Children of Destruction – Chapter 2 January 31, 2011Posted by Al Philipson in Eighth Day Chapters.
Wednesday 2:00 am Pacific Time
“Flight 423 heavy, descending to 500 feet. On approach.”
“Flight 423, you are clear to land runway twenty-five R.”
“Roger tower. Turning to …”
“Jesus Christ!” Dr. Herman Proust, PhD yelled as the passenger next to him suddenly disappeared, leaving only his clothing, which settled into a disorderly pile. Frantically, he looked around the cabin of the airplane. All of the seats seemed to be empty.
Dr. Proust unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up, but could see no one. Those seats he could see had clothing in them, but no passengers or members of the flight crew.
The plane’s port wing suddenly dipped, almost dumping him back into his seat. “Holy shit!”
He looked out his portside window and saw the airport runways where they didn’t belong.
Dr. Proust screamed, hysterically, and wet his pants as the Boeing 747 continued its descent and crashed, in a pyre of flaming jet fuel, into the middle of a shopping mall — one mile from the runway.
* * * * *
Jack leered at the pretty girl he’d picked up at the bar, and handed her into his car. He hurried around to the other side and slid behind the wheel as she moved closer and cuddled up to him.
He thought about seat belts, but decided he’d rather not disturb her mood — or his. The well tuned engine turned over on the first try, and he pulled smoothly away from the curb, then accelerated down the street — missed the turn at the end of the road, and crashed into a hardware store. Except for their clothes and a bit of ash, the car was empty.
* * * * *
Paul’s electrician lounged at his station as the 47-car freight train slid through Junction City. Paul dutifully sounded the horn at each crossing, interrupting George’s tall tale of his latest fishing trip.
As the train cleared the last crossing, Paul’s clothes collapsed over his seat, as did George’s. The dead man switch engaged and the train ground to a halt.
* * * * *
In Portland, Maine, ten suddenly empty automobiles on their way to work collided in a major intersection.
Wednesday 7:00 am Pacific Time
Buck hit the light at Division just right, cruised into the intersection, and turned his dark blue Nissan south, toward downtown Spokane. With no traffic in front of him, he was able to travel at the legal limit. The weather was unseasonably warm, so he rolled his window down to enjoy the fresh air.
He checked the rearview mirror, and with no traffic behind him, turned on his signal and moved into the right lane.
Friends who rode with him often remarked that he signaled even when no one was around to see it. Buck contended that he would rather overdo it than be one of the idiots who never signaled. In fact, he’d almost gotten into a fight with one fellow who overheard him shout, “Nice signal moron!” when that driver failed to signal a lane change. Stephanie had stopped that fight by stubbornly insisting that Buck keep on driving, rather than accept the driver’s invitation to pull over and settle it.
“Well he was a moron,” Buck mused half aloud as he thought back on the incident, “and a jerk.” His sour mood after the incident had almost spoiled their date.
By regulating his speed, he was able to hit each light while it was still green. This was the easiest commute he’d ever had. It was almost like a Saturday morning, except that there would be at least a few other cars on the road. The traffic lights worked normally, but no other cars were traveling the street.
That jolted him out of his semi-trance. He checked his watch. The indicator along the top was under the “W” for Wednesday. Traffic should be heavy. Even if it were a holiday, there would be some traffic — and it was definitely not a holiday.
Buck turned on the car’s radio, evoking only a carrier hum on his favorite station. He searched up and down the dial. There were more carriers, but no programs.
What was going on? This didn’t feel right at all. Something was very wrong. Bile soured his mouth and flowed past a tongue suddenly made of cotton.
A nuclear attack on its way? Surely Civil Defense would broadcast instructions. An air raid siren should blare out the warning. But all was still.
Now, the quiet streets mocked him. His palms began to sweat, which made the steering wheel slippery. He sped up a bit, driving a few miles above the speed limit. This put him out of sync with the traffic lights, and he had to stop for a red one.
He looked down both side streets. No traffic. The roads should have been full of impatient drivers on their way to work. A check in his rear view mirror confirmed that Division was still devoid of traffic. The silence was no longer peaceful.
Empty streets now looked ominous. Did hostile eyes watch from the darkened windows of the closed businesses that lined the arterial?
Everything is wrong, his mind screamed at him.
Then he did something he would never have done until today. He accelerated through the red light, his trembling hands locked on the wheel.
Detractors had teased him as “unimaginative” and “stodgy”, but he certainly didn’t have any trouble with his imagination now. His mind leaped from one horrendous possibility to another.
Ignoring red lights, he sped towards the downtown area in top gear. The high whine of his engine’s exhaust echoed off the silent storefronts.
Buck plunged the car into a corner where the street doglegged towards the business district. He braked hard, double clutched to downshifted into third, and fought the car into the corner. As he accelerated out of the turn, a stalled pickup loomed directly in front of him.
The Nissan’s tires screamed in protest as his brakes locked up. It hit with barely enough force to send the other vehicle rolling forward.
Agitated, but uninjured, he stared at the truck as it rolled to a stop a few feet away.
He climbed out of his car on rubbery legs and examined the front of his car. It was only slightly damaged, so he walked to the truck to exchange insurance information with the driver. It was an older truck with faded red paint. Rust showed in many places, especially in the cluttered truck bed. A worn bumper sticker instructed, “Honk if you Love Peace and Quiet”.
There was no driver.
On the front seat was a pile of clothes. Two shoes with socks were on the floorboards. Gray dust littered the clothes, shoes, the seat, and was scattered over the dirt on the floorboards. But the driver was absent.
Strange, the logical part of his mind thought. The little animal part of his mind that jumped at strange sounds and turned nighttime shadows into monsters, retreated into a corner and cowered. His bowels threatened to disgrace him.
He left his business card on the pickup’s dash, took down its license number after scraping away some of the dirt on the plate, and crept downtown at a more sedate pace.
He saw a couple more cars in the street. One had crashed into a light post, the other into a parked car. Not a soul was in sight. The silence was eerie.
Since his office was near a major hospital, he stopped there to search for signs of life. This particular hospital had a fallout shelter in the basement. If it were an enemy attack, the hospital staff and patients would be there.
No one was at the information desk, but a nurse’s uniform, shoes, stockings, undergarments, and a pile of dust lay in the first hall he strode through. The antiseptic smell typical of all hospitals hinted that all was normal.
The little animal portion of his mind howled in fear. Sweat blurred his vision and soaked his collar. The underarms of his fresh shirt felt sticky.
The basement area, normally given over to offices and physical plant, was deserted. All shelter supplies were there and undisturbed. Most of the lights were still off as if it were still night.
He rushed back to the lobby, grabbed the desk phone, and dialed “9”, followed by his firm’s phone number. Surely Ruby is in. Four rings got him the firm’s recorded message, but no human.
He dialed “911”. The phone rang 10 times. “Answer the damned phone,” he yelled into the mouthpiece. He finally hung up.
“Maybe it’s just Spokane.” He grabbed his cell phone and tried the phone of a Portland, Oregon business he had done consulting work for, then another in Seattle, but got no answer at either location.
Panic threatened to overwhelm him. The animal inside wedged itself more tightly into its corner and gibbered insanely. Doggedly, he fought off the instinct to run — and run — and run.
The trip to his office required only two minutes. It took three tries to fumble his key into the lock.
The reception desk was empty, with no indication that Ruby had come in yet. No coat, no purse. The desk and reception area was as immaculate as she always left it in the evening. All the magazines were put precisely where she always placed them when she tidied up. He’d always liked the image the reception area gave of the firm. It fitted his sense of neatness and order.
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York all failed to answer. Vancouver, B.C. switched him to their answering machine.
He called his sister’s home phone in Colorado Springs. After four rings, she picked up the phone. “Hello”.
The sound of her voice almost made him pass out. “Hello, Dix, I’m sure …”
“You’ve reached the Turner residence,” Dixie’s voice continued. “We’re not able to answer the phone right now. You know the drill.”
Buck almost cried aloud. A tear trickled down his left cheek. After the beep he restrained himself to an almost normal tone of voice. “Dix, this is Buck. Please call me at home, or work as soon as you get this message. If I’m not in, please, please, please leave a message. Try my cell phone. Everything is strange here and I need to know that you and Jim are okay.”
He tried all the phone numbers he had for his two brothers. Dixie’s work phone was equally unproductive. He left similar messages on their answering services.
Tears mixed with sweat dripped off his chin and stained his tie.
What had happened? What caused this calamity that left bodies a pile of dust in their clothes? Why everyone else and not him?
Bill and Jan had talked to him yesterday. They planned a vacation in two weeks, but should be home — no answer. Calling Stephanie’s phone at home and at work produced the same results. He tried the numbers of the 2 other girls he was currently dating and got nowhere. He left messages at all the numbers that had machines or service.
Buck ripped the Spokane phone book out of his bookshelf and dialed numbers at random. Surely someone would answer — but no one did. He did hear some very creative answering machine messages. Then he flipped to the business listings and dialed every tenth number. No one answered.
“Right now, I’d give anything just to hear the boss complain,” he cried.
Dumbly, he sat down at his desk and stared through tears at his desk calendar. He turned the page to today’s date and reached for the power bar switch that would start his computer. He glared at his hand, the index finger poised on the switch. Why am I doing this? he wondered. His hand fell into his lap.
Would the Internet have anything? He flipped the switch on his power bar and fidgeted while the computer went through its boot-up process and connected itself to the office network. Once on the Internet, he switched to the Drudge Report. It was all yesterday’s news. All of the other news sources he’d bookmarked were in the same condition. Even the latest bulletins, all time stamped very early in the morning, gave no clue as to what was happening.
He had several e-mail items, but they were all from late yesterday; an e-zine that he subscribed to, an offer to surf a site with “hot” women on it, and two other items that were clearly SPAM.
“Maybe the airlines.” He grabbed the phone book and frantically turned to the yellow page listings. Northwest, no answer. He called Delta and listened to it ring for what seemed like hours. Southwest, American, and Alaska produced the same results.
“There has to be someone!” he almost screamed. He called Federal Express. Fedex always answered on or before the first ring. Not this time.
He stared at the phone book for a while, his mind in a fog, then dumped it into his trashcan. Buck went to Ruby’s desk and found the master list of all the firm’s clients throughout the world. It took him over an hour to try all the numbers on the list. When he was done, he threw the list into the trashcan along with the Spokane phone book.
He stared at nothing for a while, then got up and walked mechanically to the break room to start the morning coffee. There was an unwritten rule in the office: First one in makes the coffee. He didn’t want any coffee himself, but the next person to arrive would be miffed if he failed in this duty.
The smell of the fresh coffee grounds soothed his mind a bit. After he got the pot going, he wandered to the water fountain, took a drink, meandered back to his desk, and sat down, still in a daze.
The darkness that had started in his bowels rose up through his stomach, past his heart, and spilled through his eyes in a renewed waterfall of tears. He bent his head into his arms and wept out his grief. He hadn’t cried like this since his parents died in an auto accident five years ago, 10 days before his 27th birthday.
It seemed like hours, but it was only minutes later, when his tears subsided. He wiped his eyes on a tissue from his desk drawer, and then loudly blew his nose with another. The little animal portion of his mind stopped gibbering and settled down to a constant whimper. Buck sat and stared at nothing.
An hour later, he did what any sensible man would do under the same circumstances. He turned off the coffee, drove home, and went back to bed.