SECOND PLACE WINNER OF WRITING CONTEST ENDING 12 January 2008
Syrenchie is the second place winner of this week's writing contest.
Here is the story submitted:
I've been lying in this burned out basement for
a while, taking shelter from both the sun and the
enemy's horrific war machines. Although the sun is
nearly gone, I know the enemy still lurks. I lay
on my back, on the cold cement floor. The sun's
yellow haze fills the room, and I can just begin
to see the stars now. Yes, New York City has changed.
The war has been raging for five years now, and
I don't know if it's luck that I'm still alive. I
haven't seen another live person in months. I
struggle to my feet, with a sigh, and I wonder how
I have any strength left. What looks like the
remains of a billiards table lays in the center of
the room, and I wonder who this basement had
belonged to. What had the house looked like? Had
they lived alone? It doesn't matter, they aren't
here any more. Nothing is.
I walk past a broken table, with a book on it.
It was my journal, until I ran out of pages. I
don't have a pen anymore, either. I guess now,
I'll just have to keep my memories in my head.
Climbing up the stairs, I leave the basement and
step onto firm dirt. Everything around me is arid
and flat, for miles and miles. Well, perhaps
that's not totally true. Massive piles of wreckage
stand, remains of the massive skyscrapers that had
once stood tall above the city. Besides that, it's
flat. Flat, and quiet. Empty, pockmarked streets
that had once been bustling with human life and
activity are silent, too silent. This was Wall Street.
As I walk further from the basement, along the
cracked, wide street, a wind whips up, whistling
eerily. As I walk, I pass a long abandoned car,
with a dusty skeleton inside. Strange, cars are
usually moved and crushed at the side of the
roads, to allow passage for convoys and patrols of
war machines. They must have missed that one,
Giant piles of twisted broken metal are strewn
about at the edges of these streets, parts of
cars, buildings, and people. Everywhere, there is
dust, and a yellow haze. The worn hobnails on my
boots echo off the frames of buildings that had
once stood tall above the city. Yes, I am alone.
The only thing that remains at it's original
height and still has it's windows is the Empire's
State Building, I can see it from here. I don't
know how it can still exist, most governments and
their structures have been torn apart by the war.
In the distance, I can see the street is blocked
by a skyscraper that had toppled over and not been
cleared. It must have been recent, most machines
would have taken it by now, and I don't remember
seeing it before. The sunlight shines into my eyes
for a second as a single piece of glass falls from
what used to be a seventy-story building. It's now
three stories high. The pane shatters on the
ground about twenty feet from I, and the sound
echoes out across the landscape. I see a flash of
movement from the window's former resting spot,
and I grab my pistol instinctively, and move to
the side of the street, where I know I am out of
view. No, as it turns out, I am not alone.
Even from here, below and to the side of the
aforementioned window, I can hear a shuffling and
cursing above. My heart catches in my throat.
Another human? Sudden feelings I cannot confine
rush into me after the initial shock. I am so used
to being alone, I'm almost angry at another
presence. Yet, I'm relieved that there is someone
else left, and also, frightened. Could they be
hostile? I only have two bullets left, and I
cannot miss. Would I have to negotiate, or
placate? I haven't used my voice in almost half a
year. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest as
adrenaline seeps into my veins.
Glass crunches under my feet as I walk, flat
against the wall, to the empty doorway. It's just
an empty frame, and I slide around the corner into
the room inside. There is so much dust and dirt on
the floor, my hobnails are muffled as I walk.
Quietly, gun raised, I make my way to the
staircase across the room. On the ground, I can
see leftover footprints that have been only
carelessly half-way covered up. Yellow, hazy light
shines in rays through the uncovered windows on
the West side of the building and from the
ceiling. Taking a silent breath, I hold myself
against the wall at the bottom of the staircase
shaft. The doors are long gone, only the twisted,
rusty hinges remain.
Suddenly, there is a clattering noise that bangs
it's way all the way down the stairs, and I
flinch, feeling a new flood of adrenaline. A small
black briefcase slides through the dust out of the
doorway, followed, seconds later, by a
broken-looking person. In a flash, I have it
pinned belly-down on the ground, gun pressed
against it's neck.
It whimpers pitifully, trying to turn around to
see me, but I don't let it, holding it's face into
the dust. Now, I can see it is a man, dressed in
clothes that had once, perhaps very recently,
He whines for me to let him go, but I don't
comply, instead reaching into his pockets and
pulling out a beat-up wallet. When I find it's
empty of currency, food, and I.D., I toss it aside
and continue my search. Somehow, he wriggles free
of me and stands quickly, shaking the dust off of
him like a dog.
"Someone else." he whispers, holding his hands
up, "I didn't know." I grab the briefcase and toss
it behind me, where it hits the wall. He winces,
and I aim my pistol up at his face. I motion for
him to turn around, and as he does so, I pick up
the briefcase and try to open it, but it's locked.
Dismayed, but without speaking, I lead him out of
the room, out onto the street. Leading him down
the road, I watch him closely. He wears fingerless
leather gloves with a dirty button-up shirt, and
faded pinstripes adorn his pants and vest. He
turns his head around to look back at me, and his
gray-blond hair falls into his face, covering his
watery, frightened blue eyes.
"C-can I have my briefcase back now?" he asks
quietly, and I shake my head and give him a little
shove, and he turns away and walks faster. I'm
going to have to practice my speaking voice some
time soon, we can't go on like this forever.
As we walk, I can't resist a tiny feeling of
hope growing in me. What if there are more? I
thought there was no one left but me, in this
city. Perhaps then, there are more? Maybe humanity
has a last fighting chance after all, a chance for
revolution, for life.
The sky starts to darken as we walk, and after
several minutes, we reach the basement where I
live. I lead him down the stairs, prodding him in
the back of his neck with the gun. Something falls
off a shelf beside me, and as I turn to look, the
man snatches the briefcase from my hand and runs,
with startling rapidity. Gun raised, I curl my
finger around the trigger, prepared to fire until
I notice he's hiding in a corner, hands raised to
protect himself. His hands shake, and he drops his
arms, chancing a look at me with those pale blue
eyes of his. His lips tremble as he picks up that
stupid briefcase, and holds it tightly to his
I drop the gun, and it clatters on the cement
floor. I sink to the floor beside it, and hold my
head in my hands. I can't believe it. I was just
about to kill perhaps the only human being I'll
ever see again. My god, what have I become?
I'll stay like this for a while, so I 'won't
notice' when he makes another dash for freedom. It
was foolish for me to bring him here. With luck,
he'll forget all about it after he runs away.
When I look up, I'm startled. He sits on his
knees, in front of me. Perplexed, I stare at him
until he speaks.
"Hi," he says, in a quiet voice, "I don't
believe I've had the chance to introduce myself."
He holds out his hand to me, with a nervous smile.
"I'm Alan. Alan Lott."
Avoiding his timid eyes, I slowly reach my hand
out, to touch the tips of his fingers. I don't
know why I'm so nervous, why I'm so shy. I open my
mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I
make the motions of speaking, but I don't have a
voice. I feel blood rise to my cheeks, and I turn
away, embarrassed. Embarrassed? I haven't been
embarrassed in.years. It was inevitable that I
would have to speak, I knew that. But, I don't
know what I was going to say anyways. I think I've
forgotten my own name.
The man, Alan, moves his hand forward and clasps
it around mine. Shocked at the sudden contact, I
turn back around quickly, to look at him. He's
still smiling that nervous, meek smile, and I'm
"What's your name?" he asks, his voice steadier
this time. I grab the gun and stand, pointing it
at him as I start to back away.
"P-please, don't," he trembles, holding his
gloved hands up as he cowers there, on the floor.
I back up all the way to the little table, and
grab the tattered book that lies there, my
journal. I lower the gun, but don't let go of it,
as I walk back towards him, opening up the cover
to the very first page. I sit down in front of him
and hand him the book.
"Property of Tom Linstedt," he reads. "That's
you?" I nod, and grab the book back quickly, just
in case he thinks of reading it.
"Tom," he says, holding his hand out again,
"It's nice to meet you." Still wary, I put the gun
down beside me and grab his hand. He shakes it
gently, then lets go.
"Can you speak, Tom?" he asks, not unkindly.
"Yes," I manage to whisper. He smiles, a real,
warm smile that lights up his face. Somehow, I
"I didn't know there was anyone left here
besides the Empire," he says, and suddenly, all my
careful hopes came crashing down. No one else?
"I've been living in that building for a week," he
says, "I'm glad you found me."
I look away, silent for a minute.
"Where did you come from?" I whisper, trying to
keep my composure.
"I work for the Empire. I'm an accountant, see,"
he says, pale blue eyes looking away, "Or, at
least I was. Up until a week ago." My heart skips
a beat, and I feel that strange, hopeful feeling
start to edge it's way back into my mind.
"You. you did?" I say, incredulously. "When will
we win the war?" Perhaps it was too soon to ask,
and I wish I could take it back. Alan turns away
from me, to grab his briefcase.
The word is like ice, piercing my heart.
"What?" I whisper, not believing him but knowing
I had to.
"The empire is bankrupt, and so is everyone
else," he explains, "All the bigwigs are getting
out while they still can."
I looked down at the floor, still disbelieving.
"They were going to have me shot," he said
proudly, "But I escaped."
"We…we won't win the war?" I whisper. I can feel
my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. "What's
gonna happen, what about the Threat?"
I hear Alan sigh.
"I don't think there ever was a Threat, Tom," he
says, putting a hand on my shoulder.
"That can't be true, it was all over the
television. No," I said, shaking my head, "No,
it's not true." Even as I spoke, I knew I was
wrong. I took a shaky breath, and covered my face
with my hands. I heard Alan move forward, and he
put his arms around me, holding me as I collapsed.
For the last five years, I've been fighting a
false Threat, a false war. Even after you died,
last year, I continued to believe in fighting.
Now, I think you knew, too. Is that why you never
told me? I wish you had. Maybe we could have
thought of a solution, a plan. We could have
escaped before it was too late.
What is that sound I hear, as I bury my face
into Alan's shoulder. Is it.? Yes, it is. I'm
crying. I'm surprised, but I don't have any
intention to stop. I suppose it's about time I
came to terms with my emotions. Alan moves away a
little, and wipes the tears from my face with his
hand. I look up into his face, yes, he's crying,
too. I reach out and catch a tear, just before it
falls from his trembling bottom lip.
For all of humanity's innovation, it's prowess,
and ingenuity, the only thing it ends up competent
at is destroying itself. Our intellect is often
misguided, and we are blind to long term effects
and ramifications. With luck, perhaps we can
defuse ourselves, forget about our technological
advances, our crucial mistakes. If it's too late,
the only thing we'll ever become is interesting
cases for the archaeologists of future
civilizations. If there are any.
I get to my feet, Alan beside me. I grab my
journal and ratty combination cap, placing it on
my head. Holding Alan's hand, and my journal, we
make our way up the stairs, into the harsh new
elements of New York City, and a new feeling
awakens itself inside me.
This is going to be a new dawn, for this broken
civilization. I understand now. You weren't brave
enough, to face the future. In a way, yes, you did
escape, but I'm glad you didn't bring me with you.
You figured it out, all on your own, but you
couldn't handle it, so you escaped. Your choices
are your own, but I'm finished with missing you.
Slowly, we make our way up a pile of wreckage,
ignoring the sharp edges, unsteady footholds, and
the dusty remains of our brothers.
The volatile ebb and flow of world powers have
come to an end, along with the periodic wars and
the torrents of profit and loss that occurred mere
No, it's not time for revolution, it's time for
evolution. Yes, we'll start anew. With the lack of
electricity, machinery, and running water,
humanity will be back to it's starting, vital
fundamentals. This time, we'll keep technologic
advances moving at a glacial pace, we won't get
ahead of ourselves. This time, learned people
won't be busy making tools of destruction and
pain, rather, they'll be used for construction and
humanitarian aid. We've learned a powerful lesson.
Beside me, Alan takes a breath. Finally, we've
reached the top of this pile of broken life, to
look out at our vast, void domain, a desolate
expanse of human destruction and failure. Yes,
with time and effort, we could build this place
back up. It could be worth it, it could be
something to be proud of. Together, we can lead it.
It's not too late.
Suddenly, a wind whips up, and the sound of
powerful jets and magnetic fans is audible in the
distance. I press my cap firmly down onto my head,
and watch as a tiny cloud of the pilotless
machines I had learned to fear and hate come
arcing through the sky towards me. But I won't
back down or flee anymore, and even the trembling
Alan holds his ground beside me. Without a second
thought, I take my journal in both hands and tear
out the pages. Ripping them in half, then in
quarters, destroying the only thing that had kept
me sane for the past year. I don't need it any more.
At the right moment, I toss the pile of paper
up, where it is taken by the wind and scattered by
the blast wake of the jets as they streak over us.
Alan grabs ahold of me in terror and we watch as
the frightening machines fly purposefully towards
the only thing left standing, the Empire's State
Building. Time seems to stretch and slow as we
watch the lead machine do a barrel roll and hurl
an object that smashed through the eerily flawless
windows, right into the center of the most
protected building of the modern world.
Alan and I watched as glass and papers fell from
the gaping hole in the Empire's Building, symbolic
of everything that had mattered to me as a
fighter, as a human. Alan holds my hand as seconds
later, something inside it ruptures and lets loose
a second sun. The Building shattered, all of it,
as the fireball expanded, consuming the building
and everything else, blinding me. I feel the heat
across my face at the same time I feel the