Eight months earlier, less a day....
Craig's eyes opened suddenly, his heart hammering fast. He looked at his clock.
4:08. The room was still dark.
He listened while trying to figure out what woke him so suddenly. All was quiet. Turning over, he decided it must've been a dream and closed his eyes once again, quickly falling back asleep.
His clock radio awoke him several hours later, at 7:30 as usual. What wasn't usual was that instead of the usual music or morning bantering of the DJ there was just static. He was lucky he didn't sleep right through it. He must've bumped the tuner dial off the station when adjusting the volume last night. He swung his legs to the floor and levered himself upright, careful to avoid yesterday morning's introduction to the day. He stepped on last night's still damp sock with his bare foot as he moved to his doorway. Yuck. Craig blearily made his way to the bathroom, peed, peeled off his one sock, and stepped into the shower after adjusting the water. After finishing up and getting dressed he grabbed his backpack and made his way to the kitchen to grab a granola bar and await the school bus.
Well that's odd, thought Craig. His mom didn't seem to be up yet. Maybe she was in her room or in the yard watering her flowerbed.
"Mom!" he yelled.
He tried again. "Mom?"
He shrugged and tore open a second granola bar while leaning against the counter-top and staring out the kitchen window. He could just see the corner of his street, Granlee Street, and the stop sign at the intersection of the busier 2nd Ave. It seemed quieter than usual for a Wednesday morning, not a car to be seen at the moment.
Finishing his granola bar and leaving the wrapper on the counter-top he grabbed a banana from the fruit bowl and opened the fridge to grab his lunch.
What the hell? Was his mom trying to tell him something? Maybe she was angry at him for his comments last night. It wasn't like her to be passive aggressive though. Strange. He glanced at the clock while swearing quietly and threw together a sandwich, purposely leaving a mess for his mom to clean up. It was 8:17, the bus was rarely late and it was already two minutes past the usual pickup time. He stepped out onto the porch and sat down in one of the two cheap white plastic outdoor chairs to await his ride to another happy day at school.
Ten minutes later he was starting to worry. He couldn't have missed it, could he? He was downstairs on time. He turned to step back inside when something caught his eye on 2nd Ave.
A car. Up against a large oak tree as if it had hit it at a fairly slow speed. He could just barely hear that the engine was still running too. What was really strange was that nobody seemed to be around dealing with the accident. He stared a moment before turning to go inside and figure out where his mom was so he could get a ride to school.
Wait a minute. How the hell could he hear the engine running from the car from here? He listened a moment. Except for the aforementioned car, and a few birds and insects, he couldn't hear a sound. Wait. A dog barking, somewhere. It sounded a bit frantic for some reason. Otherwise, nothing.
Now that was odd.
Sure, this was a quiet town, much quieter than the city he was used to, but still. There was always something. Cars, a plane, voices, kids playing, lawnmowers and weed whackers, the beep-beep of a truck backing into a loading dock. Today, nothing.
He shivered slightly before shaking it off. Must just be a quiet day for some reason.
He went inside to check his mom's room. He knocked and yelled once again. "Mom?!"
He knocked again and opened the door. She wasn't there. The bed was unmade, but it was strange. The covers were not pulled back the way they usually were when someone flipped them back before sitting up. It looked like she must've crawled up out of them towards her pillow before getting up.
He went back to the kitchen and looked for a note. Nothing. Then he noticed his mom's car still parked outside. Craig wasn't sure why that didn't register before. But now it did.
He realized his heart was beating much faster than normal.
He picked up the phone and dialed his mom's cell number. And heard it ringing from inside her room, where it sat plugged into the charger. She never went anywhere without her phone.
He hung up the phone and stared out of the window once again, trying to shake the feeling of rising fear.
"Stop it," he said to himself quietly. "I'm not some little kid. There's an explanation."
Still, the odd things were starting to pile up this morning. He grabbed the remote control off of the coffee table and flicked on the TV. A movie was playing. He clicked up a channel. A test pattern. He clicked up another channel. The final credit screen of another movie, just sitting there frozen. Another click. The 24 hour news channel, Craig recognized the logo. The anchor desk however was completely empty. No people to be seen. The monitors behind the desk showing static, test patterns, or endlessly looping videos.
It was decidedly eerie.
Craig's eye was eventually drawn to the scrolling news ticker at the bottom. Something he rarely noticed. It attracted his eye today. Something was different. Instead of the usual headlines it was repeatedly scrolling the words, "Recovery mode: Insert content here."
He quickly flicked through a few more channels, the news station making him feel completely unsettled.
He saw much the same results. Nothing, test patterns, frozen screens, or empty rooms.
Craig took two deep breaths and thought hard. Fighting the urge to panic. He flicked on the computer and waited impatiently for it to boot. Sitting down he logged on, opened a web browser, and typed in the address of a large news site. It came up, slowly. It showed nothing unusual though. Aside from the fact that all the headlines seemed to show a time-stamp from sometime last night.
He tried a few more sites. It was much like the TV channels. Some sites just got him a 404 error, others nothing at all before timing out, and others appeared perfectly normal. Most of them seemed slightly slower than normal though, as if a lot of routing errors were cropping up.
Craig's burgeoning fear overcame his usual reticence and he went outside to the neighbor's house. He barely knew them, but that didn't seem to matter right now. He knocked on their door. After getting no answer he tried the neighbor on the other side, and then across the street.
He wasn't really thinking well at all now. This was just too weird. He had to find someone to tell him what was going on. Maybe there was some town meeting somewhere and everyone was there but they forgot to tell him? He knew it was stupid, but that, and several other unlikely hypotheses were running through his head.
He skipped a few houses and made a beeline for Mrs. Klein's place. She was retired and almost always home. Craig had mowed her lawn a few times over the summer, after his mom ordered it. She had met Mrs. Klein at the grocery store and they had got to talking. Her lawn care company had folded and she was having trouble finding another one, so of course Craig's mom volunteered him.
He knocked on her door and again got no answer. He knocked again and after waiting a moment he retrieved the key from its hiding spot and opened the door and yelled into the house.
"Mrs. Klein? It's Craig Jamison. From down the street."
Her golden retriever, who rarely seemed to move from his comfortable spot on the rug in her living room seemed totally spooked and ran by and outside at top speed. Craig thought about chasing it but decided that he had bigger problems.
He walked through the entire house. It, like the others, was empty and silent.
He had a thought though. Mrs. Klein was a news junkie. She PVRed everything and had every news program set up to record automatically. He remembered watching her. She had a system of scrolling through the programs rapidly until finding a headline, slogan, or picture that she seemed interested in before watching the segment and then racing on to the next.
He turned her television on, located the PVR remote and began fast forwarding through her news programs systematically, starting from when he went to bed last night.
Forty five minutes later he sat stunned. Rewinding and replaying the same minute over and over again. At 4:07 AM the anchors were laughing it up about some senator getting caught with his pants down again, then, suddenly, an empty news room. Their lapel microphones dropping to the floor behind the desk. No theatrics, no magic smoke, no green glow. Nothing. They were there. Then, they weren't.
Craig ran home, fast, locked his door, sat down on his bed, and quietly broke down. His body didn't seem to know whether to cry, shake in fear, or freeze solid, so it tried to do all three.
It was two weeks before he dared going outside again. And then only because he had to.