Echoes

The last human on Earth climbs a tree in a storm to escape the rising waters.

His mother in the back of his head says, "Get indoors, stay out of the rain, and carry on!" But there's no indoors to go to. His tent blew away in a hurricane and feral dogs moved into his shack. The fires burned down the mansions and cottages and left the ashes of humanity in a muck on their crumbling streets.

He carries the memory of bustling cities in his head, along with his mother, his sister, his brothers, and Elizabeth. Everything human is memory, except the raindrops on his skin, the wind cutting through his clothes, and the sway of the tree beneath his limbs.

Lightning splits the clouds and he talks to them. Inside his head, he bears a thousand conversations; too many words to count, books and stories, moments and sensations. All he can do is parrot a species' mouldering legacy. Poets and kings, philosophers, scientists, wise grandparents, and astute children: their words gave meaning to the masses, but he cares for only one voice.

Elizabeth.

He calls out her name to the storm and loses it amongst the steady, battering rain. It forms again on his lips, but water pools in the chap as he hears her voice in the back of his head.

"You won't ever be the last one. I'll be with you until the end."

He turns his head to the right, closes his eyes, and reaches out to the memory.

Elizabeth rests her head on his shoulder, brown eyes calm as she draws his attention from the fires on the news. She silences the television, a voice that never returns to his mind and memory, and she says, "Even if we have to go together."

"Until the end," he agreed.

His hand touches sodden bark, and he opens his eyes in the dark of night.

"It wasn't supposed to happen like this!" he told the storm. "We were supposed to die together!" he told Elizabeth. "Someone else should have been the last!" he told the memories.

A thousand voices hit back with the force of sheeting rain, urging "Carry on!" and "Embrace the honor!" The memories and the ache in his bones remind him this is why he is alive. He lives on because he alone knows what it's like to be human, to live in this body, to feel this tree, this storm.

This despair.

"We should have ended it when we had the chance," he whispers.

"It's not so bad yet," Elizabeth says, in remembered lanternlight as they climbed in the back of a broken-down pickup. "We've got each other, and I bet a thousand other people have someone with them. I bet people will bounce back once it all settles down."

"What if it gets worse?" he asks, then and now.

"We go together. It's the merciful thing to do, isn't it?"

He echoes those words now, and the memories object. Voices clamor for recognition. "You're the last! Carry on, carry on!"

"Why?" He shouts to the storm and a roll of thunder is his only reply. "I'm not some messenger for humanity. I can't bring you back or speak for you. There's no one to listen but me and I don't want to hear you anymore!"

The wind picks up and his tree shudders beneath him. For a moment, he holds on and rides it out, from force of habit.

"It's not so bad," Elizabeth says, in the back of his mind and in the patter of raindrops.

His eyes close and he releases his grip on the swaying branch. "I just want to keep one last promise." These are the last words the world hears from a doomed species. The tree sways, the branch bucks, and he plummets to the flooded ground. But as he falls he hears, "You're late."

In his head, in his last moments, Elizabeth stands outside their rehearsal dinner. Inside, the voices of their families and friends mingle to a pleasant hum and he feels the warmth of her skin as he pulls her close.

"I had something I had to do, but that doesn't matter now. Let's not keep them waiting."

Elizabeth grins and leads him inside.

The last human on Earth sinks into the water with a smile on his face.


Note: This was written for the Review Game Forum's June Writing Challenge Contest. Check out the other entries and vote for your favorites the 8th-14th. I won't lie: I wrote this on the fly with minimal thought/editing/idea where I was going with it, so any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. :)