The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door, and his finger, curled around the shotgun trigger, twitched. Dag scrambled to his feet, his back still pressed against the wall with its faded peeling paper. The windows were boarded up so he could not look outside to see who wanted his attention. He gripped the barrel of the gun harder. Maybe he didn’t want to know.
The knocking came again, a series of rapid taps. He hunched his shoulders against it, as if by tucking his chin he could ward off whatever waited beyond the threshold.
“Go away. I ain’t opening it,” he shouted, spittle flying out past his cracked lips.
Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. It came again, and this time he edged around the kitchen doorframe into the hallway and aimed his twin barrels at the wooden door. Although the blood throbbed in Dag’s ears, a sound louder than the tapping, the gun did not shake in his hands.
The knocking continued, incessant.
“What’d ya want?” he yelled.
There’s no one out there who can hear you, a whisper in his mind advised.
“I know that,” Dag growled under his breath. There was no one left to answer. Dag knew this, because he was the only one. Everyone else, his family, his friends, co-workers, people who caught the train, they were all bones now.
Bones, that was what was at the door, he was sure of it. His finger tightened on the trigger, ready to pull it, to blow away whatever bloody bonebag was out there.
Bonebags don’t knock first, the whisper said.
Dag lowered the gun. “Gotta be something,”
Only one way to find out.
Dag waited a few moments before letting his breath out in a huff. Before he could change his mind, he strode forwards and wrenched the door open, raising the shotgun and bellowing.
A pecker, started by the sudden noise and movement, took off into the air in a flurry of feathers, its wings smacking Dag in the face as he batted it away.
Just a bird.
“I know, I saw it,” he grumbled.
Better close the door, they probably heard you.
Dag slammed the door shut and backed away in three hurried steps. He stared at it for several seconds, expecting bonebags to appear, throwing their wretched bodies at it until they broke it down. He hurried back into the kitchen and pressed his back against the same patch of wall.
“You hear anything?”
Something scraped against the window pane. Dag yelled and squeezed the trigger. A bang filled the house, rattling the cupboards. The glass window shattered as Dag’s buckshot punched a hole through it and the boards covering it. The tree that grew near the house spat leaves and snapped twigs onto the ground.
Now you’ve done it.
“Gotta go,” Dag breathed, running for the door again. “Can’t stay here, it’s not safe.”
Don’t forget supplies this time.
Dag spun on his heel and dashed back into the kitchen. He grabbed his pack and shoveled candy bars, a filled water bottle and dried out bread rolls into it. He grabbed the half empty lighter and the blue marble that he had been carrying since he found it in an abandoned house like this, and shoved them in also. Then he wrestled with the safety pin that had replaced the broken zipper to hold it shut at the top.
Dag nodded and yanked open the top kitchen drawer, but it only held cutlery. The second drawer down was more utensils, but in the third he found a packet of AA batteries, the same size his flashlight took. He slipped them into a side pocket and slung the bag over his shoulder, then grabbed up his shotgun and turned again for the door.
Back door would be a better idea.
Dag pivoted and went the other way down the hall. He paused at the back door and opened it a crack, as far as its chain would allow. He pressed his eye to the gap and peered out. Nothing moved in the small back yard except the poplar tree where the wind tousled it. Dag closed the door and slipped off the chain, then wrenched it open and ran mad-dash across the brittle grass. He reached the poplar and stopped with his back against the trunk.
Dag nodded and pushed off from the tree, running the rest of the way across the yard to hop the low fence. He raced across the next property, past the burnt out husk of the house that had once stood there. The next fence was too high to jump, he had to follow it to the road. He didn’t like the road; it was too open, too exposed.
He passed cars dumped on the curb like sacks of trash. With their tanks empty, they were discarded like everything else that couldn’t prove its worth. Now, with windows smashed in and insides torched, they were nothing but obstacles in the city gauntlet.
Dag turned to the right and continued his sprint northwards. The sound of his shoes striking the pavement echoed off the silent buildings, making it sound like a dozen Dags raced along this very stretch. It was because of that very fact that he didn’t hear them. Only when he stopped to suck cold air into his burning lungs in grateful gasps, did Dag notice the sound, the soft clicking of bones on tar-seal, like an old clock or a woman’s shoes.
Dag turned around but the street behind him was straight with no turnoffs to hide down. He ran to the nearest building and pressed himself against it, as if he could blend with the concrete bricks. He scratched at the wall but there was nothing to grab onto or step into. The clicking came closer, the rattle and clack of bonebags accompanying it.
The first to appear around the corner had no flesh left, nothing but a few stringy tendons to hold the yellowing skeleton together. The second had a little more meat on it, even a small amount of hair, blond and wavy, trailing from the skull. The rest were in varying degrees of decay, some even had mottled scraps of clothing stuck to them, but the vast majority were nothing more than bones.
The one in the lead turned its head as it marched and peered at him through empty sockets. Its chest turned to follow and then its feet as it angled itself towards him. Dag screamed and fired his gun. The bonebag’s shoulder blade and three of its ribs exploded as it reeled backwards. But the others had already noticed Dag, they turned too and soon the whole damn troop was coming towards him.
Time to run.
Dag didn’t wait to be told again, he pushed off from the wall and sprinted back the way he had come. There was a moment when the only sound was his footsteps and panicked breathing as the bonebags paused to watch. Then the clicking started up again, faster now. Dag didn’t need to look back to know they were chasing him.
He turned the first corner he came to, not caring where it led. As he passed a trashcan he kicked it over in the alleyway behind him.
A wire fence blocked his way. Dag released the shotgun and it swung around his waist on its strap. He jumped and grabbed at the fence, latching his fingers through the mesh. He scrambled up and rolled over it. His backpack snagged on the top. He yanked it free and fell to the ground, but his blue marble fell out and bounced onto the pavement on the other side.
“No,” he latched onto the fence again, face pressed against it as the marble rolled towards the gutter.
The bonebags appeared at the end of the alley. The frailer ones broke as they ran, only to be trampled under the others.
Dag released the fence and kept running. The bonebags didn’t try to climb, they just ran until the wire stopped them and they were crushed under the ones behind. The alleyway curved, he rounded the bend but instead of it taking him back onto the street, he found a bricked up dead end. Dag howled and bashed his fist against the brick.
There was a doorway set into one of the walls. He tried the handle but it was locked. He grabbed the gun, he didn’t have a shot left and the ammo was buried in the bag. No time to retrieve it. he rammed the butt of the gun into the door handle, again and again, but even that didn’t break the lock.
He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the rough paneling.
“This is it, can’t get out.”
“Do you think it hurts?”
For a moment there was only silence. I don’t know.
Dag heard the sound of bones crashing onto the pavement and knew the first of them had made it over the fence. He stepped back from the wall and turned towards the alleyway.
“Only one way to find out.”