Once upon a time, Joey was six and he just wanted to be left alone. He had to go to school every day, and the teacher talked and talked and made Joey talk too, and the other kids laughed and pushed and played and teased. When he got home, his hound dog was excited to see him and barked and jumped up on Joey’s legs and stole his toys and ran around the house with them. His sisters fought and his mom asked too many questions and the tea kettle whistled and the garbage disposal rumbles and his dad turned on the news. Joey would go to his own room and close the door, but his baby sister followed him everywhere, and when he finally yelled, “Leave me alone!” she cried so loud it hurt his ears, and his mom made him say he was sorry.
One day, Joey decided it was enough. He went to bed at five o’clock and wouldn’t get up, even to eat dinner. When his mom came to ask what was wrong, he put his pillow over his head. Whenever he heard or noise or someone came into his room, he didn’t answer or move. He just lay there repeating, “Go away, go away, go away, go away” in his head. (He knew better than to say it out loud.) Finally, the house got quiet as everyone went to sleep. Joey took the pillow off his head and rolled onto his side. It was so quiet and still. His last thought before he fell asleep was “I wish it could always be just like this.”
In the morning, when Joey woke up, it was still quiet. He looked at his clock. It said 7:00, just like always. Usually his mom was making breakfast by now and calling to them all to get out of bed. This peaceful morning was a nice change. He got up and got dressed and brushed his teeth. Usually his big sister was fighting for room by the sink. This morning he was happy to have the bathroom all to himself. He wondered if everyone had slept in. He checked his sisters’ room. The beds were empty. Joey went downstairs and got out some cereal. Normally they all crowded around the table and ate quickly while Joey’s mom rushed them along to get to school on time. This morning, he was the only one and got to pick his favorite seat and take his time. When he finished, he wondered what time it was. He went to his mom and dad’s room. Their bed was empty, too. Where was everyone?
Then Joey remembered that his big sister had a special breakfast before school that week. “It must be today,” he thought. “They must have all gone before I woke up.” Joey felt a little sad that they would leave without telling him. He felt left out as the only one who didn’t get to go the breakfast. Still, the quiet was awfully nice. He put on his coat and boots and started off down the path they always walked to school. Usually, his big sister would jabber away the whole time and hurry him along and boss him about staying out of the mud. Today, he got to stomp right in a puddle and dawdle and daydream all he wanted, but he couldn’t help feeling just a little scared when he had to walk past the creepy hollow tree all by himself.
When he got to school, Joey noticed that it was very quiet there, too. Usually, the sidewalks were crowded with kids and parents saying goodbye and calling out to their friends and pushing each other to get in the door first. Today, Joey walked right through the doors without anyone bothering him. There was no one around at all. Walking down the silent halls, Joey began to feel worried. Something wasn’t right. Where was everyone? Quiet at home had been warm and soft. Quiet in the big echoing school building was cold and unfriendly. Joey went to his class room. The door was open. All the desks and shelves and books and papers were exactly the same as always. But there were no people. No teacher with her cheerful smile and pleasant voice. No friends waiting to tell him about the new comic book they had gotten last night or the way their cat had looked when it climbed up the curtains. No Joey was really afraid. What was he supposed to do if no one was there?
For more than hour, Joey looked in every room in the school. They were all empty. Sometimes he thought he heard voices in the next room, but always when he opened the door, there was no one. Finally, Joey couldn’t stand being all alone in that big school. He ran all the way home. It was quiet on the path, but he didn’t take time to enjoy it at all. When he got home, no one was waiting for him. Not even his hound dog greeted him at the door. He called everyone’s names, but no one said anything. Joey thought about going outside and walking around to see if he could find someone, but he felt too afraid to leave the house again. Here at least he knew he was safe, even if he didn’t know what was happening.
That was a very long day. Joey tried to watch TV. He tried to read some books. He tried to draw pictures or play with his toys. Nothing seemed like much fun. No one laughed at the cartoons with him. No one helped him with the words he couldn’t understand. No one admired his pictures or the ship he made out of Legos. Time went by very slowly. Joey felt very lonely as he poured some more cereal for his dinner. When it was dark outside, Joey locked all the doors and crawled into bed trying not to think about tomorrow. He put his pillow over his head, but this time it was to shut out the quiet. It was a long time before he fell asleep.
A hard jab in the ribs woke Joey up at 7 the next morning. His baby sister was sitting on his bed poking him with a Barbie. She was the best thing he had ever seen.
“You see me! I see me!” she yelled over and over. Joey raced down the hall. His big sister darted past and slammed the bathroom door in his face. Joey laughed. He went to the kitchen, where his mom was cooking pancakes.
“Feeling better?” she asked with a smile.
“Much better,” Joey said.