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The Final Sunset MAG
I always loved to watch the sunset; I loved the way the blue would blend with the purples and pinks, turning the sky into a canvas. For hours I’d watch as nature became da Vinci and the sky the Mona Lisa. Soon the pastels would fade to black, and the stars would return to the sky. It was a cycle that always intrigued me.
Even now, when the sky was no longer the beautiful array of colors, I still loved the sunset. As the dirty yellow meshed with green, I continued to see the artist at work. The palette was just a little different. Then, when the night came and the stars refused to shine, I still found beauty in it.
That was the one damn amazing thing about me: I could find beauty in anything. In the iron skeletons of cities, I always spotted the green grass poking up through the remains. Even the animals, now hairless and deformed, were thriving and reproducing. The radios still broadcast the news, sometimes a song or two. People were rebuilding.
I guess that was why I had such a fascination with Ashton. He was in no way conventionally beautiful. His face was covered in burns and gashes. Chunks were missing from his arms, and his left third toe was gone. He wasn’t buff or an alpha male. Hell, he was the middle child, nothing special. But he made a mean sandwich, so I guess that was why I stuck around. I mean, once you got past the walking corpse look, he was kinda cute.
“Ava, it’s getting late,” Ashton called from the shelter, his voice breaking the silence of the night.
“Can I have five more minutes?” I asked.
“I’m not your mother. If you wanna stay out longer in the radiation, be my guest.”
“Save me a sandwich. I’ll be in soon.”
I heard the door slam, so I knew he was back inside. The radiation was always a problem. It wasn’t like the piles of bodies or ruined houses; you couldn’t avoid it. Radiation was in every breath, every tear, and every word. Everyone suffered from exposure to it, but I had gotten an especially raw deal. My house had been close to the blast site, sending millions of waves through me. The medic said it was an act of God that I survived. I said it was the act of me crawling into my basement.
Either way, I had to take these stupid pills every day. The government had issued medicine for those who were the most affected. They were small, white, and tasted of burning flesh. Don’t ask how I know what that tastes like. This is the end of the world, remember?
The sky was fully black before I decided to head back into the shelter.
Our shelter was … functional at best. We fixed up an old ranch to the best of our ability. Seeing that we could only use what we could steal from abandoned houses, I thought we did pretty well. The roof was starting to cave, and the walls were smashed in and dirty, but it was home.
“Did you ever manage to reach Dave?” Ashton asked as he handed me a sandwich.
Dave Ross was the local “pharmacist,” if you could call him that. He basically stole as much medicine as possible from the Red Cross and gave it to those who were too poor to afford it. Dave was the post-apocalyptic Robin Hood.
“Nah, he wasn’t at the post,” I responded, taking a bite of sandwich. “Don’t worry, dude. He’ll be there tomorrow and I can pick up my meds then.”
“First, chew, then talk. Two, it’s risky not to have your meds.” He took a breath. “And three, I’m not your damn mother.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I reassured him.
He sent a glare my way.
When the sun rose the next day, I decided to head out to the post. It was a few miles away and traveling at night was dangerous, so I needed a head start. After throwing some food into a backpack, I set out.
I got about twenty feet before I heard the door to the shelter slam shut.
“Hey, you wanna wait up?” Ashton yelled, running to me.
“I didn’t want to interrupt your beauty sleep.”
“Very funny,” he responded as he caught up with me.
I waited for him to catch his breath before asking why he decided to come along. This was the millionth time I had gone to the post. The route was practically engraved into my mind.
“You haven’t had your medicine. It makes me nervous, you traveling alone and all.”
“Dude, stop worrying.”
“I’m not your mother. I’m not worrying.”
I wish I could say the route was scenic. Rather, it was a barren wasteland, featuring dirt and sand with special guest, dust. The air was always quiet, never a chirp or tweet. Every once in a while, a rabbit came straggling along, hairless and with one ear missing. Most people would have just killed the damned things. I always left them alone in the hopes that they’d get better. Ashton let them live because he thought that if he had to live in this hell, so should they.
“Ava, isn’t Dave supposed to be here?” Ashton asked, looking around. He normally came very early in the morning and stayed until late. There was no way we could have missed him.
“He might just be running late,” I said. I rubbed a hand across my neck. It was unlike him.
“He better be.”
We waited for hours, but there was no sign of Dave. Eventually, we set off for home, medicineless and very scared.
Every day we checked the post. Every time we marched back empty-handed. At first I tried to be optimistic – tried to ignore how heavy my lungs had become and how hard it was to stay awake. Dave was just caught up in things, that was all. My skin would peel and my head would throb. Yet Dave was still just caught up in things. Ashton tried to find alternatives to the pills, but those herbal medicines never worked on me. It was when I started to cough up blood that I realized Dave wasn’t caught up in anything.
I tried to hide it from Ashton. He could never find out that I wasn’t okay. Ashton would worry too much. Eventually, he did find out. He screamed and threw a hissy fit over it.
Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to keep secrets from him, because “we only have each other.” I assured him I was fine. But as the weeks stretched on, I realized that I couldn’t live much longer without the meds. My clock was running out.
From the minute I opened my eyes, on that Tuesday the seventh, I knew it was my last day. Something was off; my heart thumped to a different tempo. Like a funeral procession, I thought. Again, I didn’t let Ashton know. My last day was going to be spent like any other, not covered in bubble wrap. The day wore on. I knew it was almost time.
“Hey Ashton, wanna do me a favor?”
“Watch the sunset with me?” I asked, as I sat down in the dirt.
He sat next to me. The sky was abnormally pretty that night. The yellows were a tad brighter and the greens a little less murky. They blended in the sky, rather than meshing together.
“Do you ever miss the old sunset?” Ashton asked, turning to face me.
“Every damn day,” I said, stretching my legs out. “But I’m happy that we have a sunset at all.”
Ashton made a noise of approval and returned to staring at the sky. Minutes ticked on. I felt my heart beginning to fade. Breathing was getting harder.
“I’m glad this is my last sunset.”
“What?” Aston asked, instantly stiffening.
“I’m not making it through this one, dude.”
“Yes, yes you are. We can go inside. I don’t know. Maybe if we find some people we can ask for –”
I cut him off. “We both know that isn’t going to work.”
“We can try.”
“Ashton, we’ve tried for weeks now.”
He let out a shaky breath before looking at the sky again. Then he shut his eyes, as if trying to block out reality.
“You’re right. I’m glad this is your last sunset too.”
Silence fell over us. Words are hard to come by when you’re dying.
“You know …” I faced him. “You make the best damn sandwiches.”
He laughed and ran a hand through his dirty hair. I almost told him that he should get it cut, but I decided that was a dumb thing to waste breath on.
“I do what I can.”
“When things get better, they should totally crown you as the apocalypse’s Top Chef.” I smiled at Ashton and tried to ignore the wetness on my cheeks. My throat was burning, both from dying and from crying.
“As stupid as this sounds,” Ashton started, “I was looking forward to spending the end of the world with you.”
“Well, you got to spend some of it with me.”
“Yeah, I guess. I just wanted you to see society rebuild, the animals come back, me being crowned Top Chef.” We both laughed. “I wanted you to see the sunset come back.”
“I would have loved that.”
“You can always try–”
“We tried, remember?” There was no way I could let him get his hopes up for my survival.
He fell silent.
“If it makes you feel any better,” I said, “spending the end of the world with you wasn’t so bad.”
“Thanks. A guy can only try.”
“You know, I’m going to be fine,” I said, both to reassure myself and him. “You always worry too much.”
“Ava, I’m not your mother,” he whispered, taking my hand in his.
We lay back, hand in hand. The sky was almost completely black now.
My chest felt tight. I could feel my eyes starting to close.
“I’ll see you soon, Ashton. Don’t wait up.”
I felt his hand squeeze mine, and the sky faded out.
The funny thing is, you find out a lot after you die. Apparently, Dave was caught up in some stuff after all. Someone snitched about his free meds business and the government hunted him down. Shot him three times in the head, actually.
Ashton died a few days after me. The radiation got to his heart or something like that. They found him inside our shelter, his body worn and tired. I guess he read my mind, because his hair was significantly shorter. But they said that he died with a smile on his face, finally relieved to have left this hell.
And I think that’s beautiful.
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