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Authors: Ray Wallace

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BOOK: The Hell Season
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He was on his second beer when Dana came into the room. Her hair was wet, hanging long and straight down over her shoulders. She was wearing a pair of black pants and a blue shirt she had picked up at her house. Over the sound of the rain tapping at the kitchen window Thomas thought he heard snoring coming from the living room.

“Gerald’s dozed off on the couch,” said Dana. “He should probably still be in the hospital. Who knows if he really is alright? And at his age… What will we do if he gets sick?”

Thomas didn’t know. Add it to the many other unanswerable questions swirling through his mind.
“Care if I get one of those?” asked Dana, motioning toward the beer in his hand.
“Help yourself.”

They stood there, not saying anything for a time, drinking their beers. The medication and the beer on an empty stomach set in on Thomas leaving him with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Certain emotions, in particular the ones he really didn’t want to deal with at the moment—the fear and the sadness, first and foremost—were muted, kept at a distance, were completely manageable for the time being. And that was just fine with him. He was adrift here. If life was a river, flowing along from the moment of one’s birth to the inevitable end, then this morning he’d entered a section of rapids and the oars he’d been using to guide his little boat had been torn from his grasp and pulled down into the depths of the waters beneath him.

He looked at Dana. She was leaning against the counter opposite him, next to the sink, the blood coated window and its square of red tinted light directly behind her, framing her shoulders and head, giving her the appearance of a portrait as she stood there. And what would this particular painting be called?
Madonna in Red
possibly. Or
When All Is Lost
. She raised the beer to her lips and he could see that her hand was shaking. Her eyes met his and held them. She blinked and a tear ran down her cheek. Now her lips were quivering.
Woman on the Edge
, he decided was a more appropriate title. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the bottle of valium.

“Here,” he said. “This will help.”

Instead of taking one of the pills she came to him, pressed her face against his shoulder and started to weep openly. “What are we going to do?” she asked, her voice muffled and choked. “Oh, Jesus, what are we going to do?”

He put an arm around her, held her like that for a long time, his thoughts going to Julia and the kids. Yeah, what the hell were they going to do? Another question with no immediate answer.

 

*

 

The rest of the day went like this:

Thomas got the portable radio from the closet in his and Julia’s bedroom, down from the shelf where he’d gotten the handgun earlier. He spent about half an hour dialing back and forth through the stations, hearing nothing but static, before he finally gave up and left the radio on the kitchen counter. He drank steadily from the twelve pack of beers in the fridge and when those were gone he started making mixed drinks out of the rum he kept in one of the kitchen cupboards and the two liter of cola in the fridge. The refrigerator’s interior was getting steadily warmer. He knew the food inside wouldn’t last more than another day or so unless the power came back on which he had a strange feeling wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. A quick inventory of the kitchen cupboards revealed that there wasn’t all that much in canned or dried food to be found there. They would have to make a food run within the next couple of days. The idea of leaving the house caused him no small amount of worry even through the altered state of consciousness he was currently experiencing.

Dana spent most of her time looking after Gerald who dozed on and off throughout the afternoon. At one point she brought him a bowl of cold canned soup which he complained about but managed to eat most of anyway. She helped him to the bathroom and after he was finished walked him back to the couch and made him as comfortable as possible. About an hour before nightfall she took a shot of vodka from another one of the bottles kept in the kitchen then grabbed the umbrella and set off through the rain toward her house. Thomas asked her not to go but she said she had to. “What if they came back?” The desperation was evident in her eyes. He watched her from the porch as she crossed the yard and walked down the street, convinced he would never see her again. But he did. She returned about an hour later, carrying a blue suitcase in the hand not holding the umbrella.

“Any sign?” asked Thomas, already knowing the answer.

She just shook her head, came in the house and set her suitcase on the dining room table. Inside were a couple changes of clothes and as much canned food as she could fit in there. It might last them another couple of days. “There’s more if we need it. About twice that.”

By nightfall Thomas was good and drunk. He sat on the recliner next to the couch where Gerald had returned to his snoring. A candle he had found burned on the coffee table.

“They’ve got to come looking,” Dana was saying from where she sat cross-legged on the floor, the light from the small flame dancing across her face. “Come see what happened. The army. Marines. National Guard. Hell, I don’t know.
Someone
.” She was halfway through a mixed drink of her own. Her words were starting to slur together. “They have to…”

Just before Thomas drifted off into unconsciousness he realized that something was missing, some sound that seemed to have always been there. However, in actuality, it was a sound that had only been there for most of one day. It’s just that it was the worst and longest day of his life. The sound of blood pattering on the roof and tapping at the windows. It had stopped. Silence had settled over the house. The storm was over.

At least for now
, thought Thomas through the fog of Valium and alcohol that had enveloped his mind.
At least for now
.

Then he slept.

And he dreamed.

He was with Julia and the kids. They were at the beach. It was a weekend. Crowded. The sun shone down out of a cloudless sky. It was a perfect, beautiful day. He was sitting on a towel watching his family play in the water. Not very far out.

“Daddy, daddy, come play with us,” Jenny shouted. She jumped about, splashing and laughing.

“In a little while,” Thomas said. Julia looked at him and smiled. She looked so beautiful in her bathing suit, the water just deep enough cover her knees. No, not far out at all. Then there was the wave, ten feet high, coming from out of nowhere. He didn’t have time to even shout a warning. The wall of water broke over his wife and children. As the water receded from the shoreline there was no trace of them whatsoever. He jumped to his feet yelling for someone to help, anyone,
please help!
Looking left and right, he turned in a full circle and realized that the beach was empty. He was alone. Completely and utterly alone. That’s when he heard the laughter, deep and gravelly, so loud that it shook the ground upon which he stood. He looked up at the sky, at the sun which now had a dark spot in its center like a pupil, meandering red lines radiating outward like capillaries. He knew he shouldn’t be looking at it, that doing so for too long would blind him. But he couldn’t look away. The laughter went on and on.

“Why?” he shouted, not even exactly sure what he was asking. “Why me?”

The great eye in the sky blinked and everything went black…

Thomas came out of sleep with a gasp, like a drowning man coming up for air. It was still dark outside. Quiet. His head was pounding. His mouth tasted like something had died in it. What a terrible dream. Standing unsteadily from the recliner where he’d dozed off, he saw the old man sleeping on the couch in the light from the candle which had burned nearly all the way down. And on the floor lay Dana, curled up on her side, hugging her knees to herself, mumbling something incoherent in her sleep. Just then Gerald started talking too, a few words coming through quite plainly: “Forsaken” followed by “What have I done?” It seemed that Thomas wasn’t the only one suffering from bad dreams.

Dana had gotten a blanket for Gerald earlier and now it was Thomas’s turn to get one for Dana. He grabbed one from the closet in the hall across from the master bedroom, stumbled back down to the living room and covered her with it. After that he went back up to the bedroom, kicked off his shoes, removed the gun from where it was still stuck down the front of his pants, set it on top of the dresser, then collapsed onto the bed next to where Julia’s nightgown lay. He pulled it to him, inhaled deeply of its scent, thought of all the good times—and the occasional not-so-good times—that they’d had over the years. A groan escaped him from somewhere deep inside. He couldn’t believe he’d lost her. And the kids. Refused to allow himself to believe it.

Tomorrow
, he promised himself.
Tomorrow I will find them
.

And once again he slept.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Tuesday, June 22

 

I’ve never considered myself a very religious person. Sure, I was raised religious. Baptist, if you must know. Northern Baptist, if there is such a term. Pennsylvania, to be more precise. Suburb of Pittsburgh to be even more exact. I went to church pretty much every Sunday from the ages of six to thirteen or so. Went away to the church’s summer camp a few times. Had fun there, at the camp, not the church so much. But then again, church isn’t meant to be fun, now is it? Not even for kids. Can’t really remember a whole lot about it now. A lot of fear of ending up in Hell. A lot of worrying about not being able to find the people I loved down here on Earth after I ended up in Heaven. A lot of praying for the things I wanted: A new bike. A pet dog. My mom to give up smoking. That kind of thing. I don’t recall exactly when or why it was that I stopped going. There just wasn’t a real need for it in my life I guess, even at a young age. I’ve always been more of a “seeing is believing” kind of person. I had really gotten into science as a youngster. I enjoyed the lab courses throughout junior and senior high, the whole hands-on approach of it. There was something really cool about seeing the laws of science come to life right there beneath your fingers. Makes me wonder at times how the hell I ended up as an accountant? Chalk it up as another one of the great mysteries of the cosmos, I suppose.

At church they had always tried to tell me that the scientists had it wrong, that evolution didn’t work the way that they said, that the Earth or the universe weren’t as old as they said they were either. I guess by thirteen I was old enough to contemplate and reach conclusions regarding such weighty issues on my own. I ended up siding with the scientists. At least they had some evidence to back up their assertions.

And then I woke up one day to find my wife and children gone, vanished into thin air. Okay, I’ll go ahead and say it: Just like it was supposed to happen when the Rapture occurred. And then the whole raining blood thing. A sign of the Apocalypse? It was enough to shake a man’s faith—or lack thereof. Even a man as heavily medicated as I was at the time. And then the events that followed, the other signs… Was my falling out with the religious teachings I had been subjected to in my youth the reason I had been left behind while my wife and children and even my dog, for Christ’s sake, had been taken? Was I being punished for that aforementioned lack of faith? Was my family up in Heaven looking down upon the trials and tribulations I was to suffer? Even though Julia herself, as far as I know, had never been much of a believer in the teachings of Christianity. And the children? Were they exempt from punishment through their innocence? Certainly I hoped so. However, I couldn’t help but wonder that if the Rapture had occurred, wouldn’t there be more of us vile sinners and unbelievers roaming about? And if it wasn’t the Rapture then just what, exactly, was happening?

 

*

 

The next morning when Thomas awoke, he wasn’t sure who he was or where he was or why he felt so awful. Then he started to remember. The booze. The pills. The thunder and the rain. The
blood
rain. Dana. Gerald. Julia. The kids…

He groaned, suddenly wishing he could forget all over again.

Someone was gently shaking him by the shoulder. He opened one of his eyes, just a slit, and instantly regretted it as the pain in his head flared. Dana was standing next to the bed, a worried expression on her face.

“Thomas, you’ve got to come see this.”

It took him nearly five minutes to climb out of bed, to make his way into the bathroom, piss, wash down a few Ibuprofen with a handful of water from the sink, rinse and dry his face, gargle with mouthwash, then head downstairs where Dana was standing in the open front doorway staring out across the yard and the street beyond. It was light out. Thomas had no idea what time it was but judging from the quality of the daylight he figured it was just past dawn. Gerald was sitting up on the couch, awake. He gave Thomas a nod as he walked by. Then Thomas was standing out on the front porch next to Dana. The smell hit him. Something rotting. He lowered his gaze to the yard, to the blood there that had coagulated as it dried then covered the ground in patches like giant scabs. Then he looked up, squinting at what Dana had wanted him to come and see.

The sky was clear overhead but in the distance there were more clouds. Black, like yesterday. But something was different about them. Their shape, the way they moved. As he watched they seemed to pull apart and come back together in strange and flowing patterns. After observing their motion for a minute or so, the patterns became almost predictable, as if there was some sort of sentience at work there. And then there was the sound they seemed to be emanating. Not thunder. Especially not the booming explosiveness of the previous day’s storm. No, this was more like a steady murmuring, high-pitched, its key gradually descending as the clouds drew rapidly closer. The murmur became a hum and eventually a muted roar which grew louder and louder as the clouds became a writhing black mass that blotted out most of the sky.

BOOK: The Hell Season
4.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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