The last man on earth heard a knock at the door.
Tap, tap, tap.
His head jerked toward it, his eyes twitched to narrow slits and his thin, pale hands tightened on the knife in his lap.
Here already? Night hadn't yet lifted; there was yet a lurid moonlit gleam spilling through the splintered glass of the window.
Tap, tap, tap.
This wasn't right. The creatures were bound to their caves until daybreak, until the sky was bloody with dawn-light. They never walked beneath the moon, never set foot under a velvet sky.
So what had come to call?
Tap, tap, tap.
Like a spider clicking its jaws before sinking hollow fangs into the struggling fly and feasting on its blood.
Tap, tap, tap.
But the beasts couldn't be awake at this hour.
And the last man on earth allowed himself to wonder for just a moment: What if...?
But what if?
You're a fool for thinking it, and a dead one at that, if you let it in.
But the last man on earth stood up. His movement was silent, his breathing light, in spite of the frenzied thumping of his heart. The carpet beneath his bare feet swallowed the sound of his steps.
The knife in his grip was a comfort. Not half so comforting as the things on his belt--his checkmate, if the beasts ever surpassed his defenses--but a comfort nonetheless. The handle was warm against his palm, slightly damp with sweat, but the blade was cold as ever--cold as death. Cold as night and cold as ice, cold as the touch of a corpse.
Tap, tap, tap.
Faster now, as if it were anxious. Eager, perhaps? Nervous? Scared?
Or perhaps thirsty. Thirsty as the spider.
He shifted his grip on the knife as he stared at the door. His pulse pounded on his ears, more insistent than the knocks, thumping frantically, don't do it, don't let it in.
Silent as a wraith, he slid the bolt from its hole. Tap, tap, tap. His jaw locked in focus and he raised the knife above his head as, with utmost care, he twisted the knob.
But the knife never fell, for the door did not crash open; no skinless creatures with pointed teeth and lidless yellow eyes struck forward; not a single of the emaciated, red-jawed beasts appeared before him, staring at him from a hollow skull.
It was another man.
Surprise made him drop the knife behind the door, and made his mouth fall open soundlessly. The shock rendered him instantly mute and motionless. Breath froze in his chest; for a moment, it felt as if his heart had stopped beating. How can this be? How is it possible?
And the man was smiling.
There was no chance of escape before the visitor rushed forward and wrapped the other man in long arms.
"Hiram!" he cried. "Hiram, my brother, it has been too long!"
The last man on earth backed away. Who was this man?
And why had he said brother?
The visitor didn't notice Hiram's hesitation, or shock. The last man on earth heard the visitor's footsteps pass him by, and then felt the visitor's hand on his shoulder.
His skin is warm, the man thought.
"Hiram? Are you alright?"
But Hiram did not answer; he only closed the door and turned to face the Other Man.
The Other Man on earth. He was not the last.
He was not the last.
"Of course you're not alright," said the visitor, said his brother, said the Other Man on earth. "Of course you're not." And the Other Man hugged him again.
"I cried when I heard about Allison," the Other Man said as he let Hiram go. "It wasn't fair."
He knew of Allison?
The Other Man pulled him further into the house and left him to stand alone on the carpet. It seemed only an instant later that the Other Man returned. In his hands was a decanter of red wine. Hiram couldn't remember ever seeing it before, but he couldn't remember much of anything right now.
"It'll be okay, Hiram," said the Other Man, and held up a glass of wine. Hiram found himself holding the decanter, and a glass. "I understand." He sipped at the red red wine. "Trust me...nothing drowns sadness like this. There's nothing quite like the red stuff."
And as he looked at the last man on earth over the rim of his glass, his eyes caught the moonlight and turned as red as blood.
For a breath, the last true man on earth was still.
Then, all at once, the bottle of wine crashed into the Not-Man's head and broke open. The Not-Man sucked in a breath as he fell to the floor. Glass shattered on the ground.
And the last of the human race was on his knees by the body of the Not-Man. Something mad took hold of him, and his hand pressed the jagged edges of the broken bottle against the Not-Man's neck. Red--wine or blood, he didn't care--leaked from the Not-Man's temple and neck, and then from its chest, and its stomach, as the last man on earth stabbed the razored glass into the corpse rhythmically, methodically. All the while, he stared into the glassy red eyes of the Not-Man.
"Die, die, die," he muttered, every time the sharp edges cut through the Not-Man's skin.
And then it was done, and the sky was as red as the floor, as red as the wine, as red red red as the Not-Man's blood. Dawn.
The last man on earth locked his doors and went to bed. His shirt had turned crimson, and his hands were painted with blood. But he didn't see that; he could hardly see at all.
They came for him three days later, the beasts. They came by day, with their claws and their red red mouths and their strong hands, and the teeth that they stuck in him so that he slept deeply when they came for him. He never had a chance to kill them--not even one. They carried him to their caves, and they spoke at him in threats, as if he could understand them. He never spoke, but for once:
- - - - -
The following report was submitted to court review at the trial of Hiram Nance. The accused was unable to attend the trial.
"According to psychiatric reports, Hiram Nance is clinically insane, and has been since the brutal murder of his pregnant wife, Allison Nance, at the hands of person or persons unknown. Further, Mr. Nance is fully convinced that he is the last human being alive, all others falling victim to "monsters" which then sought to kill him as well. Unfortunately, he cannot be dissuaded, as he seems incapable of recognizing other humans.
Finally, according to police, he was found wearing a belt loaded with live grenades and has proven to be an irreconcilable danger to society; it is suggested that he be sentenced to death by lethal injection."
On August 13th, 1978, ten weeks after the death of his wife and eight weeks after the death of his brother, Hiram Nance was put to death by court order. He was 46.