<--Earlier | Cursed Earth

Corpses. I've seen hundreds before, some intact, some mauled beyond recognition, some little more than bits of bone. I'm pretty much inured to seeing them, now. Nevertheless, the lone figure lying dead along the old highway caught my attention. Indeed, maybe it's because at first, he didn't look dead. The rats and bugs hadn't gotten to him yet, and nor had the demons. I stood there a long moment, just looking. What had this man been doing out here? The same thing I was, just following the sun, just hoping to find something in all this desolation?

I shook my head, breaking out of my reverie. More practical concerns were at hand, now. There was a dead man at my feet: What killed him, and was it about to kill me? I inspected the body a bit more closely, pulling open his tattered leather coat. He didn't have any obvious wounds, but the poor fellow had clearly had a rough go of it. I was trying to figure out what had finished him off, when I happened to notice a tattered note clutched in his hand. Curious, I read it.

If you're reading this, then I have failed. I have failed in my life's final mission. I knew the day I set out that I might not succeed, but a promise is a promise. I promised her, my dearest Andrea, that I would take her to Niagara Falls someday, and she will get there, one way or another. Already so much has gone wrong. Her ashes are in a vial around my neck, alongside those of her mother. This isn't how it was supposed to be, you know. Here I am, fifty-seven years old, carrying the ashes of my ten year old daughter. Isn't there supposed to be a law against that?

Anyway, if you've found this, then I'm gone. I know it's a lot to ask of you, whomever you might be, but I'd like you to finish what I started. I want you to take Andrea's ashes to Niagara Falls. She always wanted to go into space, too, but I don't think anyone's going into space again, not with the world like this. As for Michelle, she decided that it didn't matter - she'd know my name, if she saw me in heaven. I know it's a lot, to place all this in the hands of a kind stranger, but I have no other choice. Just remember that anything you send out, returns to you, times three. If you're still reading, thank you so much.

I sincerely hope that nobody's reading this: it will mean that I have failed.

I've never considered myself sentimental, but I found myself close to tears. Maybe it was just respect for the dead, or for my elders, but I felt a need to finish what he started. I unhitched the silver chain from his neck, and tucked the two vials of ashes into my jacket pocket. Don't worry, old fellow, I thought. She'll see Niagara Falls yet.

Later that night, I gathered a pile of branches and built a funeral pyre for him, and meditated in silence as it burned. As the heat of the flames leached the November chill from my bones, I gathered my thoughts. Though it still seemed as though there was no hope, at least I now had a mission. No longer was I merely following the sun, now I had a quest. For whatever quests were worth, in this ruined world, at least I had one.

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