ALL ALONEJake cursed as he banged the heavy radiation shutters tight. He knew it was best not to watch. Anyway, he did not care to watch the sun rise large, red and malevolent through the dust that swirled harsh on the far hills of the eastern horizon. It was not easy to be the last human on Earth.He got down to checking the few monitors that were still working. Routine helped. Something to focus on. Anything that could take his mind away from the loneliness, from the sense of being left behind, from the whispers that were always just below the threshold of hearing, from the voices that hid in the sad songs of the wind as it danced through the unwholesome dust of the dying Earth.A little scurrying noise caused Zake to look behind. He turned slow and steady, no need to scare them so they would slip back into those dark corners that they liked so much."So, where are my little guys hiding and what are you plotting now?" He spoke out loud. Apart from the Goblins, there was no one to hear, to reply, to criticize, to approve, to care.However, there were always the Goblins. It was way back in the early years of his isolation that he had first conjured up these mischief-making companions. Looking back, he sometimes wished he might have picked on a rather more benign species to populate the loneliness of his mind, Elves or Fairies perhaps. But there are some things that cannot be undone. Then he would remember his reasoning, for companions who are much too nice might soon become just too boring. So he had wanted Goblins and now he had Goblins lurking in that space between what is real and what is not.A blinking light on the main board caught his eye and drew a quickening heart beat. It called him to a message incoming from way out in deep space. It was always from way out these days for this was the posting that no one else would take. He tidied his hair and collar line before hitting the switch. He needn't have bothered for there was no video link, no action required, just another advert for something he didn't need and couldn't order that had wormed its sneaky way past the filters.Then it was time to check the water. One after another, Zake's heavy boots rang loud on the bare rungs of the access ladder. When you're all alone you take care on ladders. You remember there are no medics, no back-up, and no nice nurse with cool hands and a warm smile. As he stepped into the partial darkness of the service tunnel he sniffed the blast of cool air and caught a hint of mildew. He put the fans on full.All along the tunnel there were the little whispers and an occasional hint of movement back in the shadows. Things that were there but at the same time were not there. He didn't like it when they were quiet and today the Goblins seemed quieter than usual.He checked the water every morning. For Zake this was an act in which he saw a sense of history. These were the end days. There would never be another human on Earth and at the same time this was the very last of the good water that had made Earth what it once had been.He had taken to enjoying his own jokes. As he said to himself and sometimes to the Goblins, if he didn't laugh then no one else would. Today, on his way to the water he burst out giggling like a schoolgirl at his new security measure, perhaps not very original but surely effective. He thought of how many times the same old joke might have been made in some form or another down through the millennia when mankind walked the Earth. But this would be the last time on Earth and it was his time. He giggled all the more as he pictured the carefully handwritten notice he had pinned to the wall of the precious water storage facility:Dear Goblins,Please be advised.I have peed in the water.Signed,Zake."That should keep it safe from these thieving little Goblins," he said. However, as he drew close he saw the notice was not quite as he had left it. For beneath his steady measured words there was something new, scrawled so carelessly that he had to look close to read it:Dear Jake,And so have all of us.Signed,The Goblins.Below this, on the notice and on the wall all around, many strange and unpronounceable names had been added with Zake's own pen but in as many different hands as there were names to see.In the months that followed, Zake spent many quiet hours wondering about the effects of isolation on the human mind and why the water tasted so salty.endAll Alone was published inFantastic Frontiers Magazine, Sept 2012.