Authors: Tim Curran
© 2014 by Tim Curran
All Rights Reserved.
A DarkFuse Release
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Other Books by Author
The story I’m going to tell you is about what happened after the lights went out. I’m going to tell you what happened to our beautiful green world and the people that called it home. Understand, it’s not a happy story and there is no moral. It’s not that kind of story.
We had a ranch house on Piccamore Way which was perfectly middle-American, perfectly middle-class, and perfectly dull…something we were all just fine with. Excitement is for people who haven’t seen forty. After that, you want peace, you want contentment, you want sameness. Piccamore satisfied those needs completely. There’s comfort to be had knowing that the paperboy would always toss the
in the bushes, missing the porch by a country mile. That Al Peckman would be washing and waxing his candy apple red ’67 Camaro in the driveway every Saturday morning. That Iris Phelan would always have her TV cranked up so loud that you could hear it three streets away. That Billy Kurtz would always come stumbling up the walk at six sharp each day after finishing his shift at the mill (
finishing six or seven Bud longnecks at the Bar None). That the Eblers would plant so many flowers in their front yard—daylilies and black-eyed Susans, baby blue eyes, forget-me-nots, and sweet peas—that the chromatic vibrancy would make your eyes ache. And that Ray Wetmore was even then planning another run at the county board even though he’d barely cracked a hundred votes the last time around.
That’s the sort of neighborhood we had on Piccamore.
Complacent, predictable, but very comfortable.
It was a summer sort of street with lush green oaks and white clapboard houses lined up in tidy rows. There were firecrackers on the Fourth of July and dime-a-drink Kool-Aid stands, SUVs in driveways and rollerblading kids on the sidewalks, friendly neighbors with coolers of cold beer on porches and plenty of good red meat sizzling on barbecues come evening. It was the American dream in just about every way and if now and again something dark sullied the waters of our crystal blue pond—somebody’s son got busted selling dope at the high school or somebody’s wife had an affair with her boss—we just pretended not to notice until the waters ran clear again. Because they would. They always would and we knew it.
At least, that’s what we thought.
The day in question there was some funny heat lightning on the horizon just before sunset and up and down the street people were standing in yards and on porches watching it, prophesying a good summer storm. The humidity had been high for days and this was the relief valve coming that would bleed the moisture from the air.
We had a little get-together in my backyard that I threw together kind of as a celebration on account I hadn’t had a cigarette in three months. And when you’d puffed the coffin nails since you were sixteen and were leaning towards fifty, that was a pretty damn good accomplishment. Kathy was proud of me and so was my daughter Erin, who was spending the summer in Italy on a work-study program. I was pretty proud of myself, too, so proud that I was planning on bragging about it when school started again—I taught physical science and biology at Patrick Henry High.
Things were good.
The barbecue was hot, the porterhouses an inch and a half thick, the cobs of sweet corn roasted over open flame, the jumbo shrimp grilled and liberally brushed with garlic butter, and pitchers of iced gin-and-tonics made the rounds. It was a good time. Sure, Bonnie Kurtz got drunk and too friendly, Ray Wetmore bitched about our ineffectual councilmen, and Al Peckman kept cornering me and trying to talk me into mutual funds while he blew smoke in my face from his ever-present Marlboro—giving me insane cravings and a pleasant nicotine contact buzz all at the same time. But it was all good and everyone went home that night full and drunk and happy.
When we were finally done cleaning up, it was nearly midnight.
“I think Bonnie puked in the flower bed,” I said.
Kathy sighed. “She does that every time. We have two bathrooms and she can never seem to find either one of them.”
“In her condition? Hell, she would never have found the door.”
Kathy sat on the sofa by me. “Al grabbed my ass.”
I giggled. “You have a very fine ass. You can’t blame him. I couldn’t come to your rescue because I was fending off Bonnie. She got a rose tattooed on her tit and she kept trying to show it to me.”
“She kept trying to show it to
“She’s very proud of her charms.”
Kathy sighed again. “It’s amazing what a pound of well-placed silicone will do for a woman’s self-esteem.”
We chatted a bit and Kathy went off to bed. I stayed on the sofa and watched a repeat of the Pirates pounding the Braves on ESPN. Somewhere during the process, I drifted off. I slept the deep, oblivious slumber that too much sun and too much good booze and rich food will give you. I’m not sure how long I was out. Maybe two hours, if that.
I woke to strobe lights.
At least, that’s what it looked like. I opened my eyes and shut them right away because the world was chaotic out there as the storm descended on us. Rain was lashing the house and thunder was booming, wind making the trees creak and groan out in the front yard. It was the strobing lightning that forced my eyes shut. It was too much. Especially after all the drinking I had done. I knew I had to get up and shut windows. It was part of being a responsible home owner, but God, I felt like death. My body felt heavy like rocks were piled on top of me, my stomach rolling over, and my head pounding with the obligatory hangover headache.
Finally, I sat up and only felt worse.
The lightning was still flashing out there. It was weird. In most storms you get a flash now and again followed by a booming, but this was nonstop rapid fire. It was like a thousand flashbulbs were going off at the same time with barely a break in between. The timer had shut the TV off and the living room was black…save for the flashing that seemed to come in sporadic patterns: it would flash constantly for two or three minutes, then it was gone for a time before starting up again. There was something funny about that and I knew it, but I was too hungover to contemplate it.
I stumbled around and checked windows and they were all shut. That meant Kathy, ever resourceful, had beaten me to the punch as she usually did. She probably crept around and shut them while I was sleeping. I went upstairs and crawled into bed next to her, waiting for the next barrage.
“You awake?” I said.
“Kathy, you awake?”
Still no answer. It was a game we had played for years. She would pretend to be asleep and I would wake her by whispering her name constantly and if that didn’t work, I’d grab her by the leg and she’d yelp. “Kathy?” I said. “You awake? Kathy? Kathy? Kathy? Hey, Kathy, you awake?” I’m not sure what it was, but I felt a strange sort of panic rising up inside me. It was very dark and I couldn’t see her, but some latent sixth sense (I don’t know what else to call it) told me she wasn’t there. We all have it at times. I had it then. She wasn’t in bed and I knew she wasn’t in bed the same way you can walk into a house and know for certain that nobody is home. There’s a certain something in the atmosphere, I guess.
I reached out and her side of the bed was empty.
At that moment, the lightning started flashing again and I saw very clearly that I was alone in the room. The thunder rumbled and the wind blew and the house shook.
And Kathy was gone.
I was in panic mode and I really didn’t know why.
There could have been any number of logical explanations. She was in the bathroom. She was in the kitchen or dining room downstairs—I hadn’t checked the windows in either—or when I came upstairs, she was down in the basement closing windows. All perfectly reasonable scenarios. Only, I wasn’t buying any of them. I had the worst sort of warning signals coming up from the pit of my being and I couldn’t deny the message they were sending. I wasn’t a panicky sort, but you wouldn’t have known it at that moment.
I climbed out of bed…no, I
out of bed. I went over near the door and bumped into the dresser, fumbling for the light switch. I clicked it on. I don’t know what I expected to see. The room was empty. I could see where Kathy had slept, the covers thrown back, but that was all. There was nothing else…yet, I kept staring as if there was some clue I was missing.
I went back downstairs, turning on lights as I went. That bugged the hell out of Kathy. She was very frugal by nature and the idea of me wasting electricity unnecessarily drove her nuts.
Why is it you leave a trail of lights in your wake wherever you go?
she’d say. The memory made me smile but it didn’t last long. I was turning on lights now not because I was a lazy, irresponsible slob or to bug her, but because I was very uneasy. I’m not going to say I was scared at that point, but it was coming. Oh yes.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, clicking on the living room and hall lights, I called out, “Kathy? Kathy? Dammit, girl, where the heck are you?”
Although my imagination was more than a little overheated and I was conjuring up images of any number of horrors that might have befallen my wife, my own common sense was overruling these things in favor of much more prosaic but no less horrible possibilities: Kathy had hit her head, she’d had a stroke, a heart attack, an embolism had blown in her head. The latter had happened to my cousin Shelli the day after she turned thirty so it was always in the back of my mind.
I called Kathy’s name a few more times and then I went down the basement steps, turning on more lights. “Kath?” I called out. “You down here?” I got no answer and I knew she wasn’t there, but I wouldn’t rest until I checked every inch of the place just in case she was on the floor. I had no real reason to fear that she had had a stroke or a heart attack or something. She was thin like her whole family, unlike mine, which was prone to fat. She walked like three miles every day and ate healthy. Still…shit happens. My aunt Eileen dropped dead from a heart attack when she was a month shy of her fortieth birthday. She ran two miles every day, hit the gym four times a week, and maintained a very strict low-fat diet. It happens. My uncle Rich had so far outlived her by twenty years, a guy with a round sack of a belly who smoked two packs a day, killed a six-pack every night, and went through more red meat in a day than most did in a week. Guys like him confuse the hell out of the AMA, but sometimes it’s just heredity. You’ll live a long life if you’re supposed to live a long life. If people die young in your family, you probably will, too.
Anyway, that’s the kind of crap that was going through my head as I looked for Kathy. She wasn’t in the basement so I climbed back up the stairs and checked the dining room. And it was as I did so that I heard a banging sound that had nothing to do with the storm.
It was coming from the kitchen.
As soon as I got in there, I smelled the rain. Which wasn’t too surprising because the back door was wide open, the screen door caught in the wind and slamming against the outside wall. The little pneumatic closer was torn free of its bracket. I turned on the light, just standing there trying to make sense of things. I could understand the screen door getting yanked open by the wind, but not the inside door. No, it was open because
had left it open. Kathy must have come in here last to shut the windows and then she had gone outside.
I stood in the doorway, rain pelting my face, and called her name.
There was no reply and I can’t say that I would have heard one anyway with the racket of the storm. The lightning flashed and I had to squint against its brilliance as the wind tried to pull me out into the night. I knew I was going to have to go out there. I got a flashlight from the junk drawer and threw on a coat and some work boots.
I had just gotten to the door when I saw something move.
I caught it out of the corner of my eye—something serpentine and glistening. It moved quickly, snaking away into the bushes. I hadn’t seen it very well in the dark, but it sure as hell had looked like a very big snake. I froze there in the doorway. We don’t have big snakes in town. Out in the country, you might see a large rat snake or two from time to time, but not in town. Never anything more than a garter snake in a vacant lot. And what I had seen was no garter snake…I only caught a glimpse of it, but whatever it was, it was bigger around than my arm and black, oily black.
I was sure I had seen it.
But as I stood there, panning about with the flashlight, there was nothing at all. I called out for Kathy a few more times, then went out into the storm, telling myself I had not just seen a huge snake.
Then the lights went out.