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…knew for sure that the lawnmower would not start. Yet he tried it anyway. Push the choke. Pull the chord once: a grumble. Twice: a grunt. Third time: silence. Well, the crowd at the hardware store would at least be low, thought Darren Harvey as he shuffled over to a dark blue Chevy pick-up, which actually started on the first try. His T-shirt wore the symbol for The Who with a list of dates from their 1974 tour on the back. A line of vehicles traced the roadways, and Darren was almost positive that he could hear horns sounding as he passed them. But the noise could easily have been his imagination. The past couple of months his mind had been playing tricks on him, and he was not sure exactly how much more of it he could handle.
Just as he suspected, the hardware store was for the most part vacant. Though there were a few people sprinkling the aisles and aisle of appliances. They did not bother anyone really. They mostly stayed to themselves. The looks on their faces were of Should I buy Kerkman or DeWalt? Darren did not mind them; he just went on about his business, heading towards the large appliances. The sign above aisle seven read Lawnmowers, Leaf Blowers, Hedge Trimmers, and Weed Whackers. About a third of the way down the aisle, Darren found a Lawnmower he liked, but the price he felt was much too high. There were few people in the check-out lanes, so it did not take Darren long to reach the front. And after a moment or two of dickering with the lady at the counter, they both agreed upon a price of half the original. Loading the lawnmower into the back of the pick-up had been a slight challenge, because there were not any Loaders. Loaders would help the customer carry the product out to their vehicle and pack it in. But today there seemed to be a lack of Loaders.
The ride home was much like the ride there. The hot sun poured upon the back of Darren’s neck, causing the prickly hairs to rise to the sky. When he pulled around the corner, just now able to see home, a group of eight or nine dogs darted across the street. Darren recognized a few, one just about the same age as Mister Walter’s dog, Stephen, who had died a few years back. Stephen had been eighteen years old when he passed, and the dog which was walking by Darren with not a care in the world was already seventeen. After the pack cleared, Darren continued the last stretch home.
In the kitchen, the clock read six o’clock exactly. He had already mowed both the back yard and front, and was now able to relax for the rest for the evening. Above the sink, which was still full of dishes from the day, there was a window, and outside that window birds chirped as they fluttered from one branch to the next; soon they would be returning to nest for the night: no trucks could be heard passing by.
The television of course was still downed from when Mayor Bixton’s son, Kyle, took out the power generator down on Anderson Street. Darren had driven by the accident about twenty minutes after it happened. From the looks of things, Kyle never reached for the brakes. Not after veering to the right and bumping off road, or after plowing down the Traverse Town Power Facility sign, or even after crushing Mister Fisher into bits, leaving guts and blood to cake everything. Kyle was alive until he collided with the generator, which caused him to fly out the windshield, and he never once tried to stop. Brains oozed from Kyle’s head and littered the ground.
Without the television, Darren settled for novels. Since losing his job three years ago, he had read non-stop. First he read everything he had in the house. That was something he promised himself. But just as soon as he had made that promise, he finished every book he owned. He had discovered a hidden talent of his: Darren could read over one thousand words a minute. Luckily for him, just down Main Street, there was an old book store, once owned by Rita Ansel, named The Prologue. Darren was now in the E section, reading Emerson’s Poems. The poem was Seashore.
About halfway through, there came a knock on the door. The noise scared Darren to such an extent, that he actually tossed the book to the other side of the living room, knocking over a vase and smashing it to pieces.
“H-hello?” Darren was terrified. This can’t be, he thought, I’m the—
Darren, sprinted from his seat and into the kitchen, where the clocked ticked slowly on the wall. The only weapon he could find within his reach was a knife from the drawer under the microwave. There was a .357 revolver in the house, but that was upstairs, and Darren knew for sure that he could not make it there with his legs that had turned to rubber. The knife would have to do.
Slowly Darren made his way to the front door. His legs were reluctant to more, but with a little help, he was finally there. The blade on the knife was just about ten inches long—maybe more—one lunge would do the trick if the person knocking meant trouble. And with the way the world was now, there was no other option. The knob felt cold to Darren as he wrapped his hand around it, gooseflesh spread from head to toe. With a twist of the wrist, Darren opened the door to find something rather peculiar on the other end. The end which had brought the knocking was empty. All there was was silence.
Darren refused to drop the knife as made his way toward the vase he had broken when he threw Emerson. Luckily, the vase had cracked into large pieces and not seven thousand little ones like the plate he had dropped a few weeks back. The purple and gold design wound its way in a spiral pattern; the vase had once looked beautiful. Darren tossed the pieces in the trash one by one, listening closely as each hit the next and cracked again. When all was done, Darren found that he needed to take out the trash. I’m the only one who lives in this Hell-hole, he thought, and I’ve taken this trash out more times than I can count. The bin outside was full, so Darren settled for leaving the bag (Don’t get mad!) off to the side. Night seemed to get darker every day, and tonight was no different, even as Darren stood halfway to the house, he noticed the sounds of birds had ceased, and all that could be heard was the rustling of trees. The birds had made it to their nests.
When Darren awoke the next morning, he found that he was still sitting in the living room, Emerson upon his lap; some of the pages had been crumpled. Darren rose carefully, making sure that his legs could support his body, and walked towards the kitchen to answer the call of his rumbling stomach. The refrigerator was covered in alphabet magnets of every color holding up dozens of local business cards. In the middle—held up by an L, B, T, and Q—hung a picture of a man, a woman, and a young girl, not older than seven. It was framed with Greetings from England. Behind the three smiling faces was Big Ben, from the trip Darren took with the family five years ago. The thought of his once happy family brought tears to his eyes; Darren missed Lia and little Elle. He just let the tears stream down his eyes as he opened the door to the refrigerator. The inside was nearly empty, save a swig of milk, three slices of cheese, and a quarter loaf of bread. He would need to go to the market today, so making do with what he had, Darren settled down on the kitchen chair with two cheese sandwiches and a half glass of milk. Each time Darren swung in for a bite, the old wooden chair would creak and pop: he would need to fix that today after coming back from town.
With his belly full, Darren tossed the plate he used into the already full sink. And outside the window he could see rain sprinkling onto the chipping patio from the dark, gray sky sounding like a quick drummed snare. After a quick shower, Darren walked to the closet and snatched his flannel, the one with the green and black checkers. Donning his jacket and a Milwaukee Brewers cap he found on the top shelf among various hats and gloves. While he was searching, a pair of purple mittens fell into his hands. On the left one there was a small tear in the crease where the thumb met the rest of the fingers. Darren could still remember that cold January day when Elle had stormed into the house, tears streaming down her eyes. She was four at the time. Elle ran into her father’s arms and buried her face into his chest, snot hung from the nostrils of her frozen, red nose.
“What is wrong, honey?”
All Elle could do was continue to cry in her little pink winter outfit, her snow pants hung loose.
“Answer Daddy, will you do that like a big girl?”
She shook her head.
“Please tell Dadd—”
“I falled and hurted my hand. See? You see it, Daddy, right?” Elle pushed her hand up into Darren’s face so he could see a small cut on her hand. From what he could see, the glove had protected her hand save a small scratch which produced a few drops of blood.
“Oh, Daddy does see something, but it does not look bad,” said Darren. “Oh, Daddy knows just what to do. Close your eyes. Close them real tight.”
From the medicine cabinet Darren grabbed a band-aid and some Neosporin.
“Are your eyes still closed?”
“Good girl. No peeking now.”
Darren removed the purple glove and let it fall to the ground. Her hand was the size of his palm, and he remembered thinking that he never wanted her to grow up. She was his little girl.
She whimpered as he spread the ointment on the scrape, but other than that she was a big girl.
“Alright, you can open your eyes now.”
Elle opened her eyes and looked down at her hand.
“See, all better,” Darren said. “And who’s that on your booboo?”
She looked closer and started to smile.
“Who is that,” asked Darren.
“It’s Scooby-Doo,” she said, jumping up and down.
Darren sat down in the pick-up and threw on his seat belt. The short run from the house to the Chevy had left him soaked, but he continued on anyways. He stuck his key into the ignition and twisted; the lights flashed on, and Darren turned on the windshield wipers to clear away the rain that had become stronger. Droplets fell from the bridge of his cap; Darren raised his arm and mopped away the wetness. He pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the market.
Thunder crashed and lightning flashed as Darren flipped his blinker on and took the next right into Harrison’s Country Market. Darren parked in the nearest parking spot, which seemed like half a mile away, stepped out of the pick-up, and began his quick run—followed by a brisk walk and heavy breathing—towards the market. The automatic door stood open, and rain droplets fell to the welcome mat as Darren stopped to wipe his feet. Despite the stores great crowd, the aisles were silent. Darren pulled a small sheet of paper from his wallet. The top read “Grocery List,” continued by a group of twenty odd items. The first was toilet paper. Aisle four.
As Darren walked towards the aisle, he had to weave his cart around the one hundred plus people lugging things like rotten cucumbers, stale bread, potato chips, and cans of baked beans. It had been a long time since he had last had had fruits or vegetables, so he figured why start now. And within five minutes, Darren pulled together a cart full of groceries that would last him for the next month or so.
After he was bagged and ready to head out into the rain, a voice called out from somewhere behind him. Darren left the cart partially in the rain and took off back into the store. The voice sounded unlike any he had ever heard before; too high to be a man, but too deep to be human. One second it would call from one end of the store, and the next it would come from the other, but no one else seemed to care. Everyone else just continued to ignore the noise. Something within Darren made him chase the voice around the store, but after a few minutes, it ended. The rain outside had stopped as Darren drove home.
Birds emerged from their cover from the storm. Other than a few birds and an occasional squirrel, Darren did not see another living soul his entire way home. He dropped the soaked groceries on the counter and brought his dripping coat to the closet; the purple gloves were out of sight. When it came to putting away the groceries, Darren did not have to (Who was there to scold him?) but he found that if he left them out, he somehow felt guilty. So in the end, they were placed in their respective spots.
The sounds from the market still swam through his head. The way they—
A loud crash came from above, and as fast as his legs could carry him, Darren was at the top of the stairs, panting. Another crash, this time he could tell where it came from. There was a door set between two pictures. The first was of his wedding, husband and wife in mid-kiss. The second showed a girl sprawled out atop a pile of autumn leaves; her purple gloved hands reaching from the camera. Elle had loved the leaves…but that was before—
Again something else had broken. Darren charged forward and tore open the bathroom door. Inside was a scene Darren had come across not all that long ago. On the floor in front of his feet, Lia laid in her bathroom; there was a gash on her forehead from when she had fallen and smacked head against the sink she had been washing her face in. On the edge of the sink, a smear of blood. Blood soaked the once white rug completely and spread even further. She was dead, but worse yet was the girl in the bathtub. At first glance, Darren could only see hair floating on the surface, but like an iceberg, the majority was underwater. And although the water was soapy, Darren still knew what was there: Elle.
He could look no longer at the sight that had plagued his mind for the past three years. With a cry, Darren slammed the door shut. And the next thing he knew, his socks were wet with vomit. He continued to do so until he dry heaved half a dozen times and almost fainted, catching himself before planting his face in throw-up.
Once he was able to stand right—the tears streaming down his cheeks meant nothing at that minute—Darren opened the door again, and what he saw made the tears come harder: the bathroom was empty.
The clock in the kitchen began to chime, waking Darren from his nap. The last thing he could remember was rushing to the closet and pulling out the purple gloves. The tears never stopped. Walking into the kitchen, Darren rubbed his eyes, and then everything came flooding back. The noise upstairs. The blood soaked rug. The way his wife’s body laid lifeless in front of the door. The way…the way his baby girl’s hair covered the surface of the bathtub.
Looking at the still chiming clock, Darren’s eyes filled with hatred. Damn clock! he thought, why’d you bring me back into all of this?
In a furious rage, Darren hurried to the clock on the wall, plain white with black numbers, and tore it down. The first punch made it through the plastic cover. It took a second and a third to make it completely through to the counter. With a final grunt, Darren swiped the pieces across the room, smearing blood that hat pooled from the gash on his knuckles.
A noise Darren had once before began upstairs. It was the same call from the market.
“That’s it,” Darren said. “Enough of this!”
At the foot of the stairs, Darren had to cup his hands over his eyes to shield them from the piercing cry. If only the neighbors could hear this, he thought.
Slowly Darren continued up the stairs, the knife he had held the day before tucked in his pants. Pictures hung to the left and to his right stood the rickety, oak-wood railing which he had been meaning to fix for some time.
Halfway now. The cry had not wavered from it horrendous screech, and did not show any sign of doing—
The noise stopped. Only three steps to the top. Darren took the next, his heart in his throat and stomach nearing his ankles. Two now, but the second was not as bad—at least not compared to the last.
Round the corner at the top, down the long hallway, Darren could see that the door across the bathroom was parted from its hinge and hanging askew; stretched out from within were two arms. Darren wanted this to end, he could not put up with it any longer. Gripping the knife’s handle, he walked closer. The scream began again, and Darren with the knife out, ran to the room and lunged.
The knife had struck. The arms which have come from the room belonged to a young girl of seven. Her name was Elle, and she was Darren’s baby girl. The noise had stopped, and all that remained was the sound of silence.
Downstairs, Darren laid Elle on the love seat. Aside from the knife in her chest, she looked perfectly normal; like she was sleeping. He could the tears from pouring down his face, but did not care. Outside the sky was gray, Darren walked to the shed which held the lawn mower he had purchased yesterday, though it had seemed like an eternity.
Behind the shed were three crosses. The first read Lia, the second Elle, and the last was the one that Darren felt he was obligated to make. It read, Everyone Else.
Inside the shed Darren grabbed a shovel and walked out. Standing in the middle of the yard was a pack of nearly thirty dogs, all staring Darren in the eyes. In front was the old dog he had seen on his way home from the hardware store. The tag around her neck read Ruddy; her eyes were sad. With the shovel, Darren began to dig under the marker Elle. The dogs all sat around Darren as he dug, they were his angels, they wanted to protect and comfort him for what he was about to find. Within fifteen minutes, Darren struck the coffin. It was a beautiful red-wood. If it was free, why not get the best? thought Darren. And an hour later, he could lift the top off. It came up without a creak like the ones from horror movies. Elle lay in the casket, rotting from the inside out. The smell made Darren want to throw up, but on an empty stomach, he merely dry heaved again. Climbing out of the hole, Darren then sprinted into the house and to the living room, every dog following. The love seat was empty, just as he had expected.
Not knowing what to do next, family dead, world ruined, and completely alone save forty dogs, Darren Harvey sat on the floor, back to the love seat, and cried.
That night as Ruddy the German Sheppard slept, a large bang sounded from within the house, waking her up. Her ears twitched a few times as she looked around to see all of the others doing the same. The scent of sulfur hit her nose, reminding her of the days her master would take her hunting. In the morning they would raid the house for food.
The sun shone bright through the window as the pack feasted on whatever they could find. All of the groceries bought the day before were now tucked safely away into the bellies of the beasts. After licking the last of the peanut butter from the jar, Ruddy walked out of the kitchen, up the stairs, and into the first room on the left. The bed was perfect. On the sheet was the same spotted dinosaur she was used to seeing on master’s daughter’s bed. Across the hallway was the bathroom. A couple licks from the bowl, and she left there. And in the last room, the one at the end of the hall, there hung a rotten smell. In the corner sat a man. Blood was covering his face and he held a gun in his hand. Ruddy let out a whimper and walked forward, towards the man. It was the owner of the house. She knew it would be.
A few licks into the man’s hand and she turned away, her tail brushing something out of one hand. Ruddy turned back and saw it was a piece of paper. If she could have read, she would have known:
April 30, 2012
Something inside me told me to write this. I already know that no one will ever read this, but… well, here it goes. About three years ago, something happened. I don’t know what it was, or why it happened, but what I do know is it killed EVERYONE I have ever known and loved. I thought I could beat it, but everything had just become too much. I miss my family, and at this point I’m willing to do just about anything to see them again. So I’m going to do it: something I should have a long time ago. Lia, be ready for me please. We have much catching up to do. And Elle, baby, I love you so much. Daddy’s coming home.
Instead, Ruddy left the room, tail between her legs. The pack would be to the room soon, and the man—the last man on Earth—would just become another meal.