The nuclear war came... leaving in its wake shadows doomed to linger.
A sudden gust of wind swept the park, raising clouds of dust and withered grass. The chains of the swing dangled like a hanged man in the last spasms of agony.
Wind from the West, thought Nadia. She sighed. It truly didn't matter from which direction the winds came. The elements of nature told the same hackneyed story of a moribund world she knew too well. Everything was part of a movie she had already seen. A movie projected around her in black and grey by the rays of a dying sun, struggling to penetrate the festering duvet of dark clouds above her head.
"Oh, heya, Nadia. There you are!"
The girl ran a finger through her hair. Same show, same audience. "Of course, I'm here, Rudolph. Wherever else do you think I could possibly go?"
The man shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps—Hawaii? I've heard the beaches are stunning in this season."
Her hand hit her forehead like a falling brick. "What season? We've got only one season nowadays. You do know this, don't you?"
"You mean the nuclear winter? Let's go skiing then!"
She rolled her eyes. "You know what? I wish someone could truly kill me. At least I won't have to endure your dumb jokes anymore." He chuckled, and Nadia watched him trying to tame a wild lock of hair hanging on his face. You really ought to cut your hair, flyboy she thought. The girl flinched. She was starting to sound like her mother. Her mother? What did she sound like? What did she look like? Nadia shrugged. She wouldn't recognize her mother, even if she met her in the flesh. One couldn't truly tell the difference of features between a radioactive speck of dust and another. So, she felt she could forgive Rudolph's lack of concern for his looks. They truly didn't matter. Even for her.
Smirking, Nadia gazed at her refined attire: the same, old uniform worn by students of the Muffley High School. And what about her hairstyle? She was certain it would've turned a lot of heads a quarter-century before. "Rudolph—why are we still here? Just to suffer?"
"This story again?" he snorted. "We've talked about this before. It's the nukes. Just like that poor sucker at Hiroshima—or was it Nagasaki? You know—the bomb went off with a flash. And then the only thing left of him was a shadow on a wall. Maybe something like that happened to us."
Nadia pursed her lips in a grin. "What are we, if not slaves to this torment?" For a minute, they just stared at each other in silence. Only the voice of the wind was allowed to be heard. "Do you remember, Rudolph, when the bombs fell?" she asked, turning her eyes away.
"As if it were yesterday, darling. We'd been at DEFCON 2 for days, and the seat of my plane and my ass had already become best of buddies."
She gestured in the air, as if she'd been turning the pages of an invisible book. "I was in the library. I had a tough test the next day. Just the thought of failing seemed to me like like—," she let a sad smile blossom on her lips "Like the end of the world".
"And then DEFCON 1! Boom! Out of nowhere! Scramble all fighters and take down the enemy bombers at all costs!" shouted Rudolph.
"It was almost daybreak. Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, my brain cells were screaming for mercy. And then the sirens. And mankind gets a permanent F in history."
Nadia watched the pilot's smile melt on his face like plastic in a searing heat. "I had one in my sights— almost ready to drop its souvenir on the city. My thumb was getting sweetly closer and closer to the red button—"
"But the nukes were quicker. And the EMP wave fried all your systems," said Nadia, butting in.
"Oh yeah. I lost control of my bird, plunged into the asphalt jungle, nicely lit by big mushrooms, and crashed—"
"Right into my school. The library, to be more precise".
Nadia grinned at the pilot, who put an arm behind his head. "Oh yes—well. Sorry about that".
The girl giggled. "How many times have you apologized to me in these years? This will be the hundredth—or the thousandth. How much time has passed?" Nadia felt a shiver in her bones that slowly melted in an uncomfortable sense of warmth. "I've lost the count, Rudolph. For me, I mean for us, time seems always still. Even the world feels static."
"You know that's not true, sugar. Last night I saw a pack of those rabid wolves tearing a deer to pieces right in front of the old supermarket. And did you know? The snow's finally torn down the roof of the stadium." He smiled warmly at her. "Something's changing in the world. People will one day get out of those bunkers and start rebuilding civilization in no time, you'll see."
"Is that right?" Nadia said, sarcastically. "Humankind will get out of their holes, and start digging holes again for each other. Individual against individual, family against family, group against group, tribe against tribe until one particularly vicious son of a bitch becomes king or even emperor." She strutted back and forth, waving her right index in the manner of that long-dead History teacher whose lessons used to bore her to death. "Then one day the peasants will realize that a pickaxe can pierce a skull as well as it breaks a rock. Therefore, they'll get a new leader. A president, perhaps, with his nice launch codes suitcase. Then he'll get bored to the point where pressing that tiny button won't seem such a bad idea. And boom! We know the rest". She stopped, opening her arms like a pop star trying to hug legions of her fans. "All of this just to see another day. At least we're out of that survival shit now, Rudolph."
The pilot clapped frantically "Ah, ah, well done Professor! You see? You can crack a joke if you want!" Nadia threw her head slightly back and smiled. She couldn't deny she felt flattered by the pilot's words. If even a single drop of blood was running through her veins, she was sure she could've even blushed.
"But, isn't that good news?" asked Rudolph.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if men come back we'll have someone to scare. Isn't that what ghosts are supposed to do?" Nadia chuckled and reached out for the pilot's cheek. She felt a sting of sadness piercing her as the fingers met no resistance.
"Rudolph, my good Rudolph. Look around you. Do you really think you could ever be scarier than this?"