I found it hard to believe that everyone was dead. It had been three weeks, and I still expected to hear someone yell out from behind me, “HEY YOU!” They might say, “There’s another ship taking off from Chelsea Piers! Better not miss it!”
But there wasn’t another ship, and there never would be. The last transport to Mars had taken off three weeks ago. I watched it blast off the Hudson, creating a wave that spread out in a 360-degree circle reaching all the way to the shores of New Jersey. I watched the transport ship fly higher than all the skyscrapers in New York City, up through the crisp spring air, pass the clouds, and then explode in a violent fireball. The explosion sent flaming debris careening back toward earth.
The departures began three years ago. A steady stream of lift-offs, taking the three million or so plague survivors off the disease-ridden surface of our Mother Earth. As far as I know, I’m the only one who stayed behind.
Central Park was nice this time of year. Some of the trees still wore their winter nakedness, but flowers were beginning to bloom and birds were chirping. A squirrel followed me along my walk.
“Hello Stranger,” I said to the squirrel. It stood on its hind legs. A patch of white fur spread down its body in the shape of an upside-down V.
Benches lined the famous walkway. Old bronze statues kept a watchful eye. I wondered if a species on earth was able to achieve the intelligence of mankind; if that new intelligent species would come into contact with these statues and wonder why we thought ourselves so important that we needed to erect lifeless copies.
I didn’t have any food for the squirrel, so it stopped following me.
“Bye Stranger, don’t be a stranger!” I called to it as it ran away. This was loneliness I supposed. In the Home Alone movies, the little boy, Kevin, took advantage of his situation by eating all the sweets he could, playing and following whatever impulse he had. I had now been doing the same thing. Driving fast sports cars down 5th Avenue at break-neck speeds, throwing bowling balls from the top of the Empire State Building, whatever the hell I wanted. The truth was, it was fun for just a few days. After that, time began to move slower than a three-legged turtle. I wanted a dog, but they took all the dogs with them on their starships. I supposed I could try and find a baby wolf in Montana somewhere and attempt to re-domesticate the species, but I didn’t have time for that. At most I figured I’d survive ten more days like this. Hell, at 80 I was lucky to still be alive.
I spied an old peanut cart abandoned down the pathway. I decided to test my luck, see if I might be able to find a snack hidden in the cart.
The cart’s hatch was jammed shut. I used a tree branch to try and pry it open. The branch snapped in the process. The small ordeal tired me out, so I sat on the pavement with my back against the peanut cart. After my breath was caught, I began to ponder dinner. I hadn’t had a bite to eat since that morning and with the sun well on its way west, the hunger was setting in. Not starvation hunger, but hunger nonetheless.
Looking around for a new tool to get the hatch open, I spied the squirrel I’d seen earlier. It sat like a proud omen, waiting to be followed. Its upside-down V of fur shone brightly against the squirrel’s belly.
“Hey Stranger, good idea,” I said as I struggled to my feet. I checked the wheels of the cart to make sure they weren’t safety locked and began to push the cart towards the lip of the stairs where the squirrel still sat, pondering me.
My pushing was slow going at first but once I got moving, the laws of physics helped me out, and before I knew it the peanut cart was crashing down the Central Park stairs. The squirrel had skirted out of the way and disappeared somewhere when the cart came barreling toward it. Down at the bottom of the stairs the peanut cart lay in a heap of dented steel and crooked poles. I made my way down. My knees ached something awful, so the three flights were slow going.
“Better be a prize in that cracker jack box!” I said to no one at all.
Sure enough, the hatch was busted off and I was able to reach my arm inside the cart. There were more greasy peanut packages in the cart than I could eat in one sitting, along with a half-full bottle of whiskey. An employee’s stash I assumed. I thanked my lucky stars it didn’t shatter in the fall.
I dove into a packet of greasy, candy coated peanuts. After a couple mouthfuls my old man gums began to ache, but I continued eating the peanuts just the same. Once I got through four packets and my old man teeth were aching along with my old man gums, I cracked open the bottle of whiskey and washed it all down. The warmth from the whiskey crept over me like a Jamaican wave crawling over the sand.
When I’d had my fill of peanuts and whiskey, I sat there propped up against the peanut cart and wondered if the old hunters of the world ever sat and leaned against their kill as I did then. The sun was setting over New York City and the birds in Central Park were singing their songs, calling to the moon to watch over them. I started to doze off sitting there against the cart.
When I was startled awake, it was night out. The birds’ songs worked because the moon was full and bright. My bladder was full of whiskey. I relieved myself behind a tree and wondered why I still hid behind a tree to pee. There was nobody around to spy on me except maybe the birds and the squirrels. I finished up and went back over to the peanut cart. I was hungry and thirsty again, so I took my old seat against the battered cart, opened another greasy pack of peanuts and ate them slowly this time, one by one. My old man mouth thanked me for this pace. I took a swig from the whiskey bottle and had to shut my eyes against the burn of the booze to get it down and keep it down. When I opened my eyes that little squirrel was back. It was just staring at me and my wretchedness.
“Take a good look Stranger, I’m the last one of me you’ll ever see.” I said.
I opened another pack of peanuts and threw a couple to the squirrel with the white V on its belly. The squirrel was hesitant at first but then it went right on ahead and seemed to ask for more. I tossed more and to my surprise a few other squirrels showed up. I opened another pack and scattered the peanuts all around me. Before I knew it there had to be more than 20 squirrels around me and I just sat there showering them with peanuts while drinking my whiskey. I laughed at their little mouths and the way they held the peanuts in their little hands, chewing like a tiny human. The squirrels had their fill and wandered off one by one leaving me with a belly ache from laughing. I took another drink of whiskey and smiled. I took another and slurred, “Goodnight Stangerrsh.” I took one last drink and slept.