Here is the first episode of my new novel, The Event:
The Event | Episode 1 – Subject Zero
THE FIRST HOUR
The morning that it happened there had been no warning, at least according to virtually all credible sources among the survivors. Naturally, there were those who claimed, in retrospect, to have seen signs that might have provided advance notice. But those accounts, it has been determined, are likely nothing more than instances of pareidolia, not unlike the perception of images in the shapes of clouds.
What is almost universally accepted is that it began on the summer solstice at precisely 12:00:00 GMT in Greenwich itself, on the prime meridian that ran, at the time, through the courtyard of the old Royal Observatory in London.
When the sun is at its zenith, the clock is set as noon, and many of those on holiday have stood with one foot on each side of that line of demarcation so that, in an odd twist of the original phrase, they can be photographed being in two times at the same place.
Multiple witnesses have confirmed that a tourist (his name is not known, so we shall refer to him as Subject Zero) was straddling the two-tone steel ribbon embedded in the cobblestones that denotes longitude 0’0’’0’’’, and it was at that exact moment when our star reached the apogee of its arc across the sky that it occurred.
Just before, all was as normal at it can be at an English destination, and in the next instant, everything changed. Subject Zero’s sister, who was standing in the previous hour, snapped a commemorative picture, then stared at the frozen image on her screen, unable to process what she saw there. Shaking herself loose from that impossible visage, she raised her eyes to gaze on her brother who, indeed, was still astride the meridian, fully clothed on her side of the line and fully naked on the other. It appeared as if he was wearing half a suit of clothes, severed vertically down the middle. Those who later examined the clothing reported that it appeared as though it had been cut with a laser, so straight and fine was the edge of the separation.
Subject Zero himself, focusing on presenting a foolish expression for his friends back home, was momentarily unaware that anything was amiss. It was the combination of his sister’s shocked stare and the slight breeze tickling his windward side that caused him to look down, freeze in incomprehension, then leap back away from the meridian, toward his sister. Jostled by his movement, the clothes on his leeward side fell off, leaving him fully exposed, but also offering the first indication that, other than his pride, Subject Zero was unharmed.
Before either of them could begin to parse what had happened, their attention was jolted to shouts of alarm, mostly coming from beyond the meridian on the leading-hour side to the West. There, the scene was an experiment in chaos. Everyone, as far as the eye could see, was completely naked, looking frantically around in terror, and beginning to run toward the trailing hour side where everyone was still clothed (except, of course, for Subject Zero).
Those that crossed the line did not regain their clothing, and those that ran across to help the others lost theirs, as well as their purses, wallets, cameras, phones, jewelry, tattoos, dental work, and breast implants. In short, any material object that had been fashioned at the hand of man had simply ceased to exist. There were cries of shock from some and cries of fear from others (though strangely, no immediate expressions of pain).
Perhaps the most unfortunate of the lot was the chief gardener for the Observatory grounds who ran across the event plane to assist those in need and almost instantly dropped dead on the spot from an apparent heart attack. It was later confirmed that his pacemaker had simply vanished from his chest as the passed into the affected area. How this was determined will be addressed in the appendices to this report. For now, we must consider even more momentous diversions from the norm.
Initially, of course, everyone was focused exclusively on their own well-being or that of their family and friends. There were, however, a few independent and/or lonely souls who had come to the grounds by themselves. With no one else there to hold their attention, they were the first to look beyond themselves and notice that it was not only personal effects that had vanished, but the buildings, walls, cars, and roads were all missing as well. There was little time to speculate, however, as those who had already recovered their wits were on the move en masse on both sides of the meridian.
The terrified throngs on the event side of the line rushed forward like stampeding cattle, seeking refuge among those whom they could see on the trailing side who were still in the world has it always had been. They were almost mindlessly driven to seek protection or a reconnection with their kin who were frantically waving them on or, for those who were more forward-looking, by the concern that whatever had happened was just the beginning of something even worse.
Regardless of their motivations, they charged forward, but with the pavement missing as well as their shoes, many of them fell in front of the frenzied crowd as they stepped on sharp rocks or tripped on stones or hobbled themselves in gopher and mole holes that had lain under the road unseen.
As they fell, they were overrun by the mob behind them, and in short order the multitude was swarming over the growing human breakwater to the horror of those whose loved ones were near the bottom of the writhing heap.
Those on the normal side now saw the tsunami of humanity press forward. The first to project the likely outcome began to back away from the line, then turned and ran toward their cars which had been parked in the overflow lot, mostly. Attracted by the commotion around them, others made the connection as well, and soon there was a second wave also crashing over anyone who fell before them, no long considering themselves more fortunate than the terrified souls in the oncoming crush of naked bodies behind them.
At some point the slowest of the clothed were overcome by the fastest of the naked. Those with tendencies toward hypochondria worried that the afflicted might be contagious and tried to beat them back with cameras, purses, and all the other accessories they possessed that might be repurposed as weapons against those who had lost theirs.
Those struggling against the flow to reach those dear to their hearts were picked up by the leading edge of the wave and pressed backwards against the Prime Meridian Building, a museum deigned to be bisected by the line, and as the swirl of humanity circled ‘round it like water in a river encountering a boulder, those terrified souls eddied around the side to discover the edifice had been severed along its midpoint leaving nothing on the leading side but a footprint in the soil where it had once stood.
In an office on the second floor of the unaffected part of the building an administrator had been gazing out toward the meridian when the event occurred. He had turned away in disbelief, shaken his head, then returned his gaze to discover that everything was still missing.
Finding his voice, he had called to his associates who joined him at the window and verified what he had seen. Being this troubled modern age, the first assumption was that it had been some sort of terrorist attack, and so a previously choreographed plan was initiated by the designated safety officer for the building.
While one clerk ran to lock the door, another called the nearest constabulary to report the incident. Receiving no signal and realizing the phone service may have been disrupted in the area of the damage, she entered the secondary contact number, which went to a station on the untouched side.
Naturally, the officer on other end of the call assumed it to be a prank, sternly threatened arrest, and hung up. Soon, however, a flood of additional calls prompted him to send a car to investigate whatever it was. This radio traffic was monitored by a local news crew and reported to their station, which dispatched an already airborne helicopter to provide live video.
Outside, the crowd moved on, primarily toward the parking lot and the associated public transportation connections where some had already started their cars and sped at a dangerous pace toward the exist. Perhaps two dozen vehicles made it out before the first collision occurred, which prompted several more in succession until the path was blocked completely.
Some tenacious drivers chose to set off across the lawns and over curbs in order to connect with the open road, while others raced around in circles, looking for a way home. Due to their state of mind, a number of those running for their own cars were struck and some even killed on the spot. One naked man from the event side arrived at his car only to realize he no longer had his keys.
Of the score of cars that had gained the road, roughly half had their homes or accommodations on the normal side of the line and sped off toward them. The other half, realizing they might no longer have a place to stay, called relatives to arrange refuge, soon discovering no connection to any numbers toward the west but reaching their startled relations toward the east. A few escapees simply set off cross country on foot to put as much as they could between themselves and what had just happened. Others just crumpled to the ground, too shaken and dispirited to do anything further to help themselves.
Above, the news helicopter buzzed onto the scene, banking to linger on set shots of the chaos to be used in the upcoming live broadcast before flying on toward the Prime Meridian Building that early reports coming into the station identified as ground zero of the disturbance.
Turning sharply to set up a reveal shot for the switch to live, the “Eye in the Sky” flew just above tree level toward the historic monument from the east side, rising up above it at the last minute until the full expanse of the disaster could be seen stretching out toward the horizon.
The landscape looked as it must have millennia ago: rolling hills, some wooded, and the Thames rolling its way to the sea. Across the expanse, hundreds of naked people were running or crawling or wandering aimlessly in circles.
The news crew, though hardened by years of covering devastating situations, was stunned into silence and, without thinking, powered on right past the building, and over the meridian line. As it passed, the helicopter and all the gear inside were simply erased as they crossed the event plane.
All that emerged on the other side were the pilot, the cameraman, and the newswoman, still in sitting position, fully nude and without any means of remaining aloft other than inertia, which quickly diminished in the face of friction from the prevailing wind. Comprehending their plight at almost the same moment, all three frantically flailed their limbs as they described a perfect ballistic path from some two hundred feet elevation to their impact point on the ground.