Lee took her time getting up that morning. It was a Sunday and she didn’t have anywhere she needed to be. She lounged in her bed and watched a couple episodes of her favorite shows on her tablet before she noticed her growling belly and made her way downstairs for some breakfast. As she stepped into the kitchen, Wrigley, Nina’s new yellow lab pup poked his head in through the doggie-door, then hopped through and bounded to his water dish, pausing just long enough to jump up on her leg for a hello pat. She patted his head, then glanced at the clock as she made for the fridge, and paused. It was 9:43 am. Strange, she thought, Nina should be up by now. She turned around and headed back up to Nina’s room, Wrigley padding along behind, and knocked on her door. There was no answer. Wrigley whined and pressed against her legs. She scooped him up and knocked again. There was still no answer.
“Nina honey, are you awake?” she called through the door. “It’s time to get up.” Again, no answer. Lee wondered how many chapters of Dragonscape she had made it through before she’d passed out from exhaustion. Lee quietly opened the door, hoping to get in a tickle to wake her, but Nina’s bed was empty, and Lee could still see the indentation where she had lain on her pillow. Wrigley whined louder and Lee stroked his back. “Silly boy, she’s just playing.” She said. Wrigley struggled so she put him down. He scrambled out the door in a hurry. Little guy must have worked up an appetite in the backyard this morning, she thought. Now to find my tricky girl. Lee planted her hands on her hips, while consciously avoiding any peeks at the mostly closed closet door, and let out an exaggerated sigh.
“I wonder where my Bean-a could be. I thought she was sleeping, but she’s not in her bed.” Lee waited for the muffled giggle confirming her suspicions about that closet. She was a bit impressed when it didn’t come. “Maybe she’s in the laundry basket!” Lee shouted, as she tossed off the lid. No Nina. No giggle either, and Lee felt just a pinch of anxiety. Maybe she was just getting better at Hide and Seek. She was definitely in the closet. “Nope? Let’s see then, I bet she’s behind her scooter.” Lee made a big show of looking behind the scooter, and her stomach tightened when no peal of giggles came ringing out of the closet in response. Lee snuck quietly over to the closet door, then swung it wide open. All she saw were some dresses, toys, and shoes. She’s hiding somewhere else in the house Lee reassured herself, then she began to check the other rooms.
Lee hollered for Nina as she checked under Nina’s bed, under her desk in the office, in the shower of the bathroom off the guest room, under the sink, and under her own bed. She checked every cupboard and every corner upstairs. No Nina, and no answer. Panic crept into the edges of her mind, panic that she couldn’t accept. She fought back with anger; Nina was here because she couldn’t be gone, therefore Nina was deliberately refusing to answer.
“Nina Marie Sheffield, this is not funny anymore! Get out here right now!” She yelled, as she slowly made her way down the stairs, her stomach tightening. Wrigley poked his head around the corner, his tail tucked between his legs. “Not you,” Lee mumbled, and absent-mindedly picked him up at the bottom of the stairs. She gave him a quick nuzzle and set him back down. “I mean it girl, if you want any privileges this week you will get your butt out here!” She yelled, as she headed into the living room.
Lee checked behind the curtains there, under the kitchen sink, and in the pantry. She looked under the pool table in the basement game room, and behind the wet bar. She checked every possible hiding place in that house, and several impossible hiding places as well.
Lee searched their yard, then locked Wrigley in the house and ran to the Simmons’ house next door. Janet and David had twin daughter’s Nina’s age, and the three had been best friends by default. Lee and Janet got pregnant within months of each other, and because they were such close friends, the girls were almost like Nina’s sisters. Their cars were both in the drive, and Lee could hear David watching Top Gun in the living room. They were home. She banged furiously on the door, competing with the roar of jet engines blaring from David’s new stereo system, but, recognizing the futility of that, she quickly ran around to the back door. From there Tom could see her from his couch. She had gone through this process enough times with David and his stereo when she came to visit Janet, that she scolded herself for even trying to knock before heading around the back. Lee made her way to the back door and peered in. There were snacks and a drink on the table, but no David. She wondered for a moment why David wouldn’t pause his video when he got up, then she glanced towards the kitchen. The refrigerator door was wide open. Suddenly it occurred to Lee that something could have happened. She checked the back door, and it slid open. Lee poked her head in.
“Hello?” She called. “Janet? Dave?” Lee realized they’d never hear her, so she hesitantly stepped inside, picked up the remote, and paused the movie. “Hello?” She called out again. “Nina’s missing, is she here with the girls?” By then Lee knew she wasn’t going to get an answer. It was a small house. Worried something have happened to her friends, and even more worried that this could explain Nina’s disappearance, Lee began searching the house. Nina had often came over to play without telling Lee, and Janet would call and let her know. What if Nina woke up early, got bored, then headed to the Simmons’ house while something bad was happening? Or right before? Lee’s voice rose and her eyes welled up. “Nina? David? Janet? Lilly? Bethany?” She cried out. “Somebody?!” She screamed.
This wasn’t right. Their cars were in the driveway. A movie was on. They had to be there, but they weren’t. They were gone, and so was Nina. Lee grabbed her phone from her pocket, furiously dialing 911 as she ran out the back door and towards the Thompson’s. The phone rang, and then an automated service came on and informed her that someone would be answering shortly.
Lee’s house and the Thompson’s house were on opposite sides of the Simmons’ house. Jeff and Lindsay had only lived there for a few months, and Lee didn’t know them well, but they seemed nice, and she ran full speed towards their back door. She was about ten feet from the door when she heard the fire alarm, and five feet away when she smelled the smoke. Good Lord, this can’t be real she thought to herself, as she raced to the door. From the door she could see smoke spilling like a grey sheet from the oven. Lee slid open the door, ran to the stove, and turned it off. She began to cough and grabbed a dish towel to hold over her mouth and nose while she searched the house. Her panic lessened a bit when she heard the shower running.
Someone forgot the food in the oven while enjoying a shower she thought. They would help her.
“Jeff? Lindsay?” She called out as she made her way towards the sound. Finally she found herself on the opposite side of the bathroom door. Lee banged and hollered, but no one answered. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, Lee repeated silently, as she eased open the door, unsure of what she’d find. The shower was empty. Lee slowly reached around the curtain and felt the water. It was ice cold. Lee’s neck started to ache, and it was only then that Lee realized she still had her phone pressed to her ear. No one had answered yet.
Lee pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it like it was some alien thing. This wasn’t the inner city. This was calm, safe, suburbia. There was no reason for 911 dispatch to take so long to answer. Nina was gone. David and Janet were gone. Jeff and Lindsay were gone. The police weren’t answering. Lee pressed end. She ran home, grabbed her keys, and jumped in her car. Whatever had happened, she could get help in town.
Lee felt a chill run up her spine as she drove; she passed a grey hatchback running in the middle of a front yard, its front fender pressed to the trunk of an oak but hardly damaged, like it had rolled for a while and was just waiting for something to stop it when it hit the tree. A little further on she saw a white utility van buried in the living room of a little blue house at the end of a cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill. Several more cars were wrecked, and a few had died on the road. Once Lee reached Main Street, she couldn’t drive anymore for all the cars smashed and piled up on the street. Lee didn’t want to consider what this meant, what all of it meant. A chill ran up her spine as she stared at the wreckage. She couldn’t resolve the image of two major pile-ups in lanes heading both directions, with the utter silence that accompanied it.
No humans, no police. No Nina. By that time, Lee had made her way over to a little creek in a wooded area to the West of the neighborhood, and she sat down on a fallen log and cried until there were no tears left. Lee stayed there for a few hours, sometimes just staring at the creek, sometimes punching trees or screaming at whatever Gods existed for doing this. Her mind was filled with memories and rage against this horror she had awoken to.
Finally, when Lee felt there was nothing left inside her, she made her way home. Wrigley must be so scared, she thought. She needed to get back to him. If she couldn’t understand what was happening, how much worse must it be for him? When Lee opened the door and saw Wrigley running full speed towards her, she started to cry. They were all that each other had left in the world. Lee scooped him up and carried him to her room. The two spent the rest of the day holed up in her room, both of them grieving and scared. Lee needed to think.
Finally, night fell and she cuddled up with Wrigley in her bed. She had never allowed him on couches or beds, always worried about the dog hair and germs, but now she realized that didn’t matter. She needed him, and he needed her. She laid there and wished she would just die, right there and then. It felt wrong that, under such circumstances, she couldn’t just will her own death. She thought that humans should have a self-destruct mode for the kind of suffering that was truly unbearable, so that without effort, they could just lay down and die. It was a beautiful dream, and tears rolled down her cheek for this longing that she couldn’t fulfill.
Lee allowed herself to wallow like that for a long time, then she heard a little whimper and noticed Wrigley was having a bad dream. How could she consider abandoning him like that? She thought. She nuzzled up closer and stroked his back until he quieted down, then she just stared up at the ceiling for what felt like hours, until the sun broke through her curtains. Lee stumbled to her feet and made her way slowly downstairs. Wrigley was already up, and popped in through the doggie door when he heard her filling his bowl.
“Good morning, Wrigley.” She said. He wagged his tail and bumped her leg in response. Lee walked over to the fridge and opened it, and realized she was almost out of food. She considered going to the store, but she didn’t want to waste the gas. She glanced out the window at all those houses, full of stuff, with no one ever coming back to them. “Why not?” She asked, looking down at Wrigley. He wrinkled his nose and sneezed, shaking his head. She laughed and decided to take that as disapproval. “Do you really think it’s a good idea for me to be wasting gas driving to town with an entire neighborhood of supplies that nobody else will ever need right here?” Lee paused. “Oh my God. One day without people and I’m already talking to the dog.” Lee shook her head. “Wanna go for a walk?” She asked.
Lee let Wrigley run around the grass, then she whistled to him, and as he bounded back towards her, she made her way across the street, to the Saunders’ house. She’d never been inside the big red brick monstrosity, and she had always been scared of James and his wife. They kept to themselves, didn’t have kids, and knew they were very into survivalist hobbies, and she assumed, ideologies.
Lee found it ironic that the people in the neighborhood who had made her feel least safe, were likely going to be responsible for her and Wrigley’s survival, if indirectly. And for the exact same reasons too. She walked slowly up the sidewalk and tried the front door. It wasn’t even closed all the way. Lee took a step back, and felt her blood turn to ice. Neither James nor Abby would have left a door open ever. They didn’t like prying eyes. Lee leaned over and threw up over the railing.
Someone had been standing right there in the door when it happened. She imagined it was Abby, hollering at James to stop messing with his truck and come inside, as Lee had seen her do a hundred times, and then poof they were gone.
Lee called for Wrigley, then she braced herself and stepped inside. Lee could faintly hear whining and barking, and it sounded like it was coming from a the back of the house. Oh no she thought, Macy! Lee had forgotten about their German shepherd. Lee quickly made her way through the dark house, and tried not to notice all the dead animals looking down at her from the walls. She felt a wave of nausea. By then, Wrigley was running towards the sound, then back at her, then back towards the sound. Lee followed Wrigley and soon found Macy crated next to the sliding back door. Lee raced over, opened the crate, then took Macy’s empty water dish and filled it up. She sat next to Macy while little Wrigley pestered her, climbing up on her, then tumbling down the other side.
Once Lee had fed and watered Macy, she looked around the adjoining kitchen for some garbage bags, then took them with her on a search of the house. Macy stayed downstairs on her doggie bed, but Wrigley trotted along beside her up the stairs.
“Creepy in here, isn’t it Wrigley?” Lee asked. “No?” She pushed open the first door on her right. “I think so.” It was an office, and Lee began to search the drawers and cabinets. She wasn’t sure she was hoping to find in there, but what she found was unexpected. In the large bottom desk drawer Lee found a box. It looked like one a handgun might be in, so she carefully lifted it out. Inside was a stack of journals. Lee’s heart raced. This was private. She felt her fingers shake as she lifted out a book. I can’t do this. She told herself. It’s wrong. She turned and quickly looked around her. It felt like James or Abby were going to walk in and catch her. Lee didn’t see Wrigley, and somehow that filled her with dread.
“Wrigley?” she called out. “Come on, Wrigley, come to mama now.” Wrigley trotted in with Macy in tow, who was looking a bit better, but still moving slow. She sat on the edge of the bed, placing Wrigley next to her, and she opened the book and began to read. After two pages, she slammed the book closed and tossed it on the bed. James had lost his brother in a hunting accident earlier that year. She remembered that, it had been on the news. What she didn’t know, that she knew now, was that James was happy he was gone. He suspected him of sleeping with Abby. I don’t need to know this shit. She thought, then she continued on through the house. She found several rifles, only one of which she took, and plenty of food, medical supplies, and outdoors gear. Lee decided to take that back to the house, leave the rest for another day, then check for more animals.
Lee made her way around the neighborhood, and one by one checked every house for animals, even the ones she was sure didn’t have any. By the end of the day, Lee had rescued 28 animals, just in her neighborhood. A few of the animals followed her back home, but most of them took off them moment they were outside.
Lee made a sandwich and headed upstairs. As she reached the top step she saw Nina’s bedroom door and she slid to the floor. No Nina. No Nina. No Nina. Her mind repeated over and over.
“Wrigley!” She yelled, her voice breaking. She couldn’t move, couldn’t get up, and the walls felt like they were closing in. Wrigley ran-fell up the stairs to her, and she scooped him up and sobbed into his fur, until he’d had enough and wriggled out. She slowly stood up, then retrieved a few things from her bedroom and headed back downstairs. In the morning she found some boards in a neighbor’s back yard and boarded up the entry to the stairs. Wrigley whined for a few days off and on, but he soon forgot about the upstairs. That life was gone. It didn’t exist. There was Lee and there was Wrigley, and the few other animals that had followed her home. Everything else never happened. When her brain revolted, she would get a bottle of whiskey and drink until yesterday was gone.