Rachel Thompson

The Man Who Lived at the End of the World by Robert Davies @ahundredstories

Excerpt 6:

As I continued my tour of the city I realised its devastation had grown to become normal to me, just as normal as the neatness and clean windows of buildings would have been before the earthquakes started. It would have shocked me more to see something still intact, and I began to pray that I would, but there was nothing. There were no lucky escapes. Everything had been sentenced to suffer the earth’s anger, and no-one had been reprieved.

I rounded a long bend in the road, and some distance further on I spotted a camouflaged army truck. I squinted at it, intrigued. The road ahead branched off into a smaller side-road on the right, with tall office buildings on each corner, and the truck had apparently veered and crashed into the concrete front of the opposite corner’s building. I hurried my pace and went over to it.

Reaching the side-road, I was taken aback by a huge barricade that stood perhaps ten feet tall and stretched across its width. It was built entirely from broken or fallen pieces of the surrounding buildings’ brick walls, and of huge grey chunks of concrete with their steel reinforcements rusting and twisted like a dead spider’s legs. All of the windows on the nearby buildings were shattered inward, broken by whoever had built the barricade before the earthquakes could break them.

I stopped in my tracks, wondering if its builders might still be here, and if they might be dangerous. Whatever had happened, it was plain that the military had been here and had encountered resistance. Regardless of which side had built the barricade against the other, I wasn’t sure who would be the biggest threat to me.

I ventured forward more cautiously, and a strong smell carried briefly on the subtle breeze as I neared, gone in a second but putrid enough to make me gag. I recognised the venomous scent of death, and against all better judgement and the churning in my stomach I walked on. I headed toward the shattered windows of the office building nearest to me, peering into the wide reception area, all of it collapsed inward and unrecognisable with debris and damage. As I stepped into its shadow and crunched over the tiny glass shards and brick dust, the smell grew stronger, and I turned to see several limp shapes hanging from exposed pipes in the ceiling.

My stomach wrung itself, squeezing a shot of adrenaline through my veins, and my eyes adjusted enough to see four bodies hanging in charred and blood-soaked army khakis, swinging gently in a buzzing cloud of flies. Beyond them, I saw that the long reception room actually led past the barricade, and must have been the only way in and out from behind it. The hanged soldiers were a warning.

I quietly began to withdraw when my eye caught a small dark shape on the floor beneath the nearest soldier, and I pulled my sweaters up over my nose and mouth, and quickly went over. Trying not to look at the swinging body, I reached out and picked up the heavy semi-automatic handgun which must have fallen from him, feeling its thick metal cold in my hand.

As I felt its substantial weight, a flood of shame began to melt into me at my revulsion toward the bodies, and I looked up at them. They hung, lifeless and decomposed, their violence so far behind them that peace was now all they knew. Each of them had once been real people, and somewhere there were still films and videos and photographs of them as children, playing, held by proud parents.

I slowly stood up next to the nearest soldier and looked at his face, the head at an angle, its discoloured and bloodied flesh now dried and retreating from his teeth to reveal a grotesque grin. The nausea I had felt now welled up as sadness in my eyes, and I looked down at the dull, cold metal of the gun, then turned and left.

The Man Who Lived at the End of the World

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Genre - Apocalyptic fiction

Rating – PG

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Website http://robertdavies.co

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