Chapter 02

She was kicked to alertness athalf past sixby the rather explosive initial tones of Anything by Incubus, or rather by the need to silence the alarm before it woke up Sina next door. Thursday. She hated Thursdays. Coming to think about it, it was a wonder that she hadn’t been woken up by her landlady’s little daughters going to playschool. Maybe someone finally managed to get control over them…?

She rolled out of bed, put on her fluffy pink dressing gown and headed to the kitchen to get breakfast. She brought the bowl of her special white yoghurt mix and a mug of strong black tea (which she had been technically forbidden to drink since the sickness in September, but hey, that was a long time ago, right?) to her room, nestled with the things on the carpet, opened her laptop and checked her emails. Not much traffic overnight, which was usual. She checked Facebook, ICQ and Skype, but no one was online, so she browsed her film folder for something she could watch while eating. In the end she opted for Spooks and watched those tillhalf past eight, when it was time to get ready for school.

All this time there was no noise from the room next door, which she found suspicious, but accounted it to the party last night. Still, Sina was a responsible person and Jana was sure she would appear sooner or later. Or she could have stayed over at some of her friends’, but her keys were hanging on one of the hooks on the front door, so she was definitely at home.

Jana pulled up the blinds on her windows. It was foggy outside, as it often was this time of year inOlomouc, and eerily silent. There was not a soul to be seen, but her window faced the back yard, so she didn’t wonder about it for too long. What she did wonder about was why Sina hadn’t emerged from her room yet. It was almost nine. Since her door couldn’t be closed properly, Jana decided to quietly inspect whether she was still asleep. She knocked on the door quietly, just loudly enough for Sina to hear her should she be awake, but not to wake her up should she still be asleep. But the bed was empty. No sign of Sina. Jana glanced distrustfully at the bunch of keys hanging on the front door. Then she knocked at the other door, the room where her landlady stayed with her two little girls. There was no reply either and the room was soulless as well. On the other hand, that was to be expected. But hang on, the girls’ shoes were still in the hall!

Jana ran to the kitchen and looked out of the window. Not a soul, not a single car or a bus. This wasn’t what a main street looks like at nine in the morning. Then an idea dawned on her. The thing she had said to Zoran the night before.

“But that’s ridiculous!” she protested loudly. She marched back into her room, grabbed her phone and dialled her mother. No answer. She tried her father and her brother, too, with the same result.

“Oh, come on. This just doesn’t happen!”

She turned on the TV, adjusting the remote aerial in all possible directions, but she didn’t get any channel.

“Dammit to hell,” she cursed matter-of-factly, grabbed her coat and her handbag, got dressed in the hallway, put on her boots, then seized Sina’s keys from the hanger and ran downstairs. The silence of the street was even more deafening than it seemed from inside the apartment. Jana headed for Sina’s old little Corsa and in it to the dorm complex at Neředín. There were several cars crashed along the road, but no people, like they just disappeared into thin air, here one second, gone the next.

She parked the car in front of the second block, and then walked around the building. There was no hope of getting through the door, she would have to try the windows. Zoran lived on the ground floor, which shouldn’t have been a problem, but it proved to be one anyway. Even the ground floor windows were way too high. She ran up to the pavement to check for sure which of the windows was his. After all, she had only been to his room once. It wasn’t a difficult guess in the end, but the problem still stood. How can she climb up there? He would still be asleep, in which case throwing stones wouldn’t help. It would have to be relentless banging. Eventually she decided for the drain pipe and surprisingly she did manage to climb up to the window sill. She peered through the blinds, but couldn’t really see anything.

He woke up after some time of her banging on the windowpane, and opened the window. He looked dishevelled and unbelieving.

“What the hell…?”

“Everybody’s gone,” she announced.

“What?”

“Remember how I told you last night that if we were the last people on Earth, I’d run away from you? Well, turns out we are.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Let me in,” she changed the subject and he stepped away from the window so that she could climb inside.

“How did you guess which window was mine anyway?” he wondered.

“Wasn’t difficult. Get dressed, I’ll show you. That everyone’s gone, I mean. Sina was gone when I checked on her this morning, but her keys were hanging on the door. I took her car. I didn’t meet a single human being while I was driving here – on the busiest road in Olomouc. And listen, listen to the silence! Is that normal in a city like this, at this hour?”

“You’re imagining things, sweetie,” he accused her.

“Get dressed, please. Come with me outside. I’m telling the truth. I don’t lie.”

“I’m not saying you’re lying, I’m saying you’re deluded.”

“Humour me. Please.”

“Ok. No harm in doing that, right?”

He got into some clothes and followed her outside. They walked towards the tram stop without a word. When they got there, there were no trams (it was a terminal where trams usually accumulated before heading back, especially at this hour), no cars, no people.

“Ok, this is weird,” Zoran concluded.

“I’m telling you, everybody’s gone.”

“Right.” It sounded like he was starting to believe her. They stood there in silence for a few minutes when he finally asked her: “So what will you do? Are you really going to run away from me?”

She looked at him. “I’ve got to check on my parents.”

“Can’t you call them? Or are the phones down?”

“No. Everything’s working, actually, I suppose a lot of stuff’s automated now. I did call them. And I know they won’t be there when I get there, but I’ve got to see that for myself, be sure.”

She headed back for the dorm and he joined her.

“Let me come with you, then.”

“No,” she shook her head. “There’s… so much to think about, I’ve lost so much that I haven’t even realised yet. I need to be alone now.”

“Ok,” he shrugged.

They stopped at Sina’s car and Jana took the keys out of her pocket.

“Will you come back? Later?” he asked.

She gave him a sad look, got into the car and started the engine.

“Jane! Promise me you’ll come back!”

Her lips formed a voiceless “I don’t know,” as she reversed and drove off. She could see him in the rear view mirror, still standing in the parking lot, gazing after her. His expression she couldn’t read, but dreaded to think what might have been there.

 

She sped along the motorway as fast as she thought was safe for the little old car, and got to her home town in slightly more than half an hour. She hadn’t taken her home keys with her, so she had to find a spare for the cellar door in the garden shed and let herself in that way. There was, of course, no one in the house. Not sure what to do, she took her dad’s car and headed into town. It was deserted, but one of the grocery shops was open. That meant that whatever took the people away must have taken them away after five in the morning. She took a loaf of bread from the shelf, and after short consideration some other things as well, and returned home.

What do you do when everyone’s gone? What do you do with your life? Or do you go as well? Some years ago Jana was thinking that if she wanted to kill herself, she would have to wait till everyone from her family was dead so that she wouldn’t hurt anyone in the process. Then she realised that was impossible, since her older relatives of the same generation started having kids who probably loved her as well, and so she had dropped the idea and focused on how to live her life instead.

Maybe she should drive up toCopenhagenagain? Or toLisbon, she had always wanted to seeLisbon. OrMadeira, but she wouldn’t know how to get there now. She couldn’t pilot an aircraft or a ship. Or she could just spend the rest of her life on a sofa eating crisps and chocolate and reading all the books she always wanted to read. There would be no hurry. Quite amazingly she had practically forgotten about Zoran’s existence and approached her planning as if she was the only person on the Earth.

She checked the internet again, just to make sure. Nothing.

 

She stayed in the town for a couple of days, and out of curiosity broke into all the places she had always wanted to see. She explored the Renaissance chateau overlooking the town from the top to the bottom, she went through the upper floor of the green villa opposite the lower primary school, all the villas on the hillside above the road to Nový Jičín, and some houses lining the same road in the direction of Opava. That was to be her own direction in the end. She packed some of her things and set out on her way one morning, driving as far as Hradec nad Moravicí. Hradec was full of houses she had always wanted to see from the inside, not to mention theRedCastle. She thought of settling in theWhiteCastlefor a while, and then remembered a beautiful attic she had seen somewhere else, somewhere close. A beautiful attic and a gorgeous garden, a Romantic chateau just big enough to fulfil all her dreams of a spacious, beautiful home. Its name was Raduň and it was just seven kilometres from Hradec, overlooking a huge valley with Opava on the far end of it.

She was careful not to destroy the massive entrance door, but instead smashed one of the ground floor windows while breaking in. There was an office behind it, containing, among other things, the keys to all the doors. She went through all the rooms, checking their potential, and most importantly checking for electricity, water pipes and a heating system. Luckily for her the chateau was used mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries, which meant these appliances were present and in good condition. Eventually she unpacked her bag with clothes in one of the bedrooms, and while there was still light outside, she drove to Opava to get supplies. In a way, she was enjoying herself immensely while shopping in this fashion. Everything was hers to take. But it wasn’t going anywhere. Looting could wait. She was going to have to do something about stuff that could go rotten, though. She realised that since she would have to keep coming back, she would be coming back to a place that would smell worse and worse each passing day if she did nothing. And she hated stench of any kind. Still, it was getting late and there was probably no harm in leaving everything as it had been for one more night. She would come back tomorrow and sort this place out.

There was a pet shop at the corner of the shopping centre, and Jana inspected the cages and terrariums for animals. There were none. She had already discovered that pets seemed to disappear together with humans. She hadn’t thought of checking whether that was also true for farm animals such as cows and horses, and it occurred to her just then. She should probably try to find a cow somewhere, to have milk. The trouble was she was scared of the beasts because they were bigger than her. But maybe they aren’t that dangerous after all…?

Not today, though. The sky was already getting dark, and she’d rather die than let the night catch her outside like this. She returned to the chateau and spent the evening in the long attic room, making a list of what she needed to do the following days. When she finished, she decided to call it a day and go to bed. Only then did she realise the darkness and emptiness of the castle. There was no one and nothing that could harm her, not yet anyway, but no one to protect her either. She knew she mostly needed saving from herself, the deep, irrational fear that was an inseparable part of her, all the darkness in her heart, and then all the different kinds of fear, of loneliness, of dying alone, of suffering, of being stranded somewhere without help and unable to help herself. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” So true.

Her heart was pounding when she closed the bedroom door behind her, partly because she had run there from the attic room. She made a mental note to get some weapons the following day as well. Not that she could aim if her life depended on it, but maybe if the danger came really close…

She lay awake for a while, thinking of Zoran. How is he getting on? Probably much better than she is… He had fear issues as well, but as far as she understood, they were always related to something particular, like the war. He wouldn’t be scared of the dark or whatever she would call this fear mixture in her brain.

Yet her fear was over when she woke up into a beautiful sunny day. She drove to Opava soon after breakfast and started sorting out the supermarket. She put all meat into freezers, salvaged what she could from fruit and groceries and put them in a van she had stolen to be transported to the chateau. Then she chose some dairy products and whatever else could be chucked into the freezers, she did.

By the time she finished with these tasks, she was extremely tired and hungry, and the sun had once again started its descent. She wolfed down several random food items and returned to the chateau.

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