What would you do if you were the last person on Earth? David remembered laughing at this question that his wife, Rebecca, asked him months ago. All of his thoughts and memories seemed to have blurred into one big incomprehensible blob, yet he remained strikingly clear about this memory. It was as if his mind was desperate to retain some memory of the woman whose bed he shared for fifteen years. He often wondered why it was this particular memory that most often resurfaced to the forefront of his consciousness and didn’t fade away like the others. Why hadn’t the best memories of his time with Rebecca stayed with him? He could barely make out her face, the first time they shared an awkward first kiss (and how they laughed about it afterward), even their wedding. Fortunately for David, he grew up an only child, his parents died when he was a teenager, and he and Rebecca had no children together. More people to lose he thought to himself.
Again, he tried to picture his beautiful wife. But as always his mind had other plans: What would you do if you were the last person on Earth? He remembered how he got angry with her when she asked that question. She loved asking these “thought-provoking” questions, the kind that are easily found on the internet with a quick google search. David never understood her fascination with critical thinking. Out of what he argued was love, he humored her and partook in Rebecca’s petty pastime. Yet this question didn’t sit well with him. It angered him. Why did it anger him? He spent countless hours trying to rationalize his emotions. Maybe it was just an off day for him. Maybe he had some bad indigestion. Or maybe it was something else entirely.
Yes, that had to be it. David was upset for having to imagine something unpleasant.
(Flashback: “What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?” Rebecca asked him from the seat of their 2008 Mercury Mariner. David admired the long brunette hair that streamed from her head down to the small of her back as if it were a silky waterfall, glistening in the sunlight as they drove home from seeing a movie in the theaters—Avengers: Infinity War of all things.
Pretending as though he didn’t quite hear her correctly, David let out a hearty chuckle that he hoped didn’t sound forced before responding, “What did you say?”
“What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?” Rebecca calmly repeated.
“Where is this coming from?”
“From this page I found on the internet: Questions to Get to Know Your Husband Better.”
“You don’t think you know me well enough?”
Rebecca laughed. “Of course I know you, silly! But what I don’t know is what you’d do if you were the last person on Earth. Come on, sweetie, you know how much I like asking these questions.”
Yes, and you’re crazy for feeling that way, he wanted to say, but settled with, “Yes, I do!” He heaved a sigh of defeat, “All right, I’ll give you an answer before you guilt me with your sad puppy dog eyes.” He shot her a knowing grin before he continued, “Well if I were the last person on Earth, I imagine I’d spend a lot of time with you!”
“Omigod, no! You’re the last human on Earth. There is no one else but you.”
That’s when the strange, unknown and unwarranted anger started. David let out another heavy sigh. Rebecca, sensing something was amiss, gently asked her husband, “David, are you okay?”
“Rebecca, I love you, and I always answer your questions, but I can’t answer this one. I can’t imagine a life without you. It’s too hard to even think about. Please don’t ask me a question like this again.”)
Yet the reality was firmly rooted now. David was alone. He remembered how every day he would wake up and steal a loving glance at his beautiful wife, listening to her snore like a warthog, an oxymoronic comparison if ever there was one. But one day, he woke up and stole a glance at the spot in the bed where his wife should have been and heard the deafening silence.
Rebecca was gone.
He called his wife’s family, some of his and Rebecca’s closest friends, and filed a missing persons report with the local police. They helped where they could but one by one they stopped looking as if they grew accustomed to the thought that Rebecca had just vanished without a trace.
But that wasn’t the case either.
Everyone stopped looking because they, too, had disappeared without a trace. This pattern continued until David found himself in the middle of a completely empty country, completely empty state, completely empty city, and completely empty home.
Alone. David Bryant was all alone, living the life he never could have imagined, a life without his beloved Rebecca. No wonder these last few months have been a blur. To be honest, David struggled to maintain any sense of normalcy since the world as he knew it had changed forever. His mind was inundated with thoughts he didn’t want and plagued by fuzzy memories that he desperately wanted to become clearer again. Or did he? Was the memory censoring just a defense mechanism against the spiraling depression that David fought on a daily basis?
He pondered what had become of his life, a life of survival, a life for which he was thoroughly unprepared. David also wondered what would become as of his life as he cradled the gun in his hands. No one will miss me. Just like his memories, moral lines became blurry as well. The gun felt cold, yet comforting in his hands. The horror he lived, had lived, every day for the last few months would be over in a matter of seconds. He wouldn’t be hurting anyone. He would finally be at peace. The only thought on his mind as he sat on an abandoned bench in Central Park was if he actually possessed the strength within himself to pull the trigger.
Lynne Reynolds slid her car keys into the ignition and listened to the throaty rumble of the engine as the car turned over. “Time for another adventure,” she spoke to herself. She picked up the open atlas on the passenger side of the seat, studying her desired destination which was decorated with an assortment of pen, sharpie, and highlight marks. Nodding in contempt with the day’s planned journey, she gingerly placed the map on the seat, and put the car in drive. As she drove out of the Exxon gas station in Wharton, New Jersey, she merged onto I-80 East and began driving to Central Park.
(Backstory: Lynne had been an unmarried veterinarian in her mid-30’s. Her family and friends would tease her about needing to find a man, but none had caught her fancy. Her animals kept her company. She was the youngest of three brothers and one sister. Her sister went on to become an English teacher while two of her brothers also became doctors, and her third brother went into police work. Growing up, her family had been really close, though arguments did happen from time to time.
The idyllic life that Lynne believed she was leading ended in a flash. She and two of her girlfriends were having dinner back home in San Francisco at the high end restaurant Chapeau! on Clement St. Lynne, Madeleine, and Sadie tried to find time in their busy lives once a month to have lunch together, but for one dinner each year, they treated themselves to some of the finer fare that San Francisco had to offer. Sadie, who was in her late 20’s, was engaged to be married to a successful lawyer seven years her senior. Madeleine had just given birth to her and her husband’s third child. All three women were in the prime of their lives and they tried to savor every moment. They left the restaurant that night in high spirits, sinking into their requisite routine of goodbye hugs, “I love you’s,” and “I’ll see you later, alligator’s.”
After a while, crocodile.
But a happy reunion was no longer on the table. Lynne woke the next morning to a frantic phone call from Madeleine. “Lynne! Jeff and Brandon are gone,” the hysterical woman had screamed.
“What? Where are they?”
“Do you think I’d be in a raging frenzy if I knew!” Madeleine screamed.
“Okay, but are Carly and Adam still home?”
“They’re fine. They’re still sleeping. But Jeff and Brandon are gone.”
“I’ll be right over!” Lynne threw down the phone into the receiver and arrived at Madeleine’s house.
Lynne’s heart was beating in her throat as she bounded up the stone steps to the front door of her friend’s house. She rang the doorbell.
Several seconds passed without a response. Lynne couldn’t take much more. In a frantic panic, she began pounding at the door, not sure what else to do—except check for the spare key. Feeling like an idiot for forgetting, Lynne grabbed the spare key under the door mat and led herself inside.
“Madeleine, Madeline! Where are you? I’m here.” With a sinking feeling her in stomach, Lynne ran around the house and desperately hollered for an answer that never came. When the dust had cleared, Lynne was positive that her friend and her young children were gone.
Lynne yanked out her cell phone and dialed Sadie. The phone went right to voicemail. She listened to her best friend tell her to “Please leave your message after the beep,” completely unaware of the current reality that faced them. She had to keep trying. In a desperate attempt to grab a hold of someone, she even tried calling her parents, knowing without much of a doubt that they would not be helpful.
Her father answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Dad, it’s me, Lynne!”
“Lynne! How are you?”
“I don’t know! Madeleine and her family are missing.”
“Madeleine and her family are missing, but I don’t have time to explain. Please let me know if you hear anything at all from them.”
“All right, dear, I can do that. Would you like to talk to your mother?”
Typical response. “No, dad, I can’t right now, send her my love,” she said quickly, certain that she heard her mother on the other end of the line asking who her father was speaking to.
Did Dad ever send her my love? Lynne often wondered that after she slowly realized that everyone was disappearing before her eyes. Now she was the last person on Earth.)
The first month had not been easy on Lynne. She tried desperately to remain calm in the midst of everything. There were a few times when she felt utterly hopeless, but she pulled through in the end. Lynne was always a resilient woman, never letting herself be overcome with emotion for long. She always stayed true to her hopes and dreams. No obstacle was going to keep Lynne Reynolds down.
In the backyard of her house, Lynne made a makeshift cemetery for her dearest friends and family members, though she knew it would always remain empty. “I love you all, and I’ll see you again one of these days.” That was the promise she made to herself and her family. Her family’s memory never left her, but she was not going to let the rest of her life waste away.
Lynne had always been an adventurous spirit, so she decided to venture out on a quest to visit all the sites of North America. She’d been traveling for months, her labyrinth of variated markings on her map her only companion throughout her month-long excursion through the forty-eight contiguous United States of America.
When the exit for US-46 loomed in the distance, she brimmed with excitement. Central Park was getting closer every minute.
Ever since she was a young girl, Lynne had wanted to view the massive park in the middle of Manhattan. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. But that was not the case today. The sun shone magnificently above Lynne, a beautiful beacon of hope that contrasted with the darkness of the times. Yet there was a sense of peace in the air. The sound of horns honking incessantly was absent. The yelling of frustrated drivers and the chatting of people on their smartphones was nonexistent. No one was around to be rude. No one was around to spread hate. At the time, no one was there to spread love either. Lynne wasn’t quite sure what to make of the conflicting emotions that raged in heart when she stepped out of her car. But she knew that standing still wasn’t going to answer anything. She looked up at the Maine Monument that greeted her at the southwestern entrance to the park.
Lynne took her time walking, taking in everything she could except sound. The silence strangely calming. She marveled at the sights of the expansive park. When she arrived at the Bethesda Fountain, overlooking a greenish lake, creatively named The Lake, she paused for several minutes, meditating on the natural beauty that was in front of her.
After almost an hour of deliberately making her way through the over two mile-long park, she began to approach a a cobblestone oval with decorative patches of grass around a bronze cast of Three Dancing Maidens. This sculpture featured three young women holding hands and dancing around a fountain, their wet clothes clinging to their bodies. Known as the Untermeyer Fountain, it had been a part of Central Park history since 1947. Lynne slowly approached the statue. She noticed a figure in the distance, but couldn’t quite make it out. As she got closer, she realized that this figure was a man. She blinked rapidly as if that would somehow enhance her vision. But what she saw materializing in front of her face was unmistakable.
Alone for almost four months and there, sitting as clear as day off to her right, sat a man.
And he had a gun in his lap.
A Fateful Encounter
“Excuse me! Hello?” Lynne hesitantly waved off to the man’s left side a few feet away.
David jerked up, startled at the sudden interruption. “Uh…uhm…uh…hi,” he said bashfully. He quickly set the gun down on the bench and stood back up. Finding his strength to speak, he added, “Who are you?”
“My name is Lynne.”
“David. David Bryant.” He threw his arm forward for a handshake. Lynne didn’t return the gesture.
“Nice to meet you. How long have you been here?”
“I’ve lived here my entire life.”
“No, not in New York, here in Central Park.”
“Oh. I come here almost daily and spend several hours here.”
“I just got here. I’ve been on a road trip.”
David nodded as if he’d never heard of a road trip before. “Where did you come from?”
“That’s a long way from here.”
“That it is.”
Lynne was silent for several seconds, her eyes not straying from David’s face, her mind on the gun he placed on the bench. Not knowing whether to be scared or happy or both, she maintained a couple feet’s distance away from the man she had just met.
“Is something the matter, Lynne?
Jerking back into reality, she responded, “Not at all. It’s nice to meet you.”
“So you’ve said.”
“Oh, I apologize. I must say I haven’t seen anyone else for months. They all disappeared.”
“Really? You too? I thought I was the only one left.”
“I thought that as well.”
David wasn’t quite sure to how to respond, so he went with, “What did you lose?” But the words were out of his mouth before he could take them back. Stupid, he thought.
“I lost my wife. And my family.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
David’s head fell to his chest. He didn’t say anything more. Lynne stood waiting for him to once again break the silence. The gun on the bench weighed uncomfortably on her mind.
As if sense her discomfort, David spoke again, this time is a hushed whimper that was faintly audible, “I was going to kill myself today. Actually, I’ve been trying for days now. That’s why I have a gun with me. I’d never hurt anyone else.”
“You can’t give up, David.”
“I have no one left.”
“Neither do I, but you’re still here. You still have a life to live. Trust me, I know it’s not easy. I felt so alone at first until I mustered the courage to go on this journey.”
David didn’t respond. Lynne knew words would not work. Instinct took over as she walked over to David and hugged him. Her body was strong and comforting. David felt a purge of relief corse through his body, taking all the stress he had been feeling away with it. Lynne could feed David shudder and his tears began flowing freely.
“I’m so sorry,” David said over harsh sobs.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Lynne continued holding David in her arms, knowing that he wasn’t a danger to her, only to himself. David threw two large, muscular arms around Lynne and hugged her back. The pain of the last few months slipped away as if it never really existed. Hugs can be a truly magical experience.
“Hey, David?” Lynne asked, finally releasing her arms.
David’s arms fell to his side. He looked up, met Lynne’s eyes, and said, “Yes, Lynne?”
“Would you like to take a walk with me?”
“I’d like that very much.”
And off they went.