The Last Men

by Alan Knowles

The Last Men. By Alan Knowles.

Robert's hands ached as he hammered the amateurishly made wooden cross into the soft soil. He said no words for there was no one left anywhere except him to hear them. He had buried him in this park as there were only a few human remains to move and the smell wasn't so bad here. This man became his friend on the day the world ended.

It had started like any other day he said goodbye to Tim and James and had a look in at little Heather. He didn't want to disturb her not after what it had took to get her to sleep. He gave Debbie a peck on the cheek and rushed out with barely a word, as he would see her later. He had seen four or five patients in the morning before Mr Noels kept his 10:30 appointment. Mr Noels had bowel cancer but they had caught it in the early stages and Robert was going to tell him that it was curable with a operation followed by a few sessions of chemotherapy, which he would help set up for him. Mr Noels was only 28 and healthy so hopefully his recovery would be swift. Robert had just told him this good news when it happened.

There was a barely audible buzz and the there seemed to be a pulse of pressure shoot through him. Robert's felt an intense pain in his chest and head. He keeled over in pain and fell to the floor from his chair and grabbed his head. It lasted for maybe a few seconds and then his ears popped powerfully. He was disoriented and his hearing went for a few seconds, then his hearing returned. He heard screeching and crashing from outside. He dazedly picked himself up from the floor looked over to Mr Noels who was clambering up holding his ears; blood had trickled from both his ears Robert noticed. He put his hands to his own ears then looked at them, blood was on his hands where he had touched his ears yet the blood no longer flowed. Both of them went to the window and looked out. All along the street, cars had crashed into each other and into buildings, nobody was standing it seemed everybody had just collapsed where they had stood. There was no living noise, no shouting, screaming and no sobbing, just nothing.

"What, what happened?" dazedly asked Mr Noels.

"I don't know" Robert replied. "Lets see if we can help".

They both left the room in silence the stillness unnerving them both. The first person they came across in Robert's reception area was dead and just seemed to have collapsed on the spot. The only physical sign Robert could find on the body was that both ears had bled. Everybody they came across in the clinic was the same. They both went outside to scenes of devastation. Robert checked a few people on the street then a man in a crashed car.

"My god everybody's dead. Everybody" Robert stopped suddenly his gut turned over as he realised. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile. He rang home sweat breaking out on his forehead. It rang until the answer phone came on. He instantly hung up and rang again. The answer phone again.

"If your there Debbie for god's sake answer" he implored, still no answer. "I've got to get home".

"I don't want to be alone" Alan told Robert.

Robert and Alan left together whilst phoning their families at all the numbers they could think off. Alan was a single man but couldn't get hold off his parents. They tried phoning the emergency services there was no reply. Cars blocked the roads and the pavement was full of dead people. After walking for ten or so minutes they came to a bike shop and rode the rest of the way. The rest of the journey went in a blur as they focused their energy on peddling as quickly as possible and on avoiding the bodies strewn along the way. Alan punctuated the silence of that journey by yelling if there was anybody who could hear him every few minutes. There was no reply.

Finally Robert came to his house, he ran to his door, found his keys and ran in. Alan waited at the door unsure of whether to go in. He entered after he heard the anguished scream come from within.

He accompanied Robert a few minutes after; heading to his sons school and he watched as Robert desperately sifted through the dead little bodies as he searched for his boys and hoped that they were alive. Alan saw hope extinguished and the anguish that overtook Robert. Alan believed the only thing that stopped Robert from killing himself was the desire for his family not to rot in view. Alan cried as he carried Robert's youngest son James back to Robert's house. Robert held his eldest Tim tight and close to his chest mumbling soothingly to him as he wept as if he the boy were only asleep. Alan helped dig a grave large enough for the family in Robert's garden. Robert tenderly washed the blood from their ears and placed the children and the toddler in their mothers embrace within the grave. Robert buckled over weeping several times as they filled in the grave.

Alan didn't go to see his parents, he knew they were dead and didn't want to see them that way. No he felt it was best just remembering them as they had been. Both he and Robert had tried phoning everybody they knew. There was no reply from anyone. It was clear that more than just Nottingham had been affected. Alan's cousins lived in the U.S. and his uncle in Australia there was no reply. Robert had been withdrawn almost utterly for a week since he found his family, Alan heard him cry at night. Robert told him that he had at maximum a year to live before the cancer would kill him.

It wasn't only the humans that had died but also all the mammals they had come across, fish in ponds and all the birds had dropped out of the sky. There was no noise anywhere from anything living; the only discernable survivors were the insects.

They speculated on what had caused all that death on that day, but had no real idea. Was it some kind of military experiment or perhaps aliens? But nothing made any sense. The question that was on Robert's mind far more was why had the two of them survived. He seemed to think that for some reason the room they were in had protected them from the full effect of what had killed everything. Yet there was nothing special or different about the room. Perhaps Robert had speculated there was some slight anomaly in their genetic makeup that had somehow saved them? Yet from the death of everybody they had come across it must be incredibly rare and wouldn't Robert's children be more likely to share this difference than someone not related at all to him. Also what were the odds that somebody with the same genetic anomaly would be in the same room with him when the apocalyptic event took place? Perhaps it was some kind of judgement by some god or power? The speculation gave them no answers and there was no way of testing any of their theories.

They left Nottingham a fortnight after that fateful day. Alan had convinced Robert that if they survived then perhaps others had survived and they should find them. They must have survived for some reason, especially Robert as he was a doctor Alan had argued. They had collected what food and clothes they could carry and had headed for the M1. They had decided to head for London as that had such a large population they would most likely find anybody alive there, searching for signs of life and getting fresh supplies along the way.

They made their way slowly down to London, taking detours at each town and city they passed near. Everywhere they went they found nothing but death and silence. In the third week the motorway and streetlights went off in most areas. After four weeks the phones no longer worked and everything else powered by electricity finally stopped.

Robert and Alan relied on each other for emotional support especially Robert who would retreat into himself sometimes for days at a time. Both had become accustomed to the stench of rotting flesh that seemed ever present. They ate mainly tinned food, drank and washed in bottled water. Neither had bothered to shave and had stopped taking baths as Robert had surmised that with nobody operating the sewage plants and the dead fish in the rivers all available water supplies would be infected.

It took them five months to reach London and each and every detour had proved fruitless in their search for life. As they searched they would take it in turns to yell out every few minutes hoping for a reply, all they ever heard though was deafening silence and there own echoes. It took them a further month to get into the centre of London and by this time Alan had begun to slowly get weaker, to lose weight and his complexion had begun to turn a yellowy pallor. They stayed for a week in the splendour of Buckingham Palace, taking turns to sleep in what they reckoned was the queen's bedchamber. It was in their stay in Buckingham Palace that Alan convinced Robert to obtain a revolver from a dead policeman's corpse so that if he was in too much pain he could end it by his own hand. Alan stayed more optimistic and happy, while Robert brooded. As Alan's reliance on Robert grew Robert did seem to take on a more purposeful attitude and his disposition did improve as his friends health worsened. Alan believed that this was due to his friend concentrating on helping him thus taking his mind off his own grief.

They spent another month searching London before Alan became to weak to walk far unaided. They had been travelling for a week when Alan's could not keep down any of the food he ate. Two days after this his breathing became laboured. Alan looked almost skeletal his weight loss had been rapid in those last few weeks and he hadn't had the strength to get off the toilet unaided for almost a week.

"Don't give up my friend" were Alan's last words to Robert. Each word rasped between his gasps for air. He died twenty minutes later in Robert's arms his eyes open staring blankly.

He had dragged his friends limp body to the nearest park. It took him the rest of the night and past the dawn to find a spade and to dig him a grave and then to bury him. He worked through the morning to clear any bodies in the park, make a wooden cross and carve a rough inscription. He had finished the cross just after noon then hammered it into the soft ground with the spade. Robert didn't cry as he raised the gun to his temple and closed his eyes.

The shot sounded very near to Tallulah. She had been searching London for months now for any sign of life and had all but given up. She ran through streets in the direction the shot had come from. She ran into the park breathless and saw a body, a fresh body. She ran towards it but a chunk of its head was missing, fresh blood pooled on the ground next to it, a smoking gun was in its hand and it lay next to a freshly dug grave. She read the inscription on the cross:

"Here lies Alan Noels and Robert Sole. Friends and the last men."

Tallulah dropped to her knees sobbing. She stared at the gun.

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