It was the big day. After years of preparation, they were finally ready.
The apocalypse had shattered, and would shatter, the lives of too many, and the government feared that Earth would soon become uninhabitable. It was too big of a risk to take chances and stay on the globally destructed planet. So, after many meetings and studies and conferences, they had decided on a solution that would change the lives and history of the human race forever: to ship the population to Mars. It was an enormous decision, a big leap of faith, a dangerous risk, but there were no other possible conclusions that the government of each country could unanimously agree on. So that was that. Once the public was informed, they began at once constructing tens of thousands of spaceships. It took many years, but it’d be worth it to flee the fatal consequences of the apocalypse.
And now billions of people were crammed into numerous rockets like sardines in a tin, ready to leave their lonely planet behind. It was finally happening. The departure.
Families held onto each other’s hands, and there was complete silence in each spaceship. The people were too flabbergasted, too nervous, too amazed, to speak.
In rocket 310-LBZ, the crowd waited anxiously for the machine to blast off. Some people cried softly. Others were completely stiff. Everyone’s heart was pounding furiously as a loud voice on the speaker silenced the passengers by announcing the countdown to departure was about to begin.
An old woman squeezed her eyes shut. A pair of twins held onto each other firmly. A worried-looking man comforted his sobbing wife. A teenage girl whispered to a frightened child that this was all for the best, but her voice quavered noticeably.
“5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .” spoke the slow, rasping voice on the dirty loudspeaker. The passengers held their breath as, in one noisy, smoky lift, the spaceship blasted off into the sky, and up, up, up above.
Somewhere in the bustling, anxious crowd, two panicked parents searched for their lost son. “Where is he?” cried the mother frantically. “He was right behind me the entire time!” cried the father as he looked around. A few long, worrisome minutes passed before the man exclaimed,“Oh! There he is now!” He pointed toward the very boy who had been a few steps behind him since boarding.
The couple breathed a long sigh of relief and headed toward the young child, whose head was turned. The woman put a hand on his shoulder.
“Son,” said the father sternly, “Do not run off like that again.” Slightly startled, the youth spun around, and his expression revealed obvious hints of confusion as he cocked his head to the side and stared at the man and woman. The couple gasped.
This boy was not their son.
* * *
It’s a wonderful dream. I’m in a beautiful garden. Surrounding me are acres of colorful, exotic flowers in full bloom. Bees are buzzing around them, collecting nectar. I gaze to my left to observe a playful, bushy-tailed squirrel scampering down the neatly swept path I stand on, hungry for a snack. His soft tail brushes my bare feet, tickling them, as he dashes past me, headed toward an emerald-green bush to my right full of plump, juicy blackberries: a delicious snack.
“Jayson!” A soft, familiar voice coming from behind me calls out my name. I turn around to see my mother smiling at me. “Jayson, Honey, I baked you some molasses cookies, your favorite!” In her hands, she holds a plate full of the delicious baked goods.
Full of surprise and delight, I exclaim: “Oh, Mom, you shouldn’t have!” She smiles wider, her dark brown hair blowing softly in the light breeze. Her apron is stained with flour and in her hair, held back in a messy ponytail, there are bits of dough. She must have been working really hard. She chuckles as she watches me take first one cookie, then two, then three. I gobble them up greedily and reach for a fourth.
“Be sure to save some for your friends,” she reminds me as she watches me begin nibbling the sweet treat. “They should be here any minute now.”
“Of course,” I reply, then add: “I’m sorry for taking so many. But, really, what can I say? You’re an excellent baker.” She blushes at the compliment. I scarf down the fourth cookie but don’t take any more. “I’m sure my friends will love them.” I inhale the heavenly aroma of sugar and molasses. Of course my friends will love the biscuits: they are sweet, chewy, and still hot from the oven. Mmm.
Standing here in a pulchritudinous garden with my mother, awaiting my friends’ arrival, eating homemade, freshly baked cookies, that’s paradise to me.
And then it all ends. In one second, the entire scene is gone, disappeared. Poof. That’s just how it is with dreams, after all. You wake up, and the wonder and joy from your nighttime fantasy is over. Welcome to reality.
Here it is in short: I’m the only person left on Earth. The last one. It’s just me. Everyone else left when I was about eight years old.
I groan. The bags under my eyes are heavy, and I am still extremely tired. My eyelids are far from being fully open and are begging to be closed. I should go back to sleep, but I can tell it’s almost afternoon by now. I should probably get up. I try to sit up but don’t have the strength. And plus, my arms feel limp and weary. A strange, unpleasant feeling of emptiness and disappointment and of hollow, depressing sadness floods my mind. It’s all because of that dream I just had . . . I just wish I could grab it and pull it into reality. But of course that’ll never happen. With all the energy I can muster, I roll out of bed and land on the cold, dirty floor with a loud thud.
Aching and tired, I get up. My head is slightly dizzy, my shoulders are slouched, and my frizzy black hair is a complete mess, as it is every morning. I stumble clumsily to the door. As I open it, a sudden flash of remembrance sweeps over me, awakening me, as I briefly contemplate the thought. Then I shake it off and walk through the door. But my mind keeps pushing me to think about it, so instead of fighting it, I accept the fact: it’s my sixteenth birthday.
Why am I not excited, you ask? Why is it no big deal to me? Why am I not sitting at the breakfast table with my family and friends, eating pancakes and opening presents?
Up until I was seven years old, that’s how birthday mornings would’ve looked: gifts and gourmet food and people I love and big balloons. Uncle Charlie video-recording it on his BluPhone Q+, my best buddy Fred’s little sister shouting “Bert-day! Bert-day! Bert-day!” and me with a smile on my face so wide it hurt. Oh, I miss those days. Mom’s blueberry pancakes and Dad’s unique birthday ties he’d lend me for the day. Smiles and laughter and chatter. But it’s not like that anymore.
I reckon this is the part where I explain everything.
Here it is in short: I’m the only person left on Earth. The last one. It’s just me. Everyone else left when I was about eight years old.
After the apocalypse a few decades ago, the population decided to flee to Mars. It sounds crazy, I know. But the government believed that, in time, Earth would become completely uninhabitable: food and other essential resources would become scarce and there wouldn’t be close to near the amount of drinkable water needed to provide the billions of people on Earth with enough. Everyone decided that it was much too big a risk to stay and live on Planet Earth. So millions of scientists from all over the world assembled, and together they built tens of thousands of spaceships. We all gathered the important things we’d need to survive. Everyone would be headed to our Planet B: Mars.
I was only eight when it was finally time for departure, and to be honest, my memory of it is a little fuzzy. I do remember that they had spent months ensuring that everyone—literally everyone—was inside one of the countless spaceships. People were hurrying to get in, wanting to ensure that they didn’t get left behind. Now, note that at eight years old, I was a daydreamer and was distracted easily, so I didn’t exactly feel the same urgent and panicked rush to board the ginormous rocket as the others did.
I forget exactly how I got left behind, or how I felt, or what I was doing. All that I do remember about that period is right after the departure, sitting on our balcony outside the half-destroyed apartment complex I called home, watching the spaceships blast off into space and realizing that this was it. There would be no second chance. No do-overs. No going back in time to undo everything that had just happened. No boarding the 310-LBZ alongside my parents.
At that moment, I suddenly became extremely aware that I was truly alone in the world. That I had been forgotten, left behind, and that I was so dumb dumb dumb for not having boarded the rocket ship.
At just eight years old, all alone on the crumbling, paved balcony outside our apartment, eyes full of panic and fear, heart pounding furiously, I wept at my terrifying realization.
* * *
I blink, waking from my intense daydream. As I head out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the lobby, a pudgy, almost hairless rat scurries past me. My eyes widen for just a second as sudden panic leaks into my head. Quick as a flash, I dart out of the building and onto the cracked sidewalk. Now, judge me, ridicule me, whatever—but no creature scares me more than rats do.
By the way, after the departure, I fled my mostly wrecked childhood home and decided to settle in elsewhere, since the old apartment was practically ruined, and brought back too many hauntingly happy memories. So right now I live in a hotel. Why, after being abandoned, I got the deep urge to move into La Grande Perle Rose completely beats me, but it is a nice place.
Ever since I began residing in the hotel, I could tell by the peeling, fancy wallpaper and exquisite, detailed portraits hung in gold frames on the walls that the hotel used to be an expensive, luxurious place to stay. The ripped leather chairs in the lobby and plush, velvety (but very dusty) mattresses in each bedroom must have once been the talk of the city, because they are, like, mind-blowingly comfortable. The building itself is made of brick, and the beautiful historical architecture must have been breathtaking to look at before the bricks started crumbling and the structure’s entire left half was destroyed by the apocalypse.
It’s humid out as usual, and the dirty air is completely still and slightly smoky. All around me I see tall, deserted skyscrapers with big, unwashed windows and modern architecture. The road is full of cars, yellow taxicabs in particular—old, rusty and useless. They’re scattered around the broken pavement like pieces of garbage. Before, they might have been useful, but to me, they’re just junk. They’re in desperate need of repair; no one’s even touched them in decades.
I trudge down the empty street until I arrive at what once used to be beautiful, busy Central Park. Now it’s just a very large strip of land full of yellowish-brown overgrown grass and dead trees. It’s in desperate need of care. Hmm . . . Maybe I could take on the project of tending it and making it nice again. After all, I’m always looking for new activities to pass time, because without other people or electricity, my options for entertainment are pretty limited.
My stomach rumbles loudly as I enter the deserted park. As you may have already guessed, food is scarce, so I usually grow my own. The long, dead grass tickles my legs as I head toward a little clearing in the park near a large, bare tree. In this tiny area, there is a small patch of fruits, vegetables, and a few other plants. My garden. The bright sun is hot on my brown skin and the small beads of sweat trickle down my forehead as I kneel down and pick a particularly juicy tomato from its stem. It’s rare for a tomato to be this plump and ripe, given the poor air quality and polluted rain, but this one turned out unusually well.
Pleased about this rare little success, I chuckle softly as I whisper to myself, “Happy birthday, Jayson.” Then, without hesitation, I bite into the juicy vegetable. By the way, I believe that tomatoes are vegetables, not fruits. Actually, I have an opinion on just about everything! I can be very stubborn sometimes. My strong beliefs and viewpoints are so important to me, even the ones on littler subjects. But honestly, I guess there’s no point in really having one because there’s no one around to debate with or to agree with me. I sigh sadly. Funny how one’s mood can change so quickly.
After I’ve finished my snack, I begin heading back to the hotel. As I get up off the ground, a big swarm of bugs fly by, buzzing in my ear and getting in my mouth. I run out of the park, hoping I’ve lost them. Once they are no longer in sight, I slow my pace and begin thinking the same thoughts I think every day. The ones that make me want to cry. The ones that describe my reality. The words trickle into my brain, flowing into my heart like a stream. A polluted one for sure.
I’m the only living human on Earth. The last one. No matter what I do or where I go, it’ll be just me. I’ll never know what it’s like to have a best friend, to fall in love, or to go to college. Never again will I laugh at my dad’s corny jokes or eat my mom’s famous chicken curry or even be sent to the principal’s office. There are no rules for me, except for the ones I make myself. That might sound like I have so much freedom, like I should be living my best life, having a blast with nobody telling me what to do. But it’s not like that. It’s really not.
* * *
Once I arrive back at my room in La Grande Perle Rose, I grab my faded green skateboard from under the bed. It’s my prized possession. My parents gave it to me for Christmas the year before the big departure. I remember receiving it so clearly; I can picture the scene perfectly in my mind. The memory plays in my head like a movie. Gosh, I haven’t seen a movie in years.
It was snowing heavily outside, but I was nice and toasty inside our humble, cozy apartment, opening my presents. I plastered a smile on my face as I unwrapped each gift: books and books and books. I was never much into books, but my parents were. They were convinced that I could be too, if I found the right story. So every Christmas, they’d buy me a variety of genres of tales, hoping I would find one I enjoyed. I never did.
Once I thought I had opened all the gifts, my dad smiled and said, “I think you’re forgetting one.” He gestured toward the back of the tree. Almost hidden from view was one last present. I unwrapped the plaid wrapping paper and gasped with delight. A skateboard, just for me! I tried it out inside the apartment, but the neighbors complained, and so did my parents. So once it was spring and all the snow had melted, I began practicing in the park. I did it daily, for hours on end! I’ve had it for almost eight years. You’d think it would be broken or damaged by now, but it’s excellent quality. And I’ve been thankful to my parents for introducing me to this wonderful sport.
My parents. The parents who left me behind. The parents who traveled all the way to Mars without me. My parents . . .
* * *
Clutching my skateboard, I race back outside to start practicing some flips. I’m pretty skilled at most of the tricks, even the more advanced ones. But that’s probably ’cause I spend several hours a day perfecting each technique. No matter how often I do it, it never gets boring.
After about an hour of warming up with a few tricks, I decide to treat myself and go on a little adventure around the city. I only do this every once in a while. Keeps it special that way.
I zip through the city streets, going faster and further than usual. I feel the strong wind on my face as I gain more and more speed. As my journey progresses, I find myself in a neighborhood I’ve never visited. Exploring the new region, I race through the city streets with momentum and control. As the strong breeze blows in my wild hair, I feel like I am one with the wind. I feel free, I feel adventurous, I feel—
I stop cold. What was that? It seemed like it came from somewhere in front of me. It definitely wasn’t a raccoon. Well then what was it? It sounded like . . . like a person. Ohhh no. It is definitely NOT a person. I’m the last one, after all. But wait—I always just assumed that. I never actually knew for sure. But maybe, just maybe, the source of the scream is another—
I stop myself before I can let that thought turn into hope. It’s impossible; it could never be a human. I try not to even think about that as I near the source of the strange noise. Once I get close enough, my eyes widen as a shivering figure comes into view. I stop in my tracks for the second time. I don’t move. I don’t breathe. I just stand and stare. Rubbing my eyes, I don’t believe what I see.
Huddled in a corner is a girl. A real girl. She’s quaking out of fear as she eyes a nearby rat with horror. I guess she doesn’t like them either. But I’m too stunned to run away from the scrawny rodent, to panic about something as measly as a rat.
A human. THERE IS A HUMAN STANDING BEFORE ME. I don’t believe it.
I gasp. The girl jumps and looks up at me, startled at first, then completely stunned. Her eyes begin to widen to the point where they might bulge. She just stares, dumbstruck. Neither of us moves. We just stand, a few metres’ distance apart, completely shocked. We observe one another in complete disbelief.
This is really happening, I tell myself. It’s not one of my little fantasies, not one of my daydreams.
I can’t describe exactly what I’m feeling. What’s happening right now is unbelievable, incredible. But it makes no sense. Knowing, and seeing for myself that I am not alone in the world, that there is another person right before me, it’s, well, it’s shocking but it’s also a bit emotional to be honest. Just think: I haven’t seen another human in eight years. I truly, wholeheartedly believed that I was the last one, the only one. Yet, here is this . . . this girl, who just shows up. It’s too much to take in.
Slowly and cautiously, the girl stands up and inches toward me. I want to tell her, ‘Hey, come closer! I’m not dangerous,’ but I’m so stunned by all of this I can’t speak. I almost can’t breathe. This is really happening, I tell myself. It’s not one of my little fantasies, not one of my daydreams. No. This is real. There’s a real girl walking up to me.
As she comes closer, I notice her expression. Her face reveals a mix of happiness, disbelief, and confusion. Her whole body is shaking, as is mine.
She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it. We stand there for a few moments, completely silent, taking it all in. She is the first to talk. “A-are you-y-you . . .” she pauses, searching for the right word, “real?” She trembles slightly, and her big hazel eyes are wide and glassy.
I look up at her, close to crying, and even closer to pinching myself to prove that this isn’t just my eyes playing tricks on me. But I don’t need to pinch myself, because she’s definitely there.
“I-I guess you thought you were the . . . the last one t-too, huh?” I meant to say it with a chuckle, but the words come out shakily and squeakily.
She nods, still stunned. That makes two of us. The girl then inhales deeply, stands up straight, and smiles, putting on a brave face. “I s’pose I should introduce myself. Sorry.” She chuckles at herself, seemingly embarrassed by her previous behavior. I can see she is trying hard to remain calm, to act as if this whole situation isn’t that big of a deal, but it is.
“I’m Kira,” she continues. “And you are . . . ?”
“Jayson,” I fill in. “Um, nice to meet you.” I attempt to mimic her serenity, but fail noticeably.
“Yeah, you too.” She tries to laugh, but instead it comes out as a sob. This time, she doesn’t hide it. She just cries. Big, salty tears stream down her pale face, and her wide eyes redden.
My first instinct is to try and console her. I put my hand on her shoulder and open my mouth to speak, but instead of words coming out, I find myself weeping as well. My wobbling knees are weak, so I surrender to the ground. She follows suit, sitting on her knees, head in her hands. Our soft crying merges to heavy crying because it’s all just so impossible. All the thoughts and emotions running through my head at this very moment are overwhelming. So we sit, Kira and I, and sob for awhile. After tears are dry and minds are caught up with the whole situation, questions begin to bubble inside of me: Who is Kira? How was she forgotten? What’s her story?
We are sitting on the rocky ground. I am looking at Kira, ready to overload the poor girl with my burning questions. She, however, is staring at the ground, breathing slowly and heavily, taking it all in. Finally, my curiosity gets the best of me. All of my questions come pouring out of my mouth, one by one. As I ask them, Kira stares up at me, obviously overwhelmed. But I’m too curious, too intrigued, too stunned, too confused, to care.
“Who are you? Where do you come from? What’s your background? Do you live here? How old are you? What should we do now? How were you forgotten—” I pause for a quick breath of air, then continue: “Where are all your belongings? When did—” She cuts me off.
“Alright, alright,” she smiles. “I know you have a lot of questions for me. Believe me, I have lots of things I want to learn about you too. We’re both curious about each other. But slow down and I’ll tell you a bit about myself.”
“Okay,” I say. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry ’bout it,” she says nonchalantly, then introduces herself properly. “So, I’m Kira—Kira MacIntosh, that is—and I’m seventeen. I’m from Edmonton, which is in Alberta.”
“Alberta?” I ask. I was never interested in geography. “It’s a province in Canada,” she explains. “Anyway, we were vacationing in New York City when it was time for the big departure. It was me; my mother; my stepfather; my big brother, Casey; and my baby half-sister, Lucille. Anyway, when I was nine, I hated outer space for some reason. I didn’t realize the importance of getting on the ship. In fact, I’d have rather stayed on Earth all by myself than go to Mars.
“Though I disliked space, I had a strong passion for the ‘art’ of spying. And that included sneaking in and out of places. So, once inside the rocket ship, I led my parents to the heart of the crowd, and as soon as I had the chance, I snuck out. Because of the large number of people, I imagined my mum and stepdad wouldn’t notice I was gone ’til later.”
“But wait—weren’t there guards outside the ships? How did you get past them?”
“There were guards—but there was also a lineup to go through security and all that stuff and board the spaceship. So I put on my most innocent, worried face and said that I had just boarded, but realized that my mommy was still in the lineup, and I wanted to go join her so that I didn’t lose her. A lie, of course. But the guards just grumbled and sighed, ‘Well, okay, kid. Go ahead.’ So then I snuck out of the line, and dashed back to the hotel we were staying in. But, you know, it was kinda destroyed, so I moved to this suburb. It was always so lonely...”
She smiles sadly and signs. “So that’s my story. Now tell me about you.
Tell her about me? I really don’t know if I’d be able to. I’m still not fully over having been left behind. It’s a touchy subject, and whenever I so much as think about it, I get teary-eyed. But talk about it? That would be really hard for me. Especially since I haven’t spoken to someone in eight years!
I consider mumbling to her the basic facts about myself, like my name and age, but nothing more. But then I remember: it must have been just as hard for Kira to tell me her story, and it’d be selfish not to follow suit. Plus, she’s been through the same thing. She understands me.
I take a deep breath. “Okay, here it is. I’m Jayson Nzeogwu, and I’m 16 years old. I’ve always lived in New York, but my grandparents come from Ghana and emigrated here during their childhood. Um, I love skateboarding, but my parents always hoped I would take up reading as a pastime—”
“And how did you get left behind?” Kira snaps impatiently, then quiets. “Sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. This must be as hard for you as it is for me. I’m really sorry. I’m just too curious for my own good.” She smiles apologetically. “Sorry. Please continue.”
“It’s okay,” I reply, and mean it. “I was pretty insensitive too, when I was asking you all those questions. Anyway, to answer your question . . . I honestly don’t remember much about how it happened. I’m really sorry. Those few months were all a blur for me. I just remember being really scared and worried when I finally realized I would be all alone forever. I felt so . . . well, I don’t know how to explain it . . .”
“I know what you mean.” Kira says gently, and puts her hand on top of mine. “I felt the same way. Once the spaceships departed, I immediately regretted doing what I had done. I completely get it.”
I smile at her, meaning it this time. The feeling . . . when someone truly understands you, knows exactly how you feel, what it’s like . . . it’s magical. It makes you feel safe, makes you feel you belong, makes you feel you have a purpose. I can tell she feels the same way when she looks at me and smiles back, looking comforted.
I’m glad I found Kira.
* * *
One Year Later
“Can you believe it’s been a year?” I ask Kira as we water the flowers in the garden outside our home. The day we found each other, she showed me the almost completely undamaged house she was staying in. I was amazed at her find: it’s difficult to detect undestroyed buildings because of, you know, the apocalypse. So I took my few belongings and moved in with her. I introduced her to skateboarding, and she introduced me to gardening. It’s quite fun, actually.
“No. It’s incredible, isn’t it?”
“It is, it is,” I agree. We then continue concentrating on gardening for awhile until Kira blurts:
“Hey, Jayson, I just thought of something.”
“Oh. What did you think of?” I say, continuing to water the plants.
“Well, you know how we found each other, even though we both thought we were the last ones on Earth?”
I turn to look at her, suddenly interested. Her straw-blonde hair is as tangled as the vines on the fence. “Yeah . . ."
“Well, what if there are others? Other people, I mean.”
“Well, what if there are others? Other people, I mean. In the state or even around the world? There have got to be some more. Just imagine! And maybe we could travel all around, to find them! And we could all live together, the last people on Earth!” I can tell she is getting very excited about the idea. “So what do you think?” Her smile is wide.
I feel bad for not sharing her enthusiasm. “I don’t know . . . wouldn’t that be risky? I can think of multiple reasons why it could be dangerous. And it’s all kind of sudden . . .”
“Oh, Jayson, always so serious!” Kira says. “Okay, we don’t have to do it today, obviously . . . but wouldn’t it be cool to find and meet more people like us?”
“Yes, it would . . .” I admit.
“Okay, there’s a start . . .” She trails off. “Just consider the idea,” she insists.
So I do. I do for a while.
It’s only one cold winter’s night when she brings it up again nonchalantly, that I finally reply: “Let’s do it.”