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The Piano

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Radioactive matter laced the world like cobweb. Each branch, leaf and feather was coated in the fallout of nuclear war. The undergrowth was as still as the rest of the world; the silence as thick as the deadly material that had showered the earth, and obliterated all but one.
Perhaps it was a miracle or perhaps a curse. Spared from the death and destruction, a person could draw the conclusion that their life was an extraordinarily lonely gift. Not a soul to speak to, not a soul to follow. But without the complication of another life to protect, the man’s existence was simple.
He had been a boy when it happened, when the world had drowned and a haggard bewildered child had fallen out of the other side. Alone and trembling, the only comfort he had to cling to was fragile memory. His recollection of the final days, before he had fled all he knew, was still painfully sharp. Beside a piano, he had perched on a tatty stool and admired the crevasses of the old knowledgeable fingers. His grandfather’s hands had balanced with grace over ivory keys, playing the piano as if it were one of the most intimate acts a person could perform. When his gentle symphony had subsided, he looked upon his grandson with sorrow. He spoke of the wars that came before, the horrific scars which had soiled the earth when he was a boy.
His hands trembled as the hovered over the keys, practicing the melody burned into his nerve passages from hours of repetition. “This time,” he informed his grandson, with the depth of a thousand lives contained in his clouded grey eyes, “This time it will be far worse.”
The boy had nodded, unsure how it had been before. He had listened to his grandfather’s stories and knew that details had been omitted for his sake. He was yet to experience those horrors which sculpted a human to a shell.
But now he knew.
He had lost it all. He had his humanity strained thinner and tighter than he could have possibly fathomed as a boy. He had grown into a self-loathing spectre, a figure who trudged the radioactive landscape in search of an innocence which could not be restored. Each night he took shelter beneath a faintly glowing shrub and he prayed to the stars that he could be one of them. He could reach up, but he would never meet the glittering sky where stars crammed in competition. Try as he might, he could not touch where his grandfather’s soul rested. Not long, he assured himself, before he could struggle no longer and ascend to the beautiful canvas where all lost souls were pinned.
Each morning he rose, and moved on. To the next nuclear tree or atomic riverbed. In this soiled forest, there was nothing that had not been bathed in the catastrophic consequence of man’s intolerance of others. He made it to the threshold of a clearing, steadying himself on the damp bark of a tree. Before him a battered piano dominated the undergrowth, a definite reminder of the artistry of man. He approached with some caution, his heart thudding for some unfathomable reason. Nobody would stop him, stare at him, he knew – but it felt so cosmically wrong to intrude on the last evidence of mankind for miles.
Desperately, his fingertips ached to make the air colourful with his grandfather’s melody. He regarded his rough hand with sorrow. Beneath his sallow skin, he could feel the effect of the radioactive air on his body. Cancerous mutations multiplied a million times, infecting his body and overpowering his being. He was dying.
And he died again, staring at the bone white keys before him. They pleaded for a sound, a last trace of elegance and humanity in the bleak wasteland. A fond image entered his mind, of the desperate musician hauling his piano through the apocalypse, just because the music begged him to. The greatest beauty he missed, were the humans who were so defiant to bring their art to the world. It reminded him of his grandfather.
With tentative fingers, he reached out to press down a key – but was met only by silence.
His finger sailed down through the empty air with dark surprise. There was no piano in the radioactive rainforest he found himself in. No human comfort, only the stench of the muddy waterproof coat that clung to his damp, cold frame. The warmth which had flooded his body at the sight of the piano dissipated into the still, dull air. He realised with a jolt, just how too perfectly the piano had been preserved, how it could not have possibly been abandoned in the woodland. There was no desperate, devoted musician which his childish mind had dared to conjure. Nobody would do that, humans are not that devoted. Perhaps his loneliness had romanticised what was gone, what could never be again.
He was the final soul, the last of humanity. Perhaps there was someone else, an equally lonely soul staring up at the stars on the other side of the earth, believing they too embodied the last of mankind. What a tragedy, he thought, that this is how it all ends.
He glanced down at his hands, prematurely aged by the bath of radioactive material. How marvellously they resembled the hands of his grandfather, what a beautiful way to look. He slumped weakly against the base of a glowing tree, still contemplating the decay of his hands, until the familiarity of darkness caved over him.
He smiled, at the star decorated sky, and focused on the brightest. His grandfather was smiling at him and his innocent imagination and his adoration of music. He was proud that his grandson had dared to dream of a piano in the radioactive wasteland. The man extended his gnarled hand towards the brightest star, but it slid to the floor beside him. He wheezed a laboured breath from his cancerous lungs, the beats of his heart weakening like the soft outro of a symphony. Gently, the beats became slower and slower, until there was no sound at all.

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