Authors: Ryan King
"Come on buddy," yelled Sam as a sudden splatter of hard rain hit the jeep. Raven stared back at him and Sam would almost swear the dog shook its head at him.
He jumped out of the jeep annoyed and little afraid as he was hit by the heavy wind and rain. "This right here is a bunch of crap," he said to himself running towards the dog that jumped up and seemed relieved to see its master. Raven was shaking and had his ears and
nubby tail down so low Sam's annoyance evaporated. He patted the dog and grabbed his collar pulling.
Raven suddenly realized what master's plan was and didn't want any of it. The big dog planted its feet and pulled back. Sam cursed and grabbed the collar by both hands while the dog pulled in the other direction. There was a moment of total equilibrium. Then suddenly the collar came off from around the dog's neck and lay in Sam's hands. He fell back
towards the door and Raven rushed over with his wagging stubby tail and licked his face.
He was getting really nervous now. The wind outside sounded like there might be a tornado or something being cooked up and the other dogs were likely beside themselves. He ran outside to the jeep and briefly considered leaving the infuriating dog before dismissed the idea. Instead he cranked the jeep up and carefully backed it towards the entrance of the bowling alley, getting as close as possible by pulling up onto the sidewalk.
Sam left the vehicle again and went inside. He picked the big dog up and began carrying him to the jeep. Raven saw master's diabolical plan and started struggling. Sam nearly lost control of the dog with only a short distance to go and ended up heaving Raven into the back of the jeep. The dog landed on its four feet like a cat and looked at him as if to ask what all the trouble was about.
Closing the back flap securely, Sam went and got behind the wheel only then seeing the danger they were in. Directly in front of them, perhaps a half mile away, was a thick funnel cloud descending from the swirling dark mass of sky. Sam popped the clutch and the vehicle stalled.
"Really?" asked Sam to no one in particular and had an urge to laugh at it all. He carefully cranked the jeep and put it into first gear pulling away from the bowling alley as limbs and leaves began to fall all around.
He had heard that you were supposed to head away from a tornado at ninety degree angles and not run directly from it. He thought this was good since he really didn't have much choice and had to follow the road. Sam checked for oncoming traffic, pulled out onto the two-lane road to the right heading north as fast as he could.
Trying to stay calm and not have a wreck he drove while checking his rearview mirrors. He didn't see any tornados, though he knew that didn't mean anything, one could be right over his head that very minute. Getting more nervous by the second, he passed an old underpass on the right and slammed on the brakes. He backed up quickly and then pulled the jeep into the hollow in the ground passing beneath an old railroad track.
They waited with trepidation for a quarter of an hour before Sam thought it was probably safe. He got out of the jeep and walked out from under the shelter. He was soon drenched by the rain, but the wind was no longer swirling and fierce. He decided the immediate danger had passed. He still wasn't going to stay outdoors that night if he could help it, and night seemed to be coming on early already.
He backed the jeep out onto the road and continued into the small town of Plainsview. Sam saw a school, a church, and a library. He immediately dismissed the school and the church. Both had been major gathering places for the dying at the end, one for shelter, the other for comfort. He drove towards the library. Very few people had wanted to check out War and Peace or A Tale of Two Cities with only days to live and he expected the building to be empty.
Sam left the dogs in the jeep while he busted open the locked door and walked in casting his flashlight beam around quickly. It didn't appear too bad and besides choices were getting slim. He
went back out, herded the dogs into the library while grabbing his backpack and the oil lamp he'd recently discovered.
After lighting the lamp, Sam looked around and was almost scared out of his wits by a miraculously well preserved mummy at the receptionist desk. This lady had been in her late sixties or seventies judging by her silver hair. She sat upright and balanced at the desk with an open book before her. He saw the usual signs of sickness and pain. Yet she appeared calm and dignified even in death.
He took a deep shuddering breath and carried the lamp to check out the rest of the building. There were no other bodies and a small stock of food, bottled water, and a cot were in the back. The old librarian had evidently made this her residence at the end. She had calmly died among her books. Sam wanted to dismiss her as silly while at the same time he felt oddly proud of this unknown lady who had remained true to her charge until the job was finished. Admirable or not, he didn't want to spend the night with her looking at him.
Sam went to the cot and picked up the blankets there and walked back to the librarian. With extreme care so as not to disturb the frail corpse, he wrapped the blanket around her and picked her up in his arms. The body couldn't have weighed more than sixty pounds and she was obviously a slim small woman while alive.
He carried her into the back room and laid her with care on the cot. Not knowing what else to do, he went back to the desk, retrieved the book she had been reading, and started to put it into the cot with her. A glance at the cover caused him to drop it in astonishment.
He had heard of the author. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and he had even visited the castle in Darmstadt, Germany that supposedly inspired her tale, but this book of hers he had never heard of.
It was called The Last Man. Sam reached down and picked up the book and looked back at the librarian. He pulled the blanket up over her face and walked back into the main library room as the outside darkness won out completely over the day. Rain and wind buffeted the windows and walls of the small library.
Sam rummaged in his pack and gave each of the dogs an energy bar he'd raided from an outdoor shop a week ago and then opened one for
himself. He took the lamp over to one of the old leather couches and sat down to read. The dogs finished their energy bars and then jumped up on the couch beside him to settle down for the night.
He opened the book with nervousness, uncertain what he would find. Sam read the story late into the night. It was also about a plague that destroyed mankind, but unlike Sam's tale it did so slowly with the main character painfully and expectantly alone in the end. It was a dismal tale, and Sam realized he had hoped for a happy ending. Maybe the man found someone else. Maybe the plague went away. Maybe it wasn't the end.
This story ended like Sam knew his would with the hero alone, sad, and dead. Sam closed his eyes and slipped off to exhausted and hopeless sleep.
They eventually had to abandon the jeep at the Ogeechee River. Sam had grown quite fond of the vehicle and even thought he might be able to drive it at least as far a Virginia, but it was not to be. He finally encountered a bridge so clogged with cars and lacking a way around that he was forced to move on without the faithful vehicle.
He found a serviceable SUV on the other side that, after siphoning gas from other vehicles and trying several batteries, he was able to start. Sam had to make three trips back across the bridge to transfer all his gear
, and the dogs trailed him all the way providing moral support without any real substantive help.
They were gradually making their way back towards the coast while still trying to avoid the major cities. Summer was approaching and the heat would become uncomfortable this far south in a month or so. Sam wondered how people could have survived in such blistering heat and humidity before the advent of air conditioning. Just thinking about the coming summer made him start to get a little dewy.
He saw a large department store off the interstate ahead and decided it wouldn't hurt to change clothes now that he was thinking about it. He pulled up to the front of the store and felt absurdly guilty about parking in the handicap spot. Sam stepped out followed by The Pack who were always eager for a new adventure.
Big department or warehouse stores were best. Although usually ransacked during the panic of the last days, they weren't gutted due to their sheer size. Also, these stores often had large front windows allowing in light making the interior only dim instead of scary dark. The front glass door had been smashed and hung on one hinge. Sam walked carefully in the front door sweeping glass out of the way with his boot to keep it from cutting the dogs' feet.
He headed straight for the infant section and found the largest package of baby wipes he could before going to men's cloths. Sam picked out an outfit he liked, fully recognizing his efforts at color coordination were wasted. He then striped all his clothes off after emptying his pockets. Tearing the packaging off the baby wipes he dug down into the middle where they were still damp and baby fresh. Sam used nearly all of the damp baby wipes to clean himself off, surprised at how brown the wipes were since he didn't feel that dirty. Rachel would be mortified.
After cleaning himself he pulled off the tags and stickers of the new clothes, putting them on carefully in case there were any creatures squatting in the hidden interiors. Wow, clean fresh clothes felt good, he thought. He should really do this more often. Dusty the mongrel watched him with interest and he thought it wouldn't hurt to give the pack a bath every now and then either. Maybe he would do that on his day off.
Sam carefully put his belt on with all his Batman-like accessories and weapons and also refilled his pockets. He next grabbed a small overnight bag off a nearby shelf and went to look around. They didn't need anything except maybe some more dog food, still it never hurt to check.
He found a pharmacy in the back and was angry at himself. Every single time he was near a pharmacy he thought to stock up in case he got sick but realized he didn't know anything about drugs or medicines and could poison himself if not careful. It would be so easy to pick up a pill or drug guide from a bookstore and know what he was getting. He had probably been in this exact same situation a dozen times and just kept forgetting to get the book. Maybe it hadn't actually happened, he thought. Surely he wasn't that forgetful, maybe he was just imagining it or going
a little nuts. "Oh great!" he said out loud with a laugh, "like that's better somehow."
Sam grabbed some aspirin, lip balm, vitamins, and energy drinks regardless. He next went to the sporting goods section not giving the toy or electronic sections a second look. Sam had all the ammo and guns he needed but liked to look and see if there was anything of interest in the outdoor section. He had berated Rachel for years about "shopping" without a clear idea of what you were looking for and realized he was doing the exact same thing now.
On a whim he picked up a compound bow and tested the draw. Too strong. He picked up another that looked his size and found the draw manageable. He picked up an arrow, notched it to the string and pulling it to his ear letting it fly at a mattress display across the store. Sam decided shooting the bow was great fun and loaded box after box of arrows into a shopping cart along with the bow. He also grabbed a few bottles of propane for those nights he didn't feel like building a fire and then went towards the front of the store again.
He whistled for The Pack and they came out of various corners of the store, Molly barking to the others to re-emphasize the master's wants. They loaded up their booty in the SUV and got back on the road heading northeast to the sea.
Sam saw a firework stand and thought how much fun it would be to set off fireworks for the 4th of July. He then decided that old, wet, mice-eaten fireworks were exactly the sort of end that would befall the world's last man in a Greek tragedy. Sam laughed at the absurdity of it all and then slammed on the brakes in sudden panic.
He realized he had no idea when the 4th of July was. Hell he had no idea what today was. Sam had been keeping track of the days in an old notebook, but couldn't remember the last time he had actually done this or where the notebook even was. He could guess what year it was from counting the seasons, but he wasn't even totally sure of the month. Sam started shaking and moaning and rocking back and forth. The dogs whined and licked at him, but he didn't notice them.
How could he not even know the date! The rational detached part of his brain tried to calm the rest of him down, telling him it was no big deal, but the short-circuiting part of Sam's brain mounted a full head-on offensive. Fear shrank his vision into a dark tunnel with menacing bird wings on the periphery. With relief, Sam had an alluring idea. He pulled out his pistol, flicked the safety off and stuck the muzzle to his head. Sam's finger was tightening on the trigger as tears rolled down his cheeks when he felt a touch on his shoulder. The dogs were bumping into him in the tight quarters, but he knew this was different. He looked over and saw Barbara his daughter in the passenger seat.
It's okay daddy," she said with a smile and pushed the pistol away from his head. "You were never good with dates anyway; it's just the stress of everything that's getting to you."
Sam choked with emotion, couldn't speak, and only stared at his little girl, so grown up like the teenager she had been before the end.
"Don't worry about any silly calendar or dates," she laughed, "you got somewhere you gotta be or something? Tickets for a concert or baseball game?"