Memo From the Last Man on Earth

As I write these words, I’m certain of 3 things. My cat is sleeping beside me. My dogs are sleeping beneath me. And I’m living in the Twilight Zone.

Until now, I thought the old Twilight Zone stories were pure fantasy. Now, I know they’re weren’t. They can really happen. At least one of them can. And has.

The episode I’m referring to is the very first one of the series. It featured a story written by the show’s creator, Rod Serling, called Where is Everybody?

In it, a man finds himself walking on a dirt road, approaching a small town. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or even why he’s walking on a dirt road. He’s just walking. Toward a small town. But, this being the Twilight Zone, it’s not your typical small town.

On its outskirts lies a little diner where the man finds a jukebox playing and a pot of coffee brewing. In town, he finds a church bell ringing. Then, a phone ringing. He finds a still-smoldering cigar, a faucet running, a movie playing in a local theater. And, fittingly, a bookrack filled with copies of a book called The Last Man on Earth.

What he doesn’t find, however, is people. Despite all the signs of human life, there aren’t any humans around to go with those signs.

So who left them? Or maybe, what left them? And, by the way, where is everybody?

I won’t give away the ending here. The ending isn’t important. The situation the man finds himself in, is. It’s important because it’s the situation I’ve found myself in.

This morning, the roads near my house were empty. Nary a soul to be seen. Our local grocery store? Empty. Carwash? Empty. The high school? Empty. In fact, it was all empty. Still is. Everywhere I look, it’s empty. It’s just me. And my dogs and my cat, of course. Otherwise, everybody’s gone.

Crazy, you say? I wish it were.

Sure, I saw cars traveling the roads. I saw stores doing business. And I found the usual lines at drive-thru windows. But, no people.

What I did see, however, and I saw them everywhere, were shells. Shells of people.

I saw the bodies of human beings driving cars. I saw them on both sides of cash registers. I saw them washing cars. Operating crosswalks. Even weaving in and out of other bodies in the aisles of the grocery store. But the human beings that should’ve been accompanying these bodies were nowhere to be found.

They’d all escaped through their smartphones, their tablets, their headsets, and they’d left their bodies behind to fend for themselves. To drive themselves to work or to school. To do their grocery shopping. Attend class. Even to eat their Egg McMuffins.

Despite the appearance of life, there was no life. Not life as I once knew it. There was no eye contact. There were no smiles exchanged. No courtesies extended. Just motion. And noise. And, of course, shells.

So, like the man in the Twilight Zone, I find myself wondering, “Where is everybody?” I don’t know the answer. But I do know they’re no longer where they should be. With their bodies, wherever those bodies may be: behind the wheel of a car, navigating a busy crosswalk, standing across from another in a checkout lane.

Yes, I’m living in the Twilight Zone. For all I know, I could be the last man on earth. But it could be worse; I could be without an Internet connection.

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The idea for this post came to me a few years ago. And though I’d occasionally consider sitting down to write it, I never did. Then, the other day, a few things happened that changed my mind.

First, as I said in the post, I became acutely aware of this syndrome again the other day. But that was nothing new. What was new, was this…

When I got home that day, a friend emailed me and happened to make an offhand reference to Rod Serling. I thought to myself, “That’s funny, I was just thinking about Rod Serling.”

Later, I was cleaning up some files on my computer and ran across an old file I’d made with some personal notes in it. One of the notes I’d made in that file mentioned my concerns about the overuse of mobile phones and technology. I thought to myself, “That’s funny. I was just thinking about that.”

Finally, that evening, I turned on the TV to have some background noise in the house. I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I do use the audio sometimes to keep me company. When I opened Netflix, it opened to my recommendations page. Can you guess what the first program Netflix suggested for me was? Yes. The original Twilight Zone series. I thought to myself, “That’s not funny. That’s weird.”

I figured I’d take the hint and watch it. Without looking at the description, I selected the first episode in the series and pressed play. Can you guess which episode it turned out to be? Yes. Where is Everybody? I’d seen the episode before, but I didn’t realize it was the very first episode of the series. I did now. And now, I thought to myself, “That’s it. Time to write.”

True story.

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Photo credit: kstepanoff / Foter.com / CC BY