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Day Sixty-one: Remembrance

The hard, dry dirt of the desert glowed in the moonlight. Noel Wilder paced along a faded trail, pack on his back and staff in his hand, taking the same slow, measured steps he’d been taking for days. Maybe months. Years, possibly. He looked up at the moon, glowing high in the sky despite the great dark scar that marred its center, and back down again. It was a beautiful thing, even if it did ruin his night vision for a bit. A great flawed jewel that hung against the vast emptiness of space. It was almost as humbling to look up at it from Earth as it had been to look up at Earth from its surface.

But that was long ago, and many, many miles away.

The desert at night was a pristine, utterly silent place except for the crunch of his boot-heels on the hard-packed earth. There was no wind, no animals to scuttle or buzz across his way. They waited for the morning, for those few moments of brilliant sunlight in a white, washed-out sky before the slaying heat of the day took hold of the world and plunged it into silence again. The chorus of the morning was worth staying up for, but it was in silence that Noah walked every night.

The moon was full and it rested high above him. There were hours to go yet before he had to make camp for the day. When he got settled in, he would write his thoughts and put them in order. Walking was the time to think them and let them have their way.

He thought of the earth from space and how it looked. Blue and white and beautiful, slowly changing to purge itself of the species that wanted to do it harm. His would be the last mission. He and his three man crew would be the last to leave the planet. They very nearly didn’t make it home.

And there was no home to make it back to, not as they understood the word. They landed without help, without guidance, succeeding only by the blindest of luck and the most forceful of prayers. They stepped out onto a world that no longer needed their kind, that was actively doing its best to rid itself of the plague that was humanity.

Dexter hanged himself the first night they were back. They found him dangling from the beam of a deserted building with no note, no indication of why he had left them.

Marcos wanted to find his family, as did Shaun. They had brought pictures with them, snapshots of smiling wives and children and believed with all their hearts that they were still alive somewhere. They set out for the northeast, hoping that their families might have endured. Like Dexter, Noel never saw them again.

Noel knew differently. He stood in the center of a ruined metropolis, watched the birds circle and the green run riot over everything and knew that there was no one else. There never would be again, and in mere years – perhaps in his now much less certain lifetime – much of what humans had built would be gone, brought down to earth by a hungry and indifferent nature.

So he walked, though there was nowhere to walk to. He traveled, though there was nothing to see but the ruins of the great civilization his people had built. And he wrote. He wrote his memories, the things he wanted to keep. Archaeologists had found preserved paper that lasted for centuries. If kept right, perhaps someday there would be someone who could find it, maybe read it. Noel’s path was littered with caches of notebooks, maps, essays and explanations. All that he could remember of the world he’d lost, waiting for someone to find someday.

Or not. Maybe no one would ever find them, and all that he’d done – like all that humanity had done – would be so much dust. Or they would find it, but not be able to make sense of it. Humanity would be forever a mystery to those who came after. Noel had no way of knowing, and he preferred that way.

The moon was lower in the sky when he looked again, and the eastern horizon was beginning to shine. He took the tent from his back and began to set it up. There was nothing for miles around – no trees, no rivers. There would be dew to collect in the morning, and small creatures to catch. He cranked up his lantern and hung it from the hook in the ceiling. With great care, he took a notebook from his pack. There were two more in there, blank and waiting. He hoped to find his way out of the desert soon, perhaps chance upon some plants that would be good for making more paper. But that was another day, some other time.

He took out the bottle of ink, made from crushed charcoal and the stylus he’d whittled from a bone of an animal he ate many miles ago. He paused, staring at the empty page, and thought about what to remember. What did the world need to know about him, about humans, that he hadn’t already told them?

A thought ghosted into his mind, the outline of an idea, and he grabbed it. With a smile of accomplishment, he dipped his stylus in the ink, kept the notebook in the light, and began to write.

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