by Bradley Sides
It was the only place left that hadn’t been claimed by death. In an unfair contest, darkness had won. The fight had only lasted a few months.
Ash and filth covered the earth. There was no one left alive to grieve its condition. A long time ago they had tried.
Under the dusty haze of what remained of the sun’s light, the lonely field stood. The browning cornstalks brushed against one another for support. The leaves, dry and cracking, refused to collapse under the heavy pulsations of the dusty winds. The field’s life wanted to give up, but it couldn’t. Not yet.
The last pair of humans had known what was happening. They thought that perhaps it was already too late. They would never know for sure.
They came to the field with two gifts. She carried both. Small and fragile. Wrapped and cradled.
In their final days, the two humans, sweating and struggling to breathe, dug into the hard soil.
“It’s not deep enough,” the man’s voice whispered. He fought to speak again, but he would never find the strength to summon another word. He collapsed and was with the rest of the ones who had come and gone before him.
The stalks stirred. They had seen the last man leave.
The woman was the only human left, and she dug fiercely — obsessively.
Dirt covered her. Her hands bled from pushing rocks aside. She cried into the sky. “This is it,” she said.
She stood and walked over to the two gifts she had brought with her into the field. Carefully, she placed them in the hole. She molded them safely into the damp soil. When they were set, she prayed. Then, she positioned her body over them.
“Please,” she said to the stalks above her. “Cover me. It is my time to die.”
The stalks didn’t move.
“Please. I beg you,” she said.
The stalks slowly rustled. Should they? Should they not? The wind mixed their voices across the field.
A meeting about life.
A meeting about death.
Their movements echoed down into the hole. The woman’s eyes grew larger, and tears fell from them. When she saw the stalks’ decision, she began to laugh until the dirt filled her lungs.
The days grew darker and colder, with the field’s edges slowly falling victim to the outside.
The stalks began to collapse. After the first one went, the others weren’t far behind. They, too, were dying.
After three years, only one was left. It had refused to die.
The single stalk stood unchanged for another six years. Solitary. Brave.
Then, on a morning that had begun with nothing exceptionally memorable, the ground quaked. The stalk’s roots trembled.
The gift. The gift.
The stalk watched the earth’s soil fall away. Two heads emerged from the hole that the woman had so desperately dug.
Humanity was reborn.
Earth had a chance.
If only the other stalks had fought to see it.
Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, The Lit Pub, Literary Orphans, The Rumpus, Toasted Cheese, and elsewhere. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his first collection of short stories.