Thomas stared in dismay at unglazed donuts left in the box, he cringed and decided to just have a coffee instead. Of course, since he was the last one to take his break, he always got the leftover garbage. Not that he disliked his job, he’d successfully become head of the mail department in only a year, but that still meant delivering priority mail to the most secure floors upstairs.
He sighed as he put on a fresh pot of coffee to boil. The extra pay was nice but those top floors were also the farthest from the break room. He stared at the same four beige walls with generic motivational posters and thought ‘What’s the point of all this?’. It was a thought he had almost everyday, as he wasted time in the break room.
The coffee percolated down and he was about to go into his daily pros and cons checklist of his life so far, when the lights went out. The air went stale as a cold breeze flowed through the room, and the sounds of ominous footsteps came from the hall. Thomas’ heart rate spiked and he quietly dashed to hide in the corner behind cola machine. Shadowy figures marched down the hallway, some stopped by the door their large golden eyes peering into the room briefly as they searched for something or someone unknown.
Thomas shut his eyes and listened in confusion as the strangers continued down the hallway. He tried as hard as possible to control his breathing as questions raced through his mind. ‘Who are these people? What are they? What do they want? Why did the power go out? Why didn’t the emergency lights come? Where was everyone el…’
“Hey Thomas, are you okay?” it was Melanie from the third floor, assistant to Mr. Hornby the operations manager. The lights were back on and the coffee had just finished brewing as Melanie looked around the room in confusion.
Thomas quickly stood up and brushed himself off, as his faced reddened with embarrassment. “Oh, um, hi Melanie. I was just, ah, looking for my wallet. I must have dropped it this morning when I grabbed a coke.” Melanie looked relieved but still a little uneasy about the situation.
The lights flickered and she rolled her eyes in annoyance, “I wish they would hurry up and finish the renos on the subway. Every time they start drilling it messes with the power and I have to wait five minutes for the routers to finish rebooting”
“Yeah I know right!” Thomas blurted a little more nervously than intended. “So, um, Melanie. What are you doing after work today?”
“Oh, I’ve got to go to yoga, pick up my dry cleaning, drop off some other clothes to the salvation army, buy a lottery ticket…” this continued for about five minutes during which Thomas hung on every word. “… But after 9pm when the meeting is over, I don’t have anything planned why do you ask?”
“Well, I was kind of hoping you would join me for a drink or something?” Thomas blushed as he asked.
“That sounds awesome!” squealed Melanie “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out for like a month!”
“You have?” Thomas blurted in disbelief, “why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because I wasn’t sure if you liked me or not.” Cooed Melanie as she looked shyly at her shoes.
“Well I’ll see you at nine then I guess” Thomas said as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“See you then” and with that she skipped out of the room, singing merrily down the hall.
Thomas add some cream and sugar then took a swig of the coffee only to spit it out all over the sink. It tasted like mold, and sure enough he opened the top to find that the beans had not been changed out in over a month. ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ he thought to himself as he tossed out the mold and set the machine to clean itself.
He finished up the rest of his day delivering mail and packages to the top floors and picking up others to ship out. All of them were brown and nondescript and he often felt like he was just moving the same fifty or so items around everyday. Still, the pay was good and he had worked at worse, more tedious jobs than this so he figured he couldn’t really complain.
He locked up the mail room, hopped into his truck and headed home to change for his date with Melanie, which he hoped to be the start of a beautiful relationship. He was stopped at a red light when the lights all disappeared again. “Oh, come on!” he yelled into space, then muttered ‘Stupid subway’. He looked around, watching for any oncoming traffic, the road was deserted except for a small group of people in weird-biohazardous-space-ninja outfits. It was the city and he normally wouldn’t have thought much of them as comic-con was only a few weeks away but there was something off about them. He watched them in the light from his head lights in the distance; and then he realized what was bothering him about them. They were all looking at him, watching him from a distance. “What the hell?” Thomas muttered as a cold chill ran up his spine. One of them pointed something in his direction and a purple laser hit him and rotated on his chest before disappearing. The streetlights popped back on and when he looked again the strange group had vanished. “What the…?” a horn blared behind him and he started driving again.
Later that night he was sitting with Melanie, the events of earlier that day fading quickly from his mind. They ate and drank, then went for a walk in the park as they laughed and talked. The date was going perfectly. He walked her home and they stood for a moment on her doorstep. “Thanks for the great night Thomas I really needed that!” she stuttered blushing.
“It was my honour!” Thomas blushed to match her, “When can I see you again?” He asked nervously.
“Well how about tomorrow?” she said, “I need to do a few dozen things in the morning but it’ll only take about seven to eight hours so I could meet you for a late lunch around 5pm?”
Thomas was so infatuated he simply nodded and said “That sounds awesome! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“K” Melanie reddened.
“K” Thomas mirrored her once more
Then with a wave they parted ways for the night as he dreamily headed home. Thomas strolled down the street to reach his truck; he stared up at the sky and gazed at the stars above him. “Wow” he said to himself thinking how beautiful they looked and how rare it was to see them so clearly like this in the light polluted metropolis. He saw a meteor fly across the sky and he felt goosebumps rise on his skin. Something was wrong.
“Hi!” came a voice from behind him. Thomas jumped a full three feet before turning to see who had just spoken. A pale woman in a light teal jumpsuit, raised her hands in a slow and calming manner. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You can call me Astra and I’m here to help.” Her white hair seemed to shimmer lightly in the starlight and her rose coloured eyes were soft and reassuring.
A cold chill ran up his spine once more as he realized what was wrong, the power was out again. No streetlights, no headlights, no lights from windows, everything was black if not for the light of the stars. “What do you mean help?” he asked incredulously. “What’s going on?”
“Just calm down,” she said moving slowly “I promise I’ll explain everything, we just need to get out of here.” She reached out to take his hand, but he quickly pulled away.
“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Thomas spat then turned and ran. When he glanced over his shoulder the lights were coming back on and even traffic seemed to pick up again. He slowed and hopped into his vehicle and headed home, speeding more than he would normally have been comfortable with. He got home and locked himself into his apartment; safe on the twelfth floor. He relaxed and settled into an armchair while using a nearby remote to flick on the tv. A burst of laughter came through the television’s speakers as a late-night comedy show appeared on the bright screen.
Thomas woke up later that night to a black apartment, another power outage. He stood and stretched getting ready to go to bed when he saw something out his patio window. He walked over to it and slid the door open. He stepped outside and could barely believe his eyes. In the sky was a full-blown UFO.
It was giant and round and shone large spotlights at various points on the ground where more people in those weird hazmat suits were looking around. “What the heck?” Thomas said as he leaned on the railing to get a better view, they seemed to be looking at vehicles and shops, scanning everything.
Suddenly one of the searchlights shot at the building he was in, at his bedroom window. He quickly jumped back into his apartment and rushed for the bathroom where he hid in the bathtub. The light seemed to pass right through the wall and ceiling. He ducked as the light passed through him and continue on its way.
When he woke up again it was morning, he could hear the television from the bathtub where he was disappointed to find that he had spent the rest of his night there. He got up and decided to make some coffee. After his first cup, his senses came back and he walked over to his still open patio door. As he looked outside, he saw a beautiful green park across the street with people doing tai chi and children playing.
He relaxed and shook his head. “What were you expecting Tommy boy?” he said to himself, “Flying saucers?” he chuckled to himself. Then a knock at the door made him jump, he walked over to the door and stared out the pinhole to see Astra standing in the hall looking nervous.
“Listen, I really need to talk to you. You’re in danger.” She shouted at the door. Then turned and muttered into her shoulder. Thomas didn’t answer. He looked around the apartment quickly for something to defend himself. Picking up an umbrella he opened the door and held the umbrella up to attack; but the hall was empty. He lowered his would-be weapon and then scanned the empty hallway for a sign of the strange woman.
He picked up his cell and called his work’s employee helpline, “Hello?” he said nervously, the receptionist greeted him in a calm soothing manner. “Yes, I’d like to set up an appointment.” There was typing as she checked her system. “Really?” Thomas asked, “you have a cancellation this morning?… Sure, I’ll be there in twenty. Thank you so much.” He quickly gathered his things and rushed out the door to find out what was going on with him once and for all.
It was hot outside, even birds seemed to be hiding from the heat. Thomas pushed the door to the psychiatrist’s office, a wave of air-conditioned air welcomed him as he entered. A young and attractive woman with dark skin sat behind the counter. “You must be Thomas,” she said enthusiastically “please go right in. The doctor will be in shortly”
“Thanks.” Thomas said mirroring her smile and heading into the office she indicated. He opened the door and sat down in the seat reserved for patients. The room was fairly standard for a psychiatrist from the wood paneling and bookshelves to the bust of Fraud on the desk.
The door opened and an elderly man with a goatee walked in and said, “Ah you must be my eleven o’clock. Well what can I do for you today.” He sat down and leaned back into his leather chair whilst steepling his fingers with a reassuring smile.
Thomas rubbed his neck and said, “Where should I start?” Then with I sigh said, “I’ve been seeing strange things lately and I’m beginning to think I’m going mad. In the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen these strange people and a woman who keeps disappearing. And last night I saw a UFO out my window. I know I’m not normally prone to seeing strange things so thought it best to get checked out by a professional.”
The doctor chuckled, “I think I know what is happening here.” Thomas looked over to the doctor’s and reeled back in horror, the doctor wasn’t there, instead the room was dark and dusty. The only light coming from the shattered window behind the desk. A pile of clothes covered in ash were flopped uselessly in the chair. Most disturbing of all was that the doctor was still talking, “…and that’s why I you should probably just take some time off work. Remember stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental issues if not addressed early enough.” Thomas closed and rubbed his eyes vigorously and when he opened them again everything was back to normal. “Take this to a pharmacist and let me know if the symptoms get worse.” Thomas grabbed the prescription and thanked the doctor.
Afterwards, he got his prescription, headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to relax before his date with Melanie. He dozed off and woke up in a panic at quarter to 5pm. He dashed out of his once again dark house and raced to meet Melanie at her apartment.
He stood at the main doors of her apartment as a chill went up his spine once more. He pressed the button for her apartment and waited looking cautiously over his shoulder. There was nothing there, but for the first time he realized why he was nervous. It was because there was nothing there, no people, cars, dogs, cats, birds, anything! All was simply quiet and peaceful, too peaceful. He pounded the button for Melanie’s place over and over again when a voice behind him caused him to jump.
“You okay buddy?” it was the postman who had entered the lobby while he was panicking and was looking at him with cautious concern.
“Oh…” Thomas said nervously, “Yeah, I’m…um…I’m just meeting my new girlfriend at her apartment for the first time you know?”
The postman smiled, “Yeah I’ve been there, but just relax, I find imagining people as skeletons or in their underpants helps. Don’t worry you got this man!” he punched Thomas encouragingly on the shoulder and proceeded to sort the mail into their assigned boxes.
“Thomas is that you?” the voice crackled from the PA system.
“Melanie? Yes, sorry I’m late.” Thomas said, calming down at the mere sound of her voice.
“Don’t worry, my alarm shut off and I just got out of the shower, why don’t you come up.” Melanie explained as the door buzzed to let him in. He noted the door closed but never clicked shut which struck him as somewhat odd but dismissed it as he took the stairs to her apartment on the second floor.
He knocked on her door and was greeted by Melanie in nothing but a towel. “Care to come in and help me change?” she said winking. “Think of it as repayment for being late” she explained and blushed slightly when he just stood there gawking.
He shook his head, “Um, yeah of course, my pleasure” he smiled and wrapped his arms around him.
They made love the rest of the day and fell asleep next to one another. Thomas woke up as the morning sun shone into his face. He groaned and rolled over to say good morning to Melanie, “Good morning beautiful, AHHHHH!” Beside him was nothing but one of Melanie’s dresses, covered in dust.
He jumped up and dashed out of the building in nothing but his boxers. It was once again quiet and he ran into the park across from her place as he screamed. He was so absorbed in his panic that he ran into someone, literally.
“Thomas?” a voice said, “I’ve been searching for you. You need to come with me right now!”
Thomas looked up to see the worried face of Astra staring down at him. “How do I know you are real?” he sobbed.
“I see.” she said sighing with relief, “one moment.” She pulled something from her belt and jabbed it into his thigh. “Those are nanites, they’ll help stabilize your brain chemistry, we’re here to help Thomas.”
He looked around and his vision which he hadn’t notice was blurry began to clear up. He saw buildings destroyed, rubble everywhere. Dusty outfits were scattered everywhere and plants all had a glossy desiccated look to them despite being still green. “What?” he said softly, “What happened?” he slowly stood and reached down to help Astra to her feet.
“It was some kind of bomb, something one of your governments had been working on but miscalculated the yield.” Astra said placing a hand on his shoulder, “You’re the last being alive on this planet. Something about you seems to be immune to the radiation that saturates everything.”
He saw several buildings flicker as the lights came on then shut off as the power grid struggled to maintain it’s collapsing infrastructure. “How long ago did this happen?” Thomas asked as he began to see various cleanup crews searching for survivors.
“About ninety days ago, we have only been here about ten and only began physically searching the area three days ago.” Astra explained. “Our scans saw signs of life but couldn’t pin it down. It wasn’t until I found you and scanned you in your vehicle that I understood why. Your body is so saturated with radiation that you blend into your surroundings.”
“But…” Thomas said, “But what about all of you? Won’t the radiation kill all of you as well?”
“We’ve been cleaning up this area for days, and we’ve all been inoculated. But we need to get you away from here as soon as possible” she said grabbing his arm and tugging gently in the direction of what looked like a cigar the size of an oil tanker.
Thomas pulled his arm away, “No you have to be lying! I remember going to work everyday until this week and nothing was out of place. How do you explain…” Thomas had grown quieter as he spoke realizing the answer to his question? His mind had shut down and hallucinated to try and explain to him that what he saw wasn’t real. The coffee pot, the psychiatrist, the lights, the mailman, everything had been trying to tell him he no longer needed the hallucinations. “My mind was protecting itself wasn’t it?”
Astra nodded, “I’m sorry you went through that but we’re here to help, we’re what you would call an emergency response group. Normally we don’t deal with non-space faring civilizations but we needed to know what had ended humanity. It was really quite fascinating…”
“I don’t care” Thomas interrupted and turned towards the space sausage as he began walking, “I’ve spent my whole life being human, the answer is only going to depress me.” Astra nodded understandingly and followed him to her ship.
A day later all the ships left Earth and it became a fossilized warning to the perils of hate and bigotry. As for the last human, we’ll never know.
***Dedicated to my old roommate who inspired this story, whose lifestyle and writings helped inspire this story. I wish him all the best wherever he may be. ***