by Ken Kash
As I warm my hands next to a fire of burning hair, I remember the purity of days past. I remember the sun warming my face, playing in the mud after a storm, and smelling the fresh air of the mountains. Now the world is dark and cold. The air we breathe burns our lungs. The survivors are all here, the underground city of Kvetch.
Nuclear winter came and nearly eradicated the human race. Many of the survivors walk around in a daze, not sure of what happened to us. But me, I am cursed with knowledge and remembrance. The dazed are the lucky, I on the other hand, pray for death from an unforgiving god.
My now deceased parents took cosmic genes and made an entity. I was a raw hunk of clay made from the earth with potential to be of use to this world. Now I’m underground, a piece of clay covered in mud, swarmed by insects. Acid drops from the ceiling of the tunnels.
Kvetch is a reeking, vomitous, putrid place. Our torture is living pointless unproductive lives. We eat one meal a day. The meal is the remains of the recently deceased. The meal is less than raw. We don’t have much time left.
I am still an unmolded piece of clay. For the last month I have been searching for something—anything to accomplish. I had a thousand doors open to me before the war. Now I fear I have only two. The first door is death. The second door is a possibly impossible dream. The second door has a dim light to achieve one thing in my life. I will be the last!
* * * * *
I was born June 1, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland. My parents kept a copy of the paper from the day I was born. The paper said the high temperature was 85 degrees. A cool breeze traveled east to west.
Mis parientes me daron todo el mundo. I loved my parents. I was an only child and my parents took great care of me. I always wished to be great someday to honor them. My parents raised me in a comfortable environment. However, they also exposed me to those less fortunate. We always did charity work in the inner cities from Detroit to Cleveland to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore. I knew how lucky I was.
I graduated from high school in the National Honors Society with a 4.0 grade point average. I spoke English and Spanish. I could have gone to any college I wanted with a 1450 SAT and my dad’s money. I decided to go to a small school in North Carolina, just north of Wilmington, called Conquest College.
By my junior year, 2005, the world was in turmoil. Tempers flared between Russia and China. Mexico was in upheaval. Brazil was on the verge of civil war over abuse of power by politicians and police. Violence in the Middle East was at an all-time high.
Things got worse in spring 2006 when Fidel Castro died. Not two but three leaders sprung up to take control of Cuba. The United States got involved by funding the democratic leader to finally get a democratic government in Cuba. Many people didn’t agree with the policy. But there was money involved, tourism to think of, and people to be bought.
At the time, all third world countries were in anarchy. The UN pulled all troops due to the AIDS epidemic. This decision forced African nations to fend for themselves. Most of Africa was unruled and out of control. Borders vanished and gangs took all control.
In early September, Iran launched chemical weapons on Israel. Millions lost their lives. The chemicals choked many to death and literally melted the skin off their bones. North Korea took a page from Japan’s secret biological warfare experiments of WWII They dropped bombs on Moscow and the rest of Russia. Inside these bombs were millions of fleas carrying bubonic plague. Russia was slowly dying.
Due to popular demand, the UN countries pulled all troops out of the Middle East. Only months later, the populations of those countries was down to thousands, due to war and chemical warfare. Russia, Asia and Europe were crippled with plague. The quarantines couldn’t be mobilized fast enough.
Through all the fighting the United States stayed strong. Schools kept on teaching, factories continued producing and taxes were still being paid as the Earth crumbled around us. We thought our space defenses would protect us. They didn’t. Death found a way.
The Agitation of the Aggressors, the day the Earth shook in space, took place September 17, 2007. The Agitation of the Aggressors came as not so much of a surprise from whom, but from where blew our minds. In the early morning, nuclear bombs were sent towards fifty major cities in the continental United States by international terrorists grouped in Canada.
The bombs hit. New York got hit at 6:13, Washington D.C. at 6:15, Los Angeles at 3:25. Our missile defense systems returned fire across the world.
Our bombs finished the job of total annihilation in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Mexico and Canada. Volcanoes erupted throughout the world, completely destroying South America and Africa. Tidal waves buried the islands under the sea. Earthquakes shook the world as Antarctica and Australia were shattered like bone and fell into the oceans.
Meanwhile, my roommate knew of a secret underground city near Sallisaw, Oklahoma. He claimed the city could hold 500,000 people. First come, first served to the underground city of Kvetch.
I arrived at Kvetch at 11:36 PM. I was one of only 62,530 people who made it. We are the last on Earth, if you can call living underground on Earth.
The city, still in the early stages of construction, was not ready for inhabitants. The cement was still drying when we arrived. Rations were short. The generators weren’t properly fueled.
We did what we could in the beginning. During the first few months, we worked day and night to make the place feel like home. But once the radiation passed over us, all our work was for not. Acid leaked into the city, making most of it uninhabitable.
We sealed the city and all lived in a commune of sorts. For unknown reasons, the cement was deteriorating at an impossible rate. Walls were falling, the air turned to soot and we were running short on edible food. Worst of all, the generators were failing. Hell was becoming a reality.
* * * * *
Since we arrived, I have been trying to keep track of time. I figure by now it’s December 2015. I’ve lived underground for eight years now. It’s time to do something with my life.
The generators have been silent for years. At first we burned clothes for light and heat. When we ran out of clothes, we shaved the hair off of our heads and bodies. Now we burn unused portions of corpses.
A few months ago I made my goal. The plot circled in my head like a vulture. Once convinced, I felt no grief killing the remaining 2,053 citizens of Kvetch. Not one of them was my friend or relative. Everybody looks the same—naked, hairless, and covered in mud. I considered my actions mercy killings.
Kvetch has no children. After three years of living underground, mating was abolished. The lead council decreed this when people still had their sense. We figured it impossible to return to the land, so mating would be considered an act of cruelty. Besides, no child born within the first three years lived past the age of five.
The night before I started the slaying, I sharpened sticks and planted them in different caves. I also had softball-sized rocks. I went to sleep an hour or so before most. In two hours I woke. I murdered the biggest men first. I struck while they were sleeping. I had never hurt anybody before that first night. I killed two hundred men by the end of the first night. I stabbed through hearts and bashed in brains. No one even woke. I had a feeling that my victims didn’t mind. They lost all hope years ago.
Over the first week I killed 1,400 men. A few times people awoke; but they didn’t say a word. A few extra dead bodies meant more food for the rest.
During the last few years females have been dying off more than men have. The only possible explanation is that their poetic and beautiful souls couldn’t stand the ugliness. I envy them. I look forward to my death as the last human soul on the planet.
I killed one hundred women a night over the last six nights. Fifty-two women were left for the last night. The women didn’t know I was alive because I no longer slept. I hid from them as they shuffled through the piles and piles of dead bodies. The final night, most women were awake as I drove stakes through their hearts as if they were vampires. They welcomed death.
Finally I came to the last woman on Earth. As she lay sleeping, I noticed she was not like the others. I thought she was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. Even with a shaved head and mud covering her body, she looked beautiful. She looked to be about thirty. She had a strong jaw and high cheekbones. Her body still possessed all of its natural curves. I had forgotten how beautiful women actually are.
I wanted to speak to her before I was finished. I woke her. As she looked up at me I stared into her sad and lonely eyes. I spoke to her.
“Ma’am, my name is Tom Lombardo; I am the last man on Earth. What’s your name?”
“It’s Carrie Lernoux,” she replied. Her voice was soft with a trace of a Southern accent.
“Nice to meet you, Carrie Lernoux, the last woman on Earth. You know when I was younger I used to kid with girls and ask them if they would mind if I was the last man on Earth and she was the last woman on Earth. Now that seemingly trivial joke is a reality. You are the last woman and I am the last man. Do you mind?”
She replied, with a smile, “I remember that game. I even told a few guys ‘not if you were the last man on Earth.’ But now it doesn’t seem funny.”
“I know. It’s a shame, it really is. I wanted to do so many things with my life. Before all of this, I just graduated from college. I was looking for the perfect job. Even through all the turmoil, I wanted to see the world. I wanted to speak every language and learn every custom. I wanted to help develop the economies of third world countries. My mother was from Argentina. I visited once and the majority of the people were so poor. I’m sorry, I’m rambling.”
She placed her right hand on my cheek. “Maybe it was all meant to be this way. Maybe, after we die, something will give us comfort.”
A brief silence followed. She broke the silence. “You know, some people say that when you die you just go in the ground. If that’s true, we were dead long ago.”
Even through all of this, the woman was still kind. I could see it in her eyes. She was still gentle; I could feel it in her touch. I asked, “Carrie, what did you have planned for your life?”
She let another smile escape her lips. I noticed her full lips. I assume she, too, had the world at her fingertips when the end of the world came upon us. She said, “Me? I was just beginning my career. I was an elementary school teacher. I loved my kids. I know it sounds cheesy, but I thought if I could just make a difference in one child’s life, then I would have felt accomplished.” Tears started streaming down her face. “But I never got that chance. I had just started my first full year with my own class.
“I was engaged to a gentle man, a humble man. We were going to get married, have children and live happily ever after.” She was trying to avoid sobs from overcoming her as she continued. “He was one of the first to pass in this place. He became ill and died the day before we were to be married. He shouldn’t have died.”
I dropped my stick and placed my hand on her cheek. I said, “If my calculations are correct, I think it is day out on top. I was planning to see the world one last time before the deathly air takes my life. I’ve always been a romantic.”
She shifted her eyes back and forth and said, “Tom, in the last ten years I have seen everything and everyone I love die. Now I’m the last woman on Earth and I don’t want to be. So please, I beg of you, end me as you have the others.”
She rolled onto her back, closed her eyes and spread her arms. I stood, slowly raised my stick and threw it to my side. I accomplished the only thing I could. I am Tom Lombardo, the last man on Earth. I wanted someone to share the end of mankind.
I said, “No, I’m not going to kill you. I want you to come to the surface with me. You are so beautiful, so kind, so gentle, I can’t kill you. I want to spend my last minutes with the woman who signifies everything good that once was. Carrie Lernoux, I would be honored to have you join me.”
She opened her eyes when I was done speaking. She said, “I accept, Tom Lombardo, last man on Earth.” She took my hand and we walked together.
* * * * *
I’m ready to die now. I will go to the surface and let the scorched sun take my life. I will watch as the symbol of woman and man meet their end. We crawl to the door through which we came over eight years ago. The door has not been opened since. As I open it, dirt and ash pour in, almost burying me. I am completely exhausted as I crawl out and reach the surface. I help Carrie out of the cave. We put our arms around each other as we prepare for the end.
The sun is so bright I can’t open my eyes. As we sit on the ground we feel two impossible things. First, the sun is not burning my skin. Secondly, I feel… I open my eyes to see… I see… grass! It can’t be! Wait, I hear something. I try to focus my dilated pupils three or four hundred feet ahead of me. It’s people! Impossible! We are not the last. Why? How?
I give up. I roll on my back, close my eyes and feel the sun warming my face. I feel my heart slowing. Carrie shakes me and forces me to open my eyes. Again, she puts her hand on my cheek. But this time I am the one lying and she is above me. She says, “Tom, don’t give up, stay with me. The Earth has healed. When we came out of that cave we were reborn. We can help rebuild this world into our own little heaven. Thank you for not killing me, there is hope.”
As she is speaking I see the sun over her head. She is like an angel, trying to save me. I reach up and place my hand on her cheek. My head rests in her lap. She is saving me as I spared her. One thing still bothers me.
“But I killed all those people. I don’t deserve to live.”
She replies, “But if you didn’t, no one would have made it out of that place. We would have all died down there. Everything happens for a reason; and remember what I said about being a teacher. I wanted to make a difference to one child, one person. Be that person for me, let me save you.”
She smiles down on me and I can’t refuse her.