The Last Man Left Alive
By Alan Green
My name is Frank Carlson and I am the last man left alive. I know that sounds melodramatic but it is the simple truth. I don’t know why I am writing this. People normally write journals so they can look back in years to come and remember how their life used to be or in the hope that other people will be interested enough to want to know about how they spent their days. But for me those reasons don’t apply. There will be no years to come for me or at least I assume not. I still have no idea why they have let me live this long. As for other people being interested in my life I’ve already explained why that won’t happen. There will be no future generations to be curious about how I lived.
It is the beginning of a New Year. Happy New Year journal. Maybe I am writing this because that’s what people do when a New Year begins they start writing journals. They don’t normally last beyond Jan 2nd but that’s not the point. Maybe this is some kind of Pavalonian response to seeing Jan 1st on my calendar. All though come to that God only knows why I’m still bothering with a calendar. Its not like I have any important appointments to remember. When it comes down to it I think it is important to hold onto the niceties of life, the little things that make up the comfortable routine of day-to-day existence. Even in the face of the end of all things there is no excuse for letting your life go to pot. So I guess that is why I am writing this. It is part of my struggle to hold onto my sanity, to hold onto some sense of normalcy.
I watched the celebrations on the box and toasted in the New Year with the last of my whiskey. It was a very good bottle and in all fairness they did a very good job with the celebrations. It was pretty similar to how it used to be. If you didn’t know you might not even notice. In fact between you and me Mr Nonexistent Reader after a bottle of whiskey I actually forgot. God help me for a blissful drunken moment I actually forgot. It makes me laugh to think of it now but last night I thought that those were real people on the telly, down there in Trafalgar Square singing Auld Lange Saigne just like the old days. Sentimental old fool that I am I joined in with the singing and I felt a tear roll down my face.
Latter on they made the mistake of cutting to Time Square in New York. That snapped me out of it. New York never seemed like a very plausible place anyway even in the old days. It always looked like someone had made it up. Maybe that has some kind of deep significance or maybe I just watched too many movies set there when I was a kid.
New York does not exist? New York is part of their conspiracy? Sweet Jesus I’m really losing it. I have to stick to the facts. Just because the most terrifying conspiracy theory possible happens to be true it doesn’t mean that I should look for conspiracies around every corner. There are no little green men under my bed. Doubt everything sure but on the other hand I have to hold onto my common sense. What else have I got? Nothing, I’ve even run out of booze, my last consolation.
My sainted mother would be shocked to know that I had sunk so low but then she never envisaged anything like this and thankfully she passed away long before it all started. At least I think she did. Obviously I have no way of knowing when it actually began. Did it happen suddenly six months ago, over-night, in an instant? Was it much slower than that? Maybe it took days or months or even years. The most terrifying possibility, the one I must fight with all my strength is that it has always been like this. Maybe there has only ever been me and the whole thing has been a huge show all along. With the puppets moving on invisible strings. But that would mean that everyone and I mean everyone I have ever known, everyone I have ever loved was one of them. It can’t be. There must have been other people once.
Damn I need a drink. I suppose I could just go down to the shop and buy some whiskey but what would they sell me? No doubt it would be like everything else, they would sell me something that looks like whiskey even tastes like whiskey up to a point but when you come right down to it, it wont actually be whiskey. Time was I’d have been worried that it was dangerous. I don’t know how this thing works maybe drink is the key but I’ve been eating their food for a while now and it doesn’t seem to be doing me any harm. I’ve stopped sneaking around anyway. They must know I’m here. They finished off everyone else in the world. The government never knew they were coming, too busy fighting the communists I guess or whoever our enemy of the week was at the time. An old fool like me tends to lose track. They must be able to tell the difference between us and them. I’ve trained myself to do it and they have technology far more sophisticated than anything I can even imagine. Not that that’s all that impressive I can’t even find the right setting on the toaster but that’s not the point. If they know I am here why am I still alive? Why haven’t I been replaced?
Back to beginning
OK I can’t hold out any more. I am going to have to go to the store and buy some drink. I can’t sit here alone in this hole of a flat without anything to dull the pain of my own thoughts. This might be my last entry. In the unlikely event that this does fall into the hands or tentacles or whatever of someone who can read it thank you for reading this far. If I don’t make it back this is goodbye. On behalf of the human race my last message to any other forms of intelligent life out there is that I wouldn’t bother. This whole being alive thing seems to be a thankless struggle; as for civilization it is a lot of effort and all you get in return is that you get better at understanding what a waste of time the whole thing is. If you insist on bothering invent alcohol as soon as possible.
I made it. It was a horrible experience but I made it. There are hundreds of them out there. They are everywhere. They pretend to ignore me but I am sure they can all sense my presence. You know how you can tell when you are being watched even if you can’t see the person? That is the closest analogy I can come up with. They are all watching me.
I suppose I may as well tell you all about yesterday’s little adventure. Hopefully I’ve drunk enough to shield myself from the shock of having to relive it in my head. I set out nice and early in the hope that most of them would still be asleep or recharging or whatever it is that they do. Maybe it wasn’t early enough or maybe she was watching me the whole time but as soon as I left my front door I heard a familiar voice. ‘Good morning Frank dear I haven’t seen you for ages. Where have you been hiding yourself?’ It was Mrs Morwell from next door. I tried to ignore her. I always liked Mrs Morwell and I didn’t want this thing to sully my memories of her but she, sorry, ‘it’ was persistent. They show no mercy. ‘Frank? Are you all right? You look quite pale. Have you been feeling under the weather? Is that why you haven’t popped round for a while?’ Obviously I am paraphrasing but it was coming out with similar drivel. Do they seriously expect me to believe that this is a real human being? She was mocking me, she knew exactly why I was looking pale. I banged frantically on the lift door desperately trying to escape but as usual it didn’t work. Some things never change. Even with mysterious superhuman beings running the planet the lift in my block of flats is still always out-of-order. Id write a letter of complaint if only they weren’t so damn mysterious.
Mrs Morwell soon caught up with me. She cheerfully informed me that the lift wasn’t working again and she’d called the council but they couldn’t send anyone until Monday. As we walked down the stairs she told me all about her kidney problems and the awful trouble her Claire was having with someone called Mark. I grudgingly take it back sometimes they get human conversation just right. Now that I think about it Mrs Morwell was a bit of an old bore. Not that she deserved what they did to her. No one deserves that. Thoughts of revenge flashed through my mind. I could push this thing down the stairs. Avenge Mrs Morwell and save myself from having to listen to it witter on but I knew it was an idle daydream. If it ever come to violence I was finished. Six billion to one isn’t exactly a fair fight.
Thankfully she was going in a different direction so I was free to catch a bus on my own. My sense of gratitude didn’t last. The bus was incredibly crowded. I was crushed up against them. I could feel the warmth of their bodies pressed against mine. So similar to real people and yet so obviously not. They look like people, they sound like people they even smell like people as I can attest from my time on the bus with my nose in someone’s armpit but they are not people. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly how I can tell but it isn’t difficult. Once you know the truth they are easy to spot. I have never liked crowded buses but I found myself feeling nostalgic for the days when buses were crowded with people. As I said earlier it was the sense that they were watching me that really got to me. It made my skin crawl. The little girl with the lollipop, the old man reading the sporting news, the teenagers arguing about some boy band, the kid throwing a tantrum, they were all watching me. The thing or things that looks out from their eyes was wondering what I was going to do next.
I closed my eyes and silently prayed that the journey would go by quickly and that I would survive it. God must have heard my prayers although he apparently ignored the pleas of billions of others over the last few months. The bus pulled up outside the supermarket. Relief sweeping through my body I got out and gulped down huge lung fulls of fresh air.
As I’ve said they are pretty convincing most of the time but the way they shop is a complete giveaway. Zombies mindlessly filling their baskets with an assortment of strange tinned things. There is something mechanical and inhuman about supermarkets. Maybe they planted them so they would feel more at home here. I remember when people used to go to their local high street to shop. People would stop and chat; it was all so much more friendly back then. I’m not sure what happened to the world. Everyone became so distant, so cold. Maybe it was them or maybe they came because we made the kind of world they like.
Once I was inside the supermarket I headed straight towards the drinks section. I tried not to attract attention to myself, which was pretty pointless really. I don’t suppose it would make any difference if I ran around like a madman. Whatever I do they carry on with their grotesque masquerade apparently oblivious to my presence. At this point disaster struck. Where was the drinks section? It wasn’t where it used to be. They had moved it. They knew I needed some drink and they were trying to mess with my mind.
I recovered incredibly fast if I do say so myself. Under the circumstances I had no choice but to play their little game. Shivering at the very thought I approached one of the supermarket worker drones. Trying to keep my voice steady I asked him where the drinks were. Staring at me blankly with his cold dead eyes he pointed down the aisle. “Just over there, mate”. He called me “mate”, nice touch that, the false chumminess of post-apocalyptic Britain. I thanked him and hurriedly shuffled over to the drinks cabinet. Having filled my basket with shining promises of sweet oblivion I felt more at ease already.
Grabbing some random bits of food on the way I made it safely to the checkout without any further contact with the enemy. The checkout girl was lively and cheerful. They must be trying to simulate the cheerful mood of the holiday season. Totally unbelievable, why do they bother? Her mobile rang while I was queuing up. She picked it up and pretended to organize her evening out. If I didn’t know better I would have been annoyed by her rudeness but I knew she wasn’t really chatting to her friends. They have to update their programming every few hours or so. That is why they spend so much time on the phone or watching TV. I am pretty sure that is how it works.
Back to beginning
I am not sure exactly when I realized that every one else in the world had been replaced by robots. There was no eureka moment. It was a gradual realization. Little things planted the seeds of suspicion in my mind. People began to act strangely. They spoke differently, looked different. You could feel it in the air. The very atmosphere had changed. I would pop into my local for a pint and instead of the old warmth a shiver would run down my spine. I would talk to people I’d known for years and realize that they were repeating themselves. They were just replaying fragments of old conversations. People were just doing the same things over and over again as if they were machines following a program.
Sometimes I blame myself. Maybe if I had realized earlier I could have done something to stop them. I could have warned people or joined up with other resistance fighters. Surely other people must have noticed? There must have been some kind of resistance. We’re not savages. We’ve sent men to the moon. We’ve got all kind of fancy telescopes and probes scanning the skies. How could they take all of us so completely by surprise?
Not a very successful day, I realized that some of the food I grabbed at the supermarket was dog food. They clearly put it in exactly the right place for me to grab it, just to humiliate me. I must be strong. It is important not to let them know that they have me rattled. I have some baked beans left. I don’t need to start on the dog food until tomorrow. It probably wont be all that bad. It’s all meat, it’s just in a different tin.
Dog food tastes awful.
I solved my food problem. I used the dog food to lure next doors terrier into my flat. I know it sounds cruel. I have always liked dogs but these are desperate times. It was an act of mercy really. What chance does man’s best friend have now man is done for? She’ll probably come looking for the dog but I’ll just deny everything. The silly old bat shouldn’t have let it wander around on its own anyway. Back when it was really her I mean.
They eat dogs in Korea apparently. I spent some time over there during the war. I wish I’d asked someone how you cook dog. Never occurred to me at the time. I guess I was busy being shot at and complaining about the heat. That’s the thing that really sticks in my mind, the godless heat. That and my men. Funny that I should look back on that hideous mess as some kind of golden age. Back when people were real people. About as real as people get facing a situation like that. Being under fire strips away all the bullshit.
I wish we’d had a chance to fight these things. Me and the old gang we’d have driven them back into hell or back to Mars or whatever rock they came from. Even if we’d lost it would have been better to go down fighting. They could at least have given us that. A straight fight instead of this cowardly sneaky trick.
Dog tastes surprisingly good. The people at number 10 had an Old English Sheepdog. It is huge I could live on that for weeks.
Ten days into the New Year, more than a half a year since I first noticed that they had taken over, they still haven’t made any kind of move against me. I’m beginning to think they are going to leave me alone. I can’t imagine why. Maybe it’s scientific curiosity. They could be studying me. That would make sense. Maybe this vast simulation of the world they have destroyed is just a lab. A maze with me as the rat. It seems like a lot of effort to go to study something that doesn’t exist anymore. Historical research?
Maybe I’m not the last person left alive. Maybe they have just taken the rest of humanity away somewhere. Enslaved them on some strange world and I’ve been left here for research purposes. On the other hand this might not be the Earth. They could have abducted me and trapped me in a mechanical copy of the world I know. That never occurred to me before. No, no that doesn’t make any sense they know enough about us to replicate us and our civilization almost perfectly what else do they have to learn about us?
I guess that I have to accept that I am dealing with beings that don’t think how we think. I have no hope of understanding what they are up to.
I have had enough. No 10s Old English Sheep Dog bit me and then it got away. My arm is still bleeding and I have just eaten a whole tin of dog food. One way or the other it ends today. I’m an old soldier. I shouldn’t have waited so long. The time has come to make a stand. I don’t care that it will probably be a last stand and no one will be around to tell stories about it. This one is for the old gang, for humanity, for Queen and country.
My old commander always used to say that planning is the most important thing in war. Every great victory is 90% good planning. We all nodded and said “yes sir” but behind his back I always used to say that might be what they tell you in posh schools for officers but here in the real world we all know that war is a chaotic mess. The secret is to hit the other side harder than they hit you and not to get yourself killed. I respected planning more as I became more experienced but faced with impossible odds I think it is time to get back to my roots.
So here is my plan. I’m going to pick a robot and I’m going to beat the crap out of it and demand that it tells me what is going on. Brilliant huh? Well what would you do? The sensible option would be to lie low but I’ve had enough of that. The way I see it either they will give me some kind of explanation or more probably they will come and kill me. Actually the latter is more likely. If I’m lucky the might go all Bond villain on me and tell me their master plan before they finish me off. After all I’m special they’ve kept me alive long after they’d finished off everyone else.
Wish me luck. If I survive I’ll write-up my experiences tomorrow. In case I don’t make it back goodbye again. If you are one of them reading my journal then I hope I took some of you with me. If you are one of their enemies, perhaps by some miracle a human, then give them hell for me.
I haven’t done it yet. I know I made it sound like I was about to rush out the door but my plan isn’t quite as simple as I first thought. I can’t decide who to attack. I know it doesn’t really matter. They are all just machines. But it wouldn’t feel right attacking one of my neighbors. Partly it would be weird to attack something that is a perfect replica of someone I once knew. The very idea gives me the shivers. There is also the fact that I don’t think I could attack a female robot. I know I was talking about pushing the Mrs Morwell bot down the stairs earlier but now it’s a real possibility I can’t bring myself to do it. The Robertsons live on the other side. A nice family, I could probably attack the George replica but what if his replica wife and kids were there? I don’t think I could do it and my squeamishness aside they might call for help. A stranger perhaps? Decisions, decisions.
It has been a long day. I don’t really feel like writing in this journal but I guess it might help. Getting my thoughts onto paper might help to get things straight in my head. The Mrs Morwell bot is dead. So is the George Robertson bot and a pizza delivering bot. Humanity just struck back but I feel no elation or sense of victory. I am not really any closer to the truth, but I did get some new clues and they are far from reassuring.
On the plus side Pizza makes a nice change. I don’t want to sound callous but I haven’t eaten properly for days. It’s just the kind I like plenty of pepperoni and nice and spicy. I never dared to order some before; I didn’t want to attract their attention. Look at me, putting off telling you about my little fact-finding mission. Going off on a tangent about Pizza.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’ve just finished getting rid of the bodies. They are very realistic replicas, blood and guts and everything. You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you already knew. I guess a doctor could spot the differences but to someone like me the illusion was almost perfect.
In the end fate chose my target. I was woken up this morning by some frantic knocking on my door. Drowsily I pulled on some clothes, rubbed the sleep from my eyes and opened the door. Mrs Morwell charged in and accused me of kidnapping her dog. I was genuinely indignant for a moment before I remembered that I was guilty. At that point I switched to acting indignant but she wasn’t convinced. She screamed at me “I saw Cuddles collar in your rubbish bin. You’ve been acting very strangely recently. I know it was you. What did you do to him?” I know, I know, putting the collar in the bin was stupid. Guilty as charged but I did have more important matters weighing on my mind. I tried to convince her that I had found the collar in the hallway but she didn’t believe me. She marched across my tiny living room wrinkling up her nose in disgust at the state of the place. I should really tidy up I’m giving the species a bad name. She picked up my phone and angrily informed me that she was going to phone the police. Somewhere between her picking up the phone and starting to dial I decided that there was no time like the present. I picked up an umbrella (an unlikely weapon I admit but it was the first thing that came to hand) and hit her over the head with it. Either they are programmed to self-destruct when attacked or the controllers decided to simulate an old woman dying of shock but one way or the other that one vicious attack with an umbrella broke the robot. It slumped on the floor lifeless if that is the right word. It had clearly stopped functioning.
That obviously presented me with a problem. I’d killed one of them but I had totally failed to learn anything. I wasn’t planning on destroying all six billion robots one by one. My plan was to get some answers. As I learnt in the army killing brings a certain adrenaline rush in its wake. Once you’ve trained yourself to suppress your sense of guilt it can become quite a buzz. I decided that I had come too far to stop. I needed to carry out my plan properly.
The Mrs Morwell bot had left my phone hanging. I picked it up, pressed speed dial 6 and ordered a pizza. Spicy pepperoni, my favorite. I picked out a suitably large knife from my cutlery drawer, poured myself a glass of whiskey, turned my armchair to face the door and waited for the pizza delivery bot to arrive.
He took his time. The invasion hasn’t improved the service at my local pizza place. I was dangerously close to nodding off when the doorbell finally rang. Making sure that the knife was out of view I opened the door asked the thing to put the pizza on the table. While his back was turned I slammed the door shut and grabbed him. The knife was at his throat before he’d realized what had happened. He looked terrified but I steeled myself for the interrogation remembering that his fear was merely simulated. It was surprisingly easy to get him tied up and chained into my old armchair. Waving my knife around threateningly I demanded to know what he was and where he had come from. He told me his name was Paul and he’d come from the Pizza Palace on the high street. Ha ha, very funny. These alien robots and their wacky sense of humour. I told him I didn’t like his tone and moved the knife closer to his throat. I said “Listen you little toad. I know OK. There is no point pretending. I know everything. Tell me why you have come here, why you have done this.” He looked at me with an expression that looked just like an expression of confused terror. They really are very good at this.
At that point the Mrs Morwell bot fell out of the cupboard. To my horror it started groaning and crawling slowly towards me. Can these things not be killed? Paul used the distraction to alert the other replicas. He started screaming loudly. A bit of a feminine scream if you ask me. Possibly a flaw in their programming or maybe they were simulating the weak-willed young men of today. Anyway it was still effective. George came running over from next-door to help his fellow machines.
He took one look at the scene and grabbed a chair. He held it between him and me as if he were a lion tamer and I was the king of the beasts. Flattering and I guess I am the last of the animals that were meant to be the pinnacle of creation. It wasn’t much of a fight. I grabbed the chair and yanked it off him. Before I could lunge at him with my knife he run out of the flat. I heard the cowardly machine retreat into his own place. At least that’s what I thought at the time it turned out he was just regrouping. He soon returned carrying a shotgun! I turned over a table and dived behind it. At least that gave me some cover. This was getting serious. He let loose both barrels into the table. Fortunately it was a tough old thing just like me. It tried to reason with me whilst it was reloading. He said “Frank, I don’t want to have to do this. Come out with your hands on your head and I won’t hurt you. There are people who can help.” I don’t get it. Do they really not understand that I know about them? I didn’t reply there didn’t seem to be much point.
Something small and red was in Mrs Morwell’s hands. It took me a second to work out what it was but when I did I knew that I was going to have to break cover. She had a panic button. That could be a problem. Regular policemen used to give me the creeps, robot ones would definitely be bad news. Reasoning that there was no time like the present I dived out from behind the table and tried to grab it off her. Panicked George fired his gun again. They must be terrible shots, which is good to know. George managed to miss me entirely and hit Paul the pizza delivery bot. It didn’t look like Paul would be answering any of my questions. The George replica seemed to be momentarily stunned by its mistake. You probably get in serious trouble with the mother computer for blowing up your fellow robots. Obviously this was my chance. I rugby tackled him to the ground and in the resulting struggle the gun somehow ended up in my hands. A quick squeeze of the trigger and that particular robot was no longer a threat. Trying to remain calm and in control I strolled over towards the Mrs Morwell bot. At some point in the chaos it had given up the will to function but not before it had pressed the panic button. I knew that I could expect more company.
I barricaded the door and reloaded the gun. There wasn’t much else that could be done to prepare for their attack. So I poured myself a glass of whiskey and settled down in my comfy armchair to wait for the police to arrive.
It is one o’clock in the morning. Technically the eighth so I’ve decided to write in my trusty journal again. Every entry feels like a small victory over them. Another day without dying. Life is about celebrating little victories like that. Since the excitement of this evening’s battle things have been eerily quiet. The police have yet to arrive. I will write all about their little visit later if they ever show up and assuming I survive.
It has been over a month since I last wrote in my diary. A hellish month, during which the days rapidly began to blur together into one long nightmare but I remember the 14th Jan very clearly. That morning the police turned up to take me away. They used some kind of force-field or something to stop the shotgun from working. I pulled the trigger but only smoke came out. They were all over me within seconds. My heroic last stand had come to nothing. It had ended in a ridiculous farce. Complete with guns not working and bodies falling out of cupboards. Basil Fawlty fights the Martian robots.
They took me to a place that they euphemistically called a “hospital”. It was full of malfunctioning robots. These things wouldn’t fool anyone. They were unsure who or what they were supposed to be or even what year it was supposed to be. One female robot claimed to be Florence Nightingale and another one thought she was a cat. I thought I was onto something when one male robot admitted that he came from another planet but after a while I decided it was just another malfunction. His stories sounded too much like something from an old comic book or a TV show.
Most of the time I was kept in my cell or left to watch TV with the broken robots but occasionally a functioning one would come and try to get information out of me. Obviously I told them nothing. Presumably they haven’t signed the Geneva Convention but name, rank and number is still the drill as far as I am concerned.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had known that they were going to let me out after a month. It was the thought that this would be the rest of my life that made it so intolerable. That and the depressing fact that trapped in that hole I was even more powerless to do anything to oppose them. I tried to learn something useful from my fellow inmates but it was hopeless.
I wonder why they let me out. They certainly are strange beings. They obviously haven’t finished with me. Who knows what they are planning to do next? I’m not sure what I am going to do now. I feel that I have played all my cards, made all my moves but the game keeps going even though I’ve already lost. It is like a game of monopoly where your opponent has hotels all over the place including Mayfair and Park Lane and all your properties are mortgaged. Listen to me going on about a board game. Reminds me of my childhood, a metaphor for despair from a happier time.
It is over. It is all over. I know now why they let me go from their so-called hospital. I looked into the mirror this morning and one of them stared back. I smashed the mirror but you can’t smash your reflection. Not really it still mocks you even if there is no mirror around. They have turned me. I am not human anymore. It must have happened in the hospital, surely not before? Not that it matters now. I must destroy the monstrous parody of myself that I have become. A shard of glass is in my hand; this must end now before I lose control. This will be my last entry. There is no more time. I thought I was fighting against them but there was no war they were just waiting for the right moment or maybe I was on their side all along. Good bye, my name was Frank Carlson, I was the last man left alive, I think.
By Alan Green.