Chapter 1: Waking Up
I woke up alone. That was normal but usually I woke in my bed. This wasn’t my bed. Then, I remembered. I was on vacation. My friends had talked me into making this trip. We were on the coast in South Carolina at Myrtle Beach. I grabbed my watch from the nightstand and looked. It was Monday morning!
My mind began to wake up and tell me that some of this was making some sense. We had flown in Friday night and spent the day, Saturday, on the beach. We had gone out that night to eat and party. I vaguely remember eating some good seafood and having a couple of beers. We headed back to the hotel and our rooms.
My mind was clearing now. I didn’t understand why I was so hazy. I hadn’t but two beers so there was no reason for me to feel hungover. I could not remember Sunday at all. Other than losing a day, I felt fine though a bit disoriented. I went into the bathroom to shower and shave. I did notice that my beard felt heavy. I was cleaned up and felt better. I looked at clothing and found nothing that looked like Sunday had occurred with any activity. No clothes had been used and my suit was very dry. I turned on the TV and there was nothing on. I don’t mean quality. I mean actually! CNN’s channel was just static! I shut it off for now.
The room had coffee and I had brewed the small pot while I showered. I poured a cup after my shower and went outside to sit on the balcony. There was no one outside! It was early, around eight but there should have been someone! I looked again and still saw no people. I decided to finish my cup of coffee and get more before going out or knocking on my friends’ doors. I finished my cup and refilled it which emptied the small pot. I turned it off.
I made sure my key card was in my pocket and carried my cup as I left my room. The hotel was quiet, very quiet. I thought to myself that, while it was a good hotel, that many people usually make some background noise. I knocked on my friend’s door but Nat didn’t respond. Across the hall was Amos’ room and I knocked on his door pretty hard but still had no response. Now, I was worried. I went to the elevator and rode it to the first floor alone.
The elevator door opened to a silent lobby. I stepped out and looked around at the empty area. I took a big sip of my coffee. The scene didn’t change. There were still no people. I looked through the public rooms and found no sign of people. It looked like the place had an overnight cleaning Saturday and was never used Sunday. I found outside a small stack of newspapers for Sunday but none for Monday. I wasn’t feeling better. I finally decided to look behind the desk and try to find a key or key card that would let me check rooms. I had to search for a few minutes but finally found two identical keys marked master. I left one and took the other. I took the elevator back up and opened my friends’ doors. Their rooms were empty though the beds looked like they had slept in them. I began to check each room. I found no people in any room.
I had retrieved the keys to the rental car from Amos’ room noting that he had laid his pocket things neatly on the desk. I knew his habits and that fit. However, he simply wasn’t there!
I returned to my room to think a moment. I turned the TV on again and tried channels other than CNN. The automated channels seemed to work but there were no live shows.
I’m not sure that made me feel better. Where was everyone? Why was I still here? What caused this, whatever ‘this’ was?
I sat on my bed and pondered. Mostly, I just stared blankly at the movie on the SyFy channel. It was showing one of their “bikini girls chased by monster fish” movies that I enjoyed as simple fun entertainment. I let it run while I was thinking about what to do. I was getting hungry and also realized that staying in the upper floor of the hotel was not a good idea. Seven flights of stairs in the dark was not my idea of fun. I gathered my belongings and packed. Carrying my case, I went down in the elevator. I left a note in Amos and Nat’s rooms telling them that I was still here and for them to come down and look for me. I put on the date and time. I tried a few people on my phone but everything went to voice mail. I could hear Amos and Nat’s phones ringing in their rooms. It was that quiet!
Downstairs, I left my case in the lobby and went into the restaurant and found food for lunch that could be quickly prepared and eaten. I wasn’t a fussy eater and just wanted to fuel my body. I told myself that I would have a good meal tonight.
I walked to the rental car and placed my case in the trunk. I began to drive around Myrtle Beach hoping to see someone or that someone would see me. It was, pardon the pun, dead quiet.
I gassed up and rode some more never seeing a person or suggestion of a person. I was starting to be afraid and to feel very alone. I simply didn’t understand what was going on. It made no sense and there simply had been no warning or way to prepare. I’m not sure what I would have been prepared to endure even if I had known what was going on.
I finally returned to the hotel and cooked a nice supper in the restaurant. As I ate my steak and downed a great red wine, I tried to figure out what to do. I was a “middle manager” out of college about four years. I would turn twenty-seven in less than a month. I was reasonably healthy. I had flown in from Nashville, Tennessee, with my friends. That wasn’t a terrible driving distance so I could return to my home by car. However, there was nothing really there for me except my sisters. Neither she nor my older sister answered their phones. My parents had divorced while I was in college. My father refused to continue to help with education for any of us. My younger sister had it hardest.
My older sister and I helped her to get finished with college without a crushing burden of debt. In the process, the three of us had become alienated from him and from our mother who had cheated and caused the divorce. I wasn’t sure how clean my father’s hands were but she was the one caught.
My sisters and I were caught in the whirlwind and suffered. Anyway, I hadn’t talked to either of my parents since shortly after the proceedings started and my father made it clear that, once over eighteen, our lives were no longer his problem or responsibility. He made his position clear in an unkind way and lost all of us in the process. My mother had enough problems with her guilt and trying to earn a living with little education. My youngest sister had lived with me to save money while in school.
My older sister married last year and her new husband had been a very fundamental type guy. His religion preached love but he only practiced it with people who agreed with him unquestioningly. I voiced an opinion that he didn’t like so he cut my sister’s ties with me. She hadn’t rebelled the last time we had contact though I think she was running low on continuing to understand his contradictory ways.
My younger sister was in her last year and busy with school even while she lived with me. She was gone a lot with friends and my job had me on the road a lot. She was trying for a grant to earn her master’s degree next year.
I tried their phones again but was again shunted to voice mail. I left a message for each one again asking for a call immediately. I even called my parents’ numbers and left messages. I never heard from any of them.
After some internal debate, I found an empty room on the first floor, opened it with my master key, and went to bed. It was quiet. In the morning, I showered and shaved and then dressed while drinking the in-room coffee. I went out after packing my case. I made more coffee and breakfast in the restaurant. After breakfast, I went to the gift shop and picked out a travel mug. Filling it with coffee, I went out to the car with my case and drove around some more. This time, I lowered the windows and honked the horn. It didn’t matter. No one showed up in response. I had lunch at a beach sandwich shop and decided that I would look for people. Since there seemed none in Myrtle Beach, I could either continue on the coast or head home for Nashville. I looked at the map that came with the car. After mulling it over, I decided to follow the coast north to Wilmington. Once there, I could hook up with I-40 and follow it all the way to Nashville.
That decision made, I headed north along the beach road until it veered away as my map indicated it would. I followed US 17 north to the Tanger Outlet Center and pulled into the parking lot. It had been quiet and there just a few cars parked in the large lot. It made me wonder when this occurred. The “this” was, of course, the vanishing of all the people. I began to think that it occurred early in Sunday morning because people didn’t seem to have been out when it happened.
I pulled into the outlet center parking lot and honked my horn hoping to draw someone’s attention. There were six or eight cars in the parking lot. One looked like it had been there for weeks. I went to one of the others. It wasn’t locked and I turned on the emergency flashers. I pulled up close to the entrance to a food court area and got out locking my rental behind me. It was very quiet. I walked inside to the cool air and went to the food court. None of the stores were open and their shutters were still pulled down. That lent some credence to my theory that whatever happened occurred over the night between Saturday and Sunday.
I had no idea why I didn’t vanish like the rest or why I slept through Sunday. I went away from the food court and found a restaurant and broke in. Those shutters would have been work! I cooked up a good meal for lunch. It was against my normal habits but I wasn’t cleaning up to demonstrate to anyone behind me that people were still alive. After thinking about it, I went into an art shop and pulled easels and large poster boards. With markers, I wrote messages to anyone coming behind me. I even listed my cell number to call. I decided to carry some with me and leave messages every time I stopped.
I filled up with gas and left for Wilmington. It wasn’t that far and I was there by mid afternoon. I rode through the town slowly with my flashers going and blowing my horn frequently. I had both front windows rolled down to hear anyone or anything out of the ordinary. I smiled when I thought of that statement and how my thinking about ordinary had now changed. Previously, I would have avoided going through the city to avoid people and traffic. Right now, I made an effort to go through and to listen for any signs of people. I heard nothing. I picked up I-40 and followed it slowly still hoping for people. It was a quiet, empty world. Just outside Wilmington, I pulled into a mall parking lot and honked for a time. I found a hotel and restaurant. I turned on all the lights I could find to show something out of the ordinary to anyone who might see it. I hoped someone would.
I ate a fine meal of salmon following one of the restaurant’s recipes. I decided to take the recipe with me. It was very good. I had their best white with it and decided that a light red might have accented the salmon better. I laughed out loud to hear my mind think that! I began to talk to myself out loud. I found that I liked to hear a human voice even if it was my own.
That night, I settled into a room at the hotel. I also decided that I could ‘afford’ better wheels and would go looking in the morning. I woke in the morning and cooked steak and eggs for breakfast. I said, “Self, you will have to get some exercise or you will gain weight eating like this. It’s fun but not good in the long run.” My self didn’t reply, it just ate. I left the place in my rental. I debated about what I wanted to drive. I settled on a Buick, a Cadillac, or a Chrysler. The Buick won because that was what I found at the first dealership. The Enclave is a nice car or SUV with plenty of room. I transferred my stuff, gassed it up and headed away from Wilmington. I turned on the internal GPS and was surprised to see that it sent me southerly and then west. In looking at the maps that I had, I decided to go really west on I-20 to Atlanta before heading north to Nashville. It wasn’t shorter but would expose me to the most people.
I drove along at around sixty on the cruise control. Nothing was moving but I could see wrecks of tractor-trailer rigs and a few cars. I checked one wreck and found no driver or trace of a driver. I guessed that the driver vanished while driving and the rig simply rolled out of control until it stopped or crashed. Still the scary thing was the lack of bodies. Where did everyone go?
That night when I stopped, I thought about my soul. I thought of myself as a moral person. I wasn’t a church going type but believed. I went out drinking but rarely became drunk. I enjoyed the feel of a female but didn’t go in for one night stands. I tried to compare myself with my friends and didn’t come up short. If this were the rapture, it seemed that God wasn’t too choosy. Why take every person but me! Not only was it not fair, it didn’t make sense. When I finally went to sleep, I still didn’t have any ideas about what happened or why. Taken by aliens made as much sense as any other theory and that made no sense either.
I rose in the morning, ate, and got on the road. I was on I-20 coming up on Augusta when it happened.