The Last Man Chronicles

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).

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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/ 

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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/

——

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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/ 

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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 

——

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“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/ 

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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 

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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/

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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/

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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

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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

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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/

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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

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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/

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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

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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. 🙂

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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/

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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/

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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.

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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/

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SEARCH FOR CHARLIE – PART 1
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/

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THE SEARCH FOR CHARLIE – PART 2
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/

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SEARCH FOR CHARLIE – PART 3
“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!

 

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SEARCH FOR CHARLIE – PART 4
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/

 

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“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/

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Wind howled through the canyon. Overhead, birds fought to fly against it. The air tasted clean, but was so cold it burned his lugs.
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/

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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/

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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

 

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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?”

She nodded.

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.”

“And him?”

“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.


art by https://www.artstation.com/artist/wwysocki

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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/

 

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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.

Churning it.

Obliterating it.

Decades from now it would be as though it never existed.

art by http://sundragon83.deviantart.com/

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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/

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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/

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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.”

art by http://pino44io.deviantart.com/

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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?”

“Nowhere. Anywhere.”

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/

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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/

 

——
 
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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/

 

——
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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/

 

——

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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/

——

18766529_1679457785412708_3535225800705991737_oThe 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/

——

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–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/

——

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–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/

——

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–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/

——

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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/

——

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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/

——

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“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/

——

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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/ 

——

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—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

——

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—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. 🙂

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About Eloise J. Knapp

Eloise J. Knapp is an author and designer living in the Pacific Northwest.
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