“The sensation was unrelated to anything he’d ever felt before. He awoke, but had no recollection of ever gone to sleep. And, to mystify him further, he was not in bed. He was walking down a road, a two-lane black macadam with a vivid white stripe running down the center. He stopped, stared up at a blue sky, a hot, mid-morning sun. Then he looked around at a rural landscape, high, full-leafed trees flanking the road. Beyond the trees were fields of wheat, golden and rippling”
Rod Serling’s short story version of “Where Is Everybody?” sticks pretty close to The Twilight Zone pilot episode of the same name, adding some wonderful color particularly to the ending. An amnesiac is walking down a dirt road with no memory of who he is or how he arrived there. He smokes a cigarette and notices commercial slogans on his cigarette box –he must be in America.
Slowly, as he walks along the road, he pieces together a few facts. He is in his twenties, it is the 1950s, and the season is summer. As in The Twilight Zone episode, he wanders into an empty diner and then through a vacant town filled with dummies and recently active machinery –but shockingly no people.
“Hey! Anybody here? Anybody hear me?”
He sits outside on a curb for an unknown number of hours, wandering in and out of nearby stores and a bank for the fourth time. He hears the jarring sound of church bells down the street, he walks into a store and spots a bit of pulp fiction, The Last Man On Earth (Richard Matheson’s book “I Am Legend” which can also be seen in the corresponding episode).
Night falls and all the lights in the town illuminate. Our unnamed protagonist begins to grow desperate for companionship. He glimpses his own reflection in a window and realizes he is wearing Air Force coveralls! He enters a movie theater and looks at the posters, he thinks he sees another person in a movie theater until he crashes full speed into mirror. Sobbing and hopeless, he stumbles outside and clutches a street lamp pushing the cross-button over and over, begging for help from somebody.
Suddenly, we are transported into a dark control room where Sergeant Mike Ferris is pushing a button from a tiny enclosed space. “Alright, clock him and get him out of there,” says a gruff brigadier general. Sgt. Ferris has just survived 284 hours alone in an enclosed 5×5 metal box, simulating a trip to the moon. This has all been a hallucination. However, of all things the Air Force can simulate, it cannot offer an alternative to human companionship. Sgt. Ferris’s mind has fabricated this whole story as a means of coping with his isolation.
As he is lifted off his stretcher into an ambulance, Sgt. Ferris gazes up at the moon in the night sky. He knows that next time will be the real thing, not a simulation, but for now he is took exhausted. However, in a departure from the ending in The Twilight Zone episode, Sgt. Ferris reaches into his breast pocket where he finds a movie theater ticket from a small movie house in an empty town. Somewhere along the way, the fabric between dream and reality has been torn. He is carted off to the hospital and the short story ends.
Serling, Rod. Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.