The Occurrence

The only thing even remotely remarkable about the day it happened was the weather. It was as if a picture titled "The Perfect Day" had been torn from a coloring book and pinned up for all to see. An azure sky with a scattering of fluffy white clouds. Nothing ominous about it. No inkling that the world,as I knew it, was going to end.

I had been shopping, and on my return, was overcome by an urgent need to relieve myself. I wasn't in the bathroom long, just a few moments, but , in that miniscule space of time, my life was inexplicably altered. I didn't notice the change at first. I was gathering groceries from the car when it hit me like a sledgehammer. It was the silence. No laughter of children at play. No traffic. Not a bird chirping or dog barking. Not a leaf stirring in a breeze. Only the sound of my own breathing.

I looked about and saw no one. I called but only to hear my voice swallowed by the silence. Confused I hurried into the house and began switching on every noise makeing device I owned. The T.V. and radio remained silent. The blender did not whirr nor timer tick. The acrid taste of fear began to fill my mouth. I snatched the phone from the table. That, too was dead.

I ran back out into the street, looking wildly about for anyone. I sprinted up my neighbor's walk, pounded on the door, and called out. No answer. Panic nudged me. I began running from door to door. Battering them with my fists and yelling until my throat was raw, my knuckles bloody. I finally came to the convenience store that dominated the block. It, too was silent as a tomb. Until that moment, I had managed to hang on with the notion that no one had been home. I grabbed up a small can from a display and hurled it with all my might through the large display window. The glass cracked and splintered...but there wasn't the accompanying crash I expected. Silence was my reward. Panic now rode my back as I tore from the store, blindly running for home. My thoughts jumbled and tangled themselves, in effort to find an explanation. What was going on? Some weird natural phenomenon or a government experiment gone mad? War? Invasion of space aliens? Panic dug its spurs in and I literally ran into my car. Yes! I would simply drive away! I fumbled the keys from my jeans. Sliding behind the wheel, I shoved the proper key into the ignition and twisted. Nothing! C'mon! Try again. Still nothing. Third time's the charm. Nothing! Frustrated, I slammed my fist on the horn and was rewarded with ear-splitting silence. This was crazy. I threw open the door and half fell from the car, bolting away from the insanity to my last normal moment. I fled back into the house and into the bathroom. I closed and locked the door. Then I sat down on the commode and cried.

I stayed like that for a long time. Even after the tears had stopped. I tried and tried to fit in pieces together to make some sense, but couldn't. Think! Damn it! Think! Everyone couldn't have disappeared. I didn't search the houses. I only peered in some windows. 

I did at the store! There I even searched the stockrooms! There's no one left! Not even a dog barked!

Steady! If everyone has vanished, why haven't you?

That question stopped my inward monologue for awhile. Why indeed? Could the bathroom have something to do with it? I gazed around the rectangular room. Roughly ten feet long and three feet wide, the facilities lined one side. I sighed and leaned my head against the privacy wall that stood between tub and commode. Next to me, above the sink was a mirror and cabinet. Another hung on the far wall by the tub. At the foot of the tub was a window - I had always thought this odd, but it was the only unique feature. Other than that, even down to the tan with printed blue flowered tiles, it was a very ordinary, even boring bathroom. 

The idea that this room was somehow responsible for my still being here, was ludicrous. What were the odds that I was the only one heeding the call of nature at that precise moment? If whatever it was happened again, would I be safe outside this room?

My head thudded, and exhaustion swept over me. As strange as it sounds, I curled up on the bathmat to sleep. At the time it made sense. It was the only place I felt safe.

I don't recall darkness, or the rising sun. I woke groggy and disoriented, not to mention stiff. I staggered to the sink and turned on the tap. I barely splashed water on my face when the tap when dry. I fiddled with both handles, but not another drop came out. I took a nervous breath and ventured into the kitchen. Gone was the source of water there too. I crossed over to my old gas stove and turned on a burner. No blue flame flickered up, nor did I smell or hear the the faint hint of gas. Next I tried the wall switch. No lights. "Didn't you pay the bills?" I made a sad attempt at humor. Just another bit of weirdness I attributed to the Occurrence. No power.

As far back as I can remember I had been taught there were three basic needs for survival; water, food, and shelter.

Water would be urgent soon. I began taking stock of my food stuffs. Upon opening the fridge, there was a marked absence of coolness to its air, as if it had been off several days. There as nothing salvageable in it. I gathered the little my cupboard had to offer on the kitchen table. There wasn't much that hadn't been ruined. A jar of peanut-butter and a box of crackers propped up a leaning bag of chips. Half a dozen cans of pop mingled with a couple of cans of soup, which if I couldn't heat were of no use. Surveying my small stock, I decided it looked like a still life for starvation.

I still felt very edgy, and struggled against totally shutting myself down mentally. To simply go back to my bathmat was inviting. But trying to solve these tangible problems helped to steady me.

The boy next door had the proverbial red wagon. The corner store offered supplies. The thought of leaving made me increasingly agitated. Adrenalin coursed its way through me. My heart sped up and perspiration stood on my upper lip. Now I knew how people with extreme phobias felt when confronting them. Oh, I did not want to go, but there was no alternative. Swallowing hard, I started out.

It was uneventful. I gathered as much bottled water and food stuff as the wagon would hold and got back as quickly as possible. I did notice that everything was coated with a vaguely familiar film. I constantly wiped my hands on my pants.

By the time I returned I was definitely a candidate for sedatives - in multiples. Afraid wasn't even close to what I was feeling. I went to the only haven I knew.

In the bathroom I paced. Nine tiles forward, nine tiles back. Thoughts tumbled over one another, refusing to slow down. Nervous energy made me tremble. "ENOUGH!" The word exploded from me, and the sound of it jarred me. I pushed both hands through my hair and felt more of that film. I looked disgustedly at my hands. "What IS this stuff?" I rubbed my hands together, and wiped them on my pants. "Damn stuff is everywhere." I paced some more and tried to think. I went over to the wall, and placing my back against it, slid into a sitting position. "God, maybe I've gone crazy. None of this makes any sense. Tell me what to do. Please? Just tell me." I leaned back heavily on the tiled wall. I looked up at the ceiling half expecting an answer to be scrawled there.

I had no impression of time. I may have stayed like that for hours or even days. I don't recall eating or sleeping. Maybe I had finally gone into some type of shock, I don't know. I couldn't remember when the Occurrence had happened. Three days? A week? A month? Had there been changes while I existed in my cocoon of silence and isolation? I didn't know, but I had reached a decision. I had to find out if anyone or any thing still remained outside this porcelain and chrome womb, Fate had chosen for me. Part of me cried out that in leaving I was leaving myself open to whatever had happen to everyone else. I could quite possibly be going to my doom. Another part of me, paraphrased Rhett Butler's immortal line; "Frankly, I don't give a damn." Standing up, my legs rebelled form disuse. I walked zombie like through the house. I stopped for nothing. I just kept going right out the door and down the street. I had no real destination in mind. I just wanted to find someone. Anyone. 

The weather hadn't changed any. Same sky and clouds. No breeze stirred even a blade of grass. Stillness pervaded everything.

As I walked, I picked up a small stone that lay in my path and began tossing it from hand to hand. It also had that odd waxy film on it. I spied a stop sign and whipped the rock at it. It hit dead center, but there was no resounding ring. Not even a dull thud.

I squatted down to search the grass for some more ammo. If I could just cause some sound maybe I'd break this miserable spell. Even the grass felt waxy. My fingers felt something wrong and I looked disbelievingly at what I saw. The grass seemed to actually be welded together so that not even a single blade could be plucked. 

"Another oddity of the Occurrence," I decided as I began walking again. The houses were spaced farther apart , so I knew I had covered some distance, but there was no movement of the sun to indicate the passage of time. Always I scanned the horizon for something. Some movement or even a shadow. That's what's been missing! Despite shadings there weren't any individual shadows. None that I'd noticed. Why? There was sun. A light source was all shadows needed. Right?

I trotted up to the next house. It was green, with plenty of fir trees off to one side, casting half of it into deep 'shadows'. I picked what seemed to be the half-way point between the light and the dark. I crept closer to the side until my nose was practically touching it. The addition of my shadow transposed on to existing shadow should have deepened it, but there was no change. I squinted and stared. There was no doubt, it wasn't one but two shades of green, creating the illusion of shadows. Slowly , I reached out and touched the wall. As I had come to expect, the same waxy coating. I began scratching at it with a fingernail, as I gnawed my lower lip. "What the hell?" Below the waxy film wasn't the frame siding I expected. I scratched the spot bigger, still not believing what my senses were telling me. I had noticed a small trowel lying beneath the window sill. I picked it up. , and began scraping wildly at the spot with it, until I had uncovered an area about dinner-plate size. Though there was still a tint of green, the underlying color was white. Its look and feel was decidedly that of paper.

" Paper?" I whispered the word. "Paper?" I repeated it over and over again, as if that would somehow alter it. I shook my head in bewilderment, and still carrying the trowel, wandered off. Too many things just weren't adding up. Each discovery I made just made things more complex. Seeking answers only seemed to generate more questions. Was this wax coating directly related to everyone's disappearance or a side effect? How did it get everywhere anyway? Was it air-borne like dust? Did it build in layers? Was it slowly suffocating me, as it sealed my pores? And why were there no sounds, except for my voice? 

The only question I had found some type of answer to was, the absence of power. All utilities were supplied by generators with no one to run them , they had simply shut down. No one to run them. I shivered at the thought.

Now there was this whole color over paper thing. What was beneath that paper? Was it everywhere, too?

It didn't make sense. The more I thought the more muddled I became. Maybe, it wasn't the world. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I was really crazy and hallucinating. Dazed and confused , I took no notice of my surroundings, or the direction in which I walked. I simply moved along, muttering to myself like some daft person. I stumbled and fell on what I can only describe as a sheet of grass. I pushed myself up on my knees. It was all simply too much! Tears welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. I wiped them away. A waxy tepid thing lay on my fingertip, not the hot, salty tears I remembered. I became aware of the trowel still dangling in my hand. Seizing it, I raised it high, and brought it viciously down, hacking and scraping at the area that was once grass. WHAT IS THIS STUFF??? It literally chipped, and broke away revealing not roots and earth, but the papery substance. I tried cutting through it but there seemed no end to it's depth. I finally scraped a small piece loose. Catching it between thumb and forefinger, I tore it off. Paper! There was no mistaking it. My world was now made up of paper. Looking towards the heavens for an answer, I noticed that the sky now looked flat. I scanned the area around me. Everything had taken on an one dimensional appearance. The landscape had changed to a sub-standard comic book quality. From my perspective, trees, rocks, everything, looked almost drawn. Truly, I must be really, really sick. I'll find help and I'll get better. I'll see the world hasn't changed at all. I'm just terribly ill.

In my heart, I knew it wasn't true. I got to my feet and began sprinting. I wanted to run out of the wax and phony shadows. Out-run the silence, and almost cartoon like scenery. If I ran fast enough, far enough, maybe I could run back into reality. I ran, stumbling, gasping for air. My side hurt , but still I ran. On and on, until I slid down a small hill and froze.

It was as if a divisional line had been drawn. The side where I stood at least had color, the other side was mere outlines of things. The realization hit harder than George Foreman. I knew what I was looking at.

Void of waxy color, the horizon and everything up to me, was nothing more than a page from a coloring book, waiting for a child's crayon.

Now I wait. I wait for the hand that wields the crayon. Perhaps it can explain how and why this happened.


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