The Third Week
Today I stole something. I went into a shop and picked up an expensive note book and walked out without paying. Am I shocked? Just a little bit. I have never stolen anything in my life before, except once. When I was eight or nine I went to play with the daughter of a friend of my parents. She was an odd little girl, didn’t like her much, the way she treated her things, especially her toys.
We were playing in the tree house out the back, it was amazing and I was jealous. This girl didn’t seem to appreciate what she had, but then she had no mum so maybe that explained a few things about her. We had a tea party up in the branches with some of her toys: teddy bears, dolls with scribble on their faces and dirty looking. I must have been such a little snot because I didn’t want to touch them, they smelled of stale poo and vomit and dirtiness.
The game was okay though and in truth I quite enjoyed myself until I saw what the girl had done to one poor little doll. She was made of wood and had a sweet painted face. She was tied by the neck and was hanging from a branch. Her little arms and legs had been pulled so they were hanging loose from her naked torso. Her hair had been torn away as the other dolls’ had been. I was so sorry for her, horrified and sad and an urgent need to rescue her rose up in me.
For the rest of the afternoon I was distracted by thoughts on how to cut her down, slip her onto my person and get her into my own safe home. When my father came to pick me up I said I’d left something in the tree house and raced out to it before the other girl could come with me. I yanked at the cord around the branch, pulled the noose over her head and stuck her in the top of my knickers, not having any pocket.
I think the little girl saw me do it; I came out of the tree to her strange knowing smile. She didn’t say anything but I’m sure she knew. I didn’t care at that moment, I wanted to get away to my own place and put the doll into a safe, cosy spot. As we drove away relief swept over me and I pulled the doll out from under my dress and warmed her in my hands.
Was that right or wrong? I must admit I was wracked with guilt for a few days. Actually I think it was more fear of being accused of having stolen something from that little girl. The other part of me was happy at having rescued the wooden doll who was washed, dressed and given the best room in the dolls’ house. I still have her and I think she has repaid me with good luck.
Today’s theft was quite different. When I walked into the shop I looked around and called out for customer service, I even had money ready to pay for the book. There was nobody there, which was as I suspected. There doesn’t seem to be anyone left in this town, not one human being. There are no dead bodies; there is no sign of struggle or illness. There are just no people.
It is exactly two weeks since everyone disappeared without trace. I had been ill, bedridden for a week. I had been in a high fever, hallucinating and too ill to know which way was up. But one morning, two weeks ago I woke up feeling fine. No temperature, no dizziness, only a ravenous appetite.
My fridge was looking sparse but I managed to rustle up some toast and coffee with tinned milk. I showered and dressed, pleased to notice I had shed a little weight. My hair, however, looked like string and I thought it was time to get it cut. I would feel like a new person after it.
When I got into the street I was puzzled. There was no sound from anywhere, a couple of dogs howling but no vehicle sounds, no doors opening, no kids crying or shouting. Perhaps it was Sunday? Perhaps in my illness I had lost track of days.
As I drove through the deserted streets I noticed several dogs roaming around. Someone must have left a gate open. Garbage bins lay tipped over in the gutter spewing contents everywhere. Dogs were hovering around them, snapping at each other. Very odd I thought.
The hairdresser was open, the door chimes ringing cheerfully as I went in. There was none there. I waited thinking the owner or one of her girls had gone to get a coffee from across the road. I waited and waited.
The coffee shop was also deserted. The machine was sending out masses of steam. Something was wrong. I thought the machine was going to explode so I picked up a towel and turned it off. The hissing sound abated and left a ringing silence in its wake.
What was this all about? I was starting to get quite frightened. What did everyone know that I didn’t? Was it a big joke on me? Who would go to such enormous lengths to do that? How costly? How juvenile. I was getting angry, imagining this could be the only explanation until I realised the town centre had probably been evacuated. Gas leak, bomb threat?
I ran back to my car and drove home stopping briefly at the deserted corner shop to pick up bread, milk and a paper. I put money on the counter as I left.
The paper was the day before’s. It had nothing odd in it, apart from the usual ridiculous things people do and say to each other. The bread was also from the day before. What had happened that had made everyone leave so suddenly and why had no-one come to take me with them? Was I not important to anyone? Had I been forgotten in the rush for people to save themselves?
Indignation mixed with worry went around and around. Then I remembered that time wasting device called the telephone. Not expecting an answer from anyone’s home phone I tried a couple mobile numbers. Recorded messages saying the person I was calling was unavailable, please leave a message. I left several urgent ones to contact me to tell me what was going on.
Then I dialled 000, if there had been an evacuation I needed to be rescued, maybe no-one knew I was still here having been out of action for a week. Nothing but static.
Television. It came up with the test pattern. Internet. No connection available. What was this, a nuclear war, terrorist attack, invasion from Mars?
Then it hit me. I was obviously stuck in a dream. One of those that feel so real that you think to yourself: this is not a dream, this is reality and you cannot wake from it. But then, of course, you do with huge relief. If I had any control over my actions in this dream, which I appeared to do, I would go back to bed, back to sleep and either wake up in another dream or wake up into the real world.
So back to bed I went and after and hour of worry and straining to hear sounds of human life I did eventually go back to sleep.
It was dark when I woke again. It felt as though I was really awake this time, no mistake. I jumped up and pulled the curtains back. The street lights were on. I was right; when I first woke it had been a dream. There was life still; people were around me, everything was normal. Until I noticed that there were very few house lights on. One or two glimmered from the street but for eight o’clock it was ominously dark.
When I had a repeat performance from 000 and the television and still no signal on the internet I panicked. I ran into the street screaming for help.
A baying of dogs answered me and the caw of a crow. No human voice answered, no door opened, no curtain twitched. I was, it seemed the only human left in the town. I went inside and locked the door. I made more toast, which stuck in my throat, and thought about what I should do.