A Short Story
Stephen F. Dennstedt
The wolf looked him in the eye without fear. He was a Mexican Gray Wolf, and at one time was almost extinct in these parts. Just another victim of Man’s folly. But in the nearly two decades that had passed since the pandemic they had made a remarkable comeback, proof positive that Man’s position in the food-chain had slipped a link or two.
The morning sun was soft and warm against the azure blue sky, and the air was crystal clear and bright. And it even smelled good. Fresh. Mother Nature, at long last, was finally reasserting herself and in so doing bringing a new and overdue balance back into the world.
The wolf seemed to appreciate the fineness of the morning too. He continued to look curiously at the man, and even sniffed the air a few times to catch a scent of the human. The man was downwind, however, and could only be seen and not smelled. The man posed no immediate threat, and as the moment passed the wolf loped off over the grassy knoll at a leisurely pace.
The pandemic had struck without warning, although various doomsday prognostications had plagued mankind almost from the beginning. Before science succumbed to the inevitable, it was determined that the superbug was a particularly nasty strain of the ebola virus. However, this strain was an airborne pathogen, and spread through the various world populations like influenza. Its mortality and morbidity had never seen the like. Maybe one in one hundred thousand people survived its initial onslaught. It was unstoppable, and within six months the human race basically ceased to exist.
Was the superbug manmade in some clandestine laboratory, or just a product of nature’s revenge? There wasn’t enough time to find out, and the answer would never be forthcoming. That was eighteen years ago, and already signs of man’s existence were rapidly disappearing. The very few humans that survived the superbug became victims of its aftermath: rampant bacterial infections resulting from the decay of millions upon millions of dead bodies, a brief period of anarchy pitting one survivor against the other and finally starvation.
That this man had survived so long on his own was either a miracle or a curse. Was he the last person on earth? Possibly. He didn’t know. He hadn’t seen another living soul since shortly after the pandemic had run its course. He thought that he might be insane, but he had nothing to compare his mental state to. But he was sane enough to enjoy this beautiful morning. And the wolf. The animals and other critters had come back so fast without Man’s interference.
The grazers were the first to return. The domestic cattle died off quickly, without Man’s attention, and most of the household pets perished in the same manner. But these were quickly replaced by wild deer, elk, bison and especially rabbits. The predators were slower to return, their birthrates being smaller, but even they were rapidly increasing in numbers: fox, coyotes and even the wolf. The apex predators were returning too: the big cats and even the bears.
He thought to himself that in another ten to twenty years the earth might once again be the Garden of Eden. He wouldn’t be around to see it of course, but maybe somewhere someone might. He didn’t know. It didn’t really matter. Everyone assumed of course that the works of Man would last for a millennia, but that didn’t appear to be the case in actuality—already the vast cities of the world with their connecting super highways were crumbling into dust. So fast. Man’s existence on planet earth would prove to be but a mere flyspeck on the historical timeline.
Gathering up his few possessions, the man hefted his load, and like the Mexican Gray Wolf before him, headed over the grassy knoll. Savoring the warmth of the sun, and the freshness of the morning air, he whistled a long-forgotten show tune from his distant past. Survival, miracle or curse? Miracle he decided. He had a front row seat from which to view the world’s reemergence. How many mornings did he have left? At least a few more he hoped.