Monday, December 12, 2011



I had just met you
The steam of our breaths
Still chased one another in
The hush snowfall.
Dreams of pines so vast
Their roots entwined in the earth and
Their branches holding each other up.
We would see them some day;
We would be them some day.

You cut your bangs too short
And wouldn’t let me see them
But I thought you
An angel still.
We wouldn’t kiss, but you would
Teach me how to lust so,
And I lost years in this timeless snow.

And now I gravely wonder as I slip
Down this downward spiral
Will I find you again
The real you
The icy gaze and the
Thawing smile
Will I whisper that curse again
The hopeful I love you
Will I find my way
Through untainted snow
To a bliss
Of not knowing
No, not remembering
        What I lost
        When the snow was gone?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Ashen Stag - Second Edition

Chris turned the door handle and eased it shut to keep out the wind and cold. There was no reason to be quiet, because there was nothing else that cared about the sound, but there was something about the silence that comforted him. Loud noises scared him.
            He turned to face the room he had just entered. Light struggled in through a window mottled with dust and ash. A couch sat facing an immaculate TV, the cushions riddled with holes from small insects looking for a warm home at night. There was nothing of value in this room. He walked into the next room, a small foyer where two pairs of shoes sat next to each other under some shelves. He passed into the next room.
            The yellow walls were nearly grey with a thick layer of dust and ash, and the floors were so caked with it that he couldn’t tell if they were wood or carpet. The wall opposite the door he entered was shedding its wallpaper like a reptile, and it was splotched brown and black. The bed below it was also cloaked in a thick layer of dust, but there was something big on it. He gently stepped through the detritus on the floor to the side of the bed. He reached down and began brushing the soot off of it with his sleeve. He saw two pairs of feet, two legs – bodies. He didn’t want to touch the faces so he leaned over and blew on them. The dust swirled around and got on his scarf and in his hair, but he saw what was beneath it. Two faces, one missing a jawbone and one with a hole in the side of its head. Both preserved, both missing eyeballs and both angled in towards each other. Their white skin was painted black with old blood. In between them lay a pistol, waiting to kill again.

            When Chris had first woken up, he awoke with a startle. He couldn’t move, and the glass in front of him was covered in so much grime that he couldn’t see anything. He struggled and struggled but he could hardly lift his arms. He tried to bring his head up, but he could barely do that, either. He felt pain in his elbows and realized there was something in his veins. He tried to pull the IVs out, but as he peered into the darkness he saw that his skin had grown around the edge of the tubes. They were a part of him now. He grabbed one and pulled at it. He tried to scream, but his voice wouldn’t work. He kept pulling, tugging, and there was a small sound as the IV came out of his left arm. Tears streamed down his face, and he felt something wet on his arm. He pulled the other IV out; he still couldn’t scream. He lay still afterwards, exhausted by his efforts, bleeding.
            He worked up the strength to push up on the glass above him. With a cracking noise, the giant lid swung away. Light streamed into his casket. It was too bright and he closed his eyes.
            He slowly sat up and was able to open his eyes. He looked at his naked body first. It looked like a mummy’s, with every muscle and bone pushing bleakly outwards against tight skin. His skin was parchment-white. His arms streamed blood out of too-big holes where the IVs had been. A catheter led out of his penis and something else led out of his anus.
            It took Chris nearly 20 minutes to unplug his body and ease it out of the container he had been in. He found himself in a small concrete room with a single skylight illuminating the box perfectly. Nothing else in the room but a door.
            He tried to walk but his legs wouldn’t work and he fell forward. He couldn’t catch himself and gave himself a bloody nose and a cut eyebrow from the fall. He crawled towards the door and pushed it ajar.
            In this other room another skylight illuminated a compact, moss green book on a flat pedestal. Dust motes swam around it, beckoning him to the thin ledger. He pulled it down and opened it.
            It told him that his name was Christian, and if he was reading this, he was one of the last human beings on earth. In 2009, he had been cloned from the body of another man, and placed inside of a chamber that would keep him alive, in the event of the end of humanity. He was to go into the adjacent rooms to find a woman who had also been cloned and kept alive for the same purpose, and together they were supposed to begin the human race again.
            Before even taking the time to finish reading the book, he looked at the opposite wall and saw another door. He crawled towards it and pushed it open. Inside was a container similar to his own. He pulled himself up to look into it, but he saw that it was empty. A single handprint in the grit on the lid looked fresh, and through the glass he saw emptiness. He looked around and to his left he saw an open door, with stairs beyond it lit by some natural light above. He stumbled to the door and looked up; above him were several sets of stairs in a concrete stairwell, and at the top, an open door. No woman. Just himself and a book and whatever the world was beyond that.

            Chris looked at the bodies in the room a while longer. He could tell they were women, but nothing else. They could have been mother and daughter, sisters, lovers, friends… They might have been doctors or athletes or the grill cooks at the McDonald’s in the nearby mountain town. But what destroyed humanity had made them to want to die. Chris understood it, but he didn’t. He was the last one. He felt rare when looking at all this death, like some mystical creature, and he needed to be preserved.
            He walked out of the room and through the next door, which led into the kitchen. He walked over the bubbling linoleum to the refrigerator, and tugged on the handle until the door swung open with a snap. In the unlit space was a collection of things too shriveled with age to be recognized. Chris brushed these out of the way and peered into the back. Several cans sat in a cluster, their labels so old that they showed only faint stains of what they once depicted. He grabbed these and put them in his bag. He would find out their contents later.
            Chris walked softly out of the house and into the cold.

            After Chris had first come out of hibernation, he had crawled up the staircase and into this grim hell. He sat at the top of the stairs for a while, looking through the doorway at the winds sweeping soot and embers over dirt that blistered and peeled for lack of water. The sun was muted by dull clouds and did little to warm Chris’s bony body. After a while he stumbled into the cold and began wandering, determined to find clothes, food, water, all of the things he needed.
            He came to a forest; what had been one, anyway. Black and gray trees lay on top of each other like a mass grave, with not a single leaf to be found. Here and there, a solitary tree stood still, its base too swollen with bulbous growths to let the tree fall.
A pain punched his stomach like a sledgehammer, and he dropped to the hard dirt at his feet seeing double images. He tried to scream but all that came out was a raspy squeal. Suddenly he was not seeing what was in front of him, but-
            Honey will you marry me – do you take this woman to be your – Chris, I’m pregnant – I love you – Images of Chris and a woman sifted through his consciousness as his body started to convulse. It couldn’t be him, he’d just woken up from hibernation, it must have been the man he was cloned from – when will you pick Sammie up from daycare – I love you – some day all of this will be gone – I love you – I love you… Chris twisted on the frozen earth as he saw his predecessor’s life. He cried and curled into a ball, wanting the images stop, and he lay there sobbing and hugging his pointy knees to his shivering chin. All of these experiences were ones he’d never have. He’d have dead forests, naked wastelands, a strangled sun and himself, himself just an imperfect, broken copy of a human.
Chris pulled himself out of the dirt, and pulled the frozen tears from his face. He tried to forget what he’d never have. He staggered through these trees for a while, wondering who would want to live in a world like this when he came onto a small pond crisscrossed with fallen trees and sludgy with ash. He watched the liquid tremble with the wind. He dipped his finger in it and found that it was freezing cold.
            He looked around him. He’d not seen a single living thing in the hours he’d been awake. He looked at the bloodstains on his emaciated arms, and then down at his shriveled penis and his legs too weak to carry his own weight. He looked up at the sun and saw only a faint glow struggling through a charcoal sky. He was alone on a dead planet, a relic of a time when there was meaning to the world.
            Chris waded into the water and struggled through the gray sludge until he was waist deep. He let his legs collapse, and submerged his entire body under the surface. As his face went under, part of himself urged him to go back up, but he pushed himself further under.
He would not bring a child into this earth.
His veins began to sting with his pulse, and his lungs screamed at him. He clutched at the soil at the bottom and struggled to pull himself lower. He felt regret.
Chris would not let anyone see this depravity.
He opened his mouth and began to take in the sludgy water, retching and breathing in at the same time. He vomited it back up and began convulsing and turning around.
But would he ever find love?
His feet pounded the bottom and his legs pushed him up and out of the water. He threw up and gasped in the thick air around him and rubbed the water out of his eyes.
            Across the pond from him posed a large stag. It had a flecked grey coat and grayish antlers. Chris could only stare as the animal stood proudly amidst the destruction around them. That was the moment he decided he wanted to live. He felt almost embarrassed having this animal see him this way, puke stains running down his face and neck and black chunks of ash dotting his face from his suicide attempt.
            The animal turned slowly, and began to gently walk into the maze of fallen trees. Chris waded back to the shore and began to violently sob and shiver. The stag paused and cocked an ear towards him, then continued on its journey.

            Olivia had awoken into a world of gray. She was tethered to the insides of her coffin. She freed her body and pushed the lid of her casket up and put herself on her feet. Lazy light fell upon her from above, marking every dust mote on its frantic journey through the center of the room. Olivia tried to stand and walk towards the door in front of her, but she only stumbled forward and caught herself on the doorframe. She stayed there panting as her vision blurred, and waited for the rush of blood to her head to subside. She pushed the door in front of her open.
            In front of her was a pedestal lit from above with light. The air in the room was still and felt ancient. On the pedestal sat a green book and a dark red book. She lifted the small scarlet book and sat against the pedestal.
            The book told her that she was Olivia, and she was a clone. She would only be awoken if something horrible had happened to humankind, and she now had the choice to restart the human race, but only if she felt it was safe. All she had to do was revive her male counterpart in the room adjacent hers.
            Olivia looked on the other side of the pedestal at the door, and stood to hobble over to it. She opened it and found a room identical to the one she had come to life in. She studied the coffin in the center, covered in soot. She didn’t even look inside of it, and only pushed a green button on the side. Olivia climbed out of the small bunker, rosy book in hand. She entered a violent storm.
            Chris never went more than a few dozen miles from where he had awoken; he didn’t have enough supplies to allow excursions that far away, and he figured that if his female companion-to-be was still alive, she’d not stray too far away either. He found a small cabin crouched against a steep rock face, surrounded by dead forest, and he had chosen this as his home. Inside the cabin was a bed, a small fireplace, some furniture, a healthy supply of canned food, and a small collection of books and magazines, which were some of the only forms of entertainment he had.
            He spent most of his time wandering around. He couldn’t think of any better way to find this woman, and it kept him from sitting in his cabin thinking too much. He had searched some of the land nearby, but he continued his searches in ever-expanding circles, sometimes gone from his cabin for days at a time. Whenever he was gone, he’d leave a note on his cabin door:

Dear visitor, please come in and help yourself to some food
until I get back. We have much to talk about! Cheers, Christian

            To his knowledge, no one had ever entered his house while he was gone. Chris was always at least a little excited to get home, and his heart would skip a beat when he opened his door at the thought of the woman waiting there for him. Something told him it might never happen.
            As he wandered, he would search the buildings he came across for food and other useful materials. He’d find these sometimes. He’d find lots of bodies. Lots of suicides. Sometimes what looked like homicides. He had lost any fear of seeing dead bodies. In fact, he had touched some of them: when he saw a piece of jewelry winking at him through the layers of filthy slag, he would often take it off of the body and put it in his pocket. In a previous time it might have been grave robbing, but there was no one to care now. He did it for different reasons than greed, too: he would take these home and pin them to a map of the area he had found in a gas station, each item where he had found it. Some of the small mountain towns nearby were marked by huge clusters of jewelry on the map. Parts of it looked like a mosaic, with emeralds and lots of diamonds and turquoise and gold. His favorite – a lapis lazuli – hung in a solitary position, near a small lake in the foothills not far from his cabin. It was a man’s wedding band. Now it sat as a small halo in the center of the new world.

            Christian had traveled nearly 40 miles away from the cabin into the desert when he heard a gunshot. He heard it and froze in disbelief; a smirk edged across his lips, and he began walking towards where he thought it came from. The sand grabbed at his feet, slowing him down, but he walked faster and faster towards the dead forest to the north of him. He had never seen another living person, and only a person can fire a gun.
            His voice was hoarse and fumbling from years of little use. He began talking to himself, hearing how it sounded, and trying to form words. It was not as deep as he thought it would be.
            “Hello, my name is Christian,” he began, sounding like a pubescent boy. He kept trotting and eyed the clouds roiling on the horizon.
            “What’s your name?” he asked and then laughed. This could be her. His twin of sorts. He would begin shouting once he got closer. He was only half a mile away, maybe less.
            “I have a cabin southwest of here, with a fireplace and some beds,” he proclaimed. “A fireplace… and some beds.” It all sounded so funny to him, like it was too loud.
            As he got closer, Chris began yelling. “HELLO?”
            His heart thumped against his body from the jog and the thought of finding someone to talk to. He was lonely. He played games of UNO with himself when he was at home. He needed a partner.
            “I’M HERE FOR YOU!” He yelled. “PLEASE COME TO ME!”
            He reached the first few trees and began to clamor over them. There was a small rocky hill above him, and he pulled himself to the top while he continued shouting. “I’M RIGHT OVER HERE! MY NAME IS CHRISTIAN AND I HAVE A CABIN FOR YOU!”
            Chris reached the highest point of the weathered rocks and looked at the scenery around him; many similar rocky hills splayed out in front of him, except they were much larger. The area in between was carpeted with decrepit trees and a matted, dry grass and several black pools like the one he had tried to kill himself in. He could just barely see a gray hart hopping over trees around the side of a black pool, running away.
            Several hundred feet away to his right, a person in black was dropping down a rock hill, lowering a rifle and then descending. She looked up at him and stared.

            Olivia found a small cabin when she came out of hibernation. The tempest she struggled through obscured the foothills around her, but she knew she had entered the mountains when the winds subsided slightly and she had to climb and hike up the rocky hills. After that it wasn’t long until she discovered the cabin, with brown log siding and a black SUV parked in the driveway. Her body couldn’t take anymore when she tugged on the door handle. Her fingers were so cold they wouldn’t even move. She managed to open it and walked inside, more afraid of the tumult outside than whatever could be inside.
            The cabin was small but cozy, although it looked like someone had thrown things around. Clothes lay on the floor and couch and chairs here and there, and several fire logs had spilled from the fireplace in the center of the living room. Olivia gathered some of the clothes and found that they were a woman’s; she put them on as she tried to call for help, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. She heard no one, and sighed in relief as her bare skin was shielded from at least the wind.
            Olivia walked through the house gathering clothes, putting on whatever she could and putting whatever she couldn’t inside a backpack that rested against the couch. In the kitchen she found a few snack bars and other foods, and she put these in the backpack too. She entered one of the two other doors in the cabin. On the bed she saw laid a body, rotted and deformed; a noose was loosely wrapped around its neck, the end cut. She fell backwards in her hurry to leave, and as she lay on her back in the main room, she saw a piece of rope tied around the rafters directly above her. She rolled to the side and heaved and heaved, spitting up clear bile on the rugs beneath her. She grabbed the backpack from where she fell and staggered out of the house. Olivia never stayed in another house for more than a week. Death scared her.

            The Fat Man that was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945, weighed 10,213 pounds and was 10.7 feet long. It killed about 75,000 people. It made a crater a mile wide. The Tsar Bomba was tested on October 30th, 1960 in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, weighed 60,000 pounds, and was 26 feet long. It had a blast radius of 8 miles. Windows were broken more than a thousand miles away. The resultant seismic shock was measurable even after passing around the Earth three times.
            Chris once found a crater in the desert far to the east of his cabin, about 70 miles away. He noticed the sand becoming harder and harder until he was walking on glass. The glint of the dead sun on the dead earth adorned his body and face with a soft light. The winds became furious and tugged at the scarves around his neck and the beanie and sunglasses on his head. As he continued the glass grew an opalescent depth with the beauty of a transparent frozen lake.
Chris felt his stomach churn. He pictured a man and a woman on a sailboat lazily floating atop turquoise waves that slowly lapped against the wooden craft. They gazed at each other with adoration. Can this last forever? No sound interrupted the brief silence. Yes, it can. Love never stops. The two embraced and now Chris was on his knees and he was heaving. He prayed for it to stop but he saw the two kiss and he threw up on the glass in front of him and fell onto his side shaking. He lay there wanting what he would never have; Chris was destined for a lonelier existence. Eventually he stood and wiped his mouth and continued shivering and walking.
He saw the crater long before he got to it. The glass began to slope down and soon he was looking into a window twenty, thirty miles wide. It was a giant glass bowl; a chunk of erased life. A space of nonexistence. For a while he wondered if there was an evil god who erased all the people, millions at a time until they were a memory. Memories of love and felicity like the ones he had been given.
            God forgot a few.

            “MY NAME IS CHRISTIAN!” he shouted again as he jumped down the rocks towards her. He didn’t even think to keep his pistol in his pocket. Didn’t even cross his mind.
            They drew nearer, he skipping and she prowling to meet each other near a slowly churning, inky pool of black water. Her black hair spilled from under a brown beanie and the wind wrapped it under her face. Her long black coat waved in the wind and her pale skin wasn’t even flush with the cold. She pulled her gun up and pointed it at his face. Chris stopped so fast he nearly fell down and his smirk disappeared.
            They said nothing.
            “Who are you?” she finally called from across the pool.
            “I’m Chris,” he shouted.
            “What are you doing?”
            “I heard a gunshot and – are you a clone?”
            “Are you a clone?”
            “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” She lowered the gun slightly, and the left side of her face tensed and went slack again. A tic.
            “Never mind. Who are you?”
            She thought about it, and dropped the gun more as she did, but she leveled it back at his chest after some thought. “I’m Isabelle. What are you doing?”
            “I’m looking for someone. A woman, she was supposed to be a clone –“
            “Quit fucking saying that to me!” She tightened her hold on the gun’s grip.
            “I’m sorry, it’s just that I… Never mind, I’m sorry. Will you put the gun down?” he asked, his voice getting a little more upset. This was not how it was supposed to happen.
            “Not until I feel like you’re not going to try and kill me,” she growled.
            “Why would I do that?”
            “You wouldn’t be the first one.”
            “You’ve seen other people?” Chris didn’t like this.
            “Not for a few years. They’ve all killed themselves or died from radiation poisoning or murder or lack of water. It’s just you and me, from what I can tell.” She jerked the gun at him. The left side of her face twitched.
            “If it’s just you and I, why would you be pointing a gun at me? I’m not going to hurt you.”
            She slowly lowered the gun but seemed tensed like a cat ready to pounce. “What do you want from me? Food? Medicine?”
            “No, no, I’m fine. I want to talk to you. Do you want to talk?” Chris began circumventing the pool towards her.
            Isabelle nodded slowly. “Do you have somewhere we can go?”
            “Not nearby. I live about 40 miles from here.” He pointed south and southwest. “We can go there if you want.”
            She thought about it, and then shook her head. “Not today. Today is Sunday. I need to go home tonight.”
            “Wait, you live near here?”
            “You don’t get to know where I live. If you want to talk, we can meet here tomorrow morning at this same spot. I need some time to think about this.”
            Chris would have to camp nearby to wait, but something was intriguing about this woman. Maybe it was because she was the last woman on the earth. He didn’t think his twin still lived. Or maybe this was she and she wouldn’t tell him.
            “So is that a yes?” Her voice sounded a little softer. Less like a dog barking at an intruder and more like a dog barking at another dog. She twitched.
            “Sure, I’ll see you here,” Chris replied through the wind. He wanted to tell her not to leave yet, but he didn’t. She seemed fragile.
            “Yeah, I’ll see you then.” Isabelle scowled, and she kept her eyes on him and strutted away through the trees at the same time.
            Chris sat down on a tree and tried not to watch her retreat. Love burns, he thought, but somehow he still felt a little less lonely. He now had a purpose.
            Isabelle. I kind of like that name.

            Olivia once returned to the basement she had come out of hibernation in. She had been afraid of entering. What if her male companion was sitting in there, waiting for her? She knew she wanted that, but it scared her too. Olivia entered nonetheless, placing her boots on the stairs her bare feet had once struggled on. When she reached the bottom, the dust around her seemed exactly as she had left it. She entered the main room where she had found her book, and the green book was still there. She wondered if it was possible that the other clone never woke up. Olivia entered the room where he had been, and saw the open casket with nothing inside. She turned back to the book and put it in her backpack. She would need to give him the book when she found him.
            Olivia felt then that this other clone was out there looking for her, trying to fulfill his purpose of rekindling the human seed. She didn’t care as much about that; she simply couldn’t take being alone anymore. She had been awake for months now, and she had never talked. She had never even seen another person. Olivia had smiled, truly happy, once.
            She had found a single-story home isolated on a wasteland of split, parched dirt. A single side of the house had collapsed in, and the rest of the house seemed slightly askew, like it could fall over at any second. The door on the front porch was open, and she gently stepped through it. The floors seemed sturdy, so she continued into the house.
            The house looked like it had been ransacked before she got there, and the only things that remained in the kitchen were some eating cooking utensils. Olivia continued through a dining room, and found herself in the center of the house. Ahead of her, there was a small enclosure with no roof and glass on all sides, a courtyard only ten feet wide on each side. The ground of this small yard was covered in rose bushes, dark maroon and golden honey roses twisting around each other. She stepped closer and saw some sort of irrigation system with fresh water inside of it. There was a door on one side, and she pulled it open and stepped gingerly onto the bed of thorns. The plants had carpeted the ground and begun to climb the glass walls, wrapped around each other like a matted twine. Roses peered at her like aliens. They were idols of a world that would never exist again, and Olivia had never seen something so beautiful. She smiled, euphoric.
            Olivia took two roses with her when she left the house later that day. She took a red one and a yellow one, and wrapped them in paper towels she kept in her backpack. She couldn’t take the image of so much beauty surrounded by imperfection from her mind, and it enchanted her endlessly.
            A week later Olivia found what had been an artist’s studio in the basement of a house, and she looked at all of the black and white pictures hung around the room; pictures of trees, houses, a sunrise, and some abstract images of people. She sat at the desk in the center of this and tried to recreate a picture of a tree in front of her using a charcoal stick and sketchpad laid open. It looked distorted though. She couldn’t tell why, but she supposed she had never seen a live tree.
            Olivia tried to draw herself, but it again looked distorted. She had seen her face in mirrors many times, and she knew she used to have long blonde tresses that were now nearly white from lack of sunlight. She didn’t even know where to start with drawing herself because she didn’t know much else about herself by heart. She didn’t find herself very beautiful, like the roses…
            She pulled out the yellow rose from her pack and unwrapped it. It laid on the table, dry and wilted, but more beautiful than anything she could imagine. She drew it slowly with the charcoal, trying to smudge the blacks to make greys, but she didn’t have the coordination. Olivia grew frustrated and wrapped the rose back up. She paused, and then grabbed the charcoal and the sketchbook and placed them with the roses back in the bag. She knew the roses would not last forever, but she would capture their beauty somehow.

            Chris had only ever fired his gun once. He had found the gun on a man with chunks of his head missing, laying in the living room next to his wife and two young children. He had not seen a scene like this in a while; his stomach kept turning and he couldn’t look away. The setting sun made for an ethereal light inside the well-windowed house. Light shone from all directions and framed the death at his feet like a museum exhibit.  
            Something dropped on the floor upstairs and he heard a scratch, something dragging its nails against the wall or floor. Chris’s stomach did somersaults now, and his eyes rolled towards the stairs next to the kitchen to his left. He wasn’t alone in this evil house. He thought to leave but he knew he couldn’t without knowing who or what it was.
            “Hello?” his own voice frightened him, but the answer was worse. There came a series of bumps like someone was boxing against the wall. Or stomping towards him. He hunched down next to the man and held his greyish wrist as he pulled the gun out of a cold, hard, mummified hand. The steel was so cold it bit at his fingers, but he wrapped both hands around it and pointed it at the stairs. He slowly walked towards the stairs with the noise from upstairs getting even more raucous. Thump thump thump thump thump thump. He saw light sliding underneath the door directly in front of him and something stepping around inside with each bump. It was hitting the door.
            “Hello?” came his raspy voice again. He checked the kitchen behind him and then continued up the stairs. The gun in his hand shook up and down; he was so high on fear that he felt he might pass out and fall back down the stairs to sleep with the family in the living room. Part of a family. Something he’d never be.
            He reached the landing called out to the flimsy-looking wooden door in front of him one more time. “I’m not here to hurt you! My name is Christian!”
            The thumping didn’t stop.  Christian wanted to go home and pretend this place never existed, this solitary, flaky-painted house in the desert with broken windows and cobwebs and a family in the living room, but he knew this thing would find him some day. He just felt it.
            Chris opened the door enough to see inside. He could barely see a pile of bones on a bed in the middle of a dirty, bloody room, lit by the white-grey light from outside. He tried to close the door but something wouldn’t let him and he looked down and saw a dog pushing its head through and he stepped back. The dog – a greyhound – ran into him and he fell down the stairs. The gun discharged and he heard it puncture the house and slide from his hands. As he rolled over at the foot of the stairs, he saw the skinny greyhound ease its skeletal body down the stairs easily. It had several sores on its skin that was so tight, it looked like it was about to tear. The dog growled angrily, opening its mouth to show sharp fangs that looked oversized compared to the hollow face. There was something so human in those eyes. It looked like a boxer, bleeding and broken but able to kill.
Chris pulled himself towards the gun in the kitchen, and the dog paused at the foot of the stairs with its sunken eyes staring at him. It looked ready to pounce and he wondered if it wouldn’t rip his pale face off before he could get to the gun; it turned to the door and limped out.
            Chris stood and grabbed the gun from the ground and walked past the family to the door. The greyhound hobbled and stumbled in the sand. Chris closed the door and forced himself back up the stairs. Through the open door, he saw a bed with a wooden frame adorned with numerous chew marks. Bones lay everywhere, on the bed, the floor, coming out of the closet. The wooden floor was stained a dark cherry with old blood and the once-light bedsheets were now a scarlet-black. The room reeked of death even worse than the living room below. In the right corner a half-eaten, nearly mummified dog lay with its belly toward him. All the dog bones frightened him. He had just released a killer. It was death and he had opened the door for it.
            Chris took nothing from that house and did not mark it on his map. He slept with that gun for fear that he would hear the thump thump at his door.

            The night of waiting for Isabelle was not as long as he had thought it would be. His watch (a nearly indestructible Casio he had found in a ransacked department store in the mountains) showed him it never got below 0 degrees that night, and he had a warm sleeping bag and tent. He cooked baked beans over the fire and read an old National Geographic. White rhinos were being hunted to extinction for their horns, which Asian doctors believed could cure any ailment. The rhinos were beautiful and looked almost like something from this new, dead world, with their lack of pigmentation and vacant black eyes. He’d never see a rhino. Chris fell asleep.
            He dreamt of a man – himself in a former life, maybe. The man had a child. She had bright blue eyes and blonde hair that curled around her rosy cheeks and she had the perfect giggle. He would stay home with her on rainy days and they would eat macaroni and cheese and stomp through the puddles in their green, grassy yard. They’d climb the big oak behind their house and laugh at the squirrels hiding from the downpour in their oaky houses, and when they got too wet they’d go inside and warm up by the fireplace and drink hot cocoa and read stories to each other, although she couldn’t read too well, and when mom came home they would make her dinner and they would cuddle up under the blankets and fall asleep to the patter of raindrops outside. It was Chris, and he didn’t like it and he felt sick and –
            “Chris?” came Isabelle’s voice. Chris’s eyes snapped open.
            “Oh, I’m sorry, I just woke up!” He began pulling on his jacket and opened the flap to the tent. Isabelle sat on a stone outside, her rifle in her lap. She still wore the black coat and olive pants and black boots she had worn yesterday. Chris pulled on his shoes and looked at her closely for the first time. She had a slender nose and a perfect mouth. Her soft black eyebrows shaded green eyes that summed him up in a single glance. Her skin was pale and had a slight ochre hue to it and several tan blemishes. Chris wanted to keep looking but something about her gaze frightened him and so he focused on tying his boots.
            “Where are you from?” Chris asked as he packed his tent. It felt so good to talk to another person that he didn’t care if he sounded awkward. He could tell this wasn’t his twin, though. Now that he looked at her closer. There was something… older about her.
            “I lived in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Northwest of here.” She looked in that direction and watched, like she could almost make it out from here. She twitched.
            Chris waited for her to ask him where he was from and realized he didn’t know how to explain it. He was a clone. He had the memories and the skills and everything else from a man named Christian, but he was just a copy. Would she accept that? She didn’t ask, anyways.
            Chris packed the last of his supplies into his backpack. “Are you ready?”
            “I wanted to tell you: if we want to talk, we should go to my house. It’s about 3 miles from here.” She seemed like she was confessing. “I’m sorry I made you stay out here last night when I was so close.”
            Chris laughed. “It’s fine. I would have been doing that anyway. Let’s get going?”
            Isabelle stopped before him. She was shorter than him but her look was so menacing. “Just don’t try anything.”
            Chris shook his head. “I won’t hurt you, Isabelle.” They walked.

            On the way to Isabelle’s house, it began to rain. Isabelle explained what had happened that made the world this way.
            “When our country began to launch its nuclear weapons, Korea and China followed in suit. There were no sides; it was just like a restriction had been removed and they had all been waiting. Iran began to launch them at Europe and within 20 minutes Germany, France, and England had all launched weapons. India launched them at Afghanistan and China and Pakistan, and Australia and Canada and Mexico launched them. Nearly every country that had them used them. It all happened within a few hours, I think. No one ever knew exactly what happened after 20 minutes though because something happened to our phones and our TVs and our Internet. Everything just… stopped. I think that there were thousands launched. Something went wrong and no one knows what it was, but that was the day the world went away. I was with my… My husband. My son was at his grandmother’s house…” She stopped. Chris was walking behind her and saw her bring a hand up to her face. They kept walking.
            Chris thought he knew. Her son wasn’t here, after all.
            A few minutes later, she began again.
            “There were earthquakes for several days so strong that our house ended up collapsing. We left after two days because we could hear things cracking. We stayed in the Rock Springs High School gymnasium. Everyone had been told to go there. Even that early on, there were only a few hundred people there. We all knew that Rock Springs had not been directly hit, but people… couldn’t take it. You’ve seen all the suicides around. My husband brought it up with me one day when we left the gym to go outside to a park. A few big trees had collapsed. There was so much ash in the sky that it was nearly dark. It was cold and he held me and we laid against a tree and he asked me…” She stopped again and brought her hand up. She kept walking.

            Isabelle and her husband huddled against a fallen oak in the park.
The wind whipped between them and the tree. Carrying radiation.
            “Is this the world you want to live in?” he asked. He looked out at the darkness. The Earth groaning and cracking in pain, the sky gone, the sound of guns every half an hour as someone took their own life or someone else’s life for them. This world.
            Isabelle didn’t answer. Her son hadn’t been asked if this was the world he wanted to live in. That question was answered for him.
            “Thompson said we won’t be able to see the sun for half a year. Is that what you want?” He squeezed her shoulder when he asked.
            “What else is there?” Tears filled her eyes because he knew what he was asking and she had always known that was wrong. She missed her son.
            “Isabelle… I don’t want this. I’ve puked up everything I’ve eaten. My son is dead and-“
            “OUR son! He was my son too and I’m not using him as an excuse! You think I don’t miss him? You think I don’t-“
            “Isabelle, please…”
            “-want to go see him? You think I don’t want to take the easy way out? Look at yourself, you said you’d always be there for me and you weren’t there for me when I was pregnant and you were in some stupid war and-”
            “Isabelle, just think about it.”
            “-you weren’t there for me when I had to quit college and you weren’t there for me when MY second child only had half a heart and you weren’t there for me when Dad died and you WON’T BE THERE FOR ME NOW!” She broke into sobs and she pulled away from him even though she was cold and there was a black snow falling all around them. A disgusting obsidian snow.
            “Isabelle… Just think about it,” he said as he looked at her. He tried to put his arm around her but she pushed it away and stood and walked back towards the High School and the other people.

            Chris walked behind her in silence for another ten minutes. They were still in the same dead forest, and the dirty rain that fell all around them slickened the blanket of ash and the dirt beneath it. He wondered if Isabelle even had a heart anymore. Everything was gone for her. Why would she want to live here when she had known something so much better?
            “That’s it,” she said and pointed at a small house on the side of a hill ahead and to their right. It looked like a place of hurt. The siding of the house was falling off and the roof over the porch was collapsing in. Black water dripped off of the corners and streamed off of the windows. They looked like a woman’s eyes when she cried and her makeup ran.
            “It looks nice,” Chris lied and smirked. Isabelle looked back at him in disbelief. She smiled at his joke. Twitch.
            Chris couldn’t explain what he felt. Isabelle had only known hurt for so many years. He wanted to take it all away and he wanted to see that smile more. The grin she had just shown him, as uneasy as it was. He didn’t know why but he was enchanted. The residue of death falling all around them and the angry sky above them made it all so surreal. The only thing he had wanted this whole time was right in front of him. He had memories of what love felt like from the man he had been cloned from. Isabelle could-
            “Take your shoes off, please,” she said as they walked in the ash-stained front door. He unlaced his boots and laid his pack next to hers at the front door. The living room they had entered had a high ceiling and several couches surrounded around a fireplace and an old TV with a cracked screen. “Would you like the full tour?” Twitch.
            “Of course,” Chris said. She eased off her outer coat and scarves and began into the kitchen and dining room that was connected to the living room.
            “The kitchen,” she said and continued through the dining area to a set of stairs. “This was my father’s house. He died of lung cancer right before the Holocaust. My mother died when I was 22.” Twitch.
            “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a very pretty house on the inside,” Chris said as he followed her up the stairs, looking out into the living room.
            “That’s the guest room – your room,” she mentioned and gestured to their right. She pointed in front of them. “This was my son’s room.” They stepped to the doorway and looked inside. A small bed sat in one corner and a collection of Legos and a handful of toy cars sat on a rug in the middle. An empty fish tank perched in another corner next to a desk with a small collection of books on it. The room looked untouched except for the absence of any refuse or soot. Isabelle moved on to their left.
            “And this is my room. It used to be my father’s.”
            This one was nearly as clean as her son’s. It had brown and green paint on the walls and unshaded windows blurred with the filthy rain that streamed down them. He could make out some hills in the distance through one window and through the others he saw the clouds glowing a dirty gold. “That’s a very nice view,” he said, and he wasn’t lying much this time. She turned towards him and they walked back downstairs. She began to light a fire in the living room.
            “Do you need help with that?” Chris offered.
            “I think I can handle it,” she said as she loaded blackened wood in and pulled out some newspaper and a lighter. She had a spasm and dropped the lighter and hurriedly picked it up. “Did you have a family?” She said after a minute.
            Chris thought about how he should say this. “I’ve never had anything.”
            “What does that mean?” Isabelle said without looking away from the wood.
            He sat on one of the couches and rubbed his face with his hands. “This is really hard to explain, so I’ll just say it: I’m a clone. I-”
            “What?” Isabelle turned away from the flaming newspapers that licked the firewood. Twitch.
            “I’m a clone. I was part of a government program to continue the human race in the event of something like this.” He watched her as she studied him now like some rare artifact, no longer a person. “I awoke from hibernation about a year ago and I was told that there was a female clone like me. She was gone by the time I woke up.”
            “Wait, who told you that? You’re really a clone?” she said in uncertainty.
            “Yes, I’m really a clone.”
            “You seem so real!” she said, and then the awe left her face when she realized she said it. “I’m sorry, that was rude. Who told you there was another clone?”
            “No one. There was a book waiting for me when I woke up.” This was less magical than he had thought it would be.
            “Have you found her yet?” she asked.
            “No. I think she may be dead because I barely survived. When I woke up my body was weak and useless after being in hibernation for so long-”
            “And you couldn’t find her so you are here with me instead.”
            “No. I’m lonely. You’re lonely. We’ll be happier if we’re not alone.”
            “… You’re right. Sorry.” She was quiet for several moments. “Who were you cloned from?”
            “Another man named Chris. He had a wife and a daughter and I can’t quite tell what else. I have his skills and his abilities but not much else.” He didn’t mention the memories. He liked to pretend they never happened.
            Isabelle just stared at him like she saw who he really was now.
            “Do you dislike me now?” Chris asked. He felt ashamed of himself, and he didn’t like this feeling.
            “No, it’s just… something I had never thought of. I don’t think I dislike you.” Chris thought she sounded like she was reassuring herself. Her face had a spasm.
            “Can we not talk about my past? It makes me uncomfortable.”
            “I can see. Tell me one thing: are you still looking for her?”
            “No, I don’t think so.” Chris didn’t say it, but it was nice just to have someone.
            “OK.” She watched him for a few more moments and then turned towards the fire, which was fully lit now. “Do you want to eat something?”
            “I’d love to,” Chris said and reached for his backpack and unzipped it.
            “No, I have food,” Isabelle said and walked to the kitchen. She came back with a can of baked beans and a can of chili meat. “All I have is canned food.”
            Chris smiled. “It’s alright, that’s all I have too.”
            “I’m glad I know what you are now.” Twitch.
            Chris swallowed everything he wanted to say. What he was is human.
            “Me too.” He tried to smile.

            Isabelle and her husband had moved into a small cabin in the mountains a few months after the Holocaust. They had learned that Rock Springs was one of the only towns not directly hit by a nuclear weapon. People all around them had been dying from the radiation poisoning in the water and the air, though, and there were over 3,000 suicides at that point. In a town of 23,000. Zachary Thompson, the principal of the high school, had taken a de facto rule over the town. He said there were more than 15,000 people dead in Rock Springs. That was when Isabelle and her husband left. They brought everything they could think of needing in their SUV, and drove to a cabin that they had stayed at during a Valentine’s Day weekend once. The cabin was empty, but the kitchen was full of food. They thought it could last them through the rest of the summer and until the beginning of winter.
            They passed the time playing board games or trying to go on hikes, even though the skies were still dark. At that point the trees were beginning to lose all of their leaves for the last time. Isabelle’s husband whittled animals and tried to stain them to look realistic, but they always ended up looking like a child painted them. Isabelle read books. She read all of the books in the house and read them a second time. She read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein over and over. She had been raised in a very religious family and found the idea of man creating life so disturbing… so intriguing. The idea that man cannot control, cannot prepare something for this violent world, concurred with everything she had been taught by her father. A creation could never be completely pure. It would seek answers but all it would find is animosity. Even its creator would shun it and the whole thing would be so horrifying that it would be erased. God alone held the power to create and destroy.
            Isabelle didn’t want to have sex. When she told her husband he didn’t seem perturbed, but she knew it upset him. They had tried and tried but she couldn’t get aroused. She told him it was because they were drinking less water. Really she was worried about what would happen to them. They wouldn’t be here in several years. She knew it. Part of her was worried because she had been unfaithful to God in the past. Would she be in heaven with her sons? Did God care about theft or premarital sex? She had made mistakes and it worried her. That was why she didn’t want to have sex.
            Her favorite statuette that her husband ever made was a small ram. It had horns too big for the head, and the crude carving reminded her of some Greek artifact. He stained it an amber color that looked somewhat realistic. He gave it to her one night as they went to bed.
            He reached into the drawer of small animals he had whittled and the ones he had trashed or never finished and pulled it out. “I made this one for you.”
            She turned it around in the pale lamplight. “It’s really pretty,” she said and kissed him on the forehead.
            “Are you going to name it?” The comment surprised her. He usually wasn’t so touchy-feely. “It needs a name.”
            She thought about it. “I like… Paris.”
            “That’s an odd name. Why that one?” He seemed to be losing interest.
            “It’s in a book I’m reading. He’s a beautiful prince. Your name is in it, too!” She smiled but he was looking away now, thinking of something else. “Is something wrong?”
            “No… no. Will you keep it forever?” He looked back to her. He was acting very gushy. She liked it.
            “Of course,” she whispered, and pulled him in for a kiss. She soon had her shirt off and he was caressing her body, moving his calloused hands over her smooth breasts and down to her crotch. She moved a hand to stop him, but she brought it back to his face and kissed him harder. Something was different in him now. Sometimes he showed her everything might be alright. She tried to do the same for him.
            They made love that night and they both enjoyed it. She whispered in his ear in ecstasy: “I love you. No matter what happens to us, I will always love you.” He pushed into her harder and harder and held her close, and then every muscle in him relaxed and they lay entwined, bathing in the afterglow. They fell asleep next to each other.
            The next day, Isabelle woke up feeling fine. For the first time in months. She couldn’t tell what time it was because it was always dark outside now. She looked at the watch on her nightstand and saw that it was late, one in the afternoon. She looked over to her husband but he wasn’t in bed. He had probably gone to get firewood or he could be whittling in the den. She put on one of his t-shirts, grabbed Paris in one hand, and lazily shuffled into the living room.
            From one of the rafters in the living room hung a rope. Her husband’s limp body dangled from it, spinning around so slowly. The swollen tongue pushed his mouth open and his naked body looked mottled with pale skin and dark spots. Isabelle screamed and fell to her knees. She pulled at her face with her nails and screamed again and again. She looked away and banged her head on the wall again and again. She should have known, she should have known. He wasn’t acting normally last night.
            She looked at him again and looked down to the small ram in her hands. In the bright light of the living room she saw etched on the stomach of the ram two words: I’m sorry.
            She should have known, she should have known.

            Chris laughed at Isabelle’s question. Isabelle had poured them some wine with their dinner and they were now taking turns asking each other ridiculous questions. She had just asked him what his favorite band was and then giggled.
            “You’re a funny one!” He said sarcastically.
            She got more serious. “Wait, what do you mean?”
            “I’ve never heard any music,” he said, a little sorry of the fact.
            “Oh… that’s right. I’m sorry! You seem like an Iron & Wine kind of guy.”
            “Is that a band?”
            “Yeah, they’re a damn good one, too. I haven’t heard them in a few years either. But it’s your turn to ask a question!”
            Chris looked at the crackling fireplace reflecting off of his wine glass and thought. He had a burning question for her, but he wasn’t sure if it would make things awkward between them. The wine made the decision for him.
            “What was your husband’s name?”
            She bit her lip and held her wine glass up. She took a drink. “Achilles.”
            “That’s an interesting name.”
            “He was Latino. It was his grandfather’s name.”
            “Okay. I just wanted to know a bit more about him.”
            “Well now you know.” She seemed more upset by the question than she should be.
            “It’s your turn, you know,” he said cheerfully. She didn’t respond. “Please don’t be upset. I just want to know more about you.”
            She looked into her wine glass and picked something out of it. “It’s okay. I want to know something about you.”
            “What do you want from me?” She looked up from the wineglass and those apple eyes pierced his own.
            Chris was startled and didn’t know what to say. What did he want? Did he want to have children with her? Wasn’t that his purpose, to procreate?
            “I don’t want to be lonely. I want something to look forward to.”
            “What does ‘something to look forward to’ mean?” Her intense gaze softened.
            “It’s the two of us, alone on this planet. Two people. There could be more. We don’t have to, but-”
            “How did I know that’s all you wanted?” Twitch.
            “It’s not. It just makes sense. Do you want to be lonely?”
            “I’m always going to be lonely.” She looked away from him.
            “You don’t know that. I know you feel the same way I do. You’ve been alone for years and you want what you used to have.”
            She looked away and tucked her chin down slightly like a child pouting. Chris looked away, guilty. She was right, kind of. He could never be her husband. But he could make her happy. “We’re all alone. We should take care of each other. That’s all I want to do for you, whatever that means.”
            She sat still but her brow became less intense now and she breathed a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I want that too. Sometimes this place just forces you into defense and it’s hard to let go of that.”
            “I understand. So are you okay?” He looked at the wrinkles that were beginning to spring from the corners of her eyes and he knew that even now they might not have much time. Not in this world. Fifteen or twenty years was a long time in this world.
            “Yeah, I’m OK. I’m just confused.”

            Chris slept in the guest bedroom that night. It was covered in a layer of dust but he brushed some of it off and laid his sleeping bag on top of the dirty bed. Outside the rain still streaked the windows in shades of charcoal. It was unusual for rain because the ash in the sky didn’t allow the sun to evaporate enough moisture to create rain clouds. It had rained maybe ten times since he had come out of hibernation, and usually it was snow. He fell asleep thinking about the rain. He wasn’t sure if he dreamt about himself, or the Chris who he had been cloned from.

Chris woke up to Isabelle shaking his shoulder. She was sitting on his bed in a sweater and sweat pants. “Don’t you hear that?”
Chris blinked and looked to the window. A strobe light flash lit the room and a second later there was a boom so deafening that Chris was inclined to cover his ears and the windows shook in their sills. He didn’t know how long he had been asleep but he somehow had not heard that.
“I do now,” he said and chuckled.
“I’m cold,” she said and pulled at his sleeve. “Will you come keep me warm?”
Chris wanted to say no; she was too fragile. But the same vulnerability made him want to comfort her. She had been alone for five years.
“Come to bed with me?” she whispered again. He nodded and stood up. They walked down the hall to her room and she lay on her bed. He noticed that she had built a small fireplace on one side of the room, with a channel for the smoke exiting through the ceiling. Her room was significantly warmer than his. Chris’s heart was racing.
He looked at the small nightstand on his side of the bed before he laid next to her. It had a photo frame laid face down, a cross on a plinth, and a little statue of a ram. Isabelle turned around and wrapped her arm around him. He could smell the wine on her breath but it could have just been his own, too.
“Chris,” she whispered.
“Do you think the world will ever go back to normal?”
Chris thought about it. He didn’t know what normal was. But even in the year he had been awake, he saw more sunlight. More deer and lizards and he had even seen a fox once. It seemed less normal to him but he knew it wasn’t. “Yes.”
“Will we get to see it?”
They would see it going to normal. They wouldn’t see it completely normal though. He told her that.
“Will the next generation get to see it?”
Would there be a next generation? “Maybe. I don’t know.”
She kissed the back of his neck. Her lips were dry but soft. Her hands pushed his face to the side and he turned around and pressed his lips against hers. She slid her tongue into his mouth and he did the same to hers. His stomach felt almost queasy with butterflies. She smelled like wine and something else… something sweet that he had never smelled. Was that perfume?
She pulled his shirt off and he pulled hers off. He felt her breasts and fondled her nipples and squeezed her waist. Her body warmth felt so unreal and her skin felt perfect against his body. He wanted to study her beauty but her kisses kept drawing him in and he couldn’t stop. Her black hair created a curtain around their heads and nothing else mattered, not the cacophonous thunder or the dirty rain or the crackling fireplace.
He pulled her pants off and she pulled his down. She moved on top of him to kiss him and she grabbed his penis and pulled it into her and moaned. Chris gasped and pulled her closer to him. She started to bounce up and down and then she started sobbing. Chris didn’t know if she was crying and he pulled her chin up and looked at her and she had put makeup on and it was running down her cheeks and her mouth kept making one word silently: Achilles, Achilles, Achilles…
Her chest heaved with the sobs and Chris pulled her off and to the side.
“Isabelle, it’s OK, please calm down-”
She pushed his face away and stood up twitching. She began pulling on her pants.
“Isabelle. What’s wrong? Talk to me!” Chris pulled his pants on and sat up.
            I miss my husband! I miss my son! I miss my father and Katie and I miss everything that is gone now! This is all just fake! You’re not even human! You’re fucking fake!”
            “I know you miss everything, but I can help you! I’m just as much human as you! I just don’t want to be lonely anymore! Isabelle, stop!” He had his shirt on now but she was now putting her boots.
            “I can’t be happy with you, Chris! It reminds me of all you’re not!” She finished lacing up her boots and stormed out the door. He struggled to get his boots on and skipped his coat. He ran out the door but the sky was so dark and the rain so black he couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of him. The lightning flashed and all the rain was illuminated and the boom of the thunder shook his very being. He began running towards the forest they had come from earlier that day. He stumbled over rocks and he wiped the filthy water from his eyes.
            “ISABELLE!” He screamed. “COME HOME!”
            He could hardly hear himself so he continued chasing after where he thought she might go. She had never told him what happened to her husband but he assumed Achilles had committed suicide. Chris desperately hoped she would not follow her husband. He needed her not just because he didn’t want to die alone anymore; he might not know her very well but some part of him loved her. She was the only other human left alive, and she was as broken as he was and he wanted to fix her, but she wanted only to fill the hole in her heart.  
            He tried to follow her for an hour but he never even saw a trace of her. He had screamed himself hoarse but she was gone. Chris found a large boulder pile and nestled himself under an overhang. He would find his way back to Isabelle’s house in the morning.
            Chris didn’t want to die alone. He was created to begin the human race again. He was lonelier now than he’d ever been and there would be no more humanity without Isabelle. All he wanted was to fill the hole in her heart.
            Chris cried himself to sleep in the biting cold.

            He woke from an uneasy sleep in the morning and found the rain had stopped while he had slept. He walked back to Isabelle’s house with clothes still damp. He finally spotted it on the horizon and despite everything he knew may have happened, he looked forward to a fire and some warm clothes. As he got close to the house, he heard a repetitive creaking sound. The squeal of metal on metal, over and over again.
            Chris looked around and finally walked behind the house. In the distance Isabelle sat facing away from him on a begrimed metal swingset, swinging back and forth. Next to it were an old car with no wheels and rusted paint, and a fallen tree that must have been 70 feet tall when it was still alive.
            Chris felt relieved that she was OK, and began to walk towards the swingset. When he was about 20 feet away, he heard her talk.
            “But I don’t know if he is or not!” she said, certainly not to Chris.
            Chris slowed his step and gently walked up to the massive log in between he and Isabelle and crouched behind it. She hadn’t talked to herself in the short time he had known her.
            “I just don’t know what to do, father. He said he didn’t want to be lonely, but he did seem fake.”
            There was a pause like someone was talking. No one was.
            “What will happen if I run?” Chris’s heart beat faster.
            “So he’s impure, but what should I do? He’ll surely find me if I just leave like that.” Chris peered over the log and saw she was looking upwards. Her head twitched to the left several times in rapid succession.
            “I don’t want to do that, father… I thought it was wrong to kill a man.” Chris started to feel scared. Could he make it back to the house without her noticing and leave without her hearing him? He began crawling through the wet ground to the house, listening still.
            Isabelle was sobbing now. “I just want Achilles. I just want my husband…”
            Chris froze and checked to make sure she was not watching him.
            “Please, if I do this for you... Can I be with Achilles again?” She paused. “Please… I’ll do anything for you, father.” Her voice cracked and the sound of the swing creaking came faster.
            “Thank you…” she sobbed. “Thank you!” Chris was nearly to the corner. He listened as she calmed herself with several deep breaths.
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Chris ran for the corner of the house now, and heard Isabelle halt her prayer and shout behind him. “Chris! Come back!”
            He threw open the front door, and ran up the stairs to the guest room where his backpack was. He ripped it open and began looking for the pistol, but he couldn’t find it.
            Isabelle came jumping up the stairs and blocked the door behind him.
            “I found this in your backpack this morning,” she said. Chris whirled around to see her holding his gun in both hands, pointing it at his feet.
            “Why did you take my gun?” Chris demanded, his chest pumping.
            “Why would you bring a gun into my house?” she retorted. “You wanted to hurt me. You said you wouldn’t do that!” She twitched her head to the left.
            “No! I take it with me everywhere! Who were you talking to out there?”
            “You wanted to hurt me. That’s what guns do, Christian.”
            “Why did you run from me last night?” He took a step towards her and pointed to the swingset out the window. She pointed the gun at his chest.
            “I was talking to the Lord.”
            “Isabelle, you were talking to yourself just now. There was no one there except you.”
            She laughed. “Of course you can’t see him. You’re not human.”
            “I heard everything you said. I am a human. Please, Isabelle, stop this.”
            “He says you’re a bastardization of humanity. You’re impure and unclean.”
            “Listen to yourself! You are hurt, Isabelle, I understand that, and-”
            “He says you cannot restart the human race, only create more deceivers like yourself. You’re-”
            “-I want to talk about what happened last night. I know you miss your husband but hurting me won’t bring him back.”
            “-a clone and a mockery of my husband and my father and my son and myself, and you need to be erased.” She was getting more upset now. Tears welled in her eyes and the gun began to shake in her hands.
            “Isabelle. Calm down, please. I’ll grab my bag and leave.”
            She was crying now and her eyes rolled upwards like she was praying while looking at him. Her makeup stains were dried on her cheeks and her mouth pulled back in a sob. The gun pointed her onward. The trigger pled for a little squeeze.
            “I should have known,” she whispered. “I should have known.
            “Isabelle-” The gun thundered and Chris felt himself pushed back. The barrel flowered again and he stumbled backwards. Again it shot him and he thrust himself backwards as the fourth bullet impacted in his chest and he hit the window and it shattered and he fell backwards onto the roof of the porch and he rolled off into the sand below. Chris was dying.

            Olivia pulled the note down off the door. It told her to wait inside and help herself to food. It was signed by Christian. He must be the one.
            She pushed the door open and stepped into the house. The ceiling was lower than was normal and several chairs were gathered around a large fireplace. A connected dining room and kitchen was to her right and to her left a hallway. She tried to call out for someone but her voice failed her again. She instead knocked on the door and closed it. There was no response. She laid her pack on the couch and moved into the kitchen.
            The cabinets were fully stocked with food; there was more food here than she had seen in months. There had to be someone living here. It had to be him.
            Without electricity, the house had a blue feel to it. The muted light from the windows made it seem lonely. Lonely no more. Olivia walked down the hallway to the left, and found a bathroom, a closet, a bedroom, and a room with a desk in it. Above the desk was a map with hundreds of rings and stones hanging on it. She studied it until she found about where she should be. The location was ringed by a blue and green stone ring.
            This was her new home.
            Olivia sat on the couch – her couch – and began waiting. He was gone now but he would be back soon; and she would be lonely no more. She pulled out the two shriveled roses in her backpack and opened her sketchbook. She unwrapped one rose. It was the scarlet one. It had shriveled to a tiny bulb on the end of a stringy stem. The thorns had fallen off and the petals had withered and shed. It wasn’t beautiful anymore; not like her drawings in her sketchbook. She couldn’t wait to show Christian. She would give him his book he had left at the bunker, and she would talk to him about everything they had seen. She tried to talk.
            “Christian,” Olivia whispered.
She began to draw him a flower. She began her wait for Christian.

            He woke up minutes later, maybe seconds later. He pushed himself off of the ground. Chris was blacking out every time he blinked. It was getting harder and harder to stay awake. He walked to the dead forest in front of the house. Down his front, blood had painted his shirt and his pants with a brown-black.
            Am I human
He blindly climbed over logs, passing out in between. The blood now slickened his hands and his feet. The rains that had ceased last night began to fall again. Chris coughed up blood.
            Am I human
            He kept walking and crawling downhill and finally collapsed onto his bloody stomach. He woke up next to a pool of water. Chris saw a grey stag, majestic and pale, stride up to the water across from Chris. Its indifferent eyes studied him with a detachment from the troubles of this mortal man.
            “God,” he coughed. “God… is that you?”
            No answer.
            “Father… I’m s-sorry…” He sputtered up a sick black blood. The stag watched him closely.
            “I didn’t know…” Chris watched the raindrops drip off of the stag’s antlers. He looked back at the sky, the golden veins strangled by the black clouds casting their foul rain onto this angry world. The winds whipped between the mass graves of dead trees and carried droves of embers and sand. In the house on the hill, Isabelle sat missing her husband and the world she had known before she was relegated to this hell. She cradled the gun that had killed, the gun that had seen the nightmarish greyhound and its massacre of dogs in the house Chris never marked on his map. Somewhere was Chris’s twin clone, dead or waiting for him to rescue her from this lonely world. Rescue from this wrathful world.
            The stag leaned down to gently sip some water out of the pool. Chris vomited a black blood in front of him.
            “God,” he said. The stag looked up at him. “Will I be in heaven now?”
            The stag paused. It turned and walked away.