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I think we’re all morbidly fascinated how it all will end.  Mr. McCollum thinks it will go like this…


Deleting the World


Scott McCollum


            “And today on the 5 o’clock news.  It seems the bizarre changes in worldwide weather patterns are finally going to stabilize after these many months of craziness.  We here at Channel 23 are glad to see an end the recent trends in weather, and look forward to being able to go outside and not wonder what the temperature will be ten minutes from now.  Experts all over the world have been publishing findings, and speaking to the public with messages of hope for the future.”


“Only the scientists at the Coleman Weather Institute of Rockford have voiced dissent at the recent findings of global normalization.  We now go live to the Institute with our correspondent, Jenny Cohen.  Jenny?  Are you there?”


            The scene switched over from the anchors sitting at their desk, faces grinning like one would expect to see on a more life-like mannequin, to an outside visual of a stunning blonde, hair buffeted by high winds.  The sky was darken, storm clouds visible overhead in the frame of the camera.  Station call signs, time, and the name ‘Jenny Cohen, weather correspondent’ were emblazoned on the bottom of the screen in a stark white against a red background.  She seemed to be trying to keep a more jovial expression on her face, even though the conditions were fighting against any kind of happiness in a person doomed to endure them.  Her effort was admirable in the face of such adversity.  Behind her was the corner of a brick building, two stories tall.  A few letters were visible on the sign at the upper right corner of the screen, the letters ‘Co….’ with ‘Ins….’ just underneath them in a bright red neon.


            Jenny held her left hand on her ear, while her right held the microphone close to her face.  The sounds of a heavy wind whistled as the sound switched from one scene to the other.  In a voice that would have otherwise been a shout, Jenny spoke in to the microphone, “I’m here, Kathryn.  I’m at the CWIR, outside in the harsh elements.  Weather institutes all over the world are jumping for joy with recent findings that say the weather will quickly become normalized.  They are giving the time period for this change to be within the coming week or two.  People everywhere are glad for a possible end to conditions that give us two-foot flash floods followed within an hour by sub-zero temperatures.  Within the last few months, environmental experts have postulated the extinction of one third of the world’s species.  We were all saddened to hear the news three weeks ago about the dreadful loss of Japan, torn asunder in that terrible earthquake.  The hearts of everyone at this station, and those at this institute, go out to families of those who were lost.”  She paused, giving up the attempt at a smile and letting the words pour out of her trained lips.  A sincere sadness was evident in her eyes as she broke the news that had been all over every paper such a short time ago.  Her right hand switched grips on the microphone and almost lost it to the wind.  “The news lately has been a ray of sunshine in these days of midnight prospects.  Supposedly, the weather will lessen in it’s intensity in a little while, bringing us directly in to an autumn that we deserve.” 

She paused again, the camera moving left, keeping her at center frame, bringing the building in to full view.  The red neon sign fully visible, tacked on against a white background against the glass front double doors.  “This institute has recently published findings suggesting the normalization of world weather patterns might only be the tip of the iceberg.  They are suggesting we barely understand what ‘normal’ means as it pertains to our meteorological future.  I’m going to go inside now, so I’ll give it back to you Kathryn.”


The scene shrank down to nothing, disappearing into the upper right of the screen.  Kathryn sat to the right of a clean-cut dark haired man.  The sound of the howling wind cut out abruptly as the station switched back.  She didn’t even turn her head, her lustrous red curls not even moving, as she addressed the man next to her.


“Thanks Jenny.  Well Jim, it seems we are in for a bit of a shock according to the suggestions the CWIR has published.  I’ve read some of the reports, and I’m astounding.”


He took up without a pause where she left off, both used to the tempo of a news report.  “As have I Kathryn.  I was looking forward to an autumn where the leaves were coming off the trees because of the seasonal cycle, and not because of being in the middle of 60 mile per hour winds.”  He chuckled with a fakeness that was barely discernable beneath the professional exterior.


“Same here Jim.”  She stopped for a moment.  “It seems we are going to switch back to Jenny.  She’s inside now talking to one of the scientists at the institute.”


There was a small pause as the view switched back from the interior of the news studio to the interior of the institute.  The room they were focused on was full of monitors, televisions screens, and people running back and forth between the two aforementioned items.  All of the screens were full of world maps superimposed with strange weather patterns, numbers, or text-based dissertations on recent findings.  Jenny was standing center screen, microphone to her mouth.  Next to her stood a skinny man with wire rim glasses, looking expectantly between the camera and Jenny. 


Her face was an attempt to be professional, a mix between a grin and total confusion.  The man next to her seemed to be taking a pause from some long-winded scientific explanation, probably the cause of her earlier confusion.  She put her hand to her ear, and nodded to the camera.  “Thank you Kathryn.  As you said, now I’m inside speaking to one of the scientists involved with the current research.  He has just given me some information on recent research.  As I said earlier, this institute has claimed to have looked ahead past everyone else’s predictions.  They have been waiting for the right time to publicly state their findings, findings which throw a new view on what ‘normal’ weather patterns really are.  Dr. Richards, would you like to elaborate?”  With that last sentence, Jenny put the microphone close to the man next to her, and looked at him with somewhat feigned interest.


Dr. Richards waited a moment, obviously not used to be on camera.  He cleared his throat first, and then began.  “Yes.  Uhm.  Thank you Jenny.  Our research shows the recent weather trends are going to reduce in intensity for quite a while.  Then, after a month and a half it will go back to what it was before the… craziness.”  For some reason, he grinned at that word, amused about something.  “And with good reason, the activity levels at this institute have been matching the temperament of the weather.”


The microphone snapped back to Jenny for her quick question, “And after the weather goes back to normal, what can we expect?”


Dr. Richards snapped his head back slightly as the microphone came near to him again.  He grinned, though not showing any more of his previous amusement.  “Well, we can expect a few weeks of a decent autumn.  Then, after that we are going to see a worldwide equalization of temperature and weather patterns.”


“You explained it to me already, but would you please explain to the viewing public exactly what you mean by this?”


“I’d be more than happy to, Jenny.”  He pushed the spectacles back up to the bridge of his nose before continuing on.  People were still moving back and forth through the background with quite a bit of haste.  “What I mean is that temperatures around the world are going to be the same, no matter where you are.  Same with weather.  If it’s raining in Denver, it will be raining everywhere in the world.  If it is partly cloudy in Berlin, the same is held true from Alaska to Australia.”


“And how is this possible?  It seems even more far-fetched than the recent problems we’ve been having.”


“That’s the worst part Jenny.  We don’t know how.  No matter what we try, this is the trend of weather we come up with when looked at long term.  We’ve tried physicists for explanations.  Maybe it’s based on distance from the sun, or maybe it’s based on geological studies done through the strata.  So far, we’ve come up with nothing.  But when we plug in the numbers and look at the results we get the same answer.  We’ve even tried permutations of the data checking what would happen if the world temperature was a few degrees higher, or lower.  Always the same results.  We even had a theoretical physicist do the predictions with the assumption we were on Neptune.”


“And you found out….”


“Exactly the same thing.  Since our inception, we’ve been one of the top meteorological institutes in the world.  We’ve been developing new technologies and algorithms that always reshape the field.  We’re not sure if our data has been compromised, but we seriously doubt it.  I know it’s bad to say that on the air.  But, we’re sure this is going to be our future.”


“I’m sorry Dr. Richards, but we’re running out of time for this segment.  Is there anything you’d like to add to our viewers along with this stunning news?”


Dr. Richards looked at the camera, his face sad and serious at the same time.  Almost as if looking at a child with infinite pity he said, “Yes Jenny, there is.  Viewers, I’d like you to know we have been able to predict weather patterns in the past.  Science has gotten so good at this, that barring human interference, we can predict up to three years in advance.”


Jenny jumped in, “We all know how far weather prediction has become since it became intimately involved with chaos math and quantum physics.  Since 2005, weather prediction has rarely been proven wrong.  Even these bizarre weather patterns were predicted by some, but ignored by those too enmeshed in past weather predictive methods.  It is no longer a crapshoot as to whether what we tell you is going to happen next, but more of a…”


Dr. Richards cut her off giving her the same stare he had previously been giving the camera.  “Shut up.  I’m not done yet.”  Jenny looked shocked shocked anyone would dare speak to her that way on her own interview.  Dr. Richards turned back to the viewers, “People.  I told you that weather patterns are going to be the same everywhere.  There is something else you should know.  In a year and two months, weather patterns are going to cease.”


Jenny furrowed her brow and looked confused.  “I don’t understand…  What do you mean, cease?”


Dr. Richards shook his head, turning to face her.  “No, you wouldn’t understand.  And that is as far as I’m going to go with this discussion.  I’m sorry.”  With that, he walked off-screen.


Jenny straightened her hair and looked at the camera, “I plan on doing a segment in the future as to the exact meaning of his last statement.  But, until then, this is Jenny Cohen reporting from the CWIR with the weather.  Goodbye.”


The screen shrank and disappeared as it did before, going into the corner to hide.  Kathryn and Jim were sitting at their nice, tidy desk   Jim picked up a stack of papers, apparently attempting to straighten them while Kathryn spoke.  “Thank you Jenny for that wonderful report.  That was Jenny Cohen, weather correspondent for this station.  What do you think of that report, especially that ominous message at the end?”


Jim looked at Kathryn, grinning like he was trained to.  “I really don’t know.  I guess only time will tell.”





            Eric turned away from the television set and finished the rest of his breakfast.  This news story was old news, but the station was running the old broadcast to prove they were on of the first to realize and report on the strangeness that has been the world lately.  After the news report, the station went into an update on the world as it is today.  They discussed the incredible rise in missing person’s reports all over the world, and the total lack of any weather beyond the fact that everywhere in the world is experiencing the same weather.  They even went into the fact that it’s strange that the polar ice caps haven’t melted yet, even though they experience warm or hot weather when everyone else does.


            The scrambled eggs and bacon seemed to lack something.  It was almost as if an essential flavor was missing.  Then again, these truck stop diners rarely seemed to live up to his expectations.  He always found the small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants to have the greatest quality of food.  Yet, his palate always was let down by places like this.  The news on TV was disappointing too, just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo intent on scaring people to gain ratings.  The only part that did intrigue him, momentarily, was the reports that communications with most countries in the bottom half of the southern hemisphere has ceased.


            He had been hitchhiking for a month now, trying to make his way north to see his folks in Canada.  It seemed everyone was going north these days so getting a ride was rarely a problem.  Everyone seemed scared, also.  There was something in the air... something scary.  A lot of people seemed to be murmuring about the end of the world, but that didn’t seem likely to Eric.  The world has been around for billions of years, so why would it end now?


            Paying his tab while leaving a generous tip, Eric exited the restaurant.  He always tipped well, no matter the food.  The waitress was kind, even if she did lack any kind of personality.   All he really cared about was his last few hundred wouldn’t run out, or that someone would try to rob him.  There were some fruity people that gave him rides in the past, like the guy from New Mexico who couldn’t stop talking about how his inventions were going to revolutionize the laundromat industry.  That was a rather weird couple hours before he turned west and let Eric off at a rest stop.


            The ride that took him here was a quiet one.  He seemed kind enough to stop and pick someone up, but scared once Eric got in.  One hand kept going to the side of the door every time Eric moved too quickly or got too close.  He probably had a gun stashed in case someone tried to kill him.


            Eric saw a Dodge Ram parked in the lot, probably someone who felt like stopping for a bite to eat.  Noticing the driver was in the truck, and just starting the engine, Eric readjusted the large backpack on his shoulder and moved to the driver’s door.  The man inside looked like the kind of person who wanted to relive the days of the cowboys; he had a wide brimmed cowboy hat on and a suede vest.  Eric expected almost expected to see spurred boots on the man’s feet if he was nice enough to give him a ride.


            A quick, light, knock at the window startled the man at first.  He looked up from whatever was in his lap, and turned towards the window.  All it took was the push of the button, and the window rolled down.


            “Howdy!  What can I do fer ya son?” 


Eric was 26, and disliked it whenever someone called him ‘son’.  The man wasn’t even that much his elder, visibly maybe only 35 or so.  But, pride had to be swallowed by beggars.  “I was wondering which way you were heading.”


The man furrowed his brow in thought, though it didn’t seem like he was thinking about his destination.  Looking Eric up and down, taking in the slightly ratty clothes and denim backpack, it was obvious he was curious why someone was at his window.  “Well, I’m heading north.  As far north as I can go, really.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Canada now that it’s not cold up there anymore.”


Eric sighed, and decided to ask for a ride.  “Mind taking a hitchhiker?  I’m going to see my folks up in Canada coincidentally.  I would love a ride.  I could even pay you.”


“Well, I reckon I wouldn’t mind some company on the road.  I’m from Texas, and it’s been pretty lonely these last few days.  Except for my frequent stops, the only human voices I’ve heard was the folks in the radio.”


Eric nodded, then headed over to the passenger door.  He noted that the engine seemed to have a flat sound, almost like it was slightly muted.  It was slightly odd, but people modified their cars in strange ways these days.  The door clicked, letting him know it was unlocked.  The man pushed a button to roll his window as Eric got in.


“I really appreciate the ride.  How much do you want?”  Eric unslung his backpack and put it on his lap as the truck started to pull away.

The radio was playing some more news about the condition of the world, but the man turned it down so they could talk uninterrupted.  “No money, son.  I figure I’m heading the same way, so why charge?  I’ve got enough to get me where I’m going.”

“Wow.  Thanks.  I’m Eric.”  He put out his hand to shake.

The man gave Eric a very firm shake, obviously someone who was rather strong.  “I’m Ted.  Pleased to meet’cha.”  He had a decently thick southern accent, lending credibility to his claims of being from Texas.

Eric pulled his hand back and stared ahead at the road.  The sun was shining, although it was visible.  There was total cloud cover, as there had been for the last few days.  The two didn’t talk beyond the introductions, and after a few minutes of silence Ted turned the radio up.  The news seemed to bore him, so after a little bit he searched for some music.  For some reason, there was only one music station on the radio.  Ted smiled as young country started belting out through the speakers.

The music wasn’t Eric’s first choice of listening material, but it was better than the news.  All the news of late had been the same as the tv station from the diner.  It was nice to have something different to listen to, even if it was country music.

The lack of conversation continued for quite a few miles, maybe about a hundred or so.  Eric noted that there fewer and fewer cars on the road as they continued north.  At the end of a hundred miles, the radio station became dead air.  Ted figured it must have been that they left the broadcast radius, so he started searching for another.  There was nothing, though.  Every frequency was just dead air.  It could have been just a problem with the radio; a short or something.


Ted laughed lightly.  “I guess that’s it for the radio. Ignore the greeting, by the way.  Sometimes I like to play the part of the hick cowboy.  Kinda fun sometimes.”


Eric chuckled a bit at the last statement and looked over at him, then back to the road, “Nice.  I’m sure people get surprised when you show them you’re not some hick.  I wonder what’s the problem with the radio.  Maybe it’s broken?”


“I don’t think so.  Just got it put in a month ago.  I could have bought one on it’s last leg, though.”


Eric snapped his head around, his face showing how perplexed he was.  “Are you an actor?”


“Why would you think I’m an actor?  Do I look photogenic?”


Eric stumbled over his next few words.  “I… I though you had an accent last time you spoke.  Pretty thick.  It’s gone now.”


“Accent?  What accent?”  His brow furrowed once again, deep in thought.  “You know, I never thought I had an accent.  Maybe it’s because I have always heard my own voice.  But, I knew you were a yankee when you spoke.  To me, you have an accent.”


“I went down to Mexico for a year to see it.  I’m an artist, and I wanted to draw some of the ruins of the Aztecs.”


“Funny thing is, Eric, is that your accent is gone too.  Maybe it’s the air around here.”


Eric looked around.  No one else was on the road, not even in the distance.  What looked to be corn fields stretched as far as the eye could see.  “Maybe.  That could be an explanation, I guess.”


They continued on in silence for awhile, Ted not even bothering to turn down the radio.  The constant static was kind of  soothing for both of them.  Eric was visibly nervous about these strange events.  Ted seemed, somehow, to be complacent with the whole thing.  He even nodded a few times over the next ten minutes, as if he was agreeing with his own thoughts.


Ted broke the silence then, with “Ever wonder what file you’re in?”


“Huh?  I don’t get it.”  Eric looked over at him for a moment, one eyebrow raised, hoping this guy wouldn’t turn weird.


Ted nodded, “Well it was an odd question.  Let me explain.  Did you ever use a computer?”


Eric answered quickly, “Of course.  Almost everyone has.  I think only third world countries haven’t adapted their lives to be run by machines.”  He looked back to the road, and noticed they were coming up to the end of the cornfields.  They just… stopped a mile or so up.


“That’s not what I meant, exactly.  But it does add to the metaphor.”


Eric was a bit perplexed by the start of the conversation.  “What metaphor?”


“Let me finish, son.  Anyway.  Ever install a game on your computer?”


“I think once or twice.  I usually got graphics programs to help me with my art.  Didn’t have enough time for games.”


Ted paused for a moment.  “When you installed that game, it put a whole bunch of files on your hard drive.  All kinds of data, from sound files to animation.”


“Yeah, I’ve looked through the files before.  There did seem to be quite a few of them.”


Ted kept on going.  “Well, there is always a main program.  It is the one that basically calls to the other programs.  It’s really running the game; checking other programs and using them for events in the game.  For example, when you move to another area of the game, it calls up the map of the new area and checks it.  It puts the graphics and animation on the screen for you.  When you do something, maybe that part of the map requires a certain sound for the action.  It tells the main file what is required, and that main part calls up the sound file and plays it for you.”


“You know a lot about computers it seems, Ted.”


Ted shook his head a couple of times.  “No, I don’t.  I’m just using what logic says is most likely, son.  I’m not exactly sure if the programs work like that, but it’s how I see it.”


“Oh.”  Eric looked out the window as the cornfields ended.  It looked like the fields were plowed, but never seeded.  The farmers seemed to have given up on their crop.


“Have you heard some of the newer news?”  Ted looked over, then away when he saw Eric was paying attention to the scenery.


Eric shook his head.  “No.  I try not to listen.”


“Well, son, there’s some strange things going on lately.”


“I know about the weather being the same everywhere.  Everyone knows that.  I’ve heard the missing person’s reports increasing too.”


Ted chuckled a little bit at that.  “Old news.  No, the stuff I’m talking about is a bit more current.  There’s some kind of storm that started in Antartica.  A snowstorm of epic proportions.  It’s been getting bigger and bigger every day.”


Looking back to Ted, Eric nodded his head.  “I guess that’s good news.  It means the weather is changing somewhat.  Not everywhere is the same.”


“True.  True.  The only problem is that whenever they send a plane into the storm, it never comes back.  They tried getting some info from people inside, but no one’s home.  I guess the main part is basically a blizzard, but there is some dusting at the edges.  They found that the snow contains some previously unknown acid.  When it accumulates too much on something, that thing just starts to… well… disappear.”


Eric snapped his head back in shock at this news.  “That’s pretty scary.  Why didn’t I hear about this before?”


“People don’t want to report something like that.  It’s a rather horrible thing, that snowstorm.  I had a friend who worked in the news.  He tried doing a story on it, but the higher ups said that was too bad of news to report.  They didn’t want to cause the public to riot or anything.  But, those same higher ups moved themselves and their families as north as they could go.  I reckon I’ll do the same thing.”


“I don’t think they’d riot though.  While hitching, I saw a guy get mugged in a city.  The mugger worked him over, but this guy barely seemed to notice.  After it was all over, he just picked himself up and kept going.  I asked him if he wanted me to make a statement for the police, and he just shrugged.  He didn’t even seem to care.”


“Interesting story, son.  I know what you mean.  I noticed quite a few people who just seemed to be walking meat.  No personality, or a rapidly disappearing one.  There was nothing behind their eyes anymore; no hatred, love, or any kind of emotion.”


They were quiet for a moment, as both reflected on their own experiences as of late.  Both had noticed quite a few things out of the ordinary in the last month or two, beyond the obvious weather issues.


Again, Ted broke the silence.  “What’s in the bag?”


Eric unzipped the backpack, and pulled out some sketchbooks.  “Just my art.  Let me show you some.”  He opened the first sketchbook, then closed it quickly.  Without a word, he put everything back in the bag.


“What’s wrong son?”


“The art.  It’s gone.  The pages are all blank.”


Ted nodded again, seemingly to himself.  “Not surprised.”


“I had a bunch of blank books at the house.  I… I must’ve grabbed the wrong ones.”


“Possibly you did.”


“Ted, what did you mean earlier about the file thing?”


“Oh, that.  Just a theory of mine.  To get back to it, I was going to say what happens if you delete a sound file?”


“Well, it wouldn’t play when you came to it I guess.”


“Exactly.  If you kept playing the game, it might just ignore the file and keep going.  I find that a good metaphor for what’s going on.  Things just seem to be getting deleted.”


“I don’t quite follow you.  What about the crazy weather?”


Ted looked over at him then, seriousness on his face.  “Maybe God deleted the controls that governed weather.”


“That does kind of make sense.  What about how the weather normalized afterwards?”


“I guess, son, it seems he got rid of the files on how weather operates differently.  I had a friend who was an astronomer.  Until the cloud cover became so thick, he swore the night sky was changing.”


Ted looked back to the road as Eric looked towards him.  “How?”


“He swore the farthest stars he could see through his telescope were disappearing.  Just winking out.  I figured he just started forgetting where to look, and left it at that.  Now, I think he might have been right.  While driving, I’ve had a lot of time for thinking about what’s going on in the world.  Everything seems to fit.  Files are just being deleted.”


Eric nodded, finally understanding.  He also noticed that the air smelled funny, and the radio static had disappeared.  “I guess that would explain the missing person epidemic.”


“Yup.  And the radio stations.”


Eric raised an eyebrow.  “You think the stations are disappearing?”


“No.  Ever wonder why there has been total cloud cover for the last week or so?”


Eric pondered this for a moment.  “Never thought about it, I guess.”


Ted looked over again with that serious look.  “Maybe God doesn’t want to frighten us with the fact he’s getting rid of everything.  I figure he got rid of the satellites.”


“I guess this is an interesting theory.”  Eric sniffed the air.  Instead of the funny smell he noted a short bit ago, now it seemed there was no odor.  In fact, he couldn’t smell anything.  Looking up and down the road, he realized he hadn’t seen any kind of road sign for a while, including mile markers.


“Sure it’s a theory?”


“Why would God delete everything like this?”


“Well, son, maybe he installed a new game.  Or he’s going to install a new game, but the cosmic hard drive doesn’t have enough space.”


They were silent again for awhile.  Eric felt rather sleepy, and yawned a few times.  “Ted?”




“Why did you start all this with that first question?”


“You mean about what part of the file you were in?”




“Well, son, that is the result of all my thinking.  If all these little side files are being deleted, but the main program is still there, I wondered which one of those little files I was in.  When is my file going to be next?”


Eric stifled another yawn, getting even more sleepy.  “I don’t want to judge you Ted, but I think you’re a crackpot.”  Ted laughed at that, but didn’t say anything.  Eric figured there had to be some kind of scientific explanation for things.  Maybe it was even all a dream; some nightmare cooked up by a Mexican virus he got.  Delerium.  Either way, all he could think about was sleep.


Ted looked over, and saw Eric was about ready to nod off.  “Night kid.  Have good dreams.”


“Thanks Ted.”  With that, Eric fell into the blissful oblivion of sleep.





An indeterminate time later, Eric woke up.  He was groggy, and his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the light.  It seemed to be the same day; the clouds were still out there and the sun shining away without showing itself.


            “Ted?”  Hearing no answer, he called again while rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.  “Ted?”  Looking over, all he saw in the driver’s seat was a pile of clothes with a wide brimmed hat on top.  The truck had left the road, and was slowing down with no one to put pressure on the gas.


            Realization sank in then, almost with a physical force behind it.  Slipping over to the driver’s seat, he continued north.  His only hope was his family was still around to say goodbye to.