Later, after it all died down, they agreed that it was a very tidy, very safe apocalypse. The Event began at precisely 02:54 on the seventh of May, in a year which wasn’t particularly important. At first, the few people left behind thought themselves the survivors of some kind of titanic energy discharge, or flesh-eating disease, or alien invasion. Something had neatly disintegrated almost everyone in the entire world, turned them to dust and whisked them away to be lost on the wind. All that was left were piles of clothes, empty beds, driverless cars neatly parked by the side of the road. Ships drifted with vanished crews, airplanes spiralled out of the air to convenient crash sites in deserts or mountains, where the wreckage could fall and sit without getting in the way. The nuclear power plants were safely shut down before their operators went, the bio¬weapon labs and disease control centres carefully sealed, the submarines surfaced and their missiles irrevocably deactivated. Oil tankers were fired where they sat, burning like vast floating candles in the oceans and ringing the ears of survivors in the Mediterranean and the Bosphorus with the earth-shaking detonations of bursting LPG tanks. Satellites began jockeying for orbits that would burn them to nothingness as they fell. Power plants were shut off.
The world froze, carefully, gently, pausing the apocalyptic legacies of humanity as best it could, and the few survivors found themselves, on that first day, walking through quiet cities under silent skies.
The girl had been walking through the hot, sun-baked streets of the City, the one she lived in, for nearly four hours when she met the man. She’d woken up, the crushing, devastating silence, as loud as the roar of a thousand earthquakes bellowing in her head, and walked out into the warm silence of the new emptiness. She’d gone back inside, found some shoes and blue jeans and a T-shirt. She picked up a bag and some sunglasses, checked her hair, all tidy, normal things in a world where she could no longer remember her name, because she’d met no one who’d tell it to her. Nobody who’d tell it to her, tell her in the hum of the coffee maker or the rumble of traffic, give her, not a name, but a reason for a name, a reason to identify herself to the chatter of monkey television and the grunted greetings of others she passed in the street. She was Girl, when she walked out into the street, the tiny scrap of identity conveyed by clothes and make-up that somehow seemed barely enough to contain her.
And after four hours of wandering through silent streets, giving names — wordless things, made of feelings and impressions — to what she saw, to cars and letter-boxes and streetlamps, she met something else. Someone else. A man, walking the streets with a shopping trolley, piled high with boxed games consoles and fuel tanks, a gun poking out of the pile and a novelty hat on his head. She ducked behind a street corner, breathing hard, burning animal fear pushing at her control and threatening to make her scream or lose control of… something. When, finally, she showed herself, standing in the middle of the street, arms loose at her sides because she didn’t know how to greet someone else, and she saw him drop the home-made sandwich he’d been contemplating to lift his eyes and stare at her in horror, then fear, then relief, a complex tangle of a half-dozen emotions, before finally summing up the courage to speak.
They walked through the silent city together, talking, fast and meaningless, anything to rebuild the wall of other people between them and the dreadful silence of the dead city. They looted, freely, abandoning trolleys and whole cars full of loot to start again, gleefully flinging gold rings at each other and fooling with diamonds from the jewellery shops, banknote snow. As evening began to fall, drunk on both the whiskey pulled from an unguarded shop counter and the joy of all the material trivialities of the world they returned to the man’s house in the hills. It was safe there, he said. It had a good line of sight to see other survivors, a garden and good, strong brick walls, safe against whatever unspoken terror there might be in this new empty world. They drove as the world spun, abandoning the first car to race stolen motorbikes through the streets until laughing, wine-mad, they reached the house in the hills, where they ate a cobbled-together meal stolen from restaurant tables and danced to the blare of a stolen CD player, playing the lost songs of their pasts, and lay together on the grass outside as the sun set.
And they looked up, and the new God of humans looked down on them.