Lily woke to find she’d toppled out of bed. Her groan echoed around her messy room, as pain blossomed in her head. She scrambled and fought with the blankets to sit up, rubbing her face where it hurt. Even in her sleepy stupor she could tell something wasn’t quite right. Her head was spinning, but she looked around the room trying to figure it out. Dirty laundry, empty cans, mugs full of ick, straight up garbage. Lily liked to think her pigsty of a home was just ‘lived in’, but even she knew deep down that was just a cute way to re-frame a depressing truth. No, focus. Something’s wrong. What is it?
Oh. An alarm was going off. That was strange. She didn’t use an alarm. There was no point after all. But, on her desk in the next room, an alarm was blaring. So, she reluctantly untangled herself from her blankets and rose. Cursing herself with every breath and trying to get her disheveled hair out of her face she started her journey. Carefully navigating the mess, she made her way through the room and into the next.
But when she looked down at her phone, irritation turned into confusion. “What the fuck?”
10:07 AM - ‘Better Get Moving! <3’
The almost cheerful tone and seemingly random time set made her want to hurl her phone through a window. But, she pushed the feeling down and turned off the alarm. It wasn't the phone's fault. Besides, if she broke it, it’d really be a pain to get it replaced without leaving her home. So, she just stared at it for a moment longer. Somehow turning off the alarm didn’t make her feel that much better. Silence filled the room, oppressive and heavy.
Her head was pounding. Like her brain was trying to grow bigger than her skull. A horrid pulsing dizzying pain. So, she concentrated harder. She couldn't recall setting any sort of alarm, especially one designed to irritate her. Was there something she had to do today? No, definitely not. What was the purpose of an alarm when you had no life? Time usually had no meaning to her. With her blackout curtains covering the windows, she didn’t even pay attention to whether it was day or night. Resting her head in her hands, palms covering her closed eyes, she let out an irritated moan and muttered to herself.
”Well, today's off to a great start.”
She sat down on the floor next to her desk, and picked up her phone again to check the alarms and probably the internet. But, for some reason her phone wouldn’t unlock. She was sure she was doing it correctly. Muscle memory had long since superseded any need to think about how to unlock it, but… it failed. Two times, then three, then four.
With a sigh of resignation, she decided to deal with the phone issue after some caffeine. Setting it down gingerly, as if to placate it, she turned to the kitchen. But, right before she reached the fridge a loud noise startled her.
It was the alarm again. The goddamn alarm was blaring! Again!
She stormed back to the phone and gave it a look that could kill.
10:10 AM - 'Look Outside, Beautiful! <3'
"Oh, screw off!" Her voice rang out loudly, echoing through the now silent room. She paused, and took a deep breath, caught a little by her own reaction. She looked around, suddenly feeling very self aware. The place was absolutely covered in garbage. After all, taking things outside was a scary and stressful experience, and so she just didn’t most of the time. But, when every level surface is covered in mostly empty cans and garbage it really does wear on your psyche. With a groan she spoke to the silence. “Ugh. I’m such a piece of shit.”
Somehow, being called beautiful by a version of herself she couldn’t remember only made it sting more. But, there was no use sitting still and thinking about it all day. So, she set her phone down again, and went about her morning. A big bowl of cereal (with marshmallows, obviously), and an energy drink was her morning ritual that would probably be killing her by the time she turned 40. But, after grabbing her breakfast she sat down at her computer to look around online. She was three bites into her cereal when a blast of noise startled her again. She choked and coughed, milk going down the wrong pipe. When she was sure she wasn’t going to die, she glared daggers at her phone.
10:12 AM - ‘No, really. Look outside.’
Her initial anger evaporated in an instant as she stared at the title of the alarm. She could feel the dread seeping into her stomach. Okay, it’s creepy but it was probably just a prank she was playing on herself. Yeah. That’s all. Such a merry prankster she was. She made her hands work to turn off the alarm, then stood and crept over to the window. This was stupid. Everything would be fine.
It took her a moment of hyping herself up to get it together. Three deep breaths, and then!
She yanked back the curtains! Blue skies, clouds, and a perfectly normal morning greeted her. Or so she thought at first glance. The first thing that caught her eye was the smoke—three distinct plumes rising from various points in the city. One was relatively close, only a mile or two away, while the others were further out. She was half way through wondering if there was some kind of coordinated arson attack when she realized something even more unsettling. Her breath caught in her throat.
There was absolutely no one in sight. Her third-story apartment overlooked a courtyard that typically teemed with pedestrian traffic. Empty. Beyond that, a road should have been bustling with cars and people. Nothing. No vehicles on the road, no pedestrians on the sidewalk. The city lay eerily still. If not for the drifting smoke, swaying trees, and gently moving clouds, she might have mistaken it for a painting. She realized that thirty seconds or so had passed and she’d been holding her breath. She breathed, and suddenly everything felt very, very real.
Okay, don’t panic. Don’t panic. Maybe everyone was out... fighting the fire? No, that was stupid. She desperately tried to talk herself out of her rising panic attack, feeling the dread filling up her chest cavity, making it hard to continue breathing. A cold tingle ran down her spine, and her heart pounded, signaling that she was an inch away from losing her limited composure and descending into full-blown terror.
She forced herself to breathe, again, and took a second look outside, this time paying attention to the details. The windows of the other apartments she could see—empty. The parking lot—deserted, with not a single car running. What the hell was going on? Where was everybody?
She tried to unlock her phone, but it still wasn't working. So, she did the only sensible thing. She curled up on the floor and tried not to scream. Then, an idea struck. You can call 911 even if the phone is locked! Snatching her phone back up, she found the little phone icon, then dialed 911. But as she prepared to hit the call button, dread of a very different kind stopped her.
What was she supposed to say? “Uh, yes, I think everyone a couple of miles around me might have disappeared or died or something. Also, there’s fire. Please send help.” Oh yeah, that would work. Good job on your first social interaction in forever! Best-case scenario: everything was actually fine and they'd send someone to take her to the mental ward. Worst-case... would anyone even pick up? Was there anyone on the other side…?
With that haunting thought, she forced herself to press the call button.
It started to ring.
It can take a few minutes, right? Ring. Maybe they’re out for a late breakfast? Ring. Maybe they’re out... fighting the fire? Ring. With each ring, the dread deep in her stomach grew stronger. She felt like she was sinking through the floor. A terrible darkness swallowed her up. Finally, she couldn't take it any longer and hung up, just so the ringing would stop. She set her phone on the floor, and stared at it like it was a venomous snake.
Okay. Whatever was going on, the emergency line was not picking up. There seemed to be no one outside. Fires were spreading. A foggy sort of white noise filled her head. Her vision started to blacken around the edges. Her field of view looked a little like television static. Oh. She was going to pass out. That would be stupid. This really wasn’t the time for—
Lily woke up to find the world ended without her. An agoraphobic young woman must learn to live in a world completely devoid of other people. Confronted by the silent decay of this new world and her own fears and weakness, Lily must work hard to grow into a person who can survive and thrive here.
It's a story about solitude, about self exploration, and about growing from less than nothing into something amazing.
Updates Tuesday, Thursday, and sometimes Saturday.