Episode 02: Jack The Journeyer
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“I did this?” I thought to myself. “I was the one responsible for the stone pillars piercing the sky, the surreal climate that was all around me, the shattered roads, and the destruction of a city?”

While I did not doubt that I could shift the matter of the Earth delicately and closely enough to cause all of this to happen, the scale of this made such a theory implausible.

I did this? How did I do all of this?”

“I’m… not sure,” Jack murmured, “but 7 years ago, something happened. People called it a lot of things, but most, or at least I think most, call it the Cataclysm.”

“So you mean to tell me that I did all of that 7 years ago, but don’t remember it?”

“Yeah. It took a few weeks, and… everything was destroyed. The world was tilted, cities were demolished, billions died, and climates were wildly changed. I mean, this place used to be a desert. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but they all say this happened because of Abigale Quinlan. A powerful immortal who destroyed militaries and the world’s defenses. So, I was surprised when I saw you… like that.”

I left Jack where she stood as I began pondering her words, wandering in an indiscriminate direction. I did not want to believe what she said. About the world being destroyed, about so many deaths, and about me causing it. I had zero recollection of it and knew that such a feat on a global level was well beyond even my own powers, or at least it was within the time limit of 7 years. I wondered if she was lying to me, but why would she do such a thing? What could she possibly gain by lying to me?

As I began trying to decipher the question and examine her possible motives, it became apparent to me that she was likely telling the truth. That I really was the one responsible for all of this… that I destroyed this world I’d seen grow over the centuries, and that I’ve abruptly ended more lives than even I could conceivably fathom.

This feeling melded with the frustration and fear that came with the loss of my powers. I was weak. I was vulnerable. I lacked the mental fortitude to reassure myself, and I could feel myself slipping. I began trembling, my breathing became uneven, and my facial composure suffered. I tried to steady myself, but that just brought me further unease.

“This was my fault,” I thought to myself, “hundreds of years of progress, of collective culture. All shattered by me… for a reason that I could not even remember.”

“Heh. Hehehe… Hehehe… Hahahahahahahaha!” I laughed to myself as I buried my face in my hands.

“I really did this, didn’t I? I ruined everything. Society, the government, the global infrastructure that has developed over centuries, it’s all gone. All thanks to me. Whatever happened, I need to… no. Before anything else, I need to be me again.”

“I need to regain my power. That is all that matters. That is all that matters for now.”

Upon saying those things, speaking out loud for my own sake, I realized that I was nearly a kilometer away from where Jack and I emerged from the facility. Yet she was still by my side, looking at me with a troubled expression, and a layer of sweat on her forehead. I must have moved faster than she was used to and tired her out.

“I need to get going. Thank you again for your assistance, Jack.” I said those words intending on our relationship ending right there, but she did not let me get so much as a step away from her before she pleaded with me to stop.

“Wait! Can… can I come with you?”

I sighed before responding to her.

“I have no desire to look after someone else, especially in my current situation. However, considering you saved my life, I do owe you a favor of lesser or equal magnitude. I will allow you to accompany me on my journey. But why would you want to?

“Well, I… I don’t want to be alone again. And I can’t go back to the foundation… I just can’t.” Jack said before turning her head to the ground, either sulking or examining the grass and weeds beneath her.

“Understood,” I quickly replied. “I will set a pace maintainable by someone of your stature. Come along now.”

With that, Jack began scampering up to me but quickly fell about a meter behind me. I took it as her finding me to be an intimidating figure, and I could not disagree. Even without my powers, I had been looked at harshly throughout my life. My face bore features many found intimidating, my red eyes had a tendency to unnerve people, my stature towered over most people, and many simply reacted negatively to the color of my skin.

Our walk carried on in silence as I took in the world around me and observed how nature retook this land that humankind once claimed, while also being able to observe the effects of their disappearance. Most notably through the air. It was refreshing, crisp, and devoid of the pollution that lingered in it over the past two centuries. I could not tell if this was lost on Jack, but I paid her little mind beyond an occasional glance to confirm that she was still behind me.

After about fifteen minutes of this, Jack shuffled over to my side and began murmuring. She spoke in a whisper at first, struggling to find her speaking voice before being able to form a cohesive sentence.

“Um, I’m just wondering if you could, while we’re traveling, tell me where you came from and where you got your powers in the first place. Well, before you lost them anyway.”

“Heh,” I snickered. “I’d like to know that myself, but where I came from and how I obtained these powers are two mysteries I could never solve. All I know or remember is that one day I existed, and I’m not even sure what year it was. My memories begin in Europe during the cusp of the seventeenth century. The world was ripe with innovation and discovery, the modern age was well on its way, the Italian renaissance was holding one last hurrah, and the French Holy Wars were nearing their conclusion. A new world was being explored and eventually colonized, et cetera, et cetera.”

“I have existed for centuries, and in my time I have seen revolutions spring up, kingdoms crumble, civil wars tear nations apart, the heights of dynasties, and even explored a continent before it had been ‘settled’ by western invaders. I was there to see what many would describe as turning points in history and met with many influential people in my time. I could go on and on for days about my past, though I can’t say I’m proud of all of it.”

“While I try to remember the finer moments, the nights I spent with kings and the days I spent conversing with artists of nigh unreachable talents, there are other things I would rather not dwell on. Some foul revolutions I foolishly supported, the good men I harmed in some ways, the lives I ended, and the way others treated me throughout my life. I trust I need not explain to you the injustices a woman of indiscernible ‘foreign’ descent would experience while traveling a world that viewed both of those things as signs of a lesser being. Let alone the treatment I received once those same people discovered that I could easily turn water into wine, dirt into bread, and survive incineration. Some thought me to be a god, but most branded me as a witch, devil, or a member of daemon-kind.”

“As my life went on, as I was rejected, and as I was abused, I developed a sense of bitterness towards humanity, one that was only enhanced after seeing the same mistakes from centuries past repeat themselves, and witnessing the many atrocities that came during the first half of the twentieth century with my own eyes. Considering how cynical and nihilistic I was at that time, the thought of me demolishing the entirety of the world almost seems plausible. Almost. While I… was the most powerful being on the planet, this level of destruction is leagues beyond anything I was capable of. I could turn a small nation into something like this over the course of a year or so, but from what you’ve told me, I managed to do this to the entire world in a matter of weeks.”

I let out a small gasp of relief as I reached the end of my truncated life story. In my attempt to recall the details of my life, I realized that my memory was littered with holes. Decades were absent from my mind, and the names of people who I once considered to be dear friends had been eliminated from my recollection. It was more than my memories, though. Concepts, figures, and formulas that I had once internalized and knew very well were absent from my mind. Even my understanding and grasp of languages had worsened. While it was difficult for me to accept that I had lost my powers, things that made me who I was, the idea of losing elements of my mind, of my very self, was even more distressing.

I was unnerved, but I did not express these feelings in front of Jack though. I remained stoic in my expression as I continued walking forward.

“Wow. So how old are you then?” Jack questioned me with a speck of awe in her voice.

I held my tongue as I considered verbally lashing out at her. While it was simple to infer my age based on what I said, I provided her with a lot of information. She looked like an adult, yet likely never even began her secondary education based on her age and the timetable she presented me.

“I am well over 400 years old.” I curtly stated. “I could not give you a more specific number than that though. I very well may have existed for thousands of years, though if I did, I have no memory of doing so. My past is a long and storied one, but rather than dwelling on what is ancient history at this point, I would like to know about what happened regarding this… Cataclysm.”

Jack almost flinched at my request, yet wasted little time responding to it.

“Well… it started on March 20th, 2015, and lasted for about a month. A massive solar flare wrecked most electronics useless worldwide, and then disasters started happening. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and… a lot of things I don’t know the names of. A lot of cities were reduced to rubble, some fell down into the earth, and others burned. Fires broke out in forests, floods happened in places they never did before, storms were wild, and winds tore homes from their foundation. Blizzards followed and froze places that had been flooded, and heat waves caused droughts in other places. Then… things started getting weird after that. Climates changed, these pillars rose from the ground, and giant holes started popping up.”

“Or in summary,” I began, “I enacted every natural disaster around the world, and society was ill-equipped to handle an onslaught of devastating events the likes of which had never been seen. Afterward, I transformed the landscape and climate of the world into what it is now. Assuming what you are saying is possible, as such things are well beyond my powers as I knew them, how is it that you know my true name? I have not used it in decades.”

“When you were destroying the world, you spoke down to people from the sky. I actually remember seeing you once. You were floating beneath a spiraling black cloud, and said something about beginning a new era, one ruled by the ‘almighty Abigale Quinlan.’ However, you sounded… strange when you said that. You did not sound like you do now.” Jack said with a level of uncertainty, as if she was not sure what she saw was real.

“How did the Cataclysm end? What happened after the month passed?”

“Well, the disasters just stopped,” Jack began. “Nobody was sure what happened, at least, nobody outside of the Flare Foundation. They were keeping track of you during those attacks and found you in the… remains of New York. The city, the state, and portions of other states were all destroyed by a massive explosion. One they think you were responsible for. Water covered the ruins, and they had to use a submarine to find you buried beneath the rubble. The Foundation then brought your unconscious body to their Arizona base. The one we just left.”

I stopped myself from asking how this place was supposed to be Arizona, as its cool and crisp climate was a far cry from the dry and hot atmosphere of most desert environments. The vegetation was not right, the dirt was not right, and even the mountains in the distance did not look right either.

“Once you were captured, the Foundation began doing experiments on you, trying to find the source of your powers. But they couldn’t figure it out. The scientists did test after test, but they could not determine what made you so different from a regular human. Then Miss Flare, the leader of the Foundation, suggested they try… breeding you, your body, with other people. But that didn’t work either. Still wanting to take control of your power she, um, well, she bred you with…”

“Myself,” I interjected. “I will explain the details at a later time.”

“Um… okay. Anyway, Miss Flare had you give birth to seven children over the past 7 years. One of them was born prematurely and perished. I actually saw them die and saw what happened to their remains. They decayed into ash, and you… your body absorbed them. It’s why I had you kill your seventh child. Up until her birth a week ago, you would still rapidly heal yourself from any wound the Foundation gave you. When I saw you… like that, I figured the only way to save your life was to kill your child. I thought about doing it myself, but… I just couldn’t.”

I remained silent as I digested this information with my reduced mental capacities, losing myself in thought, slowing my pace, and drifting my eyes across the scenery once more. At the uneven ground before me, the massive pillars that cast a westward shade, and at the vibrant plant life that surrounded me, namely the trees. I quickly noticed how the leaves on one particular tree were changing from their usual green to a bright and vibrant array of colors. It was such a simple sight, an obvious sign of the change of the seasons, but it was a constant that I’d grown to appreciate over my years. After plucking an innocuous orange leaf from a small tree, I resumed walking and replied to Jack.

“Why would you ever want to save me though? As far as you know, I am the one responsible for the Cataclysm. The deaths of billions. The destruction of modern civilization.”

“That’s true, I guess,” Jack said as she looked away from me. “But I didn’t think you were a bad person. You didn’t speak with malice when I saw you float through the sky, and you seemed harmless during the 6 years I saw you at the Foundation. I wanted to get to know you, talk to you, ask you why all of this happened, and see if there is a way you could help the world, as, well, things have not been too good. I guess you could say I put a lot of hope into you… when I really had no reason to. Heh.”

“So, you regularly saw me for 6 years?” I asked after a brief stretch of silence.

“Well, yeah. Miss Flare brought me into her Foundation about a year after the Cataclysm. She gave me a lot of jobs to do. I had to clean this and that, work the radio system, do laundry for the soldiers, help out in the kitchen, and also look over you and your children… at least before they all escaped.”

“My children escaped!? How could your people allow that to happen?”

“In short, they were not the most, um, competent organization… and now I’ll never see them again. Or Miss Flare herself… Wow.”

“Do you know where my children went?”

“No, not really. They probably have not gotten too far, considering how hard it is to find transportation, but the Flare Foundation actually stopped looking for them after the third child escaped. Too often search parties wound up dead, and the Foundation can’t really afford to throw away lives so carelessly. For the next two children, they tried earning their favor and making sure they wanted to stay but, well, they still escaped.”

“While they may have given up hopes of apprehending my escaped children, I doubt they would extend the same luxury to me. I would not be surprised if a search party was indeed looking for us now. Jack, do you have any destinations in mind that we could travel to, or shall we continue wandering?”

“Um… I have no idea where we are or where we’re going. I was just following you. I mean, you seemed pretty confident in heading north.”

I held my tongue as I prepared to tell Jack I had no idea where I was going either, and asked myself why I was going in this direction. I had no knowledge of where I was and had gone out of my way to avoid the dilapidated city I saw over the horizon. The answer to what was drawing me to this location eluded me for longer than it should have, but I soon discovered the answer.

When I encountered my seventh offspring, I felt a connection with them, I could feel their location, and in a vague manner, I felt part of myself in them. It was a sensation I had experienced multiple times in the past, during the many instances that resulted in my bodily parts being separated from me. My hands, my torso, my genitals, and even my entire body from the neck down were all separated from me at one point.

While this proved to be no issue due to my regeneration abilities, whenever my body was severed in such a manner, I could still sense every part of me, regardless of the physical barrier in between them. These children of mine are made entirely of my own cells. They are, extensively, my clones. So it is within reason to assume that they would behave similarly to parts of my person. They were parts of me, and I could feel where all of them were… loosely.

I explained this realization to Jack, who reacted with childish glee, commenting on how I was “the amazing Abigale”. I snickered at her enthusiasm.

As our conversation went into a lull, we developed a comfortable silence and I resumed examining my warped yet strangely beautiful surroundings. The lush climate continued to surprise me with its variety of vegetation, shifting seamlessly from cacti and desert flowers to deciduous trees and small berry-bearing bushes. It gave credence to Jack’s story, which I still had some trouble believing. She struck me as an earnest and honest person, but I still second-guessed both her and my own sense of judgment. Knowing that my intellect is a mere shadow of what it once was caused me to second guess some of my higher thought processes, such as judging one’s character, even though there truly was little reason for me to not believe her. After all, she left a place that presumably provided her with food, water, shelter, and more, and now here she was, by my side, with nothing but her clothes and backpack.

I pushed my suspicions and concerns aside as I continued to head northward, looking at and watching the scenery pass me by while making sporadic idle banter with Jack as the hours passed, and the sun rose high into the sky, and our path was uninterrupted by any other humans, let alone somebody from the Flare Foundation. However, we did encounter a few animals. Small rodents, birds, a herd of deer, several lizards, nothing too remarkable. Their numbers were small, but considering how much damage I had supposedly done to the Earth, I was not surprised to see their numbers dwindle. If billions of humans had died, even more animals would have along with them, and I’m sure that by disrupting the climate of the world that many species went extinct. It was yet another thing for me to blame on myself, along with the loss of decades of progress, a countless amount of history, and global infrastructure.

As we continued walking, Jack began digging through her backpack, revealing a canteen of water and a small container of dried nuts and fruits. She offered to share these with me, but I reassured her I was fine, as my body did not require any sustenance to function. Even though I felt a tad bit fatigued and parched after all this walking. I told her that it was important that she preserve what we could as we did not know when or where we would happen across our next meal. Unfortunately, she did not have much to preserve, as her backpack only contained a small amount of food and water, with most of its mass consisting of tools like her flashlight and binoculars. I would have scolded her for traveling so lightly, but I knew well enough that nothing about our escape and voyage was planned.

As the day went on, the distance between one of my children and I seemingly lessened, and our travels sent us wandering away from the unchecked wildness and into the remains of a small roadside town. The concrete and asphalt foundation of this worn settlement had been unheaved by determined vegetation, with bushes and trees growing in unexpected places, and vines enveloping partially dilapidated brick buildings. Buildings that clearly served as a shelter for animals, and likely a few humans, over the years. Windows were shattered, furniture was ravaged, and the large gas station that presumably was the cornerstone of this entire establishment had partially collapsed in on itself.

The entire place was in disrepair, with the majority of the 20 or so buildings that once made up this town being reduced to little more by rubble. Some from wear, others from weather, and two from giant stone pillars that penetrated through the roof and to the sky. It was not an ideal location to spend the night at, but with the sun low, this seemed like the best place to stay for a night. Certainly better than huddling up in the darkened wilderness while nocturnal predators prowled about for their next meal.

I admittedly could continue on my own, but I had to consider my traveling companion. After walking what had to have been at least 30 kilometers of rough terrain, Jack was exhausted. To the point where I assumed she would pass out if we went much further along our path. I let out a sigh before speaking to her.

“We’ll stay here for the night. We don’t know what could be wandering around these parts, so stay behind me as I investigate.”

Jack firmly nodded in response, only to pull out her crowbar from the side of her backpack, arming herself for any potential conflicts. I instinctively reached to the ground in an attempt to pull out a weapon of my own but stopped at my knees bent. Much like how I was unable to dash through this terrain at a speed beyond that of an Olympic runner, I was also unable to shape and form the matter around me.

Jack and I made our way to the local diner, which had seen a substantial amount of damage over the years. Chairs were scattered and most were broken, booths had been ruined by rubble, wildlife, and general wear, while the cracked tiles beneath my feet reeked from what I assumed to be a mix of animal waste and water damage. I was able to find a few things behind the main counter, including several coins, a few pens, a pad of discolored paper, a stack of menus, and three boxes of crayons, but little else beyond crumpled rubbish.

The kitchen was in better condition, but not by much. Pots, pans, and cans were seemingly scattered at random, utensils were covering the floor, and there was a pungent stench coming from a lot of this room. One that was especially potent around a sealed freezer door that I dared not open. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, I began searching through the various drawers for something valuable before discovering a lone serrated knife. With no way to reliably store it, I held the weapon in my hand as I left the dinner.

The next location was an insect-infested gas station that had been pillaged of its confectioneries excluding four cans of corn-syrup-filled carbonated beverages, a couple of sticks of gum, some mints, several stray candies, a container of cheese and crackers that was only still consumable due to the power of preservatives, and three ‘fun-sized’ bags of stale potato crisp that had been trampled on. Jack placed approximately half of those goods in her bag, and placed the others on the counter, saying that it was to make the search easier for the next group that passes through here. I mentioned the foolishness of such an action, but she turned her head away in response, as if her display of considerateness was embarrassing.

We then made our way to a decently sized home filled with tarnished memorabilia, dilapidated furnishings, and traces of lives that I either ended or merely ruined. Since then, this structure evidentially served as a home long after its original owners left it behind, with traces of people and animals alike spread throughout the dwelling. Unfortunately, while they had kept the home itself hospitable, the kitchen was devoid of even spices and the ground floor had been thoroughly plundered of survival aides.

My exploration of the second floor fared far better. While the first two bedrooms I explored were uninhabitable due to a collapsed exterior wall that gave way to disrepair, and the bathroom was infested with the pungent aroma of mold, the third bedroom of this home was among the most preserved things I had seen since I left the Flare Foundation. The walls were intact, the window frame remained solid even though the glass was cracked, and there was even a collection of toys and children’s books disheveled across the room. The sky blue walls were murky, everything was coated in a layer of dust, but the simple inclusion of a twin-sized bed that was neither water damaged or infested with some insect made this a pleasant enough location to spend the night.

Now that we secured shelter for the evening, our next goal became finding food and water, and while Jack did have enough to sustain her for at least a day or two, I did not want to leave anything of value behind in our journey. My first idea involved further salvaging, but upon glancing at the rest of buildings in this roadside settlement, most which had collapsed in on themselves, I realized there was likely nothing left. I thought about the wilderness, but during our travels earlier in the day, Jack and I were unable to find any wild fruits or vegetables. At least, nothing safe for human consumption. While she could eat leaves, bark, and wild cacti, I considered that a last resort. There was also the possibility of hunting for food, but I had relied so much on my abilities that my hunting skills were lacking, and any advice that I would have parted onto others was not present in my mind, much like my master’s level understanding of most scientific fields.

As I weighed the options, Jack called for me from downstairs, where she was exploring the home on her own. Upon moving away from a turned over cabinet with the help of her crowbar, she had uncovered a door to a basement. A basement with a collapsed ceiling that was only accessible through a small jagged crevice. Out of curiosity, Jack shined her flashlight through this hole and discovered that it led to a concrete floor on the other side

“Um, Abigale, there might be something in that basement, so could you…” Jack mumbled as she cocked her head in my general direction.

“Sure,” I said without waiting for her to finish her request.

I placed out my hand for Jack to give me her flashlight while nonchalantly plucking her crowbar from off the cabinet she placed it on. With these two tools in my hand, I began making my way through a narrow tunnel of dilapidated drywall, lumber, rubble, and metal, tearing away what I could while rubbing my exposed body against the debris, causing cuts to develop along my exposed arms, legs, and midriff. It was painful, but it was nothing that my body could not recover from, and after about a minute of crawling, I made it through to the other side.

Or to be more precise, I fell onto the cold concrete floor below, flopped onto my back, and laid there as my wounds healed, the blood I lost slowly making its way back to my body as the pain lingered in my person and I was reminded of everything I still lacked. My wounds were slower to heal themselves than I was accustomed to, and I still jolted as the small of my back brushed against the stone floor below. I sighed before beginning my search through this concrete room, a room that contained a washer, dryer, and an assortment of other things lined across shelves and in boxes, all coated in copious amounts of dust and cobwebs. It was a typical basement as far as I was concerned, but as I looked further, I saw something far more morose than a neglected room.

The skeletal remains of a human being were pressed against the wall, devoid of flesh, but still dressed in decaying clothing that covered their torso. Despite the garments, I could still tell that something had shattered this person’s leg, and it looked to have been an injury prior to their death. I initially assumed that this person must have broken their leg and died from blood loss, but then I saw a handgun. It was caked in dust, appeared to function, and had 11 rounds in it, as opposed to the 12 it could hold. It had been decades since I studied weaponry in any detail, and just as long since I held a firearm, but I was more vulnerable than I had been in centuries, in my entire life from what I could recall, and I knew that having a gun could prove to be very beneficial, so I checked it in as much detail as I could with the aid of flashlight before shoving it into my shorts

I sighed as I recalled the times I used a similar weapon to end the lives of human beings, hoping that I would never need to actually use this weapon to end the life of another, but quickly found my resolve, recalled what I came here for, and began searching a pantry… and a shockingly supplied one considering how barren the rest of the home was. There were several cans of beans, a bag of rice, a jar of honey, a sealed bag of dried fruit, and a dozen unopened bottles of water. How something like this remained hidden from scavengers for 7 years was a good question, but I truly did not care to find the answer. I found what I wanted, and I was ready to leave.

Upon spending an irritating long amount of time moving the non-perishables out of the basement, I turned over to Jack. She let out a childish giggle as she examined these goods, clearly understanding how fortunate she was to have them. She expectantly thanked me for finding all this food, several times, only for her expression to sour and her head to dip before asking me a question.

“Um… How do I cook rice without a stove?” Jack said, adopting an inflection more appropriate for a child half her age.

“Do you know how to start a fire?”

“…Not without a lighter… and I don’t have one.”

“…Okay. Get some wood and meet me in the backyard. Anything will do.”

While Jack gathered what she could, I sifted through the kitchen to find a pot and spoon that I brought out along with the bag of rice and a single bottle of water. I took them outside the rickety back door of this home and placed them aside while I prepared a place for the fire, gathering what sticks I could find in this largely undisturbed plot of dirt, grass, and weeds while Jack searched for wood. She came outside after a series of loud banging noises echoed from inside the home, barring the remnants of a wooden chair in her hands. I said nothing about that and simply began teaching her how to prepare a fire.

Seeing as how I had grown accustomed to igniting a fire with a mere snap of my fingers, the process took far longer than I had hoped, but eventually, I managed to guide Jack through the act and she started the fire on her own. Cooking the rice afterward was simple enough, and once it was done, she brought the pot back inside, where she began to scoop half the rice into a bowl with some canned beans that, thankfully, passed the smell test.

“Why aren’t you just eating out of the pot?” I asked Jack, who jumped in response.

“Well, I was going to, since we can’t really wash dishes anymore, but I wanted you to have your own bowl so—”

“I require neither food nor water. My body does not need any sustenance to function.”

“Oh, right. Well, even if you don’t need any, you’re probably pretty hungry.”

“Jack, we were fortunate to find this much food, but we should conserve it as best we can. Please eat the entirety of this meal by yourself, and if you made too much for a single serving, save what remains for tomorrow before we leave.”

“…Are you sure you don’t want to at least try it? It’s simple, but it tastes pretty good all things considered.”

“…Tell me, Jack, how old are you?”

“Um, I’m… I am twenty-one years old. Wow. I actually haven’t thought about my age for a while.”

“So you were only fourteen when the Cataclysm happened?”

“Um, I was actually thirteen back then. My birthday is in May. May 18th in fact. Right now, I think it’s October. October 10th, 2022. Maybe. It’s hard to keep track of the days sometimes.”

“So, I have technically been gone for seven and a half years then. Wonderful.” I said with more than a tinge of bitterness.

The conversation died out soon after my comment, and I left the room shortly thereafter, letting Jack eat alone. I stepped out to the backyard once again, drifting my boots through the weeds while looking upwards. Night had fallen just minutes ago, and the once colorful sky was now a navy backdrop interrupted with hundreds of tiny shining lights, and one giant one, a moon that shines brightly enough to cast shadows of the dilapidated landscape that surrounded this home. I observed the sight for several minutes, uncovering constellations I struggled to remember and had not seen in what had to be decades at the very least.

“The stars look beautiful tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many,” Jack meekly commented as she walked up to me.

Considering how young she was, I was not surprised. Due to the lack of harmful emissions released by automobiles, factories, and light pollution surrounding most urban and suburban centers, the night’s sky had become increasingly barren and orange for a significant portion of the global population. But now, it was clear once more. It was at least one good thing that came from all the destruction I caused, but as I brought my eyes down, and looked over the small settlement overrun with vegetation, illuminated by the effervescent glow of the moon, I grit my teeth. Whatever positives this Cataclysm brought were insignificant compared to the destruction it wrought, and I, more than anyone, should refrain from looking at this reshaped world in a positive light. I sighed, frustrated at my own lackluster mental faculties, before returning my attention to Jack.

“We should retire for the evening. We will leave at sunrise in order to make the most of our limited daylight and to cover more land. Hopefully, we’ll be able to locate my next child.”

“All right. Do you know how far away they are?”

“No, I cannot say that I do. But no matter what, I will find them.”

“I’m sure you will! I’m sure you can do anything you set your mind to! …Right, I should go to bed. Good night Abigale.” Jack said with a smile before she went back inside.

I remained outside for a while after that, choosing to walk over to the front of the house in order to better take in the world before me. It was a humbling view. One that showed the destruction of human progress and how it was reclaimed by nature within the matter of a few planetary cycles. It was the end result of a truly great disaster, but not one caused by humanity’s own greed, hubris, or stupidity. A disaster caused by me. Enraptured in a deep melancholy that I had intensified throughout the day, I returned to my dwelling for the night, muttering three words under my breath as I shut the door behind me, eager to retire for the night.

“I did this.”