sky darkening as the ruined world crumbles.
My backpack has seen better days - a relic of times long passed with its once bright yellow straps, now dingy and dirty from travel over the years. But inside, it holds everything I have remaining.
I estimate I am somewhere in northern Texas, possibly Oklahoma. The air around me isn’t too humid, but it is still early, and the sky is darkening with each passing moment. It promises rain.
I must find shelter before then. It’s not like the rain itself will kill me. This isn’t the sort of apocalypse where the rain is acidic, or the environment is any more dangerous than it was before the world collapsed.
No, this is simply what happens when most of the human race disappears. What used to be trivial matters are now potential dangers without the benefits of once-modern medicine and comforts. And hypothermia is a very real danger.
So I breathe in deeply and turn to the right, trudging over moss-covered concrete, broken into shards by shifting earth and time. I can appreciate its decaying beauty, and truthfully, the cities are much more beautiful now since the disappearance. Their quiet stillness and the way they have succumbed to nature is eerily wonderful.
I enter a mostly intact building, crawling in through a window, its glass long broken and ground to dust. Inside is what must have once been a department store.
This is the part that is the creepiest - the old mannequins stare down at me, their faceless forms judging my feeble attempt at life. I pretend they talk to me, tell me I’m pathetic, that there’s no way a weak girl like me should have survived all this time. Not when everyone else I’ve loved has not.
But I ignore their silent judgment. It’s only my imagination, after all. I can just as easily shut them up as I can make them talk.
The rain begins to fall soon after, its soft plips like a melody against the ruined roof of the building.
That’s something no one tells you to expect about a world with few humans. Life, nature, the world is quiet. There are no planes, no cars, no sidewalk conversations. No technological buzz, no humming of a distant train.
The world is quiet as it recovers, and I close my eyes as I listen to its song.
A fire is easily created - I have learned the trick to it. It’s not a twisting motion that works best. Rubbing a smaller stick in a line over a larger one works much better. The friction builds quickly, and soon I am basked in the light of a small fire before me.
I don’t fear fire. Not like my mother used to when we were first forced to survive. She was afraid, afraid that someone would see its light and come to take from us.
I supposed she was right, somewhat. The world was a much calmer place now that so much of the life previously here was gone.
In the beginning, it was brutal. People looted stores, desperate to survive. Some tried to maintain order, while others took advantage of the anarchy and killed without abandon.
But those days are long since over. Meeting another person is rare, and when you do, there is never hostility. We have all learned to accept this natural way of life.
And so, I do not fear fire.
I sit with my hands before me, holding them out to warm them. The temperature has dropped, thanks to the rain.
This is the life I lead, now that the world has returned to the earth. I wander, never staying in one place for too long. I know others have congregated, but I find no interest in staying with others in one place.
After all, this world no longer requires me to be sedentary. I might as well roam while I am able.
The rain continues. Its gentle melody lulls me into a soft slumber, my head resting against my backpack. I am warm.
When I awake, it is night. The rain has stopped.
And before me stands a boy, his hair soaked in rainwater, with a dingy yellow backpack just like mine.