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Anticipation

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February 6th, 2011. All over town, watches, clocks, phones and computers beeped, jingled, rang, clanged and, in many other ways, notified their owners of the arrival of ten P.M. Throughout the sleepy little settlement of Northridge, Colorado, which, on any other night of the year, would have been fast asleep by nine, never mind this late hour, people young and old made a beeline for their homes. “Gravy’s”, the town’s only twenty-four hour restaurant, shut its doors tightly. The windows, normally beacons of hope for dozing drivers passing through this little village on their journey to somewhere infinitely more important, were boarded up, shut tightly against the night. The rest of the town echoed this sentiment; doors were locked, windows shuttered, and basement doors propped open, anticipating the arrival of their owners.

The bell, located in the old clock tower, known to the local “old timers” as “Little Ben,” due to it’s resemblance of that famous structure in England, tolled ten thirty. Just one loud clang, the signal for half an hour’s passing. Every, paranoid, nervous, citizen of Northridge, clutching last minute additions to the stores of goods already piled high in the basements’ corners, stocked hurriedly barely hours earlier, rushed down the steps to the assumed safety of their cellars. The clock hands crept slowly past ten-thirty as the last doors slammed shut, the screech of rusty, seldom-used bolts being drawn cutting through the silence of the now deserted town. The night was still.

Of all those terrified, waiting, praying citizens, none were as terrified as Simon Limens. A good man, an honest man, and well-liked by most citizens of this, his hometown. Despite his good manners, work ethic, and generosity, he was alone in his cellar. Now wife, no children, just him, his work, and his dreams. Actually, he had his cat for company, but what kind of conversation can you have with such an animal?
As the owner and manager of the local grocery company, Campanelli’s Deli, which was not in any way Italian, Simon was one of, if not the most, important man in town. All day he spent discussing deals and mergers with larger companies from towns miles down the highway, trying hard to bring his little business into the spotlight, out of this little town that wasn’t even shown on most maps. That was the root of the problem. He wanted his town on the map.

Simon’s day had started the same as so many before; breakfast, eggs and bacon this morning, shower, shave, and head out the door for the short drive to the office. Up until around six O’clock, the rest of the day had been pretty normal as well. Simon took a few conference calls with the heads of several of the larger food distribution companies in the neighboring cities, and was turned down at the mention of partnership, as was so unfortunately usual. Following these unsuccessful endeavors, he had moved on to other, more promising, endeavors, such as planning his next meetings with fellow business owners.

Then, the announcement, warning, people called it just about a million different things, but one matter they all agreed on: it was a serious problem, and it scared them. “Be in your homes no later than ten thirty PM. Remain there, and await further instruction. This is not a test. Repeat, this is not a test.”

Simon, in his office hurriedly stuffing bundles of paper, contracts, emails, and manifests, into his briefcase so he could head home for the night, heard the broadcast through his desktop radio, an interruption of his favorite jazz station. Irritated, he spun the dial to the next station. Nothing changed. The same message was repeating on this station as well. Every station was relaying these odd instructions. Very strange indeed. He switched the radio off. Though perturbed by this oddity, Simon continued with his packing.


Twenty minutes later, Limens left the office, after giving his secretary, a lovely young woman by the name of Susanne Barnes, the daughter of the town constable, detailed instructions for the closure and securing of the offices from which they operated, when he Several young men, ever eager to help a damsel in distress, had offered to board the windows facing the street when they had seen Susanne and Simon, an older man, struggling to put up plywood as they emerged from the gun store a few buildings down. Simon didn’t especially like these fellows, a bunch of troublemakers in his opinion, but he conceded defeat. It would’ve taken hours to secure the building without their help.

Strolling in through the doors of his own grocery store a few minutes later, after a short drive, made even shorter now due to the lack of any cars on the street, Simon was deep in thought. Though not necessarily frightened by the earlier broadcast, he was ill at ease. Was this some kind of joke? Something that vague couldn’t actually be from the government…could it? Oh well. Better safe than sorry. By now, he’d made his way to the canned food isle, which, unsurprisingly, was nearly empty. In a few short hours, the non-perishables had been cleaned out. A few cans of beans, several of Vienna sausages, and a single can of spam were all that remained. Tossing these scant items into his basket, Simon moved through the store, gathering necessities: two flashlights, numerous packs of batteries, a first aid kit (a small one, all of the jumbo size kits had already been purchased, it seemed) the remaining few cases of bottled water, and an air mattress.

At the one checkout that remained open, staffed by an old friend of Simon’s, middle-aged Andres Speall, a kind, gentle man, and extremely devoted to his family, if Simon remembered correctly. From somewhere down south. Limens paid, took his receipt and bags, and headed out. Courteously, he turned back to thank Mr. Speall for his quick service, and caught the man already disappearing into the employee break room with a large first aid kit, jumbo sized, in his hands. Through the open door, he also glimpsed a large stack of canned food and bottled water. The break-room door swung shut. How peculiar people were acting today. Can’t blame them though, desperate times, desperate measures, as the saying goes. Simon continued out to the parking lot, fiddling absent-mindedly with the keys to his car.

On the quick drive back to his home on 3rd and Brook St., observing the chaos of the frightened town from the safety of his late model Chevrolet, he noticed much. The church parking lot, usually scarcely populated at this time of day, was packed, every spot taken. The gun shop, from which the group of helpful young men had emerged earlier this day, was closing. The owner, a balding gentlemen whom Simon had not yet had the pleasure of meeting, was putting a sign up in the window on his way out. “No more ammunition,” it said. Very curious indeed. Mr. Limens continued on, headed for home.

By nine O’clock, Simon was safely settled in his basement, surrounded by food, blankets, water bottles, a DVD player, and a small television. Preparedness was the key. Reclining on a stack of blankets, he popped in a disc, Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” There’s nothing quite like a classic war film to calm the nerves. It may just be that seeing all the carnage onscreen lures a man into thinking what he’s about to face can’t be that bad. The movie, as he’d expected, was quite good, it was just the title that made him uneasy.
The town waited, it’s collective breathe held in anxious anticipation, expecting the worst, behind locked doors, boarded windows, and rusty bolts. What’s going to happen? When? Why was there so little information?

“Terrorists,” grumbled one young man, perched precariously atop a case of bottled water, encircled by his disgruntled friends, who’s late night plans had been postponed indefinitely by the strange broadcast this evening. “Probably said they were gonna set off another one of those damn bombs someplace or the other,” he continued, drawing grunts of agreement from the bored men of his crew. “Don’t matter. We’ll teach ‘em to mess with the U. S. of A! Just wait till I get out of this here basement…” But beneath his patriotic exterior, behind his posing, his friends could tell he was uneasy. They all were, what with the ominous broadcast, the lack of any information. Despite how hard they tried to disprove it, they were all scared, mostly, of the not-knowing.

“Imminent natural disasters. Tornadoes. Flooding.” These notions, whispered only between adults to avoid upsetting the children, were the prevailing cause of anxiety in the Speall household. Andres Speall, the helpful grocer engaged in questionable activity on the job, the husband and father of this family, had already lived through a hurricane, Katrina, in Louisiana, which had prompted their family’s northward move.
For weeks, living solely on food scavenged from already looted, flood-damaged homes, he and his family had struggled to survive. The aid camps, set up by the government to help the survivors of the terrible storm, were unreachable. The pure volume of people trying to reach them was ridiculous, there was no way he was taking his family into that dangerous mess.
So, despite his wife’s pleading to the contrary, Andres led them, on foot through the flooded streets, out of the affected area. Somewhere along their many days of traveling, the youngest of the family, Bobby, had cut his foot on something unseen beneath the water. Andres had to carry him, all fifty pounds, for the rest of the trip. To make matters worse, the wound was infected.

Upon their exit from the flood zone, they piled into an abandoned car, one of the hundreds that littered the highway leading away from the coast, and made for Texas. After finding temporary refuge at a small motel, and getting the little one’s wound treated, Andres started planning. Within a few years, he had saved up enough money, working several jobs at a time, to move them north. Their decision to settle in Northridge had been an act of God. Passing through the small town, their car, a beat up old Ford, had given out. Once again, they were holed up, hiding from the forces of nature. Life was not the least bit fair, apparently.

Piled high around them, almost to the cramped cellar’s dusty ceiling, were cases, boxes, pallets of food, water, and other necessities. Two large first aid kits leaned against the wall by the stairwell, silently waiting for a chance to repair some grievous injury inflicted by the forces of nature. Their presence, though it should have been comforting, was ominous. Andres stood from his seat atop the air mattress that was now the children’s’ bed for the night, and tossed one of the extra sheets over the two aid kits. It made him feel a little better. Returning to his family, he prepared himself for the worst; and waited.

The congregation crammed into the town church’s narthex held a much different belief than that of the rest of the little town. Tonight would be the second coming. It was as simple as that. They had all smiled and politely declined when their neighbors, good people, but foolish, had offered them places in whatever cellar or mountain stronghold they would be spending the night in. You can’t hide from Jesus.

Tonight, the agenda was very simple. Singing of praise and worship songs, studying the scriptures, and much, much prayer. There was also confession for those who desired it. Though the gathering was one of celebration, many of those present were solemn, ill at ease. The coming of Jesus was a lot more intimidating when it was just around the corner. Judgment day. Some wondered if they were ready, while others couldn’t wait. Across town from the church, a certain popular grocery owner caught snatches their songs of praise, and, much to his discomfort, could not, at times, distinguish them from the sounds of the wounded and dying in his war film. He flicked of the television. This night was getting a bit too strange.

Night dragged on. Some slept fitfully; others forced themselves awake, determined to face whatever might be coming in the near future, fearfully anticipating. Children, clutched in their parents’ arms, questioned those adults around them. “What’s happening?” “Why?” Most importantly, “when?” But no one had an answer. No one knew what to expect, only that they must expect something, or suffer for their unpreparedness.

The hands of the clock slowly traversed their orbits once, twice, six times. Little Benny, the silent sentry of the town, awakened the few sleeping citizens with his bell toll. The minutes, now hours to those in hiding, ticked steadily by. Seven O’clock A.M. The first groups slowly, warily, emerge from their shelters into the golden sunshine of the early morning. Soon, all but the most paranoid had come back above ground, eaten a quick meal, and begun recovering from the ordeal of the previous night.
All radios are on, tuned to the news channels, but there is only static. All calls, to anyone outside the town, were met with silence on the line. Everyone was still uneasy, due to the strange radio and phone silence, but the day was beautiful, and it cheered them a little. The temperature, previously a brisk 50 degrees, was now at least 90, and steadily climbing. The air was dry and fresh, the sky, cloudless and blue. Not typical Colorado weather at all.
Ten minutes after Benny had struck eight, Simon Limens shoveled the last of his breakfast into his mouth. Nights like the last sure had a way of stirring up an appetite. Plate and fork in one hand, glass in the other, he awkwardly lifted the faucet’s lever. No water came out. Off. Back on. Still no water. A call to his neighbor told him this problem wasn’t just a personal one. All over town, running water was nonexistent.

An hour later, the power followed suite. One moment, everything was running fine, the next, every appliance, light, and television(which were all showing static anyway) turned off. Barely minutes after that, the gas to the stoves and water heaters quit, then, the flow to the gas pumps outside of the corner store.

Just when things were starting to look better... Several people left town in their cars, willing to leave everything they owned behind to rid themselves of this apparently dying town.
One car returned, two weeks later. Nothing but desert out there. For miles, and miles, and miles. They were alone. The world, except for them, was apparently gone.
--

On February 6th,2011, residents of the small towns surrounding Northridge, Colorado, had witnessed the town literally wiped off the map. One night there, the next morning, completely gone. No trace of life, no sign that there had ever been a thriving settlement there. For days after this strange occurrence, the local police, then, the National Guard, had combed the area. Nothing came up. The town was gone.

These surrounding towns, so accustomed to hearing the sound of Northridge’s Little Benny tolling on the hour, would now have to go without it. Friends and family of those vanishing people mourned. After a few years though, the sorrow faded, and replaced by curiosity. However, no leads ever came up. The town was just gone.
--

Twenty five years later, an endurance athlete by the name of Raymond Lewis, on the last leg of his record breaking trek across the Sahara Desert, a feat which, if completed, would hold a place in the record books, for decades, even centuries. Alone, without any outside assistance, with only the supplies he could carry himself, this man had fought for his life against the daytime heat, the freezing nights, the baking sun, the sandstorms, the lack of water, and countless other threats to his welfare. Now, nearing the end of his journey, with shelter, food, and water a day, maybe two, from his current position, he was nearly delirious with thirst. He stumbled along.

As he traveled, gazing blearily ahead at the seemingly endless dunes between himself and his goal, he spotted something in the distance. Something large. Something very recognizable. Crazy as it would seem, he was seeing, or thought so, a clock tower. And not just any clock tower. This looked like Big Ben, the famous English structure! He gazed hard at the building, struggling to make out details. It was too far away though, too far to see anything but the most obvious details. What would a clock tower be doing out here in the middle of the desert anyway? Shaking his head to clear his vision, he peeled his eyes away from this strange sight and continued on. He was obviously hallucinating. That was all. He needed to make it out of this desert alive, and he wasn’t about to let something as foolish as a mirage distract him out here, where distraction could mean death, and death would mean that all his weeks of traveling across the desert, suffering the entire way, would be for nothing. He trudged on, head bowed, eyes to the ground. Within minutes, the occurrence had been forgotten, replaced by infinitely more important thoughts of survival.





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