The Only Thing

by Paul Ray 2002

The only thing to keep from going insane was to count each passing day. It wasn't something he'd started doing right away, but he figured his best guess was pretty close to how much time had actually passed since everybody went missing. That meant today was probably Thursday.

Ken wrote 163 in the October thirty-one box of his calendar, then returned the marker to the bedside table. His feet reached the thickly carpeted floor as he sat on the edge of the bed and looked at his reflection in the wall length mirror. Morning sunlight shone through glass doors and panoramic windows to warm the lavishly decorated room.

He stretched, and headed for the doors. Despite helping himself in the wine cellar last night, he felt surprisingly refreshed and alive. He'd moved eleven times in the past hundred and sixty-three days, and was excited about the prospects of his new place. This excitement that he felt each time he settled into a new place was enough to outpace the loneliness that constantly followed him. At least for a while.

Only gradually had he come to accept his unique situation: everybody had simply disappeared. It tied his mind in knots at first, but as he traveled from town to town, still finding nobody to help answer his questions, he decided to just stop asking them and enjoy his newly fashioned lifestyle as best he could.

Ken stepped onto the verandah. His new home was a mansion, like all the others had been, and five months of growth covered the tree-dotted lawn. The U-shaped drive drew his mind to the possible contents of the garage, and he smiled. He needn't work, as there was no need to pay for anything, he could simply help himself. The people were gone, but their possessions had remained, so now, he concluded, everything belonged to him, and he alone. He could have and do anything, and go anywhere he wanted, and nobody could deny him. Nobody at all.

In July he'd helped himself to several crates of fireworks from a surplus store. He planned to stay awake until dawn, lighting up the summer skies, but somehow the holiday was different with an empty chorus of one exclaiming the customary oooohs and aaaahs. He went to bed early that night.

What would Christmas be like? Probably nothing much either, considering everyday was already Christmas when all things were yours for the taking. So Halloween, he decided, would be special.

Were any others around, they would have certainly questioned his senses. But there weren't, so his brilliant plan went ahead unimpeded. Besides, keeping busy was the only thing to keep from going insane, and it must have been the first time ever that anyone single-handedly decorated an entire town!

He had procured literally hundreds of department store mannequins and prepared a costume for each. Most were just run of the mill bed-sheet ghosts, but there were others he'd spent extra time to do up nicely: vampires, witches, ghouls, and even a few two-headed goblins.

His new car was a Mercedes, but he didn't mind, he'd get a Porsche next time. It was all he needed to double-check his grand accomplishment. Houses had been prepared for his arrival with bowls placed in each entryway filled only with his favourite candies. None of that beige waxy crap that was sometimes dropped into his sack, or any apples or sugarless raisins for that matter, collected from toothless seniors in years gone by.

The afternoon was spent hanging the last of the paper skeletons and ghosts in doorways, and lighting what pumpkins he'd managed to carve. Everything would be perfect for his Halloween night.

As daylight finally dwindled into dusk, Ken headed for home, for he had one last thing to prepare. His own costume was an authentic swamp monster, borrowed from the display window at a local cinema, complete with scaly green mask and flippers. Somehow it seemed appropriate to don the skin of a creature so misunderstood that it must dwell at the bottom of a murky lake for its own survival. There it ruled supreme, but as emperor of what?

Ken zipped up his suit, then pulled the rubber mask over his head. The gilled creature in the bathroom mirror looked back at him; tonight would be perfect. He grabbed an empty pillowcase with his three-fingered hand and waddled to the stairs.

"Trick or treat," he said aloud, in his best waterlogged voice.

"Trick or treat," he practiced again, as he reached the landing.


Ken's webbed feet froze in their tracks as his hand hovered above the doorknob.

The bell rang again.

x x x

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