Death Rattle

Death Rattle
a short story by Jack Sellers

What does the end of the world even mean, anyway? Just a bunch more people dying than usual? What makes that the end? People die every day. The lights turn out, the brain stops humming, the eyes searching, the mouth talking, the chest contracting, the heart aching. These lives stop and no one even notices. When was the last time someone cared when another human being died? It’s probably a celebrity. That’s all we can care about. Not the regular people letting out the last sighs of a life that has been nothing but pain. Is it a sigh of relief? The only time I’ve ever seen anyone die was when I was in college. They didn’t let out a peaceful last breath, instead, they caffed and coughed and choked on blood and spittle and snot and tears until they had nothing left to choke on. There was no “quietly into that sweet night” but instead a series of the most deafening noises I’ve ever heard. They call that the death rattle. We’ve been living through the human race’s long extended death rattle for longer than I can remember.

If we’ve been living through the last breaths of human existence, then why is it so quiet? Perhaps it’s still building. The death rattle of the human race, slowly rising until it becomes so cacophonous that the last living creature’s eardrums will burst before they go. Perhaps they’d finally know some peace. In their final moments to finally have the commotion stop. No more screaming, swearing, talking, driving, meeting, and breathing. The last vestige of humanity will be the only ears to experience its silence. How we should all be jealous of them.

What records will be left of us? Books? We burnt them all. Homes? We tore them all down. Pictures? We shredded them. The computers that will hold the only memorabilia and proof of our fragile existence will be locked away behind passwords. Requiring wifi to remember what your grandmother looked like. In the end, we won’t be remembered. Whatever comes after this, whether it be a pilgrimage from other planets, the utter destruction of the planet, the dying of our star, or the renewing of a life cycle dooming our inheritors to repeat our mistakes, our kind—humankind—will fade like stars in the early morning. Perhaps they’ll find a razor blade in what used to be a bathroom. It’s oxidized metal crumbling and disintegrating, staining their hands a dark, orangey-red that would remind us of dried blood, but to them, simply a puzzling inconvenience.

The true last survivor of the human race will be an atom bomb. Buried away in some bunker, perhaps to never be found. Two big, heavy, metal, doors protect it from the outside world. A baby in its nursery. The world will turn on with no knowledge of the last son of the human race locked in its room. Our successors will try to open the doors, of course, hoping to find treasure, but they won’t find the pair of keys required before they—much like the razor blades of the world—fade into a rusty mist to be carried in on the heel of someone’s shoes. In another generation or two, the thick metal lock holding the doors shut will have rusted just enough for the big and strong one to break it open and find our baby tucked in its cradle. They’ll wonder what it means. They might even be stupid enough to crack it open, killing themselves in the process. But more likely than not, they’ll study it, learn its properties, and in time the human race will have doomed the planet once again. “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. We certainly lived up to our words.

There’s no way to take those words back. Once released into the air they became an omen of our destiny. A self-fulfilling prophecy, dooming our kind to endless death, destruction, conflict, cold war, proxy war, world war, et al. Words do that sometimes. They’re surprisingly powerful for just how easy they are. First words tumble out of a baby’s mouth, cities fall. Maybe there’s nothing that can be done about it. Maybe that’s what we were destined to do. That’s why words are the greatest weapon humankind ever developed. They push people into places they can’t get out. They’re finite though, these words we throw. Words are limited to the imagination. Rarely do you see the ill-spoken leading others, rarely but not never. Semantics will misguide meaning. Ultimately, words are bound to the people that use them. A mouth to speak. A hand to write. And maybe that’s the true tragedy of humanity—that in the end, our words will die with us.

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