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SECOND PLACE WINNER OF WRITING CONTEST ENDING 12 January 2008

Syrenchie is the second place winner of this week's writing contest.

CONGRATULATIONS, Syrenchie!

Here is the story submitted:

Broken

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, somehow.

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, looked nice.

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 chest.

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 suddenly suspicious.

"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 feel. better.

"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.

"Never."

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 blocks away.

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.

Together, 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 realization.

THE END

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