Breaking the Silence

HANNA WAGNER


We knew, by then, that there was no one else. But we never stopped searching. It was the only thing we could do, without ending up mad or dead like the rest of them. We would walk the tracks until the end of the line, and then we’d find another to follow. We’d been doing it for years, surely, by then.

There were only three of us left, then. We tried not to give into it; the silence. But we ran out of things to talk about.

At first it was easy. We talked about our theories, our hopes, our fears. We would tell each other what we would do once we found others, once all of this blew over. Then we told each other about our lives. What we missed, what we didn’t, what our professions used to be. We talked about airplanes, late-night phone calls, fireworks. We talked about surfing and mountain climbing and training for marathons. We talked about love. We talked about children.

But soon we found that the same things came up, over and over again. We started telling stories only to stop, realising we’d told them already. And as we went, our numbers grew smaller and smaller, and we had fewer and fewer stories to tell. We talked about the trees. We talked about the tracks. We talked about trains. We even talked about the words graffitied on the walls of concrete, on the pavement in the road, scratched into the dirt, torn across the houses in a thousand shades of red. Once, we tried reading those aloud too. We never did that again.

We talked about the trees. We talked about the tracks. We talked about trains. But the one thing we never talked about was the possibility of never finding anyone else.

We soon fell as silent as the world around us. First for minutes, then hours, then days at at a time. It lasted three weeks, once, only to be broken by someone stumbling on loose gravel.

But once there were just us three, we all knew our wanderings would get us nowhere. But we were all that was left. And we weren’t about to talk about stopping. Because, yes, endless walking was laborious, yes, it wasn’t going to get us anywhere, and yes, it may have killed us, but there were billions that came before us, and none that would come after. Our lives were going to end, and they were to be the last of the human race. It wasn’t just our own lives we were in charge of anymore. All we could do was go out in search of survival.

So we walked the tracks. We stopped trying to figure out where we were, or where we were going. It was quite possible that we had walked that same stretch of track before. But it didn’t matter. We didn’t care anymore. We were just tired.

We set up camp as the shadows grew long. When we finally settled in there were hints of color in the sky. I’m not sure when I stopped paying attention to the sunsets. But I wasn’t about to start.

In the morning we packed up like we had done a thousand times before. When you do something that many times, you stop thinking about it. And somehow that made it just that much harder to bear.

Then we were walking. I used to think that I would walk until we found others, or else lost faith in going on. But I was wrong, because we had no faith, and certainly didn’t believe we would find anyone else. And yet, we were still walking. Because it was the only thing we had left.

It was us three for a long time. One day, we were two. I don’t think I remember his name.

But the third of us, he knew him quite well. They were brothers. Although his mind was as far gone as mine, he still remembered what that meant.

Never. He said to me. And I felt betrayed, for we were never to speak of those things. In fact, we weren’t to speak at all. I walked, and he sat on the tracks I never saw him again.

I know, now, the truth of those years. And I see that there is an irony to my story.

In our wanderings, we had always avoided danger in our efforts to stay alive. To save the human race. We had talked of everything, everything that we could have talked about. But just when we stopped talking, just when we had lost hope, almost all who were left died on those train tracks. And that was what we’d never talked about. The one question we’d never asked:

Who was driving the train?

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