This story is by Sam Ward and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Aaron stood, gun in hand, on top of the city’s walls looking out into the night. He was an older man, but his life of constant struggle kept him strong. He would hear rustling in the trees, and aim down the sight of his rifle. His brother was supposed to return with a supply caravan tonight. The creatures may have gotten to him first.
Mankind had witnessed a rapid and inexplicable degradation. Mothers began having babies with mutations. Then their children had babies at increasingly younger ages, and with further mutations. Within generations, the human race had become mindless creatures. They seemed to delight in pain and torture, and quickly became a larger problem than humanity could handle. Entire cities were overrun. Eventually, the remnants of mankind banded together in what few cities remained and built fortresses, killing any creatures that came within sight.
Aaron heard gunshots in the distance, followed by screams. The caravan was in trouble.
“Caravan to the North!”
Aaron’s colleagues joined him. The caravan came within view. A dozen people ran out of the darkness, followed by creatures. Aaron opened fire, but the beasts were intent.
“Lower the ladders!”
The people of the caravan reached the walls and scurried to the top.
Aaron spotted his brother at the bottom of the wall shooting at the monsters as the others raced up the ladders.
“Come on, get up here!” Aaron shouted.
His brother grabbed onto the ladder, but the creatures had reached him.
“They are on top of us, we have to pull up the ladders!” another said.
Aaron fired his gun as fast as he could until he heard the rapid clicking of the gun. Out of ammo.
He looked around as the others pulled the ladders up. He was helpless.
Without thinking, Aaron jumped off of the wall towards his brother.
He hit the ground hard, but on his feet. He began to swing his rifle like a staff, keeping the creatures away from his brother.
“What have you done, Aaron?” His brother said. “Now we’ll both die.”
“I couldn’t sit up there and watch you be torn apart.”
Aaron landed one devastating blow to a creature, only to be swiped at by another. The creatures began to overpower him. He hit the ground and everything turned into a violent clutter. Eventually, he felt himself being lifted up. A creature was carrying him somewhere.
Aaron struggled for his life. The creature must have carried him for miles. As the last of Aaron’s strength was exhausted, the creature set him down.
Aaron stumbled to his feet. He was surrounded by hundreds of the beasts, practically on top of each other. Even when he looked to the sky, the creatures were littered in every tree.
All at once they turned towards a sound. They created an opening revealing a cave entrance, and a figure walked out.
“My God…how is this possible?” Aaron said.
Before him stood a young boy, wearing an oversized coat. No mutations.
He slowly moved towards the boy reaching out his hand. The creatures inched forward, snarling. Aaron stopped in his tracks.
“You’re a human, just like old humans. And the creatures seem to protect you? This is incredible!”
“Yes, they listen to me.” The boy said.
“Do you know what happened to my brother? He’s like me, an older human.”
“They only brought you.”
“I hope he made it back to the city…Do you know where you come from? Since the creatures seem to like you, maybe we can just walk out of here. I can take you home.”
“As far as I know, I was born here in the forest. My family is all around you.”
Aaron paused. “You speak well for someone raised…here.”
“I’ve spent most of my life in that cave. They bring me salvages from your people. They think it makes me happy. I’ve mostly only seen images of humanity, so I’ve asked them to bring me you.”
“They listen to your commands? My boy, you could be the savior of humanity! Please come back with me to the city!”
“Oh, I don’t know if I want to go with you. Could we just talk first?” The boy replied.
“Sure, you must be very curious.”
“I want to know about ‘morality.’ It’s in the stories I’ve read, but it doesn’t seem to be out here.”
“Wow…umm…that’s a broad question…there are many different aspects of morality: being fair to each other, acting compassionately to those in need, to name a few.”
“How do you know how to act fair to another person?”
“Well, if someone has worked hard to earn something, and a thief takes it, it seems unfair, doesn’t it? I think people have an innate sense of what’s fair.”
“I don’t know if I do… Why wouldn’t the thief be more deserving, for his cleverness, or his strength? Maybe neither of them really deserves it.”
Aaron laughed out of discomfort. “Am I really the first person you’ve talked to?”
“I never said that.”
“…We’ve never heard about you at the city.”
“I’d like to stay on topic. I guess I’m asking if there is an objective meaning of what’s ‘fair,’ or is it just something everyone decides for themselves?”
“You can think about what you would want for yourself and apply it to everyone. You wouldn’t want death, so you shouldn’t want the death of other people.”
“I’ve never met two people that are the same, so why would they deserve the same? Maybe everyone does deserve death.” With a pensive look on his face, he said, “I don’t know.”
“Surely life is a natural starting point for what a person deserves.”
“Life is just as natural as death. Doesn’t a person’s relation to us determine how we treat them? But even that doesn’t mean it’s what they naturally deserve. What about your other example: compassion? That seems unnatural, doesn’t it?”
Aaron began to fidget his hands. There was a lot more going on with this boy than he originally thought. “You seem very educated for a young boy. You said they brought you books and things to read?”
“Yes, books, teachers too. Please sir, what is compassion?”
“Um…You have to try to be compassionate to people, especially those who are weak, and even those who wish to harm you.”
“You make it sound like I should show compassion to everyone, but isn’t compassion by nature selective?”
“It’s selective in that you should show compassion based on a need, so how you show compassion will differ from person to person…”
The boy interrupts, “No, I mean doesn’t it involve selecting people over others by nature? If you got into a life-threatening fight with one of my family, the compassion I show to you directly results in cruelty towards my family. Likewise, the most compassionate response to my family would be to strike you down.”
“I..I suppose that’s true in matters of violence. But, I think while you should choose to be compassionate towards your family in that case, you can show compassion to both of us by showing me mercy.”
“This brings us full circle. It depends on who deserves what, and if there is no objective meaning, then I will just choose my family over you. I see no purpose for mercy towards you.”
“Heh…” Aaron began, now sweating, “I don’t want to get lost in our example. I’m not asking you to choose me over any of your…family. I think we just keep returning to the complex nature of morality. As a society, we slowly work these things out. Every situation has a different answer.”
“Ok, then help me work through a specific situation: Why shouldn’t I overthrow your city, taking everything for my family?”
“You can’t be serious.”
The boy stood silent.
“Hundreds of people would die, including many of your ‘family!’”
“You still haven’t convinced me that we don’t all deserve death, that we aren’t all rotten to our cores. You’ve convinced yourself that every person is good, and worthy of life, although I still can’t work out why.”
“I’m not saying that every person is good, but I’ve lived a long time in a society full of people just like me. It may be difficult for you to see, because you don’t live with your own kind, but we keep each other in check. We grow together, further humanity together. You are the most miraculous thing I’ve ever seen. You could end all the fear, violence, and chaos. You’re a human that can control the creatures. We could have harmony on earth!”
“Yes, together we could all lie to ourselves, but the truth is humanity is done. You aren’t working towards a better future. There is no future. Everything in life degrades. Look around you. We are the future of humanity. I’ve brought you here to give me the answers. What answers do you have? I think I’m done with you.”