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Last Rose in the Desert

*This is one of my earlier pieces and never really cleaned up. But I think the story does hold up.*

Last Rose in the Desert.
Chapter one.
Esther.

You can run on for a long time Run on for a long time Run on for a long time Sooner or later God will cut you down Sooner or later God will cut you down -Johnny Cash.

All things must start with a beginning. The beginning is a very important time, for everything that is about to happen must have a starting point and the starting point is the end of everything.
War, when China slowly took over the United States, Korea and Japan forged an uneasy allegiance, with the US at the weakest, both countries saw their moment to attack. The old war machine that was Russia saw its chance to strike.

The world was plunged into chaos, no one really knew who fired the first nuke, but the first was met with the same reply, they scorched the atmosphere, burnt the planet and killed, everything.
There was nothing left, the great cities, now just a broken shell of their former selves, forests, national parks are now burnt. The life that survived, the people who made it only survived to see a greater disaster. Yellowstone erupted.

It destroyed most of the land mass in North America and Canada and its lava flows filled the oceans, evaporating the water. Most of the northern hemisphere was remade; any chance of surviving anywhere was made more difficult as the ash cloud from the explosion blocked the sun and started to suffocate the planet.

She didn’t know how old she was, she remembers having a 21st birthday party, but that seems years ago now, she lost count around 24 or 25. There was no way of telling the date anymore, she kept a dairy until a few months ago. It seemed pointless, only she was going read it. She carried sack behind her, she pulled it along with some rope tied to it, and inside she kept spare clothes she has managed to find, some tins of food and a few bottles of water. As well as some other trinkets, books or anything interesting she has found.

There was a couple of pieces, when she found them felt some sort of influence to take them. She also knew that she had to take these items to a place, a place she doesn’t know. But she knew she had to take somewhere and when the right place was found, she would leave the items at that very spot, she understands the purpose may be benign and pointless, but she also knew, with a very heavy heart, that she was alone. Totally alone and without purpose, anything seemed like a good idea, for when you do nothing, you become nothing, and in this world now? You may as well be in hell.

She thought back to happier times, those are few and far between. She wipes her brow and looks up towards the sky; she knew she had to make camp soon. She had already made her way towards
what looked like a burnt out old farmstead. She climbed through one of the broken windows and immediately shouted, “Hello?” she thought maybe one day, and someone might answer. The only reply was silence.

She does the something she does when entering a new building, immediately check the kitchen! She quickly walks around the building and locates the kitchen straight ahead of her on the ground floor. It was one of those farm style kitchens, with the wall unit displaying all manner of plates and cups and the like. She knew not to try the fridges anymore in private residents, most things in fridges go off and useless and more than likely make her throw up due to the smell. Straight to the cupboards, first one above the cooker, she’s in luck and finds a couple of tins, grabs them; Tinned pineapple. She laughs to herself; it seems everyone had at least one tin of fruit in their house when the bombs fell, still, she is thankful for the food. She checks the taps, nothing but a lot of noise from the old plumbing. She sighed, she might not be able to refill her bottles here, checks her supply, 2 and a half bottles left, enough for a couple of days if she’s careful, hopefully she’ll find another place where she will be able to refill within the next day of two. She drags herself and the knapsack up the stairs, into the first bedroom, she opens the door and gets a shock, and she wasn’t expecting to see the skeletons of the previous owners. Without going into the room, she speaks; “I’m sorry for breaking into your house, I’m just going to stay the night and be gone in the morning. “ She says a small prayer, smiles “Thank you.” And closes the door. She drags the bag to the next bedroom, which was empty of the old occupants but had a bed, and that’s all she needed.
She settles down on the bed, and ponders about the day ahead. Will she find water? Shelter? Food? Life? Maybe there is a roving gang of some sort, who will break in during the night and kidnap her, or something. At least it would be company she smiles to herself. She ties the knapsack rope around her waist; you could never be too sure and lies there, looking up the ceiling. She could make out the old pattern still there on the ceiling and starts tracing it around with her finger. “Would have been a nice house this.” She says to herself; “Kind of place I would have gotten, get married, start a family. You know all those things.” Her smile recedes.

“Why do I bother going on?” she whispers. She looks over to her rucksack and pulls it over towards her using the rope. She opens the top of the knapsack pulling out the half bottle of water and takes a drink, the bottle is old and dirty, and it’s a plastic bottle, the kind used for soft drink or cheap cider. The water is also dirty, but when it’s all you have you make do. She rummages around in the bag and pulls out a tin of fruit, looks around some more and finds her can opener.

That’s when she reminds herself, must check the kitchen for another opener, you can never have too many. The fruit in the tin smelt a bit odd but never mind. She tucks into her fruit using her hands, she spits and rubs her hands against the bed sheets to try and make them un-sticky after the gooey fruit dinner. She would give anything for hand soap about now.

Chapter 2
The next day.

She wakes up after a surprisingly comfortable night, pulls out the bottle of water again and takes a couple of mouth falls, runs her finger around her teeth and puts the bottle back in the bad. She unties the rope from her waist and goes to look round the rest of the house, she checks out the bathroom and none of the taps worked, straight to the cabinet, checks for medicines, plenty, checks through them, some pain killers and what looks like anti-depressants, plasters and some various little items like a pair tweezers and cotton buds, she scoops up everything in her arms and takes it back to the bag in the bedroom. She grabs its rope and drags it downstairs, let’s go of it in the hallway and goes back to check the kitchen. Finds another tin opener in a drawer, excellent she thinks to herself, checks for any more tins and anything else that could be handy and takes it all to the bag. After she’s done checking around the house, she takes the rope and ties it around her waist again, this time with less slack and walks to the front door, she turns around to look behind her and shouts “Thank you for letting stay” up the stairs. She shouts again, “Goodbye now.” As she opens the front door and out of politeness, makes sure to close it again after her.

“They were kind letting me stay.” She says to herself, “They were also lucky I think.”

She continued on, it was hot, the sun did it best to shine through the now constant blanket of black ash cloud, the heat was trapped in and it was just getting hotter and hotter. A couple of miles on from the house, she finds a derelict shop. She checks the door, still open! She slowly makes her way inside, shouts “Hello?” again, no reply. The shop has been ransacked, she makes her way to the back and comes across a small water basin, the staff must have used this to wash their hands maybe either way it worked, she quickly goes through her bag and find the empty bottles, she’s able to fill them all up and there was still water running, she fills up the half bottle and it’s still running. She takes a long drink directly from the tap. Maybe she should stay here and use the sink until it runs dry? Or maybe mark this place somehow? Thinking on about it some more she figures its best just to rest up for a short while and move on again it’s not very likely she’ll find this place again but she will use the tap for the time she is there, that’s for sure.

She sits down next to her knapsack; she has been feeling a bit unwell, a bit weak today. She puts it down to lack of food and checks her bag. She finds a tin with no label. These are the best ones she thought, you never know what you’re going to get! She opens it to find baked beans, that’ll do she thought. She has a quick look around the area she was and managed to find a tea spoon. She wiped it on her top and tucked into her cold baked beans and took more sips of water from the tap.

She pulls the sack over once again and has a look through all the things she has collected, the most curious one, the one she believed called out to her was a rock. She removes the rock from the bag to look at it, “What are you?” She asks the rock. It was jet black, smooth, but looked like it has something growing on it that looked a lot like moss. Without giving it a second thought, she places the rock back into the bag. Feeling a bit better now, she closes the bag up and leaves the shop and continues in the direction she believes the rock is taking her.

It has been a couple of hours now, she had been walking for some time and the sack was starting to feel heavy. She stops to take her bearings, she looks around, there doesn’t appear to be any buildings around or town on the horizon. There are plenty of burnt trees scattered about. She decides to continue on the path she was going, hoping that at some point she will reach somewhere she can camp up for the evening.

It seems hours have passed and still nothing, she looks around, she has no idea where she is. There are no landmarks anymore to be able to tell her where she is, her feet hurt and she feels weak. She stops and sits down by the sack and cried. “This isn’t living” she thinks to herself “I am not even surviving, what am I doing?” She holds her head in her hands, sobbing, this isn’t just loneliness or even depression, and this is a sense of complete nothingness, so empty and so tired now.

Why did the war and the volcano spare her? There must be others? Surely she cannot be the only one? There has to be others but she has walked the wasteland now for many years and has not seen anything not even a bug or a rat. Maybe she was already dead and this was hell? She looks over to her knapsack and remembers the little curious rock that is in there; what is it? What does she feel so compelled to take it somewhere? Maybe it’s a test? Maybe, she thinks, I am in purgatory and this is my test out? Either way, it will be dark in a few hours and it gets bitterly cold outside, she must find someplace to camp out so she stands up and continues on, weary and mentally beaten at least she has some sort of purpose, even if she didn’t know what that purpose was.

A few hours on, she finds herself on what used to be a road of some sort and ahead of her she spies an old garage, that will be home tonight and she makes her way towards it. The door is locked, but the whole front of the shop is glass, she unties the bag and searches the area for a brick or large rock, she finds a brick and starts to slam against the lower pane of glass on the door. It’s that bullet proof glass but she continues to hit the glass with the brick until it shattered. It was a lot like the kind of glass you get for a car windshield; its shattered by managed to stay in one piece. She stands up and starts to kick the glass until it gives up and falls in. Excellent she thought, grabs hold of her rope and climbs into the garage shop, using the rope she pulls the knapsack into the shop with her. It just fits, with some pulling and poking it around but she managed to get the sack inside. The other side of the shop, she sees the door that used to be the staff toilet is now on the floor, she drags the wooden door over to cover the hole in the glass she just made and then props her sack against the door, so it wouldn’t fall over.

The garage seemed to be well stocked still; there were plenty of tinned goods, ranging from tuna to cat food. Bottled water in the fridge, obviously not cold, as running electric is just as rare as running water, if not rarer. But who cares? She grabbed a bottle, opened and drank; she finished one bottle quickly and opened another but sipped the second one slowly.

She checked the shop floor, this place must have been quite out of the way as it appears to have not been touched, plenty of tinned food and not just tinned fruit this time, she grabs what she can and fills her bag up with more tinned food. She finds unopened packets of crisps and chocolate, not sure if they are past their sell by date so she opens a packet, smells fine, looks fine, and tastes fine! Tonight she will feast on food she was told was bad for her as a kid. She feels slightly light headed, good job she found this place before dark.

She takes a good look around the garage shop, behind the counter she finds a radio, she takes it and places it on the counter, it is a clockwork radio! She wonders if it still works, using the wind up handle, she spins it round and round until it clicked, she switches it on, static! She got static! It must still work she thinks, so she sits there, slowly turning the tune in dial. She could hear changes in the white noise, like the volume going up and down, but she continues playing with the device, but it’s clear that nothing is broadcasting, but she spends a good two hours or more with the radio. Even though she has concluded there are no signals out there, she decides the take the radio anyway and puts it in her bag. Night is falling, she couldn’t see anything to use as a bed, so she pulls out a bunch of clothes out of her bag and use them as a blanket, the bag itself a pillow for her. It wasn’t very comfortable and she knew she wasn’t going to have a great sleep so she checks on the medicines she acquired from the house and found the anti-depressants, “May cause drowsiness” She reads
aloud from the label, “That’ll do.” She says to herself. She takes three pills and washes them down with a gulp of water and sets herself down for the evening.

She turns to her side, although she is quiet, a single tear rolls down her face, she closes her eyes and they both fill with tears, tonight isn’t going to be a quiet night.

Chapter 3.
Illness.

She awakes in the morning, she is stiff and she feels pain in her back. As she awakes, she coughs. She places her hand over her mouth as she coughs and when she takes her hand away she can see the blood spots on her hand, she wipes away on the side of her sack, “I’m coughing up blood now?” She says to herself and lets out a sigh, checks the pills again, finds one that suggest that they are painkillers, she takes one pill with water and as always, rubs a finger around her mouth. She stands up but she feels very weak, she staggers for a while but quickly collects her thoughts, she finishes another bottle of water and precedes to tie the sack around the waist, move the old door away and climbs out of the garage, the bag was slightly more awkward to get through this time, but she knows she is leaving with more stuff than she entered with, with some pulling and tugging and a little bit of poking and arranging she manages to get the bag out of the shop and continues in the direction she is being pulled to.
A few miles and a couple of hours later she has to stop, she feels weak again and the blood is getting worse. She rubs her head and a handful of hair just came out in her hand. She holds the hair in front of her and looks at it before slowly letting go of it and watched as it gets blown away in the breeze.

She knows she isn’t well but she had to continue as she would rather die trying to attempt something than fade away doing nothing.
Another hour or so later, she felt worse, her feet fell heavy. She stopped dead. Her final thought in her head was “Why?” before she passed out.

Chapter 4.

Journeys End.

She wakes up slowly, she hurts all over. She rolls to her side in the direction of the knapsack, which is still tied to her waist and pulls out a bottle of water and has a drink. She finishes the whole bottle and tosses the empty container to one side before getting up on her knees, with eyes closed she takes in several deep breathes of air and opens her eyes again, she feels the pain racing around her body, she feels weak, yet she’s compelled to walk for just a couple of more miles and then she can rest. She tries to get up, but her legs are very weak now.

She uses her bag to lean on to help her get up.
She staggers up to her feet a bit shaky at first but she gets her balance after a minute or so, she feels ready to go on and continues to go in the direction she is headed.

She’s walked for hours and now she’s nowhere, there is nothing about, not even the burnt dead trees, which she has seen thousands of since the start of this journey, she comes to the conclusion she has stumbled upon what used to be a desert, only her and the scorched ground and the burnt sky and the heat. It’s getting intense now, she takes off her ripped green army jacket that she’s had since the beginning and tossed it on top of the bag behind her, she takes another couple of steps when she crashes down on all fours, intense pain races around her body and she coughs up more blood. This is it, she thought, no more now, no more. A voice in her head speaks, “Only another mile, just another mile, and then rest.” She pulls herself to her feet and continues on quite possibly the hardest mile in her life.
Each step was painful, she dragged her feet across the desert, occasionally tripping on her own feet, but she continues on her last mile. She sees a rock formation ahead of her, “Go there” the voice in her head says, as she makes her way over, she trips again this time flat on her face on the rocky ground. She feels dizzy; she can feel the blood coming out of her nose and its dripping all over her and the floor. She looks up and sees the rock formation only a few meters in front of her, “Just a few more steps” the voice says, reassuring her. She crawls over to the rocks on all fours, stopping occasionally to pull the bag behind her using her hands.

She pulls herself over to the rocks, in the middle there was a hole and she peeks in, looks like water at the bottom, “In there” the voice tells her. She pulls her sack over and opens it, pulls out everything until she finds the rock. She takes one last look at it, this rock that has been with her for a long time now, it’s time to let go now she thinks to herself and drops the rock into the hole and she hears a small splash as it hits water. She looks down the hole; she can’t see her rock anymore. “It is done” the voice speaks, “You did well, rest now.”
She pulls out a bottle of water from the bag and takes another drink, she tries to get up, but she can’t her legs have finally given up; she feels very weak now and covered in blood. She just lays on her back staring up at the sky; she closes her eyes and prays.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, and he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

She has some difficulty catching her breath, it’s time to let go now, it’s time to let go.