Casper Grace

Casper Grace was a country fiddler, an Alabama boy relocated to Austin for the music and liberal attitude. Two months ago he had family, friends, a boyfriend named Lansing to ride shotgun on his old Triumph motorcycle. But that was before the end of the world, before people started disappearing like blown candleflames, before he had to trade the life he knew for a life he'd have to learn.

Lansing vanished in the bathroom, of all the stupid places, and Casper stayed in the house for three days waiting for him to come back. He tried calling everyone they knew, his family, Lansing's family, people he'd played with, people Lansing had worked for, the agent who'd found them the house, every live music venue in the phone book. He got hold of maybe one person in ten in the three days before the phones went down for good, but the one person he really needed to talk to was his daddy, Carter Grace, who lived in Mobile, and his daddy wasn't answering the phone.

After the fifth day Casper packed some clothes and his fiddle, made sure his motorcycle was gassed up, and headed east. He knew Lansing was gone for good along with most of Austin and maybe most of the rest of the world, but he had some hope that his daddy was still around. There were few other people on the road. He saw empty cars and a Greyhound bus at a rest stop. He saw armadillos and possums and raccoons and longhorns. There was no one manning the pumps when he stopped for gas, but he left some money under a rock in the office anyway.

Mobile looked to be in the same shape as Austin and was just as quiet. Casper rode straight to his daddy's house. His heart jumped when he saw the car in the driveway, and then fell when he found the note pinned to the house's wooden front door, inside the screen. Carter - I took your dogs to my sister Rosie's place in Gainesville. We'll be there when you come back. Annette. Casper thought maybe Annette was a neighbor. He hoped she and her sister and the dogs were all fine, and that she knew by now that Carter Grace wasn't ever coming back.

The power was out but the water was still running, and Casper stayed in the empty house for six days trying to figure out what went wrong and what he should do now. He found a flashlight that still worked and a dozen cans of tunafish and half a bottle of bourbon and his momma's pearls. Someone had been through the place more than once, but Carter Grace had never trusted people and had hidden things he thought might come in handy in an emergency. There was a shotgun and a box of shells still hiding in the back of a closet.

Casper walked around Mobile all day every day, talking to people when he found them, looking for someone who'd seen his daddy, collecting stories. He had some family yet in town, but his cousin Donnie thought he was a ghost and wouldn't even open the door to him, and his Uncle Rabbit told him mournfully that everyone else was gone.

At night Casper sat on the back porch and played his fiddle. He serenaded crickets and little scuttling things and something that looked like a longhaired cat, except that it was much clumsier than a cat, with a much longer tail, and when it turned to look at him, its eyes were blue. In back of the house he could pretend that Mobile was still full of people, that most of the world hadn't vanished overnight, that his daddy and Lansing were just out buying ice cream and beer.

By the end of the sixth day he thought he had some answers but he couldn't stand the empty house, so he packed up and went home. Austin seemed emptier than it was when he left, and someone had broken into his house and gone through his things, as they'd done to his daddy's place in Mobile, but his grill was still in the yard and Lansing's case of Maker's Mark was still in the coat closet, and except for the mess, the place looked the same.

The house still had intermittently running water and intermittent electricity. Casper was just grateful it wasn't so hot any more and he wouldn't die of heat prostration. Everything in his fridge and freezer had spoiled and he couldn't do his laundry in the washing machine, but there was propane for the grill and wood for a fire, and if he was careful and lucky he could fill his biggest pot with water enough to cook the beans that were still in the pantry. He wasn't worried yet about starving. He'd been a Boy Scout, he'd gone camping with his daddy, he had the shotgun and box of shells he'd taken from the house in Mobile in case he had to hunt his own dinner.

He did in Austin what he'd done in Mobile - walked around, talked to anyone he could find, asked questions, told his story in exchange for other people's. He foraged in empty buildings, looking for canned food and bottles of water and batteries. At night he sat on the front porch and played his fiddle, hoping to scare off any stray animals and attract any stray humans.

Casper had been home a week when Lansing's ghost appeared in the kitchen. Casper thought he was losing his mind, but if he was going crazy, he could do worse than to see his boyfriend's ghost in his house. Lansing couldn't explain why he'd come back and didn't know how long he'd be able to stay. He couldn't come and go as he pleased at first, and he couldn't appear every time Casper called him, but after a few weeks he got some control over his comings and goings. Casper learned he could sometimes get Lansing back with his fiddle, and Lansing learned to solidify for a while, although his touch was always cold.

Casper couldn't say he was entirely happy, because how could he be when his daddy was gone along with most of his friends and fellow musicians, but he was adjusting to this new life. Someone at UT had gotten the student radio station back on the air, and sometimes Casper could get the signal on his old battery-powered radio. The station played music and PSAs for a few hours each day. Casper met a guy with a pickup truck who took people a couple hours out of the city to hunt, in exchange for gas for his truck and a share of whatever they caught or killed. Once in a while he'd run into someone who'd played the same clubs he had, and one day he was even invited to a party to celebrate someone's wife having had a baby.

That night he played his fiddle and danced with strangers and got drunk on moonshine, and he woke up on a strange floor with a pretty Mexican girl snoring faintly against his chest. He remembered other parties like that, playing with his friends and their friends, impromptu jam sessions with fellow musicians in other people's houses. He had a terrible hangover and was worried that the pretty girl on his chest would think he was interested in her, and he missed his boyfriend, but he'd spent time among people doing something he enjoyed, and he felt less isolated and a little more hopeful for his future.

Two months after the end of the world, Casper Grace was still alone in his house in his almost-empty city, but he had his fiddle and his boyfriend's ghost keeping him company, and he wasn't lonely.