The last man on earth
They told me I was the last man on earth when they set me free.
The aliens had not bothered to invade earth. They just waited for us to destroy ourselves, then moved in when we had used our last bombs to kill our own kind.
By that time, all they needed to do was round up those of us they could find and let our abused environment kill off the rest, knowing a man on his own could not drink any of the water running openly or eat any of the plants growing out of our poisoned soil.
I was still a young child during the round up, although I kept hearing my father ask if the ovens were next.
I never expected to live so long or for them to think it safe enough to set me free.
Perhaps they expected me to die.
Although I knew from my years in captivity that the aliens did much to set right what we did wrong, making polluted water clean again and bad soil good.
I even learned how to fish and farm, and hunt – magnificent feats for anyone born in a city like I was.
The aliens did not remove everything. Scars of civilization showed here and there as I moved along the dirt paths away from their compound towards a strange and wild world of trees and vines.
Pieces of concrete poked through the walls of green in testimony to the ancient civilization that once dominated the surface of the planet.
Now once familiar inscriptions seemed alien to me, the hieroglyphics of a time I had never actually lived through, but certainly would never live to see again.
I had expected to die in captivity, just as all the others had.
I used to hear the echoes of the voices from the other cells, especially at night.
I missed them as a roamed.
They were my last grip on the civilized life my parents knew.
Never had I felt so along as now, and never so near madness as to hear voices I knew no longer spoke.
Then, I heard it again.
If I was the last man on earth as the aliens said, then whose voice was I hearing if not my own?
I began to think that maybe some of those left out to die earlier in my life had survived.
Hope – not for myself but for humanity – surged up in me again and I shouted back.
When I saw the tiny figure emerge from the streets on the far side of the river, I started to run, waiving my arms over my head as I continued to shout. I fell not once, but several times so that the palms of my hands bled, and a wound on my head, and my side ached from being pierced by a branch.
As I neared the river I saw the other figure, a woman, waving back, calling me as I had called, her voice filled with the same note of joy and relief as mine was.
We met in the center of the shallow water.
“They said I was,” I sputtered out of breath, “the last man on earth.”
“You are,” she said in the same breathlessness, “and I’m the last woman.”