We'll Face the Silence Together
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If I recall correctly, it started with a woman in Michigan. Kristen Sendale, I think was her name. She was a moderately successful real estate agent and was, from what I saw in the news, a cheerful woman whose whole face lit up when she laughed.

From what I heard, she had been on her way back home when she parked her car on the side of the road, next to a huddle of trees, and got out. She took her coat off, folded it neatly, and set it on the hood of her car. Then she knelt and took her shoes and socks off. She folded the socks and laid them on the jacket. She then turned to the little huddle of trees, breathed deeply, and walked slowly into the trees. That was the last that was ever seen of Ms. Kristen Sensdale.

I remember when her boyfriend appeared on the news the day after. Young guy, wavy sand-brown hair. Large, soulful-looking eyes that had turned red from crying. I don't remember what he was saying, it wasn't important. I just remember the look he gave to the reporter. He had been crying. His face had been a mask of sadness. Now, it carried a quiet look of determined stillness. He tilted his head and looked off to the side. He murmured something quietly. The reporter cut off his nonstop stream of rambling chatter and said in a soft mournful voice, so unlike his usual peppy, newscaster voice, "Yes- yes, I feel it too." He turned to the camera and said, still in that tranquil voice that still echoes in my head every night when I used to try to sleep, "Cmon, Jenny, I know you've been feeling it too. The quiet- the silence."

The camera shifted and I remember watching it being put down in the grass damp from the morning dew. It was facing toward a distant blur of trees. The reporter, the boyfriend, and the camerawoman stepped away from the porch of the house they had been sitting in. I saw the camerawoman take her shoes off, her actions echoed by the reporter and the boyfriend. They arranged the shoes in a neat row. The reporter took his jacket off and spread it out on the ground. The three took their keys out of their pockets and their wallets. The reporter wrapped it all in a bundle.
You could still hear them, faintly. "I'm scared", said the camerawoman, after a long moment, where they all just stared at the woods, their backs to the camera. She untied her braid and let her hair-so red and bright it looked in the grey autumn morning- fall across her shoulders.

"It's okay, I am too," said the boyfriend. He sighed deeply.

The reporter finally placed the mic on the ground, almost tenderly. He straightened and held out his hands to the others, "Let's go together." The last shot from the camera was the three barefoot people walking almost reverentially, linked arm in arm, into the distant thicket.

After that, everything happened swiftly. More and more people simply took their shoes off and vanished into the trees. Sometimes they said goodbye, sold off their houses and went off for a walk that never ended. More often, they tidied their house. I remember seeing my neighbor, an elderly woman who hardly ever left her house, sweeping her porch, with a faraway expression in her eyes. I saw her empty her fridge and wash her windows, deliberately and methodically. The last I saw of her, she was resting a bouquet of dried roses on her windowsill. I didn't see her after that.

No one ever tried to stop them. There was something so quiet in their expressions, a resolute tranquillity, that it would have felt blasphemous to stop them. Businesses stopped as their workers shut down their computers, straightened up their desks, and walked away solemnly. It was common to see shoes and bundles of jackets and bags, all neatly in rows, at the edges of the forests.

I remember when my mother walked away. I came down from my room and she was sitting unobtrusively at the foot of the stairs. The house was clean. She had her slippers next to her. Her hands were clasped in her lap. I knew, even before she looked up at me in the serene, soft way. I took her up and hugged her and kissed her forehead creased with decades of worry. I took her face in my hands, "It's okay, momma, you can go." She nodded and gave me the most radiant smile. I hadn't seen her smile like that in years. She did ask me if I wanted to come with her and that she would hold my hand, just like she had always done. "Not yet," I said. She nodded, she had known, she didn't push.

She left and I didn't follow.

I used to wonder what caused it. I had even briefly considered aliens. Of course, that was in the beginning, when we were trying to lie to ourselves. I don't believe that anymore. I don't think I ever believed it. I don't think you believe that anymore. Perhaps we all just got so tired and we all looked up at once and realized how useless it was. We saw the trees and we remembered.

Not everyone left at first. Some of us tried to keep going. On the way to the job I hated, I would pass empty houses and glance in at rows of silent computers at empty desks. One day I looked up from my papers and saw that I was alone and had been alone for days. Everyone had trickled off. I shut my computer and looked at myself in its dark reflection. I stopped going to work.

I think that you and I are the last left. Probably in the whole world. We've been trying to ignore the trees, haven't we? I think I'm done. I think you know that you've finished too. Here, grab my hand. I'm not scared anymore. We'll face the Silence together.

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