"A FEW MINUTES PAST THE END OF TIME" - Rick McQuiston
It was at a baseball game when it first happened. Terry Thorus, first baseman for the New York Yankees who was leading the league in home runs
and doubles, suddenly vanished into thin air. He had been about to receive a throw from the third baseman but instead, the ball just sailed into the opposing team’s dugout.
For a few seconds all was quiet. Forty thousand people completely silent. I swore you could have heard a pin drop. Then pandemonium broke out. Screams mingled with disbelief as hundreds were injured in the ensuing scramble to the exits and several were even killed.
I however, sat calmly in my seat. I had had an excellent view of the playing field and had seen the entire occurrence. Mr. Thorus had been there one minute and simply gone the next. His uniform, his thick trademark mustache, his forty-eight homeruns…all gone. I found myself entertaining a rather tasteless thought…would he still get the MVP award?
People were bustling all around me. They cursed. They screamed. They cried. All of them trying to escape what their minds could not grasp. People do tend to do that, react to tragedy or unexplained phenomena in irrational ways.
The news that day was filled with Policemen, scientists and family members of the victim. Mr. Thorus’ wife, a very attractive blonde woman, held a vigil. I felt great relief that they had no children.
After two days, every corner of the civilized world was very well acquainted with the incident. Within another week, three more people had vanished. Art Brandish, an accomplished author of, appropriately enough, mystery novels, disappeared while giving a lecture at Stanford University. Jeremy Thak, a partner in a small law firm in Dallas, vanished in the midst of a meeting with his colleagues. And just to prove there was no gender discrimination, Beth Ann Houfferin ceased to exist while engaged in intimacies with her husband.
The papers screamed foul play. The scientists countered with varied complicated theories rooted in overlapping dimensions. Some blamed aliens. Some said it was a form of time travel. And the religious community reasoned it was God’s doing…judgment day.
I, however, did not know what to believe. Each theory had its plausible facts and yet all seemed based in beliefs instead of fact. Foul play seemed the easiest thing to believe had I not seen Mr. Thorus vanish myself. Surely no one could have caused it. Dimensional overlapping was far fetched at best and time travel seemed impossible. Aliens…I doubt it. Not that I don’t believe in them, I just think it highly unlikely that any would visit this tiny lump of rock that we live on.
And then there’s religion. Although I’m a God fearing individual, I still find it difficult to believe that he would pluck innocent people out of existence. What had these people done to deserve such a fate? And why did their demise need to be so abrupt and heartless?
And what if it was not God at all? What if it was Satan? But I firmly believe that God would not allow Lucifer such direct power and control over such matters. God simply loves man too much…or at least I hope so.
Which maroons me on an island of ignorance. I can’t help but wonder how many people are gone by now. There were the four we heard about but I’m reluctantly confident there are many, many more. People living alone. People without jobs. People without homes or relatives. People nobody would miss right away.
I have tried desperately to reach my parents in Albany…no answer. No answer for two days now. The police have found no trace of their whereabouts, which leads me to accept the inevitable…they are gone.
After that, people started to vanish quickly. Hundreds at a time, at least in the United States. In Europe, they disappeared by the thousands and in Australia more than two thirds of the entire population was there one minute and gone the next.
The whole world was gripped in intense fear. People stopped working which caused economic collapse. The President declared a state of national emergency and then promptly vanished. Riots, looting, murder, they reigned supreme. Most people stayed indoors, too afraid to venture out into the streets and eventually succumbed to starvation or disease.
By Christmas morning, most people were gone.
Major cities; New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Mexico City sat like huge empty vacant lots. Phones, electricity, gas, all were down simply because there was no one left to run or monitor the systems.
I sit here in my small two-bedroom apartment, alone, cold and afraid. Afraid of what would undoubtedly claim me. But I am now far more afraid that it won’t claim me. To be left alone on a barren shell of a planet with nothing but memories to keep me company. That would be worse than whatever awaited me in the void of uncertainty that had taken all those before me.
I was startled when the television popped on. A church leader filled the screen and babbled on incoherently about the end of time. He said his time was near so he had to be brief. He said he had received a vision from an angel the previous night and that an angel had told him that mankind’s time on Earth was about to expire. God had decreed that man had failed to prove itself worthy of life. Satan had demanded his fair share so God was forced to remove people while others remained, thereby allowing Satan to enjoy the pain of losing loved ones. When the man had asked the simple question of why, the angel had told him that man had progressed impressively but still suffered at the hands of hatred and prejudice, of fear and arrogance, of greed and jealously. The man on the screen then began to weep. He was truly afraid but he regained his composure and managed to say one last thing before he vanished.
“Friends,” he uttered in a soft tone punctuated by weak smiles. “Those of us who are just and trusting in God will find solace in his lands.” And then he was gone and the screen went blank.
I decided to gather up what supplies I could and head out into the wasteland that was once Earth. I would walk and walk and walk until my time came. My faith in God had waned to the point of nonexistence but I still prayed that what the man on the television had said was true and that thought alone gave me enough strength to carry on.
The cold wind bites at my face and seeps in through my jacket. Many miles have passed without a living creature in sight. I fear I am the last occupant left on the…
BIO: Rick has had well over 200 publications in over 120 different magazines so far, and is currently working on his second novel. He is a guest author at Memphis Junior High School each year and has written four anthology books and one book of novellas. He also edited and contributed to "Michigan Madmen"( an antholgy of Michigan authors).