Authors: Ryan King
The Last Man
© 2012 by Ryan King
Rolling waves crashed onto white sands with a calming rhythm while fat seagulls squawked and soared in warm morning breezes. Sam loved the sea, always had. He supposed in another age he could have been a sailor, now it was really too late and too dangerous.
It was the middle of spring and already getting uncomfortably hot in Key West. Almost past time to move north to his summer residence at Cape Cod, he figured. It was also a safer place to spend hurricane season than on the exposed southern tip of Florida. He gazed out on the beautiful ocean as The Pack barked and ran, playing in the surf. His dogs made him smile; he didn't want to think about where he would be without them.
The little car was packed; they wouldn't go too far before walking would be necessary. Sam had tried several times to clear a path along the Seven Mile Bridge, but it was an impossible task. He imagined that span would be clogged with old cars until it collapsed from rust hundreds of years from now. At least the cars weren't filled with bodies. Most of the refugees had made it off of the bridge before dying...or jumped into the ocean.
A boat would be more practical, but he wasn't that good a swimmer and didn't have much experience with the sea. A motorcycle would be easier to get in and out of cars on the tight span, but an experiment with a motorcycle several years ago had gone poorly and scared him beyond recovery. Any type of serious accident now would be his death, it wasn't like he could go to a hospital or wait for help.
He had used a bicycle on occasion, but it didn't allow him to carry much gear and the dogs tired after running behind him for several miles. Walking or driving were really the best options and that meant a short drive to Old Seven Mile Bridge followed by a long walk.
Sam whistled for the dogs. As usual Molly was first, the big yellow lab was eager to please. Tanner the black cocker spaniel, Dusty the medium-sized mongrel, and Scotch the giant grey Irish wolfhound followed. As was typical, Sam had to coax Raven the male Doberman who stood there looking at him from a distance as if to say, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, come on you mutt!" yelled Sam.
Raven suddenly sprang into action and ran in long loping strides to catch up with the rest of The Pack who were piling into the old Toyota hatchback. Sam shut all the doors and went around to the driver's side. After selecting a CD from his travel music folder, Bob Marley's Greatest Hits this time, he cranked the little car and began driving north.
It had taken him several years after the Great Plague to settle down into some sort of routine. The first few months had been the worst when the cities stank to the heavens with dead bodies and scavengers of all sorts multiplied by the millions to feed off all the meat. Following the scavenger population explosion, the bodies were mostly consumed and then without a ready source of food, the animals had turned desperate. Sam had been terrified of going outside and never without a gun. It had taken nearly a year for the excess animals to die off and for the environment to reach some sort of natural balance again.
Sam drove past a car with a picked clean skeleton in the driver's seat. Even after all of these years, he didn't like being around the dead. It wasn't superstition or fear of getting sick, it just made him sad, and he didn't like being sad. Before the pla
gue there were all sorts of ways to distract yourself from being sad, but not so much anymore. Sadness could kill you as quickly and surely as a bullet, which was another reason he was grateful for The Pack. They always made him smile, especially when he was feeling down. He looked away from the skeleton, let Bob Marley sing to him, and drove on.
As he approached the long bridge, Sam had to more carefully navigate his car around abandoned vehicles. Finally
, he could go no further and parked the car in his usual reserved parking spot. He let the dogs out and piled his gear into a small wagon exactly where he'd left it over four months earlier when he'd crossed the bridge from the north. It was crusty with salt and grime, but still serviceable. Sam conducted a final check of the car, ejected his CD, rolled up all the windows, and left the keys in the ignition. He filled the large metal wagon with gear and put on his pack.
Before starting across the bridge he donned his wide brimmed hat. The sun was already shining brightly and although Sam was as tanned as leather, his bald pate was sensitive to the sun. He also threw on his expensive designer sunglasses for good measure and began pulling the wagon.
The Pack followed along with him like an entourage and he thought this would be as close as he'd ever come to feeling like some famous important person. He imagined the dogs as paparazzi or reporters or groupies eager for his attention, and he smiled at his own silliness. The dogs revolved around him, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind like planets around the sun. The exception was Raven who was far out in front on point. The large Doberman seemed to feel it was his duty to warn his master of any danger or exceptionally exciting stuff ahead.
d steadily north out over the water. Sam wanted to cover the seven miles before noon which meant a steady pace and no long stops. It normally took less than three hours, but he wanted to make it in two and a half. Crossing the bridge was a necessary evil; he didn't like being out on a thin strip of concrete and metal in the middle of the ocean. Sam realized this was probably ironic given his love for the sea, but he knew he was an extremely complex man. He took a swig of water from the thermos and chewed on some dried fish as he trudged along pulling the wagon behind him.
Suddenly Sam saw a figure dart
from between two cars to his front and then vanish in the maze of metal. He froze and stared. Sam began going forward again straining his eyes, but saw nothing. Raven was alert and unconcerned.
His brain playing tricks on him. It was happening more and more often now. He supposed if he could find a psychiatrist to talk to they would tell him it was totally normal and his brain's way of dealing with the loneliness. Normal or not, it scared him a little and reminded him too much of countless horror movies. Sam strode on even harder.
He stopped twice to pour water out in a bowl for the dogs and to stretch a little. His body was lean and muscular, but tired easy. Probably from a lack of carbohydrates he reasoned. He could hunt, fish, and scavenge for just about everything except
carbs. It was hard to find those and the first things the mice and rats seemed to go for in the groceries.
Before the sun was straight up in the sky they reached the other end of the bridge. The jeep was right where he'd left it before. He threw his gear into the back and heard the dogs start barking like mad.
Sam turned to see a ten-foot long alligator coming up out of the low ground towards them. It was still pretty far away, but seemed intent on pushing itself forward. He hollered for the dogs to come to him and stay back, but they didn't listen. The wild animals had no fear of man now. Sam chuckled, the animal kingdom had no fear of
man now. He could easily get away, but was afraid one of the dogs might get too close to the alligator and get hurt.
He walked over near the creature which opened its large maw at his approach. Sam drew the Colt .45 automatic from the holster at his hip and shot the gator three times in the head and then once more when it moved again. He started to leave, but then had an idea.
Grabbing his hatchet and a trash bag from the jeep, he went back and chopped off the gator's tail while the dogs sniffed the animal cautiously. Dinner tonight would be delicious. He cut the tail into smaller portions and put them in the trash bag, tying it at the top. After cleaning off the hatchet in the grass, Sam tossed it and the heavy trash bag into the jeep. He then inspected the vehicle's underside and engine making sure everything was okay.
Satisfied, Sam coaxed The Pack into the jeep. He then climbed in himself and disengaging the emergency brake, letting the jeep roll down the steep hill he'd parked it on. After several seconds it gained momentum, and Sam dropped the gear shift into first gear and popped the clutch. The
sudden jerk and jolt were followed by a satisfying rev of the engine. Sam stopped the jeep and raced the engine for a moment to charge the battery. He then put on his seat belt, and pulled onto the highway to go get supplies.
Grogan's Groceries was Sam's normal stop after crossing the bridge. He could pick up supplies and also hand crank gas into the jeep and the spare gas can. He decided to fill up on gas first while the dogs jumped out and explored. While monotonously hand cranking the gasoline, Sam gazed around him noticing the leftover signs of anarchy from near the end. Most of the time he did not really see such things, they blended into background noise. The billboard near the road was partially burned as if a Molotov cocktail had been hurled against it. He could still read where someone had
spray painted "This is the End?" in red letters across an advertisement for tractors.
Looking around Sam could recognize other signs of the apocalypse. He didn't want to see them but seemed unable to help himself. Abandoned cars in odd positions littered the parking lot, many of them filled with skeletons. Some of the cars had the windows still up and were filled with dried out mummies. Sam turned his eyes away quickly when he thought he saw a car seat in one of the mummified minivans. "Get a hold of
yourself Samuel," he said out loud and noticed he had been cranking gas out onto the pavement, the jeep's tank and extra container full.
Sam cursed and put the crank away wiping his hands off. He walked over to the front of the grocery store grabbing a shopping cart from the parking lot. Although he had been in this store dozens of times, and knew the layout well, he still loathed going into these dark spooky buildings. It was best to get in and out as fast as possible. Sam pulled out his flashlight, opened the door, and pushed the cart through. He closed the door closely behind him to keep the dogs out afraid they would chase rats and maybe get bit. They whined at the front door while he walked further into the darkness.
The smell hit him like a bucket of water. It had been years since the power had gone out, but old meat, rotten eggs, and spoilt milk combined in a devilish cocktail of nauseating vapors. Sam pulled his shirt up over his nose and mouth, but it didn't help much. There was scurrying all around and Sam did his best to ignore it. The store was of course ransacked during the panic near the end, but not as bad as most. Sam went first to the popcorn, looters seemed to have universally snubbed the kernel. It was one of the few sources of carbohydrates that didn't go bad and the rodents didn't eat up. He threw about a dozen bags into the shopping cart and calculated there was enough left for several more trips. He then went to get bottles of oil to cook the popcorn. Next were various canned and jarred goods, bottles of fruit juice, spices and salt, canned dog food, sugar, tea, and other random items. He was even able to find several bags of pasta and rice the animals hadn't gotten into yet.
Time to get out of here.
He could hear more scurrying around him and even thought he saw someone at the edge of his vision. Got to go, he told himself trying to stay calm as his heart raced. Sam turned off the flashlight, closed his eyes, and said, "There is no one there." He opened his eyes again and felt better. No need for the flashlight now that he was finished and heading towards the lit front entrance. Before leaving he checked the tobacco section and picked out a few of the better cigars. They were likely long stale but better than nothing. He almost went to the wine and liquor section, but decided against it. Alcohol made him sad and had almost killed him before, best to play it safe. Besides, looters nearly always cleaned out the alcohol first.
Sam pushed the door open and breathed in the fresh outside air. The dogs danced around him as if he'd been gone forever. He gave them pats and smiles and they were content. They would miss him if anything happened to
master he knew. That was something at least, his existence served some purpose.
He loaded the supplies in the back of the jeep and then grabbed each dog one at a time. He put on a new flea collar and gave them heart worm medicine he'd picked up inside the store. Sam didn't know much about dog health, but wanted to do whatever he could, especially given their unusual diet. On impulse Sam took one of the heart worm tablets himself. Not bad, he thought chewing the soft meat flavored tablet.
The dogs jumped into the jeep, not willing to be left behind. All except Raven who stood a distance away. Sam yelled for him and Raven just stared back solemnly before breaking into a smile as if to say, "Ah, gotcha boss," and came bounding over to leap into the passenger seat of the jeep, forcing Molly into the back.
Sam got behind the wheel, put his seat belt on, and this time inserted a Gypsy Kings CD into the player. He cranked the jeep and after carefully checking to make sure there was no oncoming traffic, pulled out onto the northbound lanes of the highway.
He drove slowly out of habit. Although the road was wide open, and he could see for miles, you never knew when a storm could have blown a limb down or large cracks in the pavement may have appeared. Better safe than sorry and besides he wasn't really in a huge hurry to get anywhere. It was strange he thought that he had spent most of his life rushing around frantically from one thing to another and now there was hardly any reason to rush at all.
The ocean was still to the right, but the highway began to angle further in towards the interior of the state. This was one of the areas of his journey he disliked. Miami was up there ahead and he absolutely had to avoid that tomb of horrors filled with dusty memories and gigantic flying cockroaches. But avoiding the city meant taking a route further west into the edge of the everglades.