The strange anticipatory darkness just before daybreak, and then the sky begins to brighten, like a cheap fade-in effect on a homemade movie. Any clouds remaining are transformed from dark smudges to dynamic pink and orange as the sun hefts itself. The sky fades from black to gray, then highlights to blue.
This dazzling light show occurs in total silence. No breeze, no birds singing, no cars honking or diesel engines rumbling through the morning. Eight lanes of asphalt running from horizon to horizon, cars lined on each, unmoving, empty. Shadows stretch, then shrink.
The smell of warmed rubber and flowers haunts the highway—the only smells left on the sterile roadways are emitted from tires heated by the sun and car freshener packets that have yet to expire. Further from the man-made roads there are scents of nature: flowers instead of artificial flower smell; trees; dirt. Closer to the man-made buildings, the smells intensify, become sickening: meat left out to rot; garbage left uncollected; toilets left unflushed.
A gentle breeze stirs around mid-morning, and the sounds of leaves brushing against each other are like air horns compared to the silence of the planet. Somewhere, a bottle rolls from a sidewalk and shatters in a gutter. The breeze dies down, and there is silence. An automated sprinkler kicks on, sputtering pressurized water into the world, so loud and out of place it’s almost embarrassing, like the retarded child giggling during the prayer service in church. After a while, it finally seems to understand, and dribbles away to silence.
There’s an alarm clock going off somewhere, muted, but absolute. It was set to play the radio, but now there is only the emergency broadcast signal, a continual sound, solid, like the bars they used to show on the television after a station had played the national anthem and shut down—before there were infomercials to fill the void indefinitely. There’s no way to tell where it’s coming from—maybe the next house over, maybe all the way downtown. After an hour, it gives up until tomorrow.
Somewhere, a traffic light switches: red; green; yellow; red. It is an automated idiot, determined and dependable, and ignorant.
The sun lowers itself to the horizon, an old man trying to situate himself in a lounger without too much pain. The streetlamps sizzle to life, their humming like a rocket’s roar. No crickets, no birds singing final songs. Only the steady buzz of automated lights, to keep the moon company as it stands guard through the night over an empty land.