Is There Anybody Out There? – Kathy Lanzarotti

“Alexa,” Cindy called out to her empty kitchen. The unit sat by itself on the black granite countertop. She watched the little blue circle light up the surface. It was a relief to hear another voice, even a mechanical one. “I’m treading water in the middle of the ocean.”

The device shut itself down with a two toned beep.

“Alexa!”she shouted, panicked that the little machine had abandoned her as well, until she remembered that just like on Jeopardy! she had to phrase her thoughts in the form of a question in order to get a response. She took a deep breath and asked the same question she had been asking for at least a month. “Where did everybody go?”

It had happened on a Tuesday. Monday had been normal. Forgettable even. Everyone was off at work, clogging freeways or running errands. They ate dinner and went to bed and hopefully kissed their loved ones. And then, overnight, they were gone. Abracadabra Alakazam. Like one of those Rapture movies that were all the rage at the end of the last century.

She was alone.

Just Cindy.

In the lost colony of the Elderwood subdivision.

In response to her question the unit glowed azure, then turquoise.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” the confident friendly voice responded.

Was this a punishment? Was this hell? Cindy doubted it. Sure, maybe she drank too much on weekends (and weekdays, if she was being honest) and there was that one time with that one guy with the curls and the blue eyes and the endless stream of martinis at her last work conference. But Paul Morton in the cul-de-sac was known to slap his wife around and Lizzy Peterman one block over stole the girl scout cookie money and used it to pay for her daughter’s birthday party and they were nowhere to be found.

Besides, if it was booze and adultery that damned her, she was pretty sure the last thing she would be was alone.

The dog was the first one she noticed was missing. Arthur, her friendly Black Labrador, blinded by diabetes, his adoring eyes fogged the baby blue of a soothsayer. Cindy discovered his bed empty, the indentation of his body still warm in his memory foam mattress pad. Cindy had checked the house. Nothing. When she called outside, Arthur’s name volleyed back at her from the empty street. Back inside, it occurred to her that she hadn’t heard the usual morning sounds from her daughter or husband.

The pipes wheezing through the walls, electronic music from Meghan’s room. Upstairs all was quiet. The sheets on Meghan’s empty bed were rumpled. In her own room, Bill’s side of the California King was bare.

Cindy continued with her usual round of questions.

“Alexa, how long will the power stay on?”

“I don’t know the—“

“Alexa, how long will the water stay on?”

“I don’t know the—“

“Alexa, how long can I survive like this?”

“Sorry, I don’t know that one.”

“Alexa, what the hell do you know?”

The wall clock ticked off a few seconds.

“I know about a lot of topics,” the machine replied in a clipped tone.

“Alexa, I’m sorry.”

“No problem.” The virtual voice sounded a bit stung.

“Alexa,” Cindy said. “Play Cindy’s Playlist.”

“Playing Cindy’s Playlist,” Alexa said cheerfully. Cindy sighed, relieved that they were still on speaking terms. She couldn’t afford to lose any more friends.

As the sludgy guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” started up, she pulled the cork on a California chardonnay liberated from her neighbor’s refrigerator when her own supply was running low.

Wine was probably not the best thing for her, though she certainly had been drinking a lot of it. There was her brain to consider, and her liver, of course. Plus the fact that if she should start to yellow and swell there would be no one to help her.

“I guess it’s just you and me. Right, Alexa?” she said. The machine flickered as the volume of the music lowered.

She took a sip of wine, “Hmm,” she said. “I’m getting notes of pear, butterscotch, and vanilla.“ She sipped again, and raised her forefinger at the ceiling. “Also, cirrhosis, foetor hepaticus and alcoholic dementia.”

She drank until the glass was empty.

“Alexa,” she asked as she placed it on the counter. “Would you miss me if I went away?”

“Sorry,” the voice said. “I’m not sure.”

Cindy giggled and refilled her glass. “At least you’re honest, Alexa.”

And with one loud and compressive beep most of her questions were answered as the house was covered in darkness.

Kathy Lanzarotti is co-editor of Done Darkness: A Collection of Stories, Poetry and Essays About Life Beyond Sadness. She is a Wisconsin Regional Writers’ Jade Ring Award winner for short fiction. Her stories have appeared in (b)Oinkzine, Ellipsis, Creative Wisconsin, Platform for Prose, Jokes Review and Fictive Dream.

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