Jeff’s wife flew out on the 9:30am flight to Miami. He would have seen her off, but because of back-to-back meetings all day, he didn't see her that morning. He was in the middle of a large project at work, so staying late again was also a requirement. He stopped at a fast-food burger shop on the way home to grab some dinner. It was very late and tomorrow would be here soon.
As the sun was setting, the sky showed bright crimson, with the few clouds taking on the same hue. Sitting on the front porch, he devoured the fast food and washed it down with a cold beer. Jeff watched the sun drop below the horizon. He briefly thought about capturing the vivid sunset in a photo, but he hesitated and the moment passed. Jeff yawned deeply, and went into his house.
Sighing, he pulled a smartphone from his slacks and punched at the keys to call his wife. She should be back to her hotel room. Jeff heard his wife’s voice and that familiar tone. He groaned and left a short voice-mail. He glanced at the phone and he arbitrarily tossed it on the bureau. Clothes just were not going to stop him from collapsing into his bed. They came off and fell this way and that, and the bed was his destination for the night.
The alarm didn’t go off. Now Jeff was going to be late for work. It was incredibly quiet in the house. His daughter was sleeping over at a friend’s house and his wife gone - Not that he would ever expect any noise to be coming from his daughter that early in the morning.
The time didn’t appear on the alarm clock; they must have lost power. He recalled that there was supposed to be thunderstorms the night before. Jeff thought, maybe, just maybe a hot shower would be in the works before the electric water heater gave up the last of its warm water.
His job and the work that he needed to complete that day completely consumed his attention. The sun was up, so it was easy to forget there wasn’t any power. He was able to shower and shave in relative comfort. Maybe it wasn’t going to be a disaster day after all.
Fortunately, the truck wasn’t in the garage. He didn’t have to figure out how to open the garage door without power. He strode around the house to his truck, which was parked under a tree. It was going to be a steamy-hot and humid day. The birds were not singing, the crickets were not chirping, and it was as if they were all hiding from the heat. At least the truck started right up. With the air conditioning blasting welcome relief the truck lurched out of the driveway.
No other cars were moving in the neighborhood. It was lucky for Jeff to make it onto the major road without running into any traffic. Normally, he would have accelerated up the road for about a mile, but today there was a neon-blue Ford Focus stopped in the road. It was just sitting there in the driving lane, like a blue metal speed bump. He slowed down and passed the car on the left; there was no one in it.
The Focus was just barely in his rear-view mirror when he suddenly came upon another car. It had run off the road and through a ditch. This car had extensive damage from hitting a brick sign that sat in front of the Technical High School. This time Jeff stopped and ran over to the car. He tried to open the driver’s side door, and found it locked and again there was no one inside.
Turning about, Jeff looked to see if help was nearby. There was an ambulance sub-station almost right across the street. The traffic lights were out, which normally meant that he should be careful, but there was no traffic. Confused, he just stood there and looked up and down the road. Nothing mechanical was moving. A slight breeze was waving the branches in some oaks. A flag was waving in front of the sub-station, and that was the only visible movement.
He jogged over to the sub-station and tried the front door. It was unlocked, so Jeff walked in. There was a small entertainment room. A TV was blaring loud static, but no one was in the room. A sectional couch divided the room, and just past the couch was an eating area where three plates with remnants of some baked chicken dinner sat.
“Is anyone here?” he yelled, but there was no response.
Jeff knocked on the door at the back of the kitchen while he opened it, but it was just a closet. They must be out on a call that would explain the empty building. To the right was the door to the garage. Through the glass window, he saw the ambulance still there.
“What the heck?”
Out the front door he went and back to the truck. Still no cars or trucks were moving. Looking up the street, he could see some black smoke rising from the corner. Another column of smoke rose over the nearby shopping plaza.
He climbed into the truck; his clothes were completely soaked with sweat. That prompted him to start up the truck so he could crank up the air-conditioning. Jeff’s cell was on the passenger seat but as he reached for it, he could see there was no service. That was not good. His mind was now spinning. Where was everyone? Why no cars? Were there really NO cars? There should have been fifty cars pass by now.
Just then, there came from the distance a low roar, which grew dramatically in volume. Suddenly, the air vibrated violently as a large jetliner flew a few hundred feet above the truck, descending rapidly and at an unusual angle. Within seconds the jet crashed through an ice cream store on the corner. The impact caused a long trench that led to the back of the store and through it and many nearby businesses.
If Jeff’s mind wasn’t already befuddled, he would have wondered why the jet didn’t produce a huge fireball when it struck the ground. He put the truck in gear and drove carefully through the debris of the crash. Indistinguishable shredded pieces of airplane were scattered everywhere. Pillows and blankets were lying in nearby trees and bushes. A rental truck parked at a gas station had the drink cart sticking into the side of it. He saw a wing, or piece of a wing lodged between a telephone pole and the only remaining standing corner of the ice cream store. The cockpit had embedded itself through the burger shop's walls after ripping the intersecting highway in half.
All of this debris, but there were no injured or dead people, no one running to help, no one gathered to witness such a terrible crash. Jeff stood beside his truck, dumbstruck; there was a pervading eerie silence. He looked around and it looked as if the crash happened days ago, instead of maybe ten minutes.
The whole area was getting dark, as if a passing large cloud was blocking the sun. He looked up and the sky was nearly black to the east, a dense black, impenetrable, resolute. The darkness was filling the sky from east to west. The sky from horizon to horizon was soon black, everything grew dark, and then there was nothing.
“MOM!” Jim called out. “Mother, did you clean my desk this morning?”
Jim’s mother yelled up the stairs, “Of course dear, you leave it such a mess.”
Jim frowned at his NPX293. For three months, he had been developing that world. Last night he was so tired; it was so very late. He had finally decided to grab some sleep. He accidentally left the sphere on and worse yet, it was in open development mode.
This morning, he discovered, his mother must have hit population slider. The population of six billion was gone in an instant. He looked at the population icon; it was flashing 439, 438, 437… Now what good would it do to have a developed world with no one to live in it? He was better off starting over.
He hit the reset sequence. The sphere started to go dark, from right to left. Once completely dark, a lone status light on the gold base shown amber. The reset completed its cycle and the world would start anew, the status light now a steady green.