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The Last Man on Earth — A Mini Novel

CHAPTER ONE: The Last Man Watches Blazing Saddles

It’s his favorite scene.

The cowboys rise and fart, rise and fart, and he thinks of his wife farting in the night.

He never laughed when she did. Most of the time he was asleep when she started and half asleep when she finished. He realizes now it’s hard to laugh in your sleep. He can’t remember ever doing it, but when he would tell his wife in the morning about her farting, she’d smile, say excuse me, and fart again.

They’d both laugh then and smiling now he turns again to the cowboys.

The scene he loves is still playing. The cowboys are still rising and farting, and he begins to weep.

* * *

Chapter Two: The Last Man Remembers a Conversation

It didn’t mean much back then. It was just him and his friend Bill. They were hung over and drinking coffee, and Bill said,

“Sometimes I think I just want to leave, just leave all this shit and start over like in those sci-fi novels you read, I mean this is fucked up. It’s me and you, and you’re lonely and horny and I am too, and we dream about chicks all the time and never talk about them or do anything about them, like we don’t know they’re probably all just standing around waiting for us to call and say something even if it’s just hello or do you have a biscuit or a broom and shovel.”

And the last man didn’t say anything back then.

He just looked at Bill and shrugged, and then the waitress came and filled their cups and asked if they wanted anything else.

There was a lot the last man wanted back then, and even more he wants now, but he couldn’t tell her then and he can’t tell anyone now.

* * *

Chapter Three: The Last Man Wonders about Daffodils

Will they come up this spring? Will there be one? So far God hasn’t answered any of the last man’s prayers.

So why should He answer this one?

* * *

Chapter Four: The Last Man Reads an Old Newspaper

There had been a car crash and a family of six traveling home after Thanksgiving died. Some tried to get out of the car, and some didn’t. Either way, they died. Parents and kids both. What a waste.

Down the page, it says somewhere else a typhoon ripped away an island. People died.

The last man drops the paper and lets the wind take it away.

* * *

Chapter Five: The Last Man Looks out His Window

He thought he saw a shadow moving past a black Buick Century across the street, but when he looked again he didn’t see anything, just the car’s shadow.

A funny thought came into his head then, “When shadows are safe, no one’s safe.” And he wondered again where the people all went.

There had been no zombies, no vampires, no plagues, no floods or tsunamis, no lightning from the sky, or God’s terrible wrath. There had been nothing that would kill you quicker than usual.

One day everybody was just gone, and outside the window, there was nothing to see.

Nothing but safe shadows.

* * *

Chapter Six: The Last Man Recognizes the Futility of All Things

If he were faster or stronger or wiser, he would still be the last man on earth.

* * *

Chapter Seven: The Last Man Goes to the Zoo

He studied the lion hard, knowing he was the last man who would ever look at one, and he wanted to make that moment memorable somehow, but then he realized there was no point to memory.

When the lion went, it went.

When he went, he went.

All his scrambling to remember would end in death. Even if there was a heaven, he couldn’t believe remembering the way a lion rose — its muscled bones lifting curiously from the concrete in a way that had always been beautiful even in the old times when men scratched the image of the lion on the walls of cold caves — would be important.

Would God want to hear about the lion? Would the saints? Probably not. The last man smiled. Some of those old saints probably had bad memories of lions, and they’d probably rather forget the lions’ muscled loins.

So he let the lion go, and then the tiger, and the elephant, and the chimps and gazelles. Singly and in pairs.

Even the alligator and the crocodile, like he was some kind of bizzaro Noah doing God’s good work in reverse.

* * *

Chapter Eight: The Last Man on Earth Has a Nightmare

He groans again, and it’s something between the sound of pain and a laugh, but it doesn’t feel like laughter.

It’s a quick exhaled “ha” followed after a pause by another and another, a glottal sound of fear from deep in his throat and deeper.

He’s dreaming of something coming for him that won’t stop until it drags him down and kills him.

* * *

Chapter Nine: The Last Man at the Beach

The water is cold and moon dark, and he rests on a bench and knows he won’t swim.

Once on this beach, he saw a white car pull onto the sand and make slow circles for hours and then leave. Another time, a woman walked backward holding her scarf hard against her head. She seemed to be dreaming, her eyes tracing the prints her shoes left in the sand.

No other sounds now, not cars, not singing, not voices of children playing tag in the grass beyond the red slat-and-wire storm fence leaning wave-like toward him and away.

All he hears is the black water, the almost quiet waves swooshing across the cold sand.

A white plastic grocery bag balloons along the grass. Like him, it’s going nowhere, just moving, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast as the wind picks up.

The last man stands and walks to the water and starts to swim away.


Podcast read by Elijah Lucian (make sure to read Elijah's FlashBlog interview!).  To learn more about the man behind the story, read our author interview with John Guzlowski here.

John Guzlowski

Author photo for John Guzlowski

John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s AlmanacRattle, Ontario Review, North American Review, and many other journals.
His poems and personal essays about his Polish parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany and refugees making a life for themselves in Chicago after the war appear in his memoir Echoes of Tattered Tongues (Aquila Polonica Press).  It was the recipient of the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer Foundation’s Montaigne Award.
He is also the author of two mystery novels set in a neighborhood of Polish WWII survivors in Chicago, Suitcase Charlie and little Schoolboys. His novel Road of Bones, about two German lovers separated by war, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press.

Amazon Author’s Page

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4 comments
Larry Oldham
Larry Oldham

I really enjoyed "The Last Man on Earth". Thank you John. Great job!


Trackbacks

  1. […] in the March 2015 issue of FFO: “The Cratch, Thy Keeper” by Matthew F. Amati and “The Last Man on Earth — A Mini Novel” by Pulitzer nominee John Guzlowski.  Or listen to Elijah’s entire selection on his […]

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