It seemed absurd; that they’d come all this way at the hope of- What? Finding more? Finding peace? Surviving? Survival was obsolete; the instinct which had once decided everything was abstracted the moment she’d stopped breathing; changed instantaneously; rendered pointless. But he had learned to adapt, ever malleable; his instincts adjusted for continuity. So at first he treated her passing as just another obstacle to overcome; something he could remedy with more supplies, a sturdier shelter, more kindling. It wasn’t until a day later that it became apparent: there was no continuity. There was nothing. It struck him as he returned to camp, clutching a bundle of sticks to feed the dwindling fire, the senselessness of it all. He halted, his brain restarting, recalibrating. What now? He didn’t want to think, anything to keep his mind from her, he didn’t want to stop, but he couldn’t move. He pictured her face. He shook uncontrollably, dropping to his knees, clutching the bundle tighter. He stayed that way for a time. And then a distant memory formed behind his eyes, replacing the acute pain in his chest with a dull ache. He began walking again.
It was high noon by the time he got to the road. Empty of course. It was comforting in a way; the hushed trees surrounding him standing vigil, sharing his loss. He kept walking. The road seemed endless, but so was his new-found resolve, ceaseless, pulled by an intangible force. The sun began to set. The trees were less comforting now, he’d mistaken their apathy for empathy. Or was it dominance? Triumphant in the knowledge that they would outlast. He pushed on.
It was night when he reached the town, the buildings barely outlined by the dull moonlight – but he didn’t need light, he knew the streets well, and everything was as it had been. The night almost explained the absence of life, allowing him to pretend for a moment: maybe he was just returning from a night out. Maybe it was all okay. They had been back before when they’d needed supplies, but the place had haunted them, the memories jabbing at their tender hearts, bereaving them anew. They’d known the place would drown them in grief if they stayed. But now he craved it, the suffocating nostalgia, to extinguish the anguish.
The house too, was just as he’d left it, the spare key hidden under the plant pot. He stood in the porch for a while, basking in the warm familiarity of home – the feeling of security, of belonging. He braced himself. The door gave way to an intoxicating fragrance of long-since-past, the dizzying bouquet of memories provoking an overwhelming, almost allergic reaction. He moved carefully through the house, each minute detail loosing a long-dormant memory to conquer his thoughts, only to be usurped a moment later by another forgotten particular: a stain on a rug, a curled leaf of wallpaper, a faded photo. He followed his memories around the house until they finally led him to the bathroom.
The rising sun cast a warm glow as he undressed, the sound of the bath filling soothed his overactive mind – he stopped the flow: peace prevailed. He thought about everyone he’d known as he lowered himself into the water. He thought of her as he reached for the knife. He smiled as he raised it. Then-
“SURPRISE!!! WE GOT YOU YOU MAD BASTARD! OH MY GOD THE LOOK ON YOUR FACE.. WE JUST PRETENDED IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD AND EVERYONE WAS DEAD BUT IT’S ACTUALLY YOUR BIRTHDAY!! AHAHAHA, I’VE GOT TO UPLOAD THIS VIDEO RIGHT NOW… HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRO. YOU’RE AN ACTUAL LEGEND.”