*This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that's happening over at The Tenth Daughter of Memory (it's also an entry in the weekly Theme Thursday event). Hope you enjoy! I honestly have no idea how it's going to wind up.
The blood on the floor is no cause for alarm. At first it spread quickly, and this was no surprise, but now it seems as though it's creating a warm pool for which the soul to swim. A red liquid blanket of sorts, for that last night of sleep... that last and eternal night of sleep. He is not alarmed. He is not surprised. But even he admits to himself that his expectation was not to experience something so terribly inviting.
He is the world's oldest living man and it is his birthday. For the past few years, ever since the previous world's oldest living man went ahead and died, the press have made his birthday celebrations less than tolerable. Sure, the novelty of the first time was enjoyable. He'd never been on television up to that point, and he took more than a little pride out of his fifteen minutes of fame. After that he just wanted to be left alone... to celebrate his birthday with his children who were still alive (he'd outlived a handful of them) and the grandchildren who still had enough respect to pretend to care. Last year, he half-joked that he hoped his body would fail him before his next birthday, for the inquiries had become far too annoying.
Yet he is still alive. But, this year, the press aren't around.
He is alone on this particular birthday, and while the ghosts of the people who once shared his home still haunt him, he feels the solitude bearing down on him, burdening him with the heavy weightlessness of empty. His mood is somber; more than a little depressed. Yes, his depression has everything to do with the day, but has nothing to do with being alone.
The press, it seems, are making it official. The various and until-now "unrelated" conflicts escalating around the globe have given birth to the Third War. It is a birthday of an entirely different kind and, subconsciously, he recognizes that it is probably the birthday of the monster that will bring about the end of the world. At least, he muses, the end of the world as he's known it.
He remembers the First War well. Though he was very young at the time, the First War was the event that permeated nearly all of his early memories, even those of playing childhood games in a schoolyard with friends long forgotten. His own father had fought in that war, sent to the mainland to oust a foreign power from a foreign country, and all with the aid of another foreign power. And though his father had returned home safely - he had never considered the alternative, even years later - he recalls the many months of his father's absence. Strangely enough, the strongest memory of his father's return was his father's sudden interest in making him learn English.
Try as he might, he can't forget the Second War, for he fought in it. Though much of the world considered that war to have lasted maybe a half-dozen years, his experience with it was almost a decade. Like, he believes, this Third War, the Second was borne of smaller "independent" conflicts. The reported length of the Second War depends solely upon where one takes their history classes. Secretly, he wonders if there will be any history classes to take once this Third War comes to its inevitable end.
Thankfully, his own children - all seven of them - were spared having to fight wars themselves, partially due to the global climate, but mostly due to the international community's enforced limitations on his own nation's military. He didn't much mind those limitations. For even though they robbed something from his nation's essence, they also ensured that his children grew up in peace whether they wanted to or not.
Despite the fact that he isn't close with a lot of them, he worries for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Many of them are citizens of other countries - many he has never even met in person - but like most patriarchs, he holds concern for his legacy. And, whether they are aware of it or not, those grandchildren are his legacy. Outliving one's own children is one of the greatest sources of regret for parents - if not the greatest - but he feels worse knowing that, with the battle lines being drawn as they are, many of his descendants will be fighting on opposite sides. And he has no desire to live to discover that one had killed another.
He weakens quickly, and death will soon arrive. The tantō blade remains protruding from his abdomen, and though his nervous system is no doubt transmitting frequent signals of pain, his mind does not receive them. He is long practiced in the art of meditation, and most who are aware of his skills know that he is a master. His mind is elsewhere, chasing the thoughts and memories that he desires to take with him to the afterlife. Images of his first wife, who died far too young. His second wife, with whom he spent nearly seven decades. Children, grandchildren, crystalline mountain rivers, and cherry blossoms. As he intends not to resort to prose when in conversation with his ancestors and his gods, he fills his thoughts with poetry.
Still, it is irresponsible to deny the ugliness found in the world, and he allows himself a single random thought. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he thinks of technology. He's lived through the advancements in human achievement that were borne of war, and he's experienced both the positive and the negative effects of those achievements. The tank, without which he would not have survived many a conflict. The aircraft, without which he would never have set foot in America - his one trip abroad not involving a military deployment - to visit grandchildren. Man's ability to harness the atom, both for creation and destruction. The list is too long to remember comprehensively.
As his final breaths escape his lips, he wonders what manner of weaponry the belligerents of this new war will manifest, brought to life by the imaginations of men and women who claim to not want to create machines designed to kill effectively and efficiently, but are amply paid to do so. He is glad he will not be around to see it - to see his beloved Earth burn - and as the last exhalation disappears into the wind, there is an upturn at the corners of his mouth.
One day, when friends and family, and maybe even the press, finally remember to celebrate his birthday, they will find that smile. A smile buried in congealed and coagulated regret spilled onto a floor, on top of which lay crimson stains on a white kimono, wrapped around the body of a disemboweled and frail elderly man. The only evidence of a small birthday celebration that marked the end of times.
*continued in Alive