Beauty From Ashes

Entry by: Corone

13th October 2016
Beauty from Ashes

He found the photograph in one of the ruins. It had been hidden under the piles of dust and ash, until the wind had revealed a corner to him. Dust and ash from what, it was impossible to tell. Bodies, brick, furniture, almost everything had gone.

It was rare to find a photograph, unheard of even. Nobody had printed them anymore, keeping them instead on computers and tablets. But either by accident or design, most of the bombs carried an electromagnetic pulse with their explosions. Like the fire, magnetic waves had washed over so many machines and turned their hard drives to ash. All the memories stored there had been blown away like leaves in moments.

Apart from its rarity, the photograph was not very special. It was a close up of a young woman standing in a city park, before the wars had begun. She was smiling at the camera, and trying to keep her hair out of her face against a light autumn breeze. She had been caught off guard, the photographer catching her unprepared. She had been given no time to pose, or consider her appearance. But she seemed to have forgiven the photographer that, and granted him the truth of her.

It was impossible to tell how old the photograph was, although it was only a little torn at the edges. He had treated it carefully nevertheless, putting it into his pack in a separate pocket in case any of the old cans he had found burst or leaked. Even the cities held lean pickings these days. He had avoided them for months, frightened of the radiation. But in time it became clear that nowhere was safe from contamination anymore. His body was soaked in the corruption, so why not eat as well as he could before the end came?

He had seen no one else for months, perhaps even a year. Those who had not perished in the flames had quietly been taken by the radiation. The rest had fallen upon each other, in a microcosm of the same mixture of rage, pique and vengeance that had sent missiles to every corner of the globe. He had done things to survive he wasn’t proud of, but nothing he was deeply ashamed of. Perhaps that was why he had lasted this long, although such survival might easily have been a punishment rather than a reward.

He looked at the photograph every day, a window into the past. He never wondered who the woman was, what her name might have been. It was enough that she had existed, that in a strange way he had her distant company in the long dark of this twilight world.

She was with him at the end, when it was unclear if hunger or the radiation had finally taken him. He had grown weaker and weaker, eventually too weak to venture out, then too weak to leave his makeshift bed. He never knew if he had starved, unable to reach the few cans of food, or if his organs had failed him first as they melted away.

The last thing he saw was the photograph, the woman smiling back at him from a world of concrete and parkland. Seeing it there reminded him, that in millennia, long after the last human beings had choked and died, the radiation would finally fade away. The air would clear and the sun would finally break through the clouds of this nuclear winter. Then, maybe, from the blasted landscape, some life might emerge. Some bacteria that had weathered the war would multiply and grow, become cells and plants, trees and animals. Some of these animals might make tools, build a new society, create art and hopefully not make the same mistakes as their predecessors.

From the ashes of humanity, new life might rise again one day, and the Earth would be green and beautiful again.