Maple Street

January 30, 2008
By Katherine Baima, Kingston, MA

It was a bright and sunny day in Springville, the air was buzzing with excitement and the gossipy women poured out of their hair salons and homes with the eager faces of children. It was a town meeting day, and everything was polished to shine and the air quivered with the excitement of Springville's two-thousand residents. It was a small town, there was never much to do. There were nights the bowling alley would play music and dim the lights, there were dances for the high school sweethearts and, once every few months, there were town meetings. Everything was perfect in Springville that day, except for the dog.

It came stumbling down the main road, mangy, clotted fur and crazed eyes. Its yellowed mouth left a trail of thick, bubbled foam wherever the beast stumbled and its jaws snapped at the closest passers-by. The crazed animal settled in front of the town hall, parading in woozy circles near the fountain with the statues of the town's founders. A blemish in the face of the clear-skinned town, a black mark on Springville's perfect record. How would a town meeting be held with a crazed beast prowling the town, threatening the children and the garden beds?

"Someone ought to shoot it." The suggestion came from the back of the small group of onlookers that had gathered far from the dog. It was a gruff voice, one that belonged to the town's barber, Mr. Sanders. This method was debated for some time among the crowd. The town had no pound, so there was no hope of taking the beast to be caged up there, and the veterinarian was only accustomed to fixing small animal illnesses and broken bones. Eventually, a newcomer to the town, a Ms. Jenny Marlowe, volunteered to take the dog. She'd tie him up in the backyard and feed him, either the thing would die or it would get better, she figured, and she had been looking for a way to become more of a community member. That was what Springville was all about, community.

That night, the town meeting was all abuzz with the generosity of Ms. Marlowe, and not a second thought was given to the dog, then straining it's muscles against the harsh rope tied around it's neck, rubbing the skin under the patchy fur raw. The meeting ended on a cheerful note, the new mayor of the town, recently elected because of his cheerful manner and intelligence, thanking everyone for keeping Springville the perfect place to live.

Roughly two months later, things began to fall apart.

Perhaps it started with the Johnsons, whose son had been suffering a strange cough for a few weeks prior. It was rumored to have been started by the Maples, when their invalid grandmother had convulsions right on the street. But most people think it happened with the dog.

It was a cool and crisp night in Springville, a rare night where the town meeting coincided with the local high school's dance. The adults dropped their prim-and-pressed daughters off or waited for the slick-backed young men to pick the girls up before attending the majestic town hall. The meeting had ended on a spectacular note. The town had decided on opening a small gym with a pool to keep the residents exercised during the cold winters, and Ms. Marlowe had brought the dog, now sweet and homely. "Why, even the dog likes it here!" The mayor declared, letting the dog lick his face while he scrunched up his nose in boyish laughter. The next morning, the mayor was found dead.

His assistant had been running late that morning, having forgotten to set her alarm. She did not, however, forget the mayor's coffee, which she brought into his office with a smile. The coffee normally enjoyed by the mayor every morning fell to the floor, splashing over her patent heels as her scream echoed throughout the palatial building. The medical examiners noted the dead mayor's yellowed eyes, his bloated gut and the prominent veins made vivid and bulging against the skin of his neck. Yet what killed the mayor remained a mystery. That night, a second town meeting was called, a first in town history. The residents gathered together in small groups, speaking in hushed voices. While some children were left at home, most tagged along, although some were too young to fully comprehend what had happened. Although speaking in whispers, the hall was noisy with voices and the occasional bark of the former-crazed dog.

Then the mayor's assistant and a medical examiner took the podium, and an unsettling quiet set over the crowd. "We do not know what killed the-" the medical examiner began to say, his crisp suit trapping his body, causing sweat to bead on his red forehead under the bright lights and thin layer of hair covering his balding head. But he never got to finish his sentence, for at that exact moment the mayor's assistant clutched at her neck and fell to the ground, convulsing. For a moment, everything was silent, and then the crowd began to roar. The medical examiner dropped down to his knees to check the assistant's pulse, but it was no use. The hands clutching her neck had fallen to her sides, and there were sharp red lines covering her neck from her nails, only slightly hidden by the protruding red veins. Her eyes were the color of mustard.

The people of Springville weren't unintelligent. They knew that the mayor's assistant had only been a few feet from the mayor when he died. It was some disease, it was a virus, and it was in the same, suddenly too-small hall as nearly every citizen of Springville. Within a moment, the two solitary exits of the town hall were clogged with frantic, frenzied citizens attempting to escape. Hair, so delicately curled and sprayed to perfection, flew wild, jaws snapped at one another, hands and shoulders shoved one another out of the way to reach the nearest exit. That night, every family of Springville holed themselves up in their homes. The fathers kept a sharp eye on the picket fences surrounding their personal fortresses while sitting by the windows, guns in hand. If there were no guns in their households, shovels and kitchen knives would do.

The sky was alive with terror that night in Springville, terror so thick that households were silent, ears straining for any sound, any indication that a beloved neighbor was infected. And then an alarm cut through the night, and the Murray's house was ablaze with flames consuming the leaf-pattern curtains and with screams, too. Then further down the street a shot rang out, and fathers bravely left their households to see what was amiss, to protect the people they loved. Inside at the White's house, their little girl Susie's eyes clouded a murky yellow, and her mother cried as she fell to the ground. All these things are known, now.

Over the next few days, conditions worsened.

After the first week, ten families remained.

After the first month, one family was left. A mother, a father and a daughter. They had no pets, and had been hiding away in the small cellar of their small house. The screams had subsided, when the little girl risked a glance out the window she no longer saw thick black smoke. Although the authorities had been called, no knight in shining armor had come to save them. The perfectly secluded town of Springville had gone ignored, no rescue had occurred.

Shaking, the father led his family up the stairs from the basement. They were out of food and desperately needed to see the sun. After un-boarding and unlocking the thick door, the father pushed it open with a slow creak. It was a bright in Sunny day in Springville, and the dogs were starving.

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