The Last One
by Austin Repath
The old man hunched forward, his head slightly bent to one side. He wondered where he was. Maybe this was all a dream; maybe he was dead. For years he had lived alone in a dark cave near an ancient swamp, and now.
He looked about the great hall. Although the hall was lit only by candlelight, there were no shadows; everything seemed filled with its own translucent light. The old man narrowed his eyes and studied the people about him. They too seemed to glow with some inner light.
One of them smiled at him. He frowned back and scratched his beard. For some reason he couldn't understand he was the guest of honor. They'd told him that he was the last one, whatever that meant. He had refused to talk to any of them, afraid they might find out what he had done far back in that other time.
Suddenly a great hush fell over the hall, and in through the marble archway walked a white haired woman in flowing white robes. Slowly she took her place at the far end of the hall on a great throne-like chair similar to the one at the other end of the hall on which the old man was seated.
"To all of you, welcome." The voice of the white lady rang like crystal throughout the hall. Then she looked toward the old man. "Long have we searched for you, and now at last you are found. You are most welcome.
The old man stared back at her. She was old beyond imagining, yet in the soft candlelight she looked young and beautiful beyond belief. He could not remember ever having seen her before, yet she awoke deep within him, long forgotten memories.
"This is a day of celebration," continued the white lady, "and as is our custom, we begin our celebration with the story of that other time." She paused for a moment, then began, "Far back in that other time, humankind was like a butterfly about to emerge from its dark cocoon. But it was a timid butterfly, afraid to leave the comfort of what it knew. Back in that other time humankind had everything they needed to go forward, yet they clung to their old ways. In fear they held to their old beliefs.
"It is hard for you who live in love to imagine the iron grip of fear, but humankind lived in fear, and it was this that held them back. Humankind could no longer love because fear filled their hearts. And so that this might be taken from the hearts of men, they were taken into that which they feared the most - world's end. World's end did not come from war as everyone had expected. It came about in a way that put an end to war altogether. In that other time, poisoned by men's fears, the oceans began to die.
The old man leaned forward. He knew that other time. It was his time - and it hadn't been fear that had killed the oceans. "I was there when the oceans were dying," he wanted to shout at them. "When scientists discovered that industrial waste draining into the oceans was killing everything in them even the almost invisible plankton. I was there when they discovered something that stunned the world the fact that most of our oxygen came not from the trees, but from these insignificant sea creatures called plankton, and that once they died, except for a few animals that lived deep in the forests, everything that breathed oxygen would die as well. I was there when the scientists predicted we had only two more years to live."
The old man wanted to stand up and cry out what he knew, but he didn't. He was afraid to. He was afraid they'd discovered what he had done.
The white lady continued, "It was fear that brought the nations of the world together. In that other time nothing else but fear could have united the world. For what was the point of fighting if in two years they'd all be dead? So the nations of the world met together and after many days and nights of talking and arguing, they selected four leaders to coordinate the task of saving the oceans.
"First the four leaders brought together experts from every country to work together on the problem. Then they ordered that food be shipped to wherever people were hungry. No one needed to feel the fear of hunger. But the most important thing the four did was to see that everyone on earth knew what was happening. This was the first step in breaking the fear that gripped the world - that everyone know the truth. They did this with a device that allowed people to see and hear each other over great distances."
The old man smiled to himself at the white lady's description of a television set. He remembered how it had been. Every family on earth had been issued one, and each day at the appointed hour, they'd watched to see if an antidote for the dying oceans had been discovered.
Finally, with only 14 months left, the leaders announced that a chemical had been found that could perhaps neutralize the poison. The old man remembered that well. Day and night they had worked to make enough of the chemical to spread across the oceans. Everyone had worked hard and yet they seemed to have enjoyed it. During that time even strangers would stop and talk to one another.
Then had come the fateful day when thousands and thousands of ships loaded with the chemical headed out to sea. After that there were weeks of waiting to see if it had worked. The old man had turned 22 on the day that the results were announced. The oceans had not been neutralized. They had failed!
Twenty-two years old, his life just beginning, and now it was over. The old man clenched his fist at the memory of that other time. He looked at the white lady as if it was her fault.
But she was continuing with her story. "The nations of the world did fail to save the oceans, but it wasn't really a failure; it only seemed that way. You see, the nations of the world had stopped fighting. War had come to an end. That was the real success!"
The old man stared at her. He had been there and they had failed; they had all been faced with death. He listened to her in disbelief as she went on.
"The people of the world were shocked, and angry. They had tried so hard, and they were still under the illusion that they had failed. The truth was that for the first time in the history of the world, the peoples of earth had worked together with one purpose. They now trusted one another. They were ready for the next step.
The old man looked at her darkly. He remembered when the four leaders had announced the earth had only five months of oxygen left. They had talked about the possibility of something unexpected happening. Maybe even that humans might evolve beyond the need for oxygen. That had been utter absolute nonsense, the old man knew. He glared at the white lady as if daring her to tell him differently.
The white lady smiled toward him, and for some reason he suddenly remembered that one of the leaders had been a woman - a woman who had won world acclaim for her cure for cancer. A white haired lady whom one reporter had dubbed the fairy godmother of the world - and ever after that she had been known affectionately as simply, the godmother. Being the senior member, she had been the last of the four to speak. The words she had once spoken came into his head:
"There is a way out. We can change. I know most of you believe it is impossible to really change, to become something different than you are, but it's not.
"But First we have to let go of our old beliefs. We must accept the fact that each of us is responsible for what has happened. We cannot blame one another.
The old man didn't want to even think about what he had done, and he let his mind drift away onto other things - but: the white lady drew him back with her words: "Those last few months were the most important times in man's history. People began to understand that it was their own fear that was polluting the world, killing the oceans. Even the righteous began to see that they too acted out of fear rather than love.
"However even in their darkest moment humankind was capable of a magnificent gesture. People from all over the world began sending messages to the godmother. 'Find some way of saving the children. Our children are young and unafraid. They are not tied to old ways and for them nothing is impossible. Perhaps they can change. Maybe deep in the forests there is enough oxygen for them to live at least long enough to try. Find some way of saving the children.' Here was a world-wide sense of caring beyond self and family. I t was the sign that the butterfly was getting ready to leave its cocoon."
The white lady stopped and studied the old man for a long time. He looked frantic as if he wanted to run from the hall. She knew that she had to reach him now or he'd be lost forever. She'd have to risk bringing him into her story.
"And so the children were sent into the forests - whatever large and ancient trees could still be found, for that was where there might be enough oxygen for them to live. And with each group of children was sent a strong young man, a young man who was loving and fearless - a man chosen because he had promised to protect the children."
Inside the old man's head, the words were pounding, STOP! STOP!
"And with us tonight is one of these men who long ago was sent out to protect the children. He is our guest of honor!"
Everybody turned and looked toward the old man. Words were exploding inside his head, "it's a lie. It's a lie." Suddenly he realized he was on his feet, shouting at them all, "It's a lie!" He knew now he would have to tell them what he had done. "Yes, I was one of these men who went to protect the children. But I wasn't fearless or loving. I went because I was afraid. I didn't care about the children, I just didn't want to die. Can you understand that?!
"And I wasn't chosen - I begged, begged them to let me go. Then came that strange day in the forest. Everything filled with a blinding light. It was so powerful it had to have been a light blast from some horrendous holocaust, and I ran. Yes, I left the children, ran and hid in a cave. I've lived in that cave ever since. I don't know what happened to the children.
Suddenly he had a strange thought. These people looking at him were those children grown to maturity. They had come back to judge him.
"Yes," he said, the words coming slow and broken. "I left you to perish in that blinding light. All I thought about was myself. I was terrified with my own fear. That's why I did it. I wish it could have been different." He sank back into his chair and stared blankly at the floor, while tears of shame, guilt and then relief ran down his race. He had never told anyone before.
The white lady waited until the old man raised his eyes, then she asked, "Would you like to know what happened when you ran back into the cave?"
He nodded. "Would you like to know how my story ends?"
"Yes, I would," he said, leaning forward in his chair.
"Well, after the children went into the forest, those of us who remained behind had no choice but to accept our fate. As we did so, our fear disappeared! We were no longer afraid, even of world's end. A great peace swept across the earth.
"Then the last day arrived. Everyone gathered at the appointed hour in front of their sets, and the face of her whom they called the godmother appeared to each of them, and here is what she said. 'Your work is all but done. You have changed war into peace, and transformed fear into trust. To each of you I say well done. The next step is so simple your minds will deny it. You have but to join together, speak with one voice, and open yourselves to the power within you.
"For you now stand ready to know the full truth of your being - you now can be trusted with the power of the universe that has been locked within your hearts since time began. You are now ready for a happier world. Come let us cross over together. Let us open our hearts to each other and speak with one voice!" And these were the words that were spoken by every person on earth. We the people of earth, of one mind and heart open ourselves to the power of love and truth."
"And with these words, spoken at the same moment in time by every loving person on earth, everything was changed. The butterfly left its cocoon of fear and darkness, and the earth shone like a luminous pearl in the heavens." The old man sat there, nodding his head slowly. He now knew what happened on that strange day in the forest. That flash of blinding light had been the bursting force of that power locked within the human heart. But that moment of human destiny had passed him by. In fear he had run back to the cave, while they had gone forward.
He longed for another chance. And as he sat there the godmother got up and began walking towards him, and he knew that it was true - they had come back for him.
He got to his feet and walked forward to meet her, his hands outstretched in greeting. When she took his hands in hers and smiled into his eyes, he felt himself filling with light and his heart bursting with joy. A faint smile trembled on his lips as all about him he could hear singing and laughter. The celebration had begun. The last one had crossed over into the light.
Copyright 1996: All rights reserved, must have written permission by the author to reprint.
Austin Repath is a gifted teacher, writer and story teller. His stories explore the depth of human experience and feeling and evoke a healing response in his listeners. Austin has been invited to tell his stories throughout Canada, the U.S. and England. To contact or find out more about Austin Repath write to Reed Press at 2 Slade Avenue, Toronto, ON M6G 3A1 Canada