“You’re back,” the last human said, coughing scarlet beads into the ash. He tugged at his holey blanket in vain against the cold wind that swept through the rubble. The angel of death knelt beside him. She gently pulled the man’s only source of heat over his shivering shoulders. The angel sighed, placed her hand on him, and the violent trembling subsided.
“Will you kiss me this time?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper. The last human coughed again, hacking up tiny puddles instead of beads. She dabbed his mouth with her dark robe, and glanced at his pale face and hollowed eyes. He had settled in this ruin a week ago. Illness and hunger had slowed his journey across the newly-empty world to a halt. His companion had travelled with him for months, until his own growing weakness had stopped him. She’d made sure to give the man’s companion, the last animal, her kiss quickly and gracefully on his forehead.
The last human rested his eyes on her, and reached from under the blanket to touch her hand. The angel looked away. In all of her immortal time, she had never derived shame from her spiritual duty. But in the man’s pleading she thought remorsefully of having given her kiss to the dog–how she had watched two stay together before and after the End, how the entirety of the dog’s life had been spent lovingly following the man, and how the man now wished to follow his friend into the beyond, only for the angel to hesitate in giving him her kiss.
“No one’s left to say I didn’t claim your soul,” she said. “You could stay here.” The sound of ash being scattered throughout the building’s bones hid the desperation in her voice. “Your body would heal itself in time.”
The man closed his eyes. A faint rasp escaped from between yellowed teeth and grey gums. He began to shake his head back and forth. A craggy smirk grew on his face, and then the man let out a brief chuckle that echoed throughout the ruin and transformed into another fit of coughs. “No,” he said, “not like this. Not alone.”
His breathing laboured as the two sat together in shared silence. She had felt the weight of his body’s fatigue for some time, but only now did she grasp the breadth of his spirit’s exhaustion. It must’ve been there, dully growing after he reached for his companion upon awaking the day that he had found him cold and still.
She had never allowed a spirit to become so tired and frail. To leave the living uncollected far past their time was to leave them haunted by their own ghost–the angel knew that she should have kissed the last human then.
The angel of death brushed the man’s dark tangles from his face with her thin fingers. Her silvery wings unfurled, dappled and shimmering in the dim, sunless noon. The human’s eyes remained shut. “Are you certain?” she nearly asked, but stopped herself. The angel gave her final kiss.
A faint breath left the body. Another gust carried it away. Ashes blew across the man, making their permanent home in the lines and wrinkles of his face, rendering him as colourless as the world around them. She covered his body with his blanket before she left the man to become a part of the landscape.
She walked out of the rubble into desolate greyness that had once been Earth. The angel stopped on the remains of a concrete step to listen to the wind as it travelled through what had once been a bustling city street. Distant memories of the place’s past incarnations flickered through her mind–a street, a road in a village with horse-drawn carriages, a path through a forest made by roaming deer, a river that once teemed with fish that ceased to exist in a time before humanity.
The sensation of small piles of ash forming on her shoulders pulled the angel from her centuries of memories. She continued to stand on the steps, taking in the sight of the new world around her, knowing that for the remainder of time she would wander its vastness alone.