Monday, October 1, 2007

The Last Man

By Matt Mitchell

Dear Adam,

I know I haven’t left you much, and if you’re reading this it means I’ve left you even less, but in my passing there are things you should know; things I never told you, never talked about when I was alive.

Firstly: know that I love you. You could never know how much or how far my love for you will endure, so know it simply; that I love you, and I hope I know that you loved me as well.

Now I will give you the answers you’ve wanted all your life but that I’ve kept from you. Know that I kept them from you because of my own fear and guilt. I hope you’ll understand why I’ve kept these secrets after you’ve read them, and I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping them, and for what I did...

I was four months pregnant with you, and Tom (your father) had taken me to Gulf Shores for a summer vacation. It was May 24, 2004. I remember I was in a hurry to get there and on the way down we were held up at a red light and I said under my breath, “I wish this light would change,” and it did. It changed immediately, so quickly that there was a lot of swerving and horn blowing because there had been no yellow for the other lanes. I thought it odd at the time.

Looking back, of course, I feel it might have been a precursor to what would come.

I can only hope to understand what was to happen in one way--that it was a wish. That somehow I was given a wish or wishes but wasn’t granted knowledge of having been granted them. As if some cosmic genie passed by me and said, “I’ll give her a couple of wishes” as he passed by and then went back into his bottle without ever telling me he’d done so. Damn him if he did, for he did nothing more with those wishes than to curse me and all the rest of humanity for all the brief time we had left in this world. To think I could have wished for a billion dollars, or a small Caribbean island, or world peace! World peace I got, but not in any way I might have ever dreamed possible.

Or maybe wishes float around randomly throughout the universe and when they land on you, whatever you wish for, if you happen to wish for it at the precise moment the energy of the wish lands on you, it comes true. If so, then I must have made wishes on successive occasions, on successive days, and had them both granted. Or maybe the red light changing was simply a coincidence; but the latter was not. It definitely was not coincidence, as you will see. And I have wondered about other possibilities: solar flares, radiation… but none of them fit, for you see, I remained. I alone.

On the second day of our vacation I was lying on the beach sunning along with a million other people, listening to the gulls and the waves, loving the warmth and the moment and longing only for solitude. I could see an airplane flying over the water trailing an advertisement banner. A dozen boats were within eyesight either towing parasailers or fishing or just making noise. Children screamed with delight and fear, teenagers howled with freedom and impetuosity and adults exulted in the liberation from both, simultaneously demanding loudly to be heard, respected and obeyed.

To the left and right of me as far as I could see ran the white sands of the beach pocked with umbrellas and fat, skinny, old, young, ugly and beautiful, beautiful people of every race, creed and culture. There were boogie boarders, wake boarders, and surf boarders; loungers, drifters, alcoholics, zealots, rednecks, connoisseurs, thieves, addicts, scholars, and derelicts. Behind them rose high-rise condominiums that stood like the building blocks of the gods, cubical mountains spitting in the eyes of nature; before them sat the ocean, itself pocked with boats and swimming vacationers once again howling with delight and exultation in the face of nature. Combined, the scene made a grotesque mockery of the balance of the environment: humanity shoved all the ore, minerals and fuels that could be mined from one side of the scale to the other and replaced them with only poisoned air, water and earth.

A school of rays streamed amid the swimmers, who oohed and ahhed fittingly. I could just sense the shadows that lurked beneath the surface of the water, beyond the people, hoping the people would inch just a hair closer to the deeper water. I got the same sensation from my cat, Baggins, at home, where I could swear he would look at me thinking “if I were only six pounds heavier I would eat you where you stand.”

I was jealous that there were other people enjoying my moment in the sun, and I was angered by the pollution and the destruction we’d wrought on the seascape. The pollution that clogged my sinuses and filled my ears and brought tears to my eyes was the same pollution that was killing the entire planet--Adam, there were seven billion people in the world at that moment; and I felt that every single one of them were inside my head and screaming or honking or laughing or something all at once, and it unnerved me just enough for me to utter the words--“I wish everyone on earth would just disappear!”

Do I have to tell you the rest? I suppose I must. When I opened my eyes the plane was plummeting to the sea and all the people were gone. Even your father. I weep now to think of that moment; and that moment has haunted virtually every moment’s sleep I’ve had since, along with a million questions: Where did they go? Are they in purgatory? Did I kill them all? If all the people disappeared, then why was I left alive? Anyway, what followed was a moment of utter calm; as if in all the world there had been rubber bands being wound and wound and wound for hundreds of thousands of years and all of a sudden they all were released and they spun out so rapidly there was no energy left and they simply lay there, inert. There were no more people. The boats were no longer being steered and they made landfall and ran until their engines ran out of fuel and their batteries drained. It was the same with cars; they ran until the fuel ran out. Airplanes, trains, boats and busses all ceased, fell, or crashed because of one simple sentence I’d uttered, and I was the only one left.

Until I had you.

I must have gone insane for a little while there, and I think I might have gone completely over had it not been for you, Adam. You grounded me. My swelling belly reminded me that I had a reason to live, despite my intense desire to end my own life. And yes, I did often entertain the idea of ending it for both of us. What kind of world would be left to you? How could you know what had happened, how things were before? Would it matter to you? ... There were so many questions roaming through my head that before I knew it you were here and it was time to build a home.

Remember that wishes do sometimes come true. I know that was a hard lesson for you to learn, and I regret every blow I gave you that day when you were seven and you wished I was dead. I know you were just a little boy sounding out his frustration, but it scared me so badly when you said that—I just went red. I’m so sorry. Remember: Wish always for good things, but never for bad things. Wishes sometimes do come true. Don’t they? Do they?

I’ve taught you all I could think that you would need to survive in the world as it is now. I admit that I was rather glad you were a boy and that eventually the possibility existed that we might have children ourselves. I’m sorry now to have thought such things. You are not responsible for the world’s demise; that responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders. Your lessons have been as extensive as I dared make them; and more violent than any other civilized person’s has been in this modern age. It had to be so; I hope you understand. I learned quickly to keep weaponry close at hand.

It was amazing to see how quickly the world went back wild. Civilization, it would seem, has always been an illusion after all, for when there were no people to keep alligators out of swimming pools, bears out of pantries, and raccoons out of living rooms that’s exactly where they all went. Within a day there was a pelican building a nest on the porch of the condo your father and I had rented. The power gave out in the first week and I was living off flashlights (and so will you so long as the batteries stay charged!) Oh, the horror of the first time I had to go into a dark house when I knew something was in there but didn’t know what it was! Little feral animals can fight with amazing ferocity when cornered, and the world, it seemed, had gone over to them; it had gone wild. I traveled to our home in Missouri and found Baggins gone—same as every other pet in the world that either died of starvation or escaped their captivity. He was gone and the house had been ransacked by opossums. While I was there I noticed that the air was noticeably cleaner, thinner, purer. I could breathe as I’d never breathed before, and in only two weeks’ time! By the time I’d driven south again there were trees down on the road in some places, grass encroaching over the roadway, buildings seemed already to be given back to the wild so that the entire world itself seemed to be a wild thing already.

The only thing I could think to do was to learn about living without power and make do. I found this house and had you in it. I raised you here. How I cried when you first asked me if I had made all the buildings and houses you saw. Now this house is as close to a fortified compound as I can build. I find it amazing that the wild things in the world came for us as they did. It seems (once again!) that civilization was always the illusion; as soon as the rest of the people disappeared, animals stopped running from me! Little birds paid me no more heed than that pelican that had begun building a nest on my condo’s porch. In fact, that pelican was actually threatening toward me. It wouldn’t be the first time. Lucky for you and I, dogs still seem to side with people, and Lucky was the finest protector I could ever have found for us. Even cougars will get out of the way when we walk by with our big German Sheppard friend. He’s killed more than one attacking animal, and they all attack now, Adam, all animals are enemies. I don’t know how or why they’re like this now, but they want us gone and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s as if they want to punish us for the transgressions of all mankind, for leaving the world in the state it’s in.

Now I will tell you only this--I am sorry. You are the only man left in the world and you will die alone. I would have killed myself if not for having you in my belly but now I am gone and I fear you will have nothing. I would have killed you before me but I lacked the courage. I am sorry. You don’t deserve this fate. All I can suggest is this: Continue the prayers that I’ve been praying since that horrible day. Every day, set aside some time, as often as possible, and wish that all the people hadn’t disappeared, and maybe one day this horror I’ve inflicted on the world will be
reversed. Maybe then my soul will rest. For now it is in purgatory. I love you!

Remember me!


Matt Mitchell is a working writer in Montevallo, Alabama. In addition to being one of the authors featured in the print anthology, Southern Fried Weirdness 2007: An Annual Anthology of Southern Speculative Fiction, he is a father of two boys, a southerner, technophile, naturalist, and part time adventurer.


Anonymous said...

Well done, I like the irony of the son's name being Adam


Anonymous said...

Weird and different, Matthew.
We liked it ....

P & P

Anonymous said...

2 thumbs up!

Matt Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Mitchell said...

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Tom Hamilton said...

Dear Matt, I like this story, but I really wanted to comment on 'Scent of Rain' your story in the 'Southern Fried Weirdness' anthology. I was thoroughly moved. It's the type of sad love story I've dreamt about writing for years yet could never quite grasp. Even the sexual section of the story is beyond any smutty reproach. Thank you for writing it.


Matt Mitchell said...


Wow, thanks for the compliment; I'm glad you liked it. I'm very proud of that one and I'm glad TJ picked it up for the anthology.


Nick Cato said...

Very well done . . . I enjoyed this one.

-Nick Cato