The last human survivor of some unclear end of the world event determines himself to bury as many of the dead as he can.
Why? Becuase I'm weird. That's why.
The world had finally become more honest.
Zed had always wanted more honesty in the world. He couldn’t fathom that the result would leave him the last person to survive in it.
How many times had he witnessed arguments between people only to keep the secret sentiment that if some were truly put out by the simple existence of some folks that they should stop pretending to be “generous” and act? It was a cruel and dangerous thought, but one he had often when he saw the heat of spoken hatreds. The old man knew that idle complaining and indignation were the favorite pastimes of many, many people. The majority of his countrymen could have made it the national sport if they had not already had a beloved “national pastime.”
At the same time, all the complaints he’d heard that “the world will be a better place,” once people of one broad kind or another were gone grew tiresome. Even when it was proposed in a “kind” way – “No one wants to kill you, you’ll just die out eventually” – it struck him as obnoxious. As far as he was concerned, people who had too much pride could find all kinds of creative ways to refuse to admit to themselves how cruel or condescending they were. It seemed to be a problem however people saw the world. If there were as many versions of the truth, in the end, as there were people, Zed figured that he was finally the Emperor of Right. It had come with a price, though, even as he’d taken no active part in making the world he now ruled happen. He did not want his empire, no matter how free it made him feel.
“Is it a better world now?” he muttered ruefully as he looked down at a body.
In his time, Zed thought that he was more equitable. He was sure the world would be better if there were fewer people in it. He did not focus his ideas of a die-off to any particular “kind.” His thoughts of potential extermination were not directed at any race, creed, culture, and class, level of skill or intelligence. He just thought the population couldn’t get much higher for the planet to sustain and had something of a phobia of crowds.
He, however, did not want to live in a post-plague world, nor in a ruined post-war one.
You don’t always get what you want in life.
Zed put the blade of his shovel into the moist earth. He stroked his beard before digging in. Everyone needed a purpose in life, even if one wasn’t entirely sure what one’s purpose was supposed to be. If a man found no meaning in life, he had to make one. Humans were obsessed with such things by their nature. As the last human (at least the last human that he knew of), Zed had set himself to a purpose. It was not to search for other survivors. Zed did not care to find any, as he was fed up with his species by now. Zed’s purpose now was to bury the dead.
He walked barren fields littered with corpses. Closer to the target-centers, all flesh had been destroyed. Even now, the poisons left from the Ultimate War were seeping into his system. Even though Zed knew that he would not have the honor of a proper burial, he could give it to others. It was easy to have respect for the dead where one lacked it for the living.
He dug deep and wiped the sweat from his brow. He looked to the well-dressed corpse behind him. “You lived fine, mighty fine, didn’t you?” he said before resuming his labor. “Mighty fine, mighty fine,” he clucked, almost singing the words.
After Zed finished the rich person’s grave, he rested and walked some more, paying no mind to scavenging dogs that panted and staggered. They were affected by the lingering shadow of the war, as well.
Everything in the past world had been “kill the poor” and “eat the rich.” The poor dogs were left to eat everything that was left.
Zed smiled a wicked yet warm smile when he saw a man and a woman holding hands. He’d known these people personally in life – not well, but they’d been his neighbors. He couldn’t muster a profound sense of grief over them, but that may have been a simple matter of his sorrow having been already sapped past its limit.
He’d always found a point when he was laughing when he’d start crying. It seems he’d found a point in crying when he’d start laughing. Zed did not know if the amused bitterness with which he was regarding everything now was a sign that he was desperately keeping sane or if it meant he had no sanity left.
Dead fingers were intertwined in an embrace Zed would never have seen in life between the two.
The old woman wore a gold-plated pendant around her neck that was in the shape of a cross. Zed’s a-religious aunt used to wear a big turquoise cross with a star-shape around it because she’d bought it on a trip to the American Southwest for the sake of beauty. The symbolism of the piece neither was meaningful to her nor offensive, because it merely symbolized the Southwest for her. Zed knew, however, that unlike his aunt, that the old neighbor-woman’s adornment had been very meaningful to her, a tribal identifying mark and a bit of soul-devotion. He’d met her at his door with literature from time to time. He learned to pretend to be in the bath whenever he heard her distinctive three-rap knock.
As for the man, not much younger than the woman was, his obsessions had run counter to hers. The dead man, in life, had been arrested for vandalism for the time he’d placed padlocks on all the doors of the local church. He could not change what was in people’s hearts as much as he may have wanted to, but he could inconvenience and frustrate people he didn’t like and make his general protest known. At least he didn’t go door-to-door…but he had gotten into a conversation with Zed once at a local café’ that Zed had just gotten bored with and walked away from.
The two had seen the end coming and held hands. The obnoxious clucking hen and the crashing bore were together as cold flesh. Zed looked down at then and laughed. “Where’s the pride now?” he asked. “So proud of your big brain? The same goop as hers. So proud of your big heart? Rotting in a still chest just like his.”
Zed set to digging again. Perhaps it would be just to bury them together since they had reconciled so sweetly?
Ol’ Zed was just too cynical to be a humanist or a true humanitarian. It seemed to him that whenever he talked to people who’d claimed to have love and cuddles for all Humankind, that “certain kinds of people” were always left out of the human family. He’d found that people who talked big about their own equal-mindedness were inclined to include those they disliked as worthy of “love” only on the grounds of the idea that “those people can change.” Zed had wondered if the “You’re are worthy of living or just being left alone because you might someday become like me” model was really the love, cuddles and equity that people seemed to think they were so great for crowing about. Even when the most idealistic of persons was confronted with the idea of forgiveness and understanding issued to criminals and sociopaths… oh, it was fun to watch those smug smiles turn into constipated frowns!
In all honesty, the people of the world had wanted each other gone for far less serious matters than criminality. Zed had a few relatives who would smile and be polite to everyone they met on shopping trips and the like only to let their racist ideas slip out among “safe” company. Having become quite familiar with this, he suspected that this kind of thing went on in every household on the planet, save for a few particularly idealistic families. People always seemed to slip out of the masks they wore whenever they felt safe. Conversely, some people felt free to let their bile flow free only when they were safely behind a mask.
Zed sat beneath a blighted tree. Its skeletal remains provided no shade, but he was strangely comforted by it, nonetheless. He stretched his hurting back against its flaking bark. People and pieces were scattered over the ashen hills before him.
Zed had really not much cared for people. He’d found them too irritable and too proud.
The world was pretty quiet now. He couldn’t complain about his life as long as he had something meaningful to do. He held the handle of shovel across his knees.