Dotted Lines

By Adriana W. Van Leeuwen

The last man standing makes himself a rancid coffee, gulps it black, and goes to say hello to what's left of the world.

The tug has drifted a long way in the night. Fuel's running out. If he doesn't find the city soon, that'll probably be the end of him, and the old girl will just have to go on sailing without him until she rusts out and the ocean takes her.

Not because there's no food and water. Not because he's dying-- he's the only thing on earth that isn't dying, haha, what a funny old world. They've passed a lot of towns together, empty, fading shells like abandoned wasp-nests, and sometimes they had working fuel pumps and jerry cans and canned food and other things needed for survival. None of them had what he needs in order to keep his soul going, though. None of them could. That's in the city.

And who knows where the city is.

How long's it been? He wonders idly, tossing a line off the deck into the dark, oily water. He's never caught anything, but he's an optimist. Always has been. All the fish can't be dead, right? It's been months, at least; even if the ones nearby were wiped out, more must have come from elsewhere by now. If there's still an elsewhere, that is. He's not really sure about that. Not really sure about anything at all. Not even sure he's actually still alive. Maybe he knocked his head on something and now he's in a coma, dreaming away his life in true deadbeat fashion. Hell of a way to go. There should at least be women, he thinks, if this is all in his head. Maybe beer. And some goddamn fish.

Today he'll catch one. He can feel it. There's something different about the air, a tension that makes it harder to breath and at the same time harder to sit still. The sky is the same shade of sick greyish-yellow it's been since the end, but there's a hint of gold along the horizon around where the sun must be, and the water seems to be pushing the old boat along southwards faster than usual. Today for sure. Big old trout. Hopefully eating it won't poison him.

As he sits with his feet on the stern watching the hypnotic patterns the boat's wake is drawing on the slick surface, a ship graveyard passes on the right. Its docks are rotted right down to stumps in places, rows of jagged wooden teeth protruding from the pale sea. Here and there rise lonely masts of abandoned yachts and yawls and sailboats and skiffs-- their upright, disintegrating spines the only headstones they will ever have. He considers pulling in to see if there's any fuel at the marina, but something about the place discourages him.

His momma always told him to let the dead lie.

So he continues, shutting off the engine to conserve fuel. The wind and current are going in the right direction today. There's plenty of bean soup and canned pie filling and water. His body will survive, and the old graveyard made his heart somehow less ready to go, if that makes any sense. If that's all that's waiting for him, well then, might as well keep going until he has his answer. He's not in any hurry anymore. There'll be all the time in the world to die after he knows one way or the other.

He just has to know if she's gone ahead. It wouldn't do at all to get to the afterlife, if there is one, only to find that she's still back there, wandering the trash-strewn streets of the city and calling for him through her poor sore throat and cracked lips. There was a promise, you see, a promise to her mother to protect their little girl, and it's a promise he means to keep come hell or high water. Funny thing. He's seen both in the last week alone. If she's still alive somewhere in it, he's got to find her, apologize for being late, and take her home.

If she's not, he'll make a different apology and follow her.

Seven days later, the last man standing wakes up, makes himself coffee, and goes up onto the deck to say good morning to the new world. In the hazy distance, he sees the shattered ghost of a familiar skyline and smiles to himself.

"Come on, old girl," he says, patting the hull of his ancient tugboat, his last and only friend. "Traffic's not bad this morning."