If I Were the Last Man Alive
Copyright© 2014 by Number 7
Sleep slammed into me, almost as fast as I could prepare for bed.
The night passed in peaceful, oblivion. In the morning, I felt oddly rested, anxious to confirm that yesterday had been a bad dream.
I grabbed the bedside remote and switched on the TV; still nothing on every channel.
It must be true. It really happened.
I was the last man on earth.
Since I still had electricity, I showered in hot water and cooked a big breakfast. Cooking and eating gave me a little peace and delayed ugly decisions for a little while longer.
The phone still worked. I tried every number I knew, but no one answered. I called 911, the FBI Terrorist 800 number. I even called the psychic hotline and Home Shopping Network.
This felt a lot like Hell. I couldn't shake the thought that everyone else was alive and I was dead. If so, I was trapped between dimensions.
I again thought about the rapture. Denominations greatly vary in their teachings about it. A wise mentor once told me that the rapture was a topic every person had to work out alone. When I asked him what he believed, his cheeks reddened as he admitted he didn't know what he thought.
I was in that camp. I understood most possibilities surrounding the rapture but hadn't decided what I believed would happen when the rapture occurred.
The clock ticked as I struggled to believe the rapture had occurred. My experience didn't support the typical descriptions of the event. Besides, and I was pretty sure that if this were the rapture, signs would point to the end of days — the taking of God's church to be with Him.
If I were going to survive, I needed to collect the necessities of life. I needed to do some shopping.
I could drive anything I wanted, since I was the only one around. I wondered if our neighbors' brand new Excursion was in their garage.
On the short walk to their house, I carefully listened for any sound. Only my footsteps reached my ears.
Jim and Marsha were your typical, everyday neighbors. Jim had a high paying job which afforded them enviable luxuries. They had the largest and latest flat screen TV, the best stereo and really nice vehicles. Their excursion had all the toys —a DVD player, GPS, in-dash phone and leather interior. The engine sounded so mean when they drove through the neighborhood, I always turned to see who was coming.
We met the day our moving van arrived. Jim and later Marsha were right there, offering help, a cold drink of tea and information about the community. They knew the secret of being good neighbors. Marsha knew how to help and how to mind her own business. They were caring for an elderly mother, so Marsha was mostly housebound in those days. At our mailboxes, she and Arthea would swap stories, since we cared for Arthea's mom for years until she passed away. Then both moms passed about three months apart. Arthea and Marsha both had to learn to have a life all over again.
Now they were gone, along with everyone else. What did that mean? Why were millions — probably billions — of people missing but I was left? God only knows and I wondered if He would be sharing that with me some time. One thing was certain: this was the loneliest place I had ever been. I knew it would get a lot worse before it got better.
I knocked on their front door and realized I might have to break in. But the front door was unlocked and the Martha's key ring lay beside her handbag on the foyer table.
Not wanting to take anything unnecessary, I took only the car key and remote. No telling when they might come home and need their keys.
On a whim, I checked their fridge and cabinets for things I might need. I found a couple of new flashlights with fresh batteries and a couple of boxes of energy bars. I tossed everything in a plastic bag I found under the kitchen sink and then took the whole box of bags.
I needed to think about survival. Anything that could help needed to be taken along.
The garage door still opened automatically when I pushed the button. The Excursion had a full tank of fuel, which made me think about mobility. When the power goes, how would I fuel my vehicles? If I were truly alone, getting around would be a big deal. I needed a plan to make that happen.
I disabled the garage door opener so I could manually open it to return the Excursion and drove off.
A large farm supply store was nearby; it would have some portable fuel tanks. I drove there first to see if they had what I needed. The Excursion had a hitch and ball and was fully equipped. The owner's manual indicated the hitch was rated to 15,000 pounds, more than I would be pulling.
As I drove out of our sub-division, ten years of memories flooded through my mind. We purchased in a modestly upscale development and improved our house a little every year. Some of our neighbors were very nice people, never made waves and minded their own business. Others were perpetually nosy, angry, jealous and spiteful.
Living in a deed- restricted area came with way too much hassle for us. We'd often talked about moving to a rural area and leaving the neighborhood thing behind. Now it seemed I was getting my wish without moving anywhere.
I carefully drove the empty roads to the farm store. Since everyone had disappeared in the afternoon, businesses should have been opened for business and doors unlocked. But just in case, I stopped at a road construction site and grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and a sledgehammer from a work truck. I added a toolbox, water cooler, hard hat, a bunch of flashlights and two first aid kits out of other trucks in the work zone. I couldn't have too many flashlights when the power went out.
Only a few cars and two delivery trucks sat in the parking lot of the farm store. One was half full of bottled water, soft drinks and Gatorade. The other was full of farm feed.
The truck seemed like just the thin for transporting supplies to my house, so I commandeered it and went about loading all my finds into the back. I would return for the Excursion later in some other car.
The tractor store was a gold mine. It had so much that I needed. My survival meant outfitting myself like I was camping in a remote forest.
The store was very obliging. I found hand tools, hoses, flexible water pipe, gardening tools, seed and fertilizer. Oil and lubricants, chain, rope, a huge supply of batteries, flashlights, lanterns, lantern fuel were a real blessing. Wheelbarrows, winches, and generators of various sizes would help in my survival, too.
I found what I had really come for — a selection of tow-behind fuel tanks. I hooked one to each box truck and one to the Excursion.
I gathered an assortment of hand pumps for fuel and water. Without power I would need to be able drop a hose into the underground gas station tanks and hand pump my vehicles full of gas or diesel.
After filling the three pickup trucks, two box trucks and the excursion, I walked around the store once more. Off to one side were racks of farm and hunting clothes. It made sense to stock up.
I selected a variety of sizes, figuring I might lose the extra weight I built up over the last few years. I packed them in Rubbermaid tubs and taped the lids to keep out excess moisture. I added a healthy selection of impulse items from the front racks — gum, candy and other things.
At a truck stop across from the plaza, I filled the truck tanks, the Excursion and all the tow-behind fuel tanks I could find in the farm store. I left the tanks in the lot until later.
Back home, I yearned for sound, so I filled the silence with CD's on the stereo. I first thought I should keep things quiet to hear any sounds of life but gave that up as impractical. As the evening wore on, the house was full of Bill Gaither, Harry Chapin, Michael Crawford and Amy Grant.
The evening weather was magnificent. After my steak dinner, I sat on the lanai and watched the sun set until it was fully dark. Then I headed for bed.
During the night I woke up thinking about the Wal-Mart Distribution Center nearby. It stocked limited but significant groceries as well as typical department store goods to supply all the Wal-Mart stores in Central and South Florida. Large freezers would be stocked with meats, cheeses and foods that I was going to need in the months and years to come. I needed to get over there right away to see what I could salvage before the power blinked out and everything spoiled.
I was in the box truck and headed to the Wal-Mart DC by 6 AM. It was about fifteen miles away. Even driving slowly, I still got there before sun up.
A Wal-Mart DC is huge — about a square mile under roof pretty much split twenty percent refrigerated and frozen goods to eighty percent everything else.
As I walked in and looked over the expanse, I realized how much was available to me. I just needed figure out how to preserve the frozen and refrigerated foods and keep the other stuff from getting ruined by moisture and storms.
At the far end of the building was the cold storage. It was enormous but still only a fraction of the entire building. Inside sat hundreds of thousands of pounds of frozen foods ready for transport to stores.
The refrigeration had a massive diesel backup generator just behind the building. Beside that was an 8,000-gallon diesel tank that supplied the generator. I needed to keep that tank full to protect my future. If I could save those foods, I could sustain myself and any other survivors for the rest of our lives. And if I could find other such warehouses and sustain them, numerous survivors could live off what was stocked there.
I found an operators' manual for the frozen food backup generator in the supervisor's office. If the manual and my math were correct and I only opened the doors once a week to remove a week's worth of meats to take home, I would only need to refill the tank once a year. The back-up batteries could be trickle-charged off a solar panel on the west wall; that would guarantee the generator would start when the internal temperature climbed about twenty-five degrees or the refrigerator rose above thirty-six. It would come on automatically when the power went out, so I didn't have to worry about activating anything when that happened. That freed me up for other life-changing arrangements.
Others must have survived. If so, the likelihood of violence would be great. I needed to be prepared.
I stopped at a Wal-Mart store and took shotguns, rifles, handguns, ammunition, flashlights, batteries and lanterns. You can't have too many flashlights when the power goes out, I kept reminding myself.
Wal-Mart provided me with towels, sheets, pillowcases, blankets, washcloths and the like to take to a new house, as soon as I found one.
The drive back home was so quiet it hurt. I looked up and down each street I passed in hopes of seeing someone. I sang songs and otherwise entertained myself while watching for some sign of life.
At a long driveway, I turned in and discovered an enormous house. It was close to a freshwater spring that fed the chain of lakes. I decided it was a good place to live. It was all concrete, which would be good if and when the hurricanes rolled through. The roof was reinforced concrete designed to look like it was shingled. It was very roomy and had a clever ventilation design that made it cool. I thought it would be safe and comfortable.
The new house had a ten-foot ceiling in the three-car garage. The storage area above would hold an enormous amount of bulk items.
The family room was a sort of sunroom conversion that faced the lake and a series of sliding glass doors stacked out of the way for natural ventilation. The rear deck was raised about three feet off the ground due to the downward slope towards the lake and contained a nice supply of expensive outdoor furniture.
Like many homes in Winter Haven after the hurricanes of 2004, this one had a whole- house generator that ran off a 250-gallon propane tank. The generator would handle the air conditioner, two refrigerators, four chest freezers and a single electrical outlet in each room as well as the various ceiling fans throughout. I could drive a large propane truck up to the in-ground tank and pipe it directly from the truck to the system. The fireplace and hot tub on the rear deck were also attached to the propane line. I looked forward to having heat, hot water, a washer and dryer and a working hot tub come winter.
In our old house back in Kansas City, where we lived for one year, we had a gas fireplace and spent hundreds of evenings curled up on the couch watching the fire. It made the house so cozy and warm; we could hardly drag ourselves out on a cold day. Every winter Kansas was famous for having that awful week when the temperatures stayed below zero — sometimes twenty below zero, and life ground to a halt. It was too cold to work, too cold to even think about leaving the house. Couch cuddling was a good sport to develop during those weeks.