LAST UPDATED: 6/14/18!
Please click here to read more about The Last Man Chronicles. This includes more information about the stories and art.
This blog post contains all the Last Man flash fiction pieces in order of oldest (right below) to newest (on the bottom).
I post weekly on my Facebook fan page and every couple months update this page.
The Last Man had been waiting for hours. His eyes stung from the dry, cold weather. A chill had settled so deep in his core, he didn’t think he’d ever warm up again.
It didn’t matter. He would stay until just past dusk. Only then would he end the day.
This had been his hunting spot for three winters and it never failed him. With each passing year nature took back what was once hers. Animals roamed freely here now. The cars rusted. The asphalt disappeared under brambles and grass growing from its cracks. In the distance, skyscrapers turned into skeletons.
The Last Man shifted slightly and closed his eyes for a few long seconds to try and warm them up.
He heard a twig snap. Standing in front of him was the biggest buck he’d ever seen. Slowly, he brought up his rifle and aimed…
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
The Last Man stood motionless. A chill ran across his neck and back and it wasn’t from the cold. He was one wrong move away from being dinner.
Twenty yards ahead of him were four wolves. He hadn’t seen them until he’d reached the crest of the snowdrift. Their coats were so white they camouflaged near perfectly in the snow. The hard winter sunlight nearly blinded him, but he kept eyes on them.
He always cut through the city to get home after a winter hunting trip, and not once had he seen more than a bird or two. In the summer, the city was infested with Walkers and animals avoided it. In the winter, the Walkers froze near solid or were buried under the snow, but wildlife still shied away, perhaps sensing what lurked within.
Even with the 30-30 lever action rifle ready in his hands, the Last Man decided it wasn’t a fight he wanted to pick. The wolves hadn’t noticed him yet. He kept his eyes on them and walked backward, retracing his steps until he was at the bottom of the drift, out of sight.
There were few clear paths to take back home. This added another half day to his travel time.
He gritted his teeth and trudged forward, hoping he wouldn’t lose another toe to frostbite.
art by http://siqri.deviantart.com/
He remembered what it was like when he knew mankind had given up. That humanity had finally loosened its grip and stopped fighting the infection.
It was the dead of winter and bitter cold. Ash drifted beside snowflakes, lazy as they made their descent to the ground. Fire consumed the city. Smoke billowed from empty skyscrapers. There was not a living soul in sight.
GOD HELP US
He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked away from the graffiti scrawled across the billboard overheard. His gaze moved down the road at the tangled mess of abandoned cars and garbage.
Where did he go from here? He’d been to the other cities on the emergency broadcast. He hadn’t seen another survivor in weeks.
Maybe he was alone. Maybe he was the last man on earth.
Then he saw movement in the corner of his eye. He tensed and brought up his rifle. His hazmat suit squeaked. He regretted how much the foggy mask impeded his vision.
There was nothing but a frostbitten corpse leaning out a car window. Its skin was almost papery, tight against frozen muscle. The Last Man was hungry and tired. It was showing. He needed to find somewhere to rest the night. He’d rethink what to do in the morning…
The corpse flexed its hand and drew its bony fingertips up the car door. When it raised its head and snapped its ragged teeth in his direction, the Last Man realized he wasn’t truly alone.
art by https://www.facebook.com/Art-of-Blake-Rottinger-562615890417610/
The Last Man had forgotten what sleep was like without the nightmares. Sometimes he could only recall fragments. An endless abyss of undead. Fetid breath from mouths lined with jagged, black teeth. Glassy eyes that looked everywhere and nowhere at once. Maggots writhing in open chest cavities. Loops of entrails spilling out, hanging against their knees as they shambled ever forward.
In his nightmares he was running, but never fast enough.
He had a gun, but the wrong caliber of rounds.
He was safe in a bunker, but all his food had spoiled.
No matter the nightmare, in the end, the horde overtook him. Dragged him into the blackness. First he’d hear his clothes tear…then his flesh. Their lips smacking and jaws grinding as they chewed up his skin and muscle. A peculiar feeling of lightness as they tugged out his stomach, his lungs, his heart.
And just before he’d awaken, drenched in sweat, pulse caught in his throat, the dead were reaching for his eyes…
art by artroni.deviantart.com
“Put down your gun and step away.”
The Last Man froze. As he scanned the horizon in front of him, and paid close attention to what was in his peripheral, dozens of thoughts raced in his mind. Where did they come from? How many were there? How long had they been following him and WHY hadn’t he heard or seen them before?
“He said put your fucking gun down!”
Male voice. Different from the first voice. Higher pitched. Younger.
“Okay,” Last Man said. “I’m going to move real slow and set the rifle down.”
It was foggy. Visibility was poor. Is that why he hadn’t seen them? Was he losing his edge—after all, he hadn’t seen another living person in years—or were they that good?
In front of him were hills and valleys of rubble for the next quarter mile. Nothing but bombed wasteland. Concrete and rebar made it dangerous to move through the terrain quickly.
If the two people behind him wanted to kill him, they would’ve done it by now. Shoot first, loot later. Their hesitance told him volumes. Last Man bent down and set down his rifle, then rose slowly with his arms above his head.
“Ok. Uh…Now…” the second voice said. “Tom, what do we do?”
“Fuck, I don’t know.”
“Screw Dad for not teaching us…”
The captors conferred in whispers. Last Man took the opportunity to shift his head just left enough to see behind him.
They were twenty feet away. Teenagers. Both boys were rail thin. Their jackets hung off bony shoulders and they both looked like they’d topple over if a slight breeze hit them. One held a shotgun.
“I don’t know what you plan to do here, but whatever it is, we can all walk away alive,” Last Man said. He kept his tone clear and emotionless.
“Shut up!” the shotgun-wielder yelled. “Take off your pack and gear and leave it by your gun.”
There was a shake in their voices beneath the bravado. They were afraid. Last Man didn’t care to guess what they’d been through or who they’d lost. He didn’t want to kill them, but would if he couldn’t talk them down.
“Listen to my brother, you fu—”
The boy was cut off as an arrow pierced his right eye. He stumbled back one step, then fell. His brother dropped to his knees, scanning for whoever did it while screaming for his lost kin.
Last Man grabbed his rifle and scanned the immediate area for cover and the attacker. All he could see was fog and a sea of concrete.
The remaining boy’s screams turned to gurgles. Last Man glanced over and saw him grasping at the arrow in his throat. He ripped it out. Blood spurted across the rubble and gushed down his skin, soaking his flimsy shirt.
Last Man stayed low and began moving away from the scene, still scanning for the sniper. He managed to find a large slab of concrete and set his back against it. He took a deep breath and peeked over the edge of the slab.
The figure standing two feet away from him was dressed in grays and black. A thin layer of dust coated their entire body. They blended into the rubble wasteland perfectly. Last Man could almost see his own reflection in the gas mask the archer wore.
They wielded a compound bow and an arrow was pointed right at Last Man’s head.
He heard a long, high pitched screech in the distance. Soon it was met with a dozen others and Last Man knew the archer was the least of his worries.
art by https://www.facebook.com/theartofkenbarthelmey/
There was a split second where the Archer had to decide what the bigger threat was; Last Man or whatever was headed their way.
It was of no surprise to him when the Archer turned away from him and aimed towards where they heard the howls. Everyone was an enemy until something worse came along. Fine with him. Last Man stood fully and scanned the area for their new threat.
In the middle of the sea of concrete rubble with virtually nowhere to hide and no advantageous position to take. Last Man squinted as he tried to make out forms in the fog. The Archer dropped down beside him taking cover behind the same meager slab of concrete.
It was quiet. Last Man slowed his breathing and focused.
He wasn’t sure where the monster came from. All of the sudden it was just there, forty yards away, standing above the boy’s bodies. It was more horrific than any Walker he’d ever seen. Where arms once were hung sinewy tentacles that writhed on the ground as they investigated the bodies. One tentacle slithered against the bloody bodies. The appendage rose to its mouth where it tasted the fresh blood. A shudder coursed through its body. It raised its face to the sky and let out a long, high pitched scream.
A chorus responded. Through the fog came another three mutants. They tore into the corpses, tentacles tearing limb from body, flesh from bone.
They hadn’t spotted the Archer and Last Man taking cover behind the slab.
They had to act now, while the things were eating. If they tried to slip away and the creatures heard, they’d lose the element of surprise and stood little chance against four. Whatever these things were, they were fast as hell and moved silently.
The Archer was facing Last Man, their bow drawn but pointed at the ground. Last Man nodded to his rifle and then to the monsters, pointing to himself then the two on the right.
The Archer nodded in agreement.
Last Man stepped away from his cover. He aimed the sight of his 30-30 on the first creature. Its jaw moved furiously as it gnawed at an arm. He squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit the thing in the temple, blowing away a chunk of its head. It collapsed onto the ground.
Then the thing stood and locked its gaze on him. Chunks of brain and gore dripped down half of its face from the gaping wound in its head.
A flash of pure, unadulterated fear shot through Last Man’s entire being.
They were fucked.
art by https://www.artstation.com/artist/red_rabbit
Last Man fired two more rounds. The first tore through the monster’s neck, the second its jaw. It staggered and went to its knees. Still, it wasn’t dead.
The Archer let loose an arrow that embedded itself through the hollow of one of the things cheeks. Its tentacle arm reached up and jerked the arrow free, unfazed. The arrow clattered before falling between the chunks of rubble.
Then each of the standing mutants circled their downed comrade. Last Man realized they were taking a defensive position around it. Instead of resuming fire, he waited. He had three rounds left in the 30-30. It would not be enough.
One of the things raised its face to the sky and released a series of short yelps. They held their ground.
Tentatively, Last Man took a step backward, his sight still locked onto his target. The mutants didn’t react. He moved farther and the Archer followed his lead. Step by step they put more distance between them and the tentacled monsters until the creatures were nothing more than vague shapes in the fog.
It was only then that Last Man began to run.
He twisted his ankle on the rubble. His lungs burned.
He kept going.
Eventually they cleared the wasteland. The terrain became easier to navigate and their line of sight increased. As the adrenaline faded in his body, Last Man’s thoughts wandered. If he’d managed to kill that creature—if it was even possible—he had a feeling the other three would’ve ripped him apart.
The Archer stopped. The stood in the center of a road Last Man was unfamiliar with. Brick buildings crumbled around them. Overhead a flock of birds silently flew by.
The hair on the back of Last Man’s neck prickled. He hadn’t forgotten how the Archer killed those two boys then pointed an arrow at his head. His grip on the 30-30 tightened, but he didn’t raise it. The Archer still held their bow in hand, though an arrow wasn’t pulled back.
“I’m not much for a sentimental goodbye,” Last Man said, keeping his voice neutral. “So why don’t we go our separate ways and hope we never run into those things again.”
Without missing a beat—still silent—they walked past Last Man and didn’t look back once.
It wasn’t the last time he’d see the Archer.
art by http://noro8.deviantart.com/
The day was clear and warm. Overhead, the top windows and metal of the skyscrapers glittered where thick vegetation had yet to grow. A gentle ocean breeze crept down the roads—now waterways—carrying with it the briny scent of seaweed. The occasional seagull cried out above, looking for something to eat.
Last Man leaned over the edge to make sure there was still plenty of water between him and thebloated, slow moving infected below. Their bodies were distended and on the verge of popping from being immersed. Fish darted in and out as they took off tiny chunks of dead flesh.
They were at least four feet below him, but that was no reason to let his guard down. His paddle cut into the water as he moved away from a thick horde of infected and farther into the city.
One thing was certain: fish would be off the menu for dinner tonight.
Art by http://andreewallin.deviantart.com/
Once it was just him and his family was gone, the Last Man figured he’d go off grid. With his truck loaded with as many supplies as it could carry, he fought through the congested, riot-filled streets of the city and drove.
He drove far enough that the devastation of the Infection became a distant dream. If he focused on the snow-covered landscapes passing by, he could go nearly a minute without thinking of howling Infected or bloody, wrecked bodies.
After slogging up an old logging road for two hours, the snow became too thick for the truck. Last Man turned off the engine and listened to the ticks and pings as it cooled off. A heavy quietness pressed against him. How long had it been since he’d heard quiet like this?
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a few moments. Just long enough to savor the peace, but not long enough for the images of his wife and children to start flooding him.
The Last Man worked the door open, pushing through the wall of snow he’d created. The chill bit at his lips and nose. He pulled his scarf up higher and geared up with his essentials.
He hadn’t made it ten minutes before he found a trail of blood in the snow.
art by me, made for this specific flash fiction
The Last Man expected to find a wounded wolf, bobcat, or perhaps a deer. It seemed like it would be the snowy forest welcoming him, telling him bugging out there was a good call.
What he found was a wounded Husky. It laid in the snow and barely looked up at Last Man as he approached.
The fur on its neck was matted with blood, so he couldn’t tell what kind of wound it had sustained. Other than the wound, it was of a healthy weight and the rest of its fur was well groomed. The dog hadn’t been out here long and someone had been taking care of it.
So much for bugging out to the middle of nowhere.
Last Man knelt down, keeping his eyes on the Husky. It showed no sign of aggression as Last Man inspected its wound. There was a deep gouge in its neck. The dog was cold to the touch. He figured the combination of blood loss and exposure were what made it so docile.
He retrieved his first-aid kit and cleaned and bandaged the wound as best as he could. Just as he finished and was thinking of what to do next, he heard a voice call out somewhere within the forest.
“I see you found Sally,” the man said.
Last Man shouldered his rifle and scanned for the voice. About twenty yards ahead was a man wearing a long coat and a hat. He had a hunting rifle on his back and trekking poles in his hands. Last Man spotted scraggly white hair framing the newcomer’s face.
“She’s hurt,” Last Man replied. “What happened?”
“Out hunting. She got spooked by some ground fowl and cut herself on a branch. Ran away before I could do much about it.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Last Man said. He glanced down at Sally. She’d managed to sit upright and was looking eagerly at her owner.
The old man was now ten yards away. “Say, would you be willing to carry her back to my place? It isn’t far.”
The Last Man considered the situation. He had no plan of going back down the mountain just because there was someone living up here. The forest was a big place. Now he had an open invitation to see where the old man lived. That was valuable information. He agreed and picked up Sally.
A half hour and two war stories about Vietnam later, the forest cleared, revealing a decrepit old house and barn.
“Thanks for helping me. What brings you this far up, anyway? Seems a bit late for hunting.”
Last Man paused as the old man unlatched a gate in front of the house. “Don’t you know?”
“No TV, no radio. I choose to live a different kind life, son. Go down once in the summer for a week or so to resupply and see my grandbabies if my children let me. Missed this last run on account of my health, so things have been a little lean. But I manage. Now, what are you talking about?”
The Last Man swallowed a hard knot in his throat. The weight of Sally on his shoulders felt much heavier than it had before. “Why don’t we go inside for a few minutes?”
The smile faded from the old man’s lips. “Something that bad, huh?”
“Yes,” was all Last Man could say.
art by one of my favorites! Art of Blake Rottinger
A small wood-burning stove heated the small, tidy kitchen. Dozens of framed pictures adorned whatever available wall space there was. Images of a young woman and children. No doubt the Old Man’s daughter and grandchildren.
The Old Man insisted Last Man sit and wait while he dressed Sally’s wound, because the least he could do was give him a hot drink and some food. Once he was finished, he heat up water on the stove and pulled down a can of Folgers from the pantry and cut right to it.
“It was a nuke, wasn’t it?” the Old Man asked. He poured hot water into mugs with hefty spoonfulls of granulated coffee.
“No. It was—is—a virus of some kind.”
He set down the mug atop the worn hardwood table and set across from Last Man. “Like the flu?”
“No.” Last Man shook his head. He wrapped his cold hands around the mug. “It only started a couple months ago. A highly contagious virus. The symptoms are flu-like at first, then people become aggressive. Feral.”
“What’s the government doing about it?”
“They tried to quarantine. It spread too fast. Hospitals were overrun, police overwhelmed. There weren’t enough people to help and most people don’t know how to help themselves.”
The Old Man blinked slowly. “Tried to?”
“The reason why I’m up here is because it didn’t look like things were going to get better. They were only getting worse.”
Last Man almost offered his own story, then thought better of it when he saw the Old Man’s blank expression. After a few minutes, the Old Man took his mug to the sink and emptied it out. He offered Last Man the cot in the second story loft and retired for the evening.
It was dark and Last Man felt he could trust the Old Man, so he took him up on his offer. The next morning, when Last Mast woke up, he felt a stillness in the house that made his ears ring. If he focused, he could almost hear the sound of snowflakes hitting the window.
There was a note on the kitchen table. The Old Man had packed up and decided to find his daughter and grandchildren in Spokane. He didn’t want to ask for help and offered his cabin and everything in it to Last Man.
There was no way the Old Man could make it. Even if he did, the world that was waiting for him would not be what he remembered.
Spokane had been bombed into oblivion.
art by http://everlite.deviantart.com/
He remembered what that first Christmas was like, before the infection claimed nearly everyone and the world went dark. Strings of lights twinkled merrily alongside the flicker of burning cars and buildings. The thick smell of smoke in the air. Snowflakes melting on his face.
From the cold shadows he watched the last dredges of humanity, listened to the song of glass shattering and people shouting. The sight of them made him feel empty inside.
It didn’t matter what they fought over. It was that they were fighting at all.
art by Jeremy Paillotin Art
Last Man looked around the overgrown shopping center and paused. Another day, another mall. With every passing year, they yielded less and less. As the elements overtook them, they became unsafe. Water damage caused structural instability in walls and floors. Wild animals took up residence in their dark recesses as though they were caves.
At this point, coming back to the same malls was nothing more than habit. It was part of a routine he did to fill the long years. What would he find here? Junk. Useless junk not even the lowest scavengers saw value in.
He gave the moss-covered escalators one final look before turning around and leaving. It was time to make a change.
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
It didn’t take as long as it should’ve.
Hidden in the brush growing around an old tractor, Last Man prepared to leave. He only needed to watch the building for a half hour to know what they did there. He stayed because he had to be sure. He’d found a farm house three miles away that looked like a good place to build up a new base. He wasn’t going to abandon his prospects there on a hunch.
Well, now he was certain. There was a community of them. They milled about outside a squat concrete building. Blood spattered and stretched across it’s front, mixed with the muddy trails leading up to it. They were waiting for food.
It didn’t take as long as it should’ve for people to resort to cannibalism. Ideally they never would. But all Last Man knew was that five months after the Infection started was too fucking early.
art by Art of Blake Rottinger
Last Man often dreamed of cities. Sometimes they were places he’d seen in real life. Sometimes his brain smashed together new cities all together.
The cities were always burning. Crumbling. Caving in and crushing millions of screaming people within their concrete and metal claws. Last Man watched from afar with a peculiar lack of emotion. In his dreams, this was quite normal. To be expected. Once the destruction was over, he’d pick his way through the wreckage.
It was when he was in the center that the city swallowed him up, too.
Not sure where the art came from… tried to reverse search it with no luck! If you know where it came from, please let me know. 🙂
A heavy stillness had hung in the air here for almost a decade. No Infected roamed its cracked, weed-ridden streets or hid in dark, abandoned apartments. Only the sound of vines rustling in the breeze or the dribble of water attempting to carve its way through a building.
At least, that’s what he thought he would hear if he could shed his bulky hazmat suit and listen. There were few places left where he could go to be alone, but that luxury came at a cost.
Today was the day he lost them. He closed his eyes and let himself pause to remember his family. His life before. Once a year he came here and asked himself if this life without them was one worth living.
In that moment, while looking out at the eerily peaceful city, he wasn’t sure if it was. The city seemed to call to him. It wanted him to let go and join it in an endless solitude.
The Last Man took one final glance at the sun sinking below the horizon. A soft yellow light bathed the city. He shook it’s siren’s call from his mind.
He would never quit surviving.
art by http://fluox3tine.deviantart.com/
The Screecher circled him. Its long tongue flicking gingerly from its gaping mouth. Hundreds of sharp teeth glistened with drool. Chunks of old, rotting meat hung from its smaller bottom teeth.
It raised its head and howled.
A smug grin spread across Last Man’s lips. No help was coming for this Screecher. He’d already obliterated its nest. This straggler was small, but still dangerous.
Suddenly it darted forward. Last Man squeezed the trigger on his Glock 40, using up his remaining three rounds. The first two shots hit the Screecher dead center in the chest. The last grazed the side of its bulbous, misshapen skull.
The monster lashed out with one claw and met air as Last Man dodged backward and dropped his gun. Its second grab was successful. Its giant hand curled around almost his entire thigh with brutal crushing strength. That long, slimy tongue shot out to wrap around Last Man’s throat.
This was not the first encounter Last Man had had with a Screecher. Yes, they were fast, dangerous, and scary as hell…but they were predictable.
He tucked his chin tight against his chest to prevent the tongue from snaking around his throat to choke him. Ignoring the pain in his leg and the putrid stench coming from the Screecher’s mouth, Last Man kicked out his free leg and planted it square against the monster’s chest. He bucked his hips up and pushed the Screecher away.
The tension around Last Man’s neck increased as the slack in the Screecher’s tongue stretched out. Before it had a chance to release him, Last Man grabbed the appendage with one hand and brought his knife down with the other. Even when the Screecher tried to give up and run, Last Man held his ground. He hacked three more times at the tongue until finally it tore away.
Dark, blackish blood spewed out of the wound. The Screecher attempted to dash away, but it was of no use. Once their tongue was gone, they bled out quickly.
Last Man checked his surroundings before retrieving his pliers. Screecher’s teeth were currency. On the off chance he had to deal with a trader or—and he hoped he wouldn’t—a colony, he’d be ready.
He wrapped a scarf around his nose and mouth to reduce the stench, then got to work.
art by http://cgsoufiane.deviantart.com/
It took a couple years, but Last Man came to find not every one of the remaining people untouched by the Infection were sadistic, violent crazies.
Fall was in full swing. Golden light accentuated the rich shades of red, orange, and brown leaves mixed with the green ones still hanging on to towering maple trees. The sweet song of bird chirping was marred only by the occasional cawing from crows.
Last Man chose his path through the abandoned cars carefully. His boots splashed in mud puddles. Out of habit, his gaze flitted about, checking windows and cars for possible Infected. But really, this street was probably one of the safest left in the state. Or maybe even the whole country, as far as Last Man was concerned.
He saw the familiar sign and knew he’d found his friend. “You loot, I shoot” was painted in white on a piece of plywood. Light danced across the unassuming sign and reflected off the deep puddle it rested in. The plastic lawn chair beside it was empty.
“Haven’t seen you around,” a voice called.
Coming down the steps of a two story red house was Benjamin. He was an even six feet tall, well built, with a clean shaven face. Last Man didn’t know what Benjamin did before the shit hit the fan, but he did know the guy and his two sons—now teenagers—spent their days finding and hoarding supplies. And that he not only was extremely dangerous, but a damn good shot, too. If you were on his side, this neighborhood was probably one of the safest to be.
“Been traveling,” Last Man answered. When they were close enough, Last Man shook his hand. “But what with winter being around the corner, I wanted to take some extra precautions at my camp.”
Benjamin nodded. “Of course. Well, my sons found a buried shipping container about two miles west by a farmhouse. I bet I’ve got anything you need. We already finished setting up new mines and the wife finished all the garden work, so it looks like you’re on wall duty. That okay with you?”
Last Man turned and looked down the street. About two hundred yards away was the cinder block wall Benjamin had been building around the block for two years. It was ten feet tall with sharpened rebar sticking out the top.
Benjamin had no desire to create a community. He wasn’t making a safe place to rebuild society or any of that. From what Last Man could tell, he only cared about his own. That was fine with him. Last Man didn’t mind their agreement; hard labor for supplies. No strings attached.
“Wall duty sounds great,” Last Man answered. “Say, you have any extra mines? I might like a few for my place, too.”
art by my absolute favorite Art of Blake Rottinger.
Last Man stopped and watched the buck dash away. Its hooves clattered against rocks, but its stride was never broken. He could’ve taken the shot. He would’ve hit, too.
The icy wind bit at Last Man’s face, even through the balaclava. He wiped away a few gathering snowflakes in the peripheral of his goggles and surveyed the dangerous territory ahead. Barrels of toxic waste littered the open field, most half buried in the snow. His lost buck mingled by the wreckage of an airplane. It kept an eye on the skeletal infected milling stiffly about ten yards away as it took shelter against the wind.
He’d come to this area in his search for—well, his search. The search for answers, people, anything. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he met a couple headed out on the freeway. They told him not to stay long, that this place was toxic and would make him sick. To avoid the city.
Last Man had intended to avoid the city, but based on the couple’s description, he couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the toxic waste field was. Now that he’d stumbled upon it while following his prey, he knew for certain there was nothing there for him. The meat from his buck could be dangerous to eat if it spent a lot of time near the toxic waste.
It was a shame. But that was life in this new, decimated world. There were no guarantees.
art by mufarrehalsubaie.deviantart.com/
The trip up the mountains in the winter was supposed to be what would help Last Man seal away his grief, guilt, and rage over the loss of his family. What happened with the Old Man obliterated that goal. Something about knowing the Old Man had almost certainly lost his family—and would probably lose his own life trying to find them—put Last Man in a worse state than when he drove up there to begin with.When late spring had arrived, he knew he needed to do something. He needed a goal. Just surviving wasn’t good enough. Last Man wanted to try and find his brother. They’d never been close, not really, but he knew Charlie lived in Mississippi and the trek was what he needed.Now, Last Man paused beside a flipped car. An empty stretch of highway went on as far as he could see. Overhead, clouds gathered. The air felt and tasted electric; a storm was on its way.The weight of his pack felt good on his shoulders. Purposeful. The looming distance ahead of him did not intimidate him. He was prepared for whatever elements Mother Nature threw at him. He didn’t know what he’d do when he found Charlie. It didn’t matter.What mattered now was keeping his senses sharp. What mattered now was driving forward.
part 1 of a 3 part series to find Charlie. Art by http://noro8.deviantart.com/
Tattered plastic flapped in the gentle wind. A few randrops pattered on metal and splashed in puddles. The scent of smoke was faint in the air, the sight of an oily black smoke wafting on the horizon.
The quarantine checkpoint didn’t bode well. Whoever had built it–the military, he guessed–had went through the trouble of stacking dozens of shipping containers to help barricade the overpass. What was most bothersome was the smoke. It meant there was activity recently or presently to cause it.Last Man felt the reassuring weight of his AR-15 in his hands as he approached the entrance. There were a few areas on the wall that he could attempt to climb. But his pack was heavy and would reduce his mobility and balance. He imagined himself falling and breaking a limb or worse. He certainly wouldn’t be finding Charlie after that, and he was close. A day’s walk at most.No. He’d check the entrance first. His senses heightened from the adrenaline starting to pump through his system, he walked slowly towards the opening. Thick drapes of plastic obscured whatever was beyond it. Last Man clicked on the tac light on his rifle and waited, listening. Nothing. The raindrops. The plaster fluttering.He pressed forward and slipped through the plastic. His light cut through a thick, oppressive darkness. He scanned the area. To his left and right the concrete sloped sharply upward to meet the freeway overhead. Twenty feet in front of him, chain link covered in heavy duty black plastic created some kind of quarantine maze. Walls had fallen down and it was hard for Last Man to tell exactly what purpose the area was supposed to serve.Dark, dried blood on the ground told a violent, death-filled story. Smears of it on the ground looked like bodies being dragged, whereas bigger pools was where someone died.
There were no bodies.
Something wasn’t right. The back of his neck prickled. He listened again and heard a shuffle, then a wheeze.
It all happened at once. From behind a chain link wall to his left, an Infected shambled. Then two, and three. They were emaciated, barely more than skin and bones, and moved slowly. Last Man checked behind him, then began to back out, keeping the rifle trained on the Infected. If there were that many lurking inside, there was no way of telling how many more there could be. He’d reassess outside, or find a different way.
But when he slid out from the plastic, daylight engulfing him, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his skull. It was enough to bring him to his knees. Then he felt a choke hold come on, but he was too late.
“Shit,” he all he had time to think before darkness consumed him.
art by http://mdiemeer.deviantart.com/
“Surprised you’re still finding any over there,” a gravelly male voice said.“Guess so,” a younger male voice responded.
Last Man’s skull throbbed where he’d been hit and his throat ached where he’d been choked. He hadn’t been out long. A few minutes at most. But it had been enough for his captor to hog tie him and take all his gear. He’d been hauled into the back of a truck, and there he’d stayed for at least twenty minutes as he was driven somewhere.They were still outside. Through the cloth sack that was placed over his head, he saw daylight. His left arm had gone numb from lying on it for so long, but there was junk in the truck bed and he couldn’t roll over or even maneuver to sit up.Some part inside of him kept screaming, “You’re fucked!” but he didn’t listen. He breathed slowly through his nose since he was gagged, and waited until circumstances changed.Suddenly he was blinded by sunlight as the sack was pulled off his head. A giant of a man loomed over him. He ran his fingers down his graying beard. His brows furrowed.
“Oh, Trevor. We can’t use this guy. Look at him! How’d you even nab him?”
Trevor, the other guy, came into view. He was in his mid-twenties at best, with acne-scarred skin and shaggy black hair. He frowned and looked to the older man.
“He was being stupid,” Trevor drawled. “I snuck up and smacked the back of his head. Come on, you have to take him. What’ll I do with him?”
“No. He’s not the kind we want.”
Last Man wasn’t sure if not being the kind they wanted was good or bad. He remained quiet, waiting to see what happened.
“Then what am I going to do?”
The older man ran his tongue across his teeth, thinking. Eventually, he met Last Man’s gaze. “Hey buddy, can you understand me?”
He didn’t appreciate the tone the older guy was using, but nodded.
“This was a mistake. We don’t want you. We’re not killers though. If we let you go, do you promise you’ll go away?”
This was not what Last Man had expected. He’d seen cannibals before. He’d seen raiders who only wanted his gear and certainly would leave him dead for it. He realized he had no clue what these people wanted, but if killing him wasn’t in their agenda, that was fine by him.
Last Man nodded again.
“Okay then. We’re driving you out of here. When we stop, my son here is going to put your pack on the ground. We’ll untie your feet and give you a knife. I bet you can get yourself out of the rope. Don’t start cutting until we’re out of sight, you hear? And you travel the opposite direction of us and never, ever come back.”
This had to be a dream. He was still unconscious back at the quarantine checkpoint. He had to be. But just in case he wasn’t, he nodded. Before they closed the truck gate, Last Man spotted tall, rusty fences, and beyond them, a sea of tents. People in riot gear were patrolling the road. There was a strong smell of campfires, and for a brief moment he heard children laughing.
Then the truck gate was closed. Just as the old man said, they drove for another half hour. They slid Last Man from the truck bed, cut the rope at his ankle, and drove away without another word. Still in shock, he easily cut the rope at his wrists with his own knife that they’d left beside him. He ungagged himself and stood, looking around.
Not only did he have his gear and his life, but he was, somehow, only a few hours away from Charlie’s. And he had one hell of a story to tell.
Not sure who the art is by on this one. My reverse search didn’t yield anything conclusive. If you know, please share!
Last Man didn’t end up finding Charlie at his suburban home, but instead in a little collection of shacks in the bayou they visited as a family when they were kids.It had become a small town now, far away from the destruction and hopelessness the Infection had caused. Here, laundry was hung to dry rather futilely in the humid air. Smoke drifted lazily from chimneys, and people milled about doing chores to support the community.Charlie had his wife and children there. They were surprised to see Last Man and welcomed him with open arms. Over a big dinner of alligator soup, he and his brother reminisced. Later that night, over a glass of bourbon on the porch. Last Man told him of the death and horror he’d witnessed.For months he’d live in peace at Charlie’s bayou camp.But no good thing can last in the apocalypse.
art by http://alexjjessup.deviantart.com/
“We don’t want any trouble,” the male survivor warned. There were only a handful in his group. Maybe more were hidden.
“That’s good,” Last Man said, his eyes safe behind reflective sunglasses scanning the camp. “I don’t want any either.”
The kinds of places survivors staked claim on always entertained Last Man. He’d seen a lot of interesting encampments. The train bridge overhead was one of the most interesting so far.
He immediately recognized why they picked it. The train was high up, giving a view of the grassy hills and tree line farther away. It was a roof over their heads. It was difficult to sneak up on since the hill was very steep on either side of the tracks. Beneath the bridge was a clear, bubbling stream. It didn’t look like they’d tried to farm the land, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t some kind of farm elsewhere, hidden.
And it was far from civilization. That was the only thing that Last Man would be concerned about. He’d been on one of his walks for days now, where he picked a direction and went. The towns grew smaller and smaller until it was nothing but prairie. These people, however they got here, had to make do with what was around them.
What seems like a great place quickly diminishes when you run out of food or your water supply goes bad. When there’s nowhere to run if crazies find you.
“Well, move on then,” the survivor said, breaking Last Man from his thoughts.
Last Man cataloged the train bridge in the back of his mind. He’d be curious to see if the group was still alive the next time he came by here.
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
You had to come far to escape the stench of the undead.To his left was a dilapidated building. It was the first he’d seen in some time as he hiked through the snowy canyon. The structure was too far gone to stay in. The roof appeared intact in some places, but Last Man was willing to bet it would collapse under the weight of another inch of snow.His eyes went skyward to the observatory. Its windows sparkled in the bright, winter sunlight. From there, he could get a good sense of the land and catch a day of rest before he continued forward. He wasn’t sure how to get up to the building from his position, but he’d find a way. If a safe place to sleep was on the line, a little forethought and effort was well worth it.He was, after all, on a journey to find a cure.
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
The buildings were turning to skeletons, nothing more than roosts for birds. Even most of the infected had died out, leaving a heavy stillness hanging in the air. There were ghosts in every city. Memories of what they used to be.
A hundred years from now, would a new generation of humans look at these giant mausoleums and wonder what life used to be like there? Perhaps they would recollect stories their ancestors told them of the hustle, the sounds, the smells.
The grass quivered in a gentle breeze. Last Man stared at the city.
It was hard for him to remember that time. Indeed, he had almost forgotten what humanity once was. And one day, he would be forgotten, too.
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
Last Man finished searching the last aisle of the diner. Every shelf was barren save for a thick coating of undisturbed dust. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He paused and gave himself one second to squeeze his eyes shut and be frustrated. It was that damn can of chili verde. It had to be. It was expired, but just by a few years. He’d eaten things like that before without any problem. But that day, he got sick worse than he’d ever been in his life. Last man had to be grateful that he found a decent place on the top story of an apartment building to hole up in.
He was there for four days resting up. He’d run out of food—save for a single protein bar—and was now on the hunt for more. The amount of food he carried day to day was plenty, but getting knocked out like that had been a real setback.
Done with feeling sorry for himself, he turned to exit the diner.
There was a little girl standing in the doorway. She wore a puffy pink jacket that was grubby with dirt. Her jeans were taped at the knees. Curly blonde hair peeked out from beneath an oversized John Deere knit hat. She couldn’t have been older than six or seven.
He glanced at the employee door to make sure it hadn’t budged. His first instinct wasn’t to fall over himself to help the girl. He’d seen traps like this before.
“Hey there,” he said slowly.
The girl took a few steps outside where a light rain drizzled.
They were in some kind of strange showdown. Last Man checked behind her and saw no one lurking behind the abandoned Honda in the parking lot. Beyond that was highway and forest.
“Are you alone?”
The girl nodded yes, then shook her head no. “My dad is sick. He hurt my brother Sean.”
“Where’s your mom?” Last Man asked.
“With Chewie and Rebecca up in heaven with Jesus.”
A sudden sharp ache made its way through Last Man’s heart. “I’m sorry to hear that. What are you doing here?”
“I was really scared when Sean got hurt and dad was screaming so I ran away.” The girl walked into the gas station hesitantly. The floodgates were suddenly open. “Then I was hungry and I can’t find any food, but we came to this place when we drove to the campsite so I thought maybe I could find some Doritos. Do you have any snacks? Can you help my brother? Do you have medicine you can give my dad?”
He wasn’t going to leave the girl. He couldn’t. Last Man pulled out his protein bar and split it in half. He held the larger piece out to her.
“We’ll see what I can do. Now, why don’t you show me where Sean and your dad are, okay?”
art by Art of Blake Rottinger
The little girl marched down the wet highway with purpose. The protein bar seemed to have perked up her mood, but she’d revealed little about where they were going. They’d been walking side by side for nearly thirty minutes. Last Man didn’t think travelling on the road was the best choice, but didn’t want to confuse the girl’s sense of memory by having them go through the forest.
“Are we close?” he asked.
“Yep. For real this time.” She pointed down the road where a wooden sign was nearly overtaken with blackberry bushes. “That’s where we’re camping.”
There was a worn road in the dirt leading into the forest. Through the sparse trees Last Man spotted a rusty old bus.
He debated whether or not to have her come with him. If he left her, she’d be vulnerable. If he took her, she’d see things she probably shouldn’t. In the end, in the world they were in now, there was little point in protecting her from reality.
“Stay behind me, okay?”
They pressed forward. Last Man brought his rifle up and took his time scanning the area ahead. The rain was coming down heavily, its tap-tap-tap sound on the leaves and ground muffling sound. Instead of going straight to the bus, he shifted his path to circle around it so he could see all sides.
There were two people in front of a tent that had been attached to the bus. Camping supplies and garbage were scattered across the camp. They were going through the debris, talking to one another.
Last Man took cover behind a tree and made sure the little girl was behind him. “Do you know those people?”
She peered out from behind him. “Yep, that’s Sean. That’s dad’s friend maybe?”
Based on what he was seeing, the man with the gun wasn’t holding Sean hostage. He was thin and haggard looking. His body language was nonthreatening. Sean was crouched down in front of the tent. He held a piece of clothing in his hand.
Last man kept his rifle pointed at the ground, but began approaching the men. It took a moment, but eventually they noticed him.
“Kayla!” Sean shouted. He went to step forward but stopped when Last Man shook his head and let his rifle come up an inch. “That’s my sister. Why is she with you?”
“I found her by herself almost two miles from here. She said your dad was sick. Where is he? And who’s that?”
Sean hesitated. “Kayla, dad is in heaven.” He looked at Last Man.
“He got bit when he was in the city looking for food. I tied him up. He got violent like they do. I hit my head and Kayla ran. She gets scared.”
“Sorry,” the guy offered in thickly accented English. Last Man couldn’t place the accent. Whatever the case, he was soft spoken and seemed alarmed by Last Man’s presence. “I help him find his sister. I live here.”
“His name is Hugo. He lives in a yurt a couple miles from here. We work together sometimes to find supplies. Kayla’s only seen him once.”
Last Man looked down at Kayla. She was frowning, tears brimming in her eyes. “Dad is with mom and Chewie and Rebecca.”
She pushed past him and ran into her brothers arms where she sobbed. Her approval was good enough for him.
Last Man nodded to Sean and Hugo before leaving without another word.
He picked a direction and started walking, thinking of his own daughter long gone.
The sunset was a furious, blazing shade of orange that caught the world on fire. Nature was swallowing up the buildings and abandoned cars, reclaiming the land for its own.
Last Man stood in the rays of warm sunshine, taking it in. It was quiet here. Then again, these days, it was quiet everywhere.
Eventually the dead all rot. Eventually there’s no one left to turn.
Eventually there’s nothing left but your thoughts fading with the dying sun, your breath carried along in the breeze.
art by http://antares69.deviantart.com/
His mother grew up here. Last Man remembered what it looked like before with all the brightly colored buildings and narrow streets. Shops on the bottom of all the apartment buildings.
He wondered when the big earthquake happened. It was the one his mom had been waiting for. Really, that the whole state had been waiting for.
It amazed him when he thought of the billions of dollars and decades of work it took to build this city. How much work had gone into crafting it to be what it was. Now, the entire city was tilted and collapsing, the ground sucking everything under.
Decades from now it would be as though it never existed.
art by http://sundragon83.deviantart.com/
She wanted to go outside. Last Man didn’t blame her. No one was meant to be locked up in a dark, quiet house for weeks on end. Certainly not his six year old daughter. She used to ask every day, sometimes twice a day, if they could go outside on a walk.
“I haven’t heard any crazy people outside, dad,” she’d say. “Can we go outside?”
The day finally came when he couldn’t look into his daughter’s clear, pleading hazel eyes and say no any longer. He hadn’t seen an infected outside in nearly seven days, but by no means did that mean the neighborhood was safe.
Still…he’d asked his wife—still sick and bedridden from the incident two weeks ago—what she thought. She said a walk wouldn’t hurt.
Outside, rain drizzled from grayish green clouds. It was midday, yet the world felt dark. To Last Man, it was threatening. His senses were heightened as he scanned the street. His neighbor’s houses stood quiet and empty. A few crows cawed and preened on the electricity lines overhead.
Taking advantage of her red polka dot rain boots, his daughter jumped into a puddle on the sidewalk and cried out happily. She turned her small face upward to the gloomy sky and smiled.
Last Man took her hand and they began to walk.
art by http://karezoid.deviantart.com/
Last Man stared out at the Ikea parking lot from the shadows of the grocery store. This many years in, the sight of five dead shambling around together was surprising. And, even more surprising, was that they’d managed to get a kill.
He couldn’t make out much of who the pulpy mass of blood and gore was, but he found himself wondering who they’d been. Had they been hurt? The parking lot was open, providing an expansive line of sight.
Anyone would see the slow threats approaching. The only way he could imagine not outrunning the dead was if he was impaired somehow.
An ashen looking woman tugged away a piece of intestine from her dining companion. Her jaw moved rhythmically as she munched on the innards. Three more dead approached, eager to get in on the action. They didn’t seem to realize there wasn’t much left.
Maybe—just maybe—the mystery meat on the ground had been ready to end it all and simply let the dead come to them.
art by http://stayinwonderland.deviantart.com/
He had to fight for every inch of ground he covered. Each footstep fell two feet into the deep snow. It was beyond him why, in every house he raided, he couldn’t find a single pair of snowshoes. He meant to fashion some, but there wasn’t time. He had to keep moving.
They were after him.
The Last Man moved cautiously between an SUV leaning on its side and a red sedan. He peered into the windows of each out of habit, not really expecting to find anything. In the distance, a towering evergreen was still decorated for Christmas from years past.
Ahead, icicles were forming on the blades of a CH-47 Chinook. Last Man paused. Snow fell gently around him. It was quiet. And something felt off.
He shouldered his rifle and turned in a circle, scanning the area around him. Visibility past about fifty yards was poor. He didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary, but…
A figure came from behind the Chinook. They were well wrapped in light gray winter clothes. Strands of black hair peeked from beneath their white skull cap. The bits of cheek and forehead not covered by a scarf were bright red from the cold. In their hands was a compound bow, with an arrow pulled back and pointed at him.
“I’ll be damned,” Last Man said to the Archer. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
The Archer hesitated, but after a moment they lowered their bow. Finally, they spoke.
“How many years has it been? Three?” Her voice was low and clear. “I don’t see the same person twice. Ever.”
Last Man wasn’t sure if that was a veiled threat or a simple truth, but what mildly surprised him was that the Archer was a woman. It was impossible to distinguish a gender when he first met her since she had never spoke. In the end, he supposed it didn’t really matter.
“Three sounds about right,” he answered.
They lapsed into silence, neither sure what to say from there. The wind picked up, sending the snow swirling around them. Last Man remembered where he was and what he was doing.
“I need to keep moving,” he said. He thought of how she’d saved him from the screecher so long ago. It seemed right to return the favor and tell her what he knew. “There’s a hostile group tracking me down. They’ve been relentless. If they catch you, they’ll end you. I’d be careful until you see them pass.”
The Archer looked towards the direction Last Man came from.
“Gnarly bunch parading around with the skull and cross symbol on, well…pretty much everything they can spray paint it onto?”
“Those are the ones,” Last Man confirmed. “You know them?”
She paused a beat too long and that spoke volumes. Instead of answering, she said, “They’ve got an outpost four miles out of town. You keep heading that direction, they’ll nab you. You can wait here until they pass and backtrack out.”
“I take it you’ve got a spot?”
She beckoned him and turned away, starting a swift march through the snow deeper into town. The Archer hadn’t given him reason not to trust her. Every second he spent figuring out what to do, the gang was closing in. And if what she said was true about another outpost outside of town, holding out until they passed was a feasible option.
Last Man followed her.
The town was in worse shape than others he’d passed in the area. A few manufactured homes were crumbling inward. Numerous cars were flipped over entirely. They broke away from the main road and followed a narrow path on the sidewalk. After only a minute, she dived into a driveway and they began weaving through backyards and alleys.
“I doubt they’ll leave the road you came in on,” she explained, “but no sense in risking it. Here we are.”
They’d arrived at double doors in the ground leading into a basement. The snow had been brushed away and the area around the doors trampled. Last Man glanced up and found that they were at an old church; there was a bell tower directly above them.
She took him into the basement then up into the main room of the church. The front doors were barricaded. Strangely, there were no bodies or signs of violence in sight. Up near the podium was a neatly kept camp consisting of a cot, propane stove, two milk crates of food next to a bucket of water, and a folding card table and chairs.
“Coffee?” she asked.
“Of course. Thanks.”
She retrieved instant coffee packets from the milk crate and turned on the tiny propane stove. There was already a pot atop it, to which she added water from the nearby bucket. They were quiet as she prepared the drinks, and soon Last Man had a blue enamel mug steaming in his hands.
Finally, she asked, “Where are you going?”
She nodded and was about to speak when they heard the distant echo of a gunshot. She stared at her drink, then looked up at Last Man. Her eyes were a striking light brown that reminded him of honey.
“We were holed up in a library when the dead started coming back—my two sons and husband, his parents, my sister, a handful of neighbors—when the gang stormed into town. I tried to coordinate them. I’d tried teaching my people how to shoot but no one quite got the hang of it. And there were too many attackers and…” she trailed off and blinked slowly, composing herself.
She set her cup on the ground and pushed the cot aside, then retrieved a knife from her boot. She pried up two floorboards and stood. Inside the hiding spot, Last Man counted two shotguns, a hunting rifle, and numerous handguns, not to mention stacks of various ammunition.
“This is my fight and it always has been, but I can’t take your being here as sheer coincidence.” The Archer held him in her gaze, expression neutral. “I want to kill every last one of them. Will you help me?”
art by http://simonweaner.deviantart.com/
It’s not my fight.
That phrase was on blinding fast repeat as Last Man stared at the Archer. He steadied himself as he weighed her words.
There were bad people in this world that did bad things, and some days it seemed like most of them had made it through the initial days of the infection through the dead rising and everything after. And while at one point in his life it was his job to kill badpeople, it wasn’t anymore.
Vigilantes and heroes didn’t survive in this world.
Just as he opened his mouth to reject her request, something thudded on the pitched roof. Frost and dust gently drifted down above them. Last Man immediately shouldered his rifle, thumbing off the safety.
“Are there dead left here?” he asked quietly.
The Archer had an arrow pulled back. “I haven’t seen any in weeks. Not in this weather.”
A scratching, scuffling noise moved from directly above them away towards the side of the church. One of the tall, frosted glass windows across from them shattered. A blurry figure crawled through the opening, darting into the shadowy eaves.
“What the fuck is that?” Last Man squinted, peering into the eaves trying to spot whatever just came into the church.
Suddenly the Archer let loose an arrow. In the space of only a few seconds Last Man heard the whip of the arrow and the thud and howl of whatever she hit. She nocked another arrow.
Then they both watched as a scrawny, humanoid figure fell from the eaves and smashed into the pews. Its distorted body reminded him of a screecher, but this monstrosity was something new. Naked and genderless, its limbs were extra-long and thin but ropes of overdeveloped muscles indicated great strength.
The thing hauled itself up to standing. Its face was skeletal with empty sockets where eyes should’ve been. Sharp, jagged teeth protruded from a gaping mouth. Talon-like claws wrapped around the arrow sticking in its shoulder where it pulled it out.
They could’ve taken one. But when Last Man looked up and saw two—then four, then eight—of them crawl through the broken window, he knew it was time to retreat.
The Archer was already backing away towards the basement where they’d entered. Last Man followed with carefully placed footsteps, keeping his sight on the closest of the creatures. The one in the pews turned its head slowly as it followed them, somehow seeing without eyes.
When they reached the basement, she shut the door and they ran. Adrenaline flooded Last Man’s body as he followed the Archer. Behind him, he heard the sound of the door splintering but he didn’t risk a glance.
Soon they were outside in the alley again. The Archer didn’t waste a second turning right, then taking a left once they were on a main street. The snow was thick and slowing them down. There was no way they could outrun the creatures.
She seemed to think the same thing. They only fought through the snow a moment before she veered off into a large, blocky office building that had a broken front door. Last Man was at her mercy, having no idea where they were or where they were headed.
She threw open a doorway and they ascended a staircase, where she finally revealed her plan between ragged breaths. “Long hallways. We can pick them off, hide until the gang passes.”
They burst through a doorway after going up four stories. Chunks of the outer wall were missing, letting in snow and light.
They made it thirty feet before the Archer spun around, dropping her bow in favor of a handgun she drew from her hip.
It only took five seconds before the creatures followed, flooding into the small hallway.
Last Man found one of their heads in his sight and pulled the trigger, the bullet tearing a quarter of its head off. They were forced to move backward as the creatures closed distance, but it was obvious who was winning. As terrifying as the monsters were, they were weaker than the dead and screechers. A couple shots to the chest took one down, and between him and the Archer, they made fast work.
When it was over, his ears were ringing and his mag had just run dry. They waited for more, but none came from the stairwell. The Archer silently led the way upstairs to the rooftop.
From there, Last Man spotted the church tower and farther away, the Christmas tree and Chinook he’d met her at only an hour earlier.
The gang was there, too. There were nearly two dozen of them when they’d first started trailing Last Man. Somewhere in the space of a day they’d obtained another ten people. And most of them were slowly headed into town towards him and the Archer.
“Come on,” she said. “We can hop three rooftops and hide in the upstairs of the pawn shop. First story is burned out. No way up. I’ve waited them out there before.”
They didn’t speak again for hours once they reached the Archer’s hiding spot on the pawn shop roof. They heard the gang below in the streets searching for them and eventually disappearing. After that, they waited an hour more until they were sure the coast was clear. Stiff and cold, they made their way back across the rooftops to the first building.
The sun was setting, lighting the sky on fire in brilliant shades of oranges and reds. The Archer took Last Man back to the Christmas tree. Over the past hours, he’d considered changing his mind and helping her take out the gang, but the job was too big for two people and the resources they had.
“Don’t go after them,” Last Man said. “It’s suicide.”
The Archer smiled sadly. “This is all I have left to live for. Once you find Nowhere and Anywhere, you’ll need to find something to live for, too.”
She turned and disappeared back into the city. To plan, to prepare. To get the revenge she wanted. When Last Man began to trudge through the snow, he found the weight of her last words weighing each footstep down.
art by http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
She’d always wanted to see the ocean.
Last Man stood on the almost entirely submerged roof, now a dock made just for him, listening to the seagulls crying overhead. He sucked in deep breaths of briny ocean air and watched the wind press the clouds along overhead.
Chunks of concrete fell off buildings, splashing into the water, the sound ultimately absorbed into the cacophony of the sea.
The cold water splashed up his boots and soaked the hem of his pants.
She’d always wanted to see the ocean. He’d promised her so many times they would.
art by http://sergeyzabelin.deviantart.com/
Some days were easier than others. Some days he had food and water, a safe place to sleep. He didn’t remember his wife or his daughter, or anything about what life was like before.
Surviving had become reflexive. For days at a time, he could roam thoughtlessly, existing in a space that was almost subhuman. But then there were days like this when he came upon a sight that ripped him from the haze and thrust him back into reality.
Last Man stared at the hanging corpse. To his surprise, the thing was only a few weeks old at most. He listened to the rope strain as the breeze gently pushed the body. Overhead, heavy rain beat down on the ground and soaked him through.
Someone had taken the time to climb up onto the gas station carport, cover the “S” in Shell with white paint, leaving only “hell” behind. He doubted the hanging corpse and the clever, overachieving graffiti were related, but as he took them both in now, he found himself uninterested in moving.
Then his stomach grumbled. The reflex took over and he was moving, boots splashing, as he went to find something to eat.
art by http://cesarsampedro.deviantart.com/
Last Man stood on the cracked, overgrown road and surveyed the houses before him. It had taken much longer to get here than he anticipated and the sun was setting. There was enough of the warm, orange-pink light to accomplish what he’d come for.
He stuck to the middle of the road, scanning each building for potential threats. Sure enough, he spotted an undead hanging out on the patio two houses ahead and to his left. She wore a floral blouse and tattered jeans, and was on the verge of disintegrating.
He knew better than to discount her—he’d had his fair share of emaciated undead popping out of nowhere and nearly infecting him—so he stood at the base of the patio and waited for her to tumble down. One swift stomp with the heel of his boot ended her lonely existence.
Last Man pushed on through the familiar neighborhood. He took a right at the first intersection he came to. He distinctly remembered getting rear-ended in this intersection by Mrs. Carlyle. He’d just washed and waxed his truck, too.
Finally, he arrived. The modest two story house plagued his nightmares as a child, and even as an adult he’d have the occasional flashback. Mr. Fuller ran over Last Man’s dog when he was in the third grade. Fuller claimed it was an accident, but Last Man had always known it was because Fuller was a terrible person. The look he shot Last Man when his parents weren’t looking told him enough.
Last Man set down his pack and retrieved the two bottles of cheap vodka he’d found on the way to his childhood neighborhood. There was a decaying sofa right in the front room near a dozen other highly flammable pieces of furniture. He soaked the sofa in vodka and lit it on fire.
Outside, he waited patiently for the front room to ignite fully. He watched the flames compete with the beautiful sunset, and stayed until the burning house was the only beacon of light in the neighborhood. Maybe even the entire state.
Satisfied, he shouldered his pack and headed out. As he walked, he heard his father’s voice: “Why would you do that?”
And to that, his current self would answer, why the hell not?
art by http://lukasesch.deviantart.com/
The city was caving in on itself, the roads splitting and heaving as the earth below changed shape. Wind carried flurries of sand upward into the sky. Metal groaned as the skyscrapers swayed.
The Last Man paused. There was a sharp tension in the air that some primal part of him picked up on, screaming at him not to go any further. There was nothing for him but death and suffering for him inside that metal and concrete tomb.
He took one last look at the blazing orange glow of sunlight, turned, and left the city behind.
art by http://nacho3.deviantart.com/
–PART 1 OF 3–
The hospital was the last place on earth he ever would’ve gone if he had any choice in the matter. But he had no choice. Not when his daughter’s life was on the line.
She knew not to go into the attic but the number of new rules their six year old daughter had to follow were hard for her to understand. Not the rules themselves, but why her mom and dad went crazy whenever she accidentally broke one. Don’t go near the windows. Don’t go in the garage. Don’t turn lights on once it starts getting dark outside. Don’t be too loud.
If she knew what was going on outside, maybe she wouldn’t have climbed out the second story window and down the lattice on the side of the house to play in the yard. Last Man had to give her credit for her determination.
But if she’d seen the undead walking, ripping into screaming, living flesh, she would’ve been afraid. If she saw the way the living treated each other—brutalized and manipulated one another to stay alive—going outside would’ve been the last thing she wanted to do.
In the end, it was a scrape from the monkey bars he built her that brought him to the hospital. They tried to take care of it at home, of course. They cleaned it, kept it covered during the day and let it breathe at night. When she got a fever, they tried to get it to break with ibuprofen. Nothing they did helped. She had an infection and they needed antibiotics.
Last Man’s grip on the Remington 870 was firm but not too tight. He stuck to the side of the hospital corridor, pausing before every doorway to listen before peering inside. He passed dried patches of blood on the ground and the occasional redder, fresh patch that reminded him this place was still hostile.
Something clattered nearby. He waited. At first the sound seemed to echo in his ears, then he heard nothing but the ringing of silence. No howls of the infected. No groans of the dead.
He felt a bead of sweat slowly crawl down his temple and jaw. It was only the second time he’d ventured this far into town and he wasn’t too proud to admit he was scared. Not only by the thought of the walking dead or of raiders, but of what would happen to his daughter if he didn’t make it home.
art by http://otomozok.deviantart.com/
–PART 2 of 3–
Last Man walked by an emergency exit and took his time moving through the maze of gurneys and abandoned carts, checking behind each. After a few turns and short hallways, he was almost at his destination. Warm sunlight flooded the hallway that was nearly empty save for a single wheelchair. Outside was an overgrown courtyard of some kind.
There were grimy body bags stacked up against the brick wall. Last Man waited. He studied the courtyard—it was a good place for someone or something to be hiding—and listened. Satisfied, he pressed forward and took a left.
The small pharmacy in the hospital was ransacked. He expected it to look this way at first glance and didn’t let it faze him. Until he searched every corner, he wouldn’t be done. His footsteps crunched over glass as he headed deeper into the pharmacy.
Then his reflexes took over, spinning him around the moment he heard a scuffling behind him. A young boy stood before him, startled, but with a rifle pointed at Last Man. Last Man put him at eleven or twelve. He held the rifle with a confidence that was surprising.
One thing was certain; Last Man didn’t expect to find a kid all alone in a hospital of all places.
“I don’t want any trouble,” he said, intent on trying to de-escalate first.
The Boy snorted. “Me neither.”
Last Man felt like he was in a standoff. The Boy made no motion to lower the gun. He was totally still. If he was this confident and by himself, Last Man dishing out authority might not be the best route. Instead, he decided to put the kid on equal ground.
“I just want to check out the pharmacy then I’ll be on my way. I need medicine for my daughter. Don’t want to be away too long.”
“Sure,” The Boy said. “Like I haven’t heard that before.”
Last Man tapped into what little patience he had left. It wasn’t like he was lying about not wanting to be away longer than he had to. “How do you see this ending? A gunfight? Let me go my way and you can go yours.”
Four long beats of silence, then The Boy lowered his gun. “There’s no medicine in there. I left empty bottles so people would waste time looking. I hear them looking and it gives me time to hide.”
Shit. Was the kid bluffing? Last Man tried to remain neutral, but apparently some minor twitch gave him away.
“But I have a lot of it left. If you’re willing to trade.”
Last Man wasn’t easily surprised and The Boy had already done just that twice now. “Assuming you have what I need, what do you want?”
“40 cal ammo. I found a Beretta 96A1 but I don’t have anything bullets,” The Boy said. “So? You in?”
The Boy had good taste. Last Man had that very gun at his hip. “I’m in. Lead the way.”
art by http://mutiny-in-the-air.deviantart.com/
–PART 3 of 3–
Located down a corridor of exam rooms, the Boy’s refuge was well hidden behind a chest height rolling cabinet and a privacy screen. He moved them back just enough to let Last Man through, then carefully put them back into place as he squeezed backwards and finally shut the door.
The room was a bit messy and didn’t strike Last Man as the room of a boy. From the backpack (that he guessed was a bugout bag) and gasmask, to the maps pinned on the wall, it reminded him of a fugitive’s hideout.
On every surface were bottles of drugs. “Smart work raiding the pharmacy.”
The Boy leaned his rifle against the wall and took a quick peek out the boarded up window. “Yep. Figured I might need them later to trade or make something with. Turns out I was right.”
“You were,” Last Man agreed. “But next time, I’d agree on a separate meeting spot to do the trade if you get into this situation again. Leading me here wasn’t a good idea.”
They locked eyes. Last Man shrugged. “Just some friendly, good advice.”
The Boy laughed, obviously relieved. “Shit, you’re right. I’ve seen a lot of movies, you know. Played a ton of Fallout. My mom used to say it was a waste of time. Look at me now. The only reason why I know what kind of ammunition that takes or anything about guns really is because of Call of Duty. And the internet. But anyway, yeah. It was dumb to take you back here.”
He shrugged off the large pack on his back and collapsed onto his sleeping bag. He grabbed a pen and crossed out a small area of his map. Last Man wondered what the significance was.
The Boy seemed to be more relaxed in his hideout, so Last Man kept things light.
“I played a lot of Fallout myself. What’s with Hello Kitty over there?”
The Boy shrugged. “It was my sisters. Wanted something to remember her by. The walkers got her.”
Damn. So much for keeping things light. “What will 12 rounds get me?”
The Boy paused to consider it. He tapped the pen against his knee. His sandy hair was shaggy and hanging in front of his eyes. “Two bottles of whatever you want. Bullets first, then look for what you want. It isn’t organized or anything.”
Relief flooded Last Man. He gladly emptied one of his spare mags into one palm and handed them to The Boy. He started searching the drawers. “What were you doing out there?”
“Getting water,” he said. He leaned forward and dragged the pack over, then withdrew two tall bottles filled with cloudy water. “Set up a ton of plastic outside where I could. Some of the bottles fell over but this isn’t too bad.”
Finally Last Man found what he was looking for. Two different antibiotics. He stored them in his front pocket and straightened.
“While I admire your gumption, what are you going to do long term? Do you have anywhere you want to go? Family?”
He shook his head. “My friends always joked about how cool it would be if the zombie apocalypse happened, but they were all posers. I wanted it to happen because I knew it would be better than…I don’t know. What my life was already like. Anyway, I’m doing really good here.” He gestured to the rounds he’d lined up on his sleeping bag. “Even better now.”
“I won’t try to convince you. You don’t want to come, I respect that,” Last Man said. “But be smart, okay? Don’t invite strangers back here. Try to conceal your water catchment. Don’t get lazy. This might seem like a videogame now but it won’t always.”
The Boy nodded. “Don’t worry about me. I know I’ll make it.”
Last Man wanted to believe him. He could see The Boy being part of a new generation that could take back the destroyed, undead world.
A decade later he’d meet the boy again, only he was different than Last Man ever could’ve imagined.
But for now, he was just glad he could save his daughter.
art by http://otomozok.deviantart.com/
Last Man would never forget that day. It was summer and he’d risked a trip through the city for supplies. The maze of streets and buildings were both a blessing and a curse. He could use them to run and hide, but the dead could, too. And they did.
He’d just turned a corner, lungs on fire from running too long on not enough calories with too much weight on his back, when he saw it.
A fucking giraffe.
All the years into the apocalypse and the giraffe had survived. It struck him as ridiculous and incredible all at once. He lingered a moment, watching the awkward beast walk down the abandoned road without a care in the world.
The dead didn’t kill animals, but the infected—the precursors to the undead—would. And those were what was hot on his trail.
In an impulsive move, Last Man decided to take another route, leading the howling monsters away.
The giraffe would live another day.
art by http://noro8.deviantart.com/
In the apocalypse, there was no point in daydreaming. Daydreaming meant fixating on what you didn’t have. Food, water, shelter, safety. Family. Last Man had nixed the habit fairly early on, but every once in a while, his brain didn’t do what he wanted.
Now, looking at the crashed helicopter, Last Man couldn’t help but dream. What if he knew how to pilot one of those? Or even a Cessna. If he could, things would’ve been different.
That was the thing about his daydreams. For a split second they were lighthearted, then his mind flickered to a darker place. He remembered the day he lost his wife and daughter. How they’d passed the news helicopter, untouched and probably in working condition. If he could fly that thing, he would’ve taken his family far away from the chaos. From the burning. From the dead.
Last Man dropped his shoulders and unclenched the fists that had formed while he remembered. He turned away from the chopper and went on his way.
Daydreaming, he reminded himself, was dangerous.
art by http://pumax001.deviantart.com/
“So this is where it ends,” Last Man said aloud. His voice echoed through the empty city.
He thought of the endless struggle against the undead. Of the endless struggle of the living as they clawed and grasped for one more hour. One more day. Their appetite for life was as senseless and insatiable as the undead’s for flesh.
Last Man had lost count of how many years he’d been fighting. For some time he’d lost track of what he was fighting for. As the world turned to dust around him, it seemed he was doomed to crumble with it. Those were the dark days.
Then the vision of his wife and daughter became clear again, emerging from the void like a shining beacon on a dark night. He was reminded of what he was. What he had to do.
As he walked down the desolate street, he felt the weight of the world on his back. He had the cure. He was going to end this.
art by http://mrnepa.deviantart.com/
Last Man’s breath fogged up in the frigid air. His hands, feet, and face were numb despite his layers. He sat against a wall, body limp. The fire before him was dying. He was finding it harder and harder to find the will to feed it.
He was on a wild good chase. The years after losing his family were a blur and when hope presented itself in the form of a cure, he was enticed. In some way he could right wrongs and do something to make a difference.
And now look where he was. Two degrees away from being a fucking popsicle. The hospital was a frosted, lifeless castle adorned with icicles as long as he was tall. When the sun shone through the broken glass dome overhead, the world sparkled.
Maybe he was fighting the inevitable. Nature wanted to reclaim this world. Who was he to stop it? Some small part of him wanted to close his eyes and let the coldness take him.
Just as his gaze was blurring, he heard something stir across the room. He blinked a few times. His eyelids felt like sandpaper. Then he spotted a vibrant shock of orange-red perched on top of the glass dome.
Foxes were his daughter’s favorite animal. He remembered the stuffed animal they got from the zoo. She carried it everywhere she went—it was named simply “Fox”—and cried if they happened to forget it. Her commitment and love for Fox never wavered. Even when it became grungy and paled in comparison to newer toys, she kept Fox around.
In fact, the day she died, Fox was resting on her pillow.
Last Man locked eyes with the creature for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he mustered the will to lean forward. The fox bolted, leaving him alone once again. He forced his rickety body even further and brought himself to stand.
He knew some day he’d let the coldness take him.
Today was not the day.
art by http://dylanpierpont.deviantart.com/
—CYOA Part 1—
It was sweltering hot that day. Under the shelter he’d built for himself, he sat in a lawn chair sweating and dreaming of how an ice cold lemonade would feel against his fingers and on his parched throat. He’d closed his eyes for a few moments. That was when he heard a faint squeaking from behind the building.
He grabbed his rifle and crossed the roof silently then peered over the edge. Down in the alley, a man pushed an unconscious blonde girl in a cart. He wore a loose white linin shirt, jeans, and had a neatly kept haircut. If it wasn’t for his hostage and the AK-47 slung across his back, he would’ve looked like a normal guy.
Last Man hadn’t seen another person in this town for days, and now he saw two. His curiosity was piqued. Quickly and quietly, he grabbed his pack and went inside and downstairs into the alley. As he emerged outside, he saw the man turn left onto the main street. Last Man followed and kept cover. They travelled about a block before reaching their destination. Last Man’s breath caught in his throat.
The theater-turned-brothel was topped with lingerie-clad mannequins. The red spray paint signage dripped like blood down the theater’s walls. Two men stood guard outside the entrance, armed with rifles. White Shirt waved.
“Got a live one,” he shouted.
“Good,” one of the guards replied. “I was ready to shoot the next person who said, ‘Your sign says you have live ones’.”
They all laughed.
White Shirt navigated his cart around patches of dry grass growing out of the concrete. The cart nearly tipped over as he hit a dip in the pavement. The girl, jostled, seemed to wake up and reached for the blindfold. White Shirt reached into his pocket and pulled something out. Last Man moved closer, still keeping his cover, to a better vantage point. White Shirt had just pulled a needle out of the girl’s arm. The girl stopped moving and sank back into the cart.
White Shirt and the guards entered the theater with their new prize.
Last Man avoided people for a reason. Some were dangerous because they wanted to kill him. Others were dangerous because they needed help. Now he was faced with both types and the rational part of his mind told him to turn around and leave the city. There was no way of knowing how many threats were inside that building. He had all his gear on him. All he had to do was let it go…
***Should Last Man save the girl or leave?***
Per our conversation a while back, we’re going to try a short choose your own adventure Last Man series. In the comments below, let me know if Last Man should leave or try to save the girl.
art by https://www.artstation.com/markorz
—CYOA Part 2—
Last Man knew walking away meant living another day. It meant saving bullets, resources, and energy. It was, arguably, the right decision if all he cared about was himself. But at what cost did self-preservation come? And to what end?
That thinking was a double-edged sword. His family was gone. There was no future for humanity in sight. The infected, the mutated, and the dead ruled the world. Whether he saved the girl or not didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
He paused. That thinking was exactly why he needed to save her.
They wouldn’t kill the girl. Not yet. They wanted her alive. While Last Man didn’t want her to suffer, he wasn’t going to run in spraying bullets like some action movie hero. Last Man backtracked a few blocks away from the theater and found a suitable place to stow nonessential gear. He only wanted to bring what he needed for the sake of agility and because he didn’t want the enemy to take his gear should anything happen to him.
Carefully, he made his way back. It was quiet outside. He scanned the theater once more to make sure no one was outside and proceeded forward. A broken window above the ticket booth was easily accessible via a rusty truck just beneath the ticket booth covering. The truck was out of sight of the main entrance. He hauled himself into the truck bed, stood on the cab, and hoisted himself up onto the swath of crispy dead grass on the covering.
He waited, listening to his own breath and the grass gently settling around him. Then he heard faint talking. Moving slowly, he crawled over to the windows and peered through the grubby glass.
His gaze immediately settled on the makeshift common area constructed in the open area below. Candy racks and movie posters were pushed aside, making room for cots and folding tables set up near the concession bar. The two guards from earlier sat at a table playing cards. White Shirt and the blonde girl were nowhere in sight. Two men napped in cots and one was behind the concession bar rummaging through cupboards.
The guards left their rifles leaning against the concession bar while they gambled. Everyone seemed at ease.
Last Man counted eight cots. He couldn’t tell one way or another if they were used. They were free or there were two men unaccounted for. White Shirt missing indicated there were other parts of the theater in use. There could be any number of people inside.
He backed away from the window as he ran through the options. He could set up a distraction somewhere nearby—quickly improvise an explosion—to draw out some of them. But that would put them on high alert and Last Man didn’t know what exactly he’d be dealing with inside.
Last Man was confident with his abilities, but he knew when he was outnumbered. One thing was certain…he wasn’t going to brute force this one.
***How should Last Man save the girl? Wait until night and try to stealth? Set up a diversion? Let me know in the comments below.***
art by me for when I don’t have art for a specific short. 🙂
—CYOA Finale Part 1—
The moment Barry finished reporting in to the Boss (aka White Shirt), Last Man came up behind him and buried his cold steel Recon tanto deep into the man’s neck while his other hand muffled his gurgled cries. The coppery scent of blood filled Last Man’s nostrils as he quickly lifted and dragged the nearly dead Barry five feet down the alley then behind the dumpster.
“Barry?” Darrin called out. “Where’d you go? Stop fucking around, man. I hate it when you do this.”
Last Man was lucky that Barry liked to fuck with with Darrin. Barry disappearing during night patrol was no cause for alarm. It seemed to be an ongoing joke. Now, timing was critical. Last Man had been trailing Barry and Darrin for three blocks waiting for Barry to give that hourly all-clear. His plan was set in motion.
Barry’s body jerked suddenly then was still. Last Man felt the man go completely limp as the last dredges of life faded. He withdrew the knife and waited to see what Darrin would do next. The blinding white light of Darrin’s flashlight hit broken glass outside of the alley, making it shimmer. Last Man remained still as his next target approached.
“Seriously, I told you yesterday this was bullshit! If you need to take a piss just say something!”
Humans were creatures of habit and this post-apocalyptic brothel clan was no different. Tony guarded the theater during portions of the day, then all night. Hendrix and Mattie took patrol in the late afternoon and early evening, sometimes relieving Tony for short breaks. Barry and Darrin had night patrol until dawn. The way the crew operated—never really scanning the areas they patrolled, their casual body language and loud conversations—gave Last Man the sense that they were at ease. Threats didn’t come around often. All of this worked in his favor.
Last Man recognized the girl might be suffering while he’d taken two nights to observe, but he couldn’t go into the situation blind. He had to pick off who he could when he could and from there silently dispatch the rest.
The other three men would be sleeping in their cots. The only unknown was White Shirt.
Glass crunched, drawing Last Man’s attention. Darrin cleared the alley entrance as he wandered in search for his friend. By the time he felt Last Man’s presence behind him, it was too late. The tanto was hilt-deep in his neck. Last Man dragged Darrin’s body and laid it beside Barry’s behind the dumpster. He took Darrin’s suppressed Glock 17, flashlight, camo jacket and matching cap. He donned the clothing and proceeded forward.
The cold, muted blue light of dawn provided Last Man with enough visibility to make his way to the theater. The building loomed in front of him. A faint glow showed through the grimy windows. He drew in a deep breath and brought up the flashlight, clicking it on and off quickly at the front doors, then once more with a longer beat between.
He waited thirty feet away from the entrance, flashlight in his left hand, Glock in his right. He was prepared for things to go wrong. The rusty sedan five feet away from him would provide good cover if anyone started shooting.
But they didn’t. To his surprise and relief, the front doors rattled and opened. Out came Tony with his tiny LED lantern. He let the doors close behind him as he approached Last Man. “Where’s Barry? Being a shithead again? He isn’t back here yet.”
Last Man took a few sure steps towards Tony, only wanting to buy enough time for the man to put more distance between himself and the theater.
Tony—aka the well-lit target—halted. “Hey, wait—”
Even silenced, the Glock sounded loud in the quiet early morning. The first shot hit Tony between the eyes. The man’s legs buckled and he fell backward. The lantern rolled away from his body.
If anyone heard him, the front door was where their attention would be. Last Man went to the truck he first used to get above the ticket stand, grabbing Tony’s body on the way and dragging it out of the line of sight of the front doors should anyone come out. He tossed the camo jacket and cap aside and carefully ascended to his vantage point.
Below in the concession area a dying fire burned in a metal trashcan. Hendrix and Mattie still slept. Last Man took aim and gently squeezed the trigger. The round hit Mattie in the chest. Last Man quickly corrected and fired again. This time the bullet obliterated Mattie’s nose.
Hendrix shifted and sat up. About the same time he glanced over and realized his friend was dead, he was too as a bullet found its way into his brain.
Last Man paused. His heart hammered in his chest. When things went too well, he got nervous. Sure, he believed in luck. And sure, five down and one to go.
But where was White Shirt?
Last Man climbed down the ticket stand and entered the theater. It was odd being inside the space he’d only viewed from above. Blood pooled beneath the cots that Hendrix and Mattie sprawled on, shining dark and eerie in the firelight. The folding table had a neatly stacked pile of cards waiting for the next round.
Across from the sleeping area were the theaters. A single LED lantern marked Auditorium 3. That had to be where the girl and White Shirt were. Last Man navigated around the bodies. He passed Auditorium 1 on the right, 2 on the left, then just as he approached 3, he heard the familiar sound of a shotgun being racked a split second before it was fired.
—CYOA Finale Part 2—
If it wasn’t for Last Man’s impulsive decision to dive through the auditorium doors, he probably would’ve lost his leg completely. He felt a flash of pain as some of the shot grazed the outer flesh of his thigh. He’d take that over taking the full buckshot any day.
The pain was quickly overwhelmed by a rush of adrenaline that sent him stumbling down the hallway to his right in search for cover.
“I don’t know what the fuck you think you’re doing,” a voice called out, “But you better—”
As the door swung closed, he heard his pursuer rack the shotgun once again. The threat was left unfinished. Last Man walked backwards to keep an eye on the door. The hallways past the double doors bent at 90 degrees to lead into the theater.
Last Man stopped at one of these corners to take cover.
He watched the entrance. No movement. Thin bands of white-blue LED light shone through the cracks of the doors. Last man watched those, hoping to catch shadows that might indicate movement. When he looked down the hallway behind him, the rest of the theater was nothing but inky darkness.
Then he heard the rattling of chains somewhere inside the auditorium. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. He kept his grip tight on the Glock. His brain worked quickly. The threat outside was somewhat known—at least one man with a shotgun.
Last Man reasoned that if there were hostiles inside Auditorium
3, they’d have indicated their presence by now, whether it be by shooting or attempting to yell and coordinate with those outside.
One of the entrance doors slowly shifted. The barrel of a shotgun poked through, pointing down the opposite end of the hallway. Scanning. The sliver of light grew into a thick band as the door opened further. When it withdrew, Last Man kept as much of his body behind cover as possible and took aim.
As he expected, the other door cracked open. From there, it all happened in seconds. Last Man fired at the shape blocking the lantern light. Whoever wielded the shotgun fired back almost instantly. The buckshot sent drywall flying but Last Man was unharmed. At least one of Last Man’s rounds hit his target based on the howl of pain he heard as his pursuer pulled back to take full cover again.
The rattling inside grew louder and was accompanied by a chorus of groans and howls. A cold shiver ran down his spine. Last Man knew their call anywhere. Undead.
He counted slowly. Seconds turned into minutes. Then minutes stretched on. As the adrenaline in his body wavered, the pain in his leg throbbed. He considered his options. The pursuer could be waiting him out. All Last Man needed to do was step through the doors and he’d get blown away.
With a new plan in mind, he retrieved the flashlight from his belt and moved deeper into the theater.
Some part of him knew what he’d find.
The tiers of seats were separated by wide walkways with long metal safety rails. Chained to those rails were a dozen undead. Young, old, male, female. The commonalities were that they were stripped naked and chained by their necks. Their purpose was obvious. Last Man didn’t—couldn’t—linger on any of them.
After doing an initial check to verify no threats were in the auditorium, he stepped down to the emergency exit on the front right of the theater. He felt their cloudy, unseeing and all-seeing eyes trail his every move.
It was unlocked.
He switched off his light, pushed the door open a crack and waited. Listened. His nerves were raw and singing as he inched out. The soft glow of firelight and behind it all, the very dim light of dawn, was not what he’d been anticipating. At the end of the hallway, another set of double doors was open. It lead back into the concession hall where the trash can fires burned.
Last Man slipped through and limped down the hallway, Glock ready. He backtracked through the bodies still dripping blood from their cots and finally came to the corridor the theaters were in. As he leaned around, a small flash of relief coursed through him.
Outside of Auditorium 3, a man was slumped against the wall. The shotgun was across his lap, but his arms and hands hung limply by his side. As he approached, Last Man recognized his posture and profile. It was White Shirt.
Sights on White Shirt’s head, Last Man moved at a snail’s pace towards him. Once he’d closed the distance, he bent down and yanked the shotgun from the man’s lap.
White Shirt was dead. Gunshot wound to the middle of his chest. It looked like he’d bled out. Last Man didn’t waste a second lamenting his careful trek through the theater and around. It didn’t matter. Dead was dead and he was going to finish what he came to do.
Upstairs in a dilapidated break room, sitting in a moth-eaten chair, the blonde girl rested. She was nearly comatose, staring through a grimy window at the dawn-lit city. Bizarre decorations hung in the room—teddy bears and drawings—that Last Man had no energy or will to try and understand.
Her head lolled to the side and she took Last Man in her gaze. “Please,” she whispered.
In that moment he knew, without doubt, choosing to save her was exactly what he needed to do.
(end of CYOA series) art by https://donmalo.deviantart.com/
He’d never forget the first survivor colony he found. Well, the first settlement that didn’t contain a cannibal, kidnapper, or insane person at least. Last Man had encountered plenty of those.
His search for quiet had brought him to Montana. The landscape was beautiful and, as he’d hoped, as long as he stayed away from cities and stuck to the rural areas, there were no dead or infected in sight.
It was a small town that you’d pass in the blink of an eye if you’d been driving through on the highway that bisected it. Last Man had spotted it from the hills as he approached on foot. The solar panels were what he’d noticed first. The six buildings flanking the highway were covered in them. On either side of the highway leading out of the town were another dozen panels.
Keeping his distance in the hills, he observed. Over the course of three hours he identified two dozen people going about their daily lives. They gardened, worked on a makeshift wall in the front and back of the town, and stopped to talk in the streets.
His supplies were running low. Ammunition specifically. He took a chance and slowly approached the town, rifle ready. Just because they were friendly with each other, didn’t mean they’d welcome him.
Before he was even fifty feet away from their wall, five armed men were walking towards him. Somewhere in town a bell rang twice.
“Hey there,” one of the men called out. He was a behemoth, at least seven feet tall, with a sturdy build. “What brings you through? We’re not looking for trouble.”
“That’s good, because I’m not bringing any,” Last Man replied. “Was hoping to trade.”
The men stopped out of earshot and conversed. Last Man was close enough to tell two were not on board with talking to him, but Big Guy and two others waved away their concerned gestures and looks. Their conversation finished, they closed the gap between them and Last Man. Big Guy extended his hand.
“I’m Jonathan,” he said. “We don’t get visitors a lot. Why don’t you come to the bar and we’ll see if there’s some way we can help each other out.”
Last Man was good at reading people. He’d encountered a seemingly friendly group only two months prior who said almost the same thing. But the slight shake in their hands and voice, and the quick glances at each other were enough to tell him to hightail it. So he did.
Jonathan and his people didn’t set off any alarms. Last Man was inclined to trust his gut on this one. He slung his rifle on his shoulder, shook Jonathan’s hand, and followed them into the city and exchanged pleasantries with all those he passed.
The bar was dusty and a bit dirty, but homey. Last Man hadn’t seen working lights in some time. It was almost surreal. Three mugs of beer rested on the counter; their owners shifted around Last Man and returned to them.
“Paul used to make beer before It happened. He’s our resident brewer,” Jonathan said. He went behind the bar. “This place has some fire damage. It’s been last on our list to fix up, but we’ll have it done before winter. So, what do you want to trade?”
“I need ammunition. 9mm, .40 cal, or .223. Whatever you’ve got. I’m willing to give you a fair trade on fish antibiotics for them,” Last Man said.
Jonathan grinned. “Fair trade for us. Let’s hammer down the specifics an—”
A loud thump sounded off in the corner of the bar. All eyes snapped to the piano. No one breathed. When the thump happened again, this time with a slight groan and scratched, Last Man’s hand reflexively went for his sidearm as he backed away from the bar. He noticed a trap door in front of the piano that shifted once more when something under the floor hit it.
“No,” one of the men said. He looked to Jonathan and the two exchanged silent words.
“We keep our loved ones that have turned,” Jonathan said clearly. “Bar has the safest place to keep them, so here we are. Normally they don’t make a peep. No one has the heart to end them.”
Visions of Last Man’s wife flashed before his eyes. The feral hunger, the total lack of recognition. He quickly pressed the memories down, but before he did, thought of one thing…how somewhere back home, she was tied up rotting away because he didn’t have the heart to kill her.
His perception of the men in front of him hadn’t changed. They seemed to be good people making their way in a new world. But the memory of his wife was like a bucket of ice water poured over his head. He was left hollow, unsettled, and ready to leave.
“No judgement here,” Last Man said, forcing a pleasant smile. “Now, let’s finish up this deal.”
art by https://stgspi.deviantart.com/
Last Man was hyperaware of each step he took. The slight crack of twigs, the crunch of dead leaves. The way his gear rustled. He inhaled a deep breath of damp, foggy air. The chill nipped at his nose and cheeks. An unexpected shiver ran down his spine; a foreboding, electric tingle that meant only one thing.
Something was wrong.
Forests were living things. If you stopped a moment, at the very least, you’d hear birds chirping or fluttering in the tree tops. Hell, even the motion of wind in the tree tops would be something he’d expect. Right then, he felt as though her were suspended in that moment between in an inhale and exhale. The world around him was dead quiet and still.
He slowly scanned around himself in a full circle. He could only see about twenty yards out before the fog grew too thick. The landscape was remarkably identical with tall, narrow trees. For a split second he wasn’t sure what direction he’d come from. All his brainpower had been devoted to tracking the stag. He was so hungry…
A loud snap and neigh drew his attention. He moved slowly towards the sound—grateful to hear a sound at all—and froze as he came upon his prey.
He’d never seen anything like them.
Screechers, infected, undead, and a few other mutants paled in comparison to the behemoths in front of him. Nearing twenty feet tall, their bodies were genderless and gray. Their spindly arms ended in tapered, three-fingered hands. The three of them barely made a sound as they moved. Their feet were like spikes, gently moving through the forest, picking each step and spearing the ground as they walked. It was their faces that Last Man couldn’t look away from. It was as though their facial features were melting into their heads—mouths, eyes, and noses were misshapen forms rejoining the rest of their gray flesh.
The stag snorted again. With startling speed, the Stalker crouched. Its head snapped to the stag’s location. Just as the stag began to step back, the Stalker’s long arm snapped out. Its tripod hand grasped the stag’s neck and lifted the beast up effortlessly.
Last Man gripped his rifle but made no move. The Stalkers could be fast if they wanted to. That was obvious. Some primal part of him screamed, “don’t move”, so he didn’t. He was sure the stag’s neighing and movement was what drew the Stalker to it.
With a single, meaty crunch, the Stalker crushed the stag’s neck. The beast bucked one last time then went limp in the monster’s hand. The Stalker stood to its full height, holding the dead animal. Its two companions stood. It was as though they exchanged silent communication.
It dropped the stag and resumed its casual, hunched posture. The three continued into the forest, away from Last Man, silently to whatever destination called to them.
Last Man stood there, stone still, until the Stalkers had been gone from eyesight for at least ten minutes. The world finally exhaled and that eerie suspension dissipated.
While Last Man hoped he’d never have to face a Stalker in combat—he’d be happy to never see one again for the rest of his life—he was pleased he didn’t have to spend a bullet on dinner.
art by https://mrnepa.deviantart.com/
Last Man wasn’t usually impressed. You live long enough in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, you quickly see everything there is to see. First, you see the worst of humanity because that’s what seems to pop up the fastest. People killing each other for little to no reason, and finding the most horrific ways to do it. Eventually you catch a few glimpses of what good is left, but by then you’ve seen so much bad, a teaspoon of good doesn’t change the flavor of a gallon of bad.
Seeing the massive, barbed-wire-topped, tower-protected wall in front of him was cause for being a little impressed. Set aside what the wall meant when it was built, who built it, and the baggage that came with it, it was an impressive thing for anyone in this world to have built.
Of course, the gaping hole he stood in front of was a definite mark against the defense. The scavengers he talked to said the only reason it hadn’t been repaired yet was because certain people had deals with the patrols in this area to leave it open.
Last Man could’ve entered Fort Brightwood by the proper channels at the front gate. But to accomplish what he needed to, no one could know who he was or why he was there.
Ten years. It had been ten years since he’d met The Boy in the hospital with his Dragonuv rifle that Last Man doubted he knew how to use. Ten years since The Boy saved Last Man’s daughter’s life by trading ammo for antibiotics. It was hard to believe in that time The Boy had become the leader of a colony of thousands of people. That he’d built nearly a hundred miles of wall to protect his city.
Hardest to believe of all was that Last Man was here to kill him.
Art by https://jamesdesign1.deviantart.com/
Bwahaha!!! Cliffhanger. If and when I write a full Last Man novel, The Boy would be something you guys would get to learn more about.
Last Man plopped down onto a piece of driftwood, laid his rifle down beside him, and cracked open the MRE while he watched birds flutter and circle about the rusting freighter. The old sign beside him proclaiming “DANGER” was a bit of a joke. He wondered to what danger it referred to and when it was placed. Now, in this world, you could put a Danger sign literally anywhere and it would be perfectly in place.
He took in a deep inhale of briny air while his MRE heated up. Chili mac. His second favorite. He was surprised to have found anything aboard the ship, let along his second favorite MRE. He’d found four of them, a few cans of water, some flares, and a first aid kit. As far as he was concerned, it was a day well spent.
If he’d spent the day climbing a never-ending ladder into a ship that yielded absolutely nothing—or worse, made him spend bullets for nothing—it would’ve been a bad day. But since he’d found what he had, and since he had a camp prepared down the beach where he’d spend the night, it was a good day.
The clouds overhead and the pungent feel and taste of ozone in the air promised rain soon. He set up plenty of tarps and containers to catch the clean, precious drops.
It was funny how the qualifiers of a bad and good day had changed so much over the past five—seven?—years. He used to care about the economy, the government, his job. Now all he cared about was whether he had food to eat and somewhere safe to sleep.
Back then, he cared about those things too, but he’d taken them for granted. He’d never do that again.
Something in the ship groaned and twanged as it settled further into the beach. Someday, probably long after Last Man was dead, this ship would be rusted into nothing. Or overtaken by a storm or reclaimed by nature. It would collapse in on itself until no trace of it remained.
Chili mac hot and ready, he took the first few delightful bites.
For now, it was a good day.
art by https://everlite.deviantart.com/
Blood splattered on the wall and smeared in long stretches down the hallway. Harsh white light overhead casting tricky shadows across the junk littering the space.
Man in a hazmat suit with an axe standing at the end of the hallway. There for a split second, then gone.
Last Man paused as his brain spun. It made sense that someone was here. Perched in the mountains, the compound appeared to be running off solar power, which made it a shining beacon at night. That’s how Last Man spotted it. Walking down the highway at dusk, his eyes gravitated to it right away. Seeing artificial light was always shocking. He had to check it out.
The compound was some kind of research facility. Last Man figured that out quickly. As he cleared rooms and investigated, he found little items of use to him. But as he searched, the cold fingers of dread began wrapping themselves around his heart and throat.
There was a lot of blood—at various stages of freshness—and signs of struggle, but no bodies. No weapons.
And now, after seeing Hazmat Suit with his ominous disappearance, Last Man knew something was definitely amiss. In that moment he placed the unfamiliar sensation that had been nagging at him. He was being stalked. Hunted.
He steadied his breathing and moved forward, checking corners and rooms as he went. The earthy, rancid scent he’d been picking up on throughout the compound intensified as he approached the space Hazmat Suit had been.
The hallway appeared to be the entire length of the building, about a hundred feet left and right. Neatly stacked across this entire span were bodies. Fully dressed and laid out on their backs, the bodies were in various states of decay. Bodily fluids and juices from putrefaction pooled around them.
None of the bodies had a head.
As that thought registered, Last Man felt the energy around him shift. He dropped into a crouch and spun around just in time to avoid Hazmat Suit’s arching attack with the axe. Hazmat Suit’s missed attack carried him forward as Last Man dodged around him, out of the body-filled hallway. The axe struck the concrete ground with a loud crack.
Last Man tried to take another step forward to put more distance between him and Hazmat Suit. His heel connected with a fresher smear of blood, sending him stumbling sideways and onto his left side. At first he thought it would be the end of him, then as the axe swooped sideways where his head had just been a moment before, he realized the slipup had saved him.
Last Man rolled onto his back and aimed his Glock. For a brief moment he saw his own reflection in the inky black visor of the suit. His attacker was fast. One hand left the axe to bat away the handgun, but Last Man squeezed off one round that hit Hazmat Suit’s right shoulder. Hazmat Suit reared back—still silent—as he took the shot.
The action snapped back. Empty.
That was why Last Man chose to check out the base. He’d hoped it was a military base of some kind. He hoped to find more ammo.
Hazmat Suit brought the axe over his head to deliver a killing blow. Last Man brought both knees to his chest and kicked with all his strength. His boots connected with Hazmat Suit’s stomach, knocking the behemoth monster backward. Last Man used those precious seconds to get to his feet and run at top speed down the hallway.
When he spared a glance back, Hazmat Suit was up and walking at a fast, determined pace. There was no way Hazmat Suit would ever catch up with Last Man at that rate. But some small part of him—a tiny, irrational voice in the back of his mind—kept expecting to see Hazmat Suit just around the corner.
Last Man exited the compound and continued down the cracked, overgrown asphalt by the light of the moon. The farther he got from the building and Hazmat Suit, the sillier he felt. He chastised himself for getting spooked by the whole situation. He could’ve won that fight. Where had his wits gone? Maybe he should go back.
Back on the highway, Last Man looked up at the brightly lit compound. He thought of Hazmat Suit taking the bullet without a peep. Of the stacks and stacks of headless bodies in the hallway, steeping in their own juices as they rotted.
He wasn’t going back. His bruised ego would heal. The thought of facing Hazmat Suit hand to hand didn’t sit well with him.
If there was one thing he’d regret, it was that he’d never know where in the hell Hazmat Suit kept all of those heads.
Art by https://noro8.deviantart.com/
Thought I’d do something a little bit silly/spooky/different for Friday the 13th!
— SINCLAIR: PART 1—
When Last Man pictured his death, the possibilities flashed before him like slides on a slide projector. He had visions of being ripped limb from limb; feeling sinew and bones tear and pop as undead dismantled him for dinner. He imagined Screechers, with those twisted long tongues choking him to death then ripping his guts out. Stalkers crushing him with their iron-like tri-fingered hands, the pressure of their grip turning his bones into meal within his very body. When they dropped him, he’d be nothing more than a lumpy puddle of mush.
Last Man took a ragged breath. One of his lungs was punctured. He knew it. His breaths were becoming labored as blood filled his lungs.
His list of ways to die didn’t stop there, but they did get less interesting. Getting shot, of course, by any number of scavengers or wastelanders. Or even someone who was just afraid. He wouldn’t blame them. He could be cannibalized—slowly or quickly.
The end of his list consisted of starving to death or dying of the elements. And of course, where he was right then; bleeding out from injury.
It was an accident. Of all the things to end him, slipping on some rocks while crossing a river had to be it. Maybe he was tired or hungry. He supposed it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he slipped, hit his head, and before he had a chance to right himself, he was swept downstream. The river beat him up and, disoriented and stuck in a fast current, he had no way of escape.
Once the river slowed, he found himself washed up on the bank near an old bridge. His pack and rifle were gone. He still had his knife and handgun. His head throbbed. Difficulty breathing. Something was wrong with his shoulder.
One minute he was blinking and pondering the next, then he was jolted awake to the rumble of an approaching truck. Dogs barked. On the bank opposite him were men carrying rifles. A truck rolled across the bridge.
Dirt and pebbles rustled behind him. Last Man craned his neck back in time to see a man and his Rottweiler sliding down the bank.
“He’s alive,” the man shouted. “Hurt bad by the looks of it.”
Maybe Last Man would die by scavengers or cannibals after all.
The man knelt down. He set a hand on Last Man’s shoulder and in a genuinely reassuring voice, said, “Hey there, hold on. We’ll get you out of here.” Then, to the people on the bridge, “Someone get down here and help!”
The world pulsed and went dark. When Last Man woke up again it was to searing pain throughout his entire body. A woman with wild black hair and a scar down her right cheek looked at him briefly. She carried him from behind while another person—a redheaded man—hauled his feet.
“The pick-a-number game is rigged,” the redhead complained. “They do it because they say it keeps grunt tasks fair, but tell me this, why the fuck do we always lose? When did we stoop to their level?”
The woman grunted general disapproval. “Cyrus, remember what I said?”
“Yeah, yeah—” the conversation stopped as they readjusted their grip on Last Man so they could get him over the top of the bank.
His shoulder was in total fiery agony as the woman pulled him up. He didn’t realize he was groaning until she gently slapped the side of his face. “Cowboy the fuck up.” To her partner, “Continue recollecting what I said.”
On level ground, they carried him more smoothly towards the truck waiting nearby.
“You said, ‘I’ll break your nose again if you complain about the situation you got us into.’”
“Right. What are you doing right now?”
The redhead, Cyrus, stopped talking. They were silent as they loaded him into the bed of the truck. The woman left immediately, but Cyrus lingered. Last Man tried to stay awake, but he felt a peculiar warmness overcoming him as sleep beckoned.
Cyrus sighed and glanced at Last Man. “Hope you heal fast, buddy. Every hour they take care of you is a day you’ll be in debt to them. If you aren’t careful, the next thing you know, you’ll be losing the fucking numbers game.”
Before Last Man gave in to sleep, he could’ve sworn Cyrus pulled out a package of Sour Patch kids from his vest pocket. Without a care in the world, he munched away on them as he wandered off.
art by https://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
I had to do it! Cyrus V. Sinclair and Last Man crossover was destined to happen. Even though their worlds are totally different, I thought it would be fun to send LM on an adventure with Cyrus and Blaze.
— SINCLAIR: PART 2—
“The numbers game,” Last Man mumbled as he finished clearing the first story of the office building.
“It’s fucking rigged,” his sarcastic, redheaded companion quipped. “It’s always fucking rigged. The payout for this one is big at least, right?”
Last Man had to agree; the payout was nice. Acting as a mercenary for the triad of colonies run by a man named Arbuckle wasn’t the worst thing he’d done in the past six years. It was almost like a normal job. He, Cyrus, and Blaze had various tasks to support whatever settlement they were in. Once completed, they were given food, water, medication, ammunition, and anything else they requested that Arbuckle could comply to.
Three months ago, when Cyrus told Last Man he was accruing debt, he was right. Between his punctured lung, dislocated shoulder, broken leg, and the following infections as a result of those injuries, Last Man ended up staying in the Arbuckle settlement for a month. It was made clear to him that he had a debt to pay for their hospitality. Last Man recognized they’d saved his life and he was going to repay them for it. The more tasks he completed for Arbuckle, the more he rebuilt a nest egg for himself that would help him when he was on his own again.
Now they were clearing a high school that would become housing for newcomers to the settlements. It ended up being just the three of them due to the numbers game that was indeed rigged.
They’d found three undead—or Zs as Cyrus and Blaze called them—so far and ended them quickly. Last Man took point up the stairs to the next level. This was his last task and then he’d be square and on his way, unlike his companions who seemed to be in debt to Arbuckle for life.
Last Man pushed open the door to the second story. The flashlight attached to his rifle swept down the pitch black hallway, casting jagged shadows across the walls and floor. Rubbish on the ground, desks stacked—
It happened so fast he wasn’t sure what he saw. Something darted across the end of the hallway where muted sunlight shone through moth-eaten drapes and grimy windows. All he understood was that he’d seen tentacles whipping about around a humanoid figure. It was fast, a blur, but his brain screamed, mutant.
“I’ve got something, end of the hallway. Went left,” Last Man relayed to Blaze and Cyrus.
All the extremities—the blisters on his feet, how he hadn’t had quite enough for breakfast and wondered if Arbuckle was going to deliver on the Glocks he’d requested-faded.
Nothing mattered more in that moment than surviving and making sure those around him lived.
art by https://dofresh.deviantart.com/
Part 2 of 3!
— SINCLAIR: PART 3—
Last Man sucked down a smooth inhale of air, noting the scents of decayed paper and mildew. He proceeded forward down the hallway, knowing Cyrus and Blaze would check the rooms behind him as he went.
The hallway became brighter as he proceeded forward. His senses sharpened again, each second hyper focused. He remembered the first time he’d encountered a Screecher and a Stalker. He had the same feeling he’d stumbled upon another freak abomination of the virus.
He turned left at the end of the hallway and entered a classroom. It was remarkably undisturbed. The desk-chair combos were neatly arranged in the room facing a chalk board. The only thing amiss was the writhing mass of black tentacles standing in the corner.
It was human once. Last Man recognized jean-clad legs supporting the weight of a swirling, chaotic mass of slimy black tentacles. There was no head, no distinguishable center. Just appendages and limbs that had no beginning or end.
Last Man felt his companions presence behind him. The three of them stared at the new mutant, and in that moment he knew neither of them had seen anything like it. How it came to be—how the virus chose to manifest in this way—he’d never know.
He brought the thing up in his sights, unassuming and standing in the corner like cattle, and opened fire.
Black, sluggish blood arched across the windows and walls. Somewhere beneath the mass of tentacles came screeching. For a brief moment, Last Man felt guilty for slaughtering the unsuspecting creature. Then, once it scrambled up the wall and headed straight for them, those thoughts vanished.
The thing hit him first. He felt all sizes of tentacles latch onto his flesh, suckers with tiny teeth tearing at him and drawing blood as it tried to draw Last Man closer. He resisted and fired into the thing, praying enough bullets would put the thing down.
Just as the larger tentacles wrapped around his shoulders, he felt its grasp weaken. He kept firing. He felt the hands of Blaze or Cyrus brush against him as they tore the tentacles away. Eventually he was free, left panting on one knee on the ground.
The tentacle creature twitched and heaved. Gloopy blood and gore seeped from ragged holes in its slimy limbs.
Last Man got to his feet. He glanced at his arms where his shirt had been torn away revealing perfectly circular, bloody marks.
“We’ve got two more stories to clear,” Cyrus remarked. He aimed at the center of the creature’s body and fired five more rounds into it. Finally, it stopped moving. “Hope we don’t see any more of those, right?”
Last Man loaded a fresh magazine into his rifle. “Whether we do or don’t, after this, my debt it paid.”
Art by https://boldcat.deviantart.com/
Part 3 of 3 on the Last Man meets Cyrus V. Sinclair series. Just a reminder for those who don’t know, I wrote a trilogy of awesome zombie novels featuring Cyrus and Blaze! Check em out here. http://www.eloisejknapp.com/books/
The crows fluttered and cawed overhead, the bolder of them swooping down to pluck a chunk of flesh from the shambling undead. By the time the walking carrion reacted with a pathetic, uncoordinated swipe, the attacker was already perched on the power lines above.
Last Man felt the first drop of rain hit his cheek, startling him out of his daze. How long had he been watching this? At least five minutes. Long enough for the well dressed Z to make it from the end of the alley to nearly thirty feet away from him.
It was funny in a tragic way. Last Man almost felt bad for the stiff. He wore a dress shirt that was white once–now stained with any number of bodily fluids and grime–and a vest and tie. What had he been up to? Best man? Groom? Funeral?
Last Man roused himself and continued walking, vowing he’d never be a walking buffet for the birds.
art by https://stayinwonderland.deviantart.com/
At first, he sees them even when he blinks. The ragged, maggot-infested tears in their flesh. Their cracked, slimy teeth. He smells their cold, fetid breath as they close in on him. His heart is always racing. His nerves singed.
Then, he sees them every night in his dreams. Gnarled, graying hands reaching towards him with fingertips worn down to bone. Their breathy wheeze, their hungry groans.
Eventually, he only sees them in the quiet moments when his mind runs out of memories of Before. This many years later and the memory of a dozen or so have never faded.
The woman under the ice. The hanging man. The children in the dog kennel.
Of one thing he is certain; the only time he will be free of them is when he takes his last breath and dies.
art by https://ultradialectics.deviantart.com/
—CHRISTMAS SPECIAL PART 1—
A snowflake drifted into Last Man’s eye. It took him a moment to react and blink the sting away. That’s how close he was to death. His most basic reflexes weren’t even working right. His body begged him to close his eyes—just stop staring at the cloudy gray-white sky—and let the bitter cold snow stop hurting him and take him away.
He thought he was prepared. He had been. But no matter how much you prepare, nature can throw a curveball that derails everything. And the whiteout had been a hell of a curveball.
It came on suddenly, and while he had the right clothing and food and water, what he couldn’t control was the length of time he was exposed to the elements. He built a snow-cave to protect himself from the wind. It worked, but after two days and dwindling propane in his lightweight camp stove, he knew he wouldn’t outlast the storm if it kept up. He used his compass to push east, but quickly retreated back to his cave.
The blizzard ended three days after he ran out of food. His small backpacking stove went out long before. It took everything he had left to dig himself out of the snow-cave and crawl twenty feet before collapsing on his back.
Then he heard it. Bells. Not just any kind of bell, but sleigh bells.
He drew in a few chilly breaths. His attempt at rolling onto his side were thwarted by an unchallengeable lack of energy.
“Got one over here,” a distant male voice shouted.
“Live?” another responded.
“Dunno. Hello there, you alive or dead?”
Last Man tried to yell that he was most definitely on his way to death, but barely managed a wheeze. It felt like his lungs and vocal chords were frozen stiff.
Crunch, crunch, crunch. Footsteps drawing closer. A tiny spark of adrenaline was enough to allow Last Man to turn his head towards the oncoming stranger.
I’m hallucinating, Last Man thought. I’ve finally lost my mind.
Santa Claus wielding a rifle. Of all the things he’d see in his final hours, it was Santa with a gun. Last Man’s gaze drifted behind the red-coated man. A truck slowly crept through the snow with presents. At least three men followed behind Santa.
“Hello,” he said to Last Man as he knelt down. “Looks like you’re in bad shape.”
One of Santa’s followers arrived. Last Man had never had such vivid hallucinations in his entire life. “You think he was headed towards Carlton when the storm hit him?”
Santa slung his rifle and pulled out a thermos. When he unscrewed the top, a plume of steam rose up. His follower—Elf, Last Man decided—propped Last Man up into a sitting position while Santa put the thermos to his mouth.
“Drink up. Not cocoa but it’ll help.”
The heat emanating from the thermos sparked something inside him. He parted his lips and took a gulp. It was just water, but it was hot and as it spilled out of his mouth and warmed his chin, Last Man felt himself inch away from death’s beckoning hands.
“Let’s get you to Carlton, buddy. Don’t want to spend Christmas as a popsicle, do you?” Santa said. He closed his thermos and stood. The truck rolled by.
Last Man had seen his fair share of insanity over the past five—six?—years. But this? Being saved by gun-toting Santa and Elves?
Well, he hadn’t seen this one coming.
Not certain who the art is by. If you know, message or comment. I did a reverse image search but it was inconclusive.
—CHRISTMAS SPECIAL FINALE—
Last Man couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten something as good as the fresh, soft wheat bread accompanied with scrambled eggs. Not powdered eggs either. Real, fresh eggs. He spread another spoonful of homemade blackberry jam across the bread and savored it while he could.
Warm, fed, and not in immediate peril was a state he wasn’t used to. The events leading up to it were surreal, too. A blur.
Santa and his elves carted Last Man to a town called Carlton which had been a mere quarter mile away from where he nearly died. A man and woman who seemed to be the medical personnel of the town put Last Man in a warm bath. The pain as he regained sensation in his frozen limbs was excruciating. To his surprise, it didn’t appear he was going to lose any digits.
As genuinely kind as they were, Last Man had no intention of staying longer than he had to. The evening of the second day he was there, he packed his belongings and informed his hosts he was leaving after he thanked them for everything.
“It’s Christmas Day. You sure you don’t want to stay for dinner tonight?” the doctor asked him.
Last Man shook his head. “What you’ve done for me is gift enough. I’m better off on my own.”
“At least say goodbye to Santa, okay?” The doctor told Last Man where he could find his savior.
Santa was sitting on the steps outside a small house on the outskirts of town. Gone was his hooded cloak and in his hands were a cigarette and a gun.
“Headed out?” Santa asked as Last Man approached.
“Yes,” Last Man said, then added, “Thank you for everything. I was going to die out there.”
His brows furrowed behind tiny round glasses. He took a drag and exhaled slowly. “I hope anyone would’ve done the same for me, though something tells me you might be the type to leave another person behind.”
Last Man didn’t take offense. Santa said it plainly and, in fact, it was true. “Why do you do this? The presents, the outfit?”
“When this first started—the end of the world—I did unforgivable things for longer than I want to admit. At a certain point I realized I had to become someone else because if I stayed myself, all I’d do was hurt people. And I was done doing that.” He tapped ash onto the step. A few flakes landed on his scuffed black boots. “I saw the suit in the window of a costume shop on the way to a settlement I planned on wiping out. The rest is history.”
Santa stood and dropped his cigarette into the snow. “Before, this world had plenty of space for people who didn’t want to matter. Now we don’t. Every living person who isn’t part of the problem needs to be part of a solution or there’s no point in them living.” He tilted his head. “Merry Christmas.”
Last Man returned the nod. As he walked away, Santa’s words raced through his head.
It was in that moment that Last Man decided he was going to find a cure.
Art by https://www.behance.net/brenochadams
This world isn’t theirs. Not anymore.
It belongs to the skeletal metal remains of humanity’s creations. They creek and groan, inanimate but alive in their own way, remembering what they once were. Here, they are the loudest voices that carry across the wind.
It belongs to the water that laps up softly against the wreckage of rusted cars and crumbling fallen planes. Here, it is a gentle force reclaiming the space it was kept from for so long.
As he walks, he feels the sand and rubble give way beneath his boots. He watches the water fill up his footprints, indifferently erasing any trace of the Last Man on earth.
The world is patient. It knows his bones are brittle and his body frail. It knows it will outlive him and in the mean time, it indulges his presence.
Last Man draws a deep breath as he looks up at the sky. This world isn’t theirs, but somewhere, far away, another one soon will be.
Art by https://charmedy.deviantart.com/
“Remember what it was like to fly?” Sofie asked.
“Barely,” her older sister, Ash answered.
Last Man scanned the snow-covered tarmac. The airport loomed dark and empty in the distance. The snow offered a small advantage–if there were undead lurking about, they often left trails.
“I’ll never forget,” Sofie said. She spread her arms out wide and started walking forward, careening back and forth. “I was so scared and once we were in the air–”
“You were STILL scared!”
They both laughed. Last Man couldn’t help but smile. Ash took on the stoic, grown-up role even though she wasn’t a day over fifteen. She rarely dropped the self-adopted role, but when she did it reminded him that they were both just kids.
It was hard to believe they’d been travelling together for only two weeks. It felt like months. When he found himself looking down the barrels of a rifle and a handgun after opening the door to a gas station, he knew the girls had grit. Once they established no one needed to get hurt, they traded some ammunition for food and ended up sharing a dinner of canned chicken and mandarin oranges. The girls were headed towards Portland where their aunt lived and Last Man was headed Nowhere, so they traveled together.
They’d survived this long on their own–he knew they didn’t need him–but when he thought of his own wife and daughter, and of the girl he saved at the theater long ago, he couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving them on their own.
Sofie continued soaring around. The pompom on her cap bobbed back and forth wildly. Finally, Ash caved. She spread her arms and trailed after her sister. The only two planes not grounded.
Last Man looked at the rusting plane carcasses once again. The girls’ laughing hadn’t drawn anything out. He bent down and formed a snowball, then tossed it lightly at Ash. It struck the top of her pack and knocked her off kilter.
“Hey!” she screamed. Sofie halted and spun around. The girls’ stared at him accusingly, then at the second snowball he had waiting in his gloved hand.
Finally, Ash grinned. “Bet you can’t hit me again.”
The game ensued. Last Man pelted them with snowballs as they soared about dodging and laughing. For a while they forgot about those they lost. About where they were going or what waited for them when they got there.
Because what waited for them in Portland was death and destruction far worse than any the three had ever seen.
Art by my absolute favorite https://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/
—NO GUN, NO PROBLEM – PART 1 —
When Last Man woke up, the world was fuzzy. He blinked until it came into focus and stilled his breath. His wrists were zip tied. The plastic bit into his skin. His fingers tingled from lack of blood flow.
Truck. They’d tossed him into a truck. He peered out the back window and stole one quick glance outside. The floodlights outside the safe haven—well, it wasn’t safe or a haven anymore—cast enough light onto the street for him to see well enough. He spotted three undead milling about, tripping on rubble, with no particular goal in mind. There were no guards on the rooftops. Either Last Man had been there long enough that they’d grown tired and wandered off, or they were confident he’d die out here.
Trapped in a truck with no weapon, no supplies, and no shoes. Hands bound to top it all off. Some part of him wanted to dwell on the series of events that got him here, but dwelling did fuck all. Instead, he harnessed the jittering rush of adrenaline coursing through his body. He clenched his hands and flexed, pushing his palms together and wrists apart. Blood dribbled as the zip tie cut into him, but after a few seconds, the plastic snapped.
He checked the glove compartment and center console out of habit. Inside was a small folding knife, the blade no longer than 3 inches. There was a note inside that read, “Haha. Fooled you. See how well you do with just this.” His captor’s thought this would lower his morale. It did the exact opposite. Any blade was better than no blade.
If he was going to make a run for it, now was the time. With only three undead in sight, he could make it into the alleyway before they even saw him. He had to rely solely on his speed and wits to get him somewhere safe where he could regroup.
Priority one was to get as far away from here as he possibly could.
He opened the door with intent of slipping out quietly, but was met with the screech of a car alarm. They’d locked him in and set the alarm. No wonder no one was keeping watch.
It all happened within seconds. The three undead tensed and spotted him. Then, somewhere nearby, Last Man heard something that made his blood run cold.
The long howl of a screecher.
Art by https://sgarbossa.deviantart.com/
—NO GUN, NO PROBLEM – PART 2 —
He’d faced screechers before and the only way he ever walked away the winner was with bullets…a lot of them. As grateful as he was for his little knife, it wasn’t enough versus his opponent.
Last Man’s boots slapped against the asphalt as he ran with every ounce of energy he had. The alleyway was too dark. He could barely see. His hip clipped a trashcan, sending it and its contents skittering across the ground.
Somewhere nearby, the screecher howled.
He glanced upward at the rooftops. Screechers were agile and took to the high ground to locate their prey, then would pounce when the moment was right. If he had a gun, he would stay outside in the open where he could spot them coming. Without a gun, staying outside made him a perfect target. Inside, he stood a better chance. Screechers had a hard time using their disgusting, quick tongues as weapons in confined spaces.
Last Man wanted to clear distance between him and the car alarm which still blared into the night. He hoped that would draw the undead and screecher, but him making a ruckus in the alleyway could draw attention to him. He needed to find somewhere to hide and defend.
As he cleared the dark, narrow alley, he entered a street two blocks away from the truck. To his right, the lights at an intersection cast red across the cement. It was the town’s electricity that brought him here in the first place. He should’ve known it was a trap.
Quickly, he assessed his options. This was an industrial part of the town. Warehouses mostly. He picked the only one with front doors intact and ran, praying the doors were unlocked.
He slipped inside and closed the door gently behind him. He was in a reception area. Desk, fake plant, empty water cooler. An overturned filing cabinet near the door. Last Man pushed it in front of the door. Though ineffective as a barricade, it would make noise if something pushed it aside.
He quickly ransacked the desk. Nothing. He went deeper into the warehouse and pushed through the swinging double doors leading out of the reception area.
The warehouse was dimly lit. The people who betrayed him must’ve cleared the area out. A few undead—truly dead—lay across fallen machinery or hung off railings. Last Man carefully navigated around debris as he searched for anything he could use as a weapon.
Overhead, in his peripheral, he spotted something big leap across the rafters. The single hanging light swung back and forth, sending elongated shadows dancing across the warehouse. Last Man’s blood ran cold.
Then he saw the three foot piece of rebar on the ground in front of him. He grabbed it. His gaze fixed on the red exit sign above the lopsided stairs on the other side of the warehouse. He took slow, deliberate steps towards the stairs, taking great care not to make any noise.
Above, something rustled. Creaked.
Just as Last Man hit the base of the stairs, the screecher crashed to the ground behind him. It raised its head and howled. Its long tongue whipped back and forth once before striking out with lighting speed.
Last Man dodged, narrowly missing the attack. Slime flung off the appendage as it struck the railing beside him. He held the rebar in front of him and walked backwards up the stairs.
The screecher prepared for another attack.
Art by https://justinspired.deviantart.com/
Yep, this is from Fallout but it works for us. Final part of No Gun, No Problem next week!
—NO GUN, NO PROBLEM – PART 3 —
The screecher’s tongue was like a snakehead weaving back and forth, trying to entrance him. Last Man watched the monstrosity’s movements, waiting for the attack. He held each end of the rebar our horizontally. His grip on the rebar was white-knuckle tight. He knew how strong his opponent was. He had to be ready.
He was nearly at the top of the stairs. The screecher was taking it’s time, but that was fine with him. He glanced over at the railing. His plan was ridiculous, but it was the only one he had.
Its tongue lashed out. Last Man brought up the rebar just in time to catch the attack. The appendage wrapped around the rebar twice. Before the screecher could draw back, Last Man dropped his right hand and retrieved the folding knife. In one smooth motion, he flicked it open and impaled it on the screecher’s tongue. It gurgled and tried to pull back, but that only resulted in the knife tearing its tongue further.
Last Man used the rebar and knife setup to tug the monster further up the stairs. It obeyed, only knowing it wanted to avoid pain. Once he was at the top of the steps, he carefully positioned the screecher right in front of the railing.
Then he shoulder charged it, knocking the creature over the railing. The rebar caught between the railing and a post. The screecher still had its tongue tightly wound around the metal. Its body bounced hard as the slack of its tongue ran out.
The screecher thrashed wildly in pain. Last Man held tightly to the rebar and folding knife, trying to figure out what to do now that he had the creature immobilized. That’s when he spotted the long pieces of rebar sticking up out of cement right beneath the monster.
Last Man yanked out the folding knife. The screecher had just started to use its own tongue as a rope and was climbing up with he began sawing at the muscle. The blade was sharp and the muscle surprisingly easy to cut through. The creature made it up two feet when its weight finished the job and tore itself free from its tongue.
Screecher kabob, Last Man thought, barely amused, as he beheld the sight of its twitching, bleeding body on the rebar below.
He took his folding knife and rebar and didn’t spare the warehouse another minute. He ran hard, as far away from the area as he could, until his lungs burned and his legs refused to work. Eventually the sun came up and he found himself downtown. A gentle breeze rustled through the overgrowth of trees and bushes, cooling the sweat on his body. He took a deep breath
The city looked desolate and empty, but it would provide him with everything he needed. He’d start over. There was nothing he lost that he couldn’t regain given patience and determination.
And once he’d rebuilt, he’d use that same patience and determination to get revenge on every last one of the bastards who’d wronged him.
Art by https://napalm92.deviantart.com/
— MANHUNT PART 1 of 5 —
Being crammed into a bus with dozens of scared people was the last place he wanted to be. It was funny how they claimed they were “soldiers” and were here to help. In his book, holding people at gunpoint and forcing them into a bus to be ferried out of the city against their will couldn’t be classified as helping. And soldiers? Last Man knew hired guns when he saw them. These men were mercenaries, but with what goal, he wasn’t sure yet.
He would’ve put up more of a fight, but he was drained. He hated to admit it, but they caught him off guard, too. The death of his wife and daughter might’ve been two months ago, but it was still fresh to him. He was a husk. When they found him raiding a grocery store and demanded he come with them, he went. The fact that they had four guns on him made that decision somewhat easy. Three days in their “evacuee camp” was enough to sober him up. As soon as the right opportunity came along, he’d escape.
Rain pattered against the roof of the bus. The other “evacuees” were quiet as they watched the scene unfolding ahead. They were at the checkpoint to the city that was allegedly safe. Outside, a man was on his knees at gunpoint.
“What’s going on?” someone whispered.
“Why won’t they just let him in?” another chimed in.
“Quiet back there,” the driver shouted, ending the conversation.
The merc closed in on the man. One patted him down but appeared to find nothing. The other prodded the man with his rifle. Their reflective visors hid their faces, making the situation hard to read.
Even from where Last Man was on the bus, he could see the man’s body shaking. What was he saying? What did he need so badly that he’d come here? One of the mercs shook his head and stepped back. The man stood and took one step forward.
One bullet to the head. The man’s body collapsed into the rain. Cries and murmurs ran through the bus. Somewhere near the back, a child started to cry.
The mercs waved the bus through. As they drove by, Last Man watched the mercenaries raise their visors. There was no grim look of remorse to be found. Instead he saw the young, smug faces of men who’d lost their humanity.
Last Man realized escape would be much harder than he thought.
Art by https://lonefox117.deviantart.com/
— MANHUNT PART 2 of 5 —
Last Man was on his knees, hands bound in twine behind his back. To his left and right were a dozen men and women in the same position. Two shiny-visor-wearing mercs guarded them. They were in front of a hotel. The city still had electricity and inside that hotel the granite-floored lobby was inviting and warm. Clean. Normal.
What wasn’t normal were the five men wearing hunting gear drinking champagne as they pointed and laughed at Last Man and the other hostages.
Wearing nothing but a loose t-shirt, jeans, and his boots, Last Man was soaked to the bone. The rain was letting up, but the mercs had kept their hostages there for nearly an hour as the hunters arrived. After seeing one arrive, Last Man immediately understood what was going on. Why it was happening, he’d never understand. If these sociopaths wanted to hunt and kill regular people, they had plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Why go through the elaborate procedure of turning a city into their hunting ground? This wasn’t fiction. This was real life.
Another part of him reasoned that it was getting harder to find living people. They were in hiding, cowering from the infected and undead. The mutants.
It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he wasn’t going to die by the hands of these bastards and he’d do whatever it took to get out.
One of the hunters signaled the guard, who then turned to address the prey.
“All right. It’s easy. You try to climb the walls and escape, we throw you to the dead. You get a ten minute head start. Run, hide, try to fight, whatever.” One of the hostages started to speak, and the guard held up his hand. “You don’t get any weapons, but if you find something in the city, good for you. Now, get. Go!”
Some of them were still confused and asked to be untied, or beg for mercy, but not Last Man. He sprung to his feet and ran.
No special art for this one.
— MANHUNT PART 3 of 5 —
Despite the pain in his knees from kneeling for so long and his arms being tied behind his back, Last Man made good time running deeper into the city. The farther he got from the hunters and other prey, the better. He needed time to free his hands and figure out what exactly he was going to do.
Whoever the hunters were, they orchestrated an impressive feat. Last Man had run at least a mile and a half already and hadn’t encountered any mutants. The city was clear.
Finally, at about two miles, he spotted the wall the guards spoke of a few blocks ahead. Similar to the checkpoint he saw when he arrived, the wall was primarily chain link with a few sheets of metal welded for added security. Last Man caught a glimpse of a merc atop a hastily erected tower. He dodged left into an open doorway to a warehouse.
Nothing but mossy concrete and junk. Last Man wandered farther in—the building was tall, he might be able to get a vantage point up top—when he stopped dead in his tracks.
There was a man sitting next to a tent beside a dog. Not one of the prey he’d arrived with. It was an older, weary looking man. They stared at one another, neither saying a word. The lab raised its head and growled.
“Easy, Belle,” the old man said. Then, to Last Man, “Guess it’s that time again. How long have you been running?”
“Ten minutes, maybe,” Last Man answered.
“Come on over, I’ll cut you free. Won’t try to convince you to trust me; either you do or you don’t. Up to you.”
Last Man took him up on the offer. Belle eyed him warily as the old man slipped a hunting knife from a sheath on his belt and freed Last Man.
“How long have you been here?”
He frowned and sat back down on the cold ground. “Three weeks. Been through about five cycles now. They haven’t found me but damn do they keep looking. Guess they’ll find me now.”
“Why’s that?” Last Man asked.
He pulled up his sleeve. An angry red and black bite festered on his wrist. He nodded towards the shipping containers behind him.
“Opened one of those up farther in the warehouse not an hour ago. There was a kid inside. One from when I arrived. Oh well, right?” The old man sighed. “I don’t have a lot of time left. Take my knife. And my food. Hell, take the boots off my feet if you want. Maybe you can escape.”
Last Man took the knife, grateful. He felt a twinge of respect and sorrow for the old man. “Thank you. I—”
A gunshot echoed nearby. The hunters had found their prey.
The old man nodded. “Give ‘em hell.”
Last Man darted out of the warehouse and spotted one of the hunters turn a corner about a block away, the old man’s words echoing in his head.
Art by https://zerox-ii.deviantart.com/
— MANHUNT PART 4 of 5 —
The hunting knife wasn’t much, but it would be enough. Last Man jogged down the block where he’d spotted the hunter. As he neared the corner, he glanced around. The hunter walked down the street with confidence towards steps leading down an embankment.
That haughtiness would be his downfall and Last Man’s ticket out of here.
Last Man checked his surroundings. Seeing no mercs or hunters, he trailed his target. Each step was deliberately planned—errantly stepping on glass or making noise could jeopardize him.
The hunter disappeared completely down the embankment and Last Man sped up. As he approached the same stairs he spotted the hunter walking beneath an overpass. A gentle breeze rustled through the overgrown bushes and grass. The hunter peeked into a crashed bus for a moment before moving along.
Last Man closed the distance between him and his target. Just as he took cover behind the bus, a flock of birds took flight nearby. Last Man crouched and peered beneath the bus. The hunter had turned around, attention drawn by the birds, but showed no sign of having seen Last Man.
He started moving back towards the bus.
Last Man waited until the perfect moment to shimmy between the concrete wall of the embankment and bus just as the hunter passed by. He quickly looped around the front of the bus, hunting knife in hand, and came up behind the hunter.
A branch snapped beneath his foot as he came in for the kill. The hunter spun around, but Last Man was ready. He grabbed the rifle by the barrel with his left hand and pushed it away, then entered the hunter’s space, pushing forward and stabbing low into his gut.
One shot fired. Last Man’s ears rang. The hunter immediately released his grip on the rifle as both hands flew to his gut to try and stop the blood.
“Help!” he tried to shout, but it only came out a pathetic yelp.
Last Man didn’t feel sorry for him. Not the man who would gladly kill Last Man for sport. He pushed the hunter flat on his back and in one swift motion, rammed the knife into his heart.
The hunter had a sidearm and three shots left in his bolt-action Browning rifle. Four loose bullets in his jacket pocket.
It was time for a little offense.
Art by https://mutiny-in-the-air.deviantart.com
—MANHUNT PART 5 OF 5—
Last Man returned to the area where he spotted the merc on the tower and took to the highest building he could find. He hoofed it up the stairs and made easy work of the flimsy lock on the roof access hatch. He stayed low and moved to the edge of the roof where he surveyed his surroundings. From his new vantage point he studied the merc on the tower—a few moments of observation revealed it was the only sentry as far as Last Man could see. No Hunters approached. No other guards.
Steadying his breath, he brought up the merc in his scope, aiming for his chest. He squeezed the trigger. Watching through the scope, the merc spun as the bullet landed in shoulder. He dropped to his knees but was not yet incapacitated. Compensating, Last Man aimed again more left and fired. The merc slumped over, unmoving.
Not wasting a second, Last Man thundered down the steps and out of the building towards the tower. He unlatched the gate and make a run for it. Just as he stepped through, another man darted out beside him. One of the prey.
“They’re coming!” the newcomer yelled as they ran. “Three of them! You have to help!”
About the time when Last Man noted how little cover the grassy field they ran in provided, he spotted a burst of blood and gore in his peripheral. The other man went down, half his head splattered on the damp ground. Last Man summoned a burst of adrenaline and ran a little faster, zigzagging his pattern.
A bullet pinged off a rusting car only feet away. He spotted a truck and dove behind it. Slowly, he peeked around the corner.
Three hunters, just as the other man said. Last Man took aim and fired at the center hunter. Right between the eyes—he couldn’t have asked for a better shot. As the hunter dropped dead, the other two spun and ran back into the town. High and mighty when they think they’re in control. Weak and afraid the second they lose it.
He could leave. Run for it, as he planned, and keep moving forward far away. But as he studied the corpse, and thought of the merc, he realized he had more important work to do. What was that phrase?
Last Man stood and jogged towards the corpse.
It was time for the hunters to become the hunted.
art by https://alexandreev.deviantart.com/
Rain pattered against the tarp, dripping away into the containers he’d set up to gather water. The campfire was small but hot, providing a touch of warmth as it heated the two precious cans of chicken noodle soup. With rainfall and ten stories between them and the undead below, they could almost ignore the groans and shuffling of the horde making it’s slow way through the city.
Last Man dunked a tin cup into the soup and gave it to the woman sitting beside him. She took it and nodded solemnly, taking a sip. “Thanks. It’s crazy what a difference something hot makes.”
They’d exchanged few words when they met in the street hours before. The horde came out of nowhere. At first there was a dozen, then hundreds, and now they easily numbered in the thousands. Most were undead, but a decent number were infected. The infected bounced through the sluggish crowd, full of violence with no one to let it out on. Last Man met her as he booked it towards an apartment building looking for somewhere safe to ride it out. They both had the same idea—get to the rooftop—and decided to stick together because really, they had no other choice. He set up protection from the rain, and from there broke down some furniture from inside for firewood.
“It was like this the day it happened,” she said. Her gaze was unfocused. Last Man recognized that stare. He knew it from before the end of the world. He knew it even better now. He let her speak, uninterrupted, because in that moment he could tell she was reliving it. He could tell she needed to tell her story.
“I was with my husband in some random office building we ducked into to hide. To cower. To listen to the bombs go off while they tried to ‘get the situation under control’. Wondering when we’d be rescued because…because of course we were going to get rescued. Eventually someone was going to save us. Take control. Lead us to safety, tell us what to do. My husband was bit, but we heard there was a cure, so we were holding out.” She laughed sadly. “What a fucking joke. All of it. I remember resting my head on his chest and feeling his lips on the top of my head and thinking, yeah it’s definitely going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”
Her eyes sparkled with tears. “In a few hours he started getting violent, like they do. Hit me across the mouth. Right then we realized he was going to die. He said he was going to walk off the roof because he’d rather die than turn and hurt me. We didn’t have a gun or a knife or any way for him to end his own life. He hugged me and kissed me and told me he loved me. Then he went upstairs and jumped.”
She was quiet for a few moments. “I wish I’d jumped too. But he made me promise not to take my own life. Said things would get better and I just had to wait it out.” She looked at Last Man. “Do you think that’s true?”
He thought of the thousands of creatures below that would readily tear them both apart. Of the time he’d spent wandering. Looking for purpose. The truth was, in that moment, he didn’t think things would get better. But as he looked into her eyes, he thought of his wife and daughter. Of what he’d tell them.
“Yes,” he lied, partially for her, but because he wanted to believe it, too.
art by https://bataulai.deviantart.com/
Once in a while the world seemed to hold its breath and for a few moments, be at peace.
The football field below was submerged. The swamplands surrounding it had joyfully reclaimed the space. Cattails grew thickly around the perimeter with lily pads dispersed throughout. He listened to the birds chirping and the gentle lapping of water. His gaze fell to the graffiti on the bench in front of him. The teenagers scrawling their initials in sharpie would never know their messages would outlive them.
Last Man inhaled the warm late spring air and let his eyes close. His mind was blank. In a way, he didn’t mind. To have a moment where he didn’t need to think was more blissful than recalling the good times. Memories had a tendency to be too bittersweet for his liking.
Across the swamp, a single gunshot echoed. Birds rose up from the surrounding trees.
The world exhaled.
art by https://ravenseyetravislacey.deviantart.com/
They swore he’d find it here. Each day that he trudged through waist-deep snow, each day he fought the bitter cold, he told himself it would be worth it because with every step he was closer to the cure.
Standing there now, in front of the dead and empty facility, with nothing but cold metal, snow, and ice around him, he struggled to muster up enough will to begin the next leg of his search. He reminded himself of why he’d spent the last years of his life looking.
If there was one thing he’d learned over the past decade—longer?—it’s that the world hadn’t ended. Not quite yet. Neither the infection nor the dead rising was enough to put an end to humanity.
But “humanity” was beginning to solely mean “mankind”. Humanity in the sense of greatness, compassion, and courage was dying. With every passing year Last Man witnessed people stray farther into a primal oblivion they would not likely return from.
A cure. A permanent solution to that which made people feral and afraid. If the Walkers, Screechers, Hunters, and undead were gone, life would be different.
Last Man adjusted his gear. He squeezed his eyes shut and thought of what started this quest. He saw the boy go from infected to normal in minutes. Of the look of relief and love in his family’s eyes. To them it was a miracle.
The cure was real and Last Man knew he would find it or he would die trying.
art by https://mutiny-in-the-air.deviantart.com
—WASTELANDER LAW PART 1 OF 4—
Last Man ran towards the wall and made another attempt to get out of the pit. Whoever dug it also reinforced the sides with sheets of metal, making it impossible to climb up. Still, he had to try. Back down on the ground, sweat forming streams down his body, he sat cross legged again and found himself pondering. He tended to do that when he was in life or death situations he had no control over.
He didn’t like the desert before the whole infection and undead situation. He wasn’t sure what motivated him to come here now after so many years. If he had to guess, it was that first day in late September when he felt a chill on the breeze that reminded him of winter. God only knew how bad the past two had been. He knew some day he’d lose a toe or a finger. It was only a matter of time. Going to the desert made sense.
Now, it didn’t.
Motes drifted about in the beams of warm evening sun cast through the bus station’s broken windows. Last Man closed his eyes and laid back on the ground—which was somewhat cool since it was about eleven feet deep—and wondered who the hell would put a trap here and for what purpose. Last Man had only been trying to find some reprieve from the unforgiving afternoon sun when he entered the decrepit bus station, stepped wrong, and fell through to the place he might finally die.
“Whadda we have?”
At the sound of the voice his hand went to his Glock and his eyes flashed open in time to see a figure dart away from the edge of the pit. Last Man crouched and followed the voices, ready to shoot, but very aware the people above might be his only chance of getting out of the pit. On an impulse, he hid the Glock in his waistband.
“A man,” another voice answered. The first was male—gruff, commanding—and the second was female. Cool, collected.
“Is he big? How much could I get for him?” the male asked.
The girl peered over the edge of the pit. She was draped in lightweight fabric—protection against the sun, he guessed—that was dusted with sand. Ski goggles were askew on her forehead. Her skin was golden under a layer of dirt. A ragged scar ran from her temple across her eye and nose, disfiguring her left eye in a horrifyingly beautiful way. A few locks of dark brown hair poked out from her hood. Last Man was surprised by how young she looked.
“He’s big, yeah, Big Fred. No jabs. Could get a lot for him,” she answered. Last Man noted the slightest English accent but beyond that the lilt in her voice and the lingo was unlike anything he’d heard before.
Finally the man came up beside the girl and sized up Last Man. “Fuck, yeah. He’ll get us in the door at Holy Town. You were right about setting up here, got one in less than a week. Good work, Dolly.” With that he slapped the girl’s butt and walked away.
Her expression morphed into a cold grimace as she pulled out a pistol from the folds of her clothing. Last Man watched, confused, as she spun around and fired a single shot. The man must’ve hit a shelf or two on his way down. The unseen ruckus was almost comical. When she looked back at him, she smiled. “A lot can go wrong out in the Dead, friend.”
—WASTELANDER LAW PART 2 OF 4—
Last Man stared at the girl—Dolly—hands by his sides, waiting. Though petite, she did have a gun and based on her body language, he had a sense that she could handle herself with or without it.
Dolly disappeared for some time. He heard a meaty sawing noise that, he hated to admit, he was familiar with. Then dragging and her grunting, and a moment later she shoved a dead body into the pit. Bones snapped and by the end of it, the corpse’s leg was in angles no leg should ever take. He was also missing a hand. She dusted herself off and sighed. “Didn’t think we’d get anyone this far out. What’re you doing out here?”
“I’m from up north. Winters are hard,” Last Man answered honestly. “Let’s cut to the chase. What are you going to do with me?”
“Sure, north. Funny. And I’m not sure. I came here to kill this son of a bitch. That’s it,” she said. “If you’re thinking I’m going to let you go on your merry way, you’re jabbing.”
He wasn’t sure why she scoffed at him being from the north. He raised a brow. “Why can’t you?”
“I let you out, you’re going to rape me, kill me, or make me a slave in Holy Town. Maybe all three. I’m not stupid.”
“I could spend hours lining up the reasons why I’m not going to do any of that and it wouldn’t matter,” Last Man said. “You’re going to knock those reasons down and do what you think is best. Me trying to convince you won’t change that.”
Her scar crinkled as she furrowed her brows to think it over. Having made a decision, she shrugged, spun on her heel and walked away.
Last Man stared at the spot she once stood. That wasn’t how he expected this to go. He walked up to the steel wall and slapped it with his palm, cursing. While he gathered his thoughts and bubbling anger, he felt the first tinge of real, true fear deep within his chest.
Maybe he really was going to die in—
A rope flung over the edge. “Thought I was leaving, did you?”
“Not even for a second,” Last Man said, walking over the corpse and hauling himself out of the pit before she had the chance to change her mind.
Aboveground, he felt instantly liberated. The air was warm, but the sun was setting and the hardest edge of the heat was over. He took a deep breath and looked at Dolly. “Thank you.”
She waved his gratitude away with one leather-gloved hand. “Where you headed to, then? Holy Town?”
“Nowhere,” he answered. “Just anywhere safe to stay a few months until Winter is over. What and where is Holy Town? Mostly because I’d like to avoid it.”
“Mad smart of you, friend. Follow me. It’s just over yonder,” she said, pointing in a general direction away from the bus station.
They walked less than ten minutes over a few dunes before cresting a hill. In front of them was a variety of rusting wreckage slowly being eaten up by the sand. Beyond, a body of water sparkled in the setting sun. The silhouette of a massive city broke up the otherwise desolate landscape. Last Man wasn’t quite sure what the city was before—it’s original name, that is. He’d seen settlements before, but none as big as this. It was a mecca.
“Is that where you were going to sell me?”
Again, that shrug. “For whatever we need, yeah? Food, meds, the like. Anything good to bring back home. Based on the look of you, they’d put you to work. If you clean up quite nice maybe you’d be a babymaker. Probably not though. No jabs.”
“You’re lucky you found me. Wandering around these parts—The Dead, we call it—isn’t smart. If you aren’t in Holy Town you’re a Wastelander like me. And if you aren’t one of them, or us, then you’re dead. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you come with me.” The way she said it made it seem like Last Man had no other option. He found it endearing. “Come to Raxie’s for a few days. We’ll sort you out. You won’t regret it.”
Last Man stared at Holy Town, then glanced back at the expanse of desert behind him. He wasn’t on his own turf and this place had morphed into something more complicated than what he was used to back home. Every once in a few years, he was willing to accept an offered hand.
“I have a feeling I will, but okay. Lead the way.”
art by https://fantasyart0102.deviantart.com
—WASTELANDER LAW PART 3 OF 4—
What Dolly didn’t tell Last Man was that it would take the entire night to get to her outpost. The first few hours of walking were intense; there were too many hills and it was still too hot paired with that much exertion to have much of a conversation. Eventually the dunes leveled out and they found a beat down highway they followed through flatland. There was a refreshing, dry chill in the air that Last Man basked in while he could. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, making travelling by moonlight easy.
“Have to be careful at night,” she said out of the blue. “Yawners everywhere, yeah.”
Again with the dismissive wave of her hand. “You know. Oh. I guess you don’t, then. Ones with the tongues. That scream. Yawners. You’ve seen them, yeah?”
“I have.” Last Man had dubbed them Screechers, but he knew. It seemed out here they were more nocturnal. He supposed it was because of the heat. “More times than I’d like.”
She wrapped her frayed layers closer around her body and was quiet again.
Last Man did some quick backtracking. He stopped counting years some time ago, but after considering particularly bad winters and times he was injured, he calculated it had to be almost eight years since the infection started and the dead first rose. With her hood off, he got a better look at Leigh and figured she was seventeen at best. She had to have experienced a huge chunk of her childhood during the worst of it. Did that explain the lingo and attitude? She was two shades away from Mad Max whereas Last Man was, for all intents and purposes, his same old self.
Hours went by at a steady pace until Dolly stopped. The horizon was glowing a soft greenish blue as dawn approached.
“Listen, friend. We’re almost to Raxie’s and now I’ve gotta be straight with you. I wanted you to come for a reason. To stay, yeah, and sort you out. But you’re a witness to Big Fred’s demise—”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Last Man assured her. “You killing him is your business, not mine.”
“Nah, that’s not it at all. You being here is some straight Holy Town fate business. I just wanted to get away from Big Fred. I figured any Pop would be better than him so I was ready to take my chances. I was gonna go back and say he was dead and just get a new Pop, but now that you’re here, based on The Rules, we say you killed him, you own me. You own the others, too. Here’s the proof.”
It all came out in a rush. She withdrew the pistol and shoved it into his hands, then pulled the stiff, gray hand of Big Fred from a satchel at her side and offered it to him. Last Man noted the brand—now old scar tissue—on the top. BF. Big Fred. He saw the same brand on her hand, too.
Last Man pushed the hand away. “I don’t want to own anyone. No one should own anyone, Dolly.”
“That’s how it works here,” she stated, voice flat. “That’s how we know who gets to eat, who gets to live. All of it. You don’t want to help, fine. I go back and get a new Pop, same plan as before.”
She went to return the hand to her bag, but Last Man grabbed it. He studied her for a moment. “Say I go in and take ownership. Can we leave Raxie’s?”
“What, and go to Holy Town? They won’t have us there, friend.”
“We’ll leave. Find somewhere else to ride out the winter months then we go north. You can all go live your own lives.”
“Shit, you’re not jabbing on the north business, are you? There’s no north. There’s only here. The Dead. The Last Place.”
Last Man felt the first flash of impatience. Whatever world Dolly lived in, it was full of lies. “There is a north, I swear. Just pretend there is for a minute. If I go in and say I own all of you, and I want to leave eventually and take you with, is that allowed?”
“Sure, yeah. People do it now and then. Everyone thinks they’re idiots of course.”
“And if I take you and whoever else I own away from Raxie’s, at some point can I leave you all to take care of yourselves?”
Dolly’s eyes grew wide. “You mean free? Like I’m my own Pop. No. I’d be like Raxie. I make my own rules, go where I want. No one tells me what’s what?”
Last Man shook his head. “No jabs. What do you say?”
She smiled. “Freedom sounds good.”
I didn’t have much luck reverse searching for where this image originated from, but if you know let me know so I can give proper credit!
—WASTELANDER LAW PART 4 OF 4—
The cargo ship was a million shades of rust. Last Man briefly tried to think of how the ship got to such an odd spot, but quickly gave up. It was the apocalypse, after all. Details like that didn’t matter much. It was what it was.
And it was a hive of activity. Tents and structures sprouted from the top like weeds on an old stump. ATVs and stripped down cars spun around in the cracked sand beneath Raxie’s Outpost. Dolly stood, hands on her hips, and chuckled.
“Fucking mad house, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll miss it,” she said, then quickly added, “But not for long, yeah.”
She started towards the outpost and stopped when he didn’t follow.
“You sure this is going to work? I’m risking my life for you.”
Dolly nodded. “I swear it. You wouldn’t be the first outsider to claim what he owns by killing a Wastelander out in the Dead. No one likes it, but them’s the rules, friend.”
Last Man thought once again of some random man staking claim on her and however many others Big Fred owned. It sickened him. He gestured for her to lead the way and didn’t look back once.
Metaphorically, that is. He checked his back every few moments as they walked towards the gaping hole in the bottom of the ship. He received a few wary glances, but when people saw he was with Dolly, they looked away uninterested.
The interior of the ship was humid, smelly, and only a shade cooler than outside. Dolly lead him through makeshift common areas, markets, and living quarters squashed into corridors and bays, on a meandering path that ultimately lead to the very top of the ship.
As they exited a narrow flight of steps, Last Man was temporarily blinded by the sun until a huge shadow blocked his way. He blinked until his eyes would focus again and came face to face with a behemoth of a man. He towered over Last Man and had enough muscle clinging to his thick frame, it wouldn’t be surprising if he could snap a small tree in half.
Now able to see, Last Man noted that they were on the bow of the ship. About a dozen men and women dressed similarly to Dolly lingered about. Each wielded some type of weapon, whether it be gun, bludgeon, or blade.
The giant clapped Last Man on the shoulder. “I can only imagine why you’re here, friend. Come on in and we’ll discuss your ownership.”
Raxie stalked away and collapsed onto what Last Man knew had to be his throne. A beautiful ornate wood chair with a high back. Swaths of fabric were draped overhead to block out the searing afternoon sun.
“You have your proof?” Raxie asked.
Last Man retrieved Big Fred’s hand. One of Raxie’s people rushed forward and snatched it, taking it to him. He inspected the brand while he stroked his long, wild red beard. “That’s definitely Big Fred’s hand. Someone get me his ledger and we’ll see what we owe this gentlemen.”
An older woman brought a giant book to Raxie. He opened it up and ran his fingers down its pages, nodding to himself. Once satisfied, he tore out a page and walked it to Last Man himself.
“In addition to Dolly you’ve won three other girls and two boys. Details are here. You can take Big Fred’s spot and if you work hard, you’ll move up in the ship. As in a spot on the higher decks might open up.”
Last Man took the paper. “I’ll be taking them and making my own way.”
Raxie burst out into laughter that came deep in his belly. “Sure, friend. You can do that, and we won’t stop you. But only after you try to make it work here. Raxie’s is a good place and most find they like it. It’s a fuck of a lot better than Holy Town if you ask me. Or anywhere else and as we all know, it’s the Dead or Holy Town.”
Ah. The hidden bit. Last Man felt Dolly stiffen. Had she lied to him via omission or did she not know? He took a deep breath. “How long?”
“Couple months. Is that a problem?”
He blinked away the sweat dripping down his forehead into his eyes. A mean sunburn was forming on his forehead and the back of his neck. For the first time since he arrived, he felt Raxie’s followers shift. Clench their weapons tighter.
Well, he had to stay somewhere for the winter.
“No,” he said reluctantly. “No problem at all.”
art by https://mutiny-in-the-air.deviantart.com
—WASTELANDER LAW EPILOGUE—
Last Man took a deep, slow inhale through his nose. The bright scent of pine flooded his senses. He listened to water gently lapping at the dock and stones nearby. A shock of warm sunshine cut over the mountaintop and hit the decrepit building in front of them. If you ignored the fading “Help Us” scrawled on the roof, it was a damn beautiful scene.
“Well, friend, you weren’t jabbing. North is pretty.” Dolly pulled her knitted skullcap farther over her ears. “Cold though.”
Five months of living in the desert under Raxie’s control which was, Last Man had to admit, not that bad. Tenuous at times, and always loud, but it could’ve been worse. Hell, he missed the safety the outpost had to offer. And the food. And there was that brief thing with a guard named Caroline. But he wouldn’t miss the culture. For all it was, Raxie’s was rooted in slavery. Ownership over people would never work for him, and even when times were at their best, Last Man never lost sight of his ultimate goal of freeing the kids he came to own and leaving the desert forever.
The kids passed Dolly and Last Man, checking behind and under rusting cars and being cautious as he’d taught them. They made a good troop. He was proud.
“This looks like as good a place as any, if the rest of ‘em like it,” Dolly said, jutting her chin out towards the building.
Last Man nodded. “They elected you their leader. If you say it’s good, they’ll fall in line.”
The impromptu election of who’d lead the ragtag group was unanimous. Dolly was oldest, smartest, and meanest which were all desirable traits according to the kids. He handed her the worn, folded map they’d been following. It would be challenging, but Last Man was confident they’d make it.
“You sure you don’t want to take a breather, friend? We’ve been travelling for a month now. A break might do you good,” Dolly offered as they began walking again.
He took in the stunning alpine views once more. This far away, you didn’t have to worry much about the dead or the living. There were towns close enough for the occasional supply run. Plenty of fishing and hunting. You stood a good chance at living the rest of your days peacefully. A few months ago he would’ve considered it. But…
The cure. He caught first wind of it at Raxie’s and, even though it was a stretch, it was enough to steer him away from visions of retirement. He simply gave her a smile, which she returned in understanding.
For the first time since he lost his wife and daughter, he felt like he could actually change the course of humanity.
He could save the world.
art by https://reticent-82.deviantart.com/
Okay, I had to do a TINY little epilogue for this.
“Looking back, I think we could’ve saved the world if we’d listened to the right people. Taken the right actions.” Philip took the cup of steaming coffee Last Man offered with thickly gloved hands. Outside the gas station, bitter cold wind scraped against the windows as it rushed by. “Told the truth.”
Last Man happened upon Philip two weeks ago in an elementary school. Philip was raiding the cafeteria when Last Man walked in, thinking it was an undead bumbling around and ready to put an end to it. Instead he found Philip—starving, afraid, and with only a crowbar as a weapon. Last Man hadn’t seen another sane living person in months. For some reason, when they locked eyes, Philip gave him a wary yet wholehearted smile that made Last Man feel like he’d known him for years. They’d been traveling together for weeks, sharing stories of what they’d witnessed since the infection started. As it turned out, Philip worked for the CDC. He was never clear on what his position was, but Last Man guessed it was an important one based on the information his new travel companion would share.
“I remember approving those posters. You know the ones? With the cartoon characters, lots of purple and green colors?”
How could he forget? Last Man remembered seeing the ridiculous CDC posters taped everywhere he went. Warnings to wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and wear a mask if you think you’re getting sick. To some it might’ve seemed an adequate PSA. Really it was like pouring a glass of water on a burning building. But he simply said, “Yeah. I do.”
“A joke. I knew this wasn’t just a flu. So did everyone else. I said we needed immediate and aggressive quarantine. Curfew, even. Everyone thought I was a doomsday crazy. So what do we do? A cute bunny and dinosaur offering common sense.”
The two laughed sadly. Philip’s gaze was distant. “By the time we really took action, it was too little too late. I’ll never forget the smell of burning bodies. Oily smoke from the body bags. Cooked meat and burnt hair. The sound of fat popping and sizzling.”
Last Man remembered that, too. In his neighborhood only a street away, dozens of hazmat-suited figures dragging bodies from houses. The bonfire fueled by infected corpses. The screams as alive, but infected, individuals were pulled from their homes to be taken into…
“Was there really a quarantine?” Last Man asked. “The buses you loaded infected into to take to quarantine.”
Philip squeezed his eyes shut. He shook his head.
“Too little,” he repeated. “Too late.”
art by https://davetilton.deviantart.com/
“Being trapped in my office, seventeen stories up, for the zombie apocalypse felt like the worst imaginable place to be. I won’t even tell you how I ended up there with everyone else. All that matters is that we were starving to death. We rationed food as best as we could, but eventually we ran out. This lady, Denisa, died of natural causes. She didn’t speak English so we weren’t sure what was wrong exactly. But for those brief moments after she died, we were all thinking the same thing.”
Last Man said nothing. Not for the first, or even third time, he sat with a lone survivor sharing a meager dinner of canned goods and water. But nothing made the stories flow like a crackling fire and a bite to eat. Thomas didn’t need to spell out what they were all thinking. Last Man knew.
“But we didn’t. For different reasons, too. Moral, religious, intellectual. At the end of the day we took her to the roof. I hate admitting this, but we threw her off. We didn’t have a lot of space and we had all our water catching systems set up out there and having a rotting corpse around it didn’t seem like a good idea. Even though we all did our best to keep things sanitary, 30 people living on a single floor of an office building gets disgusting. A rotting corpse on the roof–the only place where we could get fresh air and water–wasn’t going to work.”
Thomas poked at the stew of canned peas and salmon Last Man had whipped up. Finally he took a few bites, then continued. “It was that morning when we…buried her, I’ll call it…that we saw the soldiers down below. If it wasn’t for us deciding to do that, we’d never have seen them. We caught their attention and they came into the building. We heard gunshots for an hour and a half before they finally got to us and cleared out the infected that had been beating against the stairwell door for weeks.
“I remember everyone sobbing with relief. Saved! We were finally saved! Everything was going to be okay. As they guided us out of the building, mowing down infected and undead shambling in the hallways, I thought the same thing. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Guys with guns were going to save us. And you know what? They took us to a quarantine zone that was safe. It was only half a mile away. There was food, water, beds. It was clean. It really seemed like things were turning around.”
Thomas coughed. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. He held it towards Last Man, who shook his head in the negative, but gestured for him to go ahead. The pack was crumpled and with the amount of reverence Thomas used removing one of the smokes, Last Man got the sense that they were reserved for when he really needed one.
He took one drag and sighed. “Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been the way I was, you know?”
“Scared?” Last Man clarified.
“Sure, scared. But lots of other things, too. Unprepared. Reliant. I keep thinking, if I’d kept food storage like my mom always nagged me about, I wouldn’t have had to leave my house that day. My wife and son and I would’ve stayed there. If I knew how to use a gun and was better prepared, maybe neither of them would’ve died.”
Thomas finished off his cigarette, seemed to rouse himself, then truly began to dig into his stew. “Anyway, it was another life.”
Last Man stared at the fire. A knot formed in the pit of his stomach. He’d been prepared. He’d been self-reliant. He sure as hell knew how to use a gun.
That didn’t stop him from losing his own family.
—APOCALYPSE FEARS – FAN INSPIRED —
Last Man finished off his beer and threw the bottle off the cliff. It spun beautifully and sparkled in the sun before sailing down and shattering, the sound of which was barely audible over the collective groans of nearly a thousand undead below. He collapsed into his lawn chair, grabbed another bottle, and propped up his broken leg.
“Wild, isn’t it?” Beside him, Frank sipped at his own beer. He gestured at the stone quarry and the sea of zombies. “I always wondered how and why they all got down there, you know?”
“Who knows. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t as dumb as we think. Maybe they have some herd mentality,” Last Man offered. “Or maybe they’re like fish in a basket trap. They wander in but they’re too dumb to get out.”
It was chilly for late fall, but the sky was clear and the direct sunlight warmed Last Man through. Giant old maples were ablaze in all shades of orange and yellow around them, leaves rustling gently in the wind. The stench from the crowd of Zs far below them in the stone quarry was mild.
A month ago Last Man found himself face to face with a screecher that just wouldn’t give up and a definite lack of bullets. Despite every one of his shots hitting the mutant creature, the thing kept chasing him. Long story short, he and the screecher fell down an elevator shaft. Screecher died and Last Man made it out nearly whole. Frank happened upon him limping along while he was scavenging for supplies. If Last Man believed in fate, it was at play that day. Frank was an EMT and a Corpsmen in his life before. He fixed Last Man up and offered him refuge while he healed.
Last Man reflected on how surreal the picture of them was. Just another day in the apocalypse. They sat in companionable silence, sipping beer and listening to the dead, when Frank suddenly laughed.
“You know what the worst thing about the end of the world is?”
“Besides everyone being dead and having to fight to survive every day?” Last Man knew Frank could take the sarcasm.
“Besides all that. Maybe not the WORST, but bad. It’s the damn bugs in the summer.” Frank leaned back in his lawn chair and sighed. “Christ, I remember that first summer after it all started. When the infection was just something on the news that you felt off about but figured it would sort itself out.
“I’m cautious, though. I grabbed my bug out bag, hopped in my truck, and went to my hunting cabin up in the mountains. It was fine and dandy until about August. Little bastards were eating me alive every day. Didn’t matter if I was made out of DEET or had two nets! They’d always get me. When I went on supply raids, I was an itching mess. I spent two days once looking for some cortizone. This went on for weeks.”
“I was south for a while back, looking for my brother. Infected, undead, mutants. They were the least of your worries compared to everything else that could kill you,” Last Man offered.
Frank laughed, then was solemn for a moment. “I know other people had it worse. I know you did, from what you’ve told me. Makes me grateful that the worst I’ve had to deal with are things like bugs or maybe not having enough food now and then.”
He finished his beer and tossed it over the cliff and into the quarry. “Nah. I don’t mind this life one bit.”
—APOCALYPSE FEARS – FAN INSPIRED —
Last Man tried to work up some saliva to wet his parched throat with no success. The motion ended up splitting his already cracked lips further. Warm, salty blood trickled from the wound. He winced and shifted; lightning bolts of pain shot up his wrists which were raw from the chains looped around them.
The cellar was dark, but a scattering of bleak rays shone through the slats of the floor above. Across from him, two other people were chained up. A woman and a man were all that was left. Sometimes he thought they were dead and he’d occupy himself with checking for signs of life in the dim light. Slight heave of the chest. A groan or a sigh.
Nothing was more telling than when the cellar door opened. The sound, the light, the instantaneous and tangible fear that filled the small space. Everyone woke up for that.
How the fuck did he get here? This wasn’t the first or last time in his life he’d ask that. And it wasn’t a question. Not really. Every time he got into a situation like this one, he knew why. The reason generally fell into the same bucket. He trusted the wrong person. He was overpowered. He was hurt and couldn’t escape.
All that mattered now was what he was going to do to save himself.
Boots thudded overhead. Chains rattled as the other two prisoners stood on wobbling legs. Last Man was blinded as the cellar door opened. A cold, fresh gust of air swept away the stench and he caught the smell of dead leaves and autumn.
It was always the same. The Man came downstairs without saying a word, put a collar on one of them, unlocked them from the metal rings on the ceiling, and led them out. Well, if putting a revolver to someone’s head could be considered “leading.”
The second he came down, Last Man knew it was his day. The Man’s gaze was locked onto him from the moment he came into view. Sure enough, minutes later, Last man was collared and fumbling up the stairs on weak legs. His head spun. He was hungry and dehydrated. How many days had he been down there?
It had been night when Last Man was captured and brought here. He didn’t remember what it looked like. Now in the daylight, he took it all in. Fields of dried up grass. A tree line about a quarter mile off. Big house directly to his left with pickup trucks in the front. Gravel road leading to the farm with a gate open.
He guided Last Man to a truck where he put him up front and cuffed him to the door. Still not saying a word, he hopped in and the truck rumbled to life. They hit the dirt road and eventually pulled onto a highway.
“I wasn’t always like this,” the man said out of the blue. “Before it all happened, I was a good man. And when it all happened, I kept trying to be good. For a while at least. But the group I ended up with? They were incompetent. Selfish. So damn idiotic.”
He slid on a pair of sunglasses he retrieved from his shirt pocket. “It all changed when we were running from a horde and Jake tried to trip me and leave me as bait to slow down the dead. I dodged it and you know what I did? I shot him in the leg and left HIM. After that it snowballed. And you know what? Life got easier for it. Remove whatever it is that slows you down or makes life hard.”
Silence again. Ten, twenty, then thirty minutes. Last Man was surprised how far out he’d been keeping his prisoners.
“A lot of things got me here, if you were wondering. It really did start small. They wouldn’t ration properly. They were dramatic about walking too many miles in a day or staying somewhere less than ideal for a night. Jesus, I don’t know why I stayed with them as long as I did. Anyway, then the Jake thing happened. Then you start thinking, okay. I’ve got basic survival down. But how do I THRIVE?”
The highway turned into a freeway and eventually he exited into a city. Grass overtook the asphalt which was cracked and damaged from age and perhaps earthquakes. Not a single undead or infected was in sight. In the distance, the sound of another truck approached.
“Humans have always been a great currency,” Last Man finally said as he watched his new owners get out of the truck and stretch. They didn’t seem particularly scary, but neither did The Man.
Instead of feeling doomed or let panic overtake him, Last Man took a deep breath. New captors meant new opportunities for escape…
“In this case, tasty currency, too.”
…assuming he didn’t get eaten first.
art by adamrichards.deviantart.com