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Epilogue This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     We are the last.

The last of what, I don't know. For five years, I've had trouble defining things: what is right and wrong and if anyone is justified in their nuclear war; what is day and night, both sun and moon forever obscured by dark clouds and debris; what is human and what is not, insidious radiation blurring the definitions of what a body should be.

So perhaps I should say we are the last humans, but I no longer know what human is.

At any rate, we are the last. My country was one of the last attacked, but before the bombing began, my mother arranged for me to be taken away. I didn't understand; a world war encompasses the world and everything should be ruined, there should be nowhere to go. Even if technology is advanced enough for atomic weapons, it is far from ready to give birth to a child civilization on another planet. But my mother has secrets and quiet connections she told no one about, and she knew of a small organization in New Zealand, that insignificant island relatively untouched in the Pacific. That was where the child civilization would be.

So my mother slipped me a bit of paper that contained the most important printed words of my life - Toronto International Airport to Wellington International - and we hurried through the ruined city to the one airport terminal still infrequently operating. She pressed a kiss to my forehead and whispered "I love you," and then I was hustled onto the plane. I sat in a cracked plastic seat and pressed my face to the Plexiglas as we took off, pretending I was six years old again. I watched with fascinated delight as miniscule trees and toy buildings and cars like ants passed beneath, but it hurt to pretend. An army plane roared past us - for a moment I thought we were the target - but then Toronto turned red and white behind us - our nation's colors, a mockery of the Canadian flag - and in the accompanying boom, I felt more pain than if it had been the plane that exploded.

Centuries later, we arrived in Wellington. I feel far older than 14 - a hundred years older, a thousand - as we, the stragglers who have evaded death, the broken fragments of a ruined world, huddle in an undamaged bomb shelter beneath the airport. There are only 17 of us, from all over the world, and I don't even know if anyone else can speak English. But if we have one thing in common, it is neither fear - we have seen the world torn apart screaming before our eyes - nor anger - those five years since the beginning of our third world war have been an eternity, and none of us can remember who or what is to blame - but resignation, knowing we don't have much to live for, and that even if one of the well-meaning New Zealand pilots comes to collect us, announcing a plane is still intact, that we have a chance to go to some remote island untouched by radiation or death, our lives are forever damaged half-lives, and our children will only know sorrow and the struggle to survive in an unfamiliar wilderness, and their children will make the sorrow dull but not the struggle, on and on for generations until they rediscover technology and nuclear fusion and rip the world apart again.

How is it, I wonder, that I came to see the world like this, all in red and black, with a spark of hope not hidden behind the clouds of debris but snuffed out by them?

After another eternity with only these thoughts for company, one of the pilots does come back. He's a round little man with a red face, wild hair and a concerned expression. His words soon explain his concern: his plane only has room for eight passengers; eight to go on to the untouched paradise and attempt to start anew, nine to stay here until whatever end. The pilot explains that we may all talk to him, explain who we are, plead our case.

A pregnant woman and her husband climb eagerly to their feet, rushing to the pilot, explaining rapidly how they can give birth to the first new generation, how they can't bear to be parted, how their unborn child must be given a chance to survive. I know they have already won their case. The pilot nods, gesturing for them to sit back down, a little closer to the exit. They are the first of the chosen people.

I look around the room. In a corner is a middle-aged woman in a black habit, murmuring to herself and counting rosary beads. She has given her life to her God, and unlike the young married couple with their unborn baby, this nun can give no promise of producing the new generation. She will stay; she will die.

Another woman, younger, is sitting near me. She has a precise look about her, and she has somehow managed to salvage an only slightly burnt pad of paper. She is holding a piece of charcoal, her brown fingers darkening to black, as she scribbles away on the pad; I squint and see she is pre-paring some sort of speech, an essay on all the ways she could benefit a society.

When she talks with the pilot, she is ushered over to sit with the young couple. A doctor and two confident-looking girls soon join them. Everyone else who goes to the pilot is turned away and comes back to sit with the rest of us, looking a strange mixture of shocked and resigned. Now the only people who have not been interviewed are a young man, his mother, and me.

The boy is accepted immediately, but his mother is pushed away. She begins screaming "Haven't we been through enough, I must be with my child," but the pilot looks directly at me and beckons.

I understand. I am more valuable than someone's mother. But I've seen enough of families being ripped apart, being told it's for the greater good, but I see nothing good. And would my own mother have wanted me to go, not surviving but merely existing, to take the place of a boy's mother who truly wants to live?

I shake my head at the pilot.

He nods slowly and gestures to the young man's mother, who bursts into tears of relief and hugs her son. The pilot turns to his chosen people and tells them to come with him, come on the plane, come to paradise.

The pregnant woman is assisted to her feet by her husband. Her face is alive and bright with an expression I have not seen in ages ... a glowing smile.

"This is it!" she cries. "This has only been the prologue, and soon we will act out the first chapter of a new and better history for this planet!"

Perhaps it is her prologue. I don't know. I'm only a footnote, a fragment, something to go quietly unnoticed, a speck of darkness blotted out by the dawn shining in this woman's eyes.

Not my dawn. I'm sitting here in the predawn, the darkest, coldest time of night, and I decide I like it here. I don't see any prologue. It's an epilogue, and I am its closing line.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Winters_Willow said...
Aug. 24, 2012 at 4:14 am
It's a good story!! I hope nothing like this actually occurs, ever!
 
daughter_of_athena This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm
Speechlessly brilliant. I think you could have fleshed out the moment when the narrator refuses to come, but other than that, an amazing story. Thank you.
 
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