The last man on Earth leaned on his shovel, then wiped the sweat from his face.
He was almost finished.
He had been digging for hours. He started around noon, when the sun was high overhead, when his shadow was nothing more than a puddle of darkness under his feet. Now his shadow had transformed into an alien figure with elongated limbs and an elliptical head, as if his soul had drained out through his shoes and smeared like ink across the desiccated landscape.
With a sigh, he tossed the shovel aside and picked up a whitewashed slat torn from a picket fence. He drove the sharp end into the ground in front of the newly-filled mound of earth, then used the flat side of the shovel to pound the board into the dirt. Then he stepped back to read what he had written on it.
Rest in Peace
1980 – 2042
Believer, he thought, mouthing the word at the bottom of the grave marker. If there was one word that best described Sarah, that was it. She believed that everything happened for a reason, that there had to be some grand plan to explain all the death and suffering that had befallen them. Humankind had been wiped out at an extraordinary rate by something nobody could explain, and yet her belief never wavered.
It wasn’t a belief in God, per se. It was just a belief in positive outcomes, a belief that — on a long enough timeline — everything would turn out for the best.
Unfortunately, her timeline ran out.
The man had found her in bed, eyes open, lips blue, hands cold. He knew she was gone. Still, he laid down next to her, wrapped his arm around her waist, nestled his head against her neck, and held her. He fell asleep like that, dreaming of the first time they met.
It wasn’t your typical romantic meet-cute. They weren’t high school sweethearts. He had been looting an abandoned grocery warehouse, gorging himself on canned peaches, his chin and chest sticky with sweet, sugary syrup. Sarah snuck up behind him and held a knife to his jugular, ready to cut his throat. He grabbed her wrist and flipped her over his shoulder, intending to strangle her. But there was something about the way she looked up at him, the utter fearlessness in her eyes, that made him stop.
Up until then, he wasn’t even sure why he had kept going, why he had bothered staying alive. But once he met Sarah, he knew the reason. He understood. He believed.
The memory faded as he drifted awake. He carried her body outside, grabbed a shovel from the barn, and began to dig.
Now, as he watched the sun setting between the trees, he realized what he had to do next.
He picked up the shovel.
It was getting late. It would be dark soon. He had to hurry.
He had one more grave to dig.