A story of 948 words written for The Writer's Cramp Challenge 9/4/19.
| The Backpack
The backpack - the one that hadn't been there a few moments ago - leaned against the tree trunk as if taking a rest. Funny thing was, I thought I'd been the last person alive on this earth for the past three years.
I scanned the surroundings. There had to be someone... somewhere. I must have slipped up, become sloppy in making observations. If I wasn't alone, I was going to have to be much more careful in future.
There's nothing other than emptiness as far as I can see. Just trees that have seen better days, bushes that have been left to sprawl unchecked and stretch their way across paths and highways. It does not look like anyone other than myself has passed this way for a long time.
Cautious still, I step towards the backpack. I'm nervous, but then who wouldn't be coming across something like this in an entirely desolate landscape? I take another step towards it and then another. There is something so familiar about it, that backpack. I am sure I have seen it before.
My hand shakes as I reach out towards the fabric. I had a backpack identical to this; I remember it now. It was the one I always took out with me if I had any place to go. It's only when it is in my hands that I realize it is not only like my backpack, but it is my backpack.
How has it got here?
I pick it up, ease open the zip. I'm ready to pull my hand back, to drop it and run, should something move. Only when it opens does my tension dissolve. I am looking at some of my own stuff. A jacket, worn and comfortable; ideal for the chill of the nights. A torch that charges by sunlight that my dad had bought for a birthday gift - what was it, four, five years ago? We had known then that things were not going to last, I guess. We'd just not been prepared for the moment when everything came crashing down around us.
There are socks, warm ones, thick and cushioned. Without even thinking, I sit down, take off my boots and remove the pair I'm already wearing, They have become more hole than material, so long have I worn them. I'd never have believed what bliss a new pair of socks could bring. Not much more inside, I think, so I pause to pull on my boots once more. I'm still not entirely convinced that I won't have to make a dash for it.
I take one final look and that's when I see it. A framed photograph that shows me, standing between my mother and father. There is no doubting it now, for in my hands I hold proof that this stuff is not just like my own, but is my own.
There is a shimmer, a movement in the air, but there is nothing there. Nothing substantial, at least. The movement of particles, or whatever it is that I am seeing, continues. Blurry, shadowy patches draw together, pull apart and rearrange before drawing back together. I'm torn between terror and fascination.
Just one word and yet it means so much. Not only is it the first word I've heard that has not come from my own mouth in three years, but I recognize the voice. It belongs to my Dad.
I look up, chewing my lip, afraid of what I am going to see. It's just my Dad, the same as always. He's not decayed, has not rotted from the passing of time, and it is obvious why. He has no substance, but is wispy, cloudy... a ghost.
"Dad?" My question comes out as not much more than a whisper. "How is this possible?" I look from him, to the photo, to the backpack with it's pocket hanging open. Have I finally gone insane? Have I been driven completely crazy by the loneliness?
"It took a lot of effort," he says. I'm not sure if his voice is loud, or whether he is just conversing with me inside my own head. To be honest, I don't care which it is. "I can move things but it takes a lot of energy. It has taken me all this time to catch up." He seems exhausted by those words.
"I don't understand... " It was a hard thing to admit, but this, his appearance together with the backpack, was too much for me to take. I sit down, bury my head in my hands and weep.
Ever since that first day when I found myself alone, everyone else either dead or disappeared, I've not allowed myself to cry. Now, it seems, I simply cannot stop.
He sits beside me, my father. I can sense him rather than feel him there. Just waiting patiently for me to get a grip, that is what he is doing. I allow my body to lean towards him. Of course, there is no contact, not physical, but there is a warmth, a feeling of peace.
"I wasn't going to leave you on your own." Dad's voice seems stronger now, but perhaps I've just given it more power simply by being prepared to listen. "I knew eventually I would catch you up."
"And you brought this as proof," I observed, for how else would I have been able to believe what I was seeing?
"It would have been so much quicker without it," he says, a touch of laughter in his voice. "I won't leave you again."
And maybe I am mad. Perhaps the whole thing is all in my mind; but at least I am no longer alone.