I woke up this morning. Frankly, I was surprised. I mean, after all, it was the last thing I expected to do.
The clock above the sink said 5:15. The most quiet quiet was coming out of everything. Even in a cave you hear things – dripping water, echoes of your own footsteps. But here there was nothing.
It’s strange. I wasn’t scared, yet somehow I knew I soon would be. How could I avoid it, being alive and all. But for the time being I decided to just lie there on the kitchen floor by the refrigerator and see what happened.
I began to wonder if this was the last moment before death, a cruel hoax of the sensation of continued life that would suddenly be yanked away, accompanied by echoes of sadistic laughter. I decided to lie still and do nothing but breath–
Air! I involuntarily jerked to a sitting position and swallowed a sharp half breath. Despite the fact that I had been breathing for a full five minutes by the clock, my next breath was tentative, full of realization and anticipation. As if I was testing a hot bath or a cold pond with my big toe. Would there be another? There was, and another, and another, until I had to stop myself from hyperventilating. Wouldn’t that be ironic!
I leaned back against the refrigerator and forced myself to breath slowly. I listened. Silence. No, wait, there was a humming coming from…. My eyes searched the kitchen and again focused on the battery powered clock, high on the wall. The second hand swept smoothly around the dial with a hum. I followed the movement.
5:25. An eternity packed into ten minutes. I think I actually saw the hour hand move. So far I had managed to block the memories. But it wasn’t long before they drowned out my clock friend and I had to allow myself to sift through the pieces of historic rubble like a mental news reel.
Dr. Karl West was the first to know. He was tormented with the knowledge for three weeks. I imagined him stereotypically pacing the floor of the observatory in his white lab coat, wringing his hands, wiping the sweat from his brow wondering who he should tell.
“Father Murphy, if the world was going to end in seventeen days, would you want to know?”
The priest would have thought, Such an odd question from such a practical and analytical man. He would say, “Of course,” in his best priestly tone.
Suddenly two people in the world knew. There’s something uniquely comforting about not being the only one to harbor an awful secret.
Dr. West chided himself for thinking he could have remained quiet until the end. So did Father Murphy. “Why did you think you should keep this to yourself?”
“I’m afraid of what might happen. I’m afraid they won’t believe me. I’m afraid I-”
“Yes, my son?”
“Forgive me, Father. I’m afraid I might be wrong.” He could barely get the words out, not believing he could say such a thing. How could he hope he was right?
By the end of the day the Pope and Heads of State were informed. For some reason, they believed Dr. West. Perhaps the timing was right. Maybe it coincided with current biblical apocalypse prophesy. That was seventeen days ago.
Fourteen days ago Dr. West’s housekeeper found him slumped over a few, final equations at his desk, dead of a heart attack. I guess he miscalculated his own death…or did he?
Dr. West’s secret was put into the hands of the leaders, who then cast it onto the backs of the world’s scientists to disprove it.
Dr. West had discovered a massive gaseous cloud traveling through space. Earth was directly in its path. According to the computer models, when it came in contact with earth’s atmosphere, it would chemically bond with the oxygen molecules. It would be as if the air was sucked from the earth’s atmosphere. And without oxygen, all life would cease.
Somehow the media got hold of it. At first people laughed, thinking it a joke. I even wrote an editorial debunking it as another tabloid fabrication. But surely News Week and USA Today wouldn’t participate in such a sham. Surely the paper I wrote for wouldn’t. Two days later I found myself writing a retraction for my own column.
As the rest of the world started to believe, the world started to stop. Word swept across the planet like a global wildfire, yet there was no panic, no mass hysteria. People cried in the privacy of their own homes.
Churches did a brisk business. So did the phone company. Everyone calling to say goodbye, or I love you or See you in hell, or something. The Internet became deadlocked, and then the phone lines got so snarled that the telephone system shut down worldwide.
Reporters like me, driven by the lure of “the ultimate scoop,” kept churning out newspapers. TV broadcast 24-hour news, except for a presidential address and a Papal blessing live from the Vatican. Radio stations stayed on the air with updates (“Yes, the world is still going to end. We’ll keep you posted.”) between soothing “music for the Apocalypse.”
Street preachers chanted “I told you so” while a few Nay Sayers continued to declare it an elaborate hoax, spouting tired theories of a Communist plot to overthrow the government. Rush Limbaugh ranted that it was actually masterminded by extra-terrestrials.
But most believed. I’m not sure why. I’m not even sure why I accepted it. It was sad to watch such a tenacious species give in so easily. Such an unexpected reaction for a bunch of skeptics and disbelievers. This was the same race that crucified Jesus Christ for preaching love, now so quick to believe in the end of the world.
Yet it wasn’t defeated resignation that filled the air. Rather, a strange aura of relief and peace surrounded the earth. My years of peace marches and campaigning suddenly seemed meaningless, for one of the consequences of our plight was, ironically, instant global peace. I guess all the generals and armies decided, why destroy each other when God – or Satan – or UFOs – or whoever – was going to do it in a few days. Amazing how the advent of global annihilation brings everyone into agreement. Well, the peace makers got their wish, if only for a few days.
D-Day. The TV news reported it like an oncoming hurricane. The world computers spit out the same projection time after time. By 8 a.m. they had even narrowed their calculations down to the minute – the world would end on June 6th at 5:17 p.m. Some people wanted to know, others deliberately turned off the TV so they wouldn’t. CNN interviewed an expert who assured nervous viewers they wouldn’t be fried to a crisp (where they got that idea, I don’t know). A panel of doctors talked about death from lack of oxygen.
Relatively speaking, the news was good – the end would be as painless as falling asleep. In fact, that’s just how they described it. The whole world would just fall asleep and never wake up again. I had to wonder about this, though. I remembered my great uncle Tony. He had asthma. He always said it was a horrible, scary feeling when he had an attack, like someone was suffocating him with a pillow. I just hoped the experts were right and that this would be different.
I decided I wanted to be at my mother’s house when it happened. I’m not sure why. She’d been dead only three weeks, and this big old brick house of my childhood was lonely now. But all her things were still here, just the way she left them. I wished she could have lived for the end of the world. It would have made a much more agreeable death than the one she had to bone cancer. I think she would have actually looked forward to this, had she known. But she went before Dr. West unburdened his soul to Father Murphy.
I left early so I would have plenty of time – just in case the computers and scientists were off by a few hours. The streets felt as empty as two a.m. on Christmas night. The few cars I passed had a look of purpose. I imagined the people in them were doing the same as I was – heading somewhere special for that moment.
I stood on the front porch for a few minutes. When I was a kid, I used to pretend the towering oak tree that shades the house was a leafy giant defending us against storms and evil. I wondered how long the tree could survive without oxygen. Who would protect me then? With one last look around and a deep breath of outside air, I went in.
It was like walking into a thirty-year time warp. My mother took great care to preserve the house after Dad died. The same faded oriental rug in the dining room. The same yellow faux marble kitchen table. A set of 1956 Encyclopedia Britannica, missing the J-K volume. Dad had told me that he accidently dropped it into the old well out back. Lord knows how that happened. And what was he doing with it back there anyway?
I wandered through every room, remembering the smells of thirty years of puppies, mother’s perfume, moldy books, pressed flowers, faded carpet, cedar chests and Thanksgiving turkeys. I felt as if I had stepped into a Norman Rockwell Painting, with all the people gone. I told myself this “harking back” was futile, even stupid, but I allowed myself the pleasure of lying face down on my old bed and inhaling the faded, musty scents of my youth.
Before I knew it, it was almost four o’clock. I went down to the kitchen and stared into the empty refrigerator. I was hungry. That’s ridiculous, I told myself. What the Hell. I made myself a green bean, corn and tomato soup casserole – the only things left in the house. As I sat eating my last meal I heard the exhaust fan in the attic clatter on automatically. I opened the kitchen window and savored the cool, dry breeze as it pumped past the faded yellow curtains against my face and neck.
Across the alley, I could see Jim and Wendy Witson and their two children, Janie and Mark, sitting out in their screened back porch. I went to highschool with Wendy. Like another Norman Rockwell painting, they were playing a board game, Monopoly perhaps. Their calmness and flagrant attempt at oblivion caused me to chuckle. Then it all suddenly seemed funny – hilarious. I backed away from the window in hysterics, and fell against the stove in a laughing fit. Here we were, complacently waiting for the end of the world, playing games and cooking green beans.
I finished my casserole in silence and then went to the sink to wash my dish and fork. I looked out the window at the Witson’s house again. I wondered if I should go over and ask to stay with them until the end. Did I really want to be alone for this? How would I deal with it when it came? Then again, if I fell apart and lost it, did I want others to see me? Or maybe I could help them if they lost it?
I finally came back to my initial decision to remain alone in the sanctuary of my mother’s kitchen. This was the room we always entered the house through. We’d leave our boots and sleds on the back porch and scurry in out of the snow to the warmth of chocolate chip cookies baking and hot chocolate bubbling away in the special dented aluminum pot reserved for hot chocolate. TV sounds from the living room would filter through the swinging door as Dad watched the evening news.
My comforting memories were suddenly gashed by a single gun shot echoing through the neighborhood. A dog barked a couple of times in vain alert. I peered tentatively out the kitchen window. The Witsons were still playing with forced oblivion.
I turned from the window and leaned back against the sink. How long now? I didn’t look at the clock. From somewhere down the street a soulful soprano haunted the June afternoon with “Silent Night.”
“…Sleep in heavenly pe-eace. Slee-eep in heavenly peace.”
The song faded. I shut the window in case she decided to sing it again. I couldn’t deal with such an ironic requiem.
I decided I better sit down on the floor so I wouldn’t fall when it happened. I didn’t fancy hurting myself during this wonderfully painless death I was supposed to experience. God, I hoped they were right – about the way it would end, that is.
I positioned myself by the back door in front of the refrigerator. I had no particular reason for this spot. It just seemed the logical place. As I sat down, I inadvertently looked up at the clock. Damn! I didn’t want to do that. But now I knew, I had four minutes to go. Oh well.
I wondered if I should pray. Would my solitary prayer even get through the billions of other prayers undoubtedly beseeching their way to God at that very moment? I decided to try. Maybe it would get on his voice mail and he could pick it up later. But what should I pray for? The salvation of my soul? That I go to heaven? Somehow those requests didn’t seem appropriate. I could pray for inner strength and guidance, but this, too, seemed pointless. So, instead, I whispered to the ceiling, “Thank you,” and lay down on the floor.
I remember feeling the draft from under the back door. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sensation of air rushing past my face like a cool feather. It bore the essence of the backyard – grass, trees, barbecue ashes, and a hint of mildewey slime from the well.
Then IT happened. There wasn’t any bang or flash, but I knew. The first perceptible indication was the air slowing from under the door, even though I could hear the attic fan still churning. Soon it was drawing less and less air until everything became absolutely still.
I could feel the kitchen slipping away. My lungs instinctively labored. It felt vaguely like breathing through a pillow. I was thankful for my waning consciousness, remembering my uncle and his asthma attacks.
I actually remember when I stopped breathing. I couldn’t have been conscious, but I swear I remember. I had the sleepy feeling of not wanting to take another breath. Like it wasn’t on my list of things to do today.
Twelve hours later, there I was. Sitting, breathing, on the kitchen floor. Did something go wrong? Well, perhaps “wrong” isn’t quite the right word. I was alive, so I figure that means something went right. I guess twelve hours because it was morning, and I had no way of telling how long I was out. And besides, it was too creepy to think I had been out any longer.
I wondered if anything else was alive outside. I strained to listen. I yearned to hear something. Anything. But the din of that battery-operated wall clock swamped the kitchen. The only working thing left on earth and it had to be that damned clock! A fog horn could sound off in the kitchen and I wouldn’t hear it because of that damned clock!
That’s when it finally happened – I panicked. What if I was the only living thing left on earth? What if it was going to happen all over again. What if I was really dead and I was destined to sit on my mother’s kitchen floor for the rest of eternity? What if…
I forced a deep breath, and stopped the rampage of “what if’s.” I wondered if I should cry. But I didn’t feel like I could. Maybe later. Meanwhile, the clock decreased its noise level to a bearable amplitude, and I was able to regain some measure of control over my senses.
I decided it was time to get up. Gingerly, like a novice ice skater, I brought my feet under me and slid my back up the refrigerator door until I was standing. I glanced up at the clock. 5:40. I congratulated myself for being awake and alive for twenty five minutes.
I felt a little light headed, but essentially alright. I looked down at my feet, as if I expected them to be invisible or something. They were still there, and I was slowly coming to the realization that I was too. Morning sun streamed in through the window over the sink, giving the bright yellow kitchen an orange glow. I walked to the sink and peered out across the alley.
The Witson’s screened porch looked empty, but I decided to put off dealing with the possibility of their dead bodies lying on the floor below my line of sight. I tried the switch for the light over the sink. Nothing. OK, no electricity. No surprise.
I opened the window. I was roused by a brisk breeze not unlike yesterday’s. Oxygen. The air was full of oxygen! The trees swayed in the wind. I listened. Wind, trees, leaves. I wondered why I hadn’t heard all this before. That damned clock…. But no birds. No rejoicing people. No neighborhood dogs barking. No sopranos singing praises to a merciful God. Maybe I was alone, the last person–
I cut my speculations short. They were futile and would only lead to panic again. I sprinted around the house opening every window and door to let in the glorious oxygen. There certainly was plenty of it now. I wondered if it was new oxygen or old oxygen. I came back to the kitchen and sat at the table, basking in the breeze.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me. What if the Witson’s weren’t dead. Just unconscious. Maybe I should go over and check. Then again, what if they were dead. Could I deal with seeing little Janie, her pathetic body limply hanging over the Monopoly board like a ragdoll? And Mark, not even 10 yet, and never again to Pass Go or use his Get Out of Jail Free card. How could I look upon their parents draped in their porch chairs where they helplessly watched their children die. I decided to wait a while longer when I wasn’t quite so emotional and melodramatic.
And what of the outside world? I tried the phone, but of course it was “dead” (I have gotten very conscious of my use of this word). Of course the TV won’t work without electricity. Neither will the radio. But wait. I dug through the hall closet and emerged triumphantly with a portable, battery-operated emergency radio. Good ole Dad – always prepared. I turned it on and ran the dial – AM, FM, even short wave. There was nothing. Nothing but static. I took the radio into the kitchen anyway.
7:30 a.m. Awake and alive for two hours and fifteen minutes. I knew it was time to go outside. I ventured onto the back porch and stood at the top of the steps surveying the yard. The grass needed to be cut, as usual, and the tree with the swing was still there, although I wasn’t keen on testing the old, frayed ropes. Three trash cans sat neatly in a row by the garage. The garage doors still didn’t close all the way.
The car! I thought. I grabbed the set of keys marked “GREEN FORD” from one of the hooks just inside the back door and ran down the stairs. Half way across the yard I forced myself to walk the rest of the way to the garage, like I was just taking the trash out, or something mundane like that. I hauled the warped wooden doors open and stroked the hood of the weather-beaten pickup truck. Dad just wouldn’t give it up, and he kept fixing it and fixing it even when it was more economical to buy a new one that wouldn’t keep breaking down all the time. I slipped behind the wheel and put the key in the ignition.
“Please, God, let it start.” I spoke out loud. My voice echoed through the silence of the garage like a bell. Well, I thought, at least there won’t be any competition for prayers this time.
I squeezed my eyes closed, gritted my teeth, and turned the key. The motor roared to life and I breathed again. I revved the engine a few times to reassure myself, and then shut it off. It would keep until I was ready.
Back in the kitchen I opened a can of green beans and ate them straight from the can. I can’t ever remember eating green beans cold. Not bad. And so convenient. I didn’t even bother washing my fork off.
1:15. I sat at the kitchen table for an hour folding paper airplanes. My fidgeting was making me nervous again. I had been putting it off all morning, and now I knew it was time to check on the Witsons.
I peered through the screen into the shaded darkness of their porch. I could just make out a few dark shapes that were probably chairs, but I couldn’t tell if they were occupied. I knocked. Nothing. The sound of my own voice in the garage had startled me, so I knocked again. Two harder raps. I’m not sure if I was more scared to find them alive or dead. Still nothing. With deliberate slowness, I opened the screen door and poked my head in. Nobody. An unfinished Scrabble game sat on a milk crate in the center of the chairs. It almost looked like they had just gotten up to eat dinner. I looked at the letters of one of the absent players – X X Q T M S N N. I’ll bet they were glad the world ended before they had to try and make a word from that.
The kitchen, den, and living room, too, were clear of dead or, for that matter, live bodies. Maybe they’re upstairs in bed, I thought. That would have been my own choice after the kitchen floor. But the beds were empty and neatly made.
I left the Witson’s house with a box of food but no answers. A search of their front and back yards also turned up nothing. What could have happened to them? Did they survive? If not, where were their bodies? Forget them, I told myself. Why should I worry about the Witsons or anyone else for that matter. I didn’t even know what happened to me.
Back in the security of my kitchen I watched the sun set through the back door. In the encroaching darkness I sat listening to the clock’s incessant hum that disguised the bottomless silence of a once swarming world. I felt myself slipping into panic again. I shoved the chair back to stand up, and the screech of wood on linoleum cut through the room like the shriek of a stuck pig. It only added to my growing hysteria.
With forced purpose, I collected every candle I could find in the house, including an old Peace candle from some Christmas past. The kitchen table looked like an altar. The yellow walls glowed surrealistically.
8:20 p.m. I watched the clock as if it were a fly on a screen. The second hand was barely discernable. But the hum… That hum. More like a buzz. I climbed up on a chair and plucked the clock from the wall like a hornet’s nest from a tree. I wrapped it in a dishtowel and felt my way into the living room where I stuffed it under one of the sofa cushions.
Satisfied, I counted the candles – 26. They made a nice noise as they burned, as the wax crackled and the flames sputtered.
Suddenly my sensible side came charging out at me: what the hell are you burning all your candles at once for. Don’t you think you’ll want light tomorrow night? And what about next week? Next month? How long do you think you can make them last?
I blew every candle out but one – the Peace candle, already half gone, it read “Pe–e.” The kitchen faded around me, and I focused on the meager flame.
I turned on the radio and dialed a nice frequency of static to keep me company. I wondered why the clock bothered me but the static didn’t. Maybe because the clock didn’t have a volume knob.
I was finally able to ponder my situation without the dry heaves of panic welling up in my throat. I’m not sure if it was the quiet drone of the static or the mesmerizing flame, but I began to feel that same hush as I had last night when it happened.
What did happen? What I knew, or thought I knew, was that something happened last night to the air that knocked me out and apparently killed every other living creature on the planet. Why not me? Was I chosen by God to live for some higher purpose? Or maybe I was the only one who died, and –
I stopped my mind ramblings and concentrated on the practical side of my predicament. Dead or alive, I existed in some form, on some plane, in some dimension, and I needed to take stock of the resources available to me if I was to continue.
In summary, there was no electricity, but there were batteries. No phone, no TV, no radio, no – Wait. I hadn’t checked the water. I had a new prayer at my lips. “Please let there be water!” I turned on the cold water faucet at the kitchen sink and was overjoyed to see the best water pressure ever to come through those old pipes. The surge of cold running water prompted me to test the sewer facilities next.
Mother’s pantry was scantly stocked with a few left over cans that hadn’t been cleaned out with the refrigerator: 2 more cans of green beans, 3 mushroom soups, a box of saltines, and an aged box of spaghetti. I added them to the box of stuff I had raided from the Witson’s.
The static was starting to get on my nerves. If only I had some music. I turned off the radio and, with candle in hand, I made my way up to the attic like a Charles Dickens character.
There it was, “My Master’s Voice”- Grandma’s old Victrola. I juggled the box of records, the player, and the candle down the steep attic steps back to the kitchen.
The only record that looked playable was one marked “Gregorian Chant.” I wound the handle and lowered the needle. A flick of the switch and suddenly there was a choir of voices resounding through house, out the back door, and through the neighborhood. I was not alone. I had a roomful of men, dead and celibate, but human nonetheless.
The music permeated my body and the candle lulled me into a state of quiet reconciliation. I felt a strange contented melancholy spread over me. So I was alone. I’d always been a loner. I never needed other people the way some people did. I had a friend once that couldn’t stand to be alone for an hour. She’d go down to the all-night laundromat just to be around people until her roommate or boyfriend came home. But I sought out solitude. Sometimes I deliberately went into isolation, especially when I was writing. People got on my nerves, especially the stupid ones.
I caught myself falling back into my old attitude. Somehow it didn’t feel right anymore. I realized I missed all those people, stupid or otherwise.
11:30 p.m. I was nodding off at the kitchen table when the fifth playing of the Gregorian Chant ended. I pulled myself awake and quickly snatched the needle from the record before it had a chance to hit the center paper.
I knew I was avoiding sleep. Would I wake up again? Was this just a dream? I realized I would have to sleep eventually. I closed the Victrola and was about to blow out the candle when I heard a squeak. At first I thought I had bumped the table. But as I stood absolutely stock still, breath held, it came again. It was coming from the back porch! It was barely audible, but it was a definite squeak. It could have easily been the screen door or a tree branch scraping the roof, but something told me it wasn’t.
I took up the candle and walked to the back door. The inside wooden door was open, but the screen door was closed. The candle light wouldn’t penetrate the dense screen, and I couldn’t see a thing. I waited. Nothing stirred. There wasn’t even any wind. “Hello?” Nothing. I gingerly opened the door.
It opened easily about two inches, and then it hit something. It wasn’t like hitting a rock or anything hard. It was soft, and it gave as I put more pressure on the door. The candle’s weak light cast onto the back porch. Suddenly I thought about those people in horror flicks that hear a noise outside and just have to go out to investigate, and all the while the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen. Horror flicks never particularly scared me because I was usually so disgusted by the stupid people in them.
Now here I was, investigating a suspicious noise. Blindly walking out into the dark, to be impaled by some mutant. One side of my brain was yelling “Don’t go out there! Shut the door and lock it! Hide in the cellar.” But the other side prodded me “You have to find out what’s out there. You’ll never get to sleep without knowing.”
I took a deep breath, strained my eyes to look through the darkness, stifled the urge to run, and pushed the door open enough to get through. I held the candle up, scanning the clutter of back porch debris for any sign of movement. Old bicycles, rakes and taboggans cast eerie shadows and provided good hiding places. As I lowered the light I could see a vague shape – a lump really – lying on the floor against the door. I nearly jumped out of my skin as two eyes glowed in the candlelight. It was a cat! And it was alive!
It looked up at me and squeaked. It wasn’t even a meow, just a little rasp being forced out of its throat. I started talking in a low, quiet, continuous, soothing tone though my heart was racing. I didn’t even know what I was saying, I just knew it could hear me, and it seemed comforted. I picked him up and carried him inside, taking care not to let the screen door slam behind me. All the while I kept droning my mantra.
I took the cat upstairs to the bedroom and ever so carefully laid him on the bed. He seemed happy to be there. I told him not to move, and then rushed back down to the kitchen to get some water and crackers. He practically inhaled the Saltine mush I made, and promptly began to purr. The purr was so soft that I never would have heard it if I hadn’t felt it first as I stroked him. His warmth and aliveness felt so real, yet I could barely believe he was there.
Careful not to disturb or alarm him, I crawled into bed next to my new friend. My only friend. He began cleaning his whiskers and paws and I stroked his body as I fell asleep, unafraid.
6:30 a.m. I awoke with a start. I felt like I was suffocating again. Was it happening all over again? Then I realized I had a mouth full of cat. He was lying smack across my mouth. I turned my face to the side toward his head and took a deep breath. I was still here. His purring sent deep rhythmic vibrations resonating through my body. It was a marvelous feeling of companionship.
I cleared my throat and croaked out “Good Morning.” He raised his head and peered around at me with half open eyes. After a slow-motion blink, a yawn and a cursory glance around the room, he gave a long stretch and stood up. I never knew a tiny little cat could weigh so much as he stood on my chest looking at me. Every foot felt like a hundred pounds bearing down on me. I picked him up off me and put him on the other side of the bed. He watched patiently as I got up and brushed my hair.
He looked much better than last night. Clean and bright eyed. Amazing what a few mushy saltines and a good night’s rest will do. He was all white with one black smudge on the tip of his right ear, like he had brushed up against a freshly painted chair or something. His green eyes were so deep I thought I could see them going into a different color.
I headed down to the kitchen and he followed a close six inches behind. Once there he jumped up on the table and sat down on the closed Victrola like a king, watching my every move.
He needed a name. Smudge? Patience? I spoke each one aloud, as if I was asking him. I ran through more names as I fixed breakfast. Then it hit me as I served him mushy crackers. Saltine. I said it twice more, and he didn’t seem to object, so Saltine it was. I munched on cold green beans again while Saltine lapped up his namesake. I was so grateful for the company. I knew I could face the world now, whatever was waiting for me.
8:00 a.m. I’m taking only a few things. Several boxes of food – I raided the Witson’s pantry again (they even had cat food), a few changes of underwear, some candles, and the Victrola. That’s all I need. We’ll go as far as the gasoline in the tank will take us and then find another car or more gas. That’s as much of a plan as I have, and that’s as far ahead as I want to think.
I’m putting a sign out front and leaving the kitchen door open for anyone who might pass by.
You are welcome.
I hope this friendly, yellow kitchen gives you
as much comfort and safety as it did us.
Signed: John Vincent Clarris and Saltine, June 7, 2036
P.S. The clock’s still under the sofa cushion. Maybe you can fix the hum.
I sat quietly remembering my words. In two days it will be one year since I set out. One year of searching for somebody else, anybody else. But now I was back in my safe yellow kitchen reading the words I had hoped someone else would read.
I had found the world to be as quiet as this kitchen. The only living things were fish and worms. No animals, no birds, no people. I had at least expected dead bodies, but there was nothing. Except for me and Saltine.
I entertained ideas of an alternate universe, a fold in time, or some such sci fi explanation. I’ve read enough Ray Bradbury to keep my imagination sifting through the possibilities for years.
I saw more of the country in the last twelve months than I had my whole life. When the old green Ford pickup finally died in Boston, I found a motor cycle with a side car. Saltine eventually got used to that. Small towns, cities, farms – they were all the same. Like a late night movie, empty and dark. Every house I passed seemed to beckon me, longing for an occupant. I stopped going into houses after the first week. I figured if anyone was alive, they’d hear my motor and come out running.
Saltine and I headed down to Mexico. I’m not sure why I thought I’d have better luck in another country. But it was the same. Mexico City, one of the most populated cities in the world, was a ghost town. Not even that. The cities weren’t just empty, they were EMPTY. As if noone had ever been there, not even the builders.
I had an idea where I could find ghosts. It took me two days to get there, but I found them – in an ancient city long dead even before this event. I sat at the top of the Sun Pyramid, eyes closed, hands raised, and felt them. But they weren’t MY ghosts. That’s when I decided it was time to come home to my yellow kitchen, to MY ghosts. So here I am, rereading my journal, realizing that one of the ghosts I had come home to was myself.
I had missed my humming friend, and it was time to ressurect it. I went to the junk drawer and rooted through it for a new battery for the clock. I hoped the battery in the drawer was still good.
In the living room I slid my hand under the cushion and pulled out the clock. It was still humming! I couldn’t believe it. Its battery couldn’t have lasted this long. But the second hand swept along smoothly, and the hum was as loud as I remembered. Four ten, right on time.
I remounted the clock in its rightful place above the sink and sat at the table. Saltine rubbed against my leg and then jumped up and curled up in my lap. All was well. For the first time since IT happened, I felt at peace with my situation. I would – I could live out the rest of my days here in the house I was born in, content that we were the last sentient beings on the planet. Saltine was a good companion, though I knew he would die before me. But he was here now.
I decided to pick up my journal writing where I had left off. It had proved to be good therapy during the crisis. I zipped the pen out from the spiral binding on the notebook and turned to a fresh page. But the page wasn’t blank. It was filled with entries, each in a different hand:
June 18th, 1:15 p.m. I decided to try one more house. I lost count after fifty. That was two days ago. And now I have finally found evidence that someone else survived. I haven’t cried this hard since I was a kid. I’ve been holding everything in since IT happened. I’ll sleep here tonight and then move on. Maybe I’ll find you, John and Saltine. Signed: Mark Black, III
August 20th, 11:20 p.m. Jennie and I were drawn to this house as if your cardboard sign out front was flashing “vacancy”. We have been traveling since IT happened (to use your term, which is very appropriate). It’s late and we’re tired. This, too, is the first evidence we’ve found of other survivors. It gives us great hope. We had almost given up. When we awoke on that June 7th morning our twelve-year-old son, Danny, was gone, dissappeared. We’ve been searching for him, or anyone else since. Now that we know there are others, we’ll keep looking. We’ll sleep well tonight here. We will travel east on the Interstate Highway if anyone reads this. Signed: Ralph and Jennie Inez
August 24th, 12 noon. This is the first meal I have enjoyed for two months. I am so excited. I can barely eat. I’m going to try to catch up to Ralph and Jennie, so I won’t stay the night. God help us. Signed: Marion Delphi
December 24th, 8 p.m. What a wonderful Christmas present – to learn that others survived (and I’m not even Christian). I stumbled upon this house by accident. It’s snowing very hard. I can almost smell your mother’s chocolate chip cookies baking. And I certanly could use some hot chocolate to warm me up. I’ll open a tin of tuna I have been hoarding. The fireplace is very nice. Signed: Parmoore Vinnetti, M.D.
May 3rd, 4 p.m. I almost missed the sign on the front porch from all the high weeds in the front yard. I thought I had finally found someone, only to come into an empty house. But I am grateful to know there are others. Yet, what good is knowing if I can’t find you? Where did you go? I don’t know how long I can keep going. I broke my ankle a few weeks ago, and it’s still bothering me. Dr. Vinnetti, where did you go? I’ll stay here a few days and recuperate. Maybe someone else will come. Signed: Layola Mariner P.S. I replaced the battery in the clock, but I couldn’t fix the hum.