By: Ezra Baptist
From the Ashes
The sun was finally setting over the vast cracked landscape when Rake collapsed. He could walk no more. Day after day of travel through the empty waste had left him parched, broken, and weary. Brown hair caked with dirt, face covered in weeks-old grime, he laid there breathing.
Why? The question burned in his head. It cut him over and over, drowning out every other thought or memory. Why? Why? Why?
It didn’t make sense, nothing did. Why was he here? Why was the green gone? Why did they do this? The thoughts came and went. They meant nothing and they meant everything. They were all that remained.
“Why? Why? WHY?” With what felt like the last of his strength, he screamed the question at the sinking sun, his mouth filling with dust. His mouth was already so dry that he didn’t notice.
A shadow appeared at the edge of his vision. Or maybe it was a silhouette. Slowly it sharpened until it looked very much like the outline of a man. A tall, dark figure superimposed on the sun, surrounded by blinding light.
How long had it been since he had seen that man? The last person he had ever seen. He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t even remember the man’s name or face. He could remember his touch, though. The feeling of a hand on his. Of lips not cracked by heat and drought. Rake felt bad that he couldn’t remember that man’s name, but perhaps it was better this way. If a name was anything like the phantom touch, he wanted no part of it.
How can I remember another’s name when I couldn’t recall my own? The thought came to him unsolicited.
He hadn’t always been Rake. He remembered that now. He had been called something sweeter, something softer. When had he become Rake? Why?
Cause you’re still here after everyone else has gone. Another accursed thought that brought back fragmented images and flashes of soft green. They lit a fire in him. A madness overtook him, then. The madness to carry on.
“Rake…” Rake sputtered out, amidst a fit of coughing. “Rake!” he cried. He didn’t know why he did, but then again, he didn’t know much of anything anymore. “RAKE!” he screamed, tearing at the broken earth with his hands. “RAKE!” he shouted again, pulling himself forward, towards the shimmering silhouette.
Rake crawled and crawled like an insect across the dead plain, until the sun was a dim orange haze on the horizon. In the fading light, he saw that the figure was not a man but a small growing thing, peeking out from an earthen crack.
“Green… green…” he stuttered. He stared at the thing, transfixed. It was pitiful, but mighty. Eerie, yet dazzling. It must have been so strong to live here, but it looked awfully weak.
Rake struggled up into a kneeling position beside the leafy thing. As he looked at it, visions appeared in his head. Pictures long forgotten. He closed his eyes to concentrate. If he focused, he could remember the forests and fields, could hear the streams and swaying branches. He could recall their simple peace, their effortless beauty, but just barely. He wished he could devour the images, and when his eyes opened and fell upon the speck of green in an ocean of pale ash, he wanted to devour it too.
No. A voice in his head. Let it live. Let it grow. You never learned how to let things go.
Rake was too weak to argue. The madness, the will to live, had gone.
If I can’t have it, then maybe it can have me. That thought was all his own.
“Grow little one. Grow and undo what we have done,” he said, laying down beside this living thing. Reaching out, he caressed one leafy appendage, as he might have once caressed a lover, and it pricked him. The pain didn’t bother him though. He doubted anything would in these last few hours.
Gently he patted his new, final companion, ignoring the discomfort that shot through his fingertips.
“You’re stronger than you look. Good.”
He smiled and closed his eyes for the last time.