Somewhere inside the large desert that was Earth, under a full moon and a clear sky, the last man watched the stars from inside his small home through a broken window. Sometimes he would count them, sometimes he would stare at a specific few and follow them across the darkness until he fell asleep; And as he did he would listen to the whistling of the wind as it passed through the cracks and the cavities of the mountain behind the house that he had built.
Some nights it was quieter than others, but it was always there. And on occasions, when the wind was strong, it almost seemed to speak, yelling out long drawn out words that he would try to understand. Perhaps it was the world telling whoever would listen its secrets. Perhaps it was just the mountain, saying ‘good night’ to the sole remaining climber to climb its walls.
On that night he counted the stars and listened to the dim song of the wind. He named each star after the people he remembered. The first and brightest one was named Yun, after himself. He was, after all, the person he remembered most. The next one was named Vera, after his wife. Vera shined bright too, and together Yun and Vera travelled the darkness of the sky each night. Around them, their children Han, Luna and Julius followed them wherever they went. If only they could free themselves of their places in the zenith, if only for a few moments, they would come down to him and kiss him on the cheek, and he would hug them and give them a good-night’s kiss.
“All we are, is dust in the wind.” he remembered the words his wife told him many nights before when reflecting upon life, long before she or anyone knew of the future. Before the desert became the desert, before humanity became the desert.
“Good night.” he murmured just as his consciousness gave way to sleep, and in his sleep he dreamed, and in his dreams he sang along with the whistling of the wind.
The morning came the way it always did. A beam of sunlight entered the room where Yun slept and shined on his face. He opened his eyes and for a short moment, the shortest of all moments, as his eyes focused on the wooden wall next to him, he thought he was back home.
In that instant between the opening of his eyes and waking up, he thought he felt the weight of someone else beside him. He pictured her there, a hand-reach away. “Good morning.” He would say softly, being careful not to wake her if she wasn’t still, and he would wait a second or two for a response. He would step off the bed and on to the carpet and he would watch her resting. He would see her messed up hair and listen to her almost silent snoring. He would smile.
But that instant passed and he recognized the crude walls he had built out in the desert. He turned and saw no one sleeping next to him. He stepped off, on to the dirt ground and watched the unmade empty sheets. They were brown around the edges where they sometimes touched the floor, and they lay flat and wrinkled atop the short bed. “Good morning.” He said to no one in particular and he walked towards the not-too-distant door that led to the outside.
Even at that early hour the sun heated the land and the temperature of the air rose. The pores on his skin opened. He grabbed the bucket that sat outside, next to his chair, and looked towards a few trees in the horizon.
He stepped into the sunlight and the reflection of the sun on the desert’s ground blinded him. It was not the best day to be outside, it was not the best day to be the last surviving human. He dropped the bucket where he stood and sat down below his roof where there was shade, on the chair that stood outside, and squinted.
He had been there before, other days when the weight of his own flesh pulled on his bones, when he felt his skin drag across the dirt. He didn’t have a choice, not if he wanted to live, not if he wanted to remember the voices of the past another day. He got up from the creaky chair and did what he did every day under the sun.
He made three trips. The first trip took him to the river. He carried two large buckets strapped on a stick, and on his back. He made the trip to carry water back to the small place he had built and poured it into the reservoir in the ground where it kept cool. Some days he considered moving closer to the river, but the thought of a coyote or a bear mangling him in his sleep kept him away, in the safety of the desert, below that mountain that sang.
The second trip was to check the traps he had set the previous day. Most times he found enough meat for the day, other times he found none, and when there was none he settled for berries. He didn’t risk hunting down a larger animal. It was a risk he didn’t like to take. He was not risking his life, it was the life of his beautiful wife Vera, whom now lived inside his mind together with his children.
The third trip was a trip he made to be away from his house. He walked up the river, sometimes getting halfway to the ruins of the city, other times he walked in the other direction, towards the setting sun. It kept his mind occupied, it made his body tired, it made him forget his past, it avoided the memories of a life he no longer had.
And every day he took those trips, and every night he came back home tired, exhausted, ready to look up at the stars and listen to the wind. The cooing that invariably gave way to sleep. The singing that lulled him away into a world where everything was possible, where the past was present, where the present never happened, and where the future promised brightness.
Except that night, when he lay in his bed looking up at the empyrean and listened to the wind, he noticed a difference. The air around him was stagnant and the smell of the meat from his kitchen was strong. His mind stopped its voyage into the world of sleep and came back to full senses. He sat up on his bed and perceived the world. Motionless, he listened to the sound of a distant howling, he watched the ground illuminated by the light of a full moon and the junk he had hung on his porch stood in silence.
There was no wind, and yet the wind whistled, as if its currents could not make way through the mountain and it forced itself through the cracks and crannies. Yun walked towards the back of his home and stared at the looming mountain before him. The mountain he had grown to love. Just the day before it had given off a sense of warmth, it was inviting, protective, watchful, whereas on that day, below the full moon and the still skies, it was a menacing, massive, rock defying the lunar light, creating shadows where none seemed to fit.
Yun listened to sound coming down the paths of the mountain, like rain pouring from its cliffs, screaming the long drawn out words it liked to scream. It wasn’t a whistling he could sing along to, it was the whistling of a dead night accompanied by the distant howls of animals. He took a step forward, involuntarily deciding he was going to find the origin of the sound, and before he could change his mind his feet had carried him away from his home which had blended into the blackness of the night.
Yun went up the side of the mountain with an empty mind. He didn’t want to raise his hopes of finding something new, he didn’t want to feel disappointed when he discovered a current of wind moving through the highlands. He knew in the back of his mind that everything he did was for nothing. It didn’t matter. He was an animal, the same as the others, surviving the days after the world had ended. No action of his would make a difference, no action of his would affect anyone. No soul remained to mock him, no soul remained to cheer him. It was him, his house and the wild things of the world. So he climbed, staring at the blackened ground, walking through the shadows of the rocks and the drying leaves.
Each step Yun took brought him closer to the source of the loud screaming of the absent wind, and with each step his mind could not help but begin to think again. He reached a plateau midway to the top of the mountain. A flat stretch of ground whose end he could not see, shrouded in darkness. The air remained still, and yet the whistling continued, deafening, eclipsing any attempts he made of calling out.
“Hello?” He screamed, at the edge of the cliff, hoping that somebody had heard him, “Is someone out there?”, but the sound was too loud and even he did not hear the words that he had said.
The flat ground seemed to taunt him with its simplicity. Dark ground under a dark night. What else did he expect? Bushes and small trees grew, rocks and pebbles slept unmoving below his feet. It was all too simple and Yun sighed at the sight of it. He took a step forward and before he thought of going back, a green light caught his eye.
Between the leaves, the bushes and the trees, a small green light shined. Was it a firefly? He asked himself. Was it the reflection of the moonlight upon a shard of green glass? Was it the eyes of a beast, waiting for him to make his move? Waiting for him to turn back? The more questions he asked, the more options he discarded. He had begun to walk unconsciously towards it, listening to the screams of a lost wind, with the crunching of the dirt beneath his shoes.
Across the plateau, across the trees and the bushes, inside a cave on the side of the mountain, the green light he had caught blinked, and with it, three other yellow lights followed it. In the blackness of the cave, where even the moonlight could not reach, they shined, and Yun watched them coming closer with each step he took.
He entered the cave with his hands placed on his ears, shielding them from the earsplitting whistling. He stopped when he reached the back. Before him, a panel with four blinking lights had been built into a wall. To the right there was a red button. To the left there was an almost unreadable sign that said: “Warning.” He stared at the red button hidden in the darkness. It was a strange silence, that which he found himself in. Covering his ears, all he could listen to was that wind that took him to his dreams each night. It resonated through his chest, the melody vibrated through his lungs, and with each breath he took he inhaled the song of the dead night. The button asked a question, a question which only had two possible answers. Yes or no. Press the button or go away, climb down, reach the house, go to sleep, wake up and take the three trips.
Yun pressed the button. Who was left to tell him he could not, or should not? He released it. He had imagined many things that could happen when he did: The four lights would go out, a door would open on the side of the cave that would lead him to a bunker with enough food to last him three years, more lights would turn on, an alarm would sound, a bomb would explode, or maybe the sky would turn black. And even though he thought of these things and many others, he did not imagine that the button would turn off the whistling of the wind.
He stood before the blinking lights in silence, a darkness of the ears, unsure of what he had done. The song of the mountain was gone. The music of the world had disappeared.
Yun left the cave and climbed back down. He reached his house and went to sleep. He woke up the next day and made the three trips, and when the night came again, and he lied in bed looking at the stars, he hoped to listen to the wind, but the whistling did not come.
Every night after that, as he looked into the empty skies he shed a tear in silence, and every so often he climbed the mountain that loomed behind his home, he reached the cave with the four blinking lights and again he pressed the red button, hoping that it would bring the song back. And when he slept he didn’t dream, and when he sang he did alone.