The classroom was silent as the students worked on the test. That is, until Amber came crashing through the door.
“They’ve all left! All of them!”
She looked around frantically, trying to connect her harried gaze with a single confused classmate, but seeing nothing but blank stares she threw her hands up and ran back out into the hallway. Muffled shouts came in through the closed door, the same voice stringently screaming garbled words in the same meter, the same silence answering. After a minute or so the voice became inaudible as Amber presumably moved down the hallway out of earshot. The students looked at each other in confusion, but after a few more moments of silence they returned to their tests.
Jimmy sighed, trying to put his thoughts back on the problem at hand. Mr. Mooney will kill us if we get out of our desks. He started reading about a train leaving Cleveland at 6 PM, but his thoughts kept wandering back to Amber’s outburst. What does she mean, anyway. They’ve all left? Isn’t that what happens during final exams? Jimmy frowned in thought before angrily dismissing the distraction. Bah, they’re on break, and they’ll be back with their red markers if this test isn’t finished by then.
The time passed quietly, and Jimmy found himself engrossed in his test once again. Coming to the last of the five pages of word problems, he hurriedly scrawled down his answers. Time must be getting short – it feels like it’s been too long already! He finished scribbling the answer to the last problem, then put his pencil down and looked up with a sigh of relief. No Mr. Mooney, must have just made it! He looked around, and saw a few of his classmates looking back at him, confusion on their faces. He looked confused as well, up until he saw the clock and the reason for their confusion registered. 12:37?! Class ended 12 minutes ago! Where was the bell? Jimmy cautiously stood up from his desk.
“Sit down! He could be back any moment!”
The hurried whisper came from Mike, his best friend, sitting next to him.
“He’s twelve minutes late already,” Jimmy whispered back.
Mike nodded. “Exactly my point! He’s going to be pissed when he gets back as it is!”
Jimmy started to sit back down before a thought struck him. “When has he ever been late before?”
Mike started to answer, but stopped as the same thought struck him. He shook himself after a moment of silence. “So what do you think we should do.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Hell if I know, but I’m gonna take a look.”
Jimmy made his way across the room, and a few of the more curious students rose to follow him as he peered out into the hallway. Absolute silence. What’s going on here? He stepped into the empty corridor and looked both directions. It was completely empty – Amber had apparently moved on. He stepped out into the hallway and walked slowly, peering into the other classrooms as he passed. Each narrow window presented the same scene – students slowly looking up from their desks, glancing about curiously.
What had started as a trickle behind Jimmy became a flood as his truancy was noticed. He headed towards the front entrance, the quiet halls devoid of monitors, guards, teachers, administrators – really any leadership whatsoever., just unsupervised students, looking confused and concerned as one. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he neared the front hall of the building. What if Amber was telling the truth? What if they really were gone?
Jimmy came to a halt in front of the heavy doors leading outside, hundreds of footsteps clattering to a stop behind him. The idle chatter and whispering that had filled the throng fell silent, and the students stood still. Expectant. Curious. What should I do, Jimmy mused, if I leave the school grounds I could be in serious trouble. But if I don’t, then I’ll never know what’s going on. He waffled back and forth for a moment before placing his hand on the doorknob. With a deep breath and a silent prayer, he stepped into the bright afternoon light.
He stepped onto the front porch of the school, and nearly walked right into Amber. She had sat down at the top of the steps leading towards the street, arms wrapped about her knees as she gently rocked back and forth. He could hear her quietly whispering as she moved.
“All gone. All gone. All gone.”
He was about to kneel down and check on her when a thought struck him. Where are all the sounds? This close to the city, you could count on traffic whipping by every day. Rarely fifteen minutes would go by without the silence being broken by a horn, or a siren, or a screech of tires, but the only sound Jimmy could hear was the quiet whispering of Amber. Even the wind seemed silent. The streets lie empty, disused, passing before silent hulking homes. The finest houses in the county, with their tree-lined streets, lay silent. No lawnmowers, no children at play, no comings and goings from the busy adults who populated their world.
Jimmy jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Mike staring at the scene in wonder. Mike cleared his throat, swallowing repeatedly before speaking in a breaking voice.
“What, uh, do we do?”
Jimmy opened his mouth to answer, but before he could get a word in Amber jumped up and screamed.
“I’m going home! They can’t all be gone! I’ll find them!”
With a sob she burst to her feet and dashed off down the sidewalk. Jimmy had a hand out, as if reaching to stop her, but let it fall without thinking. He turned back to Mike.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Maybe we should head home, too.”
“No way,” a voice in the back piped up. “I ain’t getting’ detention for this crap.”
“Me neither,” a girl agreed.
“But there’s no one here to give detention!” A third voice, somewhat shrill, arose to Jimmy’s left.
Jimmy thought for a moment before turning to a nearby student. “Hey Carl, you live near here, right?”
A mousy-looking kid stepped forward, adjusting his glasses. “Yeah, around the corner. Why?”
“Do any of your parents stay home during the day?”
“Yeah, my dad works from home.”
Jimmy looked around at the gathered throng. “Ok, so let’s send Carl home to see if he can get his father to come help us. In the meantime, let’s wait here in case the teachers come back.”
Jimmy didn’t know if he was more surprised that Carl nodded assent, or that there were no dissenting voices from the crowd. He turned back to Carl. “Head on home, and if your father is there bring him back with you.”
Carl nodded. “And what if he isn’t?”
Jimmy shrugged. “We’ll have to deal with that when it happens.”
Carl nodded again, and took off into the distance. Jimmy watched him go, wondering what he would find.