So, this is what happened. People started, I don’t know, disappearing, I guess is what you’d call it. You can’t say dissolving, because that’d be slower. You can’t say melting, because there’s nothing left after they go. You can’t say dying, because there’s no body. My brother Warren called it deleting. The universe was deleting people; it was a computer, we were files. No saving, no backup, no recovery.
No one knows who the first to go was. There were rumors on the internet. Small threads on smaller forums. Comments on conspiracy sites. We all remember though when that news anchor, the pretty one—the chick with the, uh, the blonde hair and the botoxed lips? —got deleted live. One second there, the next, gone. Her clothes stayed in the air for a frame and then dropped, like that coyote that runs off a cliff and hangs in the air for second before he falls. Like that.
At first, we all thought it was a big joke. The slowest news week with the anchors trying to up their ratings with absolutely anything. Movie magic. The best CGI effects. But it wasn’t. Later, they tried to slow down the frames to analyze the deletion. They couldn’t get the cameras to go slow enough, or maybe it was just that fast.
Then more people were deleted. And more. Then it was a blame game for a while—Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS was using some new high-tech warfare. Then it was some sort of plague: a biological thing, a chemical thing, a physics thing. Then, as everything got crazier, as people got desperate, it was the aliens, ghosts, God.
For a while, it didn’t affect me, you know? Some anchor in some big city disappeared? Some ambassador overseas? A bunch of kids across the world? Just a bunch of randoms. It didn’t come in waves. Cities didn’t disappear at once. There weren’t symptoms. It’s just random.
Then in my physics class at Galfrey High, my friend Freddie, a pretty girl with all these beads in her braids got deleted in front of me. For a fraction of a second, her beads hovered in the air, and then came loudly crashing down on my desk, and then rolled, clattering on the floor. Everyone started screaming, except me. Any scream of mine was stuck in my throat like a sock, choking me.
Warren, my parents—no one knew who to talk to me about it. Warren had asked me afterwards what it had been like, in the tone he got when he called me a pearl-clutching bitch and pretended to dump my Ativan in the toilet. When he saw the next deletion at his basketball practice, he came home and apologized. Novel.
Dad tried to keep our spirits up, trying to talk up studying, career fairs, college apps. Mom shouted, “Just shut up! Shut up! There’s nothing left here! There’s nothing left!”
Warren reached a hand under the table to grab my wrist, fumbling along at my pulse until he grabbed my hand and squeezed hard like he was trying to shatter it.
People in town seemed to stop showing up—trying to run somewhere, anywhere, even though everywhere seemed to have this inexplicable plague. Or they just got deleted. Mom stopped driving and Dad started staying home. Warren said it was because Dad didn’t want Mom to be alone.
The world got quiet. Cars stopped rumbling because people stopped driving. Planes stopped flying for fear of deleted pilots. Radios replaced their music with a running requiem and a list of the newly deleted and a series of experts talking about everything we don’t know.
Mom stopped getting out of bed and Dad and Warren tried to compensate. Funny how the apocalypse ended up making Warren nicer.
Warren made a list once of all the people he knew in town. His best friend Ricky, his favorite teachers, all the kids on the sports teams, a bunch of old people around. More than half the names were crossed out. My name was at the top: Jamie, in his chicken scratch, He caught me sitting on the floor of our room, just clutching the list in my hand like a misshapen pearl. He just gently pried it out and refolded it along its creases slipping it into his back pocket.
I stole his bike and then came back alone. Added thirty names and crossed out twenty-seven. One of them was my psychiatrist’s.
I overheard Dad tell Warren one night: “You have to be strong.”
“No,” Dad said, voice ragged, “You gotta be strong, War, because your mom—”
“No, but I need you to be ready for anything, okay? For Jamie.”
“What about Jamie?”
“Your mom and I, at any time, we could—”
“No. No, we’re not talking about this.”
I didn’t say anything and hadn’t in a while.
Warren was driving us home from the de facto last school day in March, listening to a biophysicist theorize the atoms making up people were just flying apart, saying, “The velocity of the force pulling apart—,” when she got deleted on air. Warren swallowed, turned off the radio, and put in a CD to sing along to.
We came home to our father’s apron on the kitchen floor, a boiled over pot on the stove, and a shattered mug in the living room.
Warren stopped in the foyer.
He sniffed hard, just once, and said as brightly as he could, “I’ll make dinner then.”
I knew how it must’ve happened. I’d seen more deletions by then than I have fingers and toes. I couldn’t say anything, not even for Warren. I haven’t talked much since Freddie, Todd, Richie, everyone really. There’s not much else to say. Not much to feel, either, except a little sick.
I just kept editing Warren’s list, imagined him saying, “This isn’t Schadenfreude, this is just masochism.”
I heard Warren cry at night, in his bed across the room. I’d never heard him cry before. I wondered if I should call him a pearl-clutching broken bird or offer him an Ativan. There wasn’t really an etiquette for this. He cried the next day, too, and the next, and begged me to say something, anything. All my words had been scooped out. My vocal chords had been extracted and became the crossed out names on creased and faded notebook paper.
Warren grabbed my hand and made me look at him in the dark. “Everything’ll be okay.”
Two days later, I woke up and Warren wasn’t in his bed. I collapsed on the floor, shrieking so long and so loud, I think I might have spittled blood from vocal hemorrhage.
“Jamie! Jamie, are you alright?!”
“You were gone.” The first thing I’ve said in weeks. “You were gone and I was alone.”
“I had to get food,” he said, and he’s crying again. That night Warren slept with me, back to back. I looked over every now and again to make sure he’s still there. I slept even less.
Eventually we went outside and walked along the empty streets of our little town. There’s a car crashed into a house, and another burned down. The wind howled in the quiet, screeching and pulling at us, the world wondering where all her people went. I don’t know, I wanted to tell her. No one knows. The shelves of the half-looted stores were half-empty and the air smelt rotten like the dead.
Warren couldn’t stand the silence. The world became too quiet for him. He sang all the songs he remembered and read aloud all the books he found even when he’s upstairs, cleaning for no one. Maybe it’s to remind me he’s still there. Maybe it’s to remind himself.
Months passed, days blurring together.
We watched a meteor shower in August and Warren tried to goad me into wishing on a star. He broke into a deleted neighbor’s house and stole his wine. We’re too young to drink, but we’re drunk. “We can’t die because we’re young,” Warren sang. He whispered in my ear as the meteoroids fly, “I don’t want the world to delete us.”
It’s not a secret, I didn’t say. But no one says it even though it’s true. That was true about a lot of things, before. Before.
“I’m sorry, Jamie,” he says in the heat, voice cracked and hoarse. I don’t know what he’s sorry for and I can’t ask. My words, like all the people, have been deleted. Backspaced. Undone.
Warren’s even clingier than usual as we crawled into bed, grabbing at my hands, my back, my chest and pressing himself as close as he can against me. I felt his heart pounding and his heavy breathing against my neck. He smelt like wine and Dad’s cologne. He nuzzled my neck and didn’t say, “Goodnight.”
When I woke up, I already knew.
B.L. Dansereau is a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelors in archaeology and a minor in classics, which makes her highly qualified to make fun of Indiana Jones, give impassioned speeches about the British Museum needing to repatriate all of its stolen artifacts, and watch vinegar dissolve mud off of quartz. She is a queer, disabled young woman with a fluffy fat cat named Echo, who is named for the nymph but joyously tries to repeat everything she says in meows. She writes to engage wholeheartedly with what it means to be human, which is also the same reason she entered archaeology at all – the Neanderthal who lost her bracelet on a mountainside in Portugal 30,000 years ago had a life and a wild story to tell that she desperately wanted to hear. B.L. has had one poem published in Lagan Poetry Press, and was, a lifetime ago, recognized by Scholastic Art & Writing.