It had been months since everyone on Earth disappeared.
I’d woken up one day in a hospital bed, no real recollection of why I was there. The heart rate monitor beeped a slow and steady rhythm. The only sound I could hear.
Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Beep Beep.
A hospital should be a busy area. I’d broken my leg when I was 12 and while I was in a bed I remember nurses constantly in and out, fussing over clipboards. I remembered the general business of a ward, the sights and sounds that come with tending to the ill and the visiting families.
Now, there was nothing. No nurses, no other patients. I was alone in a room with 3 other empty beds. The monitor was the only thing to break the deathly silence.
Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Beep Beep.
I lay there for some time, wondering what the hell I should be doing. I called out for a nurse, screaming down the hall. Nobody answered. Nobody heard me. My voice died out emptily down the corridors. Silence.
Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Beep Beep.
I left the hospital bed, ripping off the monitor and getting to my shaky feet. My muscles ached and almost gave out on me. It felt like I hadn’t stood up in years. Donning a pair of jeans and a faded red t-shirt next to my bed and tying on my trainers felt like a herculean effort. Wheezing and panting, I negotiated my way out of the hospital.
Even as I left the sprawling corridors and followed signs to the exit, I kept expecting to see somebody – anybody. All I was met with was silence, a sort of graveside nothingness that spoke of complete and utter desolation.
When I got out of the big hospital doors, still mechanically opening and automatically parting for me, I began to wonder what the hell was going on. An icy chill ran down my spine as I looked around at the true nature of my predicament.
I tried to scream, but it died in my throat. The city was completely deserted. Cars were still queuing up on the road in lines of traffic that would usually fill the city with a cacophony of car horns and angry drivers. Instead of the noise and business, the cars were empty shells. So too were the pavements, as were the buildings. The deadly echo of wind was the only sound that I could hear.
I collected myself, in a bit of a trance if I’m honest, and walked down the streets, taking in my surroundings. This was my city, I knew it well – but it had been transformed by the emptiness. Café’s that were usually full of people were silent, pubs usually brimming with drunken idiots were abandoned. But there were no bodies on the street, no sign of where anyone had gone. Just emptiness.
I continued travelling, scavenging food from shops and empty apartments. I found myself staring at pictures in people’s homes, wondering what might have happened to humanity. I never returned to my own home, I knew it’d be too painful to see pictures of my mother. So I wandered.
Months passed. I scratched out a living as I wandered around the empty world I’d been left with. No animals seemed to live, no birds filled the skies. Not even spiders or insects seemed to exist anymore. I started wondering what the fuck had happened and why I was here. Questions had surfaced during the first few days of my isolation, but now they scratched and itched – ready to burst through my brain.
First, I tried to explain what had happened rationally: Had there been some war? Some sort of weapon that vaporized humanity?
Next, I turned to God: Was this the rapture the bible spoke of? Had everyone been judged and sent to heaven or hell? Was I the only human being unworthy of the afterlife?
Finally I turned to sheer fantasy: Was I the chosen one? Left to wander the empty globe when everyone else was gone – free to do as I liked?
My empty life was detached, as though I didn’t really understand the situation I was in. I didn’t feel grief properly – couldn’t really accept what had happened. I didn’t really understand what had happened.
After a long time, my wandering turned far more desperate. I yearned for conversation. I yearned to see life in any form. A dog, a cat, anything. Something. I just wanted to know I wasn’t the only one left.
I screamed from rooftops, desperate for a reply. Smashed slowly rusting cars till their horns blared out across dead cities. I rang fire alarms in huge buildings, hoping for the slightest movement, the slightest reply. All I was met with was that everpresent silence, a blanket that seemed to cloak this dead world.
And then it began to happen.
I began to see things. Movements, shapes – right at the corner of my eye. I’d be travelling down a motorway or a road, through streets or subways. Wherever I was going, it didn’t matter – but I’d see something. A black shadow flitting in my peripheral vision. I’d turn my head as fast as lightning, desperate to see. But there was never anything there, except for the silence and the emptiness.
Then I started to notice the Graffiti. Scrawled on a wall I passed, in bright red letters – “Come back.” I was startled by it, drawn to it. Not because it was good artwork or outstanding, but because the paint looked brand new.
Someone else was with me.
The black shapes in the corner of my vision continued, increased. I tried my best to find them, to see what creature lurked just out of view. But as usual, I couldn’t catch a true glimpse. I began to wonder if I was insane.
“Come back.” A new sign, sprawled on the side of a shop I was looting for food. I was getting scared now, realising that someone or something was taunting me. Some creature that could dip in and out of vision and leave messages on walls. Just like the first time, the message was bright red and obviously done with fresh paint.
I upped the pace of my journey, moving from house to house and from town to town – trying to catch the blurry figure I’d began to see. From the edges of my vision it would sometimes flit into view – far in the distance. A humanoid shape. I’d shout, desperate for contact with whatever the thing was. I didn’t care that I couldn’t see its face. I just wanted to talk to someone.
“Come back.” Was everywhere now. I’d turn a corner and there it would be – a bright red message dripping down walls. Fresher every single time. I found the message everywhere – in every nook and cranny I would search – there it would be.
In a new city I found a new building. A church, or something similar. A dark, terrifying church whose dark oak doors had gargoyles perched atop them. The dark shape seemed to have retreated into the building. “Come back” was scrawled in huge red letters across the doors. Swallowing my fear – I pushed open the heavy doors and stepped inside.
There, inside that dark church, I saw the first human being I had in almost a year. I say a human, but she could have been an angel. Beautiful, with long platinum hair and a smile so soft you’d hardly notice it. I hadn’t seen another face in so long that I stood staring, and drank it in.
Silently, she held out a hand that shone with warmth and I reached out towards her.
“Come back.” A voice behind me called out, full of sorrow and regret, the voice of a woman. “Come back…” It said again.
I stood still for a moment, caught between the phrase I’d seen and heard for months now and this creature I’d been chasing. That black shape, long evading my view, was now in sight. An angel, a saviour, a living being after so long alone.
Her palm was still offered, open for me to take. I stood still, frozen. “Come back,” I heard again. The girl in front of me simply shook her head, a sad and knowing smile on her face, hand still stretched out.
“Come back.” Said the voice, one last time.
I shook my head and walked forward. I couldn’t come back. So I reached out and grasped the Angel’s hand.
The woman wiped away dry tears from her face. She couldn’t cry any longer. Her face ached from it, her bones tired and weary beyond belief. It had only been a year but she’d aged ten. Her shed tears in that time could have filled an ocean.
In front of her, they pulled the white sheet over her sons face. She remembered his youth, how he would grin and beg her for more cookies before bed, cuddling up to her when he couldn’t sleep.
She remembered the accident, how unlucky he’d been to have gotten on that motorcycle with his friend at just eighteen. She remembered the hospital – the white room where she had sat vigil for a full year whilst her son lingered on in a coma.
“Come back” She had choked out, sitting by his bedside night after night. The doctors had told her he couldn’t hear her, that his brain wasn’t responding – but she begged him nonetheless. Even as his final breath escaped his body and the monitor stopped beeping, she’d been begging him to wake up, to return to his life.
“Come back.” She had pleaded.
But he was gone.
Written by Craig Thomas Boyle