The last of the humans
Small piles of waste, clearly man-made objects, covered the beach, leaving only small patches of sand still visible. Among the remains of former wonders of technology, one could see at times biological remains of sea life, of former wonders of nature. The surf rhythmically stirred more remains, in a muffled thundering, washing them onto the beach. Grey snake-like clouds over the slow agony of the dying sun closed the backdrop of a scene bereft of any signs of life.
Near a group of dried-out, blackened palm trees, against the setting sun, one could make out a remotely human-like silhouette. Sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff the waves butted against before exploding, it was staring at the horizon. It had been perfectly still for a long time. But for a slight oscillation when breathing, it might have been a statue. Totally isolated in a thick greyish overall, similar to armour, his face hidden behind a mask with two small blackened pieces of glass through which one could just make out his features, the figure seemed in slumber.
Suddenly, among the piles of waste surrounding him, there was movement. A metal plate fell, with a short screeching sound. From behind it, a rodent's nose appeared, sniffing the air. Slightly hurriedly and very excitedly, the rat made for a different pile, from which the empty eyes of a big fish stood out. This seemed to bring life back into the figure who, like a grotesque clown, turned his head to see the devouring scavenger.
The rats. The damned rats. Blessed were the rats, for they would inherit the Earth. Damned, damned rats. He almost lacked the energy to throw a stone at it and scare it off. In these days, non-synthetic food could only come from rats, and even their meat was foul, contaminated with germs and radiation. Alone again, Tristan – what a surprise to remember his own name, not having heard it in such a long time – looked out at the ocean.
The ocean. The dark, dirty and – for what he could remember – foul-smelling ocean. Still, the view was rewarding. Sparkling winks of a red sun were cast by the waves, bringing back memories of better times, of tourist havens by tropical waters, of chattering gulls soaring over the setting sun.
With unexpected cruelty, the pain was back. With a twist of agony, he convulsively held his belly. A totally instinctive and perfectly useless action, as he could hardly feel any exterior pressure through the thick protective suit. The murderer that grew inside him missed no opportunity to remind him his days were numbered. He saw something strange on his suit: at groin level, on his right leg, there was an incipient tear. Not dangerous yet, but he had run out of materials for repairs. It was only a matter of time before his suit would tear off, so he would no longer be able to leave the shelter. So what? Anyway, it was hardly any protection any more against radiation, and the air filter gave signs of having reached the end of its life span. Had he been healthy, he might have expected to live for a few more months even in those conditions. But the cancer was already gnawing away at his guts. It was just a matter of time... little time. Whatever, it didn't matter. Nothing really mattered.
With obvious effort, he stood up and put his hands on the helmet that covered his head. He switched the locks and took it off. He smelled the outside air and was overwhelmed by nausea. A putrid stench of decomposition hid any other smell. He held out his helmet and looked at it. He could see his bald head and haggard face reflected in the glass. Slightly smiling, showing the six teeth left in his mouth, he painfully hurled the helmet into the sea. He breathed in deeply several times. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he could feel the air burning his nose, his throat, his windpipe, his lungs. He must have been imagining it, radiation never showed any symptoms until it was too late.
He fumbled in his pockets and found what he needed. It wasn't the first time he considered taking those pills, but this time his mind was made up. He put about a dozen in his mouth and kept the rest, just in case. The prospectus assured the ingestion of just one would produce a peaceful, painless death, but it was better to be on the safe side. Feeling free at last and in peace, even elated, he walked down the rocky steps to the sea. If he had to die, let it be in a last bath in the primeval ocean.
While he felt the wind on his face and the cold water flooding his suit, he thought of what he had done: mankind was about to be wiped out.
For, surely, he was the last of the humans.
© 2003 Daniel C. Duma
Daniel C. Duma is a computer programmer and an occasional writer of short, very condensed, and highly metaphorical short stories.