One street after the next, he slowly made his way through Brooklyn until he stood in front of a large, ten story apartment building. The iron gate stood wide open, as did the front door. Glass littered the walkway, crunching loudly beneath his feet as he entered the building.
The lobby was large and spacious, especially now that it was devoid of furniture. Half of the front desk was missing and the other half was a charred hunk of wood. Scraps of paper stuck to the wreckage, clinging to the final remnants of normalcy.
For a brief, nostalgic moment, he allowed himself to remember the way the room used to look. He imagined the plush armchairs and the small, low coffee table sitting on the opposite end of the room, making the lobby look more like that of a hotel. He remembered the mailboxes that lined the wall, labelled with the numbers of each apartment. Half of them were always crammed with mail while the others were utterly empty. He remembered finding amusement in the two extremes.
The brightly-lit room disappeared, receding into his memories. All of that was gone now, just like everything else.
He crossed the lobby, heading for the stairs at the other end. An open elevator shaft stood next to them. The inside was pitch black from the utter lack of light, just like the rest of the world. He took one long, yearning look at it before turning away.
The wooden staircase stood directly in front of him. It was untouched by the fire that had ravaged the front desk and looked the same as it had the last time he’d seen it.
Except it wasn’t the same– nothing was, not anymore. Even the dusty oak boards looked depressing.
His entire body protested the thought of climbing even a single step, but he ignored it, leaning heavily against the banister as he lifted one leg then the other onto the first step.
The first flight sapped most of his energy. He collapsed on the threshold, rolling into the carpeted hallway of the second floor. The grey ceiling met his gaze, mocking his efforts.
He flipped back over. The filthy floor was covered in a thick layer of grime and dust, assaulting the sensitive skin stretched over his cheekbones. His weak arms could hardly push himself away from it.
He was running out of time.
He turned back to the stairs, sitting on his heels and glaring at the wooden steps. He still had three more flights to climb.
He forced himself to crawl up the first two on his hands and knees before collapsing on the threshold of the fourth floor. With one more flight to climb, he knew he couldn’t rest long. He had to make it to that apartment, no matter what. If there was even the slightest chance they were still alive he had to find out.
He just had to.
His entire body screamed in agony as he began the final climb. His numb hands could barely hold him up and his shaking knees kept missing the stairs. He nearly fell a few times, but somehow pulled himself into the hallway of the fifth floor.
His family’s apartment lay ahead of him, only three doors down. He pulled his weak body across the bloodstained carpet, ignoring the other half-opened doors with skeletons leaning out. His nose was already accustomed to the stench of rotting meat and death.
The mahogany door stood before him, open only a few centimeters. He stopped, forcing himself to sit up. His hand reached for the doorknob before freezing.
His entire body felt paralyzed, trapped in an incapacitated state. He couldn’t make his hand move. He couldn’t open the door.
For the first time in days, he felt something, deep inside him. A fear of some sort, one that made his weak heart pound faster than he ever thought it could. It made his head spin faster than the blades of a blender, nearly knocking him out. The room went sideways as the floor slipped away from him and he fell backwards. His back hit the ground with a light thud and his eyes closed reflexively.
His mind was a jumbled mess. Thoughts streamed in and out mixed with colors and shrouded in a thick layer of darkness. Nothing made sense yet at the same time everything was clear.
The events that had led up to that very moment suddenly came back to him and they seemed to fit together like pieces in a puzzle. From the first news report to his mother’s final frantic phone call. From his boarding school burning to the ground to his long journey here. From his final meal out of a dumpster to the nights of starvation in the streets.
Everything came together, forming a desolate image of an ended world.
The final piece was here, at this moment, at this apartment. The puzzle, the journey; everything was coming to an end, right here, right now.
All he had to do was get up and push open that door.
Syphoning his last morsels of energy, his arms pushed him up one final time and his eyes opened. The door swam in and out of focus, becoming nothing and everything at the same time. He saw his hand move towards it, though he could no longer feel the limb.
The room ahead of him was small yet comfy, almost the same as when he had seen it last. The furniture was dusty and the smell of mold filled the air. He dragged himself through the doorway and towards the other end of the room, where a bedroom door hung wide open.
His heart was pounding so fast he couldn’t breathe through the frantic beats. He pulled himself past the couch he had sat in nearly every afternoon, then underneath the dining table he’d spilled countless drinks on.
He pulled himself into his parent’s bedroom, holding his breath and keeping his eyes to the ground. He couldn’t look up. He couldn’t face his greatest fears.
Seconds ticked by. The air felt heavy in his lungs. His head pounded harder than his heart until he finally gave in.
He took a breath.
Death. The stench of rotting meat. It assaulted his nostrils and stung his eyes, stronger than it had ever been. It forced his head up towards the king-sized bed.
There they were, all three of them. His entire family, lying in a row on the soiled comforter. His younger brother lay between his father and mother.
None of them breathed, for they had no lungs to breathe with. They were merely skeletons, trapped in an eternally resting position.
They were gone. The world had taken them too.
He was alone.
There were no tears left to stream down his face. His mind went numb.
He reached up with his bony hand, grasping the comforter with shaking fingers. It didn’t take much effort for him to pull his weak body onto the bed.
He lay himself down between his little brother and his mother, sinking into the mold-infested bed.
His monochromatic eyes closed, dropping the last piece of the puzzle into place. His time was up. Everything was over.
With his final breath, he whispered “Goodbye, Brooklyn.”