It was four in the morning somewhere in a large burnt forest where he awoke in pain. His name was Marcus, but at this time he had no idea who he was because he was suffering from a concussion. The pain he was feeling seemed shattering, like every bone in his body had been broken and twisted, the pain was so intense that the only thing on his body he could move was his eyes.

He laid on the frozen ash covered ground for what seemed to him like days, but were really only several hours. He could do nothing but examine the dark smoky sky and recollect his memories. Quickly he remembered who he was, the people he knew, the old world, and the war that only happened a year and a half ago. He hated to think about the old world, this was because he didn’t like to remind himself that the world was once green, the sky once blue, and the water clear. But no, now it was all black. Marcus knew that if the world kept getting colder, there would be no hope for humanity. But there was still hope for the world, Marcus was starting to realize that in the past couple weeks the temperature had actually been rising, and the sky was getting brighter.

After several hours of laying on the ground in truly agonizing pain, he finally had enough strength to pull himself up out of the dusty snow on to his feet. He had a terrible limp in both his legs, so it took him several times to get up and not collapse under his own weight. Once he learned how to keep himself up without falling in pain, he started to analyze his surroundings. He noticed he was in a crater, not a large one, but one that may have been formed from some kind of explosion. The dead trees surrounding the crater had all fallen over, like a great wind had come out of the crater and knocked them down.

After he found his way out of the crater and out of clearing of fallen trees, he walked into the forest. The woods were black and he could hardly see anything. He was tired and still in pain, he knew he needed to find shelter, he noticed behind him past several trees was a narrow cliff that someone could easily climb up. As he was walking toward the cliff he tripped over something in the snow. Marcus knelt down and began to unearth the anomaly out of the snow, this wasn’t much of a challenge for him because the snow was very powdery and easy to move. When he was done, he was severely shocked at his discovery there laying in the black snow was the corpse of a man. Marcus had never seen a dead body before; he didn’t know how to react. Sure he felt great pity for the man, but didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t just leave him there, but he couldn’t give him a burial or a cremation; the ground was frozen and he didn’t have anything to start a fire, so he just did what they always did in the movies: he prayed for him, then closed the man’s eyes and put the man’s jacket over his face. Marcus noticed that the man had binoculars around his neck. He decided to take it so he could find a shelter once he reached the vantage point.

Climbing up the cliff wasn’t much of a challenge for him either. The cliff wasn’t that steep, and there were a lot of rocks so there was a lot of traction. To add onto that, the boots Marcus was wearing were leather mountain boots so climbing was very easy.

After several miles up the mountain side, he finally found a proper vantage point over the valley. He looked across the desolate land, desperately searching for any sign of human life (or at least anything green). The entire valley was burned and it seemed as though there was nothing left alive. He searched the valley from the edge, all the way to the horizon which was covered by mountains and dead trees that looked more like jagged and broken toothpicks. He started to fill his mind with depressing thoughts that he could be the last man standing, the sole survivor of Armageddon.

When it seemed as though there was no hope of finding any sign of human life in this valley, he saw it. Deep in the valley he saw a line of smoke coming out of the dusty valley. He instantly pulled out the binoculars, cleaned the dust of the lens, then followed the smoke to its source. There he saw a gas station with a parking lot that had several shanty shacks. The name of the gas station was unrecognizable due to the distance Marcus was at. After seeing the twisted dead landscape, he suddenly noticed how incredibly quiet the land was, there was nothing, no birds chirping, no sounds of animals wandering through the trees, absolutely no sounds of cars speeding through a nearby highway. Not even the earth dared to make even a whisper here. The wind didn’t blow, the trees didn’t drop, and it seemed as though all water stood still. It seemed like he was the only living thing left on the planet. All his life he had never felt as lonely as he felt then. After experiencing such a feeling of almost complete loneliness, the only words that could leave his mouth was, “I’m losing hope.”

Soon after, he lowered himself down from the bluff and headed straight for the gas station he spotted from the bluff. It was several miles from Marcus’s current location. Due to the unknown pain that was still running through his bones, he walked at a very slow pace. As he wandered through the forest he stumbled across many terrible things. During his walk he found many animal carcasses that lay frozen in the snow, he also stumbled across several burned corpses that the fires of the bombs had claimed.

Marcus began to weep, and asked himself “How did it come to this?”

“The war has taken everything from me. It has taken my family, my friends, my home…” He paused and realized that all his life, even before the war he’d never really had a place to call home. This was actually a good attribute for a new world like this. Those who were born travelers, could quickly adapt to the new lifestyle, the desolate land demanded refugees to cover the broken roads with the footprints of weary desperate travelers. This is what Marcus was, a refugee. Except he wasn’t like most drifters that covered the roads, most travelled in bands or in a tribe. Not Marcus, he would much rather travel alone than with others. There was something unique about him that neither he nor humanity could identify, but all his life he was wondering whether it was a positive or negative influence on his life.

He soon found a small stream in the forest after walking several miles. He fell to his knees and began to blindly drink the water with no regard of what toxins might be in the water. After his thirst was quenched, he found a calm section of the stream that he used as a mirror to see his reflection.

His reflection was somewhat deformed from the ripples in the water, but he could still see a good image of his face. He had brown frayed hair that was at a medium length and would sometimes cover his eyes and was somewhat wavy at the ends. He also had a thin trimmed beard which was pretty normal for men in the post Second Age because a razor wasn’t necessarily easy to get ahold of. Most men just trimmed their faces with scissors, but almost no man was clean-shaven. At first glance Marcus’s eyes appeared to be hazel but were really blue. He was wearing a black shirt with a grey neck, his pants were dark blue but were very dirty. His dark, leather boots came up to his shins. To cover himself and keep him warm he had a long, dark brown coat that went down to his calves. The only possessions he had on him was the clothes on his back. He had nothing else, no food, no water, no weapons.

Eventually, after several miles of walking he finally found a clearing. In the clearing there were vehicle tracks in snow that were filled with slush. The tracks went down a hill and attached to a highway. He followed down the tracks then slipped down the hill, all the way down to the paved road. Most of the road was covered by a layer of snow and ash but some of it was exposed. The main clue that it was a road was the railing, abandoned cars in the ditches, and old highway signs that still stood despite the war. He wandered down the highway then saw a sign sticking out of the ash, it said “Gas station, one mile.”

After the long mile to the station, he was finally there, the gas station stood right in front of him. The gas station was pretty intact, there were five shacks that were put together with what seemed to be car parts, next to the station was a small shop. On top of the gas station were broken neon lights that spelled out “baby dragon gas.” After reading the sign the only thing Marcus could say was, “What a terrible name.”

He walked straight away toward the shop. Inside the shop was a middle-aged man behind a snack bar. Before the man could say a word Marcus interrupted him saying, “Do you have anywhere I can lie down?”

“There’s a couch in the backroom that you can crash on, so long as you promise not to cause any trouble.” The man responded firmly.

“Thank you, and trust me I won’t try anything.” Marcus impatiently replied, then headed straight for the backroom.

The room was very messy, and the couch was uncomfortable; but Marcus didn’t care, he was tired. He collapsed on the stiff couch, used his jacket as a blanket then laid his head on the cushion, turned to his side then quickly fell into a deep sleep.

 

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Photo: https://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/2012/entries/130212/view/

 

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