In the not so distant future humans attempt to stop a pandemic with a bioengineered, adapting vaccine. The vaccine is preferentially given to the old, young and those in high risk jobs (teachers, health care professionals, bus drivers etc). The pandemic kills 90% of those who are unvaccinated. The vaccine leaves recipients in a vegetative state, ultimately followed by death. With the world population decimated, basic services disappear as does centralized government.
The first generation post Apocalypse does okay, resources are plentiful, competition is low. Following generations start to lose skills. They survive, biologically they could even be said to thrive. Generation 2 10% can write. Generation 3 less than 1% can write...
Kate of the third generation, spurred by advice from her dead great-grandma in the form of a journal is torn between hunkering down in her own little world of books and nostalgia or going out to seek like-minded people and reinvent civilization.
The grave gaped at her. She wasn't close enough yet to see into it. If you were a bird in one of the apple trees surrounding the grave you would see a handsome young woman, although what birds consider handsome is debatable, with red curls escaping from beneath a rainbow striped stocking cap. Her pale skin was rosy at the cheeks and lips and liberally speckled with pale freckles. She was draped in a thick woolen overcoat several sizes too big for her, the sleeves were rolled up to reveal hands that matched her face in paleness. They stroked each other nervously before fluttering to rest on her belly. She approached the grave tentatively, face contorted with worry and longing, a wish playing across her face like a movie. You could see she was hoping the grave was empty.
Finally, she was next to the grave and she stared down, the hope erased from her face and replaced by a stone mask. The corpse at the bottom of the grave resembled Kate in the freckles but her curls, spread against the dark, fluffy soil were honey blonde rather than bright copper. The face was pale in death but even then darker than Kate's, Kate had never seen her without a ruddy blush across her cheeks and nose. The few freckles across the corpse's nose stood out so clear, like they never had in life she had always had to point them out to Kate when she was little and say "See you got at least six of those freckles from mommy, daddy didn't make all of you." Kate shook her head above the grave and returned to thinking of the body as the corpse, not mother. If she thought of it, not her, as mother she was sure she would fly apart into atoms, scattered to the winds and lost forever, leaving a husk above the grave that would never move again. She observed the details. The corpse had dug the grave herself. The shovel was still in the big dark pile of soil next to the grave, protruding at a lazy angle. The grave was deep. three sides were sharp and straight, the fourth, probably where she had climbed out to place the shovel thoughtfully was broken and crumbled. A dark smear of dirt stood out like a shadow on the corpse's forehead where she must've wiped her forehead.
Kate took a deep breath and mechanically reached for the shovel. She shrugged off the overcoat and kicked it away so it wouldn't tangle her feet. Devoid of the heavy swaddling her silhouette appeared, all legs and belly. It was obvious because of the clinging green turtleneck that she was pregnant, not close to time but at least 4 or five months. the turtleneck rode up showing a vulnerable strip of the underside of her belly. her long legs were clad in dark blue leggings and were long and skinny like a girl's She looked much younger without the heavy coat although her face looked as ancient as a statue. She dipped the shovel into the pile and scooped up a heaping shovelful of loamy darkness. She held it poised for a long, eternal moment over the grave not able to start. then with a jerk she dumped the soil and flinched when she heard it hit the corpse. Her arms shook as she reached for another shovelful of earth. Unnoticed tears began to leak from her eyes, leaving glittering tracks down her cheeks and collecting on her chin briefly before dropping to the ground. The birds probably thought she was not going to be able to go on but she did and gradually the patter of scattered earth hitting the corpse turned into the softer sound of soil hitting soil. Without once changing her expression Kate shoveled on until the grave was level with the ground around it. A big pile of dirt still remained and she thought of the pictures of mounded graves. What kind of crazy physics made the dirt bigger when put back in. Then she said it aloud, "The body takes up room too." That was the point of no return. and she dropped her head, struggling against the contorting grief. She battled silently for a few moments, her lips tight and eyes scrunched the tears coming with renewed vigour joined now by snot streaming from her nose. She tried to pull it together but failed and a tortured cry escaped her lips, "Mommy!" And she knelt by the grave and then lay her head on it like she had laid her head against her mother's breast when she was small and cried, deep wracking sobs that shook her slender frame with jack-hammer like intensity. Little Bear found her like that an hour later. He had come to the house for school, and no one had been there. He had laboriously read through the note on the kitchen table. "Come to the orchard. It is time." and being a good little boy he had obeyed. Now in the orchard he saw Kate, his favorite person in the world lying in the dirt. He tiptoed up to her silently. He heard a soft snore and remembered what teacher had said, "Pregnant ladies need a lot of naps. " He thought it was a strange place to take a nap but teacher always knew. So he turned to leave. As he was going he saw the coat in a heap and returned with it and tucked it gently around Kate's sleeping body. He never knew how motherly that sweet gesture looked but the birds saw.