The car had been in motion less than twenty seconds when my wife's cell phone rang. The caller was a friend of hers from Ohio who worked as an elementary school teacher. Her children, too, had all vanished, leaving behind clothing, glasses, braces, and hair clips. She and my wife traded stories of frantic teachers, and my wife learned from her that other schools around the country were reporting that all their children had vanished, and that there had been a sudden spike in traffic accidents. A minute into their conversation, my wife got another call from a friend in upstate New York. She added her to the call from the teacher in Ohio and continued her conversation.
I had just finished parking the car in front of our house, at a point about ten or fifteen minutes after the Event, when aircraft whose pilots had vanished started crashing around the world. My wife now had four friends taking part in a conference call, and three of them were watching news reports of the missing children on television, when the first reported plane crashes started coming in. My wife ran up to the bedroom, followed by me and the dogs, and turned on the television, tuning it to one of the cable news channels.
At that point, our household joined the great worldwide community of shocked disbelief. Over the next hour, the vast, terrible scope of the Event became apparent: every child under twelve on earth was gone, and so was an apparently random group of adults, mostly in Europe, North America, and Australia. Over a third, at least, of the world's population had all disappeared at 10:32 AM Eastern Time.
I suddenly remembered my nieces and nephews. Three of them were over the cutoff age, and two of them were under it. I was on the phone to my brother, but got no answer. One of his sons was under twelve. I got no answer from my sister, either. One of her daughters was under twelve. I called the oldest of my nephews, a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, and left him a message. I finally decided to check in with my family's central information collector: my mother.
Again, nothing. All I got was an answering machine that told me (in my own voice) to leave a message. I left one, then went back to the bedroom.
When I got back to the TV set, I found that I had missed two developments. First, somebody had been videotaping a third grade classroom in Baltimore during the Event, and had captured footage of the children vanishing. The news channel was now running that footage over and over again while various baffled people commented on it. Second, reports were now coming in from hospitals and prenatal care clinics all over the world: every pregnant woman on earth had suffered a miscarriage during the Event.
It was hard to think over the babble of the television, and my wife was still on her cellphone with a floating population of her friends, but hearing about the miscarriages made me realize that whoever was responsible for all this was playing for keeps. The children and adults might eventually be returned by whatever mechanism had caused their disappearance, but there was no way to reverse all those miscarriages. The vanished fetuses wouldn't be coming back, and that implied that the children and adults wouldn't be, either. By this time, two explanations were forcing themselves to the front of my mind. One: this was the opening act of a war against the human race. Someone Out There had just struck a staggering blow against humanity, by some means that we could barely comprehend. Over two billion people, and countless fetuses, had been teleported off the earth, including every child under the age of twelve. If Whoever It Was kept inducing miscarriages in pregnant women, the human race would be extinct in a century or so.
The precision with which the Event had been executed led to a second possible explanation: this wasn't a war, it was an experiment. Just like cutting off a lizard's tail to watch it grow back, only they were cutting off a segment of our population. What do you do with a lizard's tail after you've cut it off? You don't try to sew it back onto the lizard, that's for sure. You just throw it away.
I had the sick feeling that whoever had taken all those people had done just that with them. They were gone. They weren't coming back. The only silver lining I could see on that particular cloud was the thought that, like the lizard in the experiment, Whoever It Was might leave us alone now and let us grow our missing tail back.
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