Benjamin stands at what use to be the 23rd street entrance to the FDR. The salty air from the tidal estuary, that was once known as the East river, is fresh and inviting. He wishes he could just go for a little swim.
Time is against that desire though.
Benjamin is tall for his age, with fair skin and dark hair. He wears loose well cured rat hides and carries a skin of water. In his shoulder pack, mixed in with his change of clothes and relics of childhood, are dozens of fresh blueberries he picked along the path that naturally formed in the middle of the old street.
His intelligent green eyes soak in everything around him.
The crumbling architecture of a world long gone seems filled with ghosts wailing for revenge.
It’s only the wind whistling through glassless frames though.
For Benjamin every sound he hears makes his heart thump hard against his ribs. It’s not death he fears, but a thirteen-year-old red-hair girl named Sara who fast approaches from the North.
There is little else to fear in this world.
He also has never been away from his family before. Not only was he away from them for the first time, but there was a strong possibility he would never see them again.
It was his turn to be a father and once that responsibility was placed on a boy’s shoulders his life was no longer his own.
There was much work to do to rebuild humanity. To rebuild the world. Maybe this time they could get it right.
About 150 years ago the Earth started to warm. The heat grew so hot it almost ended all life on the planet.
One year Winter did not come.
The next there was no Fall.
The next the trees did not turn green again.
There was little to hope for except to survive just one more year and maybe the old weather patterns would return.
In New York City each day the record temperature was broken. When people stopped caring how hot the hell was the number was hovering around 145 degrees. In the beginning all one needed to do to earn Death was go outside. Eventually Death was being alone and having nobody else to count on. And Death was everywhere. Death led to Death. Death became everything.
Those that did not outthink the problems died quickly.
Those that survived did not ask to survive they just did.
The survivors dug down. The deeper they went the cooler the air was. So people just holed up and Death was slowed.
Soon communities were formed. With the population so low cooperation was easy.
Deep in the bedrock one group learned how to pedal a stationary bike for electricity. They traded the tech for a link to the central Park reservoir.
So food was grown and dying of thirst and hunger became a thing of the past. After a few generations the first diggers came above ground.
They met people and procreated and scrimped and scavenged and made a life for themselves. Maybe it was because the Earth was almost empty. Maybe it was because the mummified corpses stopped stinking. But most likely it was because the temperature started to drop and the seasons returned.
Green began to cover the Earth. Plants took over everything. The air was thick with oxygen and bird song and the fragrant aroma of many hundreds of different types of flowers.
From over 24 million people, the New York area was left with just over a few thousand.
Small social groups stuck to themselves. Life wasn’t difficult. Food grew naturally everywhere. Eating animal flesh sounded like a nightmare grandpa told the grandkids when he wanted to be funny.
The world was so empty it was even possible to not see another living soul for months if that was desired.
Benjamin wasn’t sure if he wanted that, or to run back to his family and hide his face in his mother’s bosom. He knew there was no going back though. He would not be welcome.
His path has only one direction, so he sits down and takes another bite from the sweet plum sized berry staining his hand a deep purpley blue and waits for his bride-to-be’s family.
Soon they would arrive and guide him to the place he must now call home. To the place his children will call home. To his future and the remaining sum of his life till Death.