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It happened one night, I’m not sure how long ago. It’s hard to keep track of time now. I was alone, as usual, watching a movie about a quirky awkward girl and a clumsy handsome man. They were just about to kiss under twinkling lights in a flower garden. It was the cliché scene, the one were they look, earnestly, into each other’s eyes willing the other to lean in first. My arms were wrapped around my pillow, tears streaming down my face, as I chanted words of encouragement. Their lips were just about to meet when it happened —darkness— the power clicked off and I was alone, really really alone. I wouldn’t know how alone until later.

I did all of the things a person is supposed to do in the event of a power outage. I crept from room to room in my apartment with the light of a small candle. When I reached the breaker box I noticed all the switches were still flicked to on, which was weird because there was no power at all. I went to the front window in my kitchen and peered out. All the street lamps were off and none of the neighbors house’s shone back any light. When I stepped outside, to see if any of the neighbors I was used to seeing on the street were as confused as I was, I noticed for the first time since moving from the prairies to Vancouver, that I could see the stars, and not just the super bright ones and the moving satellite ones, I mean all of them. There was no orange glow from the city lights. There was also no sound. No one panicking—no one anything.

I looked at my watch; it had stopped ticking. Maybe it was later than I thought and everyone was sleeping. I didn’t know and there was nothing I could do so I walked back inside and into my bedroom, turned the TV to off so when the power did come back on it wouldn’t wake me up, took a couple sleeping pills and blew out the candle. And then I slept for a long time. Until dusk the following day.  

 

The food in the fridge was all sloppy and warm, so I poured a bowl of cereal and ate it dry while sitting at my kitchen table looking out at my street. It didn’t seem wrong for some reason that no one walked by or that I couldn’t hear the screaming baby from next door. It was the sleeping pills, making me groggy maybe, or maybe it was just that I wasn’t used to being around people anyhow, I don’t really know. After I ate, I went to feed Gordie, the fighting fish with the rainbow tail I bought at my counselor’s advice the previous month —he was dead. I ladled him out of the bowl and took him to the kitchen. The matchbox I’d used the previous evening was still sitting open on the counter. I shook the rest of the matches out and placed Gordie inside. It was starting to get dark so I went back to my room and lit another candle, grabbed a book and read until the sun started to come up again the next morning.

 

When I finished my book and the sun was all the way up I left my room and peered out again. My electronics still weren’t working, my lights were all off and still no one was in the street. I live in the basement suite of a three story house, I’d been listening for my neighbors from upstairs to thump around or, you know, make any noise but nothing and they hadn’t come to the door asking about the breaker box, which was weird but ok at the same time because I didn’t like them anyways.

I had a crank radio under the sink but when I cranked it nothing came out. Flicking my TV, laptop, regular radio on and off did nothing. I decided that I needed to make a call.  My sister. I only have one; she still lives on the prairies with our parents but she would have watched the news, saw something on Facebook about what was happening and hers was also the only number in my phone.

It wouldn’t turn on, shaking it didn’t work, slamming it against the counter didn’t work, removing the battery and then putting it back in, nothing. Alright. I didn’t panic then either. I was ok, I didn’t really need to call anyone. I’m sure the city would figure everything out. But until then, I had enough water and canned food to last 72 hours, the number they say you always need. I could live another day without a shower. So I ate a cold can of soup at my kitchen table, waiting for things to turn back on. When they didn’t I went back to bed, took another couple sleeping pills and slept again. I’m sure my counselor wouldn’t agree with the amount of sleeping pills I was taking but whatever. She would never know.

 

Hunger, it drove me out the house seventy-two hours later. Boxes of cereal and other canned goods were empty in the recycle bin. My cupboards were bare and I knew it was time to leave to go grocery shopping. Except I didn’t want to go to the Safeway because there would be too many people and I was sure they would be panicking. I mean, I’d seen the news before when cities lost their power. It was always the same.

The corner store on the next block. That would be an easier option, I was sure the prices were jacked up but I didn’t really care. I took all my emergency cash from the book on the shelf with a secret hole carved into the pages. When I stepped outside the quiet was ominous. There were no birds, no insects, no humans— just nothing. And it was hot, like fucking desert hot. I’d noticed the heat kind-of inside but living in the basement meant it was always cool and slightly damp. I also kept my blinds closed except when I was expressly looking out of them. So the heat was a shock. I pulled off my hoodie and meandered down the street. The cars on either side of the street were lined up as perfectly as any other day. The only thing that was different was the lack of people, I don’t usually notice people anyways but not having them around gave me goose bumps, it was just creepy. As I got to the corner of the block I started to look for signs of people, of first responders and police, of anybody really, even a single cat would have been awesome. My neighborhood was filled with cats who constantly roamed the streets. I usually couldn’t walk a block without being glared at by one of them as they sat looking down from a porch.

 

The door of the corner store was open a crack. The inside was dark; my reflection visible in the light of the afternoon on the glass door. Wincing, I looked myself over; it was bad. My hair was all matted and thrown in a quick bun on top of my head, my jeans were crumpled and I was sweating through my t-shirt. I pushed the door open all the way and took a hesitant step inside.

“Hello?” My voice echoed. “Hey, anybody here?”

Ok, so I was a little worried at this point. Nadi, the owner, was always here, 8:00 AM-11:00 PM, he never took a day off. Through the darkness I could see rows and rows of food. Food so filled with preservatives it would last well after the power was eventually turned back on. I liked Nadi, I didn’t want to steal from him. But I was hungry. Then I remembered that paper and pens existed, a note with some cash left on the counter would be fine I reasoned. Grabbing a bag from behind the till and walking to the rows of food I examined everything there was to offer. I picked up some soup, crackers, chips and candy.

Back on the street I noticed how tired I was again. I had just woken up but was ready to go back to bed. It might have been the heat, it might have been the sleeping pill residue but all I knew was outside was creeping me the fuck out and I wanted to be back in my house.

 

I was starting to smell. It had been four days since the power went out, the water wasn’t running and I hadn’t showered, my skin was sticky with the heat and my hair oily. I’d been drinking water from an old flat that I kept in the back of the closet but I was almost out.

 

I realized I should have tried to get to work by now. I had missed two shifts. But I hated my job at the liquor store so I decided to fuck it. If they wanted to fire me because of this power outage let them. Plus, I’d only been working there a few weeks anyhow. I never held down a job for much longer than that. It was the calling in sick all the time, I knew if was, but I just hated to go outside most times. And people. People fucking suck or rather they sucked. Or maybe it was or is just me that sucks.

 

On day seven, I realized that I really was alone. When I woke up that morning or afternoon, I couldn’t tell which, I felt the urge to see someone. To have someone tell me when the power would come back on. I walked from house to house, knocked on door after door. No one answered, no dogs barked. I looked in windows but all the houses were just empty. When I walked up to Broadway Street I saw a bus sitting in the middle of the intersection. Further down two cars had smashed together, but they weren’t totally destroyed, it looked they had just coasted into each other. The further down Broadway I walked, the more car accidents I saw but that was the only evidence that something major had happened. I peered into the empty cars, looking for bodies but found nothing. I never found a human body that day and I have never found one since. It’s like I have been the only human to ever exist. All the shops were locked up; there was no debris or anything indicating fire or anything anywhere. When I walked past Safeway I retched. It was the smell; the heat had sped up the decomposition of the fresh food and meat. That was the only thing I really noticed those first few weeks, the smell of rotting food that floated around everywhere. After that day, I stayed close to home. It was too uncomfortable to go any further.

 

When I gathered the nerve to walk the few blocks down to the ocean, dead fish were piled up on the shoreline, their puffy bodies moving in rhythm with the tides. The smell made me gag so I walked home and didn’t leave for another two days.

 

Time was or is or has been broken up to awake time and sleep time. Day time and night time. Eating time and not eating time. Reading time and exploring time. Time is nothing. I didn’t get that until this happened.

 

I had spent so much of my adult life alone. In my room reading books or watching TV that I guess for a long time being the only person left on earth was ok. But after I had read all my books, I started to think, and then I started to get scared, but mostly I started to wish for the parties and the experiences that I never had.

 

The first house I went into was the crazy neighbor lady’s from across the street. It was still scorching out in the daytime but I was becoming accustomed to it. I had been laying in my living room on the floor trying to see pictures in the ceiling when I realized that I didn’t have anything nice to wear in this heat. All I had were thick jeans and sweat soaked t-shirts. I had remembered how the crazy neighbor, while being crazy, always had on such nice flowing clothes, like chiffon and silk, and I thought, why not? I could dare to experiment.

Her house was crammed full, from floor to ceiling, every square inch was filled, except a small path that I had to turn sideways to get down. Everything you could think of was in that house. Newspapers from 20 years ago (multiple copies of the same issue), a room filled with bins of sorted crafting supplies, the kitchen had garbage everywhere. But then I found the bedroom, or rather a room with a single cot, a full length mirror and every piece of clothing ever invented. I picked my way through that mess until I found the dress I was looking for, she had showed it to me once, offered to give it to me but I had refused, it was too nice then, too pretty for me. I pulled off my clothes and put it on. I was beautiful. I had never thought of myself as beautiful before, but now, with no one to compare myself to, I realized I was beautiful. I walked out of that crazy lady’s house and into the sun. When I was halfway across the street I started to cry.

 

It’s amazing what you can do when you have nothing to do.  I found some art supplies in a split-level house. The guy who’d lived there liked painting nude women with dog heads. I took one for my living room. I had never painted in my life but I did a mural on the side of my house. Blue flowers, trees dancing and little cats and dogs scampering. It was fun.

When the food was gone from the corner store I started to steal from people’s houses. Everyone had a cupboard filled with canned Campbell’s soup and apple juice. I also took other things like a bag of weed from the people upstairs, and a gold bracelet from this red house with a big truck parked out in front of it.

 

The weather never changed. The seasons never changed. I didn’t keep track of time. Or days or months. I just knew it felt like it had been summer forever.

 

I started to find the shriveled up bodies of bugs hidden in dark corners. Mass amounts of them, piled up in heaps.  I found so many I stopped looking.

 

Pretty soon all I did was lie in bed and look at pictures of my family. I tried to remember why I had felt like I needed to move so far away from them to be happy. Why we fought so much but I couldn’t. All I could remember was snuggling on the couch, swimming at the lake in the summer, the burst of laughter from my sister over the phone.  

I had tried for the first few months to figure out what had happened. But I couldn’t, I was just a regular girl. I never graduated high school, I didn’t have any friends, I see or rather saw a shrink to help me just be able to leave the house. I am no one special. I couldn’t figure it out and I still can’t. I don’t know where everyone went, and I don’t know why I didn’t go with them. But on some days I miss everyone and other days I’m just really glad to be alone.

*****

 

There will be no one to read this but I feel like I have to write something so, goodbye, I guess. It seems kinda sad that I was the only one to survive and that soon I’m going to be gone. I’m sure humanity would have liked a better survivor, someone who could have been a champion for the human race.  But, well, I’m just too lonely I guess. Or maybe I’ m just too tired. Or maybe nothing. Fuck it.

I just want to get out of this heat.

 

*****

Stephanie put down the pen and paper on the brown lawn. She figured this was as good a place to die as any other. There would be no one to find her body and no animals to eat it so why not here. She was wearing the beautiful dress she took from her neighbor’s, a necklace she found in an old lady’s house and perfume that smelled like lavender. She was ready. She held the orange bottle up to her face and squinted at the label one more time before tipping the pills into her mouth. Just as she was about to swallow a bang from the other side of the street caused her to whip her head up. She looked up, her mouth bulging with pills before she saw a white flash by the red car she had painted into a rabbit. The pills were dissolving in her mouth and tasted horrible. A head popped up from behind the red car and she almost choked. It was a guy with black hair, a scruffy beard and a huge smile. He leapt up laughing.

“Oh my fucking God. Oh. My. FUCKING. God,” he said as he jumped up in the air.

Stephanie breathed heavily out of her nose, her heart pounding. The guy ran over to her and fell on her lawn laughing.

“Oh my fucking God. You’re a you,” he said.

Stephanie leaned back from him but kept her eyes on his face as he rolled around on the lawn laughing. Saliva was starting to drip down her chin.

“I’m, ah, Mark, Oh My fucking God. You’re alive, right? I’m not going crazy?”

Stephanie shook her head no.

“What’s wrong with you? Your mouth? I’m like so, oh my god, you know you’re the only person I’ve seen right?”

Stephanie looked at him; all she felt was fear and the uncomfortable realization about how ugly she looked in the breezy dress. Her skin crawled like it used to when she was around strangers. He held out his hand to her. She flinched back. Her eyes were wide with uncertainty, his beamed with happiness. She grabbed her water bottle. It didn’t matter that he was here, if he really was here, she was still alone. And she liked it that way, or maybe she didn’t. She swallowed the pills.

“What was that?” he asked.

Stephanie pushed the pill bottle behind her. He looked at her house.

“I like your painting.”

“Thanks.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Stephanie.”

“I’m Mark. I already said that but yeah, I’m Mark.”

“What’s happening?” Stephanie asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just woke up one day and it was like this.”

“I was watching a movie.”

“Oh, which one?”

“Nothing special.”

“I like your dress Stephanie.”

“Thanks.”

Stephanie sat staring at Mark as he looked around her neighborhood.

“You got any food?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, in the kitchen. Some cans of soup.”

“Awesome, I love soup.”

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“Me, oh, I uh, walked here I guess.”

“From where?”

“Well up the coast, I don’t really know where I was but it was up the coast.”

“How do you not know where you came from?”

“Oh, I uh, I was am a traveller of sorts.”

“A traveller?”

“Yeah, I sort of just hitched hiked around to wherever people were going.”

“That’s weird. Didn’t you like miss having a house?”

“Nah, I liked it. I still like it. Although now I’ve been walking everywhere.”

“You’ve been walking this whole time?”

“Yeah, it’s empty out there.”

“So there’s really no one?”

“Nope, just you and me I guess.”

Stephanie felt her stomach cramp and a wave of dizziness. She closed her eyes as she began to see double. She felt the pills come back up but forced them back down again with chug from her water bottle.

“Hey are you ok?”

“I’m fine, just hot.”

“Let’s go inside then.”

“No.”

“Hey, I’m not some like perv or something. You don’t have to worry.”

“I’m not worried about that.”

“You’re not?”

“No.”

“Thanks. But really if you’re too hot we should go inside or at least sit in the shade.”

The pill bottle dug into her. “No, really I’m ok.”

The breeze picked up and the corners of Stephanie’s papers fluttered up. Mark went to grab them but she stopped him.

“Don’t.”

“What are you writing?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Can I read it?”

Stephanie felt so heavy. She laid down on her side.

“Not till after.”

“After what?”

“After…dinner.”

“Oh, ok.”

She couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore.

“Are you sure you’re ok? You don’t look ok.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Stephanie could feel the hot breeze on her face, the long grass of her yard tickled her toes and she closed her eyes as she listened to Mark.

“Well, I don’t know if you realized this yet or not, but there are dead fish everywhere. It used to stink really bad, but now there are just creepy bones on all the shore lines. If you go out to the highway, it’s just crazy, cars piled up and smashed together, it’s like everyone just disappeared or something. But at the same time everything is beautiful because nothing’s the same. It’s so slow and natural. I miss animals though, and bugs, even though I hate bugs.”

Stephanie gave a quiet hmmm as she drifted farther and farther away.

“And well, let’s see, I’m really glad I found you because honestly, I was starting to go a little fucking crazy. I kept thinking like why? Why was I the only one left? Me. I haven’t done anything important or anything. And then I thought that maybe I was the only one who did die and that this was my hell or heaven even. But then here you are so now I don’t know.”

Stephanie could barely hear Mark anymore.

“Are we the only ones? Maybe there are more? Right? I mean it can’t just be us?”

Mark talked to her about things he had seen on his walk; piles of bugs in the forest and how strange downtown felt when it was empty. Eventually he put a hand on her shoulder to wake her up, he was hungry. She didn’t move. He shook her shoulder. She still didn’t move.

“Uh, hello, Stephanie? Are you ok?” He shook her again.

“Um, don’t get sick or anything because, like there’s no doctors anymore.”

Mark touched her face, then her neck. He felt for her pulse. Nothing.

“Stephanie, what the fuck?”

And then he noticed the pill bottle behind her. He picked it up. Seconal. He didn’t know what that was.  Stephanie looked peaceful though, he thought, or maybe she was just sleeping. How was he supposed to know? He gathered the papers she told him he couldn’t read until after dinner and moved over to the shade; he would only read them until she woke up. Then they would go have dinner and talk about how everything was different and how they were special, and about how they had found each other, and they weren’t alone anymore.

Francine Cunningham is a Canadian Indigenous writer, artist and educator. She is a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing MFA program.

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Published on April 19, 2017.