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Authors: Ray Wallace

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BOOK: The Hell Season
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She laughed. It was an ugly sound. “Safe? Safe from what? The rain? From you? From whatever took my husband? My child?!” The look in her eyes was maniacal. She kept trying to clean herself of the blood. A moan escaped her. She wiped her hands on the seat, the dash. Watching this made Thomas wince.

Remembering something, he leaned in between the front seats and looked in back. A few days earlier he’d picked the kids up from swimming over at a friend’s house. And there it was, the towel that Jenny had left on the floor there. Despite the insanity of the moment the sight of it hit him like a punch to the midsection.
Oh, Jenny
… He grabbed the towel, held it out to the woman. “Here, use this.”

She took it and immediately went about drying herself, cleaning herself, ridding herself of as much of the foul liquid as she could. After about a minute of this she said, “Turn your head.”

“Excuse me?” he asked, not sure what she was getting at.

“Just look away.” She started to take off her shirt.

“Sure. Okay.” He put the car in park and stared out the driver’s side window between the streaks of red that ran down its outer surface. The rain continued to fall. It beat on the roof. He could hear the woman fidgeting around beside him. At the side of the road, next to the curb, the blood ran in a crimson stream. Nothing moved out there. No people. No animals. Where the hell was everybody? Shouldn’t there be others out, if not looking for lost loved ones then at least simply curious about what was happening? It was all too easy to believe that he and this woman were the last two people on Earth.

“Alright, I’m done,” she said.

He turned and looked. She was wrapped in the towel. It covered her from the top of her breasts to the tops of her thighs. Whether or not she wore panties under there he had no idea. He looked into the back seat once more. There were her shorts, her shirt, shoes, and yes, her underwear. He could only imagine the depths of the discomfort that had forced this woman to completely undress inside a car with a total stranger. How much weirder could things possibly get this morning?

Well, at least the craziness in her eyes had seemed to diminish a bit. She’d done a pretty good job of wiping the blood from her skin although now the towel was wet with it. She ran her fingers back through her hair, shuddering as she did so. There were tears running down her face. “Jesus. What in the world is going on?”

He hoped she didn’t expect an answer because he didn’t have one to give.

She looked him in the eye, took a deep breath. “Okay, now what?”

For the first time he realized that she was rather attractive. Dark hair. Green eyes. A slight dimple in her chin. Just the beginnings of laugh lines and crow’s feet at the corners of her mouth and eyes.

“I was going over to the police station,” he said.
“You’ve got to help me find them.”
“Find who?”
“My husband. My daughter.”
“Bill? Nina?”
Her eyes went wide. “You know them? Where are they? How do you know them?”

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know them. I heard you. Earlier. Shouting their names. Did they disappear too?” He figured he already knew the answer to that one.

She nodded, closed her eyes. There were more tears. “What’s happening? Where did they go? Where did everybody go?”

“I don’t know,” he said then put the car in gear. “But I plan to find out.”

 

*

 

The parking lot at the police station was half filled with cars. There was an open handicapped spot up near the entrance. Thomas pulled in there, turned off the engine. A boom of thunder. Rain pounded on the roof, quickly obscured the view out the front window.

The ten minute drive there had been largely uneventful, although they did see two other people along the way. One had dashed across the street behind the SUV. Thomas caught a glimpse of the person in the rearview mirror before he or she was gone. Another stood in the middle of an intersection where the traffic lights were out. It was a man. Big guy. Long hair and a beard. He was naked, head tilted back, arms thrown wide, turning in a slow circle. His mad bellowing could be heard over the engine and the rain. Thomas drove by him without stopping.

And then they were there. The police station. The place that offered him and the woman, Dana—he’d discovered along the way that her name was Dana Nyquist—their best hope of finding aid of any kind. At least that’s what Thomas continued to tell himself as he pocketed his keys, opened the driver side door and stepped out of the SUV, umbrella popped open and held above his head. It wasn’t much of a plan, he knew, but at least it was a plan. It was all he had at the moment and he was sticking to it. And if this place was as deserted as the roads they’d driven, as the houses they’d passed had seemed to be? Well, then he’d just have to come up with another plan, now wouldn’t he?

As had been discussed, he would enter the police station alone, check the place out. No reason for Dana to be out wandering around in her current state of undress. Thomas would see if there were any clothes for her inside the place. And so he approached the double glass doors with the police department’s seal on them, pulled the one to the right open and stepped inside. Lowering and closing the umbrella he’d brought with him, he crossed the foyer to another set of doors, opened these and entered the building’s lobby. He stood there for a few moments and looked around. There was electricity here. The lights were on. It gave him a moment’s hope. The power was back on. Maybe things were not as bad as they had seemed. And then it dawned on him that a police station would have a generator for backup power. The good feeling that had sparked within him began to fade. A radio could be heard hissing static somewhere in the vicinity. It was coming from behind the counter a dozen or so steps before him that nearly ran the entire width—about twenty feet—of the room. Power, yes, but no people.

The soft sound of his tennis shoes on the hard linoleum floor echoed hollowly throughout the room as he approached the counter and laid his umbrella on top of it. On the floor behind the counter were two crumpled police uniforms. “Hello?” Thomas shouted, not really hoping for a response and not getting one. “Anybody here?” A seemingly impenetrable steel door was set into the wall to his left. He approached it and pulled on its handle. Locked. He banged on it with his fist a few times. Again, no response. Across the room was another door, this one not quite as imposing with a small window set into it. Unlocked. A room waited beyond with a number of desks and a couple rows of chairs. Papers and folders lay scattered across the tops of a few of the desks. And an empty uniform lay draped across a chair behind one of the desks. There were no people. Two more doors here led into men’s and women’s bathrooms. In the ladies room a dark blue skirt, white blouse and a pair of sandals lay in a pile on the floor. Still no people. Frustrated, Thomas grabbed the clothing and headed back outside. Obviously, there were no answers to be found here. He sighed in frustration. What now? The fire department? The hospital? The latter was closer, only a few blocks away.

Five minutes later Thomas and Dana were circling the five story hospital building, passing the emergency room before parking near its main entrance. This time Dana, now dressed in the clothes Thomas had found which seemed to fit her well enough, insisted on exploring with him so they huddled under the umbrella together until they were inside the building. Again, there was power here.
Another generator
, Thomas assumed. To the left was an information desk. To the right the entrance to a gift shop. Set into the wall straight ahead were three sets of elevator doors. Thomas walked over and pressed the button next to the middle set of doors. A few moments later there was a
ding!
and Thomas and Dana stepped through the opening doors. They took their time exploring every floor, calling out, asking if anyone was there. Empty sets of clothes were found in nearly every hallway. Most of the beds had hospital gowns laid out on or below the covers. Along the way Dana found a sink with running water which she used to cleanse herself more thoroughly of the blood still clinging in spots to her body and matting her hair.

On the fourth floor, they finally encountered another person.

“Nurse?” came the voice from one of the rooms near the end of the left wing’s hallway. It was a weak voice, a thin, dry voice. An old voice. “Anyone?”

The room was like most of the other patients’ rooms throughout the hospital. About fifteen feet on each side. White, tiled floor. A window with the blinds closed. Two chairs. A nightstand with a lamp on it next to a twin-sized, adjustable bed. On the bed lay a man who was seventy years old if he was a day. An IV tube ran from his left arm over to a plastic bag filled with some clear fluid hanging from a metal stand on wheels. The small TV up on a shelf in the corner of the room was on, its volume down low, broadcasting nothing but static. The man’s eyes were wide with either fear or concern. Thomas could understand either emotion.

“Nurse?” asked the old man again.
“They’re gone,” said Thomas as he and Dana entered the room.
“Gone?”
“How are you feeling?” asked Dana, all bedside manner.

The old man shrugged his thin shoulders. “Pretty good. Tired. Where is everybody? It’s so quiet. How could they just leave me here? This is a damned hospital.”

“We’ve come to get you out of here.”
Thomas gave her a look.
“What?” said Dana. “We just can’t leave him.”
“No, I guess not,” said Thomas with a sigh. “I’ll go look for a wheelchair.”
“You’re not taking me anywhere,” grumbled the old man. “Who the hell are you people? I want my doctor.”

Thomas left Dana as she went about the task of calming the old fellow. There were a couple of wheelchairs down at the nurse’s station in the fourth floor lobby. Two sets of nurses’ uniforms and a set of doctor’s scrubs lay discarded on the floor there. By the time Thomas got back to the room, Dana had the old guy sitting with his bony legs hanging over the edge of the bed.

“His name is Gerald,” said Dana. “He was brought in for observation. Irregular heartbeat. Says he’s fine.”

“I
am
fine.”

“His clothes are in there.” She pointed toward a closet door. Thomas grabbed a shirt, some shoes and a pair of pants for the old guy. Then he and Dana waited outside while he changed out of his hospital gown.

A few minutes later, Thomas was wheeling Gerald toward the elevator doors, Dana at his side.
“What now?” she asked.
“I guess we should check the last floor. Then we can go by the fire department. After that…” Thomas just shook his head.

They didn’t find anyone else inside the hospital. It was still raining outside when they left. Thomas pulled the car up over the curb and under the awning before the hospital’s entrance. There, he and Dana helped Gerald into the back seat. The wheelchair went into the trunk. Then they made the five minute drive over to the fire department. Nothing there but empty uniforms and a couple of trucks looking forlorn and abandoned.

When they were done there, Thomas drove around aimlessly for about half an hour. Some streets were impassable due to cars suddenly bereft of their drivers blocking the way. “What the hell,” muttered Gerald from time to time. “What’s happening here?” Thomas and Dana said nothing for a while.

The rain continued to fall—so much blood, where did it all come from?—but the thunder had stopped. They saw only a few other people as they cruised about, each of them acting rather strangely, no doubt due to their exposure to the rain. Or maybe it was the fact that they’d awoken to find their entire world so suddenly and dramatically changed. Or quite possibly they’d been deranged to begin with, who could say? There was a woman lying on her back in the grass near the side of the road, moving her arms and legs back and forth as if she was making snow angels. Another man stood near an intersection in a suit and tie bellowing incoherently through a megaphone. And yet another man stood hugging a streetlamp as if it was his anchor to the universe. They saw no children.

It was about twelve in the afternoon when they arrived back at Thomas’s house. First they’d stopped by Dana’s, confirming that her family had not returned. Gerald asked if they could go by his home to check on his cat. It was located in the next town over. “Maybe later, if the rain lets up,” said Thomas who’d suddenly had enough of driving around in that awful storm.

Once inside his house he shouted the names of his wife and children. No response. And by now, he wasn’t really expecting any. Dana went upstairs to take a shower. Thomas helped Gerald over to the couch in the living room. Then he went into the kitchen, pulled a beer out of the fridge and used it to wash down a couple of the pills he’d been carrying around in his pocket.

He stood there leaning against the counter next to the stove for a while, staring at some of the random photographs and childish drawings stuck to the refrigerator door with magnets, trying to make some sense of what was happening. There was always the possibility—and it was the most pleasing explanation—that this was all just a dream. A very strange, very bleak, and very realistic dream, to be sure. But for some reason Thomas didn’t think so. It didn’t feel like a dream at all. Everything seemed too real even considering the unexplainable phenomena that had capsized the reality he had always known.
Only currently unexplainable
, he corrected himself. Because there had to be some sort of explanation, no matter how bizarre, for what was happening. Didn’t there?

BOOK: The Hell Season
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