story, word

It Ended With a Whisper

She hadn’t heard any screams. No crashes or anything out of the ordinary. Nothing jolted her awake as it should have. The air felt different, she remembered. Pillows and sheets and blankets, swaddled her with naivety that every thing was the same as when she sent to bed last night. Her mouth was sticky and dry, as usual, but she did taste something empty. That sick feeling remained, from the first moment.

Adjusting her eyes to the dark ceiling, she thought maybe it wasn’t morning yet. She grabbed her phone from the side table, the screen flashed on but everything was blank. Time and date appeared as ambiguous lines, and her none of her apps would work. Swiping away the useless little icons, her stomach tightened as she woke up a little more.

So quiet. Unnaturally so for a hotel room. In the silence, she had an opportunity to remember the annoying buzzes and clicks of a room away from home. She did not hear anything, and her phone didn’t even seem to be working to text her friend. She had no idea what time it was, and a hangover headache she didn’t remember inflicting upon herself, pulsed from inside her brain.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she pulled back the curtains to look outside. Misty, gray, just enough light to see the outlines of the streets her and her friends explored last night. They had an extended evening of red wine and long-overdue gossip, and those very streets were flowing with life just a few hours ago. But now, it looked completely dead. Silent. Empty. 

Weird. But maybe not uncommon. This was the first time she had been to this little island town,  and she didn’t really know how to assess the rhythm of this little city at all. Yesterday was filled with sunshine and laughter and shrimp cocktail and drinks, and she thought it possible that the stillness was the healthy slumber of such vibrance. So, she took a shower.

After what seemed like hours of wandering panic, she had to find something to eat. Everyone was gone. Not one person in the hotel. No one in the shops or cafes. Worst of all, she couldn’t find or contact the girlfriends who accompanied her on what began as a tropical vacation. Not one single person that she could see or hear. Everyone was just gone. The buildings and cars and bikes and scooters were in their place, like a life sized model, with no movement smell sound or breath. She was trying not to panic. Practical gal as herself, there had to be a reasonable explanation.

But after so long, after so much walking and exploring the disturbingly fresh ghost town, she was hungry, and now she had to decide what to do about that.

Gladly, she wanted to pay for her meal, but there was no server or waitress or cook. Every little restaurant she walked by, her hope was to find someone else, eating, working or something. If she could find even one other person, and they were hungry together. Someone to give her a little advice about where to find some food. Someone who might understand the crazy new world that she had found herself stuck in the middle of. Someone who could at least watch her back if her plan was a terrible mistake. Then maybe she wouldn’t feel so bad for what she was about to do. 

It was a small wine and cheese place a few steps away from where she had woke up this morning. The door was wide open, everything was staged for a rush of customers. Wine glasses sparkled here last night, but now they hung there as a pale reminder of the drunken bonding that was absent. Looking around for cameras, for someone in the back, for someone watching, she hesitated. Who would be watching, she couldn’t find anyone. So, she reached into the display on the corner of the bar for a croissant. 

But then she put it back. Could she justify this? Just because no one was watching? Just because she was hungry and she really should eat this? There was a deep ache that made her second guess everything. Her hunger, her ability to make a rational decision, this mocking silent situation. She wanted another voice to talk her through this. Someone else, to at least tell her it was right. Or wrong. Someone else who was hungry too, who would feel the weight of this meaningless decision with her. Wow. All for a stupid pastry. Now she just needed a drink.

But her stomach fought back, growling deeply. She decided to go for it, grabbed the soft sweet croissant, and finished it in three bites. Hunger awakened, she consumed the rest of the display, 3 croissants in all. It rejuvenated her just a little to feel a tiny hollow need filled up, satisfied for even just a moment.

And now, maybe, she could think more clearly about what to do next.

Quiet. There were no birds outside. She strained her ears to hear something. One thing, besides her own breath. It made her panic to hear the rhythmic inhale, exhale. Texting and phone calls wouldn’t go through. She couldn’t even call her mom, which she hadn’t done in a very long time, anyway. The silence was external. And It was internal. She had no idea what had happened. She had no idea what to do about it. The one thing that she had to accept, is that she was alone in this place. The world that she knew before had suddenly stopped. 

She tried to remember what they did in the movies. When the world ended. They might go to a central location and either unite or colonize with others who find themselves lost. Or perhaps they would fight a common enemy, be it disease or zombies, to preserve the last of human life. None of this was productive, there was no person there to fight for or against. She was by herself, with an indulgent exciting city opened to her every desire. Bakeries, beaches, clothing and jewelry stores. But there was no one in sight.

My God, why have you forsaken me? She thought to pray. She still remembered that one. But maybe God didn’t really abandon her. She had everything she needed to live. And she was always a bit of an introvert, and didn’t always mind being alone. Maybe this could be just as much a gift as a curse, given to her in some extreme way.The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord, I guess, she thought.

But everyone else in the world, where did they go? Why did they go? Is this a punishment or a blessing. Is she being rewarded or disciplined. God is in control of all things. She heard that since she was a little girl, so He must know what is going on. Or maybe He did forget. Maybe she was left behind from some grand theatric “Day of the Lord” rapture. Or maybe this was the way to was supposed to end. For everyone. For her.

Her mind spun on an on about the how’s and why’s. She tried to reason out a prophetic connection. She wanted to develop a plan of escape. But escape to where. How to do it. No uber, no pilots, no cell service. Many possibilities, for the movies anyway, but maybe not for her. And, leaving might be worse than what she had here. What if there was a zombie apocalypse or an atomic bomb beyond this beautiful turquoise shoreline. What if she had been graciously fenced in, protected from a greater catastrophe that consumed everyone she used to know. Everything was more or less functional, but could she just stay here and figure this out, By herself.

And today, she still had breath in her lungs. She still had to do something with herself. So the question became, now what. Palm trees. White wicker chairs. Empty conceriege desk. Lonely bar stool. She just sat in the hotel lobby, back where her new reality was realized. She was tired of thinking. She was tired of looking for an answer. She was tired of wondering what to do.  So she just closed her eyes.

A minute or weeks later, she couldn’t tell, she looked up to see gray clouds outside darken. Imagining this was a sunset, even though she had not seen the sun at all since that morning she awoke, she repositioned herself on the lobby couch she had fallen asleep on.  Sticky with sweat, no breezes, no movements. The quiet hurt her ears now, straining to her the smallest sound. It was really driving her crazy, listening at nothing. 

And the sick sense of undirected meaningless hadn’t gone away either. But that’s when she saw the book. She didn’t notice it before. On a little black side table opened halfway, from her view across the room, it looked like someone had written on the exposed page.

Losing since her first breath

In a place of nowhere

Untouched alone and quiet

Eye to eye, thigh to thigh

What did she have to know

To wander from that sound

Choose was is or what could be

Playing happy, weren’t you happy?

Where did she have to go

To find a place of meaning

Unbalanced off the center

Dancing in the moonstruck shadow…

Drawing her fingertips over the impressions on the page. She felt that. The words bled into her fingertips, spilled into her veins, and stung her in the middle of the chest. She heard that. All this time with no people, no conversation or noise, these unsaid words poured into her ears. She needed that, more than food or sleep or a plan forward, the words wrapped her in a flood of momentary ecstasy which took her by complete surprise.

The pages went on an on. Poems, stories, letters, it looked like nothing more than a mess of words. But these scribbles of black pen silence had never tasted so good. She couldn’t put the little book down. Filling the empty lobby with soundless music that no on else could hear. And no one else was there to hear it anyway. Right now, that didn’t seem to matter, at all. Hearing for the first time since the stillness, another sound, another voice, finally a friend who was right there with her.

And there were more. Volumes of handwritten books scattered around that classic Florida cottage hotel. Bookshelves and bedside tables, in closets and on the front porch. She now searched for these tiny sighs of wisdom, of sadness, of error and beauty. Not all the words she found hidden were the same. Different voices, different histories, different tones, different spellings. But each one was thrilling. Each one inspired an intimate connection, on her little island where that had ceased to be.

Minutes, days, years, she didn’t know anymore. Rotting shrimp, crumbling beach houses, empty skies, it didn’t matter anymore. Here, it ended here with whisper. It feigned a resignation to silence. And, for her, it endured with words.

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