Before the event I was your average middle class working stiff. I had a wife and two kids, a job working on computers, a mortgage, bills and responsibility. You could say I was running on the treadmill of life like the rest of us suckers.
I was sitting in my cubicle catching up on a mountain of email messages when my boss, Jessica Simpson, popped in. Yes, she had the same name as that ditzy celebrity and we made plenty of jokes about it, but she really wasn’t that bad of a boss. “Hey Marty, I need a favor. Can you help me out?”
I sighed and swiveled my chair around to face her. “Umm that kinda depends on the type of favor doesn’t it.”
“I need a new server setup and running by start of business tomorrow for the engineering department.”
I looked at my watch; It was almost four o’clock. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. “Is there any reason you couldn’t have told me this hours ago?” I didn’t even try to hide the annoyance in my voice.
She put her hands on her hips, “I’m sorry Marty, but I didn’t hear about this request until ten minutes ago.” She paused, “Look I’ll make it up to you.”
I looked up at her, “Okay how?”
“I’ll buy you dinner.” I raised an eyebrow. Jessica was quite pretty but I was happily married, why would she… “Not like that! Gosh Miller, I’ll get you a gift card to a nice restaurant so you can take Helen out on a date.”
“I’ll do it on one condition.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“You watch my kids while my wife and I are out on the town.”
I could tell she wasn’t pleased but my stupid contract with the company specified no overtime unless authorized by the contractor, who had already closed their doors for the evening, if she wanted this done I would be doing the work off the clock, in violation of all kinds of company policies.
“Fine, it’s a deal,” she said as she extended her hand. Whoa she must have really been desperate.
I walked into the server room and placed the disc into the drive of one of the rack mounted servers. Man, it was cold in here, the auxiliary air conditioners kept the room at a brisk 64 degrees.
I started the server operating system installation; the first part of it would take at least twenty minutes so I had enough time to take a leisurely bathroom break. I walked the halls of Geotech and found my goal. After doing my business I walked back to the server room. It was kind of strange because I noticed when I got back to my desk that I hadn’t passed anyone leaving the office. It was Thursday, few people would have taken off early. Was there a holiday on Monday I had forgotten about?
I picked up the license key that I had forgotten to grab when I happened to look out the window. I had a wonderful view of the company parking lot, it was still full. I glanced at my watch 4:29 p.m. Usually at about this time there would be a mad dash for the parked cars, as the office drones rushed home to watch their favorite shows about dancing, housewives or other such rubbish.
I waited for the workers to get in their cars and leave, but none did. What the hell was going on? Did the CEO John Giovanni call for some emergency meeting and I had just happened to miss the email? I sat back down and unlocked my workstation with my exceedingly long corporate mandated password.
I checked my email, nothing new since 4:05 p.m. Hmm, this was strange. I turned back to the window and waited for my boss to start up her BMW two-seater convertible. Mrs. Simpson made way too much money for the job she did. She didn’t show up. Something in the back of my brain started to tingle. Bah, I suppressed it, there had to be an emergency meeting, right?
I walked past my boss’s office; her purse was sitting on the expensive mahogany desk, she never left without it. I made my way down to the meeting room and opened the door, expecting it to be packed wall to wall with bored office workers. The lights were off.
I started wandering the halls of the office looking for anybody. It was 4:47 p.m., usually there would be someone working late, the marketing department typically had some deadline or another that caused their people to burn the midnight oil. Plenty of computers were still on, many of them unlocked in direct violation of the company’s IT security policy. I expected to run into someone on the janitorial staff but the little Hispanic gal who vacuumed and replenished the toilet paper was nowhere to be found.
My mind was racing by the time I got back to my desk. What the hell was going on around here? Time to call home. I picked up my office phone and punched in the numbers. The phone rang four times. My voice answered, “Hello this is the Miller residence, we’re either not home right now or we’re screening our calls, leave a message and if we like you we just might call you back. BEEEP!”
“Hey, Helen, pick up the phone! Something weird is happening at work. I know you’re there! Pick up the phone!” I could feel the anxiety in my voice. Why was no one answering? Where were my wife and kids? I called her cell phone and was greeted by her generic voice mail message. I told her to call me as soon as she got my message.
I grabbed my jacket and threw it on over my shoulders. We were in the first real cold snap of the year. I hit the door and a blast of cold air slapped me in the face. I walked past row after row of parked cars. 5:03 p.m. None of these cars should be here! Everyone should be stuck in traffic by now.
I located my beat-up old Ford Ranger pickup with the cracked windshield and faded blue paint that I had been meaning to replace and hopped in. I started the ignition and pulled out onto Blue Lakes Boulevard. A massive traffic snarl appeared ahead of me. Five o’clock traffic, hurray! I pulled up next to a Toyota hippie car that was stopped at a red light. When the traffic signal turned green I waited for the line of cars to start lurching forward- they didn’t. It was then that I realized that the hybrid car next to me was unoccupied.
“This isn’t happening! I’ve got to be dreaming!” I told myself as I sat in the middle of the street. I reached into the center console of the truck and pulled out my Smith and Wesson .38 Special Airweight. It wasn’t much but it helped me feel better. Something was seriously wrong.
I glanced over at the sidewalk and saw a baby stroller sitting abandoned. I stomped on the emergency brake and hopped out of the truck. I passed four cars, all empty, their engines were still running. The automatics rolled forward into the cars ahead of them, crunching bumpers. I walked over to the baby stroller and pulled back the blanket. It was empty like everything else in the city.
I yelled to the sky, “What the hell is going on!?” Nobody answered. A 747 passenger plane flew past, low in the sky. It was listing oddly to the left. I caught just a bit of the jet blast and covered my head with my jacket as it slammed into the Megaplex movie theatre a mile down the road. A massive fireball shot up hundreds of feet in the air.
“I didn’t just see that!” I told the baby stroller. I waited a moment on the sidewalk for the fire trucks and ambulances to come rushing to the scene. They didn’t. I ran back to my pickup and slammed the door. I turned on the radio. The FM stations were playing music and commercials. But they ran huge play lists that were all computer controlled. I switched to AM.
“Call Crazy Jim now for sports talk!” the radio announcer blared from the truck’s tiny speakers. Then nothing. An eerie silence filled the cab of my truck. I cranked the wheel of my truck and drove on the sidewalk, smashing the stroller and passing the empty cars.
“I need to get home. Now!” I navigated the truck toward the freeway onramp. “What was going on, why was I the only living thing on the planet?” A Yellowjacket smacked into my windshield turning into a green gooey paste. “Okay, so the bugs survived. Why couldn’t mosquitoes have disappeared?” I punched the gas and my pickup lurched forward picking up speed down the freeway.
Then I realized, five o’clock traffic with nobody behind the wheel would be a mess. As I went under an overpass I saw a massive traffic snarl. A fuel truck had jackknifed and a bunch of passenger cars had smacked into it. It was a massive flaming wreck. I slammed on the brakes and my truck skidded to a halt. I looked in my rear view mirror expecting a pile of cars behind me that never came. I pulled a u-turn on the freeway and went back the way I came up the onramp.
I never thought I would ever drive the wrong way on an onramp but I could tell this was going to be a night of firsts. I stuck to surface streets, dodging the occasional pileup in the intersections.
Finally I turned onto the home stretch of my commute from hell and pulled into my suburban driveway. The neighbor’s dog ran across the street. So far animal life was still around. I hopped out and unlocked the front door. “Helen! Kids! I’m home! Hello?” I yelled. My family would be in the living room waiting for me! Just around the next corner my little kids would yell “Daddy’s home!” and come running to give me a hug. My nightmare would be over. I searched the whole house; it was just as empty as my office had been.
I began to cry. I knew, somewhere in the pit of my stomach, that I wouldn’t see my wife and kids again. I wandered, stunned, into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table. A stack of bills sat on the edge of the table. I brushed them off and laid my head down. “Where? Where did everyone go? My beautiful wife and kids were just gone. My co-workers, commuters, all vanished.”
I sat wallowing in self pity thinking about ending it all when the timer on the stove started beeping. It startled me, I hadn’t expected it. I looked up, something was cooking in the oven. It was my wife’s last home cooked meal. I pulled it out of the stove, tuna noodle casserole. I started laughing, it was my least favorite meal, but I never let Helen know I didn’t like it. I took it out and turned off the stove.
“What if everybody left their ovens on…” I stood up and ran to my bedroom. I opened the gunsafe in the closet and strapped my .45 auto on my hip. I grabbed my Russian SKS and rammed ten rounds of ammo into it and tossed the stripper clip. I picked up fifty or so extra rounds and jammed them into the pocket of my coat. I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the laundry room and hit the front door running.
I went to the next door neighbor’s house and knocked on the door. “What the hell am I doing?” I chuckled morbidly to myself and kicked the door in. Sure enough the front room was starting to fill with smoke. They owned a little Shih-Tzu that bolted out the door as soon as I kicked it in. It startled me, but I plunged into the room.
I located the stove and turned it off. I figured the fire would die down eventually, why open the stove and burn myself? The kitchen table was set and a loaf of sliced garlic bread sat on the table. I picked up a slice and devoured it.
As I turned to leave I noticed the television was still on. I glanced at it and did a double take. The shot was of a college football game, the stadium was completely empty. I took a deep breath and headed to the master bedroom. I really didn’t know if these neighbors were the type to own firearms but who knew, I had never asked. It felt weird to be moving through someone else’s house while they weren’t home. I guessed this must be what burglars felt like. I would need a shower after this. My worst criminal infractions were a couple of speeding tickets.
I opened the closet door and started rummaging through their clothes. Behind some dresses and slacks I found a soft rifle case. I pulled it out and laid it on the bed. Inside was an older Remington 700 with a dusty Leupold 4X fixed power scope. This had to have been a family heirloom. I searched and found one box of .30-06 soft point ammo and pocketed it.
I went to the other next door neighbor’s house. I had seen their dog running through the street so I knew he wouldn’t bother me inside. I knocked on the door again, for some strange reason, and then tried kicking it in. After a couple of failed tries I figured they must have a kick proof reinforced door.
I went around back and smashed the butt of my SKS against the sliding glass door. A couple of smacks and it shattered nicely. I raked the glass with my rifle and entered the kitchen. The Richardson’s apparently were planning on nuking some leftovers since their stove was off. I wandered around the house and made my way to the master bedroom. I found the spare keys to their new diesel truck. The cheap bastards didn’t even pay for half of the fence, but they had enough dough to blow on a new truck, travel trailer and ATV’s. I guessed they were all mine now.
I searched and found a gun safe. I would have to come back for it later.
By the time it was dark I had finished up the rest of my street and found a couple more hot ovens, half a dozen hunting rifles, twenty dogs that I inadvertently let out on the street, and a nice .357 magnum.
I piled my ill gotten booty on the living room floor and nuked my wife’s casserole. I ate a plate of it and fired up my laptop. The Internet was still working. I browsed to a couple of forums and they came up. At first glance everything looked normal. Then I checked out the time stamps. The last messages were all posted at or before 4:05 p.m. What the hell happened at 4:05? I wracked my brain to figure out what I was doing at that time.
I posted, “Is anyone out there?” on every message board I visited and spammed all the email addresses in my contact list. It was probably a waste of time but who knew?
At 4:05 I had been standing in the server room putting a disc in one of the rack mounted servers. I hadn’t noticed anything weird. No noise, no flash of light, just boredom. What was so special about the server room? Nothing came to mind. It had its own dedicated air conditioning units, a massive battery backup unit, and terabytes of data. So what? Why was I apparently the last man on Earth? What did standing in the server room have anything to do with the apparent madness I was experiencing?
Then it hit me, the server room was built inside a Faraday cage. The previous CIO had some strange fear of cosmic rays, radio frequency eavesdropping, or other such garbage. I only remembered it because if you were in that room it was impossible to make cell phone calls, due to all of the copper shielding.
Whatever happened hadn’t affected me, due to my being inside the server room. If that was the case there had to be other people around the world who had also been shielded. I wasn’t the last man on Earth. This gave me comfort but also a dark and foreboding fear. In the space of a couple of hours I had turned from a mild mannered IT guy to a thief.
An inky black fear started gnawing at the back of my mind, a sinister clump of panic slid around just out of reach.
I crawled into bed and leaned my Shotgun and SKS up against the wall within easy reach. I then laid my new shiny stainless .357 magnum on the nightstand, and struggled to fall asleep. The cold, empty bed just seemed wrong without Helen in it.
Eventually my nervous energy drained away and I entered dreamland.