It’s day two thousand and five hundred, probably. She still can’t be sure. Her bookkeeping skills are, at best, questionable. That’s fine though. It’s not like the day mattered. She wondered if she should celebrate. It didn’t feel like a milestone even though, as far as she could tell, it was. She didn't care for these milestones anyway. They tended to make her sad.
Her old journal was bound in leather. Its’ pages were acid free which caused her pens’ fine tip to make a wonderful scratching noise as she dragged it across its’ surface. She enjoyed this sound. Each page, front and back, was filled. Only a little space remained.
“It’s day 2500.” Her entry started. “I like to think back to the way Mr. Wilkes said my name on days like this. He made my short, two syllable name into a word that conveyed so much more than just my title. It showed that he cared, and that my actions disappointed him. It wasn't in a bad way though. I never felt like he was looking down on me, but instead I felt he meant to encourage me to be present in my life where I was.
Maybe that’s what went wrong? Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention to the world around me, so it went and left me behind. Maybe that’s why I'm forced to be the only voice I've heard in 2500 days.
I went to bed last night trying to copy his voice. I tried to stress the ‘Can’ and that was wrong. I attempted to make the ‘dice’ sound like the word dice, and that was out too. ‘Cawndi’ was just bad. It made me laugh though. If I had known the answer to his question, would I still be here?”
She looked up from her journal and shook her head. She sat on the roof of a small car staring out across the barren mixmaster. There must have been a traffic jam when it happened because there were empty cars as far as the eye could see. There were a few crashes further out, but for the most part there wasn't any carnage. The vegetation in the area had been working on regaining this land for quite some time, but it still had a lot to take back from man. She sat on top of the former sight of great frustration and annoyance. She pulled out her camera. It had taken some time to find a good analog camera, but eventually she did and it was surprisingly simple to learn to use a dark room. She rose to her feet and began to set up the tripod. She had often wondered in the past if her pictures were any good. She had filled more photo albums than she could carry, but no one had ever seen any of them and no one was ever in any of them, except when she took pictures of herself. She could never be objective about her own work, of course, which left her wondering if she was any good.
She moved the camera around with her eye glued to the viewfinder. She framed the new morning's sun in the upper right corner of the shot with the light gleaming off the cars rusted roofs and dirt covered windshields at the bottom. She stepped away from the tripod to check her shot from outside the small lens of the viewfinder. She then came close and changed the angle again. She did this several times until finally she had it like she had imagined it the previous morning when she had stood in this exact place. Finally, she pressed down on the button and the camera clicked as it took the shot.
She breathed in deeply. “Forward ho!” she yelled through the silence that surrounded her. The sound traveled in all directions and could probably be heard for miles. Except there was no one to hear it. She thought back to the last words she had ever said that were actually heard. They were small and insignificant. Just a simple meekly presented “I’m sorry Mr. Wilkes. I don't know.”
He responded “You can do better Candice.” He was right, of course, but, given what happened soon after, it didn't make the last words heard by another living person feel any more significant. He went back to his lecture. Candice never paid attention in history class anyway. She wished she had now.
It had happened quickly. So quickly that, even now, she can’t properly say what did happen. There were no sharp noises or bright lights. No distractions to cover the sudden undeniable change. Mr. Wilkes said “You see the romans had a saying. they sai…” And mid word he was gone. Candice looked up from her journal. The classroom was empty. There was a loud crash outside. Candice sat in the classroom alone and confused for a moment. She was trying to figure out what had just happened. It felt like she sat there for minutes but it was really a few seconds. She ran to the window, and down below, cars in the streets were running into each other and everything around them. In the air, planes were falling from the sky. As far as she could see in any direction there was no one to be seen.
She yelled for help. There were no responses. She checked CNN in the now empty principal’s office, and there was no one on it. Other television stations were playing their programs, but anything that was live was empty or experiencing technical difficulties. She yelled over and over. There were no responses. She walked through the settling chaos in the streets. She hoped against her growing understanding of her situation that her home would be filled with her family. It was empty. She went to her neighbors house and knocked there. No one answered. She broke in and searched. When she found no one she went to the next house. She didn't quit checking houses until well after sundown. The week was a blur of yelling for help and asking if anyone could even hear her. She slowly began to figure out this whole new, and empty, world she lived in. She was sure of one thing though. The night after everyone disappeared she wrote her first journal entry declaring it “day 1. I am alone.”
By the end of day ten all power had stopped. She had to learn to make a fire and cook on it. She had to learn to ignore the previous rules that dictated so much of her behavior. There was no need to lock a door or pay for groceries. She was too scared to function some days. So she would just write, or read, on those days. The library became one of her favorite places. She read everything she could. It was the best way to pass time.
Other days she would spend hours going from house to house knocking and checking for people. She would take trips to other towns and cross the former borders of former nations and yell as loudly as she could into megaphones. When she could do that no more she would visit new libraries. When she needed a new escape she would find a genre she had never bothered with. Anything to not think about it.
The last time she knocked on a strange door was day four hundred and thirty-two. It was mid day. She was in the south, but all she knew was that it was hot there. Borders had stopped having meaning for her. Defining one cities’ empty ruins as one place rather than another had lost importance. It was a red door. She later wrote in her journal that it was just like the door she had always pictured having with her future husband. It was the same door she put her perfect life behind in her fantasies. She knocked several times and waited a couple minutes before picking the lock. The house was filled with leather and hardwood furniture. It had pleasant pictures of people grouped together smiling in nice wooden frames. It was the cordial smell that hit her. It smelled welcoming. It smelled like her home. The one that she had grown in. She sat on the oversized couch, and a think layer of dust came up. She was so used to that happening she barely even coughed anymore.
“I don't know what else I can do?” She thought. “I’ve been everywhere I can drive to. If I wasn't terrified I would get lost, I would cross an ocean. I don't think it would change anything though. There is no one there either.” The couch’s large pillowy cushions were too soft, and she sank into them. Dust was piling up against her and it settled down on her. She could picture herself there, being swallowed up by the most ridiculously large couch ever made, covered in dust in her perfect dream house. It was empty. The city was barren. The nation was vast and only made bigger by its lack of others. “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!?” she yelled so loud the dust came off her. She scrunched herself up into a ball. “I’M PATHETIC!” All at once her face was covered in tears, and the dust was being wiped off it in lines. She tripped over each word. “I don't have a future anymore. It’s all gone.” Her voice cracked as much as it wanted.
“This is who I am now. This is what I am now. I don't get dreams anymore. I’m not the person who gets to have a future. I get to have a present. That’s who I am.” Later that night, before she set out back to her home town where everything was a little nostalgic now, she wrote all that down in her journal followed by the words “You have to learn to live with that.” They were the words she used to rock herself to sleep most nights for hundreds of days after that. Slowly she used the words less and less. Eventually, she didn't have to say that to herself anymore.
She tried to figure out what had happened to her sometimes, but she didn't even know where to begin. She spent entire journal entries coming up with theories. None of them were any good, by her estimation.
All the animals were gone too. Her pet cat was gone. There were no insects or bears or birds. Just her. The only living thing in existence, unless you count trees. Which, she didn’t. You can't talk to a tree and it respond. It certainly doesn't listen. At least, they weren't a good enough listeners for her. You can’t eat a tree either. Well, you could, but afterwords you might feel some pain. The supermarkets still had canned meats and frozen meals, they soon melted and spoiled though.
It wasn't all bad. She learned, from a book, how to meditate and enjoy the silence. She found old analog technologies in pawn shops and museums and used them. She eventually managed to figure out how to use a gasoline generator, and she got her power back. The sky slowly got cleaner. She could see the stars at night. It seemed like every night she could see a new one. She managed to find a rather nice telescope so she could look out at the world beyond her. Some nights were actually nice.
Tree planting became just another hobby. Fruits and vegetables were now her best food supply, which upset her, because she had really loved ribs. She took a small house for herself in a suburb, it had a white door with no leather or hardwood, and filled it with all her books, plants, and hobbies. When the space became too small she moved to a mansion on a high hill, it had large glass walls and lots of strange eclectic non leather or hardwood furniture. Before, when other people were around, she would have thought it was too open to the world but in the present that didn't matter. In the present, she could see everything in all directions and that felt serene.
She started using a Ham radio and even built a rudimentary antenna so she could hear further away. On long nights when the clouds wouldn't let the stars show themselves, the silence only reminded her of the people she had known and lost. Those nights, when no book had any appeal, she would listen to the static that came over the radio. There was never any deviation to the static that poured out of it. No change. Night after night after night there was only white noise.
The emptiness became the status quo. It was comfortable now, no longer filled with the need to be filled. Her mantra had done its job. She was always coming up with more to do. More to learn and then actually do. Things weren't ever just dreams to be achieved after a set of errands were completed, they were current tasks. Her garden was huge and productive. Her library was impressive, and she had read all of it. Her piano recitals at the amphitheater in the park were long and beautiful. Her star charts were unique to her with constellations she had created and stories tied to them by her. Her dark room was active, and her journals were filled one at a time creating a large stack.
But still, some nights and mornings and days there was no one to talk to but herself, and she really just wanted to talk to someone. Anyone would do. They didn't have to speak her language. They didn't have to like her. They just had to listen and respond. They could play a game, or eat, together. She would even settle just to hear someone else make a noise. So she left the radio on. So she listened to the white noise, because she was happy, but something was missing.
The change was small at first. It was a slight fluctuation in the sound of the static. It was definitely different, and there was pattern to it. She stayed in that room with that console for an entire day listening to the pattern. It wasn't Morse code or any other code she had learned in her earlier days of searching. Her only thought was that she was picking up the faint call of someone else at the edge of her reception. It didn't take long for her to have a plan. She traveled to another hill, miles away, and set up another radio. She then did this again. She would spend a day at each of her three stations, made in the shape of a triangle, listening. She had to know which tower was the closest to the fluctuation. She would triangulate the signal, or maybe reverse triangulate it. She wasn't sure. She had to know which direction it was coming from. When she did she could begin her journey.
On day two thousand two hundred and fifty-three she left her home filled with hobbies, books, odd furniture, and her garden, for a slim hope. She had to know if there was someone else out there. It was slow work. She had to keep setting up radio stations, and sometimes the fluctuation seemed to move, which encouraged her, but she would have to set up three stations again to figure out which direction it was coming from this time. Which was always a pain because power was hard to get. Old car batteries sometimes worked, but sometimes more drastic measures had to be taken. Solar power was always an option, but she was no electrician, and she wasn't confident with the her ability to use it. Her stand by was a hand crank generator, but it was getting old, and it took a lot of effort. When she wasn't waiting on the fluctuation to appear, it didn't show every day, she would indulge a hobby. Which is how she found herself on top of a mixmaster taking a picture of the stalled traffic, rusty cars, and the grass that was trying to destroy it all.
The fluctuation had become louder as of late. She was close.
“Today might be the day that I find it.” She wrote “I can’t help but doubt it. I still can’t think of anything, outside of a human, that would mess with a radio signal like this, but nature can be cruel sometimes. Just look around. Look what happened to you.
If there is a person there. That’s a big IF. What do I say to them, ‘Hi?’ seems wrong. ‘Hey!’ seems even worse. ‘Hello to you sir’ just seems bad. Do I knock on the door again and say “I don't know you, but well, in this world does anyone know anyone?’ that seems stupid.
Can I really be sure that I just haven't gone insane? Maybe I'm imagining this whole thing. Who’s to say if other people ever even really existed? Maybe you just imagined it? Maybe you have always just been alone?
You just want to believe that because it would make life seem less awful. People existed, probably, and they all left one day. Or you left. Either way(On a side note, if I have gone insane, couldn't my mind have come up with something bigger than this small fluctuation. Maybe its smallness proves it’s real.).
If this is a person and she, or maybe he, has also been alone out here do I really want to meet her? Aren’t I happy alone?”
She stopped writing with that same shake of her body as before. “Moving forward is the only option.” She whispered. Mantras change over time. With that she felt strong again. She was getting back on the road.
She used a Moped she had found for travel. It was great for weaving between cars stalled on highways, and it was a hybrid so it worked for a very long time. It was also easy to put in the back of a truck if she needed to go off road. She was close enough to the fluctuation now that she could hear it on a small handheld radio. So she was slowing down. She stopped from time to time to take a picture or rest on a tree.
Despite her procrastination she found herself at the base of a hill with a suburb planted across it right before night fell. She circled the hill, just to be sure it was the right place. It was. She decided to walk the rest of the way. Her legs became heavier each time she took another step. The air was somehow thick and thin at the same time, and that was making it hard to breath. She couldn't find the right amount of force to take in the air around her. If she went easy then the air was thick. If she tried hard then the air was thin and didn't fill her lungs up completely.
She had to fix this. She couldn't meet the probable person waiting for her like this. So before she got too close to where the fluctuation must be coming from she found a tree in the backyard of someone’s yellow house to sit on. The house reminded her of her grandmother. She wasn't sure why, but this familiarity actually relaxed her, and she had to rest. Regain herself. She closed her eyes and said aloud what she would normally write in her journal. "I can't take another disappointment. The ones I've suffered already were enough. There's nothing to be done about them. I've lived with not finding my parents at home or my friends at the mall for a long time. That is what it is. I don't know if I can handle this faint noise that spans so many frequencies but never responds being something other than someone else. I've tried my hardest to not think..." She had to catch her breath again. The air was wrong, and her legs couldn't get comfortable. "What's the best way to have your legs if you can't breath?" She thought. Nothing seemed to work. Her eyes began to glisten, but her tears stayed on the edge without dropping to her cheek. "... about who is in there. I've tried not to fantasize,…” Her right cheek had a small droplet of water running down it. “...but I failed." Her voice broke. "I want a friend, a partner, a lover, an old story teller. Anyone. An abuser. I'll take the pain if it comes from someone else. I just want. Need. Someone else. I can't take another... "
She stood up from her awkward sitting position and stared at the tree she had been leaning on. "Damn it!" Her whole body flailed with rage, but only a whisper came out. Her face was soaked, and her throat felt dry and red. "Damn it!" Her body yelled louder, and her voice came closer to actual loudness. She stopped and let herself breath in deeply for a moment. She stood up straight, and her body then moved on its own. Her fist drove itself into the tree, she barely felt it, ”DAMN IT!" She was now screaming at the top her lungs. Her tears splattered through the air. "JUST MOVE ALREADY!" She punched it again and again. She kept yelling as loudly as she could, over and over. Her nose was clogged with snot, her fist was broken apart and dripping blood, and even though there was no more liquid in her, her dry face felt like it was covered in her pouring tears. After kicking the tree a little she stopped. She was empty now. Her limbs had finished their involuntary assault, and her lungs had no more air to lend to loud noises. Her throat certainly wouldn't allow any more of them.
Her head was turned to the left "Why don't you go? Knowing what it is, if it even is anything, is better than this." She paused and turned her head to the right "I really have been happy alone. What if it's better than the alternative?" Her head turned left "because the second you don't strive for something new because what you have might be better and because there is risk and fear in the next step you really are dead." She turned back "you aren't fighting fair" and back again "you're acting crazy."
A smile broke onto her face. It hurt to stretch her now dry cracked skin but she couldn't help but laugh at herself. "I'm being crazy. Again." So she shook herself as she always did and started towards the noise.
She rounded a corner, and there it was. A house with the lights on. It was like something out of a painting. It was beautiful. Amazing. Breath taking. It was pure elation. She couldn't see any movement in it though. She walked forward slowly "Do you think there is someone in there?" She asked quietly. "For all I know this just a hallucination brought on by stress." She smiled at her own skepticism. "Either way what comes next is new to you."
She reached her bloody broken hand out to the door of the house, maybe a home, and with a shaky motion she knocked.