Zeke decided not to take the car, though God knew the tankish Oldsmobile could use some driving. For lack of destinations, the Olds sat in Zeke’s garage decomposing. That used to bother Zeke. Now, in light of what Zeke had seen and heard from behind his living room curtains, it seemed such a silly thing.
All the cars had been silent for three days.
Three days ago Zeke saw more cars on the road than he’d ever seen before, accompanied by a discomfiting symphony of emergency sirens. Zeke saw his neighbors careen through the subdivision and screech to a halt in front of their homes. He watched the cars peel out the driveways, leaving twin black marks in their wakes. Over the course of a day the shrill sounds trickled away, then died altogether. Except for two doors down, Arnie Miller had left his Honda running and the driver’s-side door open. Zeke waited for Arnie to come turn off his car. He checked for the Honda’s exhaust cloud every hour or so. Seventeen hours it took the Honda to die.
Nothing heralded this silence. There were no explosions, no mushroom clouds, no terrorist plots in the headlines. And Zeke would know. He was one of the last recipients of The Plain Dealer and probably the last person on earth to read it cover to cover, except for the recipes and adds that posed as real stories. A good paper, a frozen dinner, and his favorite oldies music were all Zeke required. It was all Zeke had left since retiring from the plant in ’11, the same year Henrietta died. Zeke wouldn’t allow himself to think too hard on the injustice of that.
The day after the cars stopped running, Zeke decided to take a drive of his own. His Olds bellowed like a dinosaur prowling the empty streets. At a stop light Zeke noticed the smell: it was like Henrietta’s curlers when she neglected to turn them off. Other than that, there was nothing. No people, no life anywhere. Zeke went home.
It was the missing Thursday edition of the paper that really bothered Zeke. The Thursday paper always had great puzzles. Its absence from his doorstep didn’t surprise him, nor the radio, silent as a tomb. After the cars stopped Zeke figured everything would stop, but he spent several hours a day swirling the radio dial, just in case.
The town meeting was first Thursday of every month, 7 o’clock. Zeke decided to go, but not to take the car this time. He combed his hair and changed into a sky-blue golfing shirt Henrietta bought for his retirement party. Though he needed a shave, even the town meeting wouldn’t elicit that kind of effort. Donning his fedora, Zeke stepped out into the summer evening.
The whole way to town Zeke met not a soul, nor heard any evidence of human life besides his own scuffling steps. No lawn mowers, no planes, no leaf blowers, just the birds tittering and an occassional squirrel scrabbling up a tree, frightened by his passing.
The first disappointment was the empty town hall. At 7:01, Zeke knew the mayor wasn’t coming. Neither were the city councilmen. Zeke sat in the back row of the Olde Town Hall at a loss. The scuffling behind him shook him out like a towel. He jumped out of the cushioned pew and turned to face the sound.
“Who’s there?” Zeke called.
A family unknown to Zeke stood in the entryway. They stared at Zeke with haunted eyes framed in dark circles. Both parents seemed to bow over their children in protective gestures.
“How did you get here?” The father asked.
“I walked.” Zeke said, “You?”
“Us too. We live just down the road.” The father pointed with his thumb. “You seen anyone else?”
Zeke shook his head.
“Do you know anything?” The father asked. Again Zeke just shook his head, although he had to resist the urge to go to them and hug them, so good was the sight of other people. They were a beautiful huddle: A man and a woman in their thirties with four kids, the oldest no more than ten. The kids shrank into the protective curves made by their parents.
“Didn’t you see anything on the news? Surely there had to be something about it.”
“I don’t have cable,” said Zeke.
The couple looked at each other and then at Zeke. “Neither do we.”