I knew that it wouldn't last long, my humble tribe. Whatever forces that gripped our world would soon extinguish us. I knew this for fact, knew that the ashen, cropless fields could not feed us, that the drought of the rivers and lakes would not quench our thirst, or that the evils of insane minds would inevitably drive once-reasonable men to rape us and kill us. And yet now we remain in our hovel, although suffering, brilliant and indefatigable and alive.

Orph I

Heartbeat of Man

Twilight suffused the unseeable void of night, graying the blacks and forming soft, angular shadows that licked the streets lined in rubble. Dust, ash, parts of buildings with rebar poking out their sides like stiff, crooked cilia. Unmoving but for small wisps of dust grabbed by weak currents of wind travelling eastward towards the hilly country. The whole of the city stagnated, eerily inert. No hum of traffic droned, no senseless chatter of humans on the sidewalks, nor even vines to cling to the leviathan skyscrapers or corner stores; no dogs or deer or any other of god's creatures to follow the fall of man.

There was only wind-like the pulse of a dying heart-and there was Sam. His crooked, skinny frame crumbled from his age. Leaning over the hood of a sedan layered on with dust, he winced from the strain that his back suffered even despite the featherweight of his body. A brief respite that could not last, some foolhardy spirit chattered in his mind that this could not be the end; that he could not sink further and further onto the ash and collapse there, becoming inert. That path would be sinful, antagonistic to some puppeteer inside him. So he proceeded, bent himself back upright to oppose the dead street ahead.

Steps had to be careful in barefoot, amongst shards of broken safety glass. Black diamonds of it, glimmering among the gray sheet. Sloppy, misshapen shadows of Sam's footprints hobbled behind him, imprinted upon the ash as if by a drunkard. No rhythm carried his feeble gait. At a crawling pace, he continued, meandering around the heaps of metal and rubber that littered the street. Something about them-their faded paints of bright red or orange or white and steely grays-faded like a mirage before him, obscuring their purpose in his mind. To him, they stood only as obstacles, formless things to walk around, without a word to speak of their use.

An onlooker would likely rate his journey aimless, but he had a clear path. From his shoulder swayed an old shopping bag, its logo obscured by rot and dirt, which held a parcel of scavenged food he would bring back to his girls at the salon; there they took refuge, where their dirt-caked faces peered over the countertop waiting for father. His destination lay around the corner of the street, on the east side of the vast four-way intersection that opened up before him. In all directions shapeless forms sat in the smog, clogging the ancient bloodlines that ferried cars and people so very far. Sam clambered to the center, admiring it all, the junction, the heart.

What gods could have built these things? He stood enraptured by the blissful thought of their society. Awesome thoughts of the metal beasts of burden they had tamed, or of the immense intelligences that must have been bartered with to facilitate the planting of the concrete trees whose trunks cut off in perfect square corners, all came to him as he dormantly stood. Perhaps they had conquered the vast sky, too, sending eagles that screamed across the heavens to deliver materials around the universe. His tired gaze wandered to the white blot of sun that withered among a field of gray, open sky, and thought of how they had even managed to command the great light to power their homes and factories. Or all these things he thought he remembered.

The time spent thinking was a sobering and needed waste. For although his daughters would go a few moments more without food, Sam could indulge in the one thing he was certain that made him just as human as his progenitors: beautiful, unbridled ingenuity through thought hindered neither by strife nor sadness. Because someday, he would barter with the great tree-planters, or the eagles in the sky, or the beasts which lay dead in metal heaps astride him. All it would take would be another day, another step towards the salon where his daughters wait in the cold.