Writing

Short Story: The Last of Us

She locked herself into her room after a bad dinner. Her parents were still shouting in the other room, and she could hear her older brother escaping out through his window. She opened her closet and pulled out her grandpa’s ham radio set. It was in an old suitcase which had come with the receiver, transmitters, and mic. Her father had set up an antenna on their roof for nostalgic reasons. He used to do this with gramps. Her mother hated the huge thing, saying it made the house ugly and to stand out. And there had been more fighting.

Grandpa was now gone. She wished she was gone too. She flipped the receiver on and began searching for a distraction. The radio statistic drowned out her parents. The white noise sounded soothing and not like some scary horror movie thing as her brother had tried to convince her. He had forced her to watch this movie where the dead communicated and hunted through the white noise. Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen.

Lara and Mathew and a few other usuals were on the line, but she didn’t feel like talking to them. She wanted something new. Something saying a change was possible. She came across the usual frequency, which always acted erratically. This time she didn’t just move on. She tried to amplify the signal. Not that there was much she could do. But unlike before, she tuned in, trying to decipher what was going on and collect the courage to say something. Not that anyone would answer, hopefully not gramps as her brother always teased her.

“Hello,” she said, feeling silly.

Luckily, nothing answered back. She reached for the dial to continue down her search, but there was a flip.

“If someone is listening to me, you are not coming through fully.”

Another flip and a sequence of pips.

“I cannot do Morse code.”

Pip. Pip. Piiip. 

“If you are being funny, you are not. And if you are my brother, you…” She never got to finish her sentence. The room’s walls faded away, and she saw a bright blue sky against a scorched ground. She let go of her mic and jumped up to back out, only to run into something soft and huge. She didn’t want to turn around but ignoring that something behind her which breathed was moronic. Also, it had been stupid to throw away the mic. If she dashed, then…

“H-e-l-l-o-o-o-u,” something said, pronouncing every letter as if they were a great mystery.

There was no way she was going to turn around now.

“Hel-louuu?” that something tried again. “M-o-r-s-e?” it added.

“If you are going to eat me or kill me or something, then please do it quickly.”

“No e-a-t. Talk. Said right?” there was a question mark at the end, or she was sure there was one.

“Yeah, I guess you said it right. I am going to turn slowly now.” She had to risk it at some point. It didn’t sound like whatever was behind her was going to follow some splatter movie plotline. No one asked questions before they chopped your head off with a chainsaw.

She turned around to find a creature that looked like a mollusk and human combined into one being, standing there with its four legs. It stared intensively with its two huge round eyes with vertical black irises at her. Its skin was bumpy and grey with little electric blue and white patches. 

“What are you?” the mollusk asked. Its English improving with every second it spent with her.

“I could ask the same. But I guess you can say I am a human and a girl and a daughter and sister.”

“Are you intelligent?” the mollusk asked.

“Humans?” She was sure it didn’t mean her personally. Not that her answer would differ that much either way.

“Yes?” Again, there was the question mark. It was still searching for concepts to portray what it wanted.

“Most would say yes, but I highly doubt it.” She couldn’t help herself. And not that she was lying. She actually thought that humans were dumb.

“Oh.” The mollusk made one of its legs wave towards her. She could see all its suckers.

“Is this sarcasm?” it asked after a while.

She was sure it was reading her mind. That it somehow sensed the way she spoke and what she knew. Or parts of it, at least.

“No, not sarcasm, just the sad truth.” She tied her hands over her chest. Not sure why. The mollusk against the blackened earth and the turquoise sky made her question her sanity.

“Are you kind?” It blinked its eyes and blew air out of its side blowholes. She wasn’t sure where its voice came from. But it was like it came inside her own head. That the ever so slightly changing color scheme might be how it spoke with its kin.

“I guess I could be, but I can be…” She searched for the right words, but none would describe all the small failures she did because of her and her situation. That some days, she couldn’t control what she did and said and ended up hurting others. “I try to be,” she ended up saying.

“Humans?” it tested her.

“Can be, but as a whole, no, not really.”

It nodded along with her words, seeming to understand what she tried to say. “Can I?” it asked and looked at its tentacle and then to her.

She flinched. She couldn’t help it. But tranquility emanated from the mollusk, and she was sure she would be alright. She nodded. The mollusk moved one of its feet forward and put the suckers on her cheek. She saw how the planet had died under the mollusk. How its kin had destroyed their civilization gradually. It was the only one left to witness what had followed. Tears poured down its eyes when it let its tentacle fall off her cheek.

“I,” she said, but couldn’t finish.

The room came back, and she sat next to her ham radio in the suitcase. Everything felt like a dream, but she could see the mollusk turn around and walk away. Its words echoed inside her head, “Thank you. I hope you will do better. But remember, without empathy, you will perish.”

The ham radio let out a burst of white noise, and then it went quiet. 

The window next to her room shook, meaning her brother was coming home. She glanced at her clock radio, and it was half-past one a.m.

She got up and knocked at the wall next to hers. “Are you alright?” she asked as loudly as possible, yet not so loud that she would wake up her parents.

“Sure,” her brother replied.

“Good.”

Thank you for reading, have a great day and if you find a mollusk, wave a hand. It might reply back.

P.S. Sorry about the similarity to the short story before this one. I am still stuck with the idea of alien intelligence and seeing different as monstrous.

© K.A. Ashcomb

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