The first line for this fictional short story was sent to me by Canadian blogger, Bossy Babe.
She looked in the vast wilderness and only one thought sprang to mind.
What the hell had happened? Lizzie sat down heavily, and reached for the water bottle in her rucksack. The hiking boots were almost worn out. In the next town she would have to find some new ones. If there was a next town that she would ever reach on foot.
At first, she had used bicycles. Plenty of those around of course. But the roads were bad, and punctures too frequent. So she decided to walk.
After waking up one morning months earlier to an eeire silence, she still hadn’t got used to it. Nothing electrical worked. Her TV was dead, no Internet or radio, and her car wouldn’t start. Her cellphone was dead too. She walked the half mile to the Jackson’s house for help, but there was nobody home. And when she tried to use their car, it wouldn’t start either. At least water still came out of the taps, and it was fresh back then.
She took Billy Jackson’s mountain bike from under the porch, and cycled the eight miles into town. Some trucks stood abandoned on the road, but there were no cars, and nobody in the trucks. Whatever had happened must have been when most people were asleep. The town of over twenty thousand inhabitants was deserted. Nobody in the civic offices, and the police station didn’t have a cop in sight. After trying two phone booths, she concluded that no phone lines were working anywhere.
Lizzie considered herself to be a well-balanced person, but the impact of this was definitely having an effect on her mind.
There were the obvious conclusions. Some kind of natural disaster or chemical spill perhaps? It had required everyone in the county to be evacuated, but for some reason, they had missed her. The Jacksons would have told them about her, surely? And why no signs? Nobody directing people to a safe refuge, or assembly area? Plus, if everyone had had to leave in a hurry, where were the pets? No cats on the street, no barking dogs. As she had thought about that, she looked up.
No birds in the sky either.
The county seat was over forty miles away. Billy’s cycle got her around halfway before the back tyre went flat. What had happened to the roads? They all seemed to have rows of cracks in them, like driving along railroad tracks. Walking the rest of the way meant she didn’t arrive until well after dark, completely exhausted. The city was very scary in that darkness, so she went into a camping store on a strip mall. Lizzie was thinking fast, depite being frightened out of her wits.
At first, she wondered why most of the stores were open. Then it occured to her that the electronic locks had failed, as had the intruder alarms. Even those locked by keys at the front often had a back door with a keypad entry that no longer secured the door. One of the only benefits of no electricity. In the camping place she found a lantern operated by a propane canister, and the means to light it. She spent that first night in a large display tent in the front window, sleeping on a very comfortable camp bed.
Next morning, she found her way into a grocery store, taking food that was sealed, canned goods, and bottled water. Then in a bookstore she found a map. Packing up a large backpack taken from the camping store, she headed off on a bike taken from a rack, the chain cut off with bolt cutters borrowed from a tool seller’s nearby. Her last stop had been to a gun dealer, acquiring a revolver and a box of ammunition. Lizzie had never fired a pistol before, but she had seen enough films to know how they worked.
The backpack felt heavy as she rode along, weaving between abandoned trucks and wondering why there was no sound at all. No planes in the sky, no animals in the farm fields, and the silence only interrupted by the whirring of the bike’s gears and tyre noise on the road. It took less than three hours for the front tyre to puncture. She threw the bike into the long grass and started walking.
Almost forty years old, Lizzie was reasonably fit, if a little overweight. But after four more hours and the next town on the map not yet in sight, she headed into some trees off the road, and collapsed exhausted.
How long ago had that been? Was it four months yet? Had to be. She had started talking to herself after a week, probably just to hear a human voice, even her own. Trying not to think about what had happened was useless. She thought about nothing else. Could she really be the only person left? And if so, why her? During one restless night in a motel room lit by some candles, she finally had a positive thought.
If there was nobody in the towns and cities, they had to have gone somewhere. She hadn’t come across a single body, or one solitary sign of life. All those hundreds of thousands of people couldn’t possibly have just vanished, but her travels on the road confirmed to her that they had. So, it must be something to do with the towns and cities. The people must have been moved away somewhere safe. That had to be the answer.
Turning off the road and following the map, she walked into that vast forest that led to places where few people had ever lived. The rivers were still flowing, and the air was getting colder. There would be snow soon. At least she didn’t have to worry about bears. If there were no birds or other animals, the bears would be unlikely to still be around.
Now it was in front of her. That seemingly limitless wilderness shown on the map. Fighting back tears, she put the water bottle down on the ground.
Nobody. Not a soul.