Dead Heart in a Dead World

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Sci-Fi
Mature
Ethan Carver awakens to find the world has ended.  Without hope or reason he ventures alone into the desert to die. While he travels, he reflects on his life and on the world. His journey ends when he learns he is not the last survivor of the planet Earth.

Sirens

A fragmented shaft of light pierced the dead sky overhead. The blade gleamed with malicious intent. Ethan stared at his reflection in the silver surface of the razor. It was heavier than he had ever felt it, as though it carried the weight of his despair.

It occurred to him that he had never actually shaved with the damned thing as long as he'd had it, for fear he might slice his throat open. It was the sort of irony he would have laughed at once. Laughter was a distant memory now.

His hand tightened around the razor. Ethan had never been afraid of death; Death was an inevitability. Dying is what terrified him.

“I can't...” he said aloud to no one. The words fell flat and empty onto the dreadful silence that surrounded him.

In past times, Ethan would have killed to get a moment of quiet. Now that the quiet persisted indefinitely, he hated it. It was like a force that pressed down on him, threatening to squeeze him out of existence so the silence could be forever uninterrupted.



When he awoke that morning, Ethan didn't know where he was. He came out of such a deep sleep that he couldn't recall when he'd gone to bed, or what he had done the night before. As he wrestled free from the bonds of sleep, the remnants of a dream dissolved in his mind.

“What was that?” he thought, trying to force himself back to sleep so he could continue dreaming, “That sound...sirens?”

He lay there for a few moments, blinking hard to drive away the sleep from his eyes.

“What day is it?” he thought.

He let his head roll to the left, and saw that he was in a queen sized bed. Then he remembered.

He bolted upright, turning away from the empty bed, not wanting to look at it. How long had he been asleep? He felt more well rested than he had since his parents stopped enforcing his bed time.

“What time is it even?” He wondered. “I never get to sleep in, the noise usu-” He trailed off into silence, only now noticing the unusual quiet.

He remained still, waiting for a sound to meet his ear, but he heard nothing. Ethan blinked and shook himself a bit. In the two years he'd lived there, Ethan had never known Las Vegas to be this quiet.

“Maybe everyone came to their senses and decided to get out of this hell hole” he spoke aloud. Nothing would have pleased him more, six hours ago.

He stood up from the bed, stretching the stiffness away. He was awake now, able to register the world around him again. Able to think and feel and regret. He wished he could go back to that state of half sleep where the world and all its troubles didn't exist.

All there is is you, suspended in limbo, conscious enough to be aware of yourself, alive and laying in a bed, but too asleep to recognize the world around you.

“How can I stay in that place forever?” He wondered.

He walked to the window, yawning and rolling his neck. He closed his eyes as he drew the curtains open to prevent going blind from the searing Nevada sunlight.

Despite his hatred of the city and the people that clamoured to it, he had always loved the lights. In the day the sun was always bright, the sky was always a brilliant blue. When he first arrived to the city, the heat made him sick to his stomach, but after a time he found it refreshing, invigorating even.

And at night, the city was a marvel. Everything lit up like a wonderful, magical reflection of its daytime self. The world awash in every colour of light, pulsing and flashing and swirling into the air, so rich and so alive.

 But now, Ethan opened his eyes and looked upon the city seeing no light, and no life.

Where There's Smoke

Ethan stood before the window in shock. His eyes wide and his brow furrowed at the sight he beheld. What the hell was he looking at exactly? It was the same city he'd awoken in for the past two years, wasn't it?

The city Ethan learned to hate was never at rest. Every minute, day and night, there were people moving in a constant ebb and flow. An ocean of human beings coming in like the tide, riding their collective highs like a wave, only to finally break and come crashing down on the rocks. Now, the waters were still, and the great ship Las Vegas idle.

“Everybody on Earth didn't just up and get tired of drinking and gambling all at once.” He thought.

It was refreshing, the quiet, the stillness, but at the same time, eerie. How many times had Ethan put a curse upon the people here? Wished they'd all go away? They always say be careful what you wish for, but nobody ever listens.


The sky was overcast, grey and ugly, letting no light through. It looked as though it ought to be raining. The murky skies robbed the city of its usual radiance, but as far as Ethan could see, no lights shone from within the city either. The streets were littered with vehicles, seemingly abandoned, and he could see no people in the vicinity. As he looked across the cityscape, he saw gaps missing in the skyline he had come to recognize. There were buildings fallen over, leaning on others for support, some looked as if they'd been halfway through demolishing, and others were gone completely. Ethan thought of a model city after they'd filmed a giant monster movie in it.

“Wha-” Ethan tried to voice his astonishment, but he couldn't manage the words. His brain was stalling trying to make sense of this scene.

"Was there an Earthquake?" he thought. "Does Nevada get Earthquakes? Of course it would, it's on that fault line isn't it?" Perhaps, Ethan thought, the ground had opened up and swallowed the city for its sins. Destroyed by divine hands like Sodom and Gomorrah before it.

“Maybe there was some kind of accident?” he wondered. “Maybe there was an explosion, like a fuel tank or something and they had to clear the streets? No, why would they evacuate for something like that? Shit...could it have been a terrorist attack?”

Ethan had always thought that Americans were far too paranoid over the perceived threat of terrorism. In his opinion it was mostly scare tactics and propaganda cooked up by the government to excuse their inflated military budget. But now, he didn't know what to think.

Stepping back from the window, he pulled the curtains, still clutched in his fists, with him. As soon as he let go, his hands began to shake.

Staggering forth from his dream-state, the scenery before him seemed so surreal and his tired mind didn't want to understand it. Now the fear set in like ice water, making him alert and cold unease seeped through him from his stomach.

Backing away from the window, Ethan was trying to work out a sensible explanation in his mind. His legs met the bed behind him and he fell backwards onto the mattress. Vertigo cleared his thoughts for a few seconds, and now he saw the nightstand inverted before him.

He flipped onto his stomach and scrambled to the edge of the bed, reaching for the pack of Pal Malls on the stand. Pulling a cigarette free of the package with his mouth, he then picked up the lighter and flicked the cap open.

Click.

Click.

“Come on, light you piece'a shit.”

Click.

“Come fucking o-” the burst of flame from the lighter interrupted his curse. He inhaled the smoke as fast as his lungs would allow and rolled onto his back. Letting his head hang off the edge of the bed, he dropped the lighter to the floor, and exhaled. The cigarette was stale as fuck.


Ethan started smoking when he was 17. His mom smoked nearly his entire life, and he'd always told himself he wouldn't end up killing himself with the things too, they disgusted him. But he had to do it so a girl would like him.

They'd been standing in the alley behind the movie theatre; Ethan had taken her to see some cheesy horror flick. She was one of the “goth” girls. Ethan had known her since grade school, before that phase, but he'd still made an effort to seem as counter-culture as he could to impress her.

The darkness of the alley was held at bay by an old, stained fluorescent bulb suspended above their heads. A struggling yellow light bathed them, and filled the air with an endless electric buzzing. Her pale skin was glowing in the light, and deep shadows were cast on her face, shrouding her eyes but highlighting her jawline and the prominence of her cheeks. She lit her own cigarette and offered one to Ethan. His immediate response would have been to refuse, but in that moment, with a haze of smoke surrounding her, the light playing off her bare legs and her face at once so striking and so enigmatic in the shadows, how could he have possibly said no?

The electric hum of the light filled Ethan's head. He couldn't think over the warring of excitement and terror in his stomach, and without even considering what he was doing, he grabbed a cigarette from her. She stepped in closer to light it for him.

He quit, eventually. Years after his thing with that girl had ended, he realized he didn't have any reason to keep doing it. First it was to impress her, then it was to stave of his depression after the break up, and by then it was habitual.

Four years prior he had tossed his last pack to a homeless man in substitute for spare change. He'd been smoke free ever since. Then, three months ago he felt like killing himself again.


The smoke was coarse in his throat as he breathed it out. It wasn't something that ever got any better no matter how long you do it.

"Can't argue with the chemical effect though." He thought.

Having collected himself, Ethan sat up and crushed out the remainder of the cigarette on the nightstand. Whatever may have happened, no matter how bad it might be, he had to stay calm and think rationally.

“Let's see,” he said out loud. “Natural disaster? Bombing? Chemical leak?” He tried thinking of all the reasons a populous city might be evacuated.

“Fuck, no. If it were something like that, where are the police, or the paramedics or whatever? That kind of shit would be all over-” He froze. “News.” He clambered to the dresser, looking for his phone.

“Fucking idiot!” He thought. Why wouldn't his immediate response be to check the news? He picked his phone up and tried to turn it on, but there was only blackness and his own shadowy reflection in its surface.

“Fucking battery.” He grabbed the charging cable off the floor next to the outlet and plugged it into the phone. Nothing. He waited. He set the phone back down and tried pressing the power button every few seconds. He tried plugging the charger into the other outlet. Standing hunched over the phone with his hands on the dresser, he clenched his jaw in frustration. His vision became unfocused as he stared and shifted to the surface of the dresser. It was fake wood coloured in a motley of browns. Waves and arches crept across in the facade of tree rings. Ethan didn't know how they made the patterns like that. It wasn't paint. However they did it he found himself infuriated by it. It was a mockery of nature, made to look real when everyone knew it wasn't. It was a lie.

The phone remained dead. Once capable of accessing all the collective knowledge of mankind, it was now a small black piece of plastic with no function. Ethan felt anger welling up inside him. He hated being ignorant. The caustic uncertainty ate through his thoughts.

“FUCK!” The anger exploded outwards all at once. He ripped the phone from its cord and lifted it overhead, intent on sending it streetward out the window. He caught himself mid-throw and instead clenched tighter to the phone, and slowly lowered his arm. He tensed his muscles, released, breathing deep, trying to steady himself. With a sharp jerk, he tossed the phone to the ground. Upon contact with the floor, the phone broke in two. The casing split lengthwise and fell open, exposing the electrical components within. Ethan let out a scoff of annoyance and shook his head at the useless hardware.


He began moving from room to room, trying every piece of electrical device and appliance in the apartment. All dead. He opened the fridge, and a foul odour met his nose. There had been little in the way of actual food in there. Leftovers from delivered meals in Styrofoam and cardboard containers, all gone bad now. Aside from that, there were several bottles of rum and beer, now warm. He slammed the door to escape the smell of rotting food, immediately wishing he had grabbed a bottle, but not wanting to reopen the fridge. A thought broke his panic.

“When was the last time I ate?” Ethan was at a loss. He closed his eyes trying to remember what the last thing he'd eaten was. Nothing came to mind. He couldn't even remember what he'd been doing the previous night. It occurred to him that he didn't even know how long he had been asleep. He didn't feel hungry, but thinking about it made him want something to eat anyway. He rummaged through the cupboards and found a box of granola bars; apple cinnamon, his favourite.


He returned to the bedroom and slumped on the floor with his back against the bed. The worry was subsiding, replaced now with profound confusion. He chewed on the granola bar absently, trying again to rationalize the situation.

“Okay. Okay, okay. Forget what happened, or where everyone is or why I'm still here.” He swallowed, staring fixedly at the midpoint of the closet door.

“What do I do?”

A Dead Heart in a Dead World

It was late when he began the climb. He didn't know how long it had been really. With the clouds covering the sky and only brief glimpses of the sun, it was hard to judge time. The world outside was growing darker, the sun drawing away from the clouds as if revolted by the wretched gloom surrounding this once blue planet.

His ascent of the stairs was slow going, each step an epoch. But Ethan didn't notice. A second or an hour could pass between each footfall. In his mind he was still walking the dead streets of Las Vegas.

Every moment played back through his head in a ceaseless loop. The stillness of it all. The smell of ozone. Twisted remains of buildings, vehicles and of other indistinguishable things. The crater. The corpses.



He had spent hours walking through the empty, ruined streets. At first it was like a giant, surreal display in an old dusty museum. One where you were free to explore an entire city, devoid of inhabitants. He called out. He called for others, for survivors, for help. He screamed.

The only response was the dreadful emptiness. If he shouted, it would shout louder, drowning him out with its own deafening voice that screamed nothing, as if berating Ethan for disturbing the peace.

As he drew further into the city, the serene illusion crumbled. No longer a picturesque model city, there were now signs of destruction and death.

The first body Ethan saw was in the driver's seat of an overturned car. He didn't know what it was at first, misshapen and burned as it was. He bent down for a closer look through the window and then he saw the twisted limbs and blackened cascading flesh that looked as though it had melted off.

After the first, they were everywhere. He saw them in the streets, through windows, collapsed on the sidewalk. All charred black, like grim shadows of the people they once were. There were bodies sticking out of piles of debris, glass fused into the skin itself.

The landscape became more grim and twisted as he walked on. His own building seemed undisturbed, but soon there was broken glass everywhere, some of the older buildings collapsed in on themselves, rubble spilling into the streets. He passed a building that had been made of wood, which now was splinters. The nearer to the centre he drew, the more hellish the city became.

Buildings were on fire. Countless plumes of smoke rolled into the sky, becoming a part of the grey mass that hung there. There were skeletal remains of some structures, steel bars with bits of stone still clinging to them. He had to make detours where buildings had been blown apart, clogging the streets with the dead.

It was midday as far as Ethan could tell when he came within sight of the epicentre. He climbed on top of a van to get a better look at the disaster zone, glass from the shattered windshield crunching under his shoes as he mounted the hood. He was afraid to get too close. For what looked like a several block radius, there was but ash and rubble with a handful of structures like tombstones standing above the ruins, defiant to the bomb's intent. Ethan swayed as though he was now feeling the blast wave that had destroyed this place. He thought he might faint, but his legs held ground.

“Shouldn't there be more damage?” was the thought that crossed his mind. He looked upon the devastation of the world before him and knew with primal instinct what happened.

He saw not merely the destruction of a city, but the utter ruin of an entire civilization. Standing there, above the wreckage, too shocked to think or feel anything, words drifted along the wind into his head.

...What powerful but unrecorded race

Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”

They were words from a poem Ethan liked. He couldn't remember the rest of it, or who had written it, or why he even knew it. He had never understood poetry. The structure, the imagery, it all went over his head. He was never able to express his thoughts in such colourful language and he supposed it stood that he couldn't comprehend the thoughts of others when expressed so.

Ethan couldn't recall when exactly he had read whatever poem this piece came from, but those lines had stood out to him because it was something he did understand.

All these towering structures, the endless stretch of roads connecting an immeasurable network of people and places. It was all meaningless now. All the things that mankind had achieved. Marvels of science and engineering, revolutions in medicine, even the timeless and everlasting power of art. What was it all for?

He didn't know why these were the thoughts that came to him after what he beheld, and he felt guilty. Shouldn't he be stricken mad? Should he fall to his knees and weep? What was the appropriate response to something like this? Surely some feeling of sorrow or grief? All Ethan felt was an emptiness in his chest. It was the feeling he had been living with since the accident three months ago. Seeing the insurmountable death, he resigned to defeat, he lost control of the situation. He let the distress take him, and suicide entered his mind.


Ethan had never seriously considered killing himself before.

When he first looked his smoking problem in the face, he rationalized that it was ultimately beneficial because it would shorten his misery on this Earth.

It was only partly a lie. He smoked because he was addicted, same as anyone. His depression and anxiety were merely how he justified it.

To Ethan, suicide always seemed a pathetic, cowardly choice made only by those of weak moral character. Pitiable people who decided ending it all was easier than facing adversity. Having battled with depression, Ethan was of course, in his own mind, an expert on the subject and decreed anyone who took their own life clearly didn't deserve it in the first place. Good riddance.

It wasn't until Grace's death that Ethan ever truly felt like ending it all. The pain he felt was more than he ever thought man was capable of enduring. The grief, the guilt, the emptiness. It was crippling. He knew there was nothing left for him.

He could never bring himself to do it. Despite his misery, he knew that Grace wouldn't have wanted him to literally throw his life away for her. The thought kept him strong in the time following the accident. At least strong enough to go on.

She had always been an inspiration to Ethan. He quit smoking when he met her because she gave him a desire to live his life instead of just occupy it. He felt true joy with her as he could never remember feeling it before. When she died, he couldn't imagine going on without her, but he couldn't take his own life after all she had done to give it back to him.

What now though? Killing himself in her name would have been a disrespect to her memory, but here, in the face of Armageddon, what more did he have to live for? As far as Ethan knew, the entire world could be nothing more than a dead husk. How could a nuclear attack be an isolated incident? Wasn't that the point of having nukes? Mutually assured destruction? There was no way he could be the last person on Earth, was there?

Ethan thought about his mother. “Who would want to blow up Canada?” He wondered if she was still alive. He swallowed a lump in his throat. He'd only spoken with his mother a handful of times since his father died.

“That's not my fault” he thought. “She abandoned me when I wouldn't cut her a fucking cheque.” He'd called her after the accident. She never cared for Grace. Said she only wanted him for his money. It hadn't helped their already strained relationship. But he was so alone, so unbelievably sad and he needed his mother to help him through it.

She begged him to come home. She said there was nothing left for him there, that she loved him and wanted to make amends.

Somehow, it went wrong. He couldn't even remember what she'd said to make him so furious. He'd called hoping to reconnect with his mother, and hung up after telling her he never wanted to see her again. Now she might be dead.

The uncertainty ate at his mind, growing fat on his insecurity and giving birth to bleak thoughts. Despite trying to find a bright side or convince himself that Vegas was just some kind of unfortunate mishap, the black swirling vortex in his gut told him true. He had nothing left.


Ethan opened his eyes, cutting off the playback reel of memories and saw his fingers still around the elk antler grip of the razor. Surely he would be justified in ending it all. Surely Grace would have understood. No one would think him weak for doing it in the wake of the apocalypse. Moreover, there would be no one to think so. No friends, no loved ones. No society to judge his actions. No one to mourn his passing.

If he had killed himself before all of this, life would have kept going for millions of people like nothing ever happened. Now, it would end completely and no on would ever know.

“No,” he thought; “I would know.”

For Ethan Carver, the bombs dropped months ago, It had taken the rest of the world until now to be caught in the blast-wave. He had been living an empty life in an empty existence since the death of the only person he had ever truly loved. The only difference was that now, the world reflected his misery.

Ethan folded the razor closed and put it in his pocket. His life wouldn't end this day. “There must be someone out there” he told himself. If he had a purpose, he could go on. He may not have believed himself, and he may have been deliberately walking to his own grave, but as long as he had purpose, he could go on. So he came to his decision. He would set forth into what remained of this planet; A dead heart in a dead world. 

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