The End of Humanity

The world has ended. There have been speculations for centuries for how it would end: fire, water, explosions, war. However, humankind never expected it to end so soon. Nobody expected that in 2020, the last of humankind would be fighting to survive, and that they would have ever lost so much.

Chapter 3

Sage

Sage was tired; just tired. Unlike her brother she wasn’t stubbornly set on their survival. Caleb would punch death in the face before he let it take him away, Sage wouldn’t actively seek death out, but she wouldn’t resist if it came to take her away. It would be a relief to be away from this pain, no more losing anybody. The only thing that kept Sage fighting, just enough to survive, was their goal of finding Phil’s parents, and how Caleb would be if she left him. Sage couldn’t bear the thought of her brother, her baby brother, being hurt like that.

Sage found the ladder, but she hesitated for a moment, hand resting on the old, moldy wood. She shook her head, banishing the poisonous thoughts festering within it. “Caleb,” she called out, “I found it”.

Caleb came over quickly, examining the ladder with a careful eye. “It doesn’t look stable,” he told Sage. “You go first, just in case,” her brother told her, already moving out of the way to let her through. Sage made her way up to the ladder and pushed down on the railing with her hand, testing how it would take her weight. The ladder groaned, but it didn’t break or bend: they could make this. Slowly and carefully, Sage climbed the ladder, pulling herself, with difficulty, up through the trapdoor and onto the roof.

The water swirled violently four feet below, but the rooftop was safe from its touch. “Caleb?” Sage called down hesitantly. “Are you coming? It’s safe.”

Sage heard a muffled bitter laugh come from below. “Safe,” Caleb seemed to spit out like the word was vile medicine. “Sage, think about that word. Safe,” he scorned bitterly as he climbed and made his way next to Sage.

“Maybe that was the wrong word,” Sage admitted softly, trying to distill an argument. “It’s safer Caleb. Not safe but safer. This is safer than a flooded room, right?”

“Just keep your balance,” came Caleb’s curt reply as Sage moved lightly across the roof over to the chimney.

“I’m not completely helpless, you know,” Sage reminded Caleb. “And I used to come up here all the time, I know what I’m doing.”

“It’s been a while and-” Caleb cut himself off.

“And what?” Sage asked icily. “I know that the circumstances are different, but Caleb, I know what I am doing. Besides, you could fall just as easily as I could.”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Caleb mumbled half-heartedly.

“Then say what you were going to,” Sage said, stepping around the chimney, and sitting down on the other side. “And please,” Sage lowers her voice down to a fragile whisper, “don’t lie to me. I want to trust my family.” Sage doesn’t break eye contact with Caleb, forcing a level of uncomfortableness onto the setting.

Caleb remained silent for a while, and finally he looked down at the black depths below, breaking Sage’s compelling gaze. “No,” he mumbles hastily, saying anything he could, “um, do you want to eat now or later?” He asked, seemingly doing anything to change the subject.

Sage didn’t want to push him, fighting was never on her to-do list, especially in such a precarious situation as this, and Sage worried that any more stress would cause Caleb to snap. With that in mind, she let Caleb change the subject, without a comment about it, verbal or otherwise.

“Do you think we can eat now?” Sage asked Caleb sincerely. “It might be better to wait,” she said, trailing off uncertainly.

“We would have to get the food out of your bag,” Caleb said gruffly. “Can you guarantee we won’t lose anything while getting the food out of the bag? Or what if one of us slipped?” Sage knew that when Caleb asked his last question, he meant her. Caleb seemed to feel he had to be invulnerable, or maybe that he actually was, and that she was weak and defenseless, entirely incapable of holding her own. He wasn’t entirely wrong, if it was between Sage and a bear, Sage would surely die, and she knew that. Caleb was the one made to survive in the wild and unfavorable circumstances, not Sage. In fact, Sage would have gone as far to say Caleb thrived in it. Caleb would have done okay in an everyday world without incidents such as these, however in this nutso chaos, he was able to shine where most would degenerate.

Sage felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, and she realized that Caleb was waiting for her to answer him now. “No,” Sage sighed wearily, “I can’t.”

“Then we’ll wait,” Caleb decidedly said, seeming slightly smug. Sage wasn’t sure if anybody else would have caught that in his tone, but she knew her brother.

Would she have known him as well if they were sitting up here with Julia and David, and maybe Kyle if they felt he was old enough, and the Johnstons’ cousin Livie if she was visiting, on a warm sunny day? If they had grown up normally, with long, hot, blistering summer days, as carefree as the floating whites of dandelions? Despite her surroundings, Sage felt a small small touch her lips.

“What?” Caleb asked, startling Sage from her reminisce.

“It’s nothing,” Sage told Caleb, knowing that he wouldn’t want to hear the reason for her smile. It might have been impractical and foolish to think of, but still, the thought was as beautiful and calming as dragonflies flying over a crystal lake.

Sage felt Caleb’s eyes watching her and she shifted uncomfortably in her perch. Maybe as an escapist move, Sage tiled her hair forward, letting the frizzy and damaged locks hide her face as best as they could. Caleb didn’t break his gaze.

“It’s nothing,” Sage repeated sincerely. “Really.”

Caleb didn’t believe her, and Sage could see that. “Was it Philip?” He asked her.

“No,” Sage said honestly. “It wasn’t. Caleb,” Sage pauses and takes a steadying breath, “just leave it alone please”. Caleb looked like he was going to press her, but them he seemed to think better of pushing the topic. At least at the present moment.

In truth, Sage tried to not remember the times. At least not right then when she was so vulnerable. Perhaps, hopefully, in time she would be able to remember Philip with an easy heart, but at the present moment, she knew it was foolhardy to even hope for it. A tiny part of her hoped that maybe her eyes deceived her and that he was still alive. However Sage saw the explosion and it was at a loss to her how anybody could survive it, as close to it as Philip must have been. She could hope for anything else, anything but seeing him in something that wasn’t a memory or photograph.

“I remember how there was a loose brick in chimney,” Sage said suddenly, trying to distract herself from her thoughts, patting the said chimney as she did so. “I wonder if they ever got it fixed.” Sage laughed, her fingers running across the worn bricks, searching for a crevice.

“What are you doing?” Caleb asked, puzzled by his sister. “Why is this important?”

“We used to write notes and hide them here,” Sage said calmly. “As for importance,” she paused long enough for it to be quietly dramatic, “there is none. It won’t help us find food, water, shelter, or even get off this roof. But we’re stuck up here so why not look? Unless you have a way to get off this roof right now.”

Caleb remained silent, and Sage knew she had made her point. Sage ran her hands over the bricks some more, and eventually hit one that wobbled. Carefully, Sage pulled the brick out, the brick that had a bowl set into it either through natural age and weathering, or human intent or mistake. And in the cavity of the brick was paper, yellowed with time and age. Sage quickly inserted the brick back into its place, not wanting to get the papers wet and lose their messages.

It never seemed to stop raining though, and Sage wanted to read the messages of so long ago. She was faced with the dilemma of how she could get them without the words running off the paper, crying at their loss. Her clothes weren’t waterproof and neither were Caleb’s, although it wouldn’t really matter if they were. Unless she pulled the risky move of pulling her jacket to get the pocket closer to the grove, the paper would still be victim to the heavy rain. And to read the old notes safely, they would need a protective seal, almost like if it was laminated.

“Caleb,” Sage said with a sudden burst of ingenuity. “I’m getting something out of my bag.” Sage thought it would be better to give him a heads up, just in case.

“What?” Caleb asked. “I thought we weren’t eating yet.”

“We’re not,” Sage explained. “I’m getting out the Ziploc bags I picked up.”

Caleb looked at her like she had gone completely mental. His eyebrows rose as well, but Caleb didn’t say anything about Sage’s sudden need for clear plastic bags. He only watched her as she opened up the backpack heedfully and slowly pulled out four Ziploc bags, as well as a small flashlight, place them in her pocket, closed the bag and handed it over to him. He also didn’t say a word as Sage pulled out one ziploc bag and carefully removed the brick again, quickly dropping a few pieces of paper into the bag before placing the brick back and slipping the bag into her pocket, only to pull out another and repeat the process.

Sage pulled out one bag, and with some work, was able to lay one of the pieces of paper out enough to read the message, and began to do so out loud, so they could both enjoy it.

“‘I don’t--oh Caleb he spelled it ‘dot’--understand how you can come in the chimney Santa’,” Sage read the young Kyle Johnson’s note, however ignoring the spelling mistakes and reading it as how he intended, “‘but I’m glad you can’. Oh, isn’t that precious?” Sage gushed.

“Weren’t the Johnstons Jewish?” Caleb asked, wondering if he was on the same page as Sage about who these people were.

“They weren’t strict,” Sage clarified for her brother, “and what parent is going to tell their small child that Santa isn’t real or that he only likes good Christian children?”

“Oh,” Caleb said, the sound popping in his mouth.

Sage went through some more of the notes, reading out all the ones she could. Eventually, Caleb began to laugh at some too, and even read some out as well. “Chrissy and Victoria are mean to me,” Caleb read the words in the younger Sage’s sprawling handwriting. “Maybe they don’t like pink cookies.” Caleb laughed and looked at Sage, whose face was flushed with embarrassment. “What’s this about pink cookies?” He asked.

“I don’t know,” Sage said, “I was like nine or something. I don’t even really remember these people. Does it matter?”

“Just wondering,” Caleb said nonchalantly, as the rain seemed to falter slightly and a few weak rays of sunlight peaked through the black storm clouds. It was easier for them both to see now, and with it, Sage noticed that one of the papers was a crisp white instead of a decaying yellow.

Sage stuffed the other bags in her pocket, and handed Caleb her flashlight. It might have been silly, but Sage had a feeling that maybe this particular difference was important. Besides, she had thought, if it isn’t important then it’s no big loss, we can just read another foolish note and laugh. However if it is important and we don’t read it, then we may live to regret it.

“What’s wrong?” Caleb asked, concern blatantly apparent in his tone, as he noticed Sage’s actions. “Is the water rising? It looked like it had calmed…” Caleb was rambling, trying to find a solution for a problem that didn’t exist. “I could try to swim to a boat and bring it closer,” he offered, already starting to move.

“Caleb,” Sage laughed, “relax. Nothing’s wrong, I just wanted to read this one note without risking the others falling.” And with that Sage turned and focused at her task at hand: unfolding the piece of paper without opening the bag. It was challenging, more so than the others were, because Sage had discovered that the paper was definitely newer and crisper, but also seemed to be larger than the other notes.

Sage worked at a steady pace, careful to not tear any of the papers or drop the bag. Caleb had helped by making sure that the beam of the flashlight gave steady light to work under.

As the creases slowly unfolded with their efforts, Sage was rewarded with being able to see words written on the paper. She needed no prompting to read, knowing Caleb was just as curious as her, though he would never have admitted it. “To Those Who Survived The End of The World,” Sage read. “The world's leaders promised that there would never,” Sage’s voice faltered and she brought her hand up to her mouth in astonishment. This was about what had happened.

The world's leaders promised that there would never be a world war again, much like God promised he wouldn't flood the Earth again: Sage read again, only this time, silently to herself.

Though of course, we all retaliated. And now we are all dying or dead. Dying or dead. Dying or dead. Sage found herself wiping her face at this point, and it wasn’t because of the rain. The water she wiped away was salt, not fresh. How many people had died? How many people were dying? How many were lost? As Sage read the rest of the letter she saw that the author felt the same and had lost everything they had, and it tore at Sage’s heart. She hoped, well she didn’t know what she hoped for, but she wanted the best for the unknown narrator.

It would have been better if he had remained unknown. Sage knew in her heart that she knew the author of the letter, she just choose to ignore it. But seeing the name David Johnston, so clearly in the letter with such a powerful statement, she couldn’t lie anymore.

And once that is done, well what happens to me, David Johnston?

“Oh, David,” Sage breathed.

Caleb looked at her questionably Sage shook her head, not wanting to explain, and turned back to the letter. I will die at the age of seventeen on May 12th, 2019, falling into the waters of death. It will be my last swim and drink, David had written, and seeing that Sage had to take a moment to collect herself before finishing the last paragraph. David’s last words. When she had finished, she handed the note to Caleb, tears streaming silently down her face. Be at rest with yourself, he had said. Sage just wished that David had been at rest with himself. He was younger than both Caleb and Sage, and he was dead. Sage couldn’t get over that as Caleb read. And in her peripheral vision, she saw his reactions, and she knew Caleb couldn’t overlook that either.

Caleb handed the note back to Sage solemnly. "We've swam in a graveyard," Caleb said, keeping his voice level. However Sage knew he wasn't indifferent, the movement of his Adam's apple told her otherwise. "He wants us to forgive the people who did this after we swam in his grave? Shìt!" Caleb yelled, his voice breaking. "Shìt," he said with a wavering voice, placing his heads in his hands. "Everybody is dead Sage."

"Not everybody," Sage said, reaching over to gently touch Caleb's hand in comfort. "A few of us are alive. We can fix this and start anew Caleb. We can't give up hope."

"There's no hope to be given. David said it; we're all dying, or we are already dead. Corpses don't have hope."

"We're not corpses, Caleb."

Her brother's only response to that was a jaded look that didn't belong on a face of somebody so young. With a shudder, Sage was reminded that they had all lost something.

Something they couldn't get back.

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