Tired of waiting for more attention, the cat stretched, walked across the still form and up onto the table. It sniffed the shiny cylinders the man had used, and then stepped onto the machine into which the man had been speaking.

Its curiosity satisfied, the feline jumped to the ground, but in doing so, a paw depressed a lever causing the devise to click, whir, and click again. The instrument began talking.

“I suppose it was bound to happen: insidiously, silently, and with perfunctory decisiveness.

“For the record, my name is Malachi, Doctor Antonio Malachi, not that it will mean anything any more because I’m probably one of the few still alive in the world, which really isn’t much of a consolation.

“In an effort to find some semblance of sanity and serenity before I die, I’ve driven out to the lake country where I’m lying in a chaise lounge at someone’s elaborate cottage – if you can call it a cottage because it has an in-ground swimming pool – maybe that’s him disintegrating in it. I just made certain I put the chair upwind.

“This is probably his cat, a real friendly fellow. He likes his chin scratched, don’t you? Yes, you do. Feels good, eh? I wonder if he knows how lucky he is?

“I’m glad their medicine cabinet had some asthmatic inhalers, as they will undoubtedly help my breathing during the little time I have left.”

Harsh coughs are heard and a puffer’s hiss.

“That’s better. You know, it is too bad people didn’t appreciate – cough, cough – the earth’s fragile beauty before they completely trashed it. But money was always the priority. Now, it’s too late – too late – everything is too late, even for hindsight.

“My it’s peaceful here. Now look at that: across the bay there are two vultures waiting patiently in a huge pine tree. What an epitaph! Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, you black bastards!”

A puffer’s hiss is heard again.

“Yes, not much longer now. I’m coughing up blood and the lesions are leaking profusely. It’s the last stage. So, while there is still some time, I will attempt to describe what happened, if only for posterity and my own piece of mind.

“Although many theories were advanced as to why the pandemic affected only humans, no plausible answer was ever developed. Unsubstantiated rumours blamed it on everything from gene splicing to corrupt cloning experiments to a new potent variant of the AIDS virus.

“In every country, the anticipated fiasco of assigning responsibility quickly degenerated into basic survival. During the initial scramble to develop counter measures, the strain’s extreme virulence killed the investigators faster than they could isolate it. Martial law was declared but it was totally ineffective mainly because there were no marshals and absolutely no law.

“Time ran out – cough – time simply ran out.

“Of course, the great urban centres allowed the infection to spread swiftly and easily where soon the humid stench of rotting corpses pervaded every thing.

“Within months, world governments collapsed. Civilization deteriorated from simple looting to complete chaos. Suicide became the norm.

“It was noted that latitude and climatic factors seemed to influence the infection rate with tropical countries faring the worst. I understand that in high-density areas in the Far East, entire islands such as Macao, Hong Kong and Singapore became huge piles of putrefaction. If the wind was right, the smell was detectable far out to sea.

“The preliminary multitude of crematoriums ceased to function due to the lack of operators – it certainly was not from lack of bodies. Fully loaded cadaver ships went to sea but never returned.”

A wry sarcastic laugh is heard, then more coughing.

“Ouch! It even hurts to laugh.

“There is no one alive in any of the cities, just well fed dogs, cats, and millions of extremely fat rats. Billions of flies cover everything and hover overhead in huge black swirling clouds. It’s Nature’s clean up crew.

“Another rather disgusting facet has been the squishy sound of maggots pulsating inside mounds of clothing to which I, as much as I hate the thought of it, will soon make a reluctant contribution.

A violent bout of coughing is heard, followed by the spitting up of heavy phlegm. Several hisses of a puffer are followed by a rasping struggle for breath.

“People escaping the cities carried the plague to more remote regions. In desperate attempts at self-preservation, isolated villages became armed fortresses to prevent outside contact. But the flies found them and inexorably transformed these settlements into walled ghost towns.

“Some people hoarded food, barricaded themselves in inaccessible mountain caves, and killed anyone who approached. But eventually the flies found them.

“There may be some individuals scattered around the Arctic and Antarctic regions, but they won’t last long. The flies will find them. The flies find everyone.

“I wonder what is happening inside nuclear submarines.”

Gasping, laboured breathing is heard.

“I, I suppose once the human race is eradicated, the earth will begin returning to the paradise it once was. The forests and fish stocks should regenerate fairly easily. Pollution in the rivers and lakes will gradually disappear. Desertification will be reversed. The skies have already cleared dramatically. Repairing the oil spills and mining sludge ponds will take longer, but it will happen. It will happen.”

Another violent coughing fit is heard.

“I wish I could be around to witness the glorious transformation as the earth reverts to its original grandeur” – a loud groan of agony is heard – “working in harmony without man’s interference.”

“It is ironic to think that the only thing the earth did not need was mankind.

“What if we had heeded the signs?

“What if we had not been so greedy?

“What if we” – a great painful moan strains for breath – “got what… we… deserved?”

A violent fit of coughing is followed by a long sigh.

After a silent period, the flap of large wings is heard amid a growing din of flies.

The machine falls silent.