The End of Everything

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Will you love me, no matter what?

Will you hold me, even when nobody else will?

Will you see me,

The way I see you?

-Day 345. The year of the plague.

My name is Kevwe. I am a runner. That’s what the regulators called me. One of the few who survived the holocaust, I was a living legend. They said so many things about me, not all of them good. But I didn’t mind, I was a runner. An elite. A force of nature.

My feet landed on the rough surface of a debilitated house, and I took off into the air again. The wind felt alive somehow, caressing my face with gentle touches that’d make a hard guy cry. My legs were my weapons, my sole reason for existence. I jumped again. The sole of my foot lightly grazed a serrated edge, and I stifled a wince as the pain lanced straight up my body. It was a spark; it was burning me from within. I gritted my teeth and kept running, leaping from one ruin to another, making the wasteland into my playground. A runner like me was necessary in the efforts of the Resistance. We were spread thin, and the commanders feared a retaliation from the unknown forces.

Nigeria. A wasteland of ruins and darkness. I ran, my breath coming in ragged gasps. My eyes stayed ahead, not daring to look at the large gash on my toes. The pain gave me laser focus as I leaped from one edge to another. Brown, the world was brown. Drained of colour, like rust. Like the days I wished to die. The sky was tinged with a coppery colour. It began as soon as the plague ravaged through the world like quickfire. It's more like an inferno. The death rates were enough to cause alarm and halt regular working hours. School too. Everything came to a standstill.

That was the end of the future I designed from an overactive imagination. I didn’t want to be a runner at first, but a runner could outrun the plague. The humanoid viruses mutated at an alarming rate. The death bugs. Or so they were called. That was the first thing they mutated into; Bugs. Flying bugs. As disgusting as that would seem. Their intelligence seemed to increase the higher the form they took. Pale, translucent beings. Beings that stole faces and futures. Beings of unknown origin. That’s what they’d become. I didn’t know if that was the last stage of their evolution, but knowing how low humans were on the food chain? It was probably not.

That’s why I run. To outrun my death.

I was told that the beings would become stronger and probably outrun a runner but, I didn’t bank on that. Their intelligence was limited. They remained in the base form of whatever organism they consumed; Humans included. Which means that they were blissfully average. Good news? Definitely not. Imagine humans that never tire out, humans that have no heart to pump blood, or a brain to signify when they need to stop. They were unstoppable demons with no known way to die.

How do you kill an unstoppable creature?

The answer is, you don’t.

You run and pray to all the gods that they don’t catch you. You run until your heart fails you and you don’t stop even after that. You run, even if it kills you. Funnily enough, there was a reason for running. The soul tablets. The infected are those the virus creatures couldn’t completely consume. But their minds are gone, worse than patients with dementia. They don’t live, their hearts still beat rhythmically in their chests but they remain living husks; caricatures of what they once were. Death sometimes seemed merciful. But, killing them would mean killing half of the population. It would mean the bastard creatures won.

The soul tablets can only be found in those ruins and more often than not, the vile creatures ingest those tablets to understand humans better. They don’t need minds, the soul tablets sort of dance in their vision and they see what they have to do. Hence, the soul tablets are important. For us runners, because we get to see our loved ones come alive again, even when they never say a word.

It was worth heaven and earth. To see the smile that’d light up their faces. That’s why I run.

But, I was already compromised. The cut from the roof, the trail of blood that followed in my wake with every leap. The creatures could smell blood. I didn’t know how or why but a lot of them have consumed those I used to run with. Kemi, Shola, Etus, Akachi, etc. I once called them friends. But, they were taken.

By the Bloodless. The only virus with intelligence. They could run even better than me, but they couldn’t outrun their deaths.

Fucking hell.

I almost missed a step when I saw the dim light of a soul tablet underneath a jumbled mass of buildings that had seen better days. I stopped abruptly, glad that I didn’t miss it. I took a look around the ruins, some of the walls unable to survive the rust and falling apart from a light touch. The sky still shone as copper, a sickly color. On most evenings, it was tinged with red. The walls of most of the houses in the ruins had paint peeling off the few that remained standing. Sometimes, I wondered how the world went to hell in such a short time.

“You got here first. And… you’re bleeding.” I heard a voice from behind me and turned to stare at the girl that just landed, as lithe as a cat. She had a small grin on her face, as though smiling was beneath her. Her full eyebrows raised a millimeter, her coffee-brown irises staring straight through me and into my soul. She was dressed like I was, an all-black getup. But hers made her seem… hot.

Yes, I am stupid. The wall is falling apart and I’m thinking about a girl’s body. How original.

“Don’t gawk at me. You’re not Keno. I can swear her eyes follow me wherever I go.” The new arrival, Zenith, shuddered as though in remembrance of something awful. I didn’t blame her, Keno could be overbearing sometimes.

“Slow poke.” I quipped, earning an elbow for my troubles. Zenith could be violent. Very.

“Just because you got here first doesn’t make you faster. Just stupid. Belligerent. Insufferable. Obnoxious. You never listen. We were meant to form ranks..” Ah yes, one of Zenith’s famous lectures. Form ranks, go in pairs or groups. Nobody left alone. Or some other balderdash. How infuriating.

“You know, I can’t tell which words are real and which are fake. You know, with you throwing words upandan. You’re literally a walking dictionary.” She bristled, and I knew that I hit a nerve. Zenith was always so particular about grammar. What a waste. The world had fallen apart. Who would she have read Shakespeare to? The Bloodless?

“Don’t. Luis and Raheem are up ahead. Scouting and trying to erase the blood with those mighty knapsack of theirs. You might just get whooped this time. Now, let me see that cut.” She ordered, as matronly as ever. That was our Zenith, the mother of the group. A pity Etus couldn’t see her anymore, they were a thing for the longest time.

She cleaned the cut and applied antiseptic, not risking using anything over the top while we were out in the open. She could seal something as small as a cut but it took time and time was what we didn’t have. I stared at the sky as it darkened and Raheem more or less flew out from over a building. He scaled the building right in front of my eyes. One second he wasn’t there and the next, he was.

“Such petty tricks. I do it better.” Luis grumbled as he came into view about two seconds after Raheem did. Raheem was the narcissist, his looks didn’t help either. He had the hots for Zenith but she acted blind to his advances. It was usually tension-filled running with them. I preferred to do it alone.

“Grab all the soul tablets you can. We meet in the food canteen after all of this. Kevwe, can you run?” Zenith turned to me. I nodded in the affirmative. Thankfully, Luis and Raheem ignored me. They always did. I didn’t exist to them, not in the ways that mattered. I was the insubordinate brat. Or so they put it.

I took off on a run after carrying as many soul tablets as I could, placing them in the backpack I carried. They weighed me down a little but not by much. Zenith was close behind. I could hear an otherworldly sound as the creatures rose from whatever they were doing. They set sights on us, hoarding the soul tablets.

“Fuck you, Kevwe! Fuck you! You caused this with your need to prove a point!” Raheem cursed out loud but I didn’t say a word in retaliation. We weren’t going to make it. When the creatures were fully awake, they had no limits. They ran like normal humans but they didn’t lose stamina. They didn’t die.

Will she forgive me, if I go this way?

I stopped thinking and focused on running, hoping that maybe I could do something about the hoard coming for us.

“Any ideas?” Zenith asked Luis. Thankfully, she didn’t mention Raheem words even if she knew that I doomed all of us.

“We survive? Get to the gate and use a soul tablet? I don’t know.” Luis replied honestly, trying to not show fear in his voice. But I knew that tone. Etus had it too. Dami did too. That reckless bravado.

“Let’s do this, boys!” Zenith said, her voice carrying over to the other two. Raheem nodded and quickened his pace. We vaulted over buildings like they were made of straw sacks, our shoes never really touching the ground before we moved again.

“I’ll buy you time. Run.” I said, grinding to a halt. I caused it, I had to handle the consequences.

“Don’t fucking do it. You’re not a saint! You’re a selfish bastard who only thinks of himself and nothing else. Run!” Raheem screamed at me, stopping abruptly too. Zenith and Luis were long gone.

“I won’t. I’m sorry. It’s my turn now.” I said, totally ready to sacrifice myself.

“Like hell I’ll let you.” He said and then, cracked a soul tablet, flinging the essence on me.

“Now run, you bastard. And don’t stop, or I’ll haunt you.” He turned to face the hoard already almost upon us, the soul tablet doing its job by clearing my head and doing everything to remind me of the fear of death. So, I ran.

I turned to look back at him, wondering why he did what he did. Hate still burned in his eyes. But this time, I could understand. I activated my shoes as I got close to the gate, phasing in as my body became as translucent as the creatures who stole from us. I was in.

It was a modest place with walls high enough for me to crane my neck to get a good view. A fortress of stone. I made my way up to stairs to report to the leader of my platoon; Zenith.

“Where’s Raheem?” She asked as soon as her eyes landed on me. Another one. Dead.

“He didn’t make it. He sacrificed himself to save me.” I responded as truthfully as I could as I heard her sharp intake of breath. The world stopped.

“You may leave.” She said, a certain steeliness in her voice. I walked out, unable to say the words I wanted to. The tales of Raheem’s bravery at the last moments.

I made my way to the infirmary, a soul tablet in hand. My mind fractured. I never expected to feel pain for someone like Raheem. But the pain threatened to tear my heart asunder.

People made way for me as I headed to the bed at the furthest corner of the room. A sickly form of a woman laid on a cot that’d seen better days. I placed the soul tablet gingerly on her hand, watching her for any signs of recognition. Nothing. And like that, one soul tablet was absorbed without any noticeable change.

I walked back out dejected, my back hunched. Zenith was walking towards me, tears dotting her eyes. They were red from tears. She grabbed me by the front of my clothes, slamming my back on the nearest wall.

“Bring. Raheem. Back.” She spoke through gritted teeth, her pain was so acute that I could taste it on my tongue.

“I can’t.” I said, the words being choked out of my mouth.

“A vegetable lays on that damn bed you haven’t left in over 300 days. You’ve been responsible for the deaths of so many of us because of your hypocrisy. You watched him die!” She screamed, her voice accusing. No trace of the leader she had always been.

“He did. He died to protect me.” I replied, sincerely hoping she did me the favour and killed me right there.

“You..” She managed to let me go, grief wracking her body. She screamed, her voice breaking. I just watched.

It was a festival of pain. That night, she apologized to me for the statements she made. I was grateful she forgave.

She was found dead the next day. Suicide.

How many more will you kill to resurrect the dead?

Zenith didn’t deserve to die. Raheem didn’t. Etus didn’t. I was the problem, the anomaly. They hated me, I hated me.

I went back to the infirmary, taking hold of her hand. Her skin was hollow and almost translucent.

I recovered her from the jaws of death. But maybe, I should have died instead.

“I hate me. I love you. I hate what I have to put you through, but if you ever wake up, I apologize. They died, to save me. To save my childish fantasy. I never wanted to lose so much. But then, if it is going to save you, I don’t mind. Even if the world itself turns against me, I’ll stand by you. Even when all I want to do is die. I hope you remember the days I spent, talking to you about nothing at all. I hope you don’t cry when you wake. I hope… you find something. Someone. You’re the one I’ve always loved and if I could sacrifice the world to save you… goodbye, Seta.”

I felt her hand squeeze mine. I stared again but it seemed to be a trick of my mind. I placed a kiss on her forehead and walked out.

The last sacrifice.

We will rise,

Even from ashes.

-Day 7321. The years after the plague.

I stand and watch his tombstone. I barely remember his voice, I barely remember anything. But I stand by his tombstone, as an act of penance. By all of their tombstones. The runners.

Humanity’s last bastion of defense. The viruses mutated once more and migrated to space. They lost interest in humans. When I awoke, I could only remember a voice. His voice.

They’ll always be remembered, even though they died needlessly. Luis still stands. The last runner is standing. Although he doesn’t have to run anymore, I’ve never seen him smile. Not once. He stares into the distance, looking over the horizon. The sky is blue. Mankind is building again. We’re a few million in Nigeria now. Immigrants, hidden bunkers. The sky no longer looks dead.

Can you see this, runners? I do hope you can. You deserve to. Heroes. Of earth.


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