The Whistle by Riley Shaw

The streets were empty as she trod alone along the vegetated roads, hopping roots and branches that extended from buildings and cracks. Lila had roamed these streets before but her memory failed her every time she awakened in the barren city, leaving her aimless and alone. Her grandmother had wandered these streets in the times before, begging for food and water outside the cafés and takeaways. Now they were all gone and they had taken the food with them, leaving Lila and her mother behind. Then her mother had left too and it was only her. No food, no water – her ribs like a blanketed xylophone and her legs like bamboo, widening only at the knees.

            She fumbled through the remains of a small café for scraps, nibbling at moulded pastries her nose and eyes warned her against but her stomach demanded she eat. It’s the last of it all, there was nothing left here and so she returned to the streets. Her cracked nostrils guiding her forwards and her eyes scanning for anything, something: a sign, a place, a memory, hope, nothing.

            The grey sky let down a gloomy light and the shattered windows painted black shapes on the street floor and on the sides of the towering buildings that surrounded her – shapeless shadows, no humanity to them, no movement to them. She stopped at the thought of a noise and when she turned to one of the shoe shops she halted at the sight of a figure within the darkness, motionless and stiff. She creeped forward into the shop, its glass windows and doors shattered long ago and their remains softened and scattered by time. The further she moved, the more the darkness drowned her and she suddenly felt in danger; she sniffed heavily but a trap left a scent and she smelled none. Her eyes adjusted as she moved further in. She saw what the figure was. The skeletal remains were barked like a tree and covered with mould that had sucked away all signs of bone, leaving a body fossilised by vegetation. No holes for the eyes or mouth, but the wooden face appeared to scream silently at its perish. Feeling the shadow’s pointed fingers reaching for her, Lila scampered out and back into the daylight.

            The sun was retreating behind the high rises and Lila grew tired and wary and so she turned and set her path back to her home but was stopped in her motion by a distant sound only she could hear. She raised her head a moment, waiting for it to sound again. A whistle, again, a long, dragging, high pitched whistle, coming from the way she had been heading. Against her instinct she followed the noise and came to a block of flats where she waited again for it to sound. Upstairs. She dashed for the stairs, hopping fallen bodies, all vegetated like the one in the shop, all with faces like wooden masks that yelled out for her as she ran past with all her energy. By the time she reached the flat with the whistling she had just enough left in her to shift open the slanted rotten door and enter.

            The flat smelled unfamiliar to her, a scent she had never smelt before – one of life. She walked on the grey carpet up to a chair that faced a glass door to the balcony. Outside she saw various solar panels and when she approached them, she halted at the face that rotated to look at her. An elderly man sat upon the chair, the whistle in his hand.

            ‘Who’s there?’ He said in an aged voice. Lila was silent and motionless, but her breathing was heavy from climbing the stairs. ‘Come here so I can feel your face’.

He outstretched his hand. She approached him and placed her head into his palm as he began to sniffle, scratching her mud ridden fur. He stared off out of the balcony, stroking her gently with his hand as she laid by his feet and fell into a resting, protected sleep.

About This Piece

I write a lot about the end of the world. It’s an interesting subject because of how unpredictable it is. There are a million things that could end the world, and a billion things that could happen next. This idea came to me when I was working on a longer piece that I ended up losing enthusiasm for about nature fighting back. I wanted a story of humanity ending but couldn’t come up with a beginning or middle, only an end. This is the end. Originally meant to be a man wondering a world that he had helped cause the destruction of. Maybe part of me just clicked and decided a dog written like a human would be more interesting and offer a fresher perspective on the typical post apocalypse. Or maybe I just watch too many dog videos on Facebook and they’re permanently on my mind now. Either way, I ended up with ‘The Whistle’ as opposed to my previous idea, which I might go back to at some point if I get the inspiration to. No project is truly failed, just set aside to be thought about another day, or another year.

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