He awoke to the sound of his stomach consuming itself on a smoldering summer morning. The dirt-coated floor of the once-popular nightclub that had become his refuge left his back in agony. He sat up, pushing against the rubble with weak, bony arms. The dull Brooklyn sun, filtered by a layer of air pollution, stabbed his eyes from a hole in the roof. He shielded them, his entire arm shaking from the effort of raising his hand. A headache pounded away at his temples like a hammer.
The act of sitting up had left him out of breath, his heart pounding a mile a minute. His lungs struggled to take in what little oxygen the air provided.
He looked around him, his vision swimming in and out of focus. Nothing had changed since he’d stumbled in last night. The pile of rubble that had once been a stage with a DJ table was still pushed against the wall. The chunks of plaster from the roof and the neon painted walls still littered the checkerboard floor.
The only other person in the club was a female skeleton propped up against the remnants of one of the walls, bones picked clean and covered in dust. He stared at her, wondering how long it would be before rats feasted on his flesh.
Using a large chunk of debris, he pushed himself up, swaying as his monochromatic eyes went momentarily blind. The white light that replaced his vision only made his headache worse. He endured it as he had every other morning—barely.
Just like every other morning, he had a goal in mind. He had a place he needed to be and no amount of starvation and dehydration was going to get in his way.
He placed one foot in front of the other, taking slow, deliberate steps while trying to keep his balance. If he fell, he knew he wouldn’t get up again.
He stumbled out the gaping doorway and into the streets of what used to be Brooklyn. Decrepit buildings loomed over his head, lining the abandoned streets like rows of soulless soldiers. Skeletons littered the silent streets, sprawled across rubble, creating a blanket of bones on the cracked asphalt.
A newspaper lay at his feet. The words were faded and the paper had yellowed, but it was still legible. It announced the fall of Paris, one of the last cities that had remained untouched. From Paris to Tokyo, Baltimore to Toronto, Memphis to Dublin: everything was gone. The overpopulated world had gone down in flames in the blink of an eye.
Each step sent agonizing bolts of pain through his feeble body but he ignored it. The sound of his light footsteps filled the putrid air, rattling in his eardrums like the beating in his chest. He forced his lungs to take one raspy breath after another, keeping time with his steps.
Every few feet warranted a break. He leaned back against the low wall of what had once been an office building and tried to catch his breath. The world around him felt as though it was spinning and shaking at the same time and he was caught in the epicenter.
His eyes lifted to the sky, searching for the sun. It was the one thing– the only thing– that had remained constant throughout this nightmare, but even now that shining orb provided little comfort. He longed to feel the warmth of its garish rays on his chilled skin but the thick layers of pollution and smoke prevented the heat from reaching him. He reached up, trying to swat at the air as though that would clear it, somehow. His efforts were futile, only succeeding in expending precious energy.
His arm dropped to his side, resting against the burnt plaster. Every limb felt heavy and it was a struggle to push himself away from the wall and stand on his own two feet.
But he had to. He couldn’t give up now; he had come too far.