The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend—A Mini-Novel

Chapter 1: The Last Man Sits on a Bench

He sat on the bench and looked down the empty street. Some abandoned cars, some trash here and there. A cardboard box someone had smashed a long time ago. The trees seemed quiet. There was no wind. There were no birds.

The Last Man thought about getting up, but he didn’t.

He couldn’t remember days like this in the past, days of sitting on a bench thinking about looking for friends, for people, for someone. There were always people around back then. Even at 3 in the morning when you’d pull into a lonely filling station on a backroad in Wyoming, you’d find someone. There’d be a guy leaning up against a wall, smoking a cigarette or drinking a Coke. Or a kid bouncing a ball or an old man pumping gas. You’d nod your head, and he’d nod back. The Last Man liked that, the feeling of comfort he got from nodding to another person or just saying hello.

It wasn’t like that now. He didn’t know how long it’s been since he saw someone. Maybe a year, maybe two? It was hard to keep track of days and weeks when there was nobody around who needed that information.

The Last Man shook his head, and he suddenly knew what he had to do. He had to go looking. There had to be someone. He thought that, and he stood up and took his hands out of his pockets.

Then he sat down again.

Chapter 2: The Last Man Watches the Snow Fall

Late in the afternoon, the snow started falling. Wet flakes fell slowly onto the sidewalk around the bench he was sitting on. The snowflakes would be there for a moment, and then they’d start to melt.

He watched them melt and imagined they were butterflies and white dandelions.

He imagined footsteps on the snowy sidewalk too, footsteps coming toward him.

He knew he was just kidding himself.

There would never be any again.

Chapter 3: The Last Man Remembers Walmart

He missed them, the people.

When they were around, he didn’t think much about them. They walked into his life; they walked out of his life. They had their glory, and they had their flaws.

He remembered going to Walmart looking for a bag of cat litter for a cat someone gave him, and he was annoyed to be looking because he didn’t want a cat and he didn’t much care for the couple that gave him one. They’d been friends for a long time, but he didn’t feel really close to them. They were just people he saw every couple weeks for some TV watching or a night at one of the restaurants he liked.

But they gave him a cat, and he was in Walmart searching for litter, and he didn’t know where to start and so he asked a young mom walking past with her kid sitting up in the shopping cart, and she just looked at him for a second, and then she stopped and smiled and told him where he could find it, and he smiled back and wandered down to an aisle where there was no kitty litter.

She was nice, kind to him, a stranger, and then she was gone down her aisle, and he was gone down his aisle, and there was another person there who he asked, a man in a camo jacket, and he just shrugged and said this place is just too fucking big, I’ve been looking for my wife for 15 minutes.

People came and went, and now they were all gone. Gone from the Walmarts and gone from the churches and gone from the streets and gone from their homes. All gone.

All gone, and The Last Man was sitting on a park bench dreaming of trying to find them.

Chapter 4: The Last Man Thinks about His First Death

The Last Man remembered the first time he knew there was death in the world.

He was a kindergarten kid at St. Hedwig’s, a Catholic school in the Bucktown section of Chicago.

His friend Jimmy and Jimmy’s mom were run over by a drunken driver while waiting for a bus on Milwaukee Avenue across the street from the Congress Theater.

The Last Man didn’t know what happened to Jimmy until a couple of days later when the nuns took the whole class to the church to see Jimmy one last time.

There were two open caskets. Jimmy’s mom was in one, and Jimmy was in the other. He was dressed all in white and his hands were holding a white flower to his chest. The nun told the Last Man that Jimmy was in Heaven and that all his friends would see him again when they got there, but still that couldn’t keep the Last Man from grieving for his friend, wondering about his last moments, his fear.

Sometimes, the Last Man imagines Jimmy standing on the corner with his mom waiting for the bus, not knowing a car was coming to kill him. He’s talking to her about school that day, and how he ran around the playlot with his best friends. Smiling, she tells him it’s good to be with friends.

Chapter 5: The Last Man Imagines Heaven

In Heaven the Last Man will sit around the table eating poppy-seed cake and drinking coffee with his mom and dad and his best friends and his lovers. They will tell him all the things they couldn’t tell him when they were alive. The first will be about this moment, this place, this death, the world he couldn’t imagine here above the clouds, different from all the stories the priests told.

But that will take only a moment—real explanations never take longer than that—and then they will turn to the only questions that really matter to the living and the dead.

Was the road hard?

Did you miss us?


FFO: What other work of yours would fans of this story most enjoy?

JG: I think fans of this story might be interested in reading the two previous mini-novels about the last man on earth. The first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Flash Fiction Online and the second appeared in the September 2017 issue.

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