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I am looking for a short story from the 50s or early 60s. I think it was Richard Matheson but I'm not sure.

A man is on a car trip and comes to realize that he is completely alone, no people anywhere. He travels on for about 2 days, and then everyone suddenly returns with no explanation; people seem somewhat disoriented but otherwise OK.

He later remembers that his son, when he was young, moved his pet fish from one tank to another identical tank, but then moved them back because he thought they were happier in the old one. The man figures that "someone" did the same kind of thing with people, but he was driving through a tunnel at the time so he didn't get moved.

If anyone recognizes this story, do you know the title?

  • 3
    I recognize the story, but I can't remember the name. – FuzzyBoots Mar 27 '18 at 0:17
  • That sounds terrifying. – moopet Mar 27 '18 at 11:39
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Lonely Road (1956) by Richard Wilson; user14111 was able to find it available at the Internet Archive.

Here are two relevant excerpts with references to the two days, the disorientation, and the other elements that match your recollection.

The child's name was Bobby, and he moved fish from one aquarium to another. The guy was indeed in an underpass, fixing his windshield wiper.

"That's the only proof I have. If it proves anything. How about you? Are there two days you can't account for? Everybody I've spoken to seems to feel something's wrong but they won't talk about it. Will you?"

"I was in the attic when it happened," she said slowly. "I'd gone up to look at Bobby's aquarium."

Bobby, their son, had died when he was nine. They'd had no other children but kept the big house anyway, with its attic full of memories.

...

"So they put you all in a new tank and studied you for a while and then brought you back. But why not me?"

"Yes," Joan said. "Why everybody except you?"

"Maybe I was overlooked, like the snail."

"The snail?"

"Yes. Remember how proud Bobby was after he'd transferred the fish to the new tank? He thought he'd done a thorough job until I pointed out that the snail was still in the old tank, hiding inside the castle. It was like me, fixing my windshield wiper in the underpass."

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