When the lights first appeared, no one knew what they were. Rumors of a radioactive government experiment gone wrong, of aliens invading, of some old god returning to punish the wicked. They told us to stay inside, but people didn’t listen. They protested and marched choosing conspiracy over science. The bulbous bursts like a camera’s flash, the unmistakable orbs, they were oddly beautiful.

            In time, all of those non-believers disintegrated in the wind like sand blowing down a cracked walkway. Then, most everyone else did, too.

            When the lights returned to the horizon, I was sitting on the old carousel considering leaving Traya. The ride hadn’t moved in a decade, the old gears had rusted to dust, but the horses remained intact suspended on their poles in a mad dash to escape death. But we knew better than those old beasts what could and could not be outrun.

            Before the lights, my parents brought me to ride this carousel. It was part of a larger beachside attraction with simple roller coasters, a funhouse, and video arcades. Food vendors sold popcorn, cotton candy, French fries and hot dogs from their standalone booths. The air sparkled with flashing Edison bulbs, and vacationers moved in rhythm to a waltzing calliope. The carousel held happy memories of my parents’ holding hands and laughing before their split, and of eventually landing a job here in my teens.

            Traya found me atop the white horse where the chipped paint looked like exposed, cancerous innards. She carried a week’s supply of packaged sweets, the preserved pastries among the only remaining food supplies left.

             “You’re withering away, Cobb” she said. She put the bag down and fixed her thin hair. I pretended like I didn’t hear her because, while true, I didn’t need the reminder. Dry sand blew down the cracked walkway. At one time velvet ropes wrangled vacationers into its queue, but as far as I could tell we were the only people alive for hundreds of miles in any direction.

            We lived in an old storage bunker underneath the attractions. The cement walls kept us safe from the impact of the lights and would likely keep us safe again, but the wide-open isolation of the aftermath began to whisper fantasies of going at it alone. I’d become increasingly tired and depressed. Life with Traya was a lonely existence.

             “I’m not hungry,” I said.

             “I don’t care,” Traya said. She pulled out a packaged cream cake. “Eat.”

            The thing that kept us alive was the ocean. The churning water, the ebbs and flows of the tide, the vastness of its depth all seemed to suck the poison from the air and give us just enough oxygen to breathe. Once, we tried for the food store two blocks away but had to turn back when clumps of our hair fell out like leaves from autumnal trees. Most of it grew back eventually, but some didn’t. Life was a series of missing pieces, chunks ripped from the whole. Our clothes, our skin, our teeth.

             “Someone’s coming,” I said, and pointed at the road. A man limped forward wheezing and coughing. He hocked phlegm onto the pavement. Strands of long, thin hair poked from his scalp like whisps of smoke. Most of the skin on his arms was gone.

             “He has the bone disease,” Traya said. I looked at the man’s hands. His fingers had turned jet black.

             “The ocean,” the man said as he approached. “I had a feeling.”

            Traya stood her ground. As a child, she had been abused by her parents both physically and emotionally. The weeks after they died from the lights, she walked around saying that she was glad they were gone, that they got what they deserved. She said it made her tough. But then after a while, she cried and cried and cried. One night after we bathed in the shallows, she forgave them.

             “That’s close enough,” she said to the man, but the man kept walking.

             “I came here as a child,” he said. He looked at the horses and smiled his crooked smile. “My Pops took me after Ma passed. Said I could ride until I couldn’t ride no more.” He stepped onto the platform and lost balance. He tumbled and the bones in his forearm snapped like pieces of charred wood. The bone disease was in him alright.

             “There’s nothing for you here,” I said.

            The man rolled to his knees and stood up. His arms hung limp and lifeless.

             “Happiest time of my life was on that very horse,” he said. His eyes were wild, feral things bloodshot and scarred by violent winds and unforgiving heat. Outside of Traya, I hadn’t seen another living soul in years, but it gave me hope that a person could go at it alone and make it somewhere new.

            Years ago, Traya and I worked at this amusement park together. Teenagers, young and reckless. Both of us were dating other people, but we met in the storage bunker for nightly romps thinking what’s the worst that could happen? And then the world died, and we were all each other had. That and the guilt of thinking we had somehow caused this, our youthful ignorance both saving our lives and sending us to Hell.

            The sky cracked and sizzled. Traya looked against the horizon and saw the lights blinking in and out like old amusement park signs.

             “No more running,” I said. I leaned across the porcelain mane of the horse and covered my eyes. It didn’t take long before the lights were upon us, the darkness lifting into brightness, the bones in my hands suddenly visible like the creation of time and in that moment, I felt comforted by the fact that in the end, I wasn’t alone.

W. T. Paterson