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The Last

Golden rays of sun caught his closed eyes through the little gaps in the dense collection of crowns which topped the massive trees of the forest. The sound of leaves bustling was hushed, for the wind could only reach so far through the thicket before being stopped. What could be heard at great volumes was the thousands of birds which riddled the branches, and the river which flowed just south of the entrance to the bunker. The bunker whose door was long ago destroyed.

The embers of the fire still crackled ever so slightly, almost inaudible, from a late night. The man had found a bottle of gin in an old rundown shop 5 miles south of the forest. He thanked the gods for the gift of a chance to forget, even for a moment, what was on the other side of the steel door. He rolled onto his back and attempted to sit up, his bones may ache but he had been ignoring their pleas for years; however, his head throbbed stubbornly and he obliged to its request of lying back down.

He closed his eyes and breathed in a deep breath. The misty air was wet in his lungs.

He could still remember their faces. Conner, always so eager to read about life as it once was, in metropolitan areas with their massive structures, on farms with their sparse populous and hundreds of animals. The man smiled at the memory of the boy’s eyes lighting up as he retold the stories which he had read in his latest book.

“Someday you might just see it yourself.”

You would have loved to see it. All of it. Every place I promised to take you was just as beautiful as you had described from those old pages.

He pulled out the camera Lara had made. Those tiny hands were always working. Before she could talk she could tinker. Her little inventions had done more than keep him alive during his time above, but had kept him sane. She had made this camera for her brother’s 13th birthday, and was so excited to present it to him she wouldn’t stop fidgeting for days leading up to it. And the smile on her face when she saw his reaction lasted for days after. Such a simple memory, yet it brought tears to the man’s eyes.

“One day you’ll work in a massive lab, with all the tools you can think of. And you’ll build us so many things.”

Oh what wonders you could have created with the things I’ve collected.

He turned the camera on and clicked through the photos. Picture after picture of Conner and Lara, each one he could look at for hours on end, curled around the memory each photo held, addicted to the warmth they made him feel.

Most of the bunker’s space was taken up by food, of course. The same bland canned soups and sour canned fruits and gooey canned vegetables each day. Such a small space for living,

How do you both look so happy in these photos with this life you had to live.

He picked himself up and began to wonder. He had spent enough time there, in that same spot, holding the camera above his face, that his arms were sore and his hangover was gone. He looked at the makeshift ladder he had spent the day before making. Made of rope, it was a difficult climb, especially in his state. He laughed at his creation, thinking about how much better Lara could have done it. But Lara would have smiled and clapped.

“Hey, it gets the point across.”

Yeah! And at least we can get above the tree line to see the sky!” Conner would have added.

He couldn’t see it well, but he could tell that the sun was getting ready to set. He couldn’t miss the sunset. He ignored the pain in his knees and back, and the soreness in his arms, and began the climb.

He found a branch which he could sit on and lean back on to another, and cut away at those which blocked his view.

The breeze hit his face the moment he brushed the last branches aside. His heart warmed to the sight he beheld. He had seen sunsets before, of course. He had traveled the entire world to fulfill the promises he made to his children, but it was different now. He turned the camera on once again and found the picture he had taken of them all. The last picture on the camera. The picture which was taken moments before…

No.

My final promise was to you, love.

He turned the camera around to face the sun just before it tangents the horizon line. The sky appeared painted, like she herself had created this image for him. He began to cry, from sadness but also joy. She was there, in the sky, as Lara was in the camera and as Conner was in every city he had gone to in the past 23 years.

She was there for his final moments, in the clouds brushed across the sky hued pink. She was there, in the yellow sun which was dimming enough for him to look at. She was there in the oranges, and the reds, and the purples. She was there for his as the last sliver of sun and first specks of stars broke through the deep blue. She was there as he took a deep breath, and as he closed his eyes.

And she took his hand as he sighed.

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