No one saw them go. No one knew who left first, or if they all picked up at once and left together, only that they were all gone. From Miss Blossom Mae Simcock, aged 99 years and 364 days, to tiny Timarie Jones, born just before midnight the day before.
The nursing homes were nearly emptied. Mr. Hiram Quill at Country Gardens was the first reporter; no one had come to bring his breakfast, and not a single one of those lazy girls was anywhere to be found, no matter how many times he rang his buzzer. Mr. Quill decided to complain to Miss Blossom, whose 100th birthday party was scheduled for today. People from the TV were coming, and there would be cake. Mr. Quill did love cake.
But Miss Blossom was gone, only her walker and slippers left behind. Every nurse was gone, from halls and desks; every puppy dog-scrub-wearing girl pushing carts down the hall; every white-haired old lady gone from beds and wheelchairs; no one in the breakfast nook; no one at the crafts table; no one left at all except Mr. Quill and a few dozen bewildered old men like him, ringing buzzers that brought no girls.
No girls at all, Mr. Quill told the harried policeman who came later that morning. But the policeman, Officer Buncombe, had problems of his own: his wife, gone; his two-year-old daughter, gone with her.
Schools couldn’t open: not enough teachers. Hospitals at half-staff, boy babies crying for their mothers. Bob Templeton, sweat running down his jowls as he tried to serve every man in his diner, said it had to be the Russians.
“Aliens,” said Mr. Donald Dunwoodie, father — until lately — of three girls. Mr. Dunwoodie’s teal-and-gold tie, hastily knotted, looked bilious against his pink shirt, but who could blame him for that? Everybody knew the man was color-blind and relied on his wife to dress him.
“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” Bob Templeton said, looking up at the grease-spotted ceiling. His mind was already ticking over all the shifts to fill, wondering who might be pressed into waiting tables in a pinch: the short-order cook who spoke no English? The high school boy who washed dishes from within a happy cloud of marijuana?
The state legislature met as usual, but found nothing to legislate. Authorities were on the case, but found no leads. Someone reported seeing the women in Georgia, in Tennessee, but these reports proved false. Up north, other folks said. New York. Then the picture started going around, the empty fashion week runway, red carpet littered with puddled dresses and high-heeled shoes, as if whoever wore them had kicked them off, as if they knew they wouldn’t be needing them anymore.
If girls as vain as models could be tempted into leaving designer clothes behind, the minister said, surely it was Satan himself doing the tempting.
Officer Buncombe stayed on the job. Not everyone did. Calls kept coming in. Brawls, shootings, car crashes. And the other calls. My daughter. My wife. My grandmother. My aunt. Routine. He didn’t bother to log them all anymore. The little boys’ voices still bothered him.
My mama’s gone.
Where’s your daddy, son?
Don’t got one.
Female, missing. Ten years old. Fourteen. Twenty-two and engaged. Thirty-five, three sons and a bun in the oven. Too young to toddle. Too old to walk.
But they’d walked away somehow.
Officer Buncombe thought about what the preacher said, about it being a judgement. He didn’t doubt that some men deserved that judgement. He knew all he needed to know about the evil men do in this world.
But his Amanda: he loved her. He’d never done her a lick of harm. Even let her keep her name when they got married, joked that he wouldn’t put another Buncombe into this world.
He’d even changed diapers. Not just once. Three or four times, at least.
It seemed like the bars were the only things open these days but he stayed out of them, took long walks at night, watching the horizon as if they might all come walking back, sorry for the ruckus they’d caused, ready to be forgiven.
Never before had the stars seemed so bright, so far away.
Kathryn Kulpa leads a veterans writing group in Rhode Island and is an instructor at this summer’s Writefest in Houston, Texas. Her work is published or forthcoming in New Flash Fiction Review, Milk Candy Review, and Pithead Chapel.
This story originally appeared on Jellyfish Review.