It Happened in the Night Ch. 01-02byloganforester©
When he received no answer, he thrust open the bedroom door and peered inside. They were in bed still, blankets around their midsection. "Rita! Ted! Wake up!"
They remained still. Walking closer, he reached out and touched his neighbors back. It felt just like his wife's did. He touched her as well, with the same result. Fear bubbled up inside Brian unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It took mere seconds to run through the kitchen, leap down the stairs and fling open the kid's bedroom door. All three children were in their beds sleeping peacefully. Or so it looked. Brian crept closer and found out they were not just asleep.
The realization finally dawned on him that his kids were still asleep. Or were they. Racing like the devil was chasing him Brian blasted through the front door and across the yard to his house. Hope still clung to him, ever so gently that they could be awake when he got there. The house was quiet, too quiet. Racing to Matt's room first, he opened the door slowly, not wanting to panic him if he was alive.
The room had an eerie chill as he crept ever closer to the bed. He could see a little figure asleep under the covers. Or was he dead. That's what his brain was screaming at him. Dead. His lips couldn't even form the words in connection with his son. The one that every person said looked exactly like him. Karen always joked that he was his father's clone.
Tears streamed down his face as he walked over to the bed and pulled the covers back. One look at his son's innocent face confirmed his suspicions. Brian reached out, touched his cheek and felt a bitter chill reverberate through his fingertips. Utter revulsion built up inside him. His stomach churned and lurched sending vomit coursing up through his throat. He managed to choke it back, as he collapsed on the bed next to his son amidst a pile of stuffed animals.
All sense of balance seemed to drift away as he lay on his back next to his dead son. Yes, he was dead. That thought finally broke through Brian's clouded brain and hit home like a sledgehammer, as the room seemed to close in on him. His head turned to look at his son's face, so peaceful it seemed.
Memories flooded his brain like a series of waves. The smell of candles wafted through his nostrils as he remembered his birthday party just two days earlier. Matt had been so excited. His face was beaming as he handed his dad his birthday card. Inside the card was a little homemade pendant made of string with a bright blue crystal looped through it. Matt had picked the kit out and made it himself.
Brian pictured the soccer field where Matt had just started playing that summer. This coming weekend was supposed to be their year-end party and tournament. His son loved soccer and playing with his friends all dressed up in his little uniform. Matt was a good player too. He was one of the team's best players and had already scored six goals this year. Brian hadn't missed a single game. How could he and disappoint his son. No matter the long hours he worked, his family was still his top priority.
The world was closing in on Brian. His brain was swirling in a mist of memories. "Cow", he could distinctly hear a babies voice whispering. That had been Matt's first word when he was ten months old. One of the most important times in a parent's life is when they hear their child speak for the first time. Even if they can barely make out the word, it sounds like music to the ears.
His thoughts drifted even further back to the day Matt was born. In his mind, he could see himself standing in the operating room with his wife heavily sedated lying on the bed in front of him, with doctors and nurses everywhere it had seemed at the time. The surgeons were working to free Matt from her womb as he gripped her hand and tears streamed down her face. She was so vibrant and full of life, so unlike she would ever be again.
He heard his son's first cry as the doctors pulled him out. From his vantage point, Brian could see him clearly as they worked to disconnect the cord. He had noticed it even before the nurses told them. It was a little boy. Matt came into the world kicking and screaming and went out of it in his sleep.
The hardest memory for Brian to handle was the first time he held his son in his arms in the hospital recovery room. Karen was still getting stitched up and the nurse gave Matt to him. Brian had never had an interest in babies before and not much experience in holding them. That changes when it's your child. He carefully held him against his chest and rocked him, not for the last time.
Brian's trip down memory lane seemed to last forever, if only a few minutes in real time. Life seemed to slow to a crawl as he held his son in his arms, like when he was a baby. It suddenly occurred to him that there was one room he hadn't been to yet. Josh was usually awake by now and since there were no sounds it was a foregone conclusion that he was dead, too.
Brian seemed resigned to his fate but decided to check to make sure he was right. Laying Matt back down on the bed carefully, he left the room and walked down the hallway to the closed door. Rain was intensifying outside. The bedroom door opened with a squeak though nothing but silence came from inside the room. A sheet slung over the window blocked out any light so the room remained very dark.
"Josh, are you awake?" he whimpered, allowing only the slightest amount of hope to remain in his heart. There was no response. He reached into the crib with trembling hands and lifted the blanket off. No movement. Reaching under his arms, he picked Josh up and held him. The chill of lifeless flesh pressed against his hands and chest. Brian wrapped him in a bear hug and fell to the floor rocking him back and forth.
What a waste, he thought to himself. Images of the three weeks the family had spent in the children's hospital while Josh had his open-heart surgery flooded back to him. To go through all that, just to have him die in his sleep like this seemed senseless to Brian. He had thought seeing his son hooked up to all those machines was the worst that a parent could possibly feel. How wrong he was. That heart-wrenching torture was nothing compared to the bitter anguish that was consuming his soul now.
As he sat on the floor holding his son's lifeless body, it occurred to him how close to losing his mind he was. That thin line between sanity and insanity was one that he couldn't afford to cross. Somehow, he found the strength to stand up and place his son back into his crib. He took the blanket and covered him up again as if he was sleeping still. His mind was painfully aware he wasn't.
He had to get away. Brian walked out of the room closing the door as he went. The doors slammed shut to remove reminders of what had happened. As he entered the kitchen, the next phase of his grief struck him.
The crimson veil of anger descended over him, wrapping him in its destructive nature. "Why the hell did this happen to me?" he shouted, as if anyone was alive to hear him. He grabbed a tall glass off the counter and hurled it full force against the wall. It exploded leaving an indentation in the drywall. Shards of glass flew across the room but Brian didn't seem to notice or care.
Brian's greatest fear had materialized. He was alone. Everyone he knew was likely dead. Alone. It tore through his brain like a raging forest fire pent on destruction. Anger gave way to fear. What was he going to do? Until now, the reality of living in a world with no other people had escaped him. How was he going to survive in a world alone without any electricity?
The rational business side of his mind suggested it would be a good idea to survey the town to see if there were any other survivors. That hope was enough to get him moving again. He decided to check on everyone again. No change. Emotionally exhausted, he tied his running shoes, threw his raincoat on and headed out in the rain. By habit, he turned and locked the door behind him.
The breeze seemed unnaturally cool. Thoughts ran through Brian's mind until he had a plan of attack. He realized he was going to need supplies for survival. Food and water would be easy to come by. He was more concerned about keeping the darkness at bay. The local hardware store would have lots of candles, lighters, lanterns and flashlights. Not to mention many other items that could be useful.
It just so happened that the owner of the store was their neighbor that lived behind them. They had two children who played with his kids from time to time. Brian decided to go to their house first and see if any of them were alive still. If not, they would have the keys to the store in the house somewhere. After that, he could take his van to the store and hopefully see other survivors.
The hill that separated the front from the back of his house was very steep. They had not yet created a path to connect them, so he had to walk down the hill of grass which could be very slippery in the rain. After descending the hill, he walked past the fire pit in his backyard. It had been the scene for many gatherings of not just his family, but with the entire neighborhood. They would light fires in the nighttime and cook hotdogs and roast marshmallows, while all the kids played between their yards. The adults would even sometimes engage in telling ghost stories over the fire after the kids were in bed. It was even more fun after a few drinks. Or more than a few drinks.
That sudden thought made his body long for the panacea that alcohol would provide. He banished the thought quickly. The rule in his mind had always been if he thought he needed a drink instead of just wanting one, he couldn't have it. Using liquor to placate other problems was a slippery slope.
The house ahead appeared desolate. As he approached, he could hear the sound of a little dog barking. "Sparky, he thought". Sparky was their Yorkshire terrier. It was nice to hear someone else alive, even if it was just a dog. Sparky greeted Brian as he opened the door and stepped inside. He barked a bit, and then wagged his tail as he recognized Brian.
The dog seemed nervous as he pranced around the kitchen. Brian picked him up to pet the top of his head. When Brian put him back down, Sparky raced to the bottom of the stairs and began barking again. Brian quickly realized that the dog wanted him to follow. How strange the day was when he considered following the dog through a dark house was a good idea.
The farther he walked away from the sliding door that he entered the house from, the harder it became to see. From the bottom of the stairs, he could tell that it would be pitch black at the top. Brian went into the kitchen, found a small red flashlight and returned to Sparky. They continued up the steps following the beam of the flashlight. Brian had never seen the upstairs of the house and was not sure where the bedrooms were. Sparky didn't have any indecision as he led the way.
Sparky led him to an open doorway. Peering inside with the light revealed it as the master bedroom. Brian stepped inside and shone the flickering beam towards the bed where he could see two people laying under the covers. Upon closer inspection, he was sure it was his neighbors and they weren't moving either. No response came when he called their names. Just then, Sparky began to bark very loudly and assumed a defensive posture towards the bed.
"Sparky calm down," Brian scolded, as the dog became increasingly hostile. Brian didn't know what to make of his reaction since Sparky was always a good dog and very friendly with people. He moved closer to the bed and noticed they looked just like his family did. The room was rather large and very well organized. Nothing appeared out of place.
On the bedside table was a set of keys. Brian noticed a key marked "store" as he picked them up and flipped through them. He slipped them into his pocket and turned to leave. Sparky's frantic barking suddenly stopped and the dog ran out of the room. Turning towards the bed, Brian noticed something was different. Or thought he did. He was positive that they were facing each other before. Now the husband was facing towards him, with eyes closed.
Brian backed towards the open door, not wanting to take his eyes away from the bed. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. In the hallway, he found Sparky curled up outside the door with his head down. The dog seemed frightened to Brian. "Sparky, come on. Let's go outside."
Sparky raised his head to look but wouldn't move. After numerous attempts to get him to come, Brian relented and went downstairs alone. He could really use some company he thought, but apparently, Sparky was loyal to his masters even in death.
It was the least he could do; Brian thought as he filled up Sparky's food dish and carried it up the stairs. When he reached the top and looked towards the bedroom, he realized Sparky wasn't sitting outside the room anymore. The house was eerily quiet. Then he heard a very soft sound that most people without his extra sensitive hearing may have missed. It caused him to set the dog dish down where he was, run down the stairs and out of the house through the sliding doors without looking back until he was well within his own backyard. When he looked back at the house, he thought he noticed the curtains in the master bedroom swaying ever so slightly.
His entire body shuddered as he marched back up the hill. Determination kept him moving ahead. What could it have been? It must have been his imagination. They were clearly dead. All of them were. Nobody else was in the house, although he hadn't checked the kid's rooms. Maybe they were still alive. Something deep inside his mind told him otherwise.
The rain had stopped while he was inside the house and the sun was threatening to come out. Brian clambered into the van and peeled out of their driveway. There was no activity at all on the short drive to the hardware store. It was located on the main street of a busy highway. No cars were on the road and the sidewalks were also bare. The town appeared deserted. He found the ghostlike appearance of the town very disturbing. His hand ran through his hair in a nervous gesture as he drove.
The store was like any other small town hardware store with the usual collection of lawnmowers and bicycles peering through the showroom window. Brian used the keys with trembling hands and swung the storeroom door open. A large can of paint sitting to the side became a prop to hold the door open. The large display windows kept the store from being overly dark, even near the back. Brian crept around collecting items that he thought would be useful. His mind was very much preoccupied with this task. He tried to push the terror that welled up inside him to the back of his mind, with limited success.
Brian's first stop was to where the flashlights were. Finding the biggest one he could, he opened a pack of batteries and shone the light around the room. His head was on a constant swivel, looking for any sign of life. There was a list of items in his mind that he wanted to take, but the atmosphere in the store was distracting. He couldn't concentrate. "Get a hold of yourself Brian. There's nobody here," he muttered to himself, unconvinced.
Tentatively, he started making trips between the van and the store hauling anything he thought he could use. Oil lanterns, flashlights, candles, a couple shovels, propane tanks for his bbq and even a hunting pistol with ammo found its way into the van. Learning how to fire a gun wasn't something that Brian had ever wanted to know. His mind was quickly changing.
The entire trip lasted a short time and went without incident. Brian was more disturbed by the eerie silence than anything else. It was very distracting when he would make noise he always subconsciously thought he should try to be more quiet. As if there was anything around to hear him.
Brian closed up the van and locked it. He thought walking around the main area and checking all the buildings for signs of life would be a good idea. There must be someone else in town alive. Crossing the main intersection in one direction brought him to a small restaurant with big windows that showed the entire dining room as empty.
Across the main street on the other corner was a furniture store with large bay windows. The owners were customers of Brian's business. He peered through the window for any sign of movement. Nothing. On the other corner was a bar that his family visited every once in a while. It was a century old building with no windows from the street side. Brian walked up the steps to the building and then backed away. After the experience in his neighbor's house, this building was the scariest place possible to be alone in the dark. The entire time he was walking around, he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. It felt like eyes were burrowing into him from the darkness inside the buildings.
Shaking that thought away, he hurried back across the deserted street and into the van for the trip to the outskirts of town where the grocery store was. The drive was lonely and uninterrupted. Seeing the highway stretch out of site beyond town made Brian want to just keep on driving far away from the anguish that lay in wait at home. But he couldn't. The ties that bound his heart were too strong to break. He couldn't bear to leave his family even though they were dead. His thoughts went to Sparky and he now understood why he lay outside the door even though he was terrified and knew something was wrong. Brian's conscience wouldn't allow him to go just yet.
Fresh tears graced his cheeks as he turned into the parking lot and parked in front of the sliding glass doors. His was the only vehicle on the property.
It occurred to him for the first time that he didn't have a key for this place. Staring him in the face were the choices of committing a crime for the first time or walking away with nothing. Agonizing as it was, he wasn't prepared to leave empty handed. He returned with a shovel and smashed it through the store window with a crash. Broken glass flew everywhere.
The feeling of guilt was immediate but he managed to suppress it and walk into the store grabbing a cart as he went. He dreaded going around the dimly lit store by himself in the dark but had little choice. The store was soundless as he strode around using the flashlight to illuminate his path. Canned goods were his focus for the trip along with some perishables he could consumed right away. First stop was the checkout area to grab some plastic bags.
His head throbbed with a headache that ran along his temples. Luckily, the store also had a pharmacy area where he could get some aspirin. He passed by the train table the store kept for the kids to play while parents shopped. Matt used to go to that area every time they took him shopping. Brian's head pulsated worse as he tried to block out the memories of his dead family, but they came pouring through.
He made his way through the aisles, always looking around to make sure that there was still nobody around. After he filled the first cart, he set it out by the van and proceeded to fill another. Brian didn't know how long he was going to have to survive with this food and was uncertain whether the store would be of any value after today. With the door smashed in, you could guarantee Mother Nature would be moving in.
The store continued to be empty. It was a metaphor for the entire town. Nobody traveling down the highway would ever guess that the day before the road was full of cars and pedestrians lined the sidewalks. Oh, how quickly things changed. A sign for the liquor store caught his attention as Brian loaded the van. That same temptation for a drink returned and this time his will power wasn't strong enough.