by V Rose Dahrke
You’d think there’d been an apocalypse. War. Disease. Zombies. Mole people. Something. You’d look at the rubble here and think whatever it was must have just wiped the slate. Struck man from the memory of the earth.
You’d see three wrecked cars in the first floor hallway and think you must be the last man alive out of this whole stupid species. By the time you got to the second floor you’d be wondering where the bodies are, and by the third wondering how long it’s been. Wondering whether all the sand came when whatever it was happened or blew in later. Whether this was a school or an office building. What the hell’s in that jar sitting on the radiator.
On the roof you’d find me, sitting like King of the Wasteland on a bench perched on a folding table. It would startle you at first, but the curiosity would rush back soon enough. You’d come to me. You’d question me. We’d talk.
What happened? When? How many? Why?
And I’d nod sadly, trying to think of a gentle way to put it.
Who’s left? How many? How did we survive?
And I’d start to look a little confused, wondering if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking.
Is this my kingdom? How many follow me? What do we fight for? Who do we fight? Do we win? Can you join me? Will I protect you?
I’d shake my head, speechless.
Do I think we’ll ever be able to properly rebuild?
And I’d point without speaking to the edge of the roof, from which you’d see the big, hunched, long-necked figures clustered around the building, silhouetted against the prettiest sunset you’d ever seen.
Backhoes. Over there’s a dump truck. If you look down into the cab of that one, you can see a clipboard with some nice neat forms on it.
And you’d feel like an ass and a half for making a disaster movie out of a disaster. Why’d you do it? Real people really died here. Real people lost real things. Real people are going to put in a hard day’s work tomorrow–and the next day, and the next–trying to fix what they can. You took a real tragedy and made a child’s game out of it. You played pretend. Why?
Because it’s the same thing any of us would do. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Why am I sitting up here if not to pretend I’m King of the Wasteland? King of New Earth? King of That Lovely Sunset, even? Something. King of something. King of anything. Maybe not even a king. Maybe I just want to be someone who can fix things.
So I’m kind of glad you’re hypothetical, You.
After the things I’ve seen, I deserve to be King of the Sunset for a bit.
A Note: Written in response to Mr. Wendig’s challenge titled The Secret Door, for which we were instructed to use this. I played around with it for a few days before it gave me the same place a second time, at which point I decided this particular story must lie somewhere in that ruined Japanese building. The word limit was a thousand, but…well, it just wasn’t that long of a story.