1. The Mirror
Here is a middle aged man. He is standing in front of a large mirror in an unkempt washroom. His greying hair is dishevelled, as if he has just climbed out of bed, and a five o’ clock shadow darkens the bottom half of his face.
He is leaned in close to the mirror, flexing his face muscles and contemplating the minute movements in the glass. His right hand holds a razor, and the left, a bottle of shaving cream. He sighs softly and continues to study his wrinkles. He has a face of cracked stone.
The surface of the mirror is flecked with spots of dirt and grime. The man smiles grimly as he scratches some of it off with the tip of his fingernail. Underneath, he sees a patch of stubble. Still smiling, he lathers his hands with shaving cream and drowns the tiny strands of hair in snow.
The trees growing out of his face wilt in the cold, and then he cuts them down.
2. The Meeting
A train pulls into the busy station. As it comes to a halt, steel floodgates open and a coloured blur spills out onto the platform. A mass of lives tangle together and a singular entity ascends the stairs to the street above.
The middle aged man, now in a grey business suit, breaks off from the crowd and stops by a payphone. He fumbles in his pocket for change and then drops a fifty cent piece into the slit on the receiver. Machinery grinds and his fifty cents re-emerge in the coin return.
There’s a piece of paper taped above the receiver. Messy handwriting reads ‘dollar coins only.’ The man swears.
A young woman with radiant hair appears at the payphone next to him. He gives her a sideways glance, and she flashes him a flirtatious smile.
The man points to the ring on his fourth finger and shakes his head sadly.
She continues smiling.
3. The Battle
The man is alone in an office cubicle. A stern woman with an all knowing glare stares at him from a photograph on his desk. Grim faced, he picks it up and turns it around.
The photograph is not allowed to watch him. He is fighting a battle.
“You’ll never win,” taunts a demon, one voice from a jumble of disjointed faces that circle him slowly, menacingly, waiting for him to lower his guard.
For the man, what’s at stake is the right to live, or at least it seems that way. In reality, all he faces is not knowing what could have happened, and for him, that isn’t really living at all.
“You’re a coward, too weak,” growls the demon, as the forces of darkness close in. “Too stupid to fight for what’s yours.”
In the distance, an obsidian cliff towers overhead. Watching from its precipice is the girl from the payphone, entranced by the standoff, silently cheering the man on.
The sight of her empowers him.
He laughs defiantly at the demon, withdraws his sword from its sheath, and strikes.
4. The Hands
The man waits in a cheap motel room. He sits on a lumpy bed that has been claimed by countless others and thinks about a forbidden rendezvous.
He finds himself passing time by contemplating the state of the room. The outdated wallpaper is faded and stained with the remnants of rot and mildew. He decides that it would be nearly impossible to clean.
On top of his briefcase on the bedside table, his phone vibrates. He leans over and reads the name displayed on the screen, then shakes his head and turns it off. Now it is dead.
As he lies back on the mattress, he feels a tingling in both his wrists, and then his hands wrench themselves off his arms and scuttle away from him like spiders.
“You’ll oppress us no longer!” shouts Mr. Left as he makes a rude gesture.
“You bit off all my nails, you bastard!” cries Mr. Right, who takes hold of a steak knife left over from dinner. “And you subjected me to all those sexual misdeeds!”
“Wait, why is this happening?” the man begins to ask, confused, but his sentient digits are not in the mood to listen.
“Down with the oppressor!” they both shout, and Mr. Right lops off his head.
The man’s disembodied head watches from the foot of the bed as the hands cut open his torso and carve out his heart. Once it is free, Mr. Right carries it over and dangles it cruelly in front of his eyes.
“Finally!” the heart exclaims, laughing. “I’m free of the tyranny of the brain.”
The three guffaw in delight, revelling in their victory.
Someone knocks loudly on the motel room’s door.
The man passes out.
5. The Seed
When he returns home, the man’s wife gives him a seed of sickly green and commands him to make it grow.
He plants it in the garden that lines the front of their house and waters it with his tears. It takes him a few tries to find out how to make it grow correctly; the first time it sprouts, it becomes a Venus flytrap that bites off his arm, and the second, it evolves into a deadly nightshade that melts off his face with a cloud of acidic pollen.
“It’s your own damn fault,” his wife chides as she watches him writhe in pain. “You’re supposed to put work into it if you want it grow. You’re supposed to make an effort. It won’t turn into a flower on its own.”
He vows that the next time he will do it properly, feeding the seed with a steady torrent of misery.
The seed grows and grows. He starts to water it with his blood and sweat, as well. It likes that, relishing it with some sinister delight as it slowly gets bigger and bigger.
The next morning, the man awakes to find a tiny seedling. He knows it will finish growing soon. He retreats to the garden shed, retrieves a hand-saw from the wooden board on the wall, and chops off his remaining limbs. He tosses them to the growing plant and then retires to bed from exhaustion.
When the grey sun rises the next day and drains the colour out of everything, he goes outside to see that the seed has finished growing at last.
It is a rose with blood red petals.
6. The Wife
“You didn’t do it right,” the man’s wife says, observing the rose with contempt. “You’re completely useless.”
The man, weeping at her feet, apologises and offers grow the seed again.
“No,” his wife says, tearing her wedding ring off and tossing it violently to the ground beside him. “No more chances. I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.”
She picks up a leather suitcase and walks to the curb, where she climbs into a waiting taxicab.
“Wait!” the man shouts, reaching out for her as he tries to climb to his feet.
The taxicab’s wheels begin to turn, and she flips him the bird through the window.
“Don’t contact me,” she spits.
Now she is gone.
7. The Payphone
A train pulls into the station again. This time, it is the weekend, and only one man trickles out onto the platform. He immediately ascends the stairs to the street, and stops at the payphone that eats dollar coins.
He rests for a moment, leaning on the side of the telephone. Blurs of faceless people pass him without looking, some traversing the street in cars with tinted windows, others congregating in excited groups, chatting about the movie that just played in the cinema and still others walking alone, keeping their heads down and ignoring the man as they pass; many lives, many paths, none of them intersecting with his.
He sighs sadly and looks into the sky, as if expecting some Sun God to appear and give him an answer. Glass skyscrapers loom above him, reaching so high as to block out the sun, and cast him in their shadow.
He is nothing.
He turns to the payphone and inserts a fifty cent piece into the slot.
It immediately drops down into the coin return.
He quickly glances at the scrap of paper that is still taped there, then retrieves the silver coin and returns it to his wallet.
The young woman doesn’t appear beside him this time.
He fishes a gold dollar coin out of his change purse, feeds it to the telephone, and dials a number.
He listens to it ring for two whole minutes, before the phone disconnects.
He takes his dollar from the coin return, hurls it angrily at the curb, and climbs down the stairs back into the subway.
8. The Letter
The man sits in the front seat of his car, parked on a cliff overlooking the city as the sun sets on the horizon.
A small revolver rests in his lap, loaded with two bullets. In his hands, he holds a letter written on pink paper, marked with a smudge of lipstick.
The young woman with the radiant hair smiles cheekily at him in a snapshot taped to the footer. She’s wearing nothing but a brassiere made of black lace.
In anger, the man crumples up the letter and tosses it out of the window.
He takes the revolver into his right hand, turns off the safety, then places it back down on the dashboard.
He sits in silence and watches pinpricks of light slowly turn on across the city below.
He wonders what he should do.
9. The Sun God
“There’s only one way to make it better now,” the Sun God says softly, taking the gun from the dashboard and thrusting it into the man’s arms.
“Are you sure?” the man asks, a tear rolling down his cheek. “I just want everything to go back to how it was.”
“It’s beyond repair now,” the Sun God says, shaking his head. “You want your world back, you have to fight for it. Go and take it back.”
Another tear rolls down the man’s face as he nods. He knows the Sun God is right.
“I’ll- I’ll do it,” he finally stammers.
The Sun God doesn’t answer; he’s vanished, just as suddenly as he appeared.
The man is alone now.
10. The End
A dead, soulless world, painted in a tinge of sickly grey. Not a place, but a shade, a revenant of what once was. Ruinous bastions of a lost civilisation reach into the sky on the horizon like eldritch spires, blocking out a waning sun that shines cold light onto a frozen tundra.
Thick layers of snow blanket the burnt ground as if to hide it like a mess swept under a rug. Skeletal remains, desperate to not be forgotten, jut out of the ice, their waterlogged fingers grasping for the toxic air, seeking freedom that cannot be theirs.
Above, a forgotten city street curves into a mountain made of rubble. Towering edifices, once glorious constructs of glass and silver, reduced to pillars of dirty concrete by a century of neglect line the snow-covered road, haunted by ghosts of the old world, emotions given sentience by those long dead: fear, sadness, anger, confusion. Misery writ large.
Clocks are stopped at the thirteenth hour. This world belongs to the past. Despair and loneliness proliferate wherever the phantoms of humanity weep, bravely establishing new frontiers in a fallen world left behind just for them. They are the new humanity.
High above, from a platform suspended in Heaven, the last man on Earth watches and cries. This is his doing. This is his bittersweet victory. This is mankind’s legacy.
“I just want to die!” he screams at the Sun God.
“Just let me be with everyone else!”
From somewhere beyond his bedroom door, he hears careful footsteps gathering.
His sobbing stops and he turns to face the portal, startled. Have they come for him?
A single knock, reverberating through the room.
Someone else is here.
D. Robert Grixti is a speculative and horror fiction writer from Melbourne, Australia. His influences include Stephen King, John Wyndham and H.P Lovecraft. His work has appeared in Imagine Literary Journal, Crossfire Magazine, Black Petals, Flashes In The Dark, The Eunoia Review and more. He loves the dark, macabre and bizarre. He hopes to blend the best of literary and genre fiction in his writing and, through this, encourage others to find meaning in the written word.