The Last Man
My name is Ed. As far as I know, I'm the last man on Earth, the last person alive. We finally got that plague we were promised, threatened with, taunted by. It came with a whimper, a feeling of unrest, a feeling like a festering anxiety, something unsettled deep down in our marrow. It came on slowly at first, just another common modern discomfort, like depression. The early symptoms were easily covered with a few cocktails, or a little marijuana, or a xanax if that was more your flavor.
Who knows how long it had been growing, mutating inside of us, or where it came from. We didn't pay any attention to it until the pustulant red boils started popping up. They start at the center of the chest and work their way outward, around the ribs, up to the face, and down the abdomen to the genitals, oozing a fetid green when they ruptured. A pain like a scorpion sting when they broke open.
I'm going to be honest, because well hell, what difference does it make now. I was too busy to care when the first people were pronounced dead. It's not that I didn't care. I was busy. It was happening over there, it was happening to one of those other places with different people, people who spoke different and dressed differently. I'm not a racist, or a nationalist, or any other kind of ist. I know, I know, that is exactly what racist people used to say, a few of them anyway. Most people were telling the truth when they professed to not hate other people over trivial matters like slight pigment variations. No, I wasn't apathetic because the people spoke differently or looked differently, or dressed differently. I was busy. I worked two jobs to make ends meet, both of which I hated. The late shift at Denny's over on 4th Street was the better of the two. I lived in a cramped apartment, circular brown water stains on the ceiling, the layered smell of cat piss and cigarettes. A shelf cluttered with dusty old books that I never had time to read. I was taking care of my mom the best I could. She wasn't quite old enough to collect social security, but had already smoked away every opportunity afforded to a beautiful, intelligent woman in this life. She'd come and go. Sleeping on my couch for a week, then poof, gone for a month. Out to score.
I had a kid out there somewhere, she never let me see him. Said I was a loser. The court agreed with her. She cashed the checks though. But I don't want to get into all that. They're gone now, all of them. And like I said, I'm gonna be honest, I'm not exactly upset about the way things have gone.
I know how that sounds. I just said I had a child and a mother and that they are both dead and I'm not upset about it. What a monster, right? Yeah, maybe. But as I sit here on an Italian leather couch, sipping bourbon older than me, looking out at the pacific ocean from the window of this hilltop mansion, clack clack clacking away at the keys of this antique typewriter, I can't help but see the opportunity.
All the hours I spent sitting in that little Mazda coffin, breathing in the toxic fumes from every other tailpipe on the congested freeway, sweat rolling down my ass crack, exhausted and inching my way closer to and from another meaningless day of tedious work, all I could think of was what I didn't have. And now finally, here is my chance. - No distractions. No obligations. Now I can finally write my novel about Sue Perkins.
Sue Perkins looked up at the stars, what was left of them. They seemed infinite when she was a little girl growing up in the country. Her father would point up to one of those shiny dots in the night sky and call it by name. She thought then how he must be making up the names. She thought he was being silly; Canopus, Arcturus, Rigil Kentaurus, what kind of names are those? She imagined stars with names like Cornelius and Juliet. Now, at sixteen years old Sue sat just above the wailing sirens of the city, imagining her father was still here.
At midnight Sue climbed down the rusty ladder on the side of the building and into a dark alleyway. A drunk old man swayed as he pissed on an overflowing dumpster, singing,
“Gory gory, what a helluva way to die,
gory gory, what a helluva way to die,
and he ain't gonna jump no more.”
She slunk off unseen and made her way down Fourth Street. She looked around before ducking behind some plywood that covered a hole in a brick wall.
“Hey Sue, where ya been? We been waiting for ya.” Charlie was the closest thing to the group's leader. He wasn't the biggest or even the smartest, but the other strays listened to him because he often knew where the score was. He had a soft face, with the exception of the jagged scar under his right eye which he refused to talk about.
“Yeah, I was-”
“Nobody cares,” Interrupted Brittany. The other two girls laughed.
“Alright, alright. This is what we have for tonight,” Charlie went on. “I've had my eye on this spot all week. It's ripe for picking. Some old codger lives there, but he's never home at night. We can get in through the back, load up, and be back before daylight. Remember, if you even suspect that one of those soulless robo-hounds has your scent, don't be coming back here. You run down to the river, go for a splash. Got it?”
The thin dirty faces all nodded in the pale light.
“The twins are on security tonight. Ladies, you remember the warning system right? Text one period for caution. Two for danger and three for, get out now.”
The two girls nodded. “Yeah, we got it.”
There were six in the group now, including Charlie. There were eight last week. They stayed together, moving through the alleyways like a pack of feral dogs. The alleys were dangerous, inhabited by the deranged and starving. The alternatives were the sewers, which were already owned by two rival gangs - always a bloody mess down there. Weird shit too. Human sacrifice was the rumor. The absolute worst option though was the surface streets. The streets were owned and run by the most powerful gang of all, the government.
They had micro scanners everywhere, paid for with tax dollars under the guise of public safety, capable of detecting pathogens when a person exhaled. One wrong breath was all it took. People vanished from the streets. Safer in the alleyways with the rapists.
Adam was right behind Sue when they arrived at the house.
“Hey, Sue,” Adam whispered. “I've been meaning to, I wanted to ask you about something.”
“And you think now is a good time?”
“I guess not. No.”
“You guessed right. Now shut up for fucks sake.” Sue took a breath before turning around to look at Adam. His face was bent with embarrassment. “That was a bit harsh.” She whispered. Sue turned back to face the back entrance of the house. Charlie was there at the door. Brittney interlaced her fingers and hoisted him up to the window. They were shadows. He poured into the tiny opening. The back door opened a moment later and Charlie waved them in.
The house was cluttered. The teenagers used red lights to search for food, weapons, medicine, and anything else they could trade on the streets. Charlie emptied the sparse contents of the kitchen cupboard into a frayed green backpack. Brittney went into each of the bathrooms. She rifled through the medicine cabinets, loading her pockets with little amber colored bottles. Sue searched the office, trying to break the lock open on the desk drawer with her knife. Adam searched the closets for shoes that would fit him. While the other two girls stood guard outside.
Britney's pockets rattled like a maracha as she walked upstairs to the main bedroom. She saw Adam sitting on the floor trying on a pair of boots. “How have you survived this long?” Britney said. She stepped up on the bed and walked in a few tight circles the way a cat does before laying down. Instead of laying down, she pulled down her pants and took a shit on the pillow.
“That is disgusting,” said Adam. “Why?”
Downstairs in the office, Sue had snapped the tip of her knife off trying to pry the desk drawer open. A black and white cat was purring at her feet as she sifted through the contents of the desk. Mostly papers. Important looking papers. At the back of the deep drawer was an old revolver. A police issue .38 caliber. An antique. Sue stuffed the pistol in her pocket. She was about to leave the room when she looked down and saw a familiar name on one of the pieces of paper that had fallen out of a folder marked classified.
“It can't be. He's dead. She told me he's dead.”
The letterhead on the report said BlueGroup. The date on the document was 06Oct2033. Two days ago.
Patient 44729 remains asymptomatic. The patient shows a strong resistance to each new strain administered, including doses of Di-Voc Serum 24 and 25 at .3mL, every 72 hours. Patient exhibits moderate to severe psychotic episodes following each administration. Episodes are marked by a frenzy of writing, followed by the patient falling into a heavy sleep. Patient 44729 walks with a pronounced limp, likely attributed to a previous injury sustained to the lower right leg, marked by heavy scarring. Patient 44729 still refuses to give a detailed medical history and remains hostile.
“What did you find?” Charlie asked, startling Sue.
“Do you know whose house this is, Charlie?”
“Just some old guy.”
“Some old guy? Dont fucking lie to me.”
“Whoa. Hey Sue I don't -” The cell phone in Charlie's pocket began to vibrate.
Alright, Alright, Mr. Boots. Mr. Boots is my cat, ADN hes hungry. Even now, Ive gotta take care of somebody. Maybe thats a good thing. Serving others. Or maybe id just stay up all night drinking and writing my novel if it werent for Mr. boots here.. Mr. Boots is hungry though, and Im all out of whiskey. And look at the stars. Look at em. Look whos out there watching us die. Werent we always the bees?d
Come on Boots, lets get some tuna. Well write more tomorrow. Meow.
Seems I was a little over-served last night. Thank you for your concern, Mr. Boots. I'll be alright. The coffee is brewing now. I can't seem to get the viscosity of the coffee right using this dainty press in this house. I want my coffee like black sludge, coffee so thick you gotta chew it a little before it goes down. “Thick enough to float a nail,” Steinbeck wrote. Cowboy coffee. All the cowboys are dead. Maybe I'll look for an old percolator next time I go scrounging for supplies. Mr. Boots, put a percolator on the list.
What's that? No Mr. Boots. I've got to get back to my story. You go on without me.
James Perkins looked up at the eyes peering into his 8x10’cell through the two-inch thick glass window in the steel door, as they did every few hours. He placed the letter on the small metal table by his bed and laid back down.
James wrote a letter every day. He was told if he complied that they would give him paper and deliver the letters. They often came when he was sleeping. The letters would be gone and a tray of food would be in their place. He'd lost track of time. No windows to mark the passing of the sun. No human contact. Just the sounds from neighboring cells. The moaning agony. The bellowing which seemed to grow and grow until it stopped completely. Then he would hear the thick steel door of the neighboring cell creek open, the footsteps of the guards in their thick hazardous material suits. That rubber squelching sound as they labored to remove the body. Then a new voice. A new low moan that grew over time to its fear filled, excruciating crescendo. Then, silence. Again and again.
Outside the cell the guards were taking bets on how long patient 44729 would last. Seventy two hours was the safe bet, but that had come and gone long ago. He was brought here after one of the autonomous scanners detected that he was positive for the virus. Locked up to keep from spreading it, to keep the streets safe. None of the doctors or scientists could explain why he was still alive. They tested him every few days. He tested positive every time. They brought pads of paper into the cell, dressed like astronauts, holding a fat needle in one hand and the stationary in the other.
“Go on, you fucking Nazi.” James spit on the ground.
“It's for the greater good, Mr. Perkins.” The voice was muffled and robotic from behind the helmet's face shield. Wouldn't you like to help us find the cure? Well, then you could get out of here. You could be with your daughter again.
James thought of his little girl. She must not be so little any more. He knew she was alive, though the odds were against it. He tried not to think of all the awful things she would have had to do to stay alive out there. He tried his best to swallow those thoughts. They bubbled up behind his eyes. “Go on, then.” He said to the men in the rubber suits.
After they left his cell, James picked up the paper they had left and began to write. Writing was the only thing that settled his mind after the injections. He did his best to focus on the past. He picked a moment and wrote out every detail. The rest of him seemed to disintegrate, breaking apart into little cubes and swirling around like leaves in a tornado.
Each swirling piece, a thought, a memory. One of those chunks that he just could not seem to grasp was a question twisting around him, how does he know about Sue?
I know, I know Mr. Boots. Not an impressive word count today. I'm just not feeling great. A bit cramped up in here, Mr. Boots. Let's take a stroll into town, get some supplies. Come on, don't be like that. No I will not. I will not do it, Mr. Boots! You might as well not bring it up again. I'm not and I won't.
Man, I'd been cooped up too long. It certainly is peaceful out there. The birds all seem happy. It didn't take them long to come back, to make nests in the traffic lights. They sing different songs now. Songs I never heard before. Didn't realize how long it's been since I went out there.
I went shopping today, sifting through the yellow bins at the Amazon fulfillment center. I found a nice blue flannel shirt and a pair of boots that were on their way to Maine. I sat there on the cold concrete floor trying them on. I must be allergic to the fabric. I'm having a mild reaction now. I must have cut through two hundred boxes. Three of them were espresso machines. No percolator.
I picked up a few more bottles of Macallans and some cans of tuna for Mr. Boots. Haven't seen him around since I got back. He’ll come running when I crack open one of these tins though.
Sue held up the paper.
“Tell me that isn't all you got”, Brittney said.
“Shut up, Brittney. For once in your miserable life, shut the fuck up.” Sue turned back to Charlie. “My dad is alive. They have him.”
Charlie was unloading the cans of food from his backpack. “Who has him?”
“It says here on the paper, BlueGroup. We have to get him.”
“Whoa now,” Charlie held up his hands, “Do you have any idea, do you know what BlueGroup is? What they do to people? That's where they haul people to, the ones they snatch off the street.”
One of the twins chimed in, “I heard they do all kinds of experiments on people there.”
“That's just a conspiracy theory,” said Brittney.
“Oh right, because the government has never lied or taken advantage of the poor, right?” Sue fired back, “There is absolutely no historical precedent for a government agency doing nefarious shit under the thin veneer of virtue, for the greater good.”
“What shit?” Asked one of the twins.
“Read a book for once,” Sue snapped.
“Alright, alright. Look,” Charlie said, “even if BlueGroup actually has your dad, there is no way to get to him.”
“There's always a way,” Adam said softly from the corner. Charlie glared at Adam, which was usually enough to put him back in his place. Sue was looking at Adam too, her pearlescent blue eyes wide with hope and love. Charlie didn't matter now, nothing mattered now except to keep her looking at him like that forever. “We can do it.”
“How?” Sue asked.
“We could, we can follow them.”
“Wait, you want to follow the vans?” Charlie said, “the ones we spend every day of our lives avoiding, to what, break into the secret government building that no one ever escapes from?”
“Well, I don't want to, but if they have Sue's dad we have to try. What if they had your dad?”
“The hell we do, my dad was an asshole.”
“Well, mine isn't,” Sue said. “And if I were in there, if I were in trouble or in pain or afraid there is nothing in this whole damn world that would keep him from coming for me. There is no pain he wouldn't endure to keep me safe. Tears were filling Sue's big blue eyes. “Now, I'm going, with or without your help.”
“Yeaaa, count me out,” Brittney said.
“Look Sue, I feel you, I do,” Charlie said, “but it's just too dangerous.”
Sue turned to Adam, “What's your plan?”
Damn it, Mr. Boots! He brought a damned dead bird in here. Now its little bird corpse is at my feet. I could feed him caviar and he'd still go out there and kill these beautiful things for the thrill of it.
What do you mean, who am I talking to, Mr. Boots? You're not my only friend, you know. Not the only one who hears me, is interested in what I have to say, what I have lived through! You know nothing of my pain Mr. Boots. Nothing of the suffering I endure. This pain in my chest, this burning in my loin. You don't know what it is to be human, Mr. Boots - to feel the wretched agony of loss. You lay around, admiring your claws, but you never become attached to anything. You never hold on to anything so tight that it breaks you, ends you when you're forced to give it up. You feel no remorse when you injure another. How could you ever understand me, Mr. Boots? No, You're not my only friend. There are others, and they hear me.
It took several days and nights for Adam to come up with the motorcycle he told Sue about. Every day she grew more anxious, more reckless watching the streets.
It was getting dark. Adam and Sue huddled together, tucked between a few busted pallets at the edge of the alley. They were shoulder to shoulder looking out on 2nd street. Adams' palms were clammy. He feared Sue might hear his heart THUD-THUD, THUD-THUD outside his chest.
Adam was working up the courage to ask Sue a question when they saw an old man stumble from the alley across the street. He was headed north toward the liquor store singing,
“gory gory, what a helluva way to die,
gory gory, what a helluva way to die,
and he ain't gonna jump no more.”
He hadn't gone half a block when the autonomous vehicle pulled up, silent as air. Two sleek black gynoids took hold of the man and they were gone.
“There! Let's go,” Sue said.
Adam moved the pallets covering the small electric cycle. “Best I could do,” he said remorsefully.
“Come on, come on,” she said.
He had the throttle wide open but could barely keep the vehicle in sight. “Come on , come on,” she said, “we're gonna lose them.” They were out now, out on the streets, subtle as a red giraffe at the beach. Sue could feel the electric eyes on her, staring. Staring at her body temperature, the unique pattern of her facial features, her heart rate, and the rest of her vital signs. She thought of a moment from her past when fear led to an over reaction, when the over reaction led to great loss. She hoped the eyes on her could not see her thoughts of that moment.
The autonomous vehicle stopped at an unassuming chain link gate which opened as it approached. There wasn't much around. Just trees. The vehicle drove down a long driveway to a shack. The gynoids carried the man, sedated and head covered, into the shack.
Adam and Sue stashed the bike behind a bush. “Let's go,” Sue said, gesturing that they climb the fence.
“There's no way there aren't sensors everywhere here.”
“That's a double negative. And besides, there are sensors everywhere on the streets.”
“Are you seriously correcting my grammar right now?”
“Come on, let's go.” Sue climbed over the fence, cutting herself on the barbed wire.
“We're totally going to die,” Adam said under his breath. His hands trembled as he climbed the fence.
I'm sorry, Mr. Boots. Sometimes the pain gets the best of us. No one is immune from the past. Nothing personal, just nature. Do you hate those birds, Mr. Boots? The way I hate my skin. Do they torment you? Do they tell you to do things? Do you hate them, Mr. Boots? The way they smell. Or is it just, nature, Mr. Boots.
A stack of letters sat piled on a messy desk. Dr. Centauri sat reading one of the letters. “They're all the same. Verbatim. Dozens of them. Even the inconsistent spacing between paragraphs is the same in every one of his letters. Remarkable.”
“Hey Doc,” an orderly the size of a gorilla appeared in the office doorway. “We have a new patient. Room five.”
“Alright, I'll be there momentarily.”
“I heard about what happened to your place. Shame”
Doctor Centauri looked up from the letter for the first time.
“Did they really shit on your pillow?”
Doc sneered at the orderly.
“Savages,” he said, trying his best to contain his laughter.
“Yes, well. At least they didn't harm poor Mr. Boots.”
I know it stinks, Mr. Boots. It smells like rotten death. No, I won't Mr. Boots. Oh God, they're bursting.
Sue snuck down the corridor, leaving a trail of blood. Adam followed behind. “How do we even know he's here?” he said, his voice trembling. Sue turned the corner and saw a row of doors. She peeked into the glass window at the center of each. Room 1, Room 2, Room 3…
“SUE!” Adam screamed before the orderly covered his mouth with his hand. Sue turned around and saw the orderly holding Adam like a hostage.
“Sue?” Patient 44729 limped to the cell door and looked through the two inch thick glass. He saw a young woman pointing ;,kmuhdr1b nnjkmpo09n afd,MMAMKL ,MA
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