The sunsets are always beautiful nowadays.
I don’t know what sort of damage the world’s nuclear arsenal does to an atmosphere, I can’t remember any of the scientific terms, which is just fine with me because until I can name it, it’s just beautiful. I’m probably one of the last who can enjoy it, so here’s a toast to ignorance and bliss.
Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
He is panting. The dog is panting at a window, onto that tall stump of glass in the middle of the floor, laying his breath thick onto it, clouding it; hiding behind it as though he’s ashamed of his appearance.
As if he cares what he looks like.
I peek out the high windows, barely above the ground, to see the last of the dark gold sun while I flick the switch, most of the lights hum to life. I consider doing something about the rest but I don’t know how many replacement bulbs we have left and frankly I don’t want to know. I remember a time when I thought I had to know things, I remember a time when I thought that knowledge was power. When you are waiting to run out of food so you can starve to death knowledge is nothing more than a shoddy substitute for hope.
Luxury is exactly the wrong word, but you get the picture.
We all have to laugh when we think of what was important to us years ago. Right now the only thing that’s important is keeping myself occupied so that I don’t get bored and overeat the rations, I could just go to sleep after watching the sun bleed away, but I’ve spent hours working with the solar panels and the batteries just to pass the time without ravaging what’s left of the kitchen. All of this so I can live to see another day and so I can hope that somebody will find us out here, I don’t know who’s out there in shape for looking for survivors, but its been a couple of years hasn’t it? Somebody should be able to look for survivors by now.
Hope springs eternal.
One of the light bulbs in the back of the room flickers its last and dies, darkness spreads a little more and there are already far too many shadows. I know there isn’t anybody else left to hide in the shadows.
I know that nothing is watching me from the darkness, but it doesn’t matter because no matter how much I peer into it the darkness stares back at me.
I don’t care how cliché it sounds; once you’re educated enough everything is a cliché.
That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
His paw smears down across the window again, with the same deft strokes he’s been using since he was a puppy. It always surprises me how neat his writing is.
I hope it’s a joke, his jokes are usually pretty good, enough to make me grin and, Lord knows, that’s a feat in this day and age. My lab coat is covered with stains from all of the things I’ve done that you were never meant to wear a lab coat for, grease and dirt and coffee and blood, parts of the coat are so dirty that it’s rigid. The dirty glass, half empty of water that I hold lazily in my right hand droops desperately towards the floor, these chairs were never meant for slouching, but if you have a few of them you can recline well enough. I want to say that I smell terrible, but to be honest I can’t tell, I probably do, if there are any humans out there looking for survivors from this lab in the middle of nowhere, when they find me they’ll probably say I smell terrible. I look forward to it, nothing I can do about the smell, as if I have water to waste. I’ll bet my beard is impressive.
Hope springs eternal.
The words appear with a click as his paws tap the glass.
’What would Marilyn Monroe be doing if she were alive tonight?’
I can hear the paw slap the cement floor on the other side of the window, behind the short stub of cement that supports it, a few moments later I can see the face of the only friend I have left. It’s an eager face, proud of whatever nonsense he’s scribbled across the window. His tongue is lolling out of a misshapen jaw, his black coat shimmers in the flickering overhead lights; his tail wags expectantly as I try to guess his riddle.
I can see his face through the words he’s already written, little streaks of white hair show scars from his life before he was sent away to be studied, he paws another sentence up onto the glass with a grin.
’Clawing at the lid to her coffin.’
Nobody said he was human, nobody said he had a soul or compassion; I shouldn’t expect it from him. Before I came here I was always told that dogs were nice, caring creatures. People believe that because their dogs don’t talk to them, don’t tell them what it is that they’re thinking that’s really causing them to grin like that.
There was a time when that would have been enough to earn him a laugh, a pat on the head. ‘Very clever,’ I can still hear Doctor Elbrech’s heavy accent praising him. I only frown and look disappointed. The dog recognizes my borderline disgust immediately and his mouth drops open into a wide grin, the teeth on the right side of his mouth tilted outwards at a terrible angle, he pants what must be a chuckle at me.
The only reason we could ever figure for his disfigurement was that the poor beast was terribly inbred; there wasn’t any of the scar tissue that could have been anything else. It never seemed to cause him any pain, but the doctors had offered to fix it for him anyway. In the beginning we had tried everything to make him happier, less morbid, better. The first time we had offered to fix his jaw I remember the confusion he had expressed through the glass and expressions, as if he had never noticed how warped it was. When we had finally managed to explain to him that he was warped, weird, different and that we could fix him he had barked in a way that could only be laughter.
‘And so, they say to the talking dog, ‘you are different’ and ‘we can fix you’.’
He didn’t want any surgery; he didn’t want any sort of change or improvement.
‘Who am I trying to impress?’
He learned to make the same barking laugh whenever we used the word improvement around him.
‘Animals have spent time since the world began adapting to their environment; Humans pretend they’ve stopped just because they also change the environment.’
If you looked long enough at what he wrote you tried to forget he was a dog. His knowledge, his capacity for learning seemed boundless, his ingenuity seemed unstoppable, he would find a way to do what he wanted. He probably had most of the scientists who had been here beat if you ran it by IQ points, in all honesty in the time he was here he probably studied us more and better than we had been able to study him. X-Rays, CT scans, we had done it all. He wasn’t that different from a normal dog. He claimed he couldn’t communicate with the other dogs we had brought in to meet him, to visit him, he said they were probably just too lazy to try to learn.
It frustrated most of the scientists, it used to frustrate me. Here we were in this facility to dismantle everything mystical about life, to interrogate the magical until it gave up its secrets, call it the Scientific Inquisition, the KGB of the intellect.
Luxury is exactly the wrong word, but you get the picture.
The dog had never given up to our tests; his secrets would be his to the grave.
Probably that was why the dog was even still alive, he was eating the rations and lowering my life expectancy by months but once you’ve seen so much intellectual gore… well I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger.
We had even tried to breed him to see what we could make of his offspring, he had wanted nothing to do with the whole process, he had seen it as an insult.
‘And so, they say to the talking dog, ‘be an animal’.’
Most people don’t have that sort of control, and his urges must have been far stronger than ours, pheromones pumped in, filling the air, he knew what we were doing and he snarled, he didn’t growl, he wasn’t an animal, he only snarled at us with his twisted jaw, furious, warped, and yet absolutely in control.
If the intelligence didn’t frighten you, looking into that snarl, that eminently controlled snarl, that raw force of will, people had to leave the room rather than look at that.
He’s examining me now; his brown eyes almost look through me. Usually someone would wonder at that moment whether or not the beast was more than a beast, whether there was a soul lurking somewhere in the dark inside. His eyes glitter with his frightening, morbid intelligence. His tongue droops out of the misshapen jaw.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
“What do you want?”
The dog hurries back to the window, he had hardly used up any of the fog that he had put there. In the old days we had had machines to fog it up for him.
’You’re remembering again, aren’t you?’
I can only smile at this; I’m probably one of the last humans left who has time left to remember. Whatever had gone wrong on that day that left the most of us dead or dying probably wouldn’t have left the survivors with any time to philosophize. Survivors, if there are any, were kicked back to the times before we could worry about remembering or blaming each other, people had to survive now.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
The old lab had worked as a bomb shelter, it was underground and out away from most of where the bombs had fallen. Radiation poisoning had still been a problem, though, and sickness. Then there were the crazed people, the cancerous and mutated images of humanity from what was left of outside, they hadn’t been too kind towards the scientists who had ventured out. Some of us had wondered what those creatures were doing in the desert out here; the only real explanation was that there were worse things where they had come from.
It could be worse.
Hope springs eternal.
They had broken in a couple of times, but Doctor Elbrech had fixed that before he had died. There were no contacts from the government; there were no humans to be found out in that desert, only the demon specters who haunted the outdoors. They died slowly of the radiation that they wallowed in, they nursed radioactive burns with bandages, they fought for food and they died. A couple of the men had killed themselves out of despair, I was the only one left with the will to live, there’s a knife in the third cupboard to the left, on the second shelf, there’s a small handgun in the lab desk at the back of the room, I know where they are, I put them there. They know me too, they accuse me. I guess they’d call it survivor’s guilt. But I have a large room full of unspoiled rations and we've lived together for these years, me and the dog, alone.
I remember there had been fighting over the rations, we used to stockpile food here so we didn’t have to drive to town so often, when everyone had wanted to live, Lord of the Flies, all grown up. I remember the estimates, they wouldn’t last more than a few months if we were all going to try to survive off of them. A few had died of the radiation, and that estimate had crept ever so slightly up. Then a few died of head trauma and the estimate had risen, then knife wounds, and everyone left told us that if the dead had wanted to live they would have found the knives first.
That was when the philosophy of a facility dedicated to research and knowledge came down to who wanted to live more than the others. That was when everyone was carving shivs and looking for blunt clubs.
And so they say to the man, ‘be civilized.’
But civilization is dead out there isn’t it? It’s back to raw survival for the lot of us. When people were sitting in their rooms, carving knives and wondering who was out to kill them for a larger part of the rations, or to make the rations last longer, they all told themselves that civilization is one of those luxuries we can no longer afford
The shivs are scattered on the floor of a storage room, the gun sits in its desk, they’re all useless now.
For them, luxury is exactly the wrong word, but you get the picture. They’re just as useless now as civilized behavior, another thing we can’t afford to use anymore.
We sit alone, he a mockery of man, but perhaps more man than the rest of them left out there. Here was one who could understand my words, respond in kind. This dog was more man than the men outdoors, those parodies; it occurred to me, were more dog than he.
The dog stares at me as these thoughts plod through my mind, staring at me, studying me, we spend minutes there lost in thought before the slap of his claws on the glass brings me back to the present.
‘Read me some poetry?’
I have to smile, the dog loves poetry, it keeps me from dwelling on the futility of this whole mess and it keeps me from getting bored. Most people don’t even begin to realize how hungry you get when you’re bored, the dark shadows of your mind inflicting any sort of imaginary pain for you to deal with.
”Death be not proud,” I look to the dog to see his reaction he sits and looks at me, his tail wagging behind him, “Though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…”
We have spent these years sitting here with these men who had lived and died happily, without having to wonder if the radiation would kill them or whether something was lurking somehow in the shadows, some phantom of the other scientists. I frown, even while I’m mindlessly reading the poetry, I used to love horror films with absurd premises like that, we all had. Humankind won’t be bored enough to inflict that sort of imaginary pain on itself anymore.
Luxury is exactly the word you’re looking for.
“One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die,” I finish the sonnet and cast my eyes into the shadows again; I can almost hear the rustling of lab coats I know aren’t there.
And so they say to the man, ‘be reasonable.’
John Donne hadn’t outlived death either, ‘Death thou shalt die,’ were nothing more than the brave words of a man bitter about his own mortality. Everyone is bitter about their own mortality, I’ve seen a lot of people die, none of them were happy about the situation.
Nobody had outlived death yet, thousands of years of medical science and we have tried everything from alchemy and superstition to chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, everyone has died. Years of studying death and dying from every angle, and you had to figure that death had learned more about us than we did about it. The dog always found our medical sciences infinitely funny, just like he found all of our technologies funny.
‘Humans pretend they’ve stopped adapting just because they also change the environment.’
He had always insisted on using all of the proper grammar and spelling despite the fact that it must have made his already absurd task infinitely more difficult, most of the scientists had tried to teach him slang and about how much faster things would be if he didn’t bother drawing semi-colons, how much faster it could be if he would just type, they tried giving him keyboards, and the dog had only worked on his penmanship. He had only ever replied with his attempt at laughter and the quickly written statement, ‘I am not a man, my discipline is intact.’
Written even more neatly every time.
He has since told me repeatedly that he does not find it sad at all that our technology is all broken now, we are a great race, he believes in us as a people, this is just a test for us, and we will only emerge stronger.
He’d say that our tools were an addiction, they kept getting stronger, we kept getting weaker, more dependant.
Luxury is probably the wrong word, but you get the picture.
The dog and I have argued about how powerful we were as a race beforehand, we had the technology to do all of this damage, to lay this entire planet to waste, but the dog had never bought that that was power.
‘The power to destroy is nothing without control.’
That’s just the philosophy of a dog at the end of the world though, nothing but the bitter ramblings of an animal.
We were worse than most dogs he had told us once before the bombings, we were biologically built to think and act freely but we chose to enslave ourselves to our tools and our fears, most of us doddering mindlessly along despite the fact that we were given such great intellect as a birthright to our race.
This had only gotten him another lecture about how he could cut down on the time it took him to write those sentences if he would just go ahead and forget about grammar and punctuation.
People looking to save seconds of their lives because they don’t want to watch a dog write out entire words, not that it mattered, they were all dead anyway.
Most people are dead anyways, no matter how much of the meaning and beauty they tore out of life to save a couple of seconds.
I think it was the arrogance that did it in the end more than anything else. We had developed all of these safeties, all of these protocols and we had told ourselves could not be broken; all of these things that we said couldn’t be bypassed. We told ourselves that we owned the rockets and tanks and bullets, we pretended they cared about us.
The ultimate illusion of property; that what you own cares who owns it, that the gun cares who it’s pointed at.
Luxury is exactly the word you’re looking for.
But somebody had broken into the Department of Defense’s computers and rigged everything together to launch all of our warheads without ever consulting the president, without it going through the hundred precautions that we had put in place, hell with all of the devastation out there they must have managed to pull the same sort of trick with a half dozen countries at least. It should have been impossible, we told ourselves it was. They had been smart, smarter than us all.
Now they are probably dead.
Not that that makes things any better, now he’s just another corpse amid the rubble, another set of hands that won’t be there to rebuild humanity. I can’t imagine why anyone would have done such a thing. His final message was all that we had, it had been sent to every conceivable email address three minutes before the strike, getting past all the spam filters must have been a cheap trick compared to whatever he had devised to break all of our securities for the bombs. In a facility that does nothing more than study a dog, email is checked frequently, a printed copy of the email still sits under a computer monitor that doesn’t look as dusty or as old as you would expect from a couple of years of sitting here with me. I don’t need to read it, I know what it says.
‘Now is the time that worth is established. Now will the world be wiped clean of thousands of years worth of treachery and arrogance and now mankind will be fused together, for they have no options but these: join as brothers or die.’