Mary awoke with sunlight blaring through the blinds. A massive hangover rumbled through her temples and triggered an involuntary spasm in her bloodshot eyes. Most adults her age had long since given up the party lifestyle but she was still in denial. She lived her life as if she was perpetually trapped inside a frat house. Most of her friends had earned degrees, started a career and settled down. Some of them even had a child or two. Not Mary C. Briggs. She had the Peter Pan syndrome. First to toast the host; life of the party, last to go home.
She staggered to the bathroom and swallowed a couple headache pills to chase away the hangover. Next she put on a large pot of coffee and tried to find a clean bowl in the dishwasher. Thankfully her apartment neighbors were being uncharacteristically quiet for a Saturday morning. Almost immediately she noticed something odd while flipping through the cable channels. A local show she liked to watch about current events wasn’t on. As a matter of fact, it appeared all the local affiliates were off the air. In their place was a generic test pattern.
The national networks were still broadcasting their regularly scheduled programming but all of the local stations she turned to were inactive. Curiously, there was no explanation in the on-screen menu for the mysterious black out. It was strange but she was in no state of mind to dwell on it. The ugly hangover persisted. Instead, she went to pour herself some cereal to dissipate the remaining alcohol in her bloodstream.
A quick check of the fridge revealed a major screwup. Somehow she had managed to forget to pick up milk for her Saturday morning TV ritual. All she wanted to do was lay around in her frumpy pajamas and eat Capt’n Crunch but (because of the blunder in preparation), she’d have to go out. Mary grabbed her car keys and wallet for the short trek. She didn’t really care what she looked like since the corner market was just a couple of miles away.
Traffic was so unusually light that she didn’t even pass a single car along the way. Once at the bodega, she walked to the milk cooler, reached in back to grab a later expiration date, and then set it on the counter. No one was around to check her out. She waited impatiently for a few minutes before calling out in exasperation. Nothing.
Assuming the clerk was in the bathroom or storage area, she walked over to them and shouted that she was “ready to pay.” Again nothing. With no answer, she cautiously walked into the food storage area. There was no one loading merchandise in the backs of the coolers as she had assumed. The employee bathroom was also empty. She walked around to the back of the building by the loading area. There wasn’t a soul to be seen there either. In nervous frustration, she put three dollar bills on the counter and left in a huff.
Back at home, she ate her beloved cereal and watched classic cartoons until noon. It might have been the perfect lazy Saturday afternoon except no one answered the phone at Pasquale’s pizzeria. Making a morning run to the local store was one thing, but having to drive all the way into town in the afternoon was another entirely. The chances of running into someone she knew from work at the takeout line was at least ten times greater. She had no choice but to get a little ‘dressed up’ for the pasta rendezvous, to avoid embarrassment. She cursed under her breath at the unknown person responsible for not answering the take-out line.
In the ten minute drive to the middle of the ordinarily bustling city, she again failed to see another vehicle in route! As soon as she walked inside Pasquale’s, it was apparent why her calls had been ignored. No one was there. The restaurant and kitchen were completely vacant of staff and customers. She instinctually went next door to the dry cleaners but it was also abandoned. With mounting panic, she went door to door looking for an explanation but there was no one around to offer one. For as far as the eye could see, there wasn’t another soul around. Mary Celeste Briggs was completely alone.
It occurred to her that someone at the police department would have an explanation for the absence of people throughout the town. Maybe there was a parade or other cultural event she had missed out on. She drove through the eerily abandoned streets and pulled up to city hall with nerves on edge. Her heart sank further as the reception desk and officer’s quarters were just as empty as every other public place she had visited that day. A desperate 911 call placed from a detective’s desk routed her straight to a lifeless voice recording. She was the only ‘ghost’ in a ghost town.
A few miles away, she drove to the television station, desperate for answers. Unsurprisingly, the station’s in-house monitors only displayed prerecorded shows being broadcast through previous programming. It occurred to her that in the digital age, the unmanned transmission of audio visual content could possibly go on for days or even weeks. She felt like the only moving piece of in a prerecorded world. A massive wave of panic set in.
Was she asleep and in a particularly disturbing nightmare? Was there a mass exodus from the city from an unknown epidemic that only she had missed out upon the crisis? Tears welled up in her eyes at all the morbid prospects. The possibility of it all being a cruel hoax or absurd, sadistic prank faded as time went by. No one could orchestrate such a complex situation.
With nothing left but time on her hands, the level of dark introspection magnified. Calls placed to various long distance phone numbers either went unanswered or reached a voice mail recording. In the back of her mind, a much darker possibility loomed. It was something she didn’t even want to consider. Was she dead from alcohol poisoning or too many pills? Perhaps she was involved with a fatal DUI crash that she couldn’t remember or brain dead from a coma. If so, being completely alone in the world of the dead was an especially creative form of hell for an unrepentant party chick.
As if on queue, she remembered the strange and ironic case of the ill-fated nineteenth century cargo ship that shared her name. It had been found abandoned and adrift at sea with no sign of foul play. No trace of the captain or crew was ever discovered but many theories surrounded the baffling case. If the men who sailed the ‘Mary Celeste’ were somehow lost in a different dimension; then surely she was also. In the original world, detectives were probably searching her apartment for clues to help explain her disappearance. Considering the fact that the abandoned ship case was never solved, she resigned herself to a similar fate to whatever had doomed those lost men.
She drove for hours hoping to prove her terrifying theory wrong. Eventually she dropped the pretense of even paying for food and fuel. There was no one around to accept or require her money. She was the sole resident of a lonely, mirrored world. She would have traded all the booze on earth for one smelly wino to talk to. Regret filled her heart at the squandered life she had led. It was the most sobering thing imaginable and yet, it came too late to help her. All the valuable realizations it brought were solely in hindsight.
Back at home, she flipped through the channels mindlessly. Soon, even the national networks began to run out of prerecorded programming. Only the premium movie channels were left. In a nod to the karmic sense of cruel irony, ‘Groundhog Day’ was playing. Mary watched the depressing movie with a renewed sense of appreciation in light of her grim circumstances. Soon the power and water reserves would surely end. Even the massive amount of free food available in the surrounding area would eventually spoil. She wasn’t sure if starvation, exposure to harsh winter elements, or insanity from the extreme social isolation would do her in, first. What comes after the end? She fell asleep with a river of tears in her eyes; anticipating the unknown future that lie ahead.
Sometime in the night she was awakened by a distant grating noise. She stirred enough to click the off button on the remote but the discordant racket persisted. Still half asleep, she raised her head off the couch cushion and listened. The alien noise was coming from outside her apartment! She leapt up and raced over to the window. A municipal garbage truck was idling in front of her building! Her eyes widened in excitement. She know it didn’t get there by itself.
Sure enough, two guys in coveralls exited the vehicle and proceeded to noisily sling her neighbor’s trash into the back. Mary actually shouted out with relief at the ordinary sight. Her never-ending nightmare and throbbing hangover was finally over. It felt so real to her. She couldn’t wait to raise a glass of wine and tell all of her friends about it, at the party that night.