Panic in Traverse

January 26, 2008
By Alexander Rupp, Burlington, WI

“Seems the wind has picked up some,” said Danny Web, staring out spot plotted window as the old oak tree began to sway to and fro. This wind was different than any other he had ever witnessed. It seemed that with each new gust the sky would grow darker and darker; the sky, at eleven in the morning, began to look like night.

From the kitchen, Khala, his wife of seven years called, “Well that man on the news never said a thing about a rain storm blowing in.”

“This is no rain storm,” he muttered under his breath.

All around the neighborhood he could see the friends he had grown up with in a slight alarm. From the front room window Mr. Web could see the entirety of Rosewood Avenue; there was Mrs. Green snatching her kids away from their play toys and ushering them into the house; towards the end of the street, Mr. Waters was calling out to Stephen, his eighteen-year-old Polish Sheepdog; at the very end on the right side, a 1957 Buick Century Convertible pulled into a newly paved driveway, the driver and one riding shotgun exited the vehicle, but Dan already knew who was to come forth. He was surprised he had not sensed their, my-s***-don’t-stink presence or seen their noses stuck up high above; the Howe’s were a pair alright.
The window appeared to be producing a dark and nasty scene, but Dan figured it was just a trick of the eyes. A trick, like when in the dark one’s eyes will begin to see things that are not there but look so real that one is likely to turn and run in fear. He walked over to the hall closet and shifted through the twenty jackets all hanging from cheap, plastic hangers. Dan began to laugh; even though the kids were gone out of the house, their crap never left.

“What do you think you are doing, Mr. Web,” questioned Khala from behind him. Her hair was twisted into a tight bun, except for a few grays that just hung from the sides. The apron she was wearing over her everyday clothes had crisp fall leaves plunging to the bottom, the red-orange background was the same color as a sunset.

Finding his thin jacket and slipping it on he said, “I’m just running over to Bobby-Joe’s to see what he is making of that mess outside. Are all the windows shut upstairs?” Khala nodded. “Good, you may want to make one more run through the house just to make sure. I’ll be home in a bit.”

“Ok hon. All make us some sandwiches for lunch, so be home at around two-ish.”

Zipping up the navy-blue jacket, Dan Web stepped outside and took a deep breath of air, along with something that didn’t seem to agree with his lungs. Holding it in, he prepared for the next breeze. The wind hit and it hit hard, Dan slowly exhaled, followed by a huge cough. Redeeming himself, he started up the road.

Typically strong winds did cause particles of residue to fly up into one’s face, preferably the eyes, but not like the way it seemed to be going down. Every ten seconds or so Dan had to stop dead in his tracks to rub his eyes free of another speck of “something”. He never remembered the address to be this far away. When the rare moment in time occurred, Dan chanced a look out into the distance. No one was out and about; no one was stirring (not even a mouse). Living in a small town like Ozville, Wisconsin, street lights were a rare luxury, so much so that the state didn’t even think about the town during Christmas. No street lights made the journey just a bit more difficult, but Dan had been coming this way for over forty years; each time to visit BJ or catch the bus.

Maybe it wasn’t just a trick of the eyes when he saw that the window was becoming filthy, or for a better word choice: filthier. Finally after thirty stops or so Dan could see Bobby-Joe’s house just a score of paces away. He ran the rest of the way using his sixth sense to follow the path straight to the front door. Actually it wasn’t so much of another sense, but the familiarity of waking the same path to BJ’s for years.

After a couple pounds on the door, a chunky, stout looking man twisted the brass handle and peered out. “Hey! Danny boy, long time no see. Get in here before any of that mess out there marks up the rug, Yvonne will have a conniption,” said BJ as he grabbed hold of Dan in a tight bear hug. The funny thing was, thought Dan, was the long time no see; he was just over yesterday.

Dan advanced quickly through into the not small, but cozy home that once held five crazy boys, back when he and BJ went to Redwood Elementary. Taking off his jacket, and then hanging it on the coat rack, Dan stepped on to the carpet.

Two small coughs of listen-to-what-I’m-about-to say left BJ’s mouth. Dan looked up and BJ motioned down to the shoes.

“Yvonne doesn’t like it when people walk through the house with their shoes on, sorry pal.”
“No problemo. How much longer is that horrid creature going to be living here for?”
BJ shrugged his shoulders, “I’m not sure, but I hope she is leaving soon. It wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the crazy Nazi control she has over everyone and that god-awful shedding.”
Just then Yvonne came into the room, a frozen shiver flew up Dan’s spine, most likely BJ’s too. Yvonne circled around his legs purring louder and louder, and she pounced up into the arms of Dan’s.
“Damn cat, shoe off. Go choke on a hairball or something,” said Dan.

As they sat in the front room drinking Coors, Dan noticed a postage box upon the kitchen counter.

“Thinking about mailing the cat?”

“Na, even better,” said BJ.

BJ downed the rest of his drink, crushed the can, then shot it towards the trash can in the kitchen. It missed.

“Damn! Whatever,” BJ said with a grin. “This package here,” he slipped open the top and reached inside, “was delivered just yesterday from Rattle-Rock, New Mexico. I ordered it probably five weeks ago, and it just arrived. Can you believe that five to six business days s***?”

Rising and walking over to the kitchen counter, Dan stepped on about twelve different jagged-edged items, but didn’t stop to look what they were. Knowing BJ, they were probably just some rocks, dirt clumps, and hardened McDonald’s fries. “So what’s in the box,” he asked.

BJ pulled out the continent, the label on the purchase stated “Real-Science! Experiment Kit”. Unable to withhold the laughter that had been built up inside, Dan busted out, “What the Hell, planning on being a Scientist, eh Bobby-Joe?”

With his face turning beet-red BJ peeled off the binding tape and popped open the top, “I bought it over the computer, I like it.”

“What porn site directed you to the Target’s webpage?”

“Your wife’s...”

They looked at each other and exploded out in laughter.

The more Dan checked out the new buy, the more he began to appreciate his friend’s investment. It could do everything, that little set could: compare DNA, test blood type, it even came with a microscope and booklet which allowed one to examine an unknown piece of residue and look it up. Hours passed, which only seemed like minutes to the children at heart two laying on their bellies in the middle of the living room floor. They tested rocks, dirt, and even the hardened french fries. It turned out that Dan and BJ were both B Positives; of course they both already knew it, they just wanted to try the new kit. Dan gazed up to the wall clock. Damn, he thought, already quarter till two.

Dan rose explaining to BJ that his wife wanted him home by two, and already he knew he was going to be late. Stepping up to the off white painted front door, Dan threw on his jacket and zippered it half way. Yvonne sat upon the kitchen counter, which was adjacent to the door, from there the satanic cat watched as Dan bid BJ a far well- only until tomorrow, of course. The door creaked open and all three, Dan, BJ, and Yvonne all stood in horror. For outside, beyond the safety of the petite shack, was a downpour of what seemed to be brown rain.

Dan stuck his hand through the door-way, as he did a thick coat of brownish “something” began to form. Terrified, he pulled back, releasing the substance to flutter down to the gray carpet. BJ gave the door a tap and it swung shut, his mouth still agape. The trio, Yvonne just as scared as the others, ran to the front window and tore- the rip was almost a clean cut- down the curtain. Both Dan and BJ simply stared at each other in awe for nearly a minute until Yvonne nicked right below Dan’s right calf; he felt blood running.

“AHA! Damn cat,” yelped Dan as he reached for his leg. “What the hell is this all about?”

BJ just rolled his eyes and whispered one word, “Khala.”
Dan knew she had to have been scared and petrified by the sight of the brown falling from Heaven. Rushing to the phone and dialing his home number, Dan began to realize that if they were unharmed, then most likely Khala was also. He hung the phone up before it even reached his ear. Turning toward BJ with a puzzled look Dan thought, why hasn’t she called here yet, that would have been the first thing she’d do. Still, just wanting to be sure, Dan figured that he had better call. He turned and again he picked up the phone, raised it to his ear and listened, but no tone ever sounded.

Woof! Woof! Dan immediately recognized the low, bottomless, and terrifying echo. The noise could have come from only one creature: Stephen, Mr. Water’s almost pure silver dog. Extraordinary thing, Stephen was; everyone always wondered how it was still alive after eighteen years. In human years, this theoretically was the years alive multiplied by seven, which would make ol’ Stephen one hundred and twenty-six years old.
Both Dan and BJ ran to the nearest window to search for the prehistoric beast, but all the shown was a deep, brown-colored mess. It most resembled a dark, windy fog; a dirty fog. Dan turned to walk towards the window on the other side of the living room when BJ nudged him directly in the ribs.

“What the hell was that for,” yelped Dan, rubbing his left side.

Soundless BJ raised his arm in an almost Frankenstein manner, then extended his finger. Dan spun around moving like a bolt of lightning, resulting in an immense bash to the nose by the cool plate glass. A burning sensation flew throughout Dan’s nose, the boundary just beyond the cheek bones. Resembling Rudolph, Dan finally saw him, trudging to and fro. Stephen must have scampered past Mr. Walter’s to roam the neighborhood he had become so familiar with during his eighteen years. If it had been any other time Dan probably would have not even given the dog a second glance, but today, with the unknown “stuff”, Dan felt the urge to act. Walking as calmly as he could, Dan made his way to the front door and opened it, calling out Stephen’s name.

Three times, four, five, six; each time Stephen seemed to either not hear his name being called or he just chose to ignore it. Finally on the ninth time, accompanied by a quick whistle by BJ, Stephen looked toward the two men standing just before the exit. Ears perked in a ready-for-anything way, Stephen slowly tramped to the house. Yvonne ran passed the door hissing until she reached the next room. Then, not even five feet away, while Dan and BJ were celebrating their victory, Stephen slowed to a crawl. Even lower, deeper, and more terrifying then the first time the two men heard the canine, a disturbance sounded. Stephen fell to the hard, tarred driveway, kicking and yelping. Two horrified faces bestowed upon the just cheerful men as they just stood there and watched the dog in his last moments. Then, with a final whimper, Stephen ceased moving, breathing, blinking, everything. The dog had died.

BJ slammed the door shut, narrowly missing Dan’s face only because he jumped back just in time.

Dan beamed at BJ, “Watch it man, my face was right there. You’re lucky I jumped back in-“
“No, you’re lucky.”

With a puzzled look Dan asked what he was talking about.

“Stephen was doing just fine this morning, I saw him. He was running around like a pup, completely healthy.”
“And your point is?”
“It wasn’t until the dog went outside that he got sick. It’s as if Stephen died because he went into the…the… whatever you want to call it.”
“So you think that it was the stuff outside that killed him,” asked Dan.
“Wait, I walked here through that stuff, I am still alive.”
“Maybe the longer one is exposed, the faster death occurs.”
“Well in that case let’s make sure everything in the house is closed up, I don’t want any of that getting in here.”

So they went to work closing and locking ever window and door in the entire house. Unable, yet fortunately, to find the cat, the two sat down on the sofa and turned on the television. Snow; snow; snow; snow; same thing on every channel. BJ, who had been turning the stations, whipped the remote across the room.

“How about a game of cards,” invited BJ.

For the next two standard hours Dan and BJ sat in the middle of the living room playing five-card poker, War, and Go Fish. The pieces they used for betting came complementary of the Real-Science! kit laying off to the side. Raising scalpels with scissors and scissors with acids and acids with bases and bases with gloves and so on, the two played so long that they began combining each of the games into one. The game they called Five-card War Fish; each would get five cards and from the five cards they would choose the highest card and place it down, hoping to top the opponents. Then the person with the lowest card would draw from the pile until he obtained a card high enough to top the other. The first person to get rid of all his cards first won.

With Dan up by more then three-fourths the pieces, another noise came from outside the walls of the tiny home. Higher pitched then the last, and certainly a great deal louder, the noise continued to grow louder and louder. It was a noise that BJ recognized first, the sound came from a car horn. Again the two ran to the door, this time with their shirts up passed their nose hoping to block whatever hung in the daytime sky. Dan sprung open the door and the two came upon another surprise: the air was clear with all the brown in an inch high pile coating the entire ground. Slowly they lowered their shirts and stepped outside. The sky was calm with white, downy clouds just hanging in the bright blue. Dan and BJ looked left down the street only to see Mayor Bixton’s sunny yellow Ford rolling down toward them.

The horn was blaring with Mrs. Bixton leaning outside the window, same with her son Kyle, screaming something they could just barely make out. As the Ford came directly parallel with the two men it slowed to a halt. Mrs. Bixton stepped out, her tree trunk like legs wobbled the rest of her plump self over to the men.

“Come boys, get in your car and follow us,” she said.
Dan asked, “Where are we going?”

Mrs. Bixton snatched a baby blue hanky from her purse, which she used to wipe the perspiration forming above her brow.

“Meeting, in the town hall. No square dancing tonight, I’ll say.”

Mrs. Bixon turned and walked back to the car, but stopped half way. A shriek escaped her, “What happened to Stephen? Never mind,” she waved her hand, “tell me when we get to the hall.”

Both the men threw on jackets and marched out to BJ’s Chevy parked in the driveway. With BJ in the driver’s seat and Dan across in the passenger’s they took off down the road follow the Bixtons.

The small town of Ozville was just like every other. In it were a church, a gas station, a barber (who make you look like Sinatra), a Ma and Pa convenient store, a fire station, an ice cream parlor, and a town hall. As they drove they came upon each of those places, but this time the town looked a great deal different. The entire town was covered in the brown mess, from the tops of the trees to the bottom of the sidewalks.

Minutes later the caravan of Ozers arrived at the town hall only to see the parking lot maxed out and the street on both sides packed with cars. As the mayor came to a halt in the middle of the road so did BJ and Dan. They left the cars there, knowing that nothing would happen to them seeing as everyone was within the hall, and walked in. Inside the whole town gathered to hear what the mayor had to say about the recent events.

Dan and BJ made their way in and to the back lucky enough to discover to unoccupied cars. “Hold my seat for me, I’m going to go check for Khala,” said Dan as he began his walking in; shoving and pushing the entire way. Before sitting down BJ looked through the crowed to see if just everyone was there; especially Khala. He saw Bob Shakles and his wife, Terry Turtle sobbing into a handkerchief, Mr. Waters calling out to everyone he could wondering if they had seen Stephen, Mrs. Green clutching her children close, Ray Burh calling out for Tommy his youngest son, Mr. and Mrs. Howe dressed in church going clothes, almost the rest of the town, but he could not seem to find Khala.

Dan bumped into nearly everyone but Khala, even once Mr. Waters took hold of his shirt collar and begged him if he had seen his dog. He knew perfectly well where Stephen was, but could not bring himself to tell Mr. Waters; not yet. Even running up to the podium did no good, Khala must have been the only one not at the meeting. Dan made his way back to BJ with a look of concern, but all BJ could do was shake his head and shrug his shoulders.

Mayor Bixton reached the podium and everyone sat down, yet a slight murmur came from the anxious and terrified town’s people. He scratched at his dark mustache and fixed his blue with yellow polka dots tie. “Please be seated and silent everyone, the meeting will begin momentarily.” The mayor raised his gavel and slammed it hard against the base three times, each louder than the previous. “It seems that Mr. Red, our scribe, could not make it, so Mrs. Thatcher has volunteered to step for this meeting.”

Mrs. Thatcher rose and gave a slight wave of her hand towards the crowed. Dan knew her as the ice cream parlor owner. She wore a deep red sweater and blue faded jeans; her hair was of a dirty blonde, with her eyes an emerald green.

“Now let’s get down to business,” Mayor Bixton said. “About the recent particles circulating in the sky, I have no idea what it was, but I sure as hell would like to get to the bottom of it. I think everyone here is okay, no? It seems that the mess outside have ended, hopefully for good. I have sent, seeing as the phone lines are out, Sherriff Howard to the city to find out what the matter is. For now there is nothing we can do but wait. Does anyone have any questions?”

Mr. Waters jumped up, “Has anyone seen my dog?” A look of sorrow was upon his face. “Stephen took off on me during the time that brown stuff was around. I have not been able to..”

“No one cares about that mutt,” said Mr. Howe as he stood up, his arm in the air. “We had our windows wide open while we left to come into town, and when we returned our house was covered in that crap. I want some compensation for our ruined goods.”

He continued to holler about the priceless merchandise destroyed during, but Mayor Bixton had enough after the first five seconds. Bang! Bang! Sounded the gavel “Mr. Howe, the committee and I have yet to talk about that manner for compensation, when we figure it out you will be the first to know. And until then shut up and sit down.”

There was a slight cheer as Mr. Howe coward back, tail between his legs, to the Mrs. Howe. BJ then rose unable to hold in the pain in which he felt for Mr. Waters, “Stephen is dead!”

The crowed gasped as BJ continued, “We heard him, Dan and I did, we heard him barking down the road. We tried to call him inside and away from the brown stuff, but it was too late. He just fell to the ground; there was nothing we could do.” A tear ran down BJ’s cheek.

Across the room Mr. Waters could be heard sobbing into the person next to him, which happened to be Father Sam of the church next door. Mayor Bixton raised his gavel as if to speak again, but before he could the front door tore open. A bloody figure rushed in, everyone knew who it was the moment she entered.

Dan rose from his chair, “Khala!”

After getting a hold of Khala and wiping off the blood, which had not come from her, they tossed her in a blanket and listened to what she had to say. “I was on my way here after I heard the mayor’s car pass, kind of hard not to. As I made my way to the hall, I saw that Mr. Red’s lights were on and his car was still parked in the driveway, so I went in. I knocked I don’t know how many times until he answered. He pulled me in a shut the door behind. The next thing I knew he had a handgun with him and he was chanting something about germ warfare and we are all dead already. When I asked him what he was talking about he told me that the stuff outside had been sent by the enemy to kill us; kill the entire country. He asked if I wanted him to shoot me now or if I wanted to wait until the germs took affect. I turned to run for the door calling him crazy, but he shot himself. The spray of blood cast upon me. Mr. Red is dead, and I think the rest of us are too.”

It took a while for the story to sink into the minds of the town’s people. Simple people like the ones of Ozville had never dreamed of something like this happening. Then, like the gears in the minds of the entire town clicked at the same time, people started screaming and crying, running for the doors, complete chaos fell. Mayor Bixon was banging his gavel against the stand calling for silent, but this time it never came.

Dan and BJ just looked at each other then to the crowd, husbands, wives, and children were all hugging each other and crying knowing that they would soon all be dead. Bending down to his sitting wife Dan hugged her tight and motioned for BJ, they were going to leave; spend their last few hours together, at home.

BJ pulled up the car and Dan and Khala stepped in. They drove back to BJ’s house where they all went in for a cup of coffee. As they sat there drinking the tar-like coffee, Dan couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Both BJ and Khala looked at him like he was mad. Dan said, “I really didn’t think it would end like this. Being killed by… being killed by something we don’t even know the name of.” Tears ran down Dan’s eyes as he ranted on.

BJ added, “We may not know what it is now, but we are going to find out. Where is the kit?”
Tossing the cards away, Dan snatched up what was once used for betting chips to tell them the cause of their own death. As Dan put all the pieces back together, BJ ran outside with a plastic cup to fill it with the brown stuff. They worked for about an hour flipping back and forward through the instruction manual until they had the set completely together. Slowly BJ poured some of the brown onto a slide which Dan placed under the microscope. Dan focused the sight until the picture became clear. Looking from book of decriptions to slide about twenty times he turned and walked away in shock. BJ charged to set and jammed his eye to the eyepiece. He too came up in shock.

Blinking a few times BJ asked, “Is that what I think it is?”
“What is it,” Khala asked.
BJ said, “It’s…it’s…”
“It’s dust,” whispered Dan.

All three of them rushed to the Chevy parked halfway on the lawn and piled in. Speeding the whole way BJ just laughed to him self; they were going to see the mayor. Finally they arrived, BJ slammed on the brakes almost missing the house because of the slide brought from the inch high dust on the ground. They piled out of the car the same time Sherriff Howard reached the driveway. They group ran to the door and without knocking, charged in. There in the middle of the foyer was a rope hanging and Mayor Bixton placing the hoop at the end around his neck.

“Stop,” screamed Dan, “the stuff from the air was only dust. We can prove it.”
Mayor Bixton questioned, “Well, if it was just dust then why did Mr. Waters’ dog Stephen die and why is the power out?”
BJ said, “The dog was eighteen years old, it probably died of a heart attack.”
“What about the power? There are no phone, no lights, no nothing,” said the mayor.
That was when Sherriff Howard stepped in, “That’s what I was coming here to tell you sir. On my way to the city I came across a car wreck, damn thing smashed into a power line bring it down. The person in the car must have lost control due to the dust and not being able to see.”

The Mayor stepped down, letting go of the noose which had been ready to help in his suicide. “In that case, I want another meeting. Everyone get in the car, we need to warn everyone able the good news.”

Stepping out of the house Dan said, “Let’s just hope no one else tried anything stupid before we get to them.”
“Let’s hurry then,” said BJ.
Together they made it out to the cars and drove into a world of dust.

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