I WAS THE LAST STORYTELLER WHEN THE WORLD ENDED

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Photo by Tomas Robertson

“Come, little children,
I’ll take thee away, into a land of Enchantment
Come, little children, the time’s come to play here in my
Garden of Shadows
Follow sweet children
I’ll show thee the way
Through all the pain and the sorrows-”
Brock Walsh, Hocus Pocus

 

(For Ian, the world lost when you left)

I sat in the corridor of the old stone farmhouse waiting on the children who were still left to come back. I even had blood all over my body and no memory of why I had found myself in this situation. My last memory was myself in a room telling, what I hoped would be the last story I had to tell in this new wretched world we now find ourselves living in.

You see two years ago, just after my eighteenth birthday, the version we know as the world ended. I was the only survivor over the age of 18. One afternoon I was in my car with some friends when a white light arose in the middle of the afternoon. It was so quick that we barely noticed it but my friends who were in the car at the time, both already eighteen, began to feel strangely ill shortly after dying a day or so later.

Soon there were the deaths of other neighbors of ours, friends of my parents- all adults. The children remained healthy. The first person in my house to die was my dad. One afternoon he went to lie down, and he stopped breathing, turning now white almost immediately, like something you would see in a movie. His hair went white first traveling down to his stiff body. It was bizarre to see it take hold of him do rapidly.
Then came the day my mother went. She had lasted several days longer than my dad. My mother was standing in the kitchen cooking breakfast for my sister, Katie, and I, trying to hold her grief in check telling us a story about our dad when they were young when she stopped. I heard her sigh as though she had begun to cry. There were tears on her pale cheeks when she slowly turned around and looked at my sister and I. Her eyes had turned white, and then I watched her die in front of my eyes.

My mother, frozen, dropped the spatula that was in her hand as she fell to the floor twisted and broken like a rag doll. It was so quiet and sudden that I barely smelt the bacon burning and barely heard the sound of the grease popping in the skillet. Her skin was the color of snow now. I looked at my sister, who had already begun crying in fits of panic.

“What are we going to do, Ian? Tell me what to do!” Katie screamed, running to our mother’s side.

It was that moment that I became responsible for my sister. Then it turned into my caring for some of the younger kids in the neighborhood. At first, they came begging for food or looking up to me for guidance. I was the eldest; all my other friends had died or ran away. Everyone over the age of seventeen was dead. That wasn’t the only thing that happened. The wildlife seemed to grow faster than ever before. Electricity no longer existed. It was as though something came out of the sky and snuffed out the very life of our planet.

I took the children I had become a ward of, when I was barely much older than they were, together we tried to find help. Instead, I had begun to collect other children along the way. It was hard to manage, but I had my sister Katie who was nearing her eighteenth birthday.

It was going on two years now since the strange event. We had settled not too far away from where I lived, in a rural area where there had once been a small farming community.

I had stumbled upon a moderately sized farmhouse with six bedrooms. Luckily for us, there was plenty of resources available on this farm. There was even a creek with fresh water that we boiled daily. There was running water in the house for a while until it stopped.

Lush forests surrounded the farm, and the main road had become overgrown. The vehicles that were on the property didn’t have a lot of gas left in them. However, whoever owned the farm had been generous by leaving the keys to the cars. When I did take a drive out to look for food, I didn’t go far in case of an emergency.

The first year was the easiest; then supplies went fast. It was hard keeping them all fed, there were at least twenty or thirty now, and the children didn’t understand how rationing worked. First, they ate up the food that was already in the house, and then when that was gone, the winter had brought on other issues. It was hard keeping warm, and so some of them became ill. The temperatures were so cold that even when you were in doors, the chill was barely infiltrated.

Instead of finding dry wood in the nearby woods one afternoon, I had come back to a house in disarray. Blankets were removed from bedding, chairs were upside down, and some of the older kids were throwing furniture in the large fireplace.

“What are you doing?” I had yelled, grabbing two of the older boys, Tim, and Tony, who were twins and had recently turned thirteen.

“We hate it here! It’s always cold, and there’s never any food because we have to ration it out to the little ones, but I’m tired, and I’m sick of living like this!” Tim pushed and hit me in the chest. I let him because I knew he needed to. Then tears fell from both our eyes.

I stood unsure of what to say, but I somehow found the words. I recalled my father telling me about how life could take harsh turns. The look on all the children’s faces told me what it was I needed to say next.

“Life is hard. We grow up being told that if we suffer disappointment, it makes it easier to face. I don’t believe that, though. I believe that disappointment still hurts, but it only stacks the anger through each blow life gives us. But children we can’t let it anger us. We have to be better than those disappointments. Come, look at the fire Tim and Tony made for us! Sure it’s part bedroom linen, broken bits of the chair; but we have warmth! Feel it! Feel the warmth!”

I didn’t know I had the words in me to make them listen. Each one came over in their dark and stained clothes, warming their hands by the large fireplace.

That night after our dinner, I was reading to the smaller children as a form of entertainment since there was no electricity for tv. That is when little Shelby Parsons, who was roughly six or seven, looked up into my dark eyes. “Ian, I want you to tell us a new story. This one is boring.” She said, hugging her knees.

Then the other children chimed in with their voices. “Yeah, tell us a scary story.” Little James said from the back of the large couch which now adorned ketchup stains.

“A scary story, but don’t you like hearing stories about fairies that help wandering travelers in the woods or princes that rescue the princess?” I asked.

“No! We want blood!” Said a raspy voice coming from the back of the room. It was a boy of no more than twelve years old Henry who was always trying to act out his dominance on the four smaller children.

“Scary, eh? I don’t think that the farmers that lived here before had any books about scary things.” I said, standing up looking around the books on the built-in shelf.

“No! Tell us one of your stories.” Shelby said.

“I don’t have any.” I laughed.

“Make up your own story for us!” Shelby exclaimed pouting with her dark curly hair falling into her blue eyes.

I smiled at her, then I looked around the room and thought very hard of the scariest story I could make up.

Finally, I figured I would begin, and perhaps it would come to me as I went along. To make it scarier, I grabbed a few props from the closet. One object a black cape that looked like it was part of a costume at some point, the other a large red candle that I sat on the small coffee table in front of me.
Then I closed my eyes took a deep breath, and when I opened them, I became someone else. I became their scary narrator.

“Once upon a time in a small village lived a little boy and a little girl.” My voice had shifted, my neck cracked a little, and I felt the sound coming out of me, was not my own. Instead, the voice that came from my lips was one of pure evil. “They had grown up in a place that if you wore color, the monsters that lived in the trees would see you and eat your flesh! So all the people who lived in the village wore only black, so the monsters didn’t see them and eat them because the monsters lived little children the best..,”

“Why did they love little children the best?” Shelby asked interrupting me.

I thought for a second before continuing, “because all little children have bones that taste like sweet candy. When the children wore bright colors, they looked like candy too, so it was easier to identify them.” My voice had an audible click, and it deepened to almost a growl. I had no idea where it came from, but the story came to me like a movie playing out in my head. I was shocked by how dark and cavernous it sounded in the room. It echoed across the walls and bounced up into the stairwell where some of the older children had slowly come to sit and listen on top of the stairs.

“One afternoon, the little boy and the little girl were found dead at the edge of the village. The only thing left of their two tiny bodies were the brightly colored rainbow shirt the little girl had on and the bright green shirt the little boy had on.”

I saw little Shelby gasp and cling to little James. I glared at them both enjoying my evil character as I continued.

“The town was frightened and uncertain as to how to rid themselves of the dark beings that had caused their town such turmoil. The alien beings had to be stopped. So after the sun went down on the small town, the townsfolk gathered around the church bell that rang every hour on the hour and made a plan to destroy the aliens-”

There was a loud bang on the roof of the farmhouse interrupting my story. The children screamed and stood at once pleading with their eyes as they looked upon me for comfort. I walked towards the front door and opened it slowly. I stepped outside and looked up at the roof. It appeared as though a large branch had fallen on top of the roof. I walked back into the house and looked at the children.

“It’s just a tree branch is all. Let’s finish our story tomorrow after dinner. Time for bed everyone.”

“Just when things were starting to get good!” Henry groaned.

I smiled and blew out the candle. I looked up and saw my sister Katie smiling at me. “Good job, big brother.”
I knew what she meant, and she and I were both glad we had found a way to entertain the rowdy bunch.

The next morning there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground. It was early October and seemed far too early in the year for ice and snow. I was chopping up the branch that had fallen on the roof the night before and figured we could use it for firewood.

I stacked the wood and began piling it up against the wall of the barn when I heard shrieking. I saw my sister Katie running towards me fast as lightning her winter coat falling off her shoulders as she ran towards me.

“It’s Shelby! Come quick!”

I ran with her towards the house, and once inside, Shelby was sitting on the couch with her pink t-shirt, jeans, no socks or shoes which was strange considering it was frigid in the house. I looked at Katie and one of the other girls, Tara, who were trying to comfort Shelby.

“What happened to her?”

“She fell from the tree. She was so high up!” Tara exclaimed barely having enough breath in her thin body to tell me what happened.

“How did she do that?” I begged, taking her little hand into mine.

“I was at the top of that one,” Shelby said out of breath as she pointed at the tall oak outside the window.

I looked at that tree. It had to be at least thirty or forty feet tall, and I knew there was no way she was climbing that tree.
Out by the cornfields were a row of small apple trees. I assumed she meant one of those.

“The monster picked me up and took me into the tree. I screamed, and then it dropped me.” Shelby said in between heavy breathing.

I looked at Katie and Tara bewildered by what this could mean. I still had a hard time believing it was possible. I kissed little Shelby on the forehead and tried to reassure her the best I could that everything would be alright. I feared she might have had broken ribs by the way she was breathing. I stepped into the hallway between the dining room and the living room where Shelby was on the couch, and then my sister followed me.

“What are we going to do, Ian?”

“I don’t know.”

“There has to be something you can do. What about all that stuff Shelby was saying about there being a monster?”

“Katie, she is six years old. Kids have vivid imaginations, especially after trauma.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Look I’m not a god damned doctor!”I snapped then when I looked at her, I softened. “I’ll see if the farmers that lived here left any medical books in the library. Maybe you or Tara can help?”

“I still have to cook breakfast for them all. Tara can help you. I’ll send her in after she gets them all ready for their daily lessons.”

I nodded and then went and locked myself into the library. Every time I looked at the large house we had found ourselves in, I felt lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Whoever lived here before was pretty well prepared, and when we stumbled upon the site, the occupants had not been gone very long at all. There was still fresh food in the refrigerator until the electricity finally stopped working. Whatever had made everyone sick had also cut off the world from internet, power, running water and heat stopped. It was as if someone or something hit a switch and turned it off and we returned to the dark ages again. Tara was a year younger than Katie, and while she was smart and helpful, she was very restrained from showing any form of human-like emotions. The only thing she was good at was teaching the children. It had been her idea to make them sit in a sort of home school and teach them about survival from the books in the library and the history of things. It helped occupy the youngest ones, but the older kids didn’t stick around and usually spent their days off wandering the woods or hunting animals. Sometimes they brought the food back to share other times they would go into the woods for days at a time. There was chaos at all times, always anger boiling just below the surface. We were lucky to have had no incidents like the one with Shelby in the two years since the world ended. I held out hope we would find others, mainly other adults that could help. So far in the two years of searching and scouting, I had only found bones and children with no homes and no one to look after them, except me.

I fumbled through the books most of the day and found information on how to treat broken bones. I did the best I could, having been a football player for most of my teenage years I knew a few things about injuries. I did the best I could in patching up Shelby with what I found in the books in the library. By the end of the day, she was sitting up on the couch, smiling in her usual way.
I felt guilty that there was nothing more I could do. There was one thing, however.

Night fell upon the farmhouse that night, and there was a distinct chill in the air that wasn’t before. Everyone was home that night so the living room was crowded and a few of the children were playing games, and Tim and Tony were arguing about something.

“Anyone want a story?” I asked in a commanding tone.

Shelby sat up from her place on the couch and clapped her hands. “Yes, another scary story!”

“Yeah but not like that stupid one you told last night,” Henry said with his raspy voice. He sounded like someone that had chain-smoked their entire life, but he was twelve years old.

“Very well, let me get set up.” I found my cape and lit my red candle. This time I hid a coffee mug of bourbon next to me for my nerves after the day I had.
Then I began telling a new story. This story felt like it wasn’t coming from me at all but that I was possessed by something inside of me.

“Demons are real, children. They love to come out at night. Some of them even sneak inside your bed and crawl inside of your mouth to live there. Some of them get right inside of your belly and give you a belly ache you couldn’t possibly stop even with the best medicines. They get inside and stay like a parasite. They make you do and say horrible things and sometimes hurt others.”

I looked around the room and felt slight darkness boiling inside of me. I wanted to scare the children, it felt good in some dysfunctional way. I couldn’t explain it. I looked around the room, and when I thought of all the things I had to do and sacrificed so they could exist, I felt resentment. Suddenly my skin began to itch, and I felt hot.

I continued with my story. “Demons like to play with you even when you aren’t looking. They watch you from dark crevices in the walls and outside your window on a stormy night. They hang about in spider webs so small you would never know they were there. Demons love sitting in trees and drop things on you like sadness and depression, but their favorite ever- is giving you evil thoughts. The only way to get rid of them is to fight hard against it. If that doesn’t work pray, and if that doesn’t work, well, there is always death.”

There was a silence in the room that gave me pause. I took a deep breath, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Hatred for them had risen like acid reflux on my tongue. My love for them seemed to diminish and then return when I finished my story.

“I didn’t like that one either!” Henry yelled from behind the couch.

I sighed laughing a bit to myself. “It’s bedtime, anyhow. Tara has lessons for you in the morning.”

Henry came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Ian, we need to work on your story ideas. I will say you are scary when you tell those stories. Your eyes get black, and your voice changes. It is like you have a demon inside of you when you tell the story.”

I smiled and then I sat back thinking if he only knew.

There was a wind storm so bad that night, and I could barely sleep. I curled around my bed, which was in the attic. It was also the coldest room in the house because it had no insulation, and there was a crack in one of the windows that always seemed to return no matter how many repairs.

The sound of glass breaking on the second floor had me rise from my bed and rush to see what was the matter. When I reached the second floor, I nearly fell onto the wooden hall trying to see what had caused the sound. Something inside of me told me that there was something very wrong.

My gut never lied to me, and then I saw it. Henry was standing at the end of the hallway. There was a large bay window that overlooked the farm and would have been beautiful on any other occasion, but the view that met me was one of pure horror.

Henry’s eyes were black as night, his skin was yellow, and his mouth seemed to foam. He looked like he was in pain as he bent over, falling to the floor. I ran to him and placed my hand upon his shoulder. When I did, he felt hot to the touch as though he had a horrific fever. I removed my hand quickly. “Henry, are you okay?”

He began to heave in the same manner as a cat like he was in the process of regurgitating a hairball. I backed away and ran to grab a cold washcloth and a bucket from the bathroom and ran to his side.

I nearly wet myself from what I saw when I returned. Henry was regurgitating something dark from his throat like a thick black goo. When it hit the floor, it made a loud splash. Henry continued to heave and hurl, and he began to scream groaning in pain. He looked up at me as a low forceful growl came out of his belly.
Then he opened his mouth again as a white snake with glowing red eyes slithered from out of his mouth onto the floor and came towards me with the intent to do me harm. The way it looked at me, it was as if it knew me. I backed away and fell back onto the stairs that led to my bedroom in the attic.

#####

Katie and the others were now in the hallway watching me, and I found myself unsure of what was happening. Tara came forward and hit the snake with a hammer killing it. When she did, Henry collapsed to the ground. I ran over to him and saw that he was still breathing, but he was out cold. It was almost as if he were in a coma. I carried him to his bed and cleaned him up as best we could be propping his head up onto a thick pillow.

I left his room and sat on the steps, unsure of what to do. I was still in shock, shaking as I tried to wrap my brain around what was happening as too were the others.

Katie came over to me and sat next to me and looked into my eyes. “What the hell was that?”

I looked down into her eyes and shook my head.

“Like the story, you told us,” Tara said coming up from behind me.

Katie looked at her and then got up and walked away, slamming the door to the room she shared with Tara. I thought it was a strange reaction, but my sister had been acting strangely lately. She had grown secretive and sullen, keeping to herself most of the time.

Tara said nothing else. Instead, she and the others returned to their rooms, afraid for the rest of the night to leave the safety of their beds.

I finally returned to my room, but there seemed to be stillness and a chill in the air giving me the feeling like something or someone was watching me. I managed to fall into a deep sleep and when I did all I had were nightmares. A creature filled with blood lust on all fours was after us all.
I woke to the sound of birds chirping and the sound of the other children in the yard playing. Perhaps there was hope after all. Then my door burst open, and all hope was lost. Katie was standing at the foot of my bed, fuming.

“My eighteenth birthday is in two weeks,” she said to me as I sat up bewildered as to what she was going on about especially after last night.

“I don’t understand what the hell are you talking about? Why is that important? Has anyone checked on Henry?’

“He’s fine. He doesn’t remember anything from last night. Thank god.”

“Where is he? I need to speak to him.”

“He ate breakfast, and now he is sleeping. Lucky for us, he is fine. Maybe not for you. Who are you?”

I looked at her, still confused.

“Why are you still alive? You are the only adult that survived the end of the world. How did you do it? I want to know, Ian, because I don’t want to die in two weeks.” she began to cry frantically.

“I don’t know why I’m still alive. I think about it every day.”

“I don’t want to die.” she continued crying.
I hugged my sister and tried to comfort her. Honestly, I had never thought about what would happen if one of the other children turned eighteen. The thought that Katie would die gave me a devastating feeling I didn’t want even to entertain the idea.

That evening I wanted to have dinner with all of us together. Katie managed to cook one of the last chickens we had on the farm. We were going to save it for christmas dinner, but I felt like we needed to come together after recent events and give thanks for the fact we were all still alive and healthy.

Dinner was quiet, and I felt love for the first time for my new family. It wasn’t conventional, but as I looked around the room at everyone, I had become close to all of them, for different reasons.

I sat there and decided now would be the perfect time for a story. A happy tale nothing sad or scary.

“I recall the story about a dragon that breathed fire burning down an entire village in one great fiery storm. In one instance, an entire town was obliterated. Then out of the ashes was born a new place. At first, it was dead, and it looked like the earth would never be green again, but the people began to see that the dragon wasn’t killing them, he was trying to create a new world fresh with no mistakes in it. Maybe that is what happened when we came to be in this place. Maybe that is why we are here now. In the story, the sky was always blue, and the sun was always shining. Everyone was happy, except for those that still hated the dragon. They had it out for the dragon for burning their village and had a hard time seeing all the good that had come from the newly created sacred space. Let’s not be like those townspeople let’s be grateful we are still here. We have each other.” I said, grabbing Katie’s hand she smiled a tiny smile at me then she looked at Tara.

“He’s right,” Tara said. “We should be grateful that we have each other.”

That night we all went peacefully to our rooms, and I slept better than I had in two years.

Two weeks went by, and Katie’s birthday came and went with no issue. The weather seemed to get better too. There was a warmth in the air, and the children had stopped feeling so afraid. I saw a peaking of green grass even though it was nearing the end of October.

We began to find food easier than before, and I wondered if it had anything to do with my story of the dragon renewing the land. I couldn’t deny it seemed odd, but it was a coincidence, right?

Then something happened after one happily uneventful evening. I had been reading a book on how to identify herbs in nature when I fell asleep, the book still upon my chest as my head rolled over into it. That was the last thing I remember.

I felt it first — the pain. I couldn’t see it, but I knew I was gushing blood. There was no one in the room with me, but I had been attacked. I was having trouble breathing. I couldn’t see well because of the blood, but I felt sunlight on me. Then I felt my body being dragged across the ground.

Someone kicked me in my side and then I heard Tara. “How does it feel demon?” Tara asked with another kick.

“What is going on?” I managed to speak ever so barely.

I felt someone come and wipe the blood from my eyes. It was Katie. She had tears falling from her eyes.

“Who are you?” Katie was pleading more than questioning.

“Ian, your brother,” I said, confused.

“You aren’t my brother,” Katie said defiantly. “My brother is dead too.”

“What are you talking about?” I sat up, but someone kicked me again. I looked over, and it was Henry.

I began to feel angry instead of confused and managed to sit up, blocking anymore blows with my left arm.

“Stop this now! I’m your brother. Who else would I be?”

“One of those creatures that live in the trees.” Tony’s voice said, but I couldn’t see him.

“They’re demons. They eat kids. That is why he’s here he’s saving us for his next meal.”

“Where are you coming up with this nonsense?”

“You told those stories, and then those same things started happening,” Katie said.

“Katie tell him what happened to you last night!” Tara urged.

“I was getting ready for bed when I looked at my feet. They were turning snow white. I am dying just like mom and dad. Just like every other adult, except for you.”

“Slit his throat so he can’t tell any more stories.” Tara urged Katie.

Katie had a knife in her hand, but she couldn’t do it. “Tell me, Ian, what happened the day the white light came and snuffed out our world. You always said you were in the car with your friends. Why didn’t you die? What happened?”

“I told you before. We were in the car with Curtis and Tyler grabbing a bite to eat, and this bright light appeared. It was so bright it lit up the sky, and you couldn’t see anything for a few moments. Then the next thing I recall is I was home.”

“No, they got into a horrible car accident. The light kept Joe from seeing, and they were in a head-on collision. You were the only survivor walking away without even a scratch. Everyone knew it, except for you. Mom and dad didn’t want to remind you to save you from the trauma. Then they died.”

“I guess I’m just lucky!”

“I’m not,” Katie said, showing me the white streak of hair she now had. One of her green eyes was now turning white. I knew in a few hours, or a few days, my sister would succumb to the disease. “If only one of us can be alive, then you have to die because I don’t want to die, Ian.”

“KILL HIM!” Tara said.

“Please, don’t! I love you, Katie.” I said as fear overtook me.

“It can’t wait. It is what I have been training you all for since the beginning! Kill him!” Tara yelled.

My mind flashed to her survivor lessons. They had planned this all along. Anger was now overtaking my fear of death.

“And then after the children attacked Ian, they realized he could not die,” I said telling them a final story to save my own life. “Instead he healed within moments of the attack. He rose and looked upon the children and realized that his biggest weakness was that he had a heart, so he killed it. When he killed it, he could feel no pain for the bloodshed he was about to inflict.” I looked at Katie and the others as my body did indeed begin to heal. I walked towards them as they were all now afraid of me. I felt like the devil himself.

“I told you to slit his throat, now look at what you did you, stupid bitch!” Tara was now running away from me. Katie stood tears in her eyes.

“Katie, say goodbye to your brother one last time before I let it take me over.” I grabbed her in a fierce hug, knowing I would never see her again.

“I’m so sorry, Ian.” She held on to me for dear life.

“Go now, I can feel it. If you don’t, I’m going to snap your neck.”

She ran from me then, and as she did when she was out of ear range, I whispered: “Katie went on to live a full and happy life, and there was no more disease in the world, and everyone went on to live a full adult life, and Ian’s heart remained intact.”

I walked back to the house and sat in the corridor. I was still covered in blood, trying to recall how I had ended up here. After all, some of the children were still out there, hunting and gathering unbeknownst to them what had happened. I had to wait so I could tell them goodbye.

“I remember why,” I said out loud to myself. Then I suddenly found myself again and recalled with fierce veracity why I remained alive when the diseases rattled the earth with death.

I was the creator. I took that young man’s body over.  Ian deserved so much more in life.  He became my vessel. I was after all, the alpha and the omega. I always said I’d destroy the world again, but it would not be in flood or fire. There were still some kinks to work out with this world, however. Like greed, jealousy and fear seem innate inside of the human race. I’d find a way to fix it for good.
Afterall I had before.

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