I wake up on a hill of ashes like I have every day for the past fifty years.
As I brush the ashes off my shoulder with my wrinkled arms, a chilling breeze seeps through my skin, sending a sharp shiver down my spine. A strong wind hits me square in the face, making me lose my footing and fall onto the same ash-covered mound I have slept in for countless nights.
I feel the cold crawling in my skin, sucking the life out of me like a starved leech. I look up, and see the lifeless sun in the middle of a dark sky, quietly flickering like a light bulb – its forlorn rays desperately trying to grab the envelope of dust and smoke that cover the ground. It gives off no heat but illuminates the decrepit mound with a faint hue, and for that I am thankful.
A thick fog hangs loosely around me, and the chemicals in the air often penetrate my skin, but it isn’t more than a minor nuisance, for I have grown used to it.
But the wind – the howling wind that blows from the west seems eerie and unnatural, for I have seen nothing like it ever before in the fifty years I have spent here. I try to pull myself up and stand on my feet, but the wind is strong – the best I can do is get my head up until a heap of ash-acid amalgam strikes my forehead. I decide to lay motionless until it stops, or better yet, sends me flying out of this miserable hell-hole.
This hell-hole has been my home ever since the winter came fifty years ago. I wish I recollected all my memory, but I can only remember fragments of what must have been a beautiful time. I have had haunting dreams of my past every day since the winter came – of garden walls, with lush, green meadows and a plentiful harvest beyond them, of the canvas of a deep blue sky, with soft, cotton clouds painted on it, of the fresh smell of honey on a dinner table, and the faint, ghastly whisper of my mother as she pointed at a bunker, “It’s not much, son – but it could be worse.”
“It’s not much, but it could be worse”, I whisper to the howling wind, but my faint, cracking voice drowns in the ocean of its scream. I try to shed a tear, but the only that leaves my eyes is a pinch of ash powder that sticks to my non-existent cheeks. Another memory flashes in front of my eyes.
“I’ll come for you, Artyom, remember – stay inside the bunker! Are you listening to me? STAY INSIDE! Come out when the sky is blue, I’ll find you then, I promise. Artyom, look at me! Do you understand what you have to do, Artyom?”, mother asks me. The last thing I hear is gunshots as I run towards the bunker door, and then the entire world fades into blackness.
The wind stops, but I cannot find the right to pick myself up from the ground. I look past the flickering sun into the black sky, and as I stare into the deepest reaches of space where I can barely make out three faint stars, I wonder if the sky will ever turn blue again. For the only memory, I have of my mother is of her telling me she’d come for me when the sky turned blue. And I waited. I waited, alone, for fifty long winters, for I had no choice.
The sky never turned blue, and no one came for me.
I finally manage to pick myself up from the ground. As I do so, I spy a silhouette moving through the fog. A large disc comes flying towards me with immense speed and stops right in front of me. I hear a strange noise coming from it, ringing loud across the mound. Suddenly, I hear a voice in my head, and a strange tingling sensation grips my body. I feel it communicating with my entire being.
It asks me where everyone is. I do not know the answer to this, yet somehow the memories seem to come back. I tell it that I’m the only one left.
It asks me about what happened.
“There was a war”, I reply, “I must have won.”
Every moment comes flooding back. The war. The fallout. The winter. Fifty years of loneliness, of feeding on the decayed flesh of what remained, of waiting for the mother that never came back. Every second of the four million that I have spent on this forsaken planet seems to simultaneously stomp me on the head. The pain becomes unbearable.
“I wish I hadn’t won.”
Tears start running down my non-existent cheeks as I looked up into the black sky.
“Please take me with you.”