So this week was the penultimate week at college. We were tasked with writing a competition piece for a friendly competition between the students. We were given three prompts:
1. “The last man on Earth heard a knock at the door.”
2. “To describe exactly how the dog had the last laugh I shall begin like this…”
3. “The best way she could describe what had happened was; a clash of cultures.”
I chose the first prompt and my entry is below. I came second out of eight! I was really excited and happy to have been placed, all the entries were wonderful and the class has some amazing writers! Anyway here is my attempt:
The last man on Earth heard a knock at the door.
Rheumy eyes glanced to the clock on his mantle. Just on time. A weary sigh lifted from his chest as he pushed his aching bones out of his armchair. Why couldn’t they leave him alone? What harm was he doing? Just living in the same house he’d been born in? Grew up in? Would die in? Ernest Smith would never understand this new world, and as far as he was concerned they could all bugger off.
Sliding on his slippers he took the time to put on a cardigan, it was likely to be cold. Cursing under his breath for the whole length of the hallway. Finally, he opened the door to find his daily visitors exactly where he’d left them.
Yes, they’d always be polite, but never polite enough to leave an old man in peace.
“Mr. Smith, under ordinance 23.5, paragraph 4, we have to remind you that it is your duty to report to space dock Houston to commence your relocation to Mars.”
Bloody lunatics. Lips curled to bare his teeth at the usual crowd of protestors, all young women brandishing signs. In recent months they’d even come up with some catchy chants about his right to exist. Or at least his right to exist on earth.
Ever since 90% of all children born had been born female, they had been demanding more and more and more. The News had said it was some kind of genetic mutation, chemical warfare, additive, scientific mumbo-jumbo. For decades the lobbying had become more intense, more men had left, or had been forced to leave. Whatever, he didn’t care he just wanted them off his lawn.
“Ma’am we have this conversation every day, I’m going nowhere.”
“Mr. Smith, we have already arranged suitable accommodation for you on Mars. There is no need to be concerned. Wouldn’t you rather be with your fellow males?”
“No. I’d rather be in my own damn home, minding my own damn business, as you ought to be minding yours!”
It always satisfied him when she’d screw up her face in that way. The way she did when she knew she was defeated. To punctuate the point he slammed the door closed in her face. It made a satisfying sound, as though voicing his gruff disapproval of their badgering.
Mars? What business did he have on Mars?
There were plenty of other inhabitants, they’d started moving men there in droves. At first, it had been “wondrous exploration” and then it had been some civil rights hoo-ha and finally wholesale mass migration. Ernest didn’t know what Mars was like, but he was sure he didn’t like it.
Ernest didn’t like much anymore. Whether it was the television, technology, politics or even the weather. Mars, though? Ernest especially didn’t like Mars. It was red and dusty and it would track into his fastidiously clean carpets and get into his washing. Didn’t those women understand that it was difficult to get a new washing machine on Mars? Or at least Ernest imagined it was, it wasn’t like they had next day delivery on Mars.
No matter what they told him he wasn’t going.
Stamping back into the living room he approached the fireplace, leaning up against it for a moment to catch his breath. As always, he turned to her, she’d want to know the latest news.
“Don’t worry Sylvia, I’m not leaving you.”
Fingers trembled as they brushed the urn lovingly, a rare smile breaking through onto his curmudgeonly face. Sylvia wouldn’t understand this world, and he’d draw his dying breath fighting to stay by her side. It always got him so het up when they’d demand he left, he was always relieved that she’d not lived long enough to witness it.
The following day there was no knock on the door for the last man on Earth.
Instead, there was a low guttural rumble of machinery coming to life. With each second that passed it crept closer, the pitch more urgent as it devoured earth and nature with metal teeth. It was only then that Ernest realised that no one was coming to call today.
They’d come every day, the pattern was so entrenched in his life that its loss hollowed out a place in him that he had not realised existed. Every day she would come, or one of her subordinates, or some counselor, or some social worker. Or someone.
No one was coming anymore, just the machines.
Fingers clenched Ernest stood on his lawn. All he could was watch as they built the dome, section by section, just outside the limits of his property. Even as rage swirled up his chest and poured molten hot from his mouth as foul words, he knew he’d lost. Perhaps he should have been less proud, less righteous, less unwilling to back down. Perhaps he should have gone to Mars.
Work continued for days, until the perfect sphere was complete, trapping him like some scientific specimen. To walk the circumference took only a couple of minutes, even at his slow shuffle. Ernest could see out, they could see in, but apart from a little delivery bay where he could order food and any supplies he needed to survive, he was adrift from the world. For the first time since the world had changed, he was truly alone.
Regret was a cold thing, not a blaze like spite, or a flicker in his chest like pride. It crept upon him day by day, consuming him for long periods of time. For what else could the last man on Earth do but regret? Regret all the decisions and moments that had led him down this path. To try to find that exact moment when he’d made a particular choice that had brought him here.
The only thing he could never regret was Sylvia, he stayed for her.
For Ernest, there was only one woman on Earth, and he’d never leave her side.