This is a "Last Person On Earth" story. I tried to write it in a non-gender specific way, so it could be a "Last Man On Earth" story, or a "Last Woman On Earth" story. I also tried to write it in a kind of stream-of-consciousness format, so it reads a little weirdly. I have made no attempt to try to explain how this person got to be the last person on Earth. I could not think of any reasonably feasable mechanism for this that I was going to be happy with. So, for the sake of argument, just assume that a (very large) alien star-cruser passed by one day and snarfed up all of the humans, except for our hero...
Creeping slowly and peering through the pounding wipers the obstacle came into view. It was definitely a cache marker. An early one. The two cars arranged in the intersection indicated that the next marker would be found by turning left here. Pulling around the marker and proceeding north the street was clear for as far as could be seen, which was not far in the downpour. Supplies. Food. Ammunition. Batteries. Maybe batteries. Two burnt out cars, on their sides, roof-to-roof, both roofs crushed, noses pointed north. This was a good marker, plenty of burnt out cars. Too many for the mosaic. Not enough cars in the primary colors. A spine of steel spikes driven into the top side of one of the cars indicated that the marker was put in in the fifth year. Five tall spikes. Was there a banner at one time on one of them? Maybe. Gone now. No matter. Eighteen scars on the inside left forearm indicated that the marker was installed thirteen years ago. Eighteen transits of Orion. Nothing looked familiar yet. Rain. Passing thunder storms were always welcome. The smell of wet dirt, clear air. Lousy driving. Five more intersections, the next marker indicated right. A large bus, front end immovable on the Jersey, back end twisted around out of the way. More earth-tone cars, rejects. Memories of rage, senseless. Nine empty intersections then a cache marker, part way down the block, cross-ways to the street. Two more cars, five spikes. Noses sniffing the front of a First National Bank.
Pulling up onto the curb, through the crack weeds, close to the building. The rain had let up some, but not much. The front of the building had no broken windows. Getting out of the car into the rain felt good. Cool wetness. Pulling open the rear door releases a small flood of dogs, canine molecules colliding in the confines of the door frame, de-compressing into the vacuum of the street. Noses glued to the street as they fan out around the car, instinct searching for the next meal. The trail of which is being washed down the nearest storm-drain.
"Let's go Sophie." Sophie is the elder of the flood. Knows what to find, and where to find it. A ratchet set from the trunk makes quick work of the bar and bolts installed to keep the front doors closed. Sophie hesitates with indecision when the door is first opened, when it looks like her master would go in first, then squirms between legs and door frame as the hesitation and confusion becomes mutual. The air in the building is quiet and dry. A small flag is toggled, a mental check on the list of finding an intact cache. No smell of wetness, mold. No smell of urine. Sophie begins her search for intruders. Water and rodents are the two greatest enemies of a cache. Large bodies huddle under lifeless blue tarps, in neat rows in the big main room of the bank. Non-perishables. As if there was such a thing. Moving down the space between the columns some of the shapes reveal themselves through the holes in the tattered tarps. A small herd of mopeds. Probably useless. A generator on a cart. A few hand-trucks. The space in front of the vault is just clear enough for the door to swing open. It is almost too dim to see the details of the door in the feeble light that finds its way through the front windows, then through the maze of tarps. Grey day. Would probably have to wait until tomorrow for more light. This bank faces north in any case. Oh well. The light will not be great even under blue skies. In the dimness several icons are visible on the vault door. Single letters in squares, heavily written in dark wax. Waterproof on stainless. Figured that one out early on. F, food. A, ammunition. M, medicines. G, generally useful items. B, batteries. Glorious. Probably dead by now, but a welcome find. The CD player has been silent for too long. A usable flashlight would be useful, now in fact. Feeling around the periphery of the door the wax seal feels intact. Good news.
Sophie returns quietly, nothing to report. "Roof?" Sophie turns eager, wags. "I'll get the gun and binoculars." Out on the sidewalk some of the dogs have returned, the rain has stopped. It will be dark soon. From the car comes a duffel and a set of binoculars in a case. Two of the other dogs join Sophie in the return to the building, the others lie, idling, resting from the chase for dinner no doubt. Stairwell at the back of the building smells dry. A quick look down the well reveals no noticeable disturbances. The seal on the basement door can be checked tomorrow. Going up, the upper floor doors are still sealed. Good building. More work for the ratchet set and the door to the roof un-seals, but provides resistance from the outside. Setting down the duffel and binocs, a shove with the hips forces the issue enough to see the growth blocking the door. Layers of rotted vegetation, wind blown dirt, vines, life. More shoving gets the door open enough to squeeze through, followed by the dogs. The roof is a sea of vines, grasses, a few shrubs, and a small tree. The dogs wade out into the sea, the vines reluctantly release their grip on the door frame and finally allow the door to open most of the way. The duffel and binocs are retrieved from the stairwell and bob across the green sea towards the edge of the building. Looking over the front of the building reveals more returned dogs. Pulling out a police whistle and piercing the damp silence causes them to look up sharply. The others will return soon. This sea of life will have to be cleared if the cache is to survive as long as possible. Tomorrow we'll continue to the airport, another cache and living space.
The horizon is clear all the way around, no fires burning. A quick look and count, all the dogs have returned but one. Nothing moving in the streets below for as far as the binoculars can see. The pack dogs are out there. They will find us by tomorrow, following the scent of Sophie and crew back to us. "OK, time to settle in."
The dogs come in and explore the canyons between the tarps. Several more duffles find their way in from the car and the doors are secured. A temporary encampment is arranged in a clearing in a back corner of the large main room. Pulling a tarp off a pile near a wall finds, yes!, a mattress stood on end and a grey metal cabinet behind it. I guess I wasn't completely stupid. "Incoming!" The mattress crashes to the floor, scattering a few of the dogs, tensing the others. They settle in again into small groups. The metal cabinet is well stocked. Cans of food fill the bottom, some clothes, boots, hats, a shelf of small tools, can openers, and a shelf with boxes of candles, and (holding ones breath, twisting off the lid of a large wide mouth metal can) dry matches and some lighters! Good job. Thanks all around. The audience stands in applause. Further towards the back of the shelf is three hurricane lamps and a can of lamp fluid. "Light tonight, boys and girls." Storing fuels like this is risky, stupid. Oh well, live and learn. Living for what, again?
Looking at the vault seal with the hurricane lamp brings good news. The seal is still intact. Although the duct tape has long since fallen off the wax poured in behind it is perfect. The steel surface of the door is pristine, the icons indicating the vault contents still clear and perfect. I guess I'll leave this cache intact if I can find one closer to the living space and the mosaic. Time to sleep.
Pack Dogs
Swimming to the surface from the depths of a dream, there is a solid structure of tension connecting the dogs. Very dim light struggles in through the front windows, visible by moving to the end of the mattress and looking towards the front of the bank. The dogs are agitated and stalking towards the glass. Dark shadows are milling around outside on the sidewalk. Wild pack dogs. No tolerance for these creatures. Mean creatures, force filtered through eighteen years of survival. More of them than one can possibly imagine. It only took once to learn how dangerous they are, and you never make the mistake again. Always prepared. And armed. Kill as many as possible. It will be another hour before there is enough light to deal with them. May as well get up. Clean clothes from the cabinet. Peaches! Re-fried beans, ugh. Beef stew, cold. Some for the dogs, splurge. Don't feed them too much. Who knows how long it will need to last, they need to keep their own survival skills sharp. And I need the best of them.
The Bushmaster comes out of the duffel, with several boxes of ammo. High velocity copper shrouded lead, makes quick work of canine skull and brains. Gun over one shoulder, two extra clips, a can of open beef stew, and yesterdays shirt. I'll clean up after taking care of some pack dogs. The trek to the roof is un-eventful, must remember to check the basement before continuing on. The morning air is fresh after yesterdays rain, the sky is blue-sky blue, sun still hasn't gotten up yet, but is stirring just below the horizon. The shirt gets the contents of the can, then arcs gracefully out over the street, splattering the opposite sidewalk. No sense in canine parts where I'd have to walk over them. The first dog onto the scene laps wildly at the beef stew, certainly unfamiliar. Soon many of the others join in, a bit of a frenzy. Safety off. Pause. Remove scope, to close for that. The first one goes unnoticed in the rush. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Now they are beginning to notice as the concussions echo down the street. Several startle and move away, looking for the source of this unknown. Most pause too long. Seven. Eight. Nine. The rest now scatter and run. Game over. One more, ten. Mid-stride. Another, wounded, tumbles. Then done, eleven. Six on the run out of sight. They will be back. Even more of them, fresh blood is in the air.
Sophie and crew go out the front door for the morning pee, and a sniff around the dead bodies on the opposite sidewalk. The scavengers will clean up the mess, gone before we are back in a few days.
The stairwell basement door unseals. Good building. Inside is a typical landscape of pipes, conduits, and environmental controls, all quiet now. Do they exist when not in the flashlight's cone of light? Nonsense. Dry floors. Cobb webs. Good building. Reseal the door.
No pack dogs in view, the tools, duffels, and some supplies go into the car. Front door gets sealed hand tight, anticipating our return. A sharp call of the whistle brings the dogs back and into the car, piling into the back seat. Too many dogs, not enough seat. Sophie and Max overflow into the front. The guage shows less than a quarter tank. Hopefully the fuel store is intact, and the fuel still good. Fuel is stored by itself, never with any other essential. The car easily manages the turn in the street, headed back the way we came last night, back to the highway.
The miles thump by, cracked and cracking pavement, crack weeds, an occasional small tree. The first highway sign come up with the simplistic aircraft outline. Airport. Mosaic. Five miles. One more CD track. "Put your shoes on campers. Landing soon." Empty exit ramps. "Where is everybody?! No flights leaving today, I guess." Explosion of voices, daemons. Quick, jump tracks. "Control tower in view campers. Empty all ashtrays!" Dogs never get these comments. The roads closer to the airport are crowded with cars. Mosaic pixels. Some sitting where they were abandoned, some moved here years ago for future use. All are succoming to the onslaught of life's tidal wave. Grass. Weeds. Vines. Grinding all that is left into dust. Onto the garage ramps, looping, up to the Departures Level, stop in front of the plywood barricade. With the engine running and the doors open the dogs mill around as the plywood comes down and is dragged out of the way. The dogs pour into the opening and race out onto the concourse. Nails clack. Doors slam, engine races, tires squeal, dogs scatter as the car enters the concourse, racing past the empty ticket counters, piled metal detectors, shops of rotting private enterprise, barking howling dogs giving chase. Right at the fork, towards the restaurant with the view. Brakes, tires gripping, into the restaurant, up to the windows. Halting, bumper to glass. Out onto the hood, sun, blue, pavement, glass, jets parked below. A sea of cars. Dog motion approaching quickly. There will never be a million cars out there. But what else? Explosion of voices, daemons, derail. Dogs, tongues, slobber. Glorious dogs. "To the ramparts, campers!". Blank stares. Stupid dogs. "Let's go find our stuff."
The chain-link gate for the service area of the airport was still wide open, as if it would be any different than it was when I left years ago. A quick loop around the building at the base of the control tower to check the integrity of the place. All looks OK. No pack-dogs around, some pigeons. Dogs pour once again from the rear door of the car. Out of the trunk comes the tool kit, making quick work of the bolts holding the door to the building shut. The air inside is quiet and still, no piss smell, no intruders. "Take a look around. See what you can find." All of the interior doors get opened, window shades raised. Mental notes taken of room contents. Up to the second floor, same routine. Dogs sniffing, exploring. Rooms piled with stuff, years of accumulation, stuff that might be useful. Kitchen, food stores. Cans, cans, cans. Jars. "We need some fresh meat." Sleeping quarters. Mattresses for the dogs also. Old familiar sleeping spots to be resurrected by those returning. New spots to be found for the new hires. Empty spots for those lost. Stereo and video room. I hope the fuel for the generator is still good. Up the long climb to the control tower. Sophie and Plasma trail along. The main room at the top is flooded with window-tint filtered sun. A silent pile of electronic equipment stands neatly in the back corner. The view from twelve stories up is impressive. Clear horizon. Cars. Jets. Cars. Concrete, tarmac. Terminal. Cars, cars, cars. A sea of cars, slowly disappearing into the rising sea of life.
The building next door is a maintanence shop, tools, garage bays, roll-up doors. And some generators. This building and the tower were isolated early on from the rest of the surrounding buildings. No sense in trying to power the entire airport. Bay Two's roll-up door slowly creaks open. Some of the dogs mill around. The airport tractor parked in the bay has a luggage trailer attached, with a 200 gallon plastic fuel tank bolted on, empty. Hmmm, one flat tire. The tractor's fuel tank is also empty. "Hey, the keys are still in the ignition!" Sponge, standing looking out the door looked back, un-impressed. "Let's go get some fuel." Sponge tags along, head out the passenger window, on the short trip to the tank farm. The storage shed near the tanks smells dank and pissy. "Something has moved in here, Sponge. Probably mice." Not surprising, since the building was left with lattice for windows, ventilation. There are seventy-three five gallon jugs of gasoline left, sitting on wooden pallets. Hopefully the gasoline in them has survived all these years, dosed up on stabilizers. Four of them come out and go into the rear seat of the car.
After some futzing with marginal batteries the tractor's engine sputters to life. "Yet another empty victory, boys and girls. Why drive a car when you can drive one of these puppies!" Back to the tank farm, with Sponge along for the ride again. Never travel alone. It originally took some time to figure out how to get gasoline from the massive storage tank. A big brass nut on a thirty foot length of string lowered into the open access port on the top of the tank serves as a crude fuel level guage. The tank is just less than half full. About 200,000 gallons of rotting gasoline left. Twenty-two years of moderate generator time. It will definately go bad before then. "Let's hope the generator is willing to burn this crud. I need some loud music."
The trailer returns half filled, parked outside the back of the building, plumbed to the generator in the far bay. Should check that the Tower breakers are open before firing up the generator. Most of the dogs were back at the Tower. Surrounded by ... feathers and chicken feet. "Chicken feathers?" "Chicken feathers!" "Eggs!"
Mosaic Lite
It took a while to find small rectangular tokens with about the same proportions as a car's length to width, and in an assortment of typical car colors. Twenty pallets of tiles, more than I need, but all the colors I need.
The sea of tiles spread out on the hangar floor reflected the current state of the sea of cars out on the airport grounds. The view from the catwalk in the hangar ceiling was useful to see where the project was, and where it was going. Five years of work so far, two hundred and ten thousand and some odd cars. Only one fifth done. This won't ever be finished. Onward.
The current inventory list of available cars is spread across the floor next to the tile mosaic. Paper lists. Lasts forever if kept dry, no batteries required. Just needs organization and perseverance. Today's block of cars is in the middle top of the mosaic, a block of a hundred or so non-descript black or dark blue cars required.
Copyright 2005, David Scott Coburn

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