The conclusion of Oblivion. (Continued from last week.)
Day 3: December 20, 2012
Sinclair dried off and tossed the towel to the floor before checking his phone.
Are you coming?
Sinclair tossed the phone on the bed and dressed. Two places he had called would not rent to him because he was under twenty-five and didn’t have “enough” ID.
Feeling very low, very impetuous and stupid, he picked the phone back up: I can’t. I can’t get a car.
The phone buzzed a few minutes later: We’re heading back early. Be there this evening.
The quality of television was taking a serious nose-dive—and Sinclair was watching the news. A special bulletin was flashing across the local station. “No contact has been made with any of the missing air crafts. Nervous family members”—and the camera image switched from the hopelessly large-eyed reporter to the scene of people milling about an airport (Sinclair wasn’t sure where)—“anxiously await word on the missing flights. So far nothing has been confirmed about the disappearances.”
Sinclair flipped the channel. “In other news, satellite contact with Australia faded just after midnight on the island continent. Communication has not yet been re-established.”
“What the hell’s going on?” Sinclair muttered.
He stared at the screen, trying to discern the events being reported. Were the planes and the satellite communications problem related? Maybe it’s solar flares, he thought. He read, once, that solar flares reek havoc on satellite communications. He decided to grab a late lunch.
But first he’d text Michelle again. She replied quickly:
On the road. Slow. Heavy traffic.
* * * *
Sinclair picked at his food and looked around the small bistro. Empty chairs were snug to empty tables. A too large staff of waiters stood around, giving Sinclair the impression they were normally busier. He glanced at a muted TV over the bar. Some news program was on. The ticker at the bottom of the screen read: Cancelled Flights.
Sinclair picked up his phone and called his airline. A frazzled voice answered. “Regional airlines. May I help you?”
“Hi, my name is Sinclair Oswald, and I have a flight scheduled to leave in two days for Cleveland,” he rattled off, trying to sound miffed, hoping to get sympathy.
The lady responded like an automaton. “Sir, I apologize but all flights are currently suspended until further notice.”
“Is this to do with the missing flights?”
“Regional airlines currently has no missing flights.”
“Not yours,”—now she’s politicking, Sincalir thought—“the missing flights, from Australia.”
“There is some concern that solar flares may be causing navigational errors, so this is merely a precautionary…” Sinclair hung up. The lady is a useless, trained monkey.
The news was merely getting worse. The President was giving an impromptu speech concerning the international crises. “At this point, there is no need for alarm.”
“Mr. President! Mr. President!” Reporters waved their arms, trying to gain his attention. The President nodded to a reporter—Sinclair wondered how they knew who he was nodding to in the melee—and the man spoke. “But with the loss of communications to Europe…”
“What?” Sinclair gasped. Now they’d lost Europe?
“There is no definite cause determined, though experts are looking for a cause, possibly solar flares, there seems to be a great deal of solar activity…”
“But Mr. President, isn’t all communication being lost as midnight of December twenty-first falls?”
The President’s face crumbled for a moment, before he regained his composure. “No definite correlation has been established between the two events.” An aide whispered in the President’s ear. “Thank you, that’s all.”
Sinclair turned off the TV. Where is Michelle? He wondered. He texted her again.
His phone buzzed almost instantly. We’re stuck in traffic. The roads are jammed.
Sinclair called her. “Hey.”
“We’re not moving. We’re not moving at all. There’s so much traffic and the news on the radio—”
“I know.” He let out a long breath. “This was supposed to be a fun surprise.”
Michelle was silent for a long while. Sinclair hear angry beeping and shouting. “I wish I could see you.”
“Are you safe?”
“Yes. I think so.” Again, she was silent. “I’m scared.”
Sinclair heard her aunt say something. “I love you,” Michelle said.
“I love you, too.”
“I’m going to call my parents now.”
“See you soon.”
* * * *
Eight fifty five p.m. Pacific Time, and Sinclair was on the phone with his mother; in Cleveland, where it was just before midnight. “Mom, I’m sorry I came out here,” he said.
“It’s okay, dear. Everything will be fine.” She paused. “Are you watching the news?”
Her voice was frail, sounding like ancient Egyptian glass worn thin by erosion and thousands of years of decay. “Everyone is home. The streets are empty.” She laughed without mirth. “I love you, Sinclair.” Sinclair heard his father pick up the other line. “I love you, too, son.” This couldn’t be real, Sinclair kept telling himself. It was too surreal; it had to be a nightmare. “I love you, too. Both of you.”
“It’s almost midnight,” his mother whispered.
“I’ll be home soon, you’ll see.”
Static crossed the line. His mother’s voice began to crackle. His mother gasped into the phone, “Oh, dear, God…”
The line went dead. Static was left buzzing in Sinclair’s ear. “Mom! Dad!” He screamed until his voice was hoarse. An automated voice came on the line… “If you’d like to make a call…”
Sinclair let the phone fall from his hand and land on the carpeted floor with a silenced thud. He turned to face the clock; it was just past nine o’clock Pacific Time. Midnight had descended on the east and was burning across the nation like an unstoppable conflagration.
A sour laugh burst from his lips. It was terrible to be the last to go. The first never knew what happened, never had time to think about their mistakes and introspect, never had to watch as the world faded away beneath some malevolent umbra, scooting across the globe like the moon in front of the sun. Sinclair was glad for small favors; at least he was not in Hawaii.
There were screams—no, it was wailing—coming from the streets below. Mechanically, Sinclair stumbled to the window. Frenzied, people were kneeling, running, panicked, like dolphins in tuna nets fighting for air. Sinclair heard smashing glass. Groups of people were huddled together, clinging to one another like boat people. Amidst the smoke and fray, an auger, a man in a rumpled suit, stood in the street. He divined the end of the world. “God is coming! God is coming! Prepare your soul. The Four Horsemen ride.”
Across the street, a woman screamed as she leaped from her balcony. Snapping his head, Sinclair tuned away as she landed on the debris-strewn concrete. But what if it was just a communications problem…what if?
Falling away from the window, Sinclair thought of Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot. So this is how the world ends, so this is how the world ends…Not with a bang but a whimper. He crawled across the carpet and placed his back to the wall. He hugged his legs to his chest and folded his arms around his knees.
Sinclair turned to face the clock and waited.