The Last Man

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 08, 2017

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Submitted: June 08, 2017

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The house silent save for the sound of sobbing.

It was not a gentle sound, reserved and demure. Nor was it a doleful and despondent blubbering. It was the hysterical sound of grief, desolate and absolute. It was a wet sound, thick and ugly, and the screaming sobs were interrupted only by the periodic intake of shuddering and raspy breaths that seemed to catch in the man’s chest like a struggling motor.

The man was called John Campbell.

He had just killed his daughter.

In the corner of his bedroom, squeezed tight between the bed and the wall, he rocked back and forth and wailed in horror with his eyes squeezed shut. He was shaking his head wildly, slamming his forehead against the wall with each violent pivot. But the blood splattered across his face was not his own.

“Oh, God!” he yelled hoarsely. “Oh…God!”

His puffy red eyelids opened to a squint and then pinched closed again at the sight of the blood. All that…blood. It drenched his hands and his forearms and was splashed all over his shirt. The hammer which he gripped in one tight fist still dripped with –

A visceral scream of incoherent rage and despair tore from his tight chest and through the lump in his throat, filling the house. When all the air in his lungs had been expelled, he slumped forward weakly and curled up into a foetal position on the floor. His daughter’s blood was soaking into the carpet in a deep reddish-purple stain in the place where he lay his face; with tears streaming silently down his face, carving faint tracks through the drying blood, he forcefully chafed his cheek against the abrasive and slightly damp surface, rubbing his skin raw. He took the pain. He deserved it.

Monster…whispered a voice from the deep recesses of his mind. You are a monster.

“No…” John moaned weakly.

Yes, the voice said, gleefully cruel. Yes, you are. A monster. You’re an animal. As bad as the freaks.

“No…”

Oh, but you are! Only a monster would take a hammer to his only child.

“I had no–”

No choice? Is that what you’re going to say? No choice? A pretty excuse for a hideous man.

“Infection,” he muttered feebly. “The infection.”

The only infection around here is in you, John.

John pushed himself to his knees and started slamming his forehead against the wall with as much force as he could muster. “THAT’S NOT TRUE!” he roared vehemently over the vaguely meaty thumps. “NOT TRUE NOT TRUE INFECTION EVERYWHERE NOT TRUE NOT TRUE!”

Whatever you say, John, said the voice, sounding cynically amused. Whatever you say.

Then it was gone and John was alone again. Feeling faint, he leaned his bruising forehead against the wall and let out a long, trembling breath. The plaster wall was cracked and dented and his throat felt raw and inflamed, but he felt better. For a while at least…until the voices came back. And they would. His whole body sagged backwards against his bed and he let his head turn droopily to the left. And there was his daughter’s face. What was left of it. Her mangled nose had parted the flow of blood down from her scalp like rain down a window pane and her glazed eyes stared blindly up at the ceiling.

He did not scream this time. Hesitantly, he extended one quivering hand and gently closed her eyes with his ring and index fingers. The action left two bloody fingerprints on her eyelids. He looked at them for a long time, his hand hovering a few inches over her face. She had been beautiful. So…beautiful. He traced her jawline with one finger, a final tear trickling down into his scraggly, greying beard and catching there. Wetting one thumb, he tried to wipe away some of the blood, but it was a futile effort and only spread it even more. He became aware of the heavy, cloying odour of blood and gagged. He was breathing it in. The sickly-sweet, metallic stench of his daughter’s clotting blood. He turned his head away briefly, trying to fill his lungs with clean air, then looked back down at her.

“I’m so sorry, Kat,” he said softly, delicately lifting her head and cradling it in his arms. Her neck rolled limply in his grip. He started stroking her hair. It had been blonde. Now it was as red, matted and sticky. He absently combed his fingers through it in an attempt to untangle it. “I’m sorry, babe…I’m…” His head dropped and he felt the flood of tears threatening to break through again, but he swallowed it down and forced himself to look at her again. She could have been sleeping…except that was bullshit. People who were just sleeping still breathed. Their hearts still beat. It was no good trying to pretend.

She was dead.

He had killed her.

That was that.

“Why did you do it, Kathryn?” he asked hoarsely. “Why did you have to go out there?” He shook his head bitterly and swallowed past the swelling in his throat. “I warned you so many times. Didn’t I warn you? Didn’t I tell you about the infection? The disease? And now…now this.” He brought her head close to his chest and held it tight, resting his forehead against hers, rocking gently. “What am I supposed to do now?” he desperately. “First your mother, and now…this…What do I do?”

He didn’t know how long he sat there, swaying back and forth in a semi-trance state, but when John stirred and came back to his surroundings, the blood on his and his daughter’s skin had dried to a rusty maroon glaze, and the light which fell slanting through a crack in the blackout curtains had advanced up the wall and deepened towards the rich orange of evening. He wiped one hand across his eyes, wincing slightly at the gluey and stiff feel of blood. His spilled tears mixed with it and smeared it like primitive Indian war-paint. Moving gingerly, he slipped his free arm under Kat’s legs and lifted her lifeless form like a groom carrying his bride across the threshold. Her body was sickeningly limp and wanted to sag in the middle and fall through his arms, but he secured his grip and placed her carefully in the centre of his bed. She looked small and somehow diminished. Her hands, so pale and cold, were untouched by blood, and John noticed that her nails were perfectly immaculate, trimmed and clean.

John sighed shudderingly and placed a gentle kiss in the middle of her forehead. Then he turned away.

His feet felt like they were encased in concrete bricks, and his shoulders were slumped as if with some great weight as he stumbled to the bedroom door and slowly pulled it open. It creaked slightly. Better oil that, John thought distantly. Joey hates creaky doors and so do I yeah I’ll oil that door oil it oil that motherfucker right up

A wave of vertigo struck him like a physical blow and he staggered against the doorframe, clutching it so tightly his knuckles turned white. His stomach clenched violently and all the contents of his stomach spewed from his mouth, smacking against the wall and floor with a wet splat! He heaved again and again until he collapsed to his hands and knees, his face only a foot from the ejecta which also smeared his beard around his mouth. He saw undigested chunks of that day’s lunch in the puddle of vomit and his throbbing, swollen guts stirred lazily one more time before falling quiet. He tried to stand, but his legs gave way from under him and he fell back down again, only narrowly avoiding coming straight down into his own puke.

“Oh, God!” he groaned huskily, throat burning worse than ever as he rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. There was a cobweb high in one corner. He found he could hardly bring himself to move at all; better to just lie here on his back and allow the next stream of bile fill his throat and choke him slowly to death. It was no less than he deserved after all. Preferable to living with –

The door.

John jolted slightly and struggled to a seated position, ignoring the unsettled shifting in his guts. “What?”

The door.

“What about the door?” he demanded impatiently.

Don’t you think you’d better close it?

Suddenly the world seemed too bright and too hot. Blood pounded in his ears and his heart thudded in his chest. He swallowed, trying to lubricate his dry and closed-up throat. An overwhelming sense of dread gripped him as he turned his head on creaking tendons. His vision disfigured as if he were looking through a fish-eye lens and, as if from a great distance, he felt hot piss pool underneath him.

The front door was wide open.

His whole body felt locked in place. Sweat dripped down his face and into his widening eyes. It was cool against his hot, flushed skin. He felt like he was being choked. Like an ancient automaton on creaky cogs, he rolled onto his front and started to crawl. It was like a nightmare. Surely this couldn’t be happening? Surely he would jerk awake in a minute, filled with relief at escaping this terrible dream? Surely Kat would come running in, laughing her beautiful laugh at silly Daddy, sleeping late again? And surely his wife would be next to him, a reassuringly warm presence? Surely it wasn’t real?

“Surely,” he whispered as he slowly heaved himself forwards. “Surely…surely…surely…please…”

Stop grovelling and get up, you blithering fool.

John groaned and drew to a halt, bringing his knees up to his chest underneath him. His belly roiled sluggishly. For a moment, he couldn’t bring himself to move at all. Let them come. What was the fucking point anyway?

Oh no you don’t, the voice snapped. You’re going to get up and you’re going to shut that door.

John moaned.

I SAID GET THE FUCK UP YOU PIECE OF SHIT! YOUR MOTHER SHOULD HAVE SHAT YOU OUT THE MOMENT SHE KNEW SHE WAS PREGNANT YOU PATHETIC CONTEMPTIBLE LITTLE FUCK! GET UP GET UP GET THE FUCK UP AND SHUT THAT DOOR!

Screaming and pressing his hands to his temples, John surged to his feet and tore through the space between him and the door in a bare moment. He stood in the doorway for a second, the dying sun casting shadows on his face and blinding him with its appallingly beautiful glare. He squinted his eyes against the dazzling light as his pupils contracted, holding one hand up to his face.

Then he jerked backwards and slammed the door shut with a room-shaking bang, his heart thudding against his ribs like hammer

(killed your daughter good fucking deal huh?)

blows.

One of them had been standing right there.

Right outside his house.

At his gate.

And it had been looking at him.

A low whimper escaped him and he felt tears threatening again. “Shit shit shit what do I do what do I do oh fuuuck what?”

You could start by locking that door.

John nodded and whirled on the spot: he had deadbolts, chains and lever handle locks. Now he secured them all with swift, practiced movements. He was muttering to himself in breathless little gasps: “Shut the door lock the door keep them out! Shut the door lock the door no infection here! Shut the door lock the door shut it lock it shut it lock it keep it shut!”

With the locks in place, he scurried away from the door as if it had burned him. He stopped in the middle of the living room and dropped to his haunches. He pressed two clenched fists against his mouth, drawing his cheeks back in a sick imitation of a grin. His eyes were locked on the frosted glass in the centre of the door.

Glass, he thought with a stomach-turning lurch. Oh, good. Goody-goody give Woody a hoodie if you did would he wear the fucking thing and why didn’t you cover the fucking glass, John? Oh, shit, you’re in for it now.

He leaned forward as far as he could go without overbalancing and cupped his ears in his hands, aiming them at the door like satellite dishes, straining to listen for any noise. He couldn’t hear anything. Maybe…maybe he was going to be okay after all? Maybe…No doubt he’d been mistaken: it hadn’t been looking at him after all. Of course. That was it. Ha! Phew!

“Slap my thigh and call me Willy but that was close!” John exclaimed, drumming on his thigh with the first and second fingers on his right hand. But his eyes never left the door, and when the shadowy figure appeared as a vague profile behind the glass, the despair he felt was not really tinged with surprise.

“All for nothing!” John screamed shrilly at the ceiling.

The figure at the door lurched slightly, then raised its arms and started to bang on the door. With each blow, John’s whole body convulsed violently. He pressed his hands against his ears but it did nothing to dampen the noise. He could feel his pulse throbbing against his palms. Now the figure at the door began to bellow, a deep and incoherent guttural sound. John whooped loudly and hopped up to his feet.

“Punch your robots and burn your doughnuts,” John hollered feverishly, “you won’t get me!”

The pounding increased in intensity.

“You dirty fucking animals! You’ve taken everything!” John’s eyes snapped to his bedroom door. “Well I’ll show you!” He started to grin. “I’ll show you all!”

John scuttled into his room and stood there for a long moment, staring down at Kathryn. Dead before she had ever really lived. A line from John Steinbeck’s Winter of our Discontent breezed through his mind: ‘It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone’. Temporarily heedless of the menace at the door, John sat next to his daughter on the bed. He lifted a bloody strand of hair away from her face and struggled to smile.

“I’m so…sorry,” he whispered. Now the tears did break through again, spilling down his cheeks, the blood of his soul. But he would not let them control him. Her eyes were closed and her heart wasn’t beating but she was alive in him. In his heart. She would stay with him. Now…and until the end. “Not long, Kat,” he vowed solemnly. He picked up her hand, so cold and pale, and wrapped his pinkie around hers. “I’ll see you soon.”

One kiss on the forehead.

Then he let her go.

There was a box under the bed. It was black, and made of tough plastic. It had been there for nearly six years. Now John pulled it out and set it on the floor in front of him. There was a combination lock on it, and John smiled at it sadly. He reached out with one trembling hand and started revolving the numbers.

“Oh…six…two…nine.”

The latch opened with a neat little click.

“Remember a few years ago when you had a big party with all your friends from kindergarten? We had a clown and a bouncy house and everything, you remember?” He glanced at Kat and then back at the box, his smile fading. “Remember someone tied a whole bunch of balloons to little Tigger’s collar? You’d only just got him remember? He was still just a tiny kitten back then. I told the kid not to let go, remember? I shouted at him pretty loud, I guess. But the kid let go and Tigger started to go up and up, and if I hadn’t grabbed him he would have gone floating up up up into the sky but he wouldn’t be alive the whole time because he was choking already choking when I grabbed him, the collar was digging into his tiny little neck and he was choking and I nearly smacked that little kid right across the face right then and there and…” John looked up at his daughter sharply. “Remember? I never told you how close Tigger came to dying right then and there, did I? But I never let that fat shit kid come into this house again.”

He drew in breath to speak again, but snapped his mouth shut instead; the hammering on the door was intense now and he could hear the brainless bellowing from here. He couldn’t delay any longer.

This was it.

John flipped the box’s lid open. Set within the polyethylene foam was a .45 calibre semi-automatic handgun. Its grip was a synthetic material set into burnished grey steel. John grabbed this and lifted it carefully from its slot. Its weight felt good in his hand. Deep. Dominating. Powerful. He set it down on his lap for a moment while he drew three magazines from their individual slots in the foam. Each was already loaded. With a single, brisk movement, he inserted one into the hand grip with a small click. Using the palm of his left hand, he pulled the slide back into its rearmost position and then released it, chambering a round. He stood up and slipped the other two into his pockets.

Then he turned to the door.

The world seemed to be moving in slow-motion. The air seemed almost thick. Each raised foot took an age to come back down. Each indrawn breath entered his lungs and grew stagnant before finally being expelled. Each blow on the door was like the hammering of nails into the lid of his coffin as it was lowered with maddening languor into the grave which he had dug for himself. How had it come to this? What sort of world allowed such horrors?

One that was not worth living in.

“What cheese wheel through yonder cannon dies?” John asked dreamily as he slipped the chain out of its socket. “You have no time to explode such questions,” he said as he flipped the lever-handle locks up and out. “Watch where you’re flaming that pool cue, Joey,” he said as he twisted the deadbolts.

He opened the door.

The thing in front of him staggered back with its mouth agape, arms dropping limply to its side and its face screwing up. Yes, it was the same one that had been at the end of his walk. And it had brought some of its friends along: a growing horde had developed down by the gate, peering at him with their hollow, dead eyes.

“Dirty fucking animals.”

In one swift and fluid movement, John brought the gun up. Gripping it in two hands, he squeezed the trigger just as the thing started to move towards him.

The gun kicked in his hands and his eyes squeezed reflexively shut for a moment. When he opened them, the sight of what remained of the thing’s face made him want to vomit. The bullet had made a ruin of it: its front teeth had been smashed and kicked through the ragged hole that had suddenly appeared in the back of its throat. The disgusting creature reeled back, waving its arms in a primitive warding-off gesture and making a thick, watery choking sound. John didn’t let it get far.

The second round tore off the top of its head and brought it down.

A primal scream of triumph and horror tore from John’s throat like a wild thing; he turned his head up to the sky and let it run free.

“Yes!” he shrieked.

He turned his gun on the horde: some of them just stood there with vacuous, almost dazed expressions and some of them were jolting into action, making animalistic noises and scurrying about in a brutish panic. One of them was rushing up the path towards him, its arms outstretched and its face contorted in an ugly grimace.

John pulled the trigger.

A small black hole appeared in the belly of the approaching fiend and a crimson spray exploded from its back. But it didn’t stop. John had just enough time for his eyes to widen slightly before it slammed into him with all the force of a train, driving him back into the house. They landed hard on the floor and all of the air in John’s lungs exploded out. The beast had its arms wrapped around his torso like a pair of pincers and its face was mere inches from his own. John scowled up at the sneering face as he struggled to draw in breath. The thing seized John’s wrist in a vicious grip, trying to twist the gun from his grip with one hand.

John snarled and slammed his forehead against the brute’s nose. It fractured with an audible crunch and blood sprayed over John as the thing screamed thickly and brought its hands up to its face. John grinned, ignoring the blood that dripped through his open lips as he twisted the gun underneath the writhing body.

There were two loud but subtly muffled bangs as John pulled the trigger. The thing jerked violently and seized up for a moment, then went limp; blood instantly flooded over John’s hand, slicking his grip on the gun. John grunted and pushed the dead weight off.

“Fuck you, you’re not getting away from me that easy!”

John rolled onto his front and pushed himself to his feet. He lunged at the front door and grabbed the doorframe with his left hand with the gun in his bloody right. Two of them were crouched over the corpse of the one lying on the path. They looked up at him with wide eyes and scrambled to get away. John’s lip curled contemptuously as he raised the gun again. One of them screamed shrilly and the other stepped in front of them.

Stupid beasts, John thought, lining them up in his sights.

The two shots sounded like exploding M-80 firecrackers in the open space. They were followed by a dry click and John looked down at the gun in his hands, irritated. Ignoring the agonised screams of the two monsters, he ejected the empty magazine from the gun’s grip and let it fall to the concrete path without a second glance. With slow and methodical movements, he walked toward the things on the floor, pulling another clip from his pocket and clicking it into place. He glanced at the ruined remains of the one at the door’s head as he passed it: grey brain matter was splattered all over the floor amidst fragments of its skull. They looked like packaging pellets.

John crouched next to the two creatures, smiling sardonically. Blood was pooling underneath them with remarkable speed. One of them looked up at him, its eyes rolling wildly like a horse. It had been a woman once.

“Take my daughter, bitch?”

John jammed the gun under the vile monstrosity’s chin and pulled the trigger. Blood and brains exploded out of the top of its skull in a gruesome spray.

It’s not too hard when you get the hang of it, Joey, he thought, turning the gun on the other. It had been a man. It had also been the one who had screamed. It was pressing down on the pumping hole in its abdomen, blood trickling through its fingers.

“It’s funny,” John mused, planting the barrel against its forehead, “I didn’t know rabid beasts could scream.”

The thing looked up at him. “Please…don’t.”

John recoiled and his face twisted. “What...? What did you say, you filthy little animal?”

The thing’s gaze had become distant, staring over John’s shoulder at the sky overhead. “Please…don’t,” it said again.

John blinked furiously and swiped one arm across his eyes. His hand was trembling wildly. “How…?” He shook his head fiercely and uttered a harsh, barking laugh. “How dare you? Don’t you know you’re just a beast? You can’t…you can’t talk!”

The thing’s eyes slipped closed and its breathing, already shallow, became more ragged. “Please…”

John roared in the thing’s face, spit flying and his face turning red. The cords on his neck stood out clearly. He launched himself to his feet and pointed the gun down at the dying beast’s head.

“YOU…CAN’T…TALK…TO ME!”

Each exclamation was punctuated by a squeeze of the trigger and a bang. Then he emptied the whole clip for good measure.

He couldn’t even bring himself to look at what was left.

A small, tinny voice caught his attention; he scanned the floor and saw a phone lying there like an island amidst the sea of blood. Its screen was cracked, but it was still operational, and there was someone on the other end.

Hello?” it said urgently, with no small degree of alarm. “Are you still there, caller? Caller? Oh, God.”

“What’s going on here?” he whispered into the sudden, oppressive silence. Suddenly the day seemed too hot in spite of the cool autumnal breeze that was dancing across his cheeks. The air seemed to press in on him like a physical weight, hot, thick and stifling. And all the while the voice in his head just laughed and laughed and laughed. He could hardly breathe. God, he was choking! Choking on air!

Choking on the truth, Johnny-boy. You’re choking on the truth.

John reeled towards the gate. He had to go. Had to get out of here. Had to go and oh Jesus Mary and Joseph what had he done?

The laughter went on and on.

One foot slipped in the slick blood underfoot and he went sprawling. He cast his arms out to try and break his fall and one hand came down in the brains of the…the…

“Beasts, monsters, abominations, animals, monstrosities, creatures, brutes, fiends, devils, demons…” he sputtered desperately, wiping his hand on one leg with furious determination, “…things!”

Hot-damn, Johnny, did you swallow a fucking thesaurus?

“We’ve got cruisers on the way right now,” said the voice on the phone. “Just hold on tight, okay? They’ll be there in just a few minutes! Just hold tight!” Quietly, in the voice of someone talking to themselves, the voice said, “Oh, shit, please be okay. I’ve only been here a week.”

John snorted with bitter, cheerless laughter and ejected the second empty magazine from the gun. Its weight, which had felt so comforting only minutes before (minutes? he thought in disbelief, has it only been minutes?) now felt offensive and dense. Its burnished steel barrel was tarnished with blood, and red fingerprints stained the grip. How he hated it. He dropped it the concrete.

And oh God would that laughter never end?

You’d better move quickly, Johnny-boy. You heard what the phone said: they’ll be here any minute. Not monsters or infected beasts…

“Don’t say it,” John whispered in a small voice.

People.

John’s whole body sagged and violent sobs wracked his body.

People all along. I told you, John…the only infection around here…is in you.

John looked at the blood on his hands and the bodies all around him and screamed in horror. He picked up the gun and jammed it against his right temple. He wrapped two fingers around the trigger and pulled it.

But nothing happened.

He pulled it again. Click! Again. Click! Again. Click!

It would help if it was loaded, John.

John pulled the gun away and looked at it. Of course. It was empty. A state that could soon be remedied. He clumsily tried to wrench the third and final clip from his pocket, but it caught on the fabric. Groans of frustration escaped him as he yanked at it fruitlessly.

For fuck’s sake, you total waste: slow down for a minute and just take it out.

John let go of it for a moment, took a deep lungful of breath, then let it out and gently extracted the full magazine from his pocket.

Wasn’t so hard was

Shut up!” John yelled, banging the gun against his own head and drawing blood. “Can’t you ever just shut up?”

Whatever you say, John. The voice was flat now. All traces of laughter were gone. Now do it quick. This is what you deserve.

John nodded and slipped the clip into the gun. The click sounded very final. He pressed it against his temple again, squeezing his eyes shut in terrified anticipation.

This is where you want to do it?

His eyes snapped open. “What?”

You want to die here? Surrounded by the bodies of these people?

John looked about himself at the dead faces, then down at himself. What he saw sickened him.

And so it should. But I would have thought you’d want to do it…

“Next to Kat,” John finished in a hoarse whisper. “Yes…next to my baby girl.”

Then be quick about it. The police are almost here. Can you hear them?

John realised he could. The warbling of sirens was very loud now. They must only be a few streets away. He pushed himself to his feet and staggered his way up the walk, stepping over the three bodies and being careful to keep his feet this time. He lurched through the front door and stumbled over the corpse that lay on the floor of the living room. The carpet was stained the colour of spilled wine.

A nice simile, but you really might want to get a move on. They’re practically here already.

John pitched towards his bedroom, rocking and reeling from side to side.

“Time to die,” he was muttering through his tears. “Time to die. Time to die.”

Yes, it is.

He stood for a moment looking down at his daughter and a fresh wave of horror washed over him, threatening to drown him entirely. He had killed her. Why? Why? There was no infection! There was nothing! How could he have–

There was a loud slamming of car doors outside the house and the clicking of running footsteps up his walk. Without looking around, he raised the gun and fired off three shots in the general direction of the front door. The footsteps stopped and he heard raised voices.

Now or never, John.

He lay down on the bed next to Kat and turned towards her so that he was lying on his side. He traced the line of her jaw with one finger, smiling faintly.

“I’m sorry, baby. I never…never meant…I’m sorry. So sorry.”

The barrel of the gun had an oily taste.




© Copyright 2017 Jordan McLaren. All rights reserved.

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