It’s already inside the city.
There was a time when we hoped we could keep it out forever, even a time when we laughed at the thought it could ever violate us. Things like that don’t happen, we said. It’s something to scare children at night, something for a fireside tale in a camping trip, or at most something that could only happen in a history book.
Back when the human race was stupid. Thoughtless. Superstitious.
Surely we know better now, we said.
Only words, after all. Only air.
I’ll refrain from remarking on what fools we were. Thinking it could last forever. Even when things are in order we need our comforting delusions. Every one of us dies, you know. And even though on a clear calm day you’ll freely admit the day will come when the city you’ve given your life to will be nothing but dust and overgrowth and shards of glass… you still comfort yourself that it will be long after you’re gone.
You may not endure, but it will. That’s what you promise yourself.
And the last generation, already born, clings to that thought. As it crumbles.
It hardly matters what it is. Already it’s hard to remember, covered over in myth and memory and forgetting.
Flood, fire, or famine. Invaders from lands known or unknown. A creeping pestilence or a change in the weather.
The lightning-bolt hit, and when it hit…
There aren’t many of us left. Fewer every day. Here and there a band of optimists hoping to “rebuild…” There may be hope there. But you look in their eyes and see nothing but the dream that tomorrow they’ll restore the way it was. “Before…” they say, and the crack of their voices brings out a tear or two from even my hard-hearted soul.
They think they can go back.
They don’t accept it will take centuries, and even then it won’t be the same. But I guess they wouldn’t be optimists if they didn’t tell themselves they’d live to see it.
And without their self-deception all hope would be lost.
I’m not one of them.
I go on, much as I did before. Keep to myself, reading and writing, waiting for the inevitable. Only leaving home to run to the grocery store.
There’s always the chance those optimists may take it into their heads to garrison the stores. Be more sensible of them to start a few farms. Leave the rest of us loners to live out the rest of our days on Doritos, Twinkies, and Jack Daniels.
I picked up a rifle, for self-defense — mostly. Although if I last long enough I guess I’ll have to learn to hunt.
They’re a strange bunch, those optimists. Kind, but brutally disciplined. Probably why they’ll survive while realists like me will die out. (He said, reassuring himself he’s a realist.) Plus they have all their weird little rituals that don’t make any sense. They don’t appreciate it when anybody questions what they’ve decided is the Truth, which is the main reason they didn’t let me in.
I’ll admit it. I tried to join them.
It’s not lonely though, not really. I’ve always been a loner. And even if it’s lonely, it won’t be lonely for long. Besides, how many people get to witness the end of a civilization?
I should consider myself lucky.
It’s not unbearable, moment by moment. What makes it unbearable is when you think of the future and time stretches out in front of you. Enormous. Nearly every moment of it unpleasant in some way.
That’s the real terror. The future.
Leaving aside the everyday unpleasantness. Anything could happen. Maybe I’ll die horribly, by a bear or a wolf or a thief who surprises me while I’m trying to sleep. Maybe I’ll fall out of a tree and break a leg, or something that leaves me in pain for life. Maybe I’ll have some fatal injury that kills me over the course of several agonizing days.
But none of that is real. Not yet.
What’s real is this pen. This paper. This breath. This light.
Only this, come what may.