Flash: Dissolve

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am actually one of the people who saw someone dissolve in November ten years ago. Just out of high school, I was working a big retailer, the one with the blue words and the yellow asterisk, putting together the salt and shovel display right near the door when I saw this woman walking out. It was late at night about two weeks before Thanksgiving and the Black Friday sales so it was just me, Billy, and the store greeter.

I remember her. Normally I wouldn’t. Thousands of customer walk by me every day. Normally I wouldn’t have even been looking at her pushing the cart out the door, but the salt bags were heavy and I stood a moment to take a breather. The woman had stopped near the doors, but just short of activating them to automatically open. Outside the winter chill was conspiring with the breeze to steal people breaths. I had done cart wrangling earlier and agreed with her decision to stop and pull on her gloves. The vibrant red coat, jeans, and boots weren’t going to be enough. In fact, she should had been wearing a hat, but no one really starts wearing those until it actually snows.

I remember her because as I watched, her image unraveled. About three cart lengths from me, she dissolved into nothing, leaving behind a cart full of gifts and groceries. Her purse had been tucked under her arm, so that disappeared with her leaving us no way to trace who she was and let people know she wasn’t coming home ever again.

I gasped as had the greeter. I looked over at the old lady, and she stared back at me.

“Did you see…”

I don’t remember which one of us asked, but both of us nodded before turning to look toward the doors.

Billy looked up about then and noticed the overflowing abandoned cart and sighed. “Jeez, I hope she doesn’t expect us to load the car after she brings it around. It’s fuckin’ cold out.”

I shuttered, staring at where a human being used to exist.

The old lady proved experience sometimes is more useful than muscle. “Do you think it was caught on camera?”

“Yeah, maybe.” I replied still unable to move my eyes from the new void.

“Go get the manager Dave.”

I still couldn’t move.

“Now. Go get the manager, Dave,” she repeated. “I can’t walk that far.”

The store night manager was in the back of the store helping accounting prep tomorrow’s payday. I blinked before turning my head back to the greeter.

“Now, please,” she said firmly, nodding toward pickup and technology.

I shuffled a couple of steps, walked the next few, and before I knew it I was running faster than my gym coach had ever made me run to the back of the store away from the impossibility. The horrific impossible impossibility.

It had been caught on camera. One of the few, so you might have seen it in the internet newsreels.

Just under half a million people worldwide, according to the statisticians, disappeared in a two-hour window. That sounds like a lot until you realize 7.5 billion people lived on the planet at the time. Less than a tenth of one percent had dissolved. Less than 1 in 1,000.

So we had a bunch of conspiracy theories from the kook-branch of humanity. These people never existed, these people were abducted by aliens, the people had been picked up by the government, just to name the saner versions. My personal favorite is we went through a giant amoeba’ space fart and had a mass hallucination. The Christians, especially the Mormons, thought the Rapture had happened and wondered why they had been left behind. The Mormons settled down when the count went over 100,000 and the rest of the Protestants were willing to listen to the scientists for once.

The scientists looked to find commonality, but didn’t find any among the people they could prove were missing because of the dissolving. Statistically they were spread across the planet, for example only 16,000 people were missing from the good U. S. of A. To put that in perspective only about 400 people were missing from New York City. More people died during those two hours than disappeared. Skin color, religion, age, wealth, health, gender, location, locomotion – nothing was what the scientists called “statistically significant”.

Actually, there was one bit. No one was touching the people who disappeared. In fact, no one was within two feet of the Dissolvees. This likely saved a lot of passenger on buses and in cars, but a few people traveling solo left cars driverless. Accidents worldwide were attributed to the Dissolving.

For the first year, once the scientist figured out about the closeness rule, people held hands … a lot. And a lot of babies were born the second year because people stopped sleeping alone. Things have calmed down a bit from the extreme closeness, but I think the breaking down of the personal space barriers created by modern technology is the best unexpected benefit we had. That and the wedding business still is booming which helps the insurance business.

Now a decade later, my retail years building to me being an insurance salesman, we still don’t know what happened. Lots of speculation, but no one knows the real answer to the most important of the burning questions: will it happen again?

Which is why I am standing in my old store staring at the space where the woman had dissolvedĀ  … her name was Shelby Lowe. We found the receipt she had taken out to show the greeter and had left with her groceries and traced her back on her debit card. She left behind three children and a boyfriend.

Those of us who were Witnesses all do this. Visit and stare. Not often, but my wife knows where to find me when I don’t come home from work on time.

(words 997; first published 12/15/2019)