Joy

JOY

JOY

By: Alex Claw

The end of the world had arrived, the four horsemen had been let loose, and all of mankind was plunged into chaos. Madness reigned, death and violence filled the streets, and the good men and women of the world were washed away in a flood of treachery, hate, and fear. They did not anticipate its arrival and like lambs to the slaughter, they died by the millions.

Kyle didn’t know how he had survived. If it hadn’t been for her, he knew he would have perished long ago, in the floods, in the fires, in the rendering earth. He had fought off hoards, he had battled against plagues, he had faced death at every turn, and he had survived. Not for himself, but for her.

His true love. She was his love, she was his hope, and she was his beacon.

The days were dark and bloody and it had been weeks since he had last seen her, the trail had almost gone cold now. When the end had come he had not been with her, she had not left him behind, she had been taken. The trail across the turbulent land had been hard and terrible, but he knew she was tough. She was alive; he could feel it in his marrow. She was waiting for him.

The serpent rose before him, dark and coiling. It was a hideous incarnation of something beyond comprehension, something that shouldn’t exist. It blocked his way, another challenge, another dark monstrosity that stood between him and his love. How many of them would there be? Did the dying world simply spew them forth; one to replace each that had died?

He had come too far now, the days and nights he had traveled, the miles and blood that ground under his boots. There was no stopping him, there was no turning back, there was only going forward and finding her. He couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t.

The monstrosity died upon the charred rocks, its scaled hide shattering on the dead earth and cascading diamond brilliance across the ash. It hurt his eyes and it cut his feet, the last act of defiance from the dead creature. Though he hurt and bled, he continued forward, somewhere ahead was his love.

The nights rained ash and grit, coating the land in oily black, making it hard to see and difficult to breath. He could smell the sulfur in the air, the thick stench of rot, and the foulness of the world in decay. He didn’t know how long he could continue surviving, the scraps of the old world persisted, turning up in his foraging and sustaining him, yet at times it was barely enough.

The trees lay charred and rotting, the creatures of the world bloated and festered in the dull sunlight, and swarms of feeding insects blocked the sun. Then there were the creatures that had arrived, the horrid imaginations of some fevered god that mocked all living things. They were beasts of the end, monsters that stalked the land, feeding and destroying everything from the time before.

He ached, he hurt, and everyday he felt the growing terror he may not find her. Was he chasing a falsity, was he following something that did not exist anymore. Had she perished amongst the millions, her porcelain body rotting among the heaps of the un-mourned? Kyle shook his head, forcing the doubts from his mind. She was alive; he could feel her, inside of him, like the warmth that did not exist in this world anymore.

It kept him going, when hope seemed to be washed away, when the pain of his bruises and hurts overwhelmed his senses, and when the sky seemed so perfectly still and devoid of light that it filled every nerve with a screaming fear that paralyzed him. He remained living and he kept following that warmth in his heart, across the buckling land and through the shifting dunes of ash and death.

He rested in the midst of the twisted dead; their agonized leather faces joining him as he ate his last can of food. Before him lay a beast, something resembling an elephant and a bear, but dead now. Everything was dying, even the creatures of the damned. Their prevalence upon the earth had been brief and terrible, but even they could not survive in a dying world.

As he prepared to leave, he smelled a scent in the air. He rose quickly to his feet, tossing aside the half eaten tin. He knew that smell, he could feel the pulsing warmth that filled his body. She was near.

He scampered across the dead beast, his head snapping to and fro, seeking her out.

Then he saw her and his breath caught in his throat.

Her crimson hair was tucked beneath a knit cap, her ivory skin wrapped in tattered blankets, and her thin shoulders piled with packs and blankets. She was wearied and exhausted and too thin, she had suffered as he had suffered. Yet she was alive and, in his eyes, beyond beautiful.

Then he saw her captive. He strode behind her, massive and forbidding. Like the creatures that had come out when the world died, he moved deadly as the serpent and stood as massive as a beast.

He had come this far, he had faced the dying and he had faced the serpent. There was no turning back, not now. She was so close and she was the reason for his existence. There was only one thing to do. It would end here, one way or another.

Kyle pulled the knife from its sheathe, the steel blade glinted in the dull daylight. He breathed a deep breath and strode out into the open, his shoulders back and his stride determined.

“You,” he called out. They stopped. Was that exultation on her face?

The Man pushed forward, his massive arm holding her back. “Be gone,” the Man growled. His voice was as thunder and Kyle felt his nerve begin to splinter.

“No,” Kyle retorted. He pulled his blade free; there was courage in the simple act. There was no turning back.

The Man didn’t say anything; instead he came at him, a massive axe swinging down, dulled crimson and nicked with use. Kyle dodged the swing and sliced with his blade, he felt resistance and heard a gasp of pain. A fist smashed into his face and he tumbled to the ground, rolling and rising back to his feet.

Pain flashed across his vision and blood poured from his busted lip. The Man turned back at him, a long crimson gash across his abdomen, not deep, but painful. Kyle waited for the Man to come at him again, side stepping and cutting, moving in close where the axe was useless. Iron hard fists struck at him, but he used the blade as he had learned to. The serpent had died at the blade and so had those that sought his death.

He had been nothing when the world ended, but since the dying began he had learned to survive. The Man fought to keep what was his, but Kyle fought to free what he loved most in the world. There was no contest. Love conquered all.

Blood covered Kyle’s hand, the blade rammed deep into the sternum of the Man, its sturdy blade broken. The Man gave a finally gasp and lay still. Kyle knelt upon the ground, panting heavily. He had won; he had saved her from the Man.

Then why was she screaming?

“You murderer!” she yelled. “What have you done!”

“Joy. Joy I have freed you. I have saved you.” Kyle held up a placating hand.

“You murderer!” she screamed, swinging wildly at him.

“Joy. It’s me. Kyle.” Kyle grabbed her arms.

He looked into her eyes and he knew those pale green eyes, but they were not the same. They had changed, as the world had changed, as he had changed. He knew she was in there somewhere, so much had happened. So much time had passed, but he knew she was in there.

She blinked at him and he saw the recognition there.

“Kyle?” she asked.

Kyle smiled. At last. “Joy. I’ve come for you.”

“Kyle.”

“We can finally be together again, Joy. I’ve come this far to find you.”

“We were never together Kyle.” She pulled away from him, her voice devoid of tone. She looked at him; her eyes had lost the shine, that life. “I lost all my friends. I lost my daughter.” She looked at him, then at the dead Man. “Now I have lost my husband.”

“Joy…”

“I remember you now. You used to talk to me, from Before. Everyone said you had a crush on me. I said it was nothing.” She stepped away from him. “What have you done?”

Kyle stepped forward. “I’ve come to save you, Joy. I’ve come all this way.”

“What is wrong with you?” she asked. “The world is gone and you’ve killed the last thing in it that I loved.”

“Joy…”

She stared at him.

“I came to save you, Joy,” Kyle whispered.

Suddenly she wrapped her arms around him. Kyle sighed and melded against her. She was finally his. He had saved her.

Kyle never saw the blade she carried, but he felt it.

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