The trees were gone; in their place, shade remained. From a distance, the hill that the forest once occupied bore a dark birthmark with no beard of green to cover it. Up close, all of the stones and squirrels stood isolated, bewildered by the slats of twilight suspended in the morning sun.
As the car cut tightly around corners and curves that held no apparent value now, Susan Sturm examined the transcript of the call that took her from the newsroom to the scene. Even reading the astonished dialogue and the fantastic breakdown of the caller’s inability to convey the scene to the responder (several pauses were noted for deep breathing on the caller’s end) held nothing against the weirdness of really seeing it. To drive through it, it looked as though someone had thrown a tinged glass over the entire forest and poked holes in it.
“Can you believe this?” Susan said to no one.
Unfortunately for her scoop, she was hardly the first person there. Firemen, police, and several other news agencies stood inside the dark, gawking at the sky. Parking alongside the huddle of their vehicles, checking the ground around the feet of the crowd, opening her car door to step out, Susan could see why they were looking up. Unless a person was standing inside a shaft of light, a person could not see the sun.
“What’s happening here?” she asked a fireman who was stepping in and out of the perimeter while observing the effect.
“I’m getting a headache, and the sun is taking a vacation,” he replied. Then he added, “What makes you think that any of us know any more than you’re seeing right now?”
“I don’t know. You’re a first responder. I’d figure you’d have responded to something by now.”
The fireman stopped playing peekaboo with the sun and turned to her to scowl and shrug his shoulders. He then joined the rest of his crew on the site. If the crew had been looking at the ground rather than at the sky, they would have seen the rocks and squirrels starting to vanish from the area as well, one at a time. Susan did not notice--she was busy eyeing the fireman, not because she actually found him attractive but because she felt obligated to ogle just a little.
Another person stepped next to Susan. It was a park ranger in a green button-up shirt with brown khakis and the familiar, broad, brown hat. She briefly glanced at the man and was shocked at his resemblance to Brian. A narrow face punctuated by protruding cheek bones, a slight stubble on the lower jaw, and eyes that looked green but only held that color until the man pulled off his hat; however, he was nearly bald. Brian always kept his hair a somewhat untidy brown shuffle. Susan wondered if the man noticed her jumpiness. Susan bit her tongue thinking about her fight with Brian that morning and how their years together would likely be over by the time work ended.
“What the hell happened here?” the baffled ranger sputtered.
“You know what we see, so you know what we know,” Susan answered.
“I’ve never seen so many trees just disappear like this before. We spent years adding to this forest just to keep the park a park, but now…”
“What’s your name?”
“Roger Haris,” the ranger replied.
“Mind if I ask you some questions about this forest?”
“Are you a reporter?”
“Yes. I’d like to get some comments from you about this place. Is that alright?”
“Well, I’m new to this area, but yes, I can help.”
Susan smiled. Her column would look better with a bit more information about what had once been a forest. She went to her car and pulled her pen from the cup holder without stopping to try to remember whether her car had a cup holder when she stepped out of it that morning. She pulled her notebook from her bag, and without realizing that her notebook was a small portable computer rather than the legal pad style papers she’d taken notes on for years, she stood up to begin interviewing the park ranger, who was now standing naked.
“Gah!” she shrieked.
He did not react. He did not move at all. His skin changed color slightly, losing tan lines and years of sun-inflicted wrinkles. Susan blinked her eyes and found, where the man had been standing, a suddenly completely different person. Still naked, a shorter woman stood before her.
“What the hell,” Susan gasped.
A skirt and a blouse appeared. Tall black heels appeared. Life started to shine in the woman’s eyes and she breathed, reaching out to shake Susan’s hand. Susan did not accept it.
“Hello! Are you looking to move in sometime soon?” the woman asked. Susan shook her wide-eyed head.
“No? Well, we’re not built yet, but Corvalis Communities welcomes you. Here, take a card.”
Susan let herself take one of the only sick days she had ever taken after Nancy Brown’s card was in her hand. She climbed into her car and drove home, no longer even considering her argument with Brian, no longer paying attention as the shadows left by the trees vanished, leaving the hill bare except for grass. She definitely didn't see the first responders vanish when the hill was flattened by an invisible force. If she had seen all of this, perhaps it wouldn’t have surprised her to see the once-forested area was completely covered in suburban-style houses with wild walkways and huge front yards moments before she walked through the own door of her city apartment.
At home, Brian was still angry. Susan’s look shut him down, however. He never was one to draw out a battle when she looked bothered, and she had a thousand-yard stare to her eyes.
Brian made her sit on the living room couch, kick off her flats, and lay back. She looked stricken. He tried to get her to talk about what had happened, but nothing seemed to move her to speak.
Brian poured her a glass of water and added a few ice cubes before walking back out to her. Halfway there, the glass disappeared, water and all.
“Huh? Did I have a glass in my hand?”
He was so bothered by the fact that he forgot to bring water when that was the only thing he had walked into the kitchen to get that he failed to notice the new hairstyle that Susan had decided to get or the new wardrobe.
Filling a new glass, which Brian couldn’t remember having purchased so Susan must have, he walked back out to the living room and made it as far as the couch before the water became a cola.
“No, that’s not right,” he muttered. He returned to the kitchen to try again, but when he stepped from the threshold of the living room into the tiled floor of the kitchen, he stepped while the tile floor was busy being changed from a slate look to a glossy marble. His foot fell through the floor and into a space with no friction. By the time Susan heard him scream, his mouth was nearly on the other side. He had completely lost cohesion with the environment and was falling through.
By the time Susan climbed up from the couch and rushed over, the last of his fingertips seamlessly disappeared into the marble. Susan would have screamed, but she could no longer remember what name to scream.
The following day, Carol Rolph was appointed to be mayor of her town. She was unsure of her credentials, but she managed to convince herself that the several months of work she had spent on the campaign trail were more than sufficient evidence of her worthiness.
And although she lived in a house where pictures disappeared and walls were removed or shifted on a regular basis, she never thought twice about it until the day she went into the closet only to find that the door had disappeared behind her. Carol Rolph had time to reflect then, slowly perishing due to hunger and an inability to use a bathroom except on the floor at her feet. She remembered that her name had once been Susan Sturm. She remembered that she'd once been married for years (or was it days) to a man named Brian Rogel. She remembered everything, and then she passed.
When her tombstone appeared later, just outside the kitchen window, some unseen hand would place it in a faraway cemetary filled with hundreds of others who had suffered from similar identity crises just before being trapped and forced to die in a closet. Even though it had been a strange existance, it looked an awful lot like really being alive before someone had decided that it needed to end.