Valley of the Elk

My name is Ezekia. I am young. This is what I know. There were more humans once, but now there are not. My father told me of a time when there were billions of people on this earth. Billions. It’s a number I cannot understand. I am the last of my kind. It has been years (I believe — there is no time anymore) since I last saw another human being. I write this on the note pages of a book once owned by my father in hopes that there are others out there, beyond my immediate grasp, people who may one day find this journal and know that I lived. I have only one pencil, this one I use now, and after it’s gone I will be nameless in the wilderness.

This is my home, the valley of the elk. There are thousands of elk, and they stay in this verdant valley with its clear, cool river as long as the eye can see. I share it with wolves, bears, cougars, eagles, migrating birds of sorts, trout, small mammals, snakes, and insects. I hunt but I am sometimes the hunted. My father taught me many survival skills after we fled the city with twenty others and made our new home in the mountains. I can hunt, fish, chop wood, start a fire, build a shelter, find fresh water, gather non-poisonous berries, defend myself, and create instruments and clothing from the bones and hide of the elk I kill. The only thing I can’t do is talk to my father or another human being. I speak my words, but there is no voice to converse with me. The elk listen and know that I am hungry, and one of their herd members will sacrifice itself for me so that I can live. That is how I live, but why I want to live I cannot answer.

My mother died when I was born. I didn’t kill her; my twin sister did. My father says she didn’t want to be born and so she stayed in my mother’s belly. My mother’s screams could be heard bellowing through the mountains, and it is said that all the wild animals fled in terror of her great pain. My father – how he was able to do this I don’t know – sliced open my mother’s huge, pulsating belly with a hunting knife, reached in to her warm, bloody uterus, and yanked out my sister. They say there was so much blood that it formed a river and tumbled down the mountainside to become a lake surrounded by tall evergreen trees with red-tipped leaves. My mother died, my sister died, and I became a twin without a twin.

My father and the other community members doted on me. I was the only baby in the group; there would be no others, ever. Those who survived the running disease that consumed the cities became sterile. It was deemed a miracle that my mother conceived, and because I lived, I became a child of all.

We thought we were safe; we thought we ran far enough, hid ourselves well enough, but there were those who found us, people from the dying cities, people with the possibility of gestating the running disease, so we did things we never would have done in our other lives. I say we because even though I was a child and didn’t do these things, I was a part of the enclave and so bear responsibility for the actions as well. They are entrenched in my very being and I live with the scars of what was. I will say it simply – we killed them. They asked for sanctuary, and we killed them, burned their bodies in a clearing in the forest far to the east of us, and piled rocks upon their ashes. We said no prayers over their dead bodies; we walked away and believed we were safe.

The running disease found us anyway. We killed our own people to save the rest, but it didn’t help. One by one, our community withered away until there was only my father and me. When I saw the blood trickling from his ears, he cried. I killed my father to spare him the abomination his body would become. And then I waited for the first signs of blood to flow from my body. I waited and waited. No blood left my ears, my mouth, my nose, my eyes, my anus, my vagina. No blood seeped from underneath my fingernails and toe nails. No blood spurted from my hair follicles. My lungs didn’t gurgle with blood. My bones didn’t melt. I stayed whole. I stayed alive. In the midst of human ruins, I lived. Perhaps because, as the old woman with one eye said, I was protected by God. Not that anyone believed in such a deity anymore. But here I am, one human being, alone in a vast world of wild things.

My pencil is wearing down. I wonder if my words on these pages will survive beyond my life. I wonder does it matter. One day I will grow old or weak, and the bear, the wolf, or the cougar will kill me and eat me and call me a decent meal because of the low energy expended in hunting me. I will be no more. Should I be sad? I think I am always sad. I miss my father. I miss the sound of his deep voice, the caress on my cheek with his rough-hewn hands, the pat on my head when I learned a skill he thought necessary in this world, his long stride through the village, his willingness to help others in need, his strong, muscled back and chest that projected the kind of invincibility that nothing could bring down.

But a small bug did just that. A small bug eradicated the human race . . . except for me. Why? There is no answer. Just as there is no answer as to where this supernatural bug came from. Chemical warfare gone awry? Insecticide gone maniacal? A natural occurrence? Alien invasion? I only know it kills, and there was no stopping it. Perhaps it kills no more. Perhaps it has done its evilness and withered away for lack of human victims. It doesn’t affect the animal world; everything not human goes about its daily ritual of living.

Sometimes I would like to die. I will never again feel the warm arms of the woman who took care of me while my father was away hunting, exploring, searching for another way. I will never again hear the laughter of the men as they sat around a fire. I will never again hear Junie sing the songs of her heritage. Sometimes I listen to the howl of the wolf in the night and think what it would be like to be wild, to be an integral part of the land I walk on, to be undaunted in my domain. I am only one girl in the valley of the elk. A stranger who cannot feel the vibrations of the planet as it moves on its orbit. I can know this, but I cannot feel it. I cannot hear the call of my ancestors who tell me where I should go and when, how I should live, how I should create my own existence among others.

My name is Ezekia. I am alone. This is all I know.

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