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The World After

by Ken Sanes

Searching in the distant future, I discovered a very different world from the one I was familiar with. The roads and abandoned buildings were like nothing I recognized, and the land itself had been reshaped, mostly, I think, by natural forces. Even the cemetery with my grave in it was missing, and no stone marker revealed where it had once been located. But I did find the ruins of a house surrounded only by some weeds, and I thought it might contain a relic or trace of my own time. Despite some misgivings, I went in through an opening in the front wall and began to conduct my usual search through the piles of debris on the floor. It wasnít long before I found something: a photograph inside a metal frame, showing four generations of a family, smiling, with their arms linked, in what may have been their last time together. On the left side of the family portrait, an old woman was holding up the only child like she was showing him off for the camera. The other adults looked over at him as he grinned, basking in the attention. In another part of the same room, I discovered what looked like the remains of a comfortable place to sit and read, with the shattered pieces of a light and the skeleton of a soft chair. I pushed back the chair for its final time as it cracked and collapsed to the floor. But as I examined the houseís contents, it became increasingly clear that these were the ruins of another humanity, with another history than the one I knew. The handwritten letters I discovered, scattered in what was probably a bedroom, upstairs, werenít even readable, and no matter how long I looked at them, they still contained whatever secrets they once revealed. And the oversized rodents, waiting to see if I would oblige their gnawing hunger as they scurried along the perimeter, weaving in and out of the half-broken walls, werenít like anything I knew, either. No, I thought to myself, this isnít it; I still havenít found a connection. Is it possible that my memories are themselves just a dream? Then, as it started to get dark, I walked outside and noticed twisted pieces of metal in the empty yard that looked like they had once been part of a machine, perhaps a vehicle of some sort. Thatís odd, I thought to myself -- how could I have missed that going in? At that point, I began to wonder if I was even coming out of the same house. But I put my doubts off to one side and began to cross an expanse of land, heading toward something I could almost make out on the north horizon. Overhead, there was a large moon and the night sky was full of stars. But the pattern of the constellations wasnít the same as the one I knew, and there was another light in the sky that was smaller than the moon, but considerably larger than a star. I looked at it for a long time, unable to figure out if it was natural or artificial -- unable to figure out what kind of thing had added its reflected light to the darkness. Standing on this barren landscape, between the ruin and something in the distance, under the canopy of an almost alien sky, I realized that I was no longer dead because my death wasnít part of this world. I was neither dead nor alive, in an age that was too far removed from my own time.

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