When the Dust Settled… (Short Story)
(This short story is inspired by @jaidynnoxiv’s prompt.)
“When the dust settled, it left no trace.” Just like that, everyone was gone, my family, my friends, my one and only love.
See, in high school, I would not have been considered the “cool kid” or the “athletic kid” even nerd was a stretch. I was always an outsider. Someone always picked me last.
Well, I was picked last once again by some deity. Funny how life works out that way. Picked last even by God. None of that matters now. In fact, nothing ever mattered. Not my first kiss. Not my first girlfriend. Not my first time actually kicking the soccer ball straight. All that mattered was that they left me behind.
The question is not how all of this occurred. The question is why. Even my dog vanished without a trace. I wish I had him now. There were some good days, some bad. It is on those bad days when I may have been fighting with my girlfriend over God knows what. She was always there. Waiting for me after school with her tail wagging and head cocked to the side. As if some invisible presence stood behind me. I miss her...
In fact, I miss them all. Hell, I even miss the soccer player that bullied me for always wearing the same outfit. The same outfit he stole from out of the locker room when I was showering after tryouts. That day I wished I was invisible, that no one would see the loser who came tromping out of the bathroom, soaked and naked. Now, however, I wish I wasn't.
As I make my way down the once-bustling downtown streets of Denver, I think of all the times I fell flat on my face when I first was learning how to ride. How my father would always encourage me to get up. It was a sunny summer day, and the sun was on the horizon, painting the city gold. By the time I finally got the hang of it, I didn't feel my father holding me anymore. So I looked down at my dirty sneakers to see his shadow was no longer following mine, but I was peddling on my own. At that moment I was so afraid I looked back to see my father now joined by my mother shouting, “go, Steven!” However, I was so afraid I tumbled over the bike, leaving my Mom to patch me up for hours.
Now, I did not want to get up. I struggled to even get out of bed this morning, waking up to no birds chirping, no car humming, no sizzling of my Mom’s famous morning bacon. Just complete and utter silence. It had an unsettling effect and scared me in the broad daylight, spilling into my bedroom from behind my red curtains.
When I did finally get out of bed, I traveled into town for some food and supplies. While I had nothing and no one to worry about. I wasn't taking any chances. Who knows what lies out there in the silence, prowling around at night. It could be some feral beast, some maniacs who survived. Or worse, some mutated form of my dog, Otto, that I would be forced to kill.
No one knows what started all of this. All I know is that I am alone forever. With no solace, no friends, and worst of all, no noise. Denver was once flooded with people from all over, trying to ski our slopes, try our famous coffee, or come down to the Springs for some peace and relaxation apart from their busy lives.
Now it's just me, approaching the nearest Home Depot on Colorado street to pick up some supplies. I always thought it would be the best place to be to camp out during a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, there were no zombies to fight, no pandemic to outrun, and no one.
I rested my bike on one column outside of the building. Leaves rustled all around me as the cool fall breeze came in.
When I stepped in and the motion-activated doors opened with a ding, a couple of leaves entered with me. I looked down at them as some traveled down the aisles like a shopper looking for home repair supplies, then I gaped at the empty warehouse before me.
A majority of the lights had not given up the ghost, leaving it moderately lit. Of course, there were some pitch-black aisles I never dared travel down for fear of something emerging from out of it.
It was the late afternoon by the time I had finally arrived. I had only an hour before my full-scale lockdown back at home. I made my way down the aisle. The leaves traveled down which was the tool aisle after I grabbed a shopping cart that let out a god-awful creek with every roll.
I looked to the side of me to see a set of chainsaws and imagined myself having to cut apart my mutated dog. I winced at the vision and looked away to the other side of the aisle. There I saw the many lawnmowers they offered, but seeing I had no one to impress, I moved onto the next aisle.
I pause right before it, seeing it is pitch black minus a flickering light at the end, and move on. The creeks crescendoing as I do so.
The adjacent aisle was filled with garden supplies. Some of which I picked up. Including a stainless steel shovel, gloves, and some plants. What? A guy can't see the roses through the garden? Or, however, that saying goes...
The next three aisles were pitch black. As I walked alongside the third that had a few flickering lights, I halted. My blood grew cold as I saw out of the corner of my eye something menacing. I slowly turned towards it to see something with four legs at the opposite end of the aisle. A low growl arose that echoed throughout the vacant store.
“Otto, is that you?”
It barked once, then rushed towards me and I grabbed the shovel out of my cart and held it in my palms. It kept steady in its sprint towards me, and within seconds, it was only a few feet away. Without warning, it pounced on top of me, making me fall to the ground, banging my head. So hard, I fell into a coma.
I do not know if that dog was a figment of my imagination. Or if it had really attacked me. I feared it may have been some memory reminiscent of Otto. Now decomposed and rotting from within. However, I was mistaken as I woke up in the hardware store.
It blurred my vision as I rose to my feet. The lights that were on during the day were now flickering and limited. I hold my aching head and feel as if I have some sort of migraine. I frantically turn around to see it is pitch black outside.
“No... No... No...”
I quickly sprint past the motion-activated doors outside to see the street is as it was during the day, empty. I turn to my left to see the next couple of blocks are empty. However, to my right, I see an army arising in the distance.
I sprint in the opposite direction. After a while, I turn around to see they show no signs of slowing. I sprint as fast as I can until my legs are about to give out. I turn around again and they continue their approach.
Realizing there is no escape by fleeting. I go to the nearest building and try the doors. By the time I am a few feet away, the army is not far behind. I try the doors, but they are locked.
I press my face against the glass, looking through to a pitch-black lobby. Seeing no receptionist or doorman was coming my way to help, I sprint over to the adjacent building and try their doors.
When I arrive, the army is only one block away. I try the doors and luckily they open. I take out my phone, which is at five percent, and use my flashlight to make my way through the darkened foyer. I see an elevator just ahead and sprint over to slam down on its button like a video game. However, when I do, it is no use. The elevator is out of commission.
Suddenly, I hear moaning behind me. I turn to see the army at the front door and almost drop my phone at the sight. I look aside the elevator to find a door that reads emergency stairs. I think this applies.
Without wasting another second, I sprint over every flight until I reach the twentieth floor, where a door reads roof access. I slam open the door to find myself on the roof. It is a star-less night with no chopper humming in the distance, no police siren, just the hushed whisperings of the wind.
I slam the door shut behind me, which is equipped with a glass rectangular widow. I peer inside. It is pitch black with no army at it. So I sprint to the edge of the roof. In fact, I sprint so far with shoes untied; I trip and almost fall over the edge.
I was lucky to have survived but not lucky enough, as I now stared down at the street, which now was not empty, but filled to the brim with thousands of corpses. Had I won the video game? Did I only have to make it to the roof to be safe from the zombies? Or was this all in my head?
We're the streets, never empty. Filled with rotting corpses, he may have even negligently run over with his bike. I imagined himself doing just that. Their bones cracked under his and the bike’s weight.
The thought frightened him so much he jolted to his feet. As the breeze pushed against his face, he considered jumping. As the thoughts flooded over, causing bedlam in his mind.
What if I am really alone? What if there are survivors? What if they kill me? What if I am already dead? What if I'm dreaming?
“Then I should just fall and wake up.”
He leans over the edge, hanging one foot off of it that the breeze carries.
What if this is real?
Before he can recover, he loses his balance and falls.... and falls...