Samuel Thomas, now the oldest of all who remained, sat on the cold, worn sandstone church steps, the same steps that he sat on for one hour each day. Above him, an early winter sky was beginning its descent into darkness. Soon the street, where the east meets the west, would be dark, with nothing but the yellow moon to guide the few who traveled its path.
Up, to his left, lay the forbidden forest, filled with mysterious and dangerous animals, animals once held safe in cages, but now running free.
Down, to his right, stood the tallest tower, long ago abandoned by the people of his once great city. And further down were the slowly advancing sea waters, each year pushing closer to the high ground that those remaining tried to call home.
Samuel glanced up towards the steeple. Every morning he climbed up inside the steeple, with his bag of tools, to repair and oil the gears of its aging clock. After his work, he would lean out and survey the hollow, crumbling canyons of steel, looking for danger, anything that may bring harm to those remaining. Those left alive. That morning, as usual, he spied nothing.
Then Samuel noticed a tired young woman approaching him, carrying a tired young girl. Both were dressed in clothed that seen better days, better times. The woman hesitated, then smiled slightly, fondly remembering the old man.
Samuel motioned for the woman to the road that separated the east from the west. The woman, out of habit, looked both ways before venturing across the rocky, crater filled lane. Small fissures of steam escaped from the still hot pipes below, into the cold air.
The woman stopped before Samuel Thomas and placed the frightened, but calm, girl into his lap, and stepped back, much has her mother had done for her many years ago.
Samuel Thomas patted the girl’s worn knees and chuckled quietly. Then he took a deep breath, and pulled the girl close to him, his dirty white beard tickling her cheek, and began to whisper in her tiny ear.
He whispered about days from long ago, when his mother would take him to the center of town to see the tree that was brought from far away, decorated with lights and silver. Around the tree, people, also from far away, sang and danced on clear ice.
He filled her with the sound of the music, the smells of the season, the taste of the feasts on every table, all watched over by the then majestic tallest tower lit in ribbons of red and green, far off in the night sky.
He told her of the frosty white nights, the dancing snowflakes, the invisible moons lighting the town til sunrise. He even told her of the special gifts that appeared one morning each year, as if a magical wand had swept over the city.
The girl shifted on his lap and coughed, causing her mother to rush over and take her in her arms. Samuel Thomas looked around, sadly, up and down the empty street.
“No more?” he asked, “”No one else to tell?”
The woman shook her head. ‘She is the last one. The last to hear the stories.” She drew the girl close and headed back across, back to the east, and in a moment, out of sight.
Samuel Thomas knew this day would come. The sickness that was haunting these artificial canyons, like a wild disfigured animal from the forbidden forest, had been sweeping through and stealing the souls of all young people within its reach. When there were no more young to claim, the sickness began to go after those more innocent, those who had yet to see the light of day, those who had yet to breathe the air of the dirty crumbling city. The cry of a new born baby had not been heard in many years.
Those few who could heal were trying desperately to defeat the sickness, but with little success. Some called the sickness a blessing, sent from above to keep any more from suffering the pain and devastation and despair that those remaining have endured.
Soon, the once great city would be silent empty, and the approaching sea would claim it back, from where it began. Eventually there would be nothing to see but tallest tower and the church steeple, its clock announcing the time to no one.
Samuel Thomas sighed heavily and lay back on the steps. Now he would have no more tiny ears to whisper into, no new minds to fill with his stories and secrets of the past. He had been doing this for years and years, on this special day. Parents would bring their children from the darkness, to wait patiently in line, eager to hear from the man who remembered. The only one who lived in that time.
And the children would carry these gifts back to their dark, damp, dirty homes, and fall asleep, dreaming of lights and color and music and feasts.
Far above, the hour hand on the steeple clock joined the small hand to welcome midnight, then suddenly released itself and flew, like an arrow, down toward the outstretched man, and plunged itself deep into Samuel Thomas’ heart. He quietly closed his eyes, taking one last breath of life.
The street where the east meets the west was finally silent.
A moment later, the fresh cry of a new born baby was heard from a nearby alley. Then another from a far off window, followed by the laughter of a new mother.
The sickness had been defeated.