The Last One

Another entry for the /r/KeepWriting “Writer vs Writer” match.

My prompt:

The Last One

Your character is the only person left in the world who practices his/her trade. After they’re gone, the trade/skill/job/profession will be no more.


The Last One

Wrinkly fingers brushed over the cold wood of the desk. He pulled the hand back to his face and blew the dust from the pale skin. His account was too empty for the repair; he would have to clean the apartment himself.

He sighed, sat straight and pressed the button. The camera and projector jumped to life. He moved the keyboard and controller each to their place.

A moment later the face appeared. Claire. A happy face with a tired expression.

“Good morning, Claire.”

“Hello, Mr. Zhang.”

“How are you today?”

The girl smiled. Her face only seemed round when she smiled; not like those faces that you could see inside the capsule windows for the short moment in which they sped by. Those faces were always round.

“I’m very well, Mr. Zhang.”

Mr. Zhang smiled. Well raised, he thought. The last child with manners.

Her holographic head bent to the side.

“Do we do history today?”

“Yes,” he said. “We haven’t finished with the Great War.”

“I don’t like the war.”

“That’s good,” he said. “That’s why you should learn about it.”

“But my mum says we should learn things that are not in the KGs.”

“We will.”

“But the Great War is in the KGs.”

“Not all of it.”

“Not all of it?”

“Claire,” he said. “The games teach you many things, but they miss the important parts.”

“But I know about the way it started and the battles and that many people died.”

“Do you?”

Claire smiled.

“Yes!”

Her holographic image moved closer and sat straight.

“The 1st of March 2055 a group of Christian martyrs planted two…”

“No,” he said.

“No?”

He sighed. Then he smiled again.

“That’s true, but it’s not what I want to teach you.”

“It’s not?”

“I want to talk about the cleansings and the raids.”

“But I know about the cleansing! The government declared an emergency and then the Christians went and caught the unfaithful.”

“What did they do when they caught them?”

“They cleansed them.”

“Is that what the games taught you?”

“Yeah.”

“The history game?”

“There’s only one game now. They made them all into one.”

“Oh. Only one game for all knowledge?”

Claire smiled.

“Yeah, but it’s really fun.”

“And the game said they ‘cleansed’ the non-Christians?”

“That’s what it said.”

“Do you know what that means, Claire?”

“No.”

“And the game doesn’t tell you what it means?”

“No.”

“Claire, it means they killed them.”

“They killed them?”

“Yes, all of them.”

“All the 300 million that they cleansed?”

“Yes, Claire.”

“And the others?”

“Which others?”

“The ones in bad countries. The game said they were all cleansed too.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Were they killed too?”

“Claire,” he said. “Did the game explain to you what a nuclear weapon is?”

When the hour was over his hands were cold and he could smell his own sweat.

Claire smiled and waved.

“Bye, Mr. Zhang.”

“Bye, Claire.”

“Oh,” she said. “My mom wants to talk to you.”

“Sure,” he said.

Before Claire’s mother said a word he knew what she would say.

“We really want to,” she said. “But we can barely pay for the knowledge game. You know she needs to have those.”

“Sure,” he said. “To pass the exams.”

“Yes. We really want you to teach her, but…”

“But she needs to get a job someday.”

“Yes.”

“I would do it for half.”

“I’m sorry.”

“She’s my last student.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I understand.”

“Thank you,” said Claire’s mother. “Claire really likes you.”

“I like her too.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Zhang. I hope you find new students.”

“I hope so too. Do you maybe know someone that needs a teacher?

Claire’s mother pressed her lips shut.

“Sorry,” she said. “These are just hard times.”

Mr. Zhang nodded.

“I hope Claire will be well.”

“I hope you too.”

“I’ll manage,” he said. “I guess it’s just a dying trade.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Zhang.”

“Goodbye.”

The holographic image disappeared without a sound.

Mr. Zhang turned the camera and projector off.

Slowly he got up. His left leg was shaking but he quickly planted his foot back on the ground.

He took a step towards the door; then stopped. Quickly he stepped back to his desk.

Wrinkled fingers wiped the dust from the cold wood.

When the desk was clean he smiled.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I think she learned something today.”

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