Entry Ninety-two: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twenty-two of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Nine

The long night turned into a long several days. Once Adam had watched a couple of movies he started establishing a rhythm, alternating between bathroom breaks and restocking his food supply on the coffee table that was strategically placed at arms length from the sofa. Once he made it through the first five or six DVD's that he had prioritized as essential viewing, he found he was, initially, less patient with the movies that followed. He would fast forward through some and bailed out of one altogether when its content proved to be boring and impossible to watch.

As movie number eleven began playing through his television, Adam noticed a settling over his spirit, a euphoric wash that, if pushed to describe it, he would have said was a feeling of peace. He felt himself relax and he began to think less about the quality of the movies and chose to lose himself in the experience, regardless of storyline or cinematography. He had no place to go, nothing else to do, so he shifted to a comfortable spot in the sofa and began watching every movie lined up on his floor, back to back, never stopping them or fast forwarding them until the credits rolled at the end. If a DVD included extra material--commentary or “behind the scenes” documentaries--he sat through those sections as well, giving them as much attention as he did the actual film it described. If he fell asleep on the sofa during a movie, he would start it from the beginning when he woke up, continuing his obsessive new hobby, rarely finding a reason to get off the coach outside of using the bathroom or emptying the ashtray. His brief foray into being a respectable citizen had lasted for two days. Adam Mahoney had returned to being a disaster.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Ninety-one: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twenty-one of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam steered the Volvo toward the hardware store, turning left at the end of his street, the opposite way he’d traveled earlier in the week to find groceries. Gus Phelps had owned the only hardware store in town until a few years ago, before Lowe’s had deemed his small Georgia town worthy of a Superstore. He wanted to explore the Phelps store first because it was closer and he was more familiar with the location of the stock. Whether out of loyalty to Gus or lack of need for much in the way of hardware, he had shopped very little at Lowe’s. Gus had an older gentleman that worked for him who was a master at mixing paint and that was all Adam ever needed besides a few nails or screws for hanging pictures; Phelps Hardware filled his needs just fine. He was thinking about how he was going to break into the store when he passed a small strip mall, relatively new, still with a few empty storefronts. What caught Adam’s eye was the store on the far end, the contents of which relegated all of his goodwill and plans for home repair to the trash pile. The local Blockbuster video store, lit up and almost glowing, suddenly reminded him he could use his television for more than just watching long gone broadcast shows; he could play rented movies on his DVD player. He engaged his turn signal and made a right into the strip mall parking lot, making a beeline for the video store. There were a couple of cars scattered throughout the parking lot—probably belonging to the employees, former employees—but overall it was desolate. He parked at the front door and walked right into the store, a benefit of visiting a store that had never closed. He began circulating through the aisles, trying not to succumb to what usually happened to him when he attempted to rent movies, which was forgetting what he had been wanting to see once inundated with all the choices in the store. To try and avoid that happening he had taken to writing the names of the movies down on a piece of paper he kept in his wallet but, after digging around and not finding it, he was on his own. He took a deep breath and decided to start with the section full of new releases. After five minutes of looking he had only found a couple of movies he wanted to see and was carrying them as he walked and scanned for more. Unsuccessful, he decided his two selections would suffice and he turned to leave. As he was about to walk through the door he realized how short-sighted he was being by only taking two movies. “Why limit myself? No minimum, no late fees and if I start watching a movie and it’s terrible, so what? I pop in another!” He leaned over the counter and found a box of plastic bags and grabbed several. He started walking the aisles, taking a movie off the shelf and bagging it if he was even remotely interested in watching it. He acted like a contestant in a game show with only 35 seconds to grab as many items as he could hold, barely looking at titles, his main motivation driven by the design and photograph on the front of the case more than the content. It didn’t take long for him to fill up 15 bags with movies and, although he could have taken everything in the store home that day, he decided he had enough to entertain him for several days. He could always come back and “rent” more.

The prospect of watching movies, being entertained, excited him so much he cancelled his trip to the hardware store and drove straight home. He dumped the contents of all the bags onto the living room floor, forming one large pile, and began to sort them by levels of importance. He cleared a space along one of the walls and began lining up the cases, titles facing out for easy reference. The ones he most wanted to see were first and then he lined up the rest in order of descending relevance. He laughed at some of the selections, weird choices that in normal circumstances he would not have even glanced at in the store. “But these are not normal circumstances, far from it, so it’s good to expand my taste a bit, at least when it comes to what I watch.” When he was finished organizing, he put some popcorn in the microwave, poured a glass of sweet tea and made sure he had a full supply of cigarettes stacked on the coffee table. “It’s liable to be a long night.” And he laughed.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Ninety: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twenty of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Eight

After a shower and starting a load of laundry, Adam stood in his living room and felt like he had returned to step one. What was he going to do? The house was clean, the yard was mowed, edged and driveway swept. He needed another project.

He walked out the back door and stood on the patio, enjoying a late afternoon smoke. The yard looked good and he took a few moments to relish his sense of accomplishment. The shed he had put together a few years ago to hold the lawn mower was in the far back corner of the yard and it was in bad shape. It was not an expensive model but it had served its purpose for longer than he had planned. The problem was now it was ugly and it distracted from the near perfection of his trimmed and sculpted back yard. He walked toward the shed to inspect it closer, taking his shoes off and enjoying the clipped grass on his bare feet. He pushed the rickety shed door to the side, it barely sliding over the rusty rails, and poked his head inside. The smell of gasoline, oil and stale air mingled in his nostrils as he stepped past the mower. He had been so focused on the yard earlier that he hadn’t noticed what else was stored there. Along the back wall, starting at the floor and stopping at the ceiling were gallon cans of paint stacked eight rows high and ten across. He had faint recollections of where they came from but he was sure, if opened, each color and tint would serve as a liquid core sample of his life in the current house. The drips down the outside of several of the cans gave him some clues to what was inside and he instantly recognized a few of the harsh colors his ex-wife had made him apply to various rooms in the house. Some were so hideous that their existence may have been the sole reason she didn’t push to keep the house in their divorce settlement. He’d always heard “paint’s cheap” but in this case it may have cost him quite a bit. The stacked cans represented a lot of time, energy and arguments between the two of them and the fact that they could not accomplish the simplest of household projects together was a microcosm of other areas of their relationship; they just couldn’t get along.

He broke away from his memory stroll and backed out of the shed, ducking, careful not to scrape his head on the top edge of the opening. The shed needed to be replaced and now was the time while it wouldn’t cost him anything. He headed back to the house to find his car keys and as he stepped on the patio he glanced at the outside of the house and stopped, scanning and inspecting the exterior walls. “Maybe I should pick up some house paint as well. The outside is looking a little dingy… and I’ve always wanted a blue house.”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-nine: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is nineteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

The sun streaked through the blinds in his bedroom and he shielded his eyes from nature’s alarm. He checked the clock on the nightstand and was disappointed it was so early. He lay still a few minutes, getting his bearings and then rolled over to start his day but was immediately stopped by stabs of soreness and stiffness throughout his body. He rolled back to his previous position and waited, hoping his body would be forgiving and give him another chance. After several failed attempts he finally made it to the edge of his bed and slowly unfolded his body to an upright position, not straight and tall but at least to a point of mobility. A long, hot shower drove away a lot of the aches and he was reasonably sure he would survive.

He made coffee and decided to enjoy his breakfast cigarette sitting on the front porch in one of his rocking chairs. It was already warm outside but the idea of fresh air allowed him to overlook the heat and humidity. As he rocked and smoked he surveyed the neighborhood, or at least what he could see from his roost, and the quiet once again alarmed him. All noise was generated by him—the squeak of the rocker, the slight whoosh of the exhale of cigarette smoke. He didn’t realize how he had taken for granted all of the sounds of his street—cars starting, screen doors slamming, pots clanking through open windows on cooler evenings, kids laughing as they played kickball or rode their bikes up and down the street. The thought of the kids instantly sucked a sliver of life out of him, the chasm inside him echoing and hollow already, every new realization making it worse. There would never be any more kids, ever. He had never had any of his own which, for a long time, he had been thankful for since they didn’t have to deal with the divorce. He had always assumed he would meet someone else, fall in love again, remarry and then have some children of his own. Just another thing he had taken for granted, before the note, that now seemed so impossible and long ago. He jumped as the lit end of the cigarette he held in his hand reached the filter and began to burn his fingers. “I can’t be sitting around thinking about all that could have been. That’s a waste of my time.” He spoke aloud again, something he was enjoying more and more. It was a way to break the monotony of the discussions in his head.

He stood up, still sad but needing to do something active to keep the sadness from taking over. Knowing his house was as clean as it had ever been he decided to cut his grass. The yard hadn’t been groomed in two weeks and the grass had grown high and shaggy, spilling over the edges of the driveway and crowding out the pavers leading to the mailbox. There was no sense in the outside of the house being unkempt while the inside was immaculate. He put on his work clothes and then pulled the push mower out of the shed in the back yard. There was plenty of fuel in the gas can so he filled the mower’s tank and rolled it to the front yard. It started after three pulls of the starter rope and he began the mindless task of walking back and forth across his yard, taking satisfaction in how neat the freshly mowed grass appeared under his feet. He had never viewed cutting the yard as anything more than a chore, a necessary task to keep the rest of the neighborhood off his back. Being the only single guy on the street added extra pressure to his life, especially when it came to house and yard maintenance. Now he was alone and cutting the yard for no real reason he could discern other than for something to do. Maybe it was his way of trying to recapture some of the activities and things he had taken for granted, pre-note. Or maybe it was filling a subconscious need he had for normalcy. Whatever the reasons, Adam decided not to entertain them. He took a deep breath, drew in the luscious smell of fresh cut grass and entertained a smile instead.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-eight: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is eighteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Seven

Adam Mahoney stood in front of the stove, scraping the scrambled eggs to the edge of the skillet as they cooked, sipping a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette. Even though it was three in the afternoon, he had decided to cook breakfast food when he returned from the grocery store and had finished putting away the supplies. He had enjoyed a few minutes of pride for having survived his first trip out of the house but the mindlessness of stirring the eggs gradually turned his thoughts back to his situation, one that he was far from comprehending at any level, and the emptiness of the chasm returned.

What was he going to do? Yes, he had ventured out for gas and food, but what now? What was he going to do with himself? Everything that occupied his days before the note was moot. He now had no job to go to and any reason he had to earn a living was gone. His original motivation to work was to pay bills and possibly save a little money for retirement. Answering complaints on the phone all day long certainly didn’t fill any latent needs he suffered because of a rotten childhood or a bad relationship with his mom. His “career” had been necessary but far from fulfilling. The one positive with the current situation was he would never be fired.

As he stood over the sink and ate his eggs straight from the skillet, he worked up a mental list of things he could do with all the time he now had in front of him. One possibility was to catch up on his reading but he’d never been much of reader, at least of anything of substance like books or literature. His forays into reading had usually been saved for an occasional hot rod magazine or a graphic novel, both dominated with pictures and art. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to turn over that new leaf. Television was out, not by choice but by necessity. He had rechecked it earlier and when he cruised through the channels nearly every one of them was now visual white noise, the computers feeding the shows to the stations long ago ceasing to work and they weren’t coming back. “So much for entertainment,” he thought. He rinsed and washed the dirty dishes from his meal and then scanned the living room as he dried his hands. The house was a wreck, something that had not bothered him a mere three hours before but now gave him a sense of purpose. “I can at least look civilized,” he said as he began to pick up dirty clothes and to straighten cushions and furniture.

He started cleaning with the idea he would merely tidy up, get everything in its proper place and make the house presentable. But as he began working, something came over him and he became obsessive, the desire to clean overwhelming him to levels he had never experienced before. Every new surface that was cleaned revealed another that was worse and he refused to stop until he was satisfied. He wiped baseboards, mopped floors, dusted the tops of every visible surface in the house and used an old toothbrush to scrub the tile in his bathroom. He got lost in the effort and by the time he stopped, unable to find another chore to begin, exhaustion engulfed him and he crawled in to his bed, pulled the freshly washed sheets up to his chin and slept.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-seven: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is seventeen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam pushed the cart toward the front of the store, having to use one hand to keep some of the items from spilling onto the floor. He had been pleasantly surprised at how fresh he had found most of the food. The refrigeration system in the store had remained fully functional so most of the dairy and all of the frozen food was in excellent shape. As he made his way through the aisles he discovered most of the pungent air was emanating from the fruit and vegetable section of the store. Most of the food was still edible but there were a number of items that were well on their way to ruin. He decided to pick through the things he would eat and stock up on them while they were still in good shape. The supplies in the freezer would last a while longer.

He had maneuvered to the front of the store because he wanted to see if the automatic doors had been activated when he had turned on the lights. He ran his cart onto the black, rubber pad but the door remained lifeless. He scanned the walls, saw two switches and rolled the cart close enough to them that he wouldn’t have to let go of the loose items. He heard a click and a hum after he pushed both switches up and grinned as the doors slid open to release him to the outside world.

After he began the task of stacking all of the supplies into the trunk of the car he immediately regretted not separating everything into bags. He not only had to handle each individual item to place them in his car but he would have to do it all over again once he returned home. After he finished loading he returned the cart into the store, pleased when the door successfully gave way as he stepped on the pad. He stood inside for a few minutes, scanning, and realized he had left the lights on. He ran to the back of the store, shoes still squeaking, and turned off the lights. As he jogged back to the front of the store he glanced over at the Customer Service counter and the goodies lining the wall behind the cash register reminded him that he was not quite ready to leave. He jumped the counter and grabbed as many cartons of cigarettes as he could hold and shoved a handful of lighters into his front pants pocket. “There are supplies and then there are supplies,” he said to himself, grinning once again as he approached the glass doors that swung open on cue, just for him, giving Adam a minute sense of royalty and dignity that seemed fitting for the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-six: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is sixteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He walked up to the glass doors, fully expecting them to slide open with his first step on the black, ribbed pad situated on the ground right in front of the door. But nothing happened. He tried pulling the door handle, then pushing it, but it was obvious it was locked. Inside, the store was dark, in the same condition it had been in when the squatters did their work at 4 a.m. four days ago. He peered into the window, cupping his hands around either side of his face, shielding his eyes from the sun glaring off the glass. Everything looked normal in the store. Nothing seemed broken and there were no puddles of water from broken freezers or air conditioners. In fact the glass was cool to his touch, indicating the air conditioning was still cranking inside the store. Adam stepped away and tried to decide how he was going to get in.

He knew the easiest thing would be to grab a rock and break one of the windows, but he didn’t want to take that route unless absolutely necessary. Destruction seemed useless if there was a better alternative. He started walking along the front of the store and turned at the corner to see if there were any doors or openings anywhere else. The side of the building was nothing but brick, no vents or windows, so he kept walking toward the back. When he turned the corner he was facing the loading dock so he climbed up to the platform, pushed through the walls of hard, plastic flaps and found himself in a large room with several doors, giving him options to enter. All of them were locked but he noticed one was only held in place by a padlock. Although heavy duty, it looked like it had been in use for a while and was possibly the weak link he needed to gain entrance into the store. He looked around for something to break it open with but the loading dock was spotless. “Just my luck. I get to try to break into the cleanest grocery store in the southeast,” he thought as he ran to his car, hoping he had something in the trunk he could use. The only tool he found that was worth trying was a tire iron so he grabbed it and ran back to the loading dock to try see if it would work. The lock gave way easily and he was in the back of the store within four swings of the metal club. He had entered the area where the business offices were located and the silence was once again alarming. It was the middle of the day and a grocery store was not supposed to be that quiet. His shoes squeaked on the linoleum floors as he made his way through the halls, searching for the entrance to the store. When he walked through the correct door he was greeted with the smell of food. No food in particular, but a mingling of a variety of scents that created one strong but not-quite-overpowering bouquet. He made his way to the front of the store, winding his way past the fully stocked shelves. As he found the train of grocery carts by the front door he glanced outside and looked at his car. It was an odd site, the Volvo, alone in a vast parking lot and he, standing inside, also alone, getting ready to put food in a cart that no one would charge him for. It wasn’t exactly shopping, but was it stealing if no one could ever possibly find out? He pulled his list out of his back pocket and began steering the cart toward the first aisle, hoping the cheese was still fresh in its air-conditioned shelves.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-five: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is fifteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Six

After he topped off his tank, Adam pulled up to the entrance of the parking lot and, out of habit, checked both ways for traffic. As he began his final descent toward downtown he noticed a slight flare of confidence begin to stir in his gut. It was very small and wouldn’t have normally been noticed except it was in direct opposition to all of the fear, uncertainty and angst that had dominated him for the last few days. The incident at the gas pump served as a small glimpse into possibilities he had yet to entertain.

He absentmindedly stopped at the red traffic light one block from the downtown district of shops and assorted small businesses, checking the radio to find out if any stations were active. All he heard was static up and down the dial so he clicked it off and shrugged. When the light turned green he drove slowly, remaining cautious, scanning the streets for any movement or sign of life, just in case. He was immediately struck by the stillness of the streets. He was vaguely pleased that every building and store remained intact, all ready for business, all eerily empty and silent. His insides lurched as he passed store after store that, just one week ago, had been lively and practicing capitalism at various degrees of success. Would he ever get used to this scene? Would he one day take the emptiness for granted and drive through town with no sense of the past, no memory of last week? Or would he avoid coming back any more than was necessary, finding alternate routes to the grocery store, leaving the downtown alone, like a state park, a museum display preserved for future visitors to see how small town life used to be in the days before the note? He hoped not, but he wasn’t sure of anything anymore. He hoped he would always feel the loss if for no other reason than it would allow him to feel something other than confusion and fear. Those emotions were his constant companions of the moment and were probably the only visitors that would ever be interested in how the downtown used to be and even then the interest would be limited.

He debated whether to stop the car and walk around but decided to stay on task and find some food. He had seen and experienced enough and he needed some time to process his initial trip downtown. He had reserved just enough energy to deal with his sustenance needs and he didn’t want to burn that up before he completed the task. The local IGA grocery store was only one block south and two blocks east of downtown so he was driving into the parking lot minutes after he had cruised through the business district. Since the IGA wasn’t open 24-hours, there were no cars in the parking lot; apparently four a.m. was too early for any of the employees to have reported to work. His initial thought as he pulled in was “They must be closed” but he caught his mistake and then wondered how long it would take for him to change his reactions to every day impulses. Currently they offered a small sense of comfort, a reminder of the past, but he anticipated them becoming annoying real soon. He pulled up to the front door and parked in the first available slot next to the spaces reserved for persons with handicaps. As he put the car into park he glanced over to the empty spot and realized what he’d done. He put the car in reverse and pulled into the reserved space directly in front of the front door and said, “If there has ever been a person handicapped, it would have to be the last man standing on the face of the earth.”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-four: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is fourteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Five

Adam sat in his car, hand on the key, ready to twist it forward and start the ignition, but he hesitated. He knew this was a turning point and he was getting ready to face a huge unknown. Besides the dearth of people wiped out, had the rest of the environment been altered? He was in no hurry find out but he knew delaying was not in his best interest. He started his car and backed it out of the carport. He had been driving the Volvo for years. He bought it used, with low mileage, and had planned on keeping it as long as it would deliver him from point A to B without a lot of maintenance costs. His plan had worked well and the comfortable predictability of the car made him more at ease, like an old sweatshirt or a favorite hat. He drove slowly, not sure why, but cautious seemed to be a better idea than reckless at that point so he heeded the inner voice. He turned left at the end of his street and started toward the closest grocery store, not yet sure if he was ready for a tour of his hometown, post alien invasion. His internal debate was interrupted by a high-pitched “ding,” the distressful signal that he was low on gas. “Oh great. Now what do I do?” He remembered at that moment he had intended to fill up the tank on his way to work the morning he received the note, but such memories were useless and a waste of time. The present had never had less to do with the past and his run to the store had just gotten more complicated.

He spotted the Olsen’s food mart and gas station ahead on his right so he decided to stop there and see if it was possible to procure some gasoline. Pulling into the parking lot gave him a sick feeling, seeing three cars lined up in front of the store yet knowing the owners no longer existed. Neither did Karl and Olga Olsen, for that matter. He had been buying gas and cigarettes from them for years and they were a critical, albeit taken for granted, part of his day-to-day existence. How strange to be pulling up to their business like nothing was changed. Oh, how that simple act belied the facts.

Adam drove to one of the gas pumps and got out of his car, uncertain how to approach the situation. He pulled the nosseled hose out of the holder and looked over the choices listed on the pump. Everything seemed to be working, helped by the 24-hour status of the store in normal times. He had to make a selection to start the flow of gas but he was unsure of his best option. He had a few dollars in his wallet and initially thought spending the cash would be the fastest and surest way to get started, but then he spotted the button that stated, “credit/outside.” He hesitated, ran that through his mind and quickly realized if he used one of his credit cards to purchase the gasoline, assuming it worked, he could save his cash. Then, common sense crashed through his brain and he started following the credit option to its logical conclusion. Once the computer inside the fuel pump validated his credit card number, it would forward it to the computer used by the credit card company that would log it in a database and at the end of the month print out a bill that would be ready to mail to him for his payment. Except there was no one in that far away city to put the bill in an envelope and there was no one to drop it in a mailbox and there was no one at the Post Office to route his bill and there was certainly no one in his small town in Georgia to deliver the bill to his empty mailbox. At last, Adam Mahoney had discovered a perk of being the last man standing on the face of the earth. He slid his credit card in the slot and waited to see if it would be validated. When the words “Select type and begin fueling” flashed onto the small screen, he smiled and, for the first time in his life, filled his Volvo with high quality premium gasoline.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-three: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is thirteen of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam bathed although getting clean had been a much harder task than he had anticipated. He took the term “wash, rinse, repeat” to new levels but eventually felt he had reached a cleanliness that was adequate. After all, he only had himself to please. Food was another matter. His days in bed had wrecked havoc on the contents of his refrigerator that, even in normal times, was minimal and existing in, what he dubbed, the Post Expiration Date era. As he stood at the open refrigerator door, surveying the remains, it was clear he was in dire need of supplies. He paused, contemplating the ramifications of his need. The first thing, obviously, was he would have to leave the house and venture into town. His heart raced as the uncertainty of that task throbbed in his head. What would he find? Would the stores be intact? Just because his house and the homes on his street were left unharmed didn’t mean the rest of the world wasn’t some flattened wasteland, all dust and rocks. If that were the case, his chances of survival would be severely hampered.

Survival. Just thinking that word placed a metallic taste in the back of his throat. Last week survival meant getting paid, having enough beer, not running out of cigarettes and dodging phone calls from his ex-wife. Today he wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was obviously bigger than beer.

He rummaged around in the cabinets and found some stale cereal that he ate dry with a glass of water and a cigarette chaser. While he ate he made some notes to take with him to the grocery store, meticulously listing the supplies he felt he needed for the coming week. It was a habit he had developed, part of his anti-spontaneity program of the last few months. Somewhere in his subconscious he knew it was silly to write the list, but the normalcy of the task felt good. A last gesture of the past before he ventured out of his cocoon into the very weird, and very real, present.

With his list complete and his cereal bowl empty, he had no reasons left to procrastinate. He stood at the open front door, car keys in hand, waiting for something in his mind to convince him to stay inside, even for another hour, but he knew it was time. After one deep breath he stepped through the entryway, pulling the door closed behind him. He fumbled for his house key, slid it into the deadbolt and checked to make sure it was engaged before he made his way to the garage, never once thinking how useless that was. After all, he was the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-two: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is twelve of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

“How weird,” thought Adam. The ambiguity was not resolved in any way, only compounded by the strangeness of the content. He quickly looked through several more pages and even pulled out random sections where sports or business usually resided but it all read the same and he was soon convinced the entire paper was consistently “boring.”

“Boring. I don’t get it.” He spoke aloud because it was nice to hear another voice besides the one in his head even if they sounded the same. He picked up the remote control for the television and ran through a few stations to verify that the world hadn’t changed back, never doubting the results. All that did was make the existence of the newspaper even more of a mystery. Or was it? It obviously didn’t arrive at his stoop by human hands because there weren’t any humans, he assumed, that existed past his front door. That left only one explanation for the newspaper. He was suddenly confident it was a message from the squatters. It couldn’t have been anyone, or anything, else. For the first time since he received the note, he meticulously walked through all the steps of what had transpired over the last several days. Nothing in the timeline seemed to correspond to the word “boring.” He got up and went to the kitchen where he found the note, still lying on the counter next to the coffee pot. He picked it up and read it again, checking to see if he had missed something the first time through. When he arrived at the “P.S.” and the information about the wager, two things suddenly made sense: the newspaper was from the squatters and the contents of the newspaper were referring to him. That quick realization made him mad.

“I’m boring? You’re saying I’m boring?” He was shouting, looking up toward the ceiling for some reason, assuming the squatters were hovering in space directly above the house because that seemed as logical as anything else that was happening. “What do you expect me to do, for crying out loud? I’ve got no job, no friends, no family, no… nothing! I’ve got nothing. It’s depressing, it really is, and I resent you hassling me with insults.” His anger was building and the fresh emotions were invigorating. “What’s wrong, did none of you bet I’d sleep for four days? Is that the problem?” At first he was proud of the argument he was bringing forward, especially the passion he was displaying as he spoke. Then he realized the squatters had just wiped out a few billion people overnight and just because they let him live this round didn’t mean they wouldn’t get tired of him and snuff him out as well. Perhaps, he reasoned, he should try and be a tad more polite. But the question still remained, what was he supposed to do? What could he do? What were they expecting?

The anger and frustration he had dredged up awoke some very critical, life essential areas within the chasm. His sense of hunger was immediately overwhelming but his sense of smell was even more acute. The initial whiffs of his personal aroma gagged him and he was forced to start breathing through his mouth so he wouldn’t vomit. Even though his foul breath hampered the effects of closing his nose, it was preferable to inhaling the funk rising off his body. Getting a shower became a priority; food would have to wait.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty-one: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is eleven of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He ran to the door and looked outside, trying to spot a truck or a car or a kid on a bicycle, hoping, but knowing their existence would make no sense. Then again, neither did the newspaper. “I’ve been inside for four days and haven’t had a paper delivered… I’ve never had the paper delivered!” he said, never doubting why those were the first thoughts on his mind, questioning the “what” instead of the “how.” He stared at the bundle with no intention of picking it up. It was not a disciplined response; the idea of the newspaper basically gave him the creeps. He paced and he smoked, trying to relax, trying to arrive at a calm enough place that he could respond and not just react. In the midst of his fear, confusion and pacing a logical thought finally surfaced. “How did it get here? If there aren’t any people left on earth, who put it there?” The questions did not bring clarity, just an overwhelming sense of not being in control. There was no simple explanation for the newspaper or for anything else, for that matter.

The combination of everything he had been through that week plus the fresh jolts of emotion that morning made Adam nauseous, so he sat down on the sofa and tried to compose himself. He stared at the intruder, lying lifeless on the floor, smoking another cigarette and trying to decide how to proceed. He had almost been to a place of compliance, accepting that he truly was the last person on the face of the earth, and now the newspaper dropped in to shake what little confidence, if it could be called that, he had developed. The thought finally occurred to him that he should pick up the paper and, minimally, check the date. For some reason that made sense and it convinced him to stand up, walk to the door and pick up the plastic bundle on the floor.

He returned to the sofa and shook the newspaper out of it’s plastic sleeve and let it fall to the cushion next to him, being careful not to let any of the newsprint get near his skin just in case it was poisonous or dangerous in any other way. The paper fell open with the top of the fold visible. The headline, in the largest letters possible, all caps and bold, was the single word “BORING!” Perplexed, Adam leaned over the paper, still being careful not to touch it, to see what the article was about under the strange headline. The subhead was “Boring, boring, boring, boring.” The byline was “Boring.” Every word in the article was “boring,” repeated over and over. As he scanned the rest of the text on the top of the front page, he realized that every available space that a word was printed simply read “boring.” He hesitated, looked around and spotted a discarded t-shirt on the floor near his feet. He reached down, picked it up and used it as a crude glove to pick up the paper and flatten it to fully open status so he could examine more articles. To his consternation, every headline, every byline and every article on the entire front page displayed the same thing. “Boring.” He cautiously pulled the top sheet back to reveal the inside pages and it revealed the same results. “Boring, boring, boring.” Even the ads, regardless of size, all blared the same words over and over. “Boring.”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Eighty: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is ten of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Four

In every way possible, Adam Mahoney was a disaster. Physically he hadn’t bathed in days, his beard untrimmed and growing at wild angles off his face. His breath was offensive, carrying the stale remains of too many cigarettes and open-mouthed sleep. Emotionally he was lost. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find a feeling to stand on comfortably. Everything he tried to latch on to—scared, confused, overwhelmed, even confident—was greeted warmly for a few minutes but soon wore out their welcome and were asked to leave. The emotionally revolving door left him feeling flat and lifeless, empty, with no desire to do anything but hide under his comforter.

The morning of the fourth day of his reign as last man standing on the face of the earth he rolled toward the wall, away from the brightness of the bedroom window. In his near catatonic condition, somewhere between deep sleep and “maybe it’s time to get up” he heard a thump, like someone or something had kicked the front door. He sat up, fear and hope instantly waging a war in his head resulting in his heart rate tripling and almost making him faint. His mind raced through all of the logical explanations first—wind blowing something onto the door, any number of things breaking loose from the porch and falling—but he didn’t want any of them to be true. He ached for the noise to have come from something alive, preferably human, and, if discovered, would shatter his fear and depression along with the premise he had slowly bought in to. Unfortunately, the only way to get any idea of the source was to quit guessing and go to the front door and look. Adam sat up and shifted to the edge of his bed, swinging his legs around and placing his feet on the floor. He reached for a cigarette off his nightstand and broke two matches before he was able to light it, his hands trembling and barely under control. With a grunt, he stood up and shuffled toward the living room, first peaking around the doorjamb of his bedroom, peering into the room to make sure it was clear. Everything looked unbothered and consistent with how he remembered it the last time he was there which, admittedly, was a bit foggy, but he sensed it was safe. He then moved slowly toward the front door, his heart doing a number on his nerves, everything pounding in crazy arrhythmic cadences, making it difficult to breathe or move, but he forced himself to fight through it and slid toward the door. Once there, facing the back of the front door, he reached out and grabbed the doorknob, resting his hand, afraid, knowing the next step could be everything or nothing, confident it wouldn’t be a wash. He took a deep breath, counted to three and slowly pulled the door open, toward himself, closing his eyes, delaying the visual results for another few seconds. As he sensed the door pass in front of his body, something fell on his foot and he jumped backwards and screamed, kicking whatever it was away from him, defensive, aggressive and scared to his core. When he finally opened his eyes, he was standing in the middle of the living room, his legs pushed up against the sofa, sweat rimming his forehead and upper lip. He looked at the intersection of the open door and the floor and saw what looked like a newspaper. It was fat, like a Sunday edition, rolled up into itself and stuffed in a plastic bag. Very common on a normal day but as unwelcome as a dead body this particular week. A new wave of fear crashed through him and mixed with a foamy wash of confusion. “A newspaper? How did that get here?”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-nine: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is nine of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Three

Adam wasn’t sure what time it was but it was dark when he crawled out of bed and walked to the bathroom to pee. When he finished he stopped at the sink, turned the faucet on and let the basin fill with cold water. He stared at his reflection while he waited and it stirred up zero emotion, the empty cavern in his gut unmoved. The face staring back at him was long, the curly hair on top of his head matted in several directions. His eyes were rimmed with dark circles on the bottom and thick, black brows across the top, giving him the appearance of a raccoon. His wide nose held watch over a scratchy, two-day growth of beard. He reached with both hands and slowly pulled at the slack skin on both his cheeks, tugging them out to their limit and releasing, repeating it over and over until his skin turned red from the epidermal taffy pull. It added color to his face but his eyes were still a flat gray, devoid of any sparkle, any indication he was alive. “What now?” he watched himself say. “I guess it’s just you and me.” Then he plunged his face into the cold water and held it there, counting to twenty, slowly, hoping the chilly brace would work some magic and give him some life. He repeated the dunk twelve times before he realized it wasn’t going to do any good.

He was hungry, somewhat, and knew he should eat. He had been surviving on cigarettes and mouthwash but that needed to end. He started toward the kitchen with good intentions, anticipating a bologna sandwich and maybe some pretzels, but he never made it farther than his bed. Sleeping, hiding, seemed the right thing to do. Being conscious and awake carried with it responsibilities and things he didn’t want to consider. If he was asleep he could pretend it was all a dream.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-eight: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is eight of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

With each unanswered ring bleating in his ear, the weight of his situation sank deeper into his gut. It started as a heavy lump, uncomfortable and solid, tangible evidence that something was wrong. Slowly it dissipated, leaving a chasm, an empty space inside him he didn’t know how to deal with. He wanted to fill it with positives, but with all the evidence in front of him, he could only drop into the space a thin thread of hope that everything was a bad dream or an unfunny joke. He kept returning to bed, sometimes for a few hours, other times merely minutes, and would alternate between pacing his bedroom floor and smoking with lying with the covers over his head until the light cracked through his blinds signaling another day.

He refused to succumb to the concept of the note. It was too absurd to believe, even as the proof mounted against him. He would lay there, unmoving, occasionally pulling the portable phone under the comforter with him and dialing randomly, hoping, praying to hear a live, human voice. Even though every call failed, he refused to get depressed, believing that staying positive was one of the last weapons he controlled. It took something routine and mindless to yank the cherished final thread of hope out of the space inside and destroy any thoughts he had of being right.

He worked up the energy to go outside and walk to the end of the stone pavers leading from his house to the street. He hesitated and mindlessly looked inside his mailbox. In that instant the veracity of his situation struck him with a force he had not anticipated. He suddenly knew the truth. There wouldn’t be any mail delivered today. There wouldn’t be any mail delivered tomorrow. Not this week. Not this month. Not this year. There was no one out there to send him a letter and there was no one out there to receive one of his. When he looked in his empty mailbox he knew without any doubts, like knowing when you are in love or when to duck; the note from the squatters was true. He was alone, the last man standing on the face of the earth. But not for long. Adam Mahoney turned toward his house, slowly retraced the steps he had just trod, walked through his front door and returned to bed.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-seven: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is seven of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter Two
Adam Mahoney was in a new and unique place. Not just for him but for anyone, ever, in the history of the world. If what the note said was accurate, and he was still holding out hope that it wasn’t, he was breaking new ground as a human and it was too much to comprehend. He sat on his sofa, staring at the television, mindlessly clicking through every channel and chain-smoking cigarettes. Most of the shows revealed nothing unusual, mocking him with their consistency, showing programs taped long ago and cued up in a big computer, housed in a far-off city, set to run automatically. But the shows that were usually live were anything but. Empty sets, stillness and silence were all they offered. He sat there, selecting channels up and down the spectrum for hours, hoping that somewhere a real person with something current to say would jump into the frame and make it all go away. He yearned for that shock. Instead, channels started disappearing, turning to white and gray digital snow, signaling the end of the pre-set programming as well as the end of the broadcast day. And their broadcast life. As it began turning dark outside, Adam rose from his perch, turned off the TV and crawled back into bed. It was all he could think to do, the only choice that seemed safe.

He slept some, occasionally waking with an idea he thought would verify or debunk his situation. He would then force himself out of bed and follow through with whatever new plan he had hatched, but the results always favored the contents of the note. His best and most comprehensive idea was to use the online phone books, look up phone numbers of random businesses all over the U.S. and call them. No one answered. He also called residential phone numbers, randomly selected from cities big and small, from Hawaii to Maine. Still no one answered. As a last resort, he began calling overseas—Germany, Italy, Spain—dialing randomly, searching for anyone to talk to. There was no one home. Anywhere.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-six: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is six of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He moved through the house and out the front door, deciding to check in with his neighbors. It was now less about the letter and more about seeing a smiling, familiar face. He walked through his front yard and hopped over the two-step landing to the front porch of the Harrison home, his long time neighbors to his right. He knocked on the door and waited. There was no sound coming from inside the house, which was strange for a family with three children under eight, but he pushed down any negative thoughts and rang the doorbell; he would apologize if he woke up one of the babies. After two long minutes and several doorbell rings he decided they weren’t home. “I think they mentioned to me they were going out of town,” he thought. “I just didn’t realize it was this week.” He walked quickly to the neighbor’s house on the other side of his property, knocking politely and waiting. After two more knocks and three doorbell rings he started becoming concerned. “Why didn’t anyone tell me they were leaving town?” he asked out loud, not expecting an answer.

As he jogged across the street to see if the Broughton’s were home, something stopped him, an internal brake that sensed things weren’t right. He stood still and listened for a moment and realized there was nothing to listen to. No dogs barking, no trucks on the interstate, no churning of school busses or delivery vehicles. He had never heard it that quiet before, anywhere. It wasn’t right, the silence, it was too thick and still. Something was wrong but he refused to let his mind drift toward the contents of the letter and sprinted to the front door of Phil and Sue Broughton’s home. He rang the doorbell, pushing it over and over with his thumb, simultaneously banging on the front door with his fist. “There’s no way this can be true, it’s impossible. There has to be a logical explanation.” He kept repeating that thought, trying to convince himself but knowing with each beat on the door it wasn’t working. Then, just as the quiet had stopped him in his sprint, a brilliant thought flashed into his brain and he dropped his hands, turned and looked toward his house. “Television,” he thought. As he ran across the Broughton’s yard and into the street he yelled “Television! Television!” unconcerned about waking any of his displaced neighbors, convinced that seeing live, talking news people would finally poke a hole in the charade.

He bounded through his front door and threw the sofa cushions onto the floor, searching for the remote control. When he found it he wheeled around and aimed it toward his television, hands shaking, ready to be right. The black screen flickered and light grew from the center to reveal a commercial for floor cleaner, its existence proving nothing. He fumbled with the numbered buttons on the remote, trying to push the correct sequence for one of the 24-hour news channels but he was flustered and it took three tries before he was successful. In mere seconds he wished he hadn’t been. On the screen was an empty news desk, no anchors, no people on the phone behind them in the newsroom and obviously no one manning the camera which had tilted to the left, creating a strangely cropped view of the empty studio, cutting off what would have been the tops of the heads of the happy anchors. The only sound was the remote control hitting the hardwood floor as it slipped out of Adam’s hand.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-five: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is five of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Adam was initially confused then amused as he read the note. It was handwritten but he didn’t recognize the handwriting, which was beautiful and meticulously rendered. He was convinced it was a joke but he was unaware of anyone in his life clever enough to come up with the idea much less pull it off. He checked the clock over the stove and realized it was too early to call anyone and see if they had been included in the ruse so he decided to take a shower and deal with it after he was clean and dressed. On the way to the bathroom he stopped to turn on his computer, wanting to check email before he had to leave for work.

After his shower, Adam lit a cigarette, walked over to his desk and sat down to see if he had received any emails overnight. He double-clicked his browser icon and was surprised how fast it loaded onto the screen. “It’s not that early,” he thought. “But I won’t complain about the traffic being light. Good for me.” His inbox flashed up on the screen almost before he had finished selecting the link. “They must have upgraded the lines recently,” he reasoned. “It’s never loaded pages this fast before.” He was finished checking his messages in less than five minutes and glanced at his watch to make sure it wasn’t too early to call someone and ask them about the prank letter he received. It was 7:30 so he felt comfortable calling a co-worker considering they all had to be at work at eight, just like himself. He tried Leslie first but she had apparently left for work early because he ended up talking to her answering machine. Blaine didn’t answer either, but he usually went to eat breakfast at the diner before work so there was nothing squirrelly about that. As a last resort he called his mother, sure she would be home because she never went anywhere. His heart rate began accelerating with each unanswered ring and for the first time a small finger of dread reached up and poked his belly. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m feeling like this. Mom’s probably in the bathroom and can’t get to the phone.” He hung up the receiver and lit another cigarette.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-four: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is four of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He finally set down his nearly empty coffee cup and picked up the envelope again. He turned it over and gently pulled at the flap, cringing as the paper lost the battle with the wax, ripping between the seal and the crease. As he lifted the folded sheet of paper out of the envelope he caught a faint whiff of strawberries and assumed the papers were scented. “Must be from a girl,” he thought and that brought a slight smile to his face. He set the envelope down and unfolded the paper that had been inside. The contents were not at all what he was expecting, if he was expecting anything at all.

“Dear Mr. Adam Mahoney,
This letter is to inform you that you are now the last man standing on earth. As of four this morning (E.S.T.) your planet has been wiped clean of all human life by a small group of extraterrestrial beings, aliens if you must, though we prefer the term squatters, who were bored and wanted to see what would happen if they left only one person on a reasonably functional planet such as your own. You can consider it a science experiment except that we aren’t scientists, just bored, super-intelligent beings looking for something to do on a Saturday night. We did you a huge solid by disposing of all of the bodies because to not do so would have been uncivilized and, quite frankly, a bit gross. One other thing, when we referenced “human life” earlier in this note we, unfortunately for you, are including the female of your species as well as all animals. Yes, you really are “it.” You are on your own and we wish you the best of luck as you survive or sleep or whatever else you think to do. Good luck and we’ll be watching.

P.S. In case you were wondering (but why would you?) there is a small wager amongst us on how this whole experiment will turn out but we will try to refrain from influencing the decisions you will obviously have to make. Our sense of fair play will, hopefully, overrule our competitive and individual desires to win. You can only hope…”

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-three: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is three of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

He picked up the envelope and saw his name on the front in a fancy script, obviously handwritten with care and skill. “Mr. Adam Mahoney. Well, that’s me, but where did this come from?” He rifled through his memory, trying to remember if he had been handed the envelope elsewhere and had absent-mindedly left it on the counter but he knew even as he walked through that exercise he had nothing to do with the letter or card or invitation. That meant someone had snuck into his house and placed it there, which wasn’t that big of a surprise since his hometown was rural and small and locking the house was more of an afterthought than a necessity. He turned the envelope over and chuckled as he saw that it had been sealed with red wax, an obvious imprint of an official seal embedded sloppily in the center. “Fancy,” he said as he turned it to a severe angle in order to manipulate the light to hit it in such a way that he could see it better but there had been too much shift when whoever created it had mashed the seal into the wax. It offered no clues.

He set the envelope down, dropped two spoons of sugar in his cup and poured a cup of coffee. He wasn’t one to rush into a mystery and this definitely qualified, at least in his life. Ever since his divorce he had tried to cut back on his uncharacteristic bouts of spontaneity that, according to his ex-wife, was one of the contributing factors to their breakup. She never could understand that after spending full days in a cubicle, answering phones at the customer service desk at the plant, he occasionally needed to stretch his wings, so to speak, and he could never be certain how or when that might occur. But he was trying to change and this seemed like a great situation to practice some discipline.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-two: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is two of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

After grinding the beans then adding the grounds and water into the coffee maker, he flipped the switch to start the brewing process, pulled a chair away from the dining room table and dragged it into the kitchen, setting it in front of the far counter where the coffee was brewing. He sat down, lit a cigarette, leaned forward and rested his chin on the countertop, watching the slowly filling glass canister two feet away. As he continued to stare, the adrenaline from the earlier scare released from his body and he started feeling tired. He drew on the cigarette but its usual medicinal effects weren’t enough to cut through his haze. His eyelids began their flutter toward closing and he gave in, just for a few minutes, until the final growl and gurgle of the coffee maker alerted him that it was time to drink. He stood, ground out his cigarette in the sink and opened the cabinet door directly above the coffee maker, grabbed a large mug and reached for the sugar. He liked to add the sweetener first and let the hot liquid obliterate the crystals when they met at the bottom of the cup. Instead of his fingers hitting the metal of the sugar container they grazed against paper, an envelope resting against the container, white and clean, the size of a greeting card. It startled him not because he rarely received mail, which was true, but more because he hadn’t left the card there.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy-One: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[The next many entries are the current story I am working on. This is one of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

Chapter One

Adam Mahoney was a tall man, too long for his bed, which reduced sleeping to a necessity and never a joy. He had developed a habit of waking up one minute before his alarm released its peal, a habit so ingrained into his daily routine that he had forgotten what his alarm sounded like. That explained why one particular morning in August the piercing whine that awoke him shocked him so badly he lost control of his senses as well as his functions and wet all over himself. He was so disoriented that he had said “hello” three times into the phone receiver before he realized the racket was coming from his alarm clock. After slapping the night stand aimlessly for another few seconds he finally found the box and mashed every button until the screaming stopped. With the high-pitched screech still lingering in his ears he fell back on his bed, a soggy, frightened mass of frayed nerves and damp cotton sheets.

It took him several minutes to calm down, aided by deep, cleansing breaths and several long draws on a cigarette, at which time the full impact of the wake-up call registered in his mind with clarity and he began the process of cleaning up. He stripped his bed of all linens and was relieved to see there had been minimal soak-through on his mattress. He gathered the large wad of sheets and headed toward the washing machine that was through the kitchen and on the other side of the house. As he crammed the offensive mess into the washer’s opening, he stripped off his clothes and added them to the load. He added soap, closed the lid and moved toward the kitchen, naked and in dire need of coffee and another cigarette.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle


Entry Seventy

Happy New Year.

All words and images ©2006/J. Colle