Demise

My brother and I are among the last fifty thousand people on the face of the Earth.

Both of our parents, as well as our grandparents, have already perished in the brutal war that is being fought outside the narrow walls of this abandoned railcar, which we have called our home for the past two months. A nuclear war is tearing through the atmosphere every second of the day and we have no indication as to when it will end. Sulfur hangs thick in the air, making it hard to breathe. Thousands of bombs have been dropped. The wreckage in the streets is horrible, bodies thrown unceremoniously, debris scattered haphazardly. I've become numb to the smell of rotting flesh and gunpowder.

The year is 2101. My name is Ava and my brother is James. I'm sixteen, he's seven. Our parents have been dead for three years, our grandparents for five. For three years, we've been on our own. We started out in northern Washington, now I believe we're somewhere around San Francisco. The desolate land is unrecognizable; we have no way of knowing our whereabouts for sure.

Our world is dying. Americans have used almost all of the resources it holds, slowly taking away its life force. Back in the early years of the new millennium, people used the Earth's precious resources with no regard to the outcome of their actions, no thoughts as to the consequences. Their generation ruined the beautiful world we once thrived in. Now, it is a vast, barren wasteland.

The North Koreans were angered when they learned we had used the last of the Earth's petroleum to develop our newest method of transportation. This caused them to declare war on the U.S. It quickly became a war for the record books, eventually involving all two hundred and six countries of the world. One hundred and fifty of those countries were wiped out within the first year, fifty-one others were bombed into oblivion within the second. Now, the only three powers left are China, North Korea, and the United States. China is falling fast; it won't be long before they're wiped out completely.

Thousands of civilians are killed every day, whether it's from the bombings themselves, the disease, or plain starvation. Supplies are scarce, food itself is a delicacy, and I've forgotten what it feels like to be warm. Nowhere is safe.

In a way, I envy the millions who have died. Even though I know I have to stay strong for my brother, that I can't give up, I still long to be free of worry, stress, and despondency. I wish to be happy again. I wish for there to be no more death, sorrow, or despair. Every time I see a flash of light in the night sky, I wish for these things. Although I know it is futile, it never stops me from trying.

I sit in the corner of the railcar, James curled into my side, as I drift to sleep, the sounds of the gruesome world outside echoing in my ears.

I'm awoken by screams, shouts of helicopter sightings, and hundreds of other incoherent remarks.

From the rantings I have gathered that it is a North Korean helicopter and that it is hovering right above us.

The door to the railcar bursts open and a man is standing in the doorway.

"Hurry! You've got to get out of here!" He yells.

I shake James into consciousness. The man comes towards me and picks him up, cradling him to his chest as he dashes out the door. I jump up and bound after him, worrying about what's happening. I faintly register that I'm shaking, whether it's from the cold or the panic or even both, I'm not sure. I sprint away from our temporary home as the man runs ahead, James in his arms.

Finally, after what seems like hours, the man stops. My legs give out and I feel myself falling to the ground, overcome with exhaustion. I hear a faint buzzing noise and I struggle to discern its origin. After a moment I realize the sound is a jumble of voices, all shouting at once. Screaming. I open my eyes long enough to see a helicopter in the distance as another bomb is dropped. I see it collide with Earth, flames engulfing the railcar within seconds. I turn to look for James when I notice the crowd of people standing around me for the first time. I hear words, but I don't know what they're saying.

I close my eyes.

I awake in a bed. An actual bed, with sheets and a pillow smelling of orange blossoms and freesia. I take in my surroundings and I see James tucked into a bed across from me, a peaceful expression gracing his face, the first I have seen in a long while.

I morosely drag myself from the warm solace, seeking to find out where we are exactly. I exit the small room occupied by James and I to find myself in a small hallway lined with rooms of the sort.

I walk to the end of the hallway where it opens up into a vestibule, with large oak doors leading out. Beyond the doors I find hundreds of people, sitting at tables, on couches, and in front of televisions, in a large area that has a rec-room feel to it. Even with all of the entertaining technologies surrounding us, the tension in the air is thick. The atmosphere is dead silent. Almost everyone is turned towards the north wall and I follow their line of sight to see a huge floor to ceiling window. I gasp as I see the image beyond.

Beyond the window, I see a ball of fire. After a moment, a shock runs through me as I realize the form in front of me is Earth. The planet I was born on, the place I spent the first sixteen years of my life, however brutal they may have been, is slowly being incinerated. I feel a small hand slip into mine and I know without turning that it's James. I can feel him shaking and I reach to put my arm around him. I faintly notice as my tears begin to fall, not bothering to reach and wipe them away.

I've found out where we are. We're aboard the Luberon, a space shuttle headed straight for the planet Mars. In fact, it is the very last shuttle to ever leave Earth. There are no more Americans living on the planet we once loved and thrived on. It is now solely occupied by the Koreans and the few remaining Chinese.

I've met up with the man who saved James and me. His name is Josh and he's twenty one. He has no surviving family and he's alone, much like us. We've decided to stick together once we land.

We're scheduled to arrive on Mars in less than twelve hours.

We've landed.

I look out through the window and buildings are as far as the eye can see. I never knew that people had settled here. I am pushed forward by the crowd and I stumble, quickly catching myself. My left hand is clenched around James' and I give it a reassuring squeeze. When we step through the barrier of the space shuttle, everything folds out in front of us. I find Josh again and we venture out into the unknown together.

It has been five days since we stepped onto Martian soil. We've been staying in a hotel close to the landing port. James likes Mars so far. We've learned a lot in the short time we've been here, including how this all came to be. Apparently, a group of scientists and their families moved from Earth to Mars about forty years ago, to begin terraforming. The entire story was kept top secret, to the point where the FBI wasn't even aware of it. They were planning to grow a large country so if something disastrous ever happened, such as a nuclear war, Americans would be able to quickly escape without harm.

When the Koreans began the conflict, a message was sent to the habitants of Mars to let them know that shuttles were to start arriving as soon as an all-clear was received. A confirmation was never heard of and scientists began to think the atmosphere had buckled and that Mars was not as safe as they had once believed. However, when the war started to escalate, they sent probes to see what was left of the settlement and if they could repair it. Pictures were sent back of a growing, thriving city. A shuttle was sent with only a few people aboard and it arrived successfully. Once word of this was sent back to the station on Earth, more shuttles were sent. The shuttle we arrived on was the last to ever touch Earth's soil. It was decided that the war was heightening to a new level of monstrosity and that all Americans needed to get out quickly before the remaining population was wiped out.

We learned later that all of the underground vaults on Earth had suddenly combusted and there was such a vast amount of nuclear chemicals within them, that the flames engulfed the entire planet, killing all of the remaining habitants. There are no more people living on Earth. There is no more Earth, period. What was once a living, thriving world is now gone, obliterated, no longer.

As I stare up at the blank place in the sky where my home used to be, I think of all that I lost there. My parents, my grandparents, my friends, all of my possessions from the first sixteen years of my life. So much pain, so much sorrow, so much despair. Then I think of my new home, Mars. Instead of wallowing in everything that I've lost, I decide to live for it. I should live for my parents, live for my grandparents, live for my friends. I should live for them, because they won't get to do it themselves. Looking at the situation in a positive way helps to lessen the pain. I turn and walk away with my head held high, ready to embrace my new life.

I don't look back.