Ruined World
3 / 5 / 7533 Aeris Era

Blasted ruins of Aeris

 

He sat on the hard wooden stool, the legs creaking mournfully as the braces separated and settled.  Just like this chair, he thought, the world is old and worn-out; a few more times around and it might collapse under my weight.  Resting one foot on the ground and one on the stool, he buried his fingers in his shirt pocket and drew the last cigarette out of his last pack of smokes.  Slowly he brought his hand to his mouth, trying to savor the texture of the thing in his fingers, the weight of it.  He noticed one of the bar patrons eyeing it greedily, and plopped it in his mouth to claim it.

He smiled, remembering the anti-smoking commercials the government had aired on television.  Smoking kills, they had preached to him.  Yet those same men had burned up the world, and they were the ones who were dead.  Smoking’s the one pleasure left to me, he explained to them, and if I die a little early, well, I won’t miss anything worth seeing. 

“Here’s Jakob, the only guitar player in the city that still has both his hands.  Make some noise for ‘im, will ya?”

Jakob drew the lighter from his pocket and ignited the end of the cigarette, smiling as widely as he could at the silent audience while still clenching it between his lips.  I wonder how long it’ll take me to find the next pack, he thought.  Hopefully I won’t run into any red men like I did last time. 

His smile faded as he remembered the fear, the coldness of the iron pipe in his hands, the sound of it cracking the man’s skull, the weight of it as he struck again and again.  He was a musician, a man who hated war and death; and here he was in a world where every day was war and sometimes you had to kill a man just to cross the street.  That day he hadn’t expected any trouble; he’d been in a relatively safe part of town.  But the red men weren’t normal, killing for jackets and knives and boots.  They killed people for food, and they were more than a little insane.  I won’t be careless again, he thought.  In these times death waits beyond every step. 

He puffed out smoke as he opened his guitar case with his free hand.  He preferred the sound of an electric, but electricity was a thing of the past, so, acoustic it was.  This one wasn’t his; he’d found it in the ruins of an apartment, hiding in the closet.  Out of tune with untouched strings, an instrument wanted more than needed.  But Jakob had needed it, and the rats had eaten the fingers of its owner, lying faceless on the bed, so Jakob had taken it.

There weren’t many songs that made sense anymore; a love song wouldn’t suit this burnt-out hull of a building, and any political song would be beyond irony.  But it was because the songs were from a better time that they needed to be played.  The few sane people left in this city came here to listen to Jakob play, not because he was good (he wasn’t) but because they needed to remember what life was like before it had changed.  Before it was ruined.

He tucked the cigarette in his ear.  Pulled the guitar out of the case like a baby from its crib, then folded it under his arm.    “I wrote this song a year ago, back when the world was whole.  I wrote it for a girl who is dead now.  I wrote it to make her want me, I wrote it be famous, I wrote it for people to tell me they loved my songs.  None of that shit matters to me anymore, the bomb blew it all away.”

He coughed—Just look at what smoking does to your lungs after only six months!—and rested his fingers on the strings.  “So listen here.  I’m not playin’ this for you.  I don’t know any of you and I damn sure don’t like you.  The reason I’m still playin’ songs in this ruined world is because I need to hear ‘em.  This one’s called—well who the hell cares.  Here we go.”

He fretted the chords, plucked the strings; and, for a precious moment, forgot where he was.

 




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