Judgment Day: Part 17

He drove through the sprawling, suburban development where he and his friends held on to a rented rancher. The house was about a mile from the main road, sitting squarely on an acre lot. It was a sweet deal. He’d never be able to afford the rent on his own, but with three people it was a breeze. They didn’t do much along the lines of landscaping, or even mowing the lawn, but the place was still a beautiful pocket in the otherwise soulless suburbs, a development carved out of farmland 60 years ago. All around the development, all the new stuff was townhouses and apartments crowded around a six lane highway, but their old place still had a touch of post-war DC. Before subways and the absorption of the surrounding communities. Their development had been built when the area was rural. There were even a few homes, sitting on larger lots, that kept horses, though the old bridle path had been turned into a one lane road many years ago. It had been the most comfortable living arrangement he had had since leaving home and going to school. He’d miss the places more than neighbors and co-workers. Hell, on a wooded acre, there were no neighbors.

As he drove through the development, he understood just what it was that had kept him from losing his mind in the subway. It wasn’t really about the people. He’d been soured in that respect, had become cynical. The house had spoiled him, he’d become used to quiet surroundings. He’d become used to being distant from everyone but his closest associates. So what if the world died? Had he ever been a part of it, except to cash paychecks? He shopped online, moved through life alone.

The road through the development was clear – only two abandoned cars and a few bodies were visible along the side. When he reached his house, he stopped the van and studied the one-story rancher for a moment, looking at the windows for some sign of life. He didn’t pull into the driveway but, instead, onto the wet lawn, keeping the front wheels on the skirt of the road. The wooded lawn was calm and peaceful in the rain. Azizi’s little Toyota was parked in the driveway and, outwardly, there was no sign of anything unusual.

“Are they here?” Molly asked quietly.

Daryl flinched. “One car is missing.” He opened the door. “Stay here.” He handed her the little cop gun.

“Oh, like I can use this.” She put the gun on the dashboard, laying it down gingerly as if it were a bomb. “You may need it more than I.” She stared at it for a moment, then turned to him. She looked as if she was about to say something, then she shook her head.

“Just keep an eye out.” He leapt down onto the road and walked cautiously across the lawn to the house. The door was locked, the inside quiet. He dug out his keys and pushed the door open. The possibilities consuming his thoughts were dreadful. He didn’t know which would be worse – finding his friends dead, or finding them missing. Either way, he felt that any discovery he made in this house would unravel the chain that had kept him halfway calm up to this point. This was home, and his only two real friends. Would he be able to look at their corpses? To leave this place behind for good?

Outside of Azizi’s room, he had to swallow and remind himself to breathe. He pushed the bedroom door open with his boot and poked his head into the room. Empty. Martin’s room and the rec room were empty as well. He moved into his own room and sat down heavily on his bed, gazing out the picture window at the rain-swept backyard and the roiling grey clouds. What the hell had happened? He fell back on his bed and lay there for a moment, staring at the motionless ceiling fan.

No time for a breakdown. He sat up and looked at his room for what was probably the last time. CD’s lined one wall, books the other. His plants, vibrant and green against the rainy day outside the picture windows, would soon fade. His computer sat blank and silent, home to so much writing, so many thoughts, letters and emails from past loves. Lost loves. A lava lamp sat on a shelf. It had traveled with him for over a decade. A blue bottle of vodka propped on the very edge of a lower shelf, the title of Kinross’s history of the Ottoman Empire white and bold against it.

For a while, he wondered what he should take with him. What was useful now? He moved towards the computer desk, looking down at notes and aspirin bottles and knick knacks and binders and checkbooks and movie paraphernalia. He looked at the shelves, at all the books and CD’s. Countless online orders, gifts, hours spent in bookstores.

There was nothing. He backed out into the hallway, closed the door, and placed a hand on it. Goodbye, he thought. Goodbye Daryl Gillette.

He turned and walked down the hallway into the kitchen, stopping for a moment in the gloom and taking in the familiar sounds. Refrigerator, heater still on in the basement, the hum of life still busily rolling through the house. The bachelor motif was strong, though age had begun to mellow he and his friends. The house was presentable, the kitchen clean. He reached for the fridge, then froze and stared at a sheet of college-ruled paper, torn along the edges, taped to the door. It was written in Martin’s wandering scrawl. A few lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage, haunting on paper. ‘The lunatic is on the grass.’ That had meaning. They had been here, then. The creatures. Daryl didn’t need to make any jumps to understand what his friend of 15 years was telling him.

Then one word at the bottom: Sugar.

Sugarloaf Mountain. About an hour out of DC. Martin was alive.

Daryl should have felt elated but, instead, a deeper sense of dread settled upon him. He was suspicious, doubtful. Something comes along and kills everyone, but his friends and the girl who had caught his eye on the train survive. He wasn’t a firm believer in fate and coincidence. There was a sense of design to this situation, and he didn’t like that feeling at all.