Having just watched the 1985 film The Quiet Earth, which is very good by the way (despite the annoyingly ambiguous ending which the director himself has admitted doesn’t mean anything), my brain is buzzing with inspiration. The idea of a man waking up one morning to find that he streets are deserted and he is alone is very captivating, and has been used in science fiction works from The Day of the Triffids to modern zombie classics. Here’s my take on the format.
The ‘last man on Earth’ format has been done several times before, so I got to thinking, what if the story were set on another planet – a smaller colony world. These kinds of story also only get interesting when the character realizes that he’s not the last man on Earth, so I played around with this a little too.
The Story-Part 1
Sidney is a loser, as we discover as he staggers home drunk one night. Since coming to the colony world of Insert-Name-Here he had done nothing with his life. He rents a tiny basement apartment beneath a butcher’s shop. Few people would notice that he or his apartment exists. His phone has been cut off because he couldn’t pay the bill.
Sidney wakes up on Sunday morning with a hangover and spends the entire day indoors. The shop above him is closed and he has a quiet day watching movies. He doesn’t watch any TV or read any news (or perhaps flicks passed a new bulletin an ignores it). That evening, he hears sirens and the screeching of tires, but he chooses to ignore it and get an early night.
The next day, Sidney sleeps late again. It’s only when he realizes that he’s out of milk that goes outside. The street is empty. The shop is empty. He takes the milk and leaves money on the counter. Leaving the shop he sees that a car has crashed into a building at the end of the street. The driver is missing. This is the point at which he realizes that something is wrong – that he’s totally alone.
He searches the city and finds nobody else. There are occasional dead bodies and signs that something terrible has happened, but nobody is left alive and there are no clues as to why. Farm animals are missing too. He tries the TV but there are no broadcasts. He tries dialing the emergency services from a payphone – nothing. That night, the power goes out.
The setting, as I imagine it, is a colony world that has been largely terraformed. Much of the world is still desert or perhaps grassland, but all the colonies are clustered together on the same continent where the terraforming process began. This is very convenient for our purposes as it would make it easier to explore in the space of a single book.
You might also want to consider using domed cities on an uninhabitable world. This would create a clear boundary between cities. You’ll see why this would be useful later on.
Earth would be very distant, and ships don’t just come and go between the two worlds. There would always be hope that there are people left alive on Earth, but no way of contacting them and no way to know when a rescue ship might arrive.
The Story-Part 2
So Sidney thinks he is the last man on the planet. His first thought is to take care of his immediate needs. He takes up residence in a mansion on the posh side of town, and goes on a ‘shopping’ spree. He also puts up signs around town pointing any survivors to his new home, but none come.
After some time, he starts to crazy. He imagines himself as the president and king of the city, and gives presidential speeches to mannequins. He begins renaming parts of the city after himself.
After a while, he gets bored and considers suicide, but decides instead that he should explore other cities. He realizes that there is still hope of more people arriving from Earth. He just has to keep himself sane until they arrive, or perhaps find a way of contacting them.
Exploring the North, he visits the very edge of the colonies, where the land has not been terraformed. It’s like looking over the edge of the world.
While exploring a town to the south, he finally meets another person – a woman! Ecstatic to meet each other, they fall in love. They return to Sidney’s presidential palace, where he pronounces her queen of the city.
Soon, they meet another survivor – a man. The man is friendly and stays with them a while. But it is difficult for him to be around the couple (he’s jealous of Sidney and his queen, and is used to being alone). Eventually he decides to go live elsewhere, but to stay in contact. He needs his space.
The idea is that each man has become used to owning his own city-sized kingdom, and to living alone. The imaginary kingdoms start to become real kingdoms – macro nations with micro populations – and the imagined political divisions become part of their lives. Perhaps the second man eventually finds himself a queen too.
This is turning into quite a long story, but you could always skip over large chunks of time.
A Possible Explanation
So why did people vanish? Well, one idea I had was that aliens came and ‘harvested’ all living creatures in the colonies in the space of a day (Sidney’s hangover). Sidney and the others survived by random chance. They were simply overlooked. The aliens left behind dead bodies and meat, taking only the living. Sidney’s apartment being to an extend hidden under the butcher’s shop may have saved him from the attention of the aliens.
They could find a dead alien in the street as evidence of the invasion/mass abduction. They might even find a live alien that has been left alive by mistake. This would be quite a startling and dramatic event to add to the story – they wouldn’t expect to see anybody else, let alone an alien. They’d obviously have to kill it. The fact that an alien was left behind would help to explain that the aliens weren’t entirely thorough, and that’s how some people have survived.
The Story-Part 3
Two more groups of survivors arrive in Sidney’s city. One group is friendly, and he allows them to stay as citizens. They start growing crops in a public park and build a pleasant little community. Sidney’s kingdom is complete.
The second group is not so friendly. They are completely crazy and trash everything in sight, just for the fun of it. Sidney realizes that he must act to protect what is his. His quiet kingdom is going to war!
Enlisting the help of his new subjects and his allied kingdom (the friend he met earlier), he drives the invaders back. Unfortunately, they kill a number of his citizens… including his queen.
Sydney goes completely nuts with grief. While he now has several others to share his city with, they are spread out across the city. Without his beloved queen, he begins to feel truly lonely again.
An Ending or Not
What happens next is a twist that could only happen if this story were set on a planet other than Earth. People have just about given up hope that people would arrive from Earth when a ship eventually arrives. Of course, this has been a possibility all along, but it would be nonetheless surprising to see the dynamic interrupted suddenly like this.
The ship is a transport carrying over a thousand passengers/immigrants. They have been in suspended animation through the long voyage and expected to find everything on the planet status quo.
While Sidney has been hoping for this all along, he has become paranoid and now feels threatened by the new arrivals. He now truly believes that the city belongs to him. He tells the ship’s captain that he is happy to accept new citizens, but he insists that he remain in charge.
The arrival of the ship would be a sharp reminded of reality and the way things used to be, and probably still are on Earth. This would reveal the lunacy of everything that’s happened through the book; how the egos of a few men have been allowed to grow and to transplant themselves onto the real world.
What happens next? I don’t know. Perhaps this is the end, perhaps not.
Perhaps the politics that developed through Sidney’s insanity and ego will go on to affect the world for centuries to come, the colonies being permanently divided into city-states as a result. Or perhaps the crew of the Earth ship decide that he’s a dangerous nuisance and just shoot him on the spot.
I would prefer a combination of both. Sidney dies but his story is remembered, and in a flash forward we see a statue being erected in memory of King Sidney the First.
As always, let me know what you think of this idea, and feel free to share any criticisms or suggestions below. If you decide to use this idea, or you take inspiration from it to create your own story ‘last man on Earth’ story, please let us know.
This story idea was written by Mark Ball