In love it may be dangerous / to reckon on time to count
on it time’s here and then / it’s gone I’m not thinking
of death or disaster but of / the slippage the unpredictable
disappearance of days on which / we were depending for happiness.
James Laughlin, Elusive Time,
Note: Players are welcome to add anything I overlooked, edit anything I got wrong – especially Hank and Billy’s conversation on the street outside Brewer’s Pub, the details of which I simply cannot recall.
Jackson steadies Deputy Jimmy Masters as they head for the front door of the station, stopping only briefly so Masters can set the phones to ring over to the state police after they leave. “Take the cruiser on the left,” Masters tells Jackson shakily. “You can even use the lights all the way to the hospital if you want.” The deputy slumps into the passenger seat, half-dazed with pain and shock as Jackson peels out, the sirens blaring and lights flashing on the roof.
The rain is still steady as he speeds towards the Whitman County Hospital and Medical Center. Flooded roads and downed trees force Jackson to back-track some and take side roads; he’s so intent on getting the injured deputy to medical care, he barely registers the occasional police chatter he hears on the radio. There’s something about a reported death at some place on Cedar Street.
The parking lot of the hospital is crowded, and he follows an ambulance into the dedicated emergency room bay. When the hospital staff there see him help in the stumbling deputy, they rush to Jimmy’s assistance – and at first, don’t even notice who it brought him in. But Jackson can almost sense when someone does recognize him, and the sideways glances – even glares – make him uncomfortable. Once he is sure that Jimmy has been taken back and is being taken care of, Jackson turns and heads back out to the patrol car, which he pulls into one corner of the busy parking lot and tries to decide what to do.
Mark sits inside his house, glad that he can’t hear whatever laughter might be coming out of Ted at that moment. It seems to take forever for anyone to arrive, and he almost reaches for the phone to call 911 again. But it has been one of those spring thunderstorms, and he knows that the sheriff’s department is probably swamped with accidents all over the county – there might not have been anyone too close by.
But when he peeks out from the front window again, he is relieved to see a county cop car pull up to the curb. A petite brunette with her hair pulled back behind her head gets out of the passenger side, while the tall lanky figure of Sheriff George Bowman emerges from the driver’s side. The deputy loosens the security flap over the gun in her holster as they both cross the yard to the Millers’ front door.
After that, it’s just more waiting – Mark can’t see or hear anything from next door. A good twenty minutes passes before Bowman knocks on his front door. “Mr. Andrews?” The Sheriff extends one hand, and Mark invites him into the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee. He doesn’t ask what happened next door – he’s not sure he wants to know. The Sheriff doesn’t volunteer any information either, just comments that it has been a hell of a night dealing with the storm before pulling out his notebook to take down in detail the answers Mark gives to his questions.
Outside, they hear voices, and the Sheriff gets up to check. “What the hell?” he mutters with a note of frustration, before going out.
Billy rolls the window down on his truck and shouts out, “Hank! What’s goin’ on? Any trouble?”
“Maybe,” Hank says as he ambles over. He’s still uneasy over what the stranger said in the bar. He explains what happened, how the man had commented on the Millers as if they were in the past tense.
“Should we call Sheriff Bowman?” Billy asks as he gets out of his truck. Hank tells him that he’d asked Tom Willis to do just that, and they walked into the pub, where Tom tells them he hadn’t been able to get anyone at the police station. When Billy and Hank ask Tom if he wants to join them in checking on the Millers, the widower shakes his head.
“Honest, Hank, I’ve had enough of death the past couple of weeks to last me a while,” Tom answers with a shake of his head. But he accepts their offer to drop him off at his house before they head over to Cedar Street.
Billy pulls over next the curb behind the parked patrol car, the lights of which are still flashing. Emma Campbell, the female deputy standing on the front porch, thumbs hooked over her belt, steps forward. “Billy, Hank. What are you doing here?” She’s at least a decade their junior, but well known to both of them. The Campbells, like the Corsons and the Brewers, have been in Whitman County for well over a century.
They explain what brought them there briefly, and Emm reluctantly confirms that something bad happened at the Millers that night before Sheriff Bowman interrupts them and they have to recap why they drove out. “Tom Willis couldn’t get anybody at the police station,” Hank explains.
“Jimmy Masters is supposed to be holding down the fort,” Bowman mutters. He disappears into his car, presumably to try to call up the station.
“Cheryl and Jackie Miller are … they were pretty cut up,” Emma says. She’s clearly glad to be out on the porch. “We left Ted hand-cuffed in the kitchen.” She looks at both Billy and Hank. “What the hell’s going on tonight?”
Billy is even more on edge than the young deputy. “I don’t know, Emma. Tonight I woke up to find some ghost-girl in my kitchen, all wet and muddy, and she can’t talk at first, and when she does, she tells me something freaky like the harvest is coming. You grew up here, Emma, you know there’s no harvest this time of year. And then the light goes out and she just disappears and there’s no sign she was even there. And then Hank tells me there’s this creepy guy at his bar. Emma, I tell you, I’ve never been so rattled.”
[Sean “Tiny” ….]
Tiny parks his pick-up against the curb and stifles a yawn. The rainstorm, and the flooded roads, had forced him to turn back – if not for the weather, he’d be ensconced in his hunting cabin by now. As it was, he’d probably spend the next few days helping cut up fallen trees and clearing the roads. For now, it would be nice to get a hot meal at the Mill Street Diner – nothing like breakfast served 24/7, 365 days a year.
Turning his collar up, he slips his hands into the pockets of his coat and sprints across the street, already tasting the bacon and hot coffee. Another crash of lightning, and the streetlights and the neon sign above the diner entrance go dark. Tiny pulls open the door and steps in, blinking at the darkness of the empty and eerily silent diner. He flicks on the small light on his keychain fob and spins it around the diner – the counter and at least one booth show the remains of meals, as if the patrons have just stepped away. And back in the kitchen, eggs and bacon are still frying on the quickly cooling grill.
Jackson almost jumps through the roof when the radio in Jimmy Masters’ patrol car crackles over the steady sound of the rain on the roof. “Deputy Masters,” Sheriff Bowman’s voice, “where the hell are you?”
Jackson reaches out for the hand-mic and fumbles with the buttons before figuring out how to answer. “Ummm… Jimmy can’t come to the radio right now.”
There’s a long pause before Bowman speaks again. “Jackson, is that you?” Another long pause follows when Jackson confirms who he is. Jackson can almost feel the sheriff’s disbelief as he explains why Jimmy can’t answer … and why Jackson is sitting in the patrol car, Jimmy’s handgun on the seat next to him, at the hospital.
“Jackson, what is going on?”
“There was an accident”
“What happened?” the Sheriff asks, as if dreading the answer.
“I shot the guy in the other cell.” Jackson winces when he says it, bracing himself.
“Jimmy told me too, he attacked Jimmy, almost bit his arm off!”
“Jackson, I want you to put the gun into the glove compartment of the car,” Bowman tells him slowly. “And stay right where you are.” Jackson leans over to put the pistol into the glove compartment, but jerks upright when another blinding flash of lightning crashes outside. He blinks to clear his vision, realizing that the lights in the emergency bay, and the lights illuminating the parking lot have gone out. Within 30 second, though, the hospital’s generators kick in, enough to illuminate the emergency bay and the building.
Jackson watches as a gurney – only moments before bearing a patient and pushed by two EMTs – rolls across the parking lot, empty. “Uh, Sheriff,” he says, “something weird just happened here. A bunch of people just … disappeared.”
The caller ID on his cell phone tells him the call is from Sophie. “Hi, hon,” she starts out cheerily, despite the late hour. “Things are crazy here – they need me to work a double-shift.” She explains that the storm has led to a lot of accidents, and the hospital is a little short-staffed for the sudden demand. The lightning flash and a burst of static interrupt their conversation for a moment. Finding himself standing in darkness, as his power goes out, Mark can hear Sophie take in a sharp breath.
“Sophie? What’s wrong?”
“Mark?” A note of fear has entered her voice. “Mark … I … don’t know what happened.” She sounds like she is starting to run, and he can almost picture her speeding down the white antiseptic corridors of the hospital. “Where
-? A bunch of people just disappeared. Right here in the waiting room. Oh my god.”
Mark takes a moment to tell her to calm down, that he’ll be there as soon as he can. He dresses quickly, pulls on his shoes, snaps a leash on Manny and dashes into the rain for his car.
Bowman ducks out of his car within seconds after the power goes out. “Emma, get Miller out here – I’ll take him to the jail. I need you to keep the scene secure.” There’s something about his expression that told them something odd was happening. “Hank, Billy, can you follow me there?”
They get back to the station to find Tiny already there – the huge lumberjack had stepped in to find the station unmanned, and barely had enough time to take his coat off before the other three arrive. Bowman stores the blood-covered Miller in a locked interview room, and explains in quick, short sentences what Jackson Bennett told him happened to Jimmy and then later at the hospital. If it was just Jackson, maybe they would all discount it – but Bowman had already called the hospital itself on the drive over, to confirm that people had also disappeared inside the building. “No one answered at the closest state troopers’ barracks either.”
Hank and Billy take a look at the prisoner in the back – the big man still sits on the edge of his cot. He stands when they step beyond the door to the hall, and Hank is startled to see that he looks so much like the man in his bar they might be twins. “He – he looks just like the Children of the Corn guy!” Hank exclaims to Billy. “Except – not as tired-looking.”
Billy steps forward, but not close enough for the guy to reach him. “You know what’s going on, don’t you, you fucker?” But the man does not answer.
Tiny volunteers to go to a nearby apartment building to see if he can rouse anyone by ringing the buzzers – half go ignored, half lead to different people cursing him out for waking them in the middle of the night. Inside the police station, the others take copies of the Colfax and Whitman County phone books and start dialing through numbers, checking off where they reach someone and where they don’t. Passing by, Billy can see that the top of Bowman’s “no response” column is Bowman’s own wife, Lillian.
Hank flips on a tv in the front office, flipping through the channels, finding most of them blank with white snow and one channel running a marathon of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Nothing informative on the radio. Hank steps into an empty doorway and pulls out his cell-phone, dials Florida. “Mom?” It’s three hours later in Florida, his parents are both probably already awake. She answers, exchanges pleasantries, tries to tell him about the new golf cart his father wants to buy. Eventually, he’s able to get through to her to turn on her TV and check the news.
“Why Hank,” she says with a note of surprise, “FEMA says there’s some sort of chemical spill in southeast Washington. Are you okay? You should stay inside, seal the doors and windows against any fumes.” There are a few more minutes of that, and he reassures her that he’ll watch out for any strange smells.
Tiny reports in quickly. “Sheriff, we should think about calling people in. Maybe to the hospital, a place where everybody can be … safe, I guess.”
Bowman agrees. “I’ll tell Emma to come in. I guess I don’t need her out there to guard two dead bodies right now. And for now, you’re all deputized.” The four of them quickly put into place a plan to call everyone they can reach and ask them to make their way to the Whitman County Hospital and Medical Center, to drive out into the county, to go door-to-door. Tiny heads for the fire station to turn on the sirens and use the speakers to call people out.
Billy starts ferrying people in his pick-up, those who can’t drive. At one run-down house, he pounds at the door. This is Susan Dempsey’s house, he reminds himself. He had known her parents, drunks that they were. The no-good boyfriend who got her pregnant at 18 and left her high and dry. “Who’s there?” a voice asked. It was Adam. Whatever else Susan had done, she was a good mother to her six-year-old son. She took care of Adam. But why wasn’t she the one to answer the door?
“Adam? It’s me, Billy Corson.”
“Mr. Corson?” He can hear the fear in the boy’s voice. “Where’s my Mom?”
Billy leaned his forehead against the door, feeling the rain still pelting his shoulders. “Adam-” He stopped to clear his throat, to control his voice. “I need you to unlock the door and come with me.”
[At the hospital…]
By the time people start trickling into the hospital, Mark has already set himself up in an inner office. Sophie had been visibly relieved to see him, burying her face in his neck. “It’s staff, patients, everywhere,” she told him, voice trembling. “Babies from the maternity ward, some of the mothers. People in ICU.” Mark had quickly canvassed the staff, trying to figure out a pattern – any pattern – for who went missing: Patient or staff? Awake or asleep? What floors were they on? In what rooms? The senior physician on site, Dr. Nora Robb, seems glad to leave it to him, able to direct her remaining staff to taking care of the sick and injured.
Sophie readily agrees to take names, alerts him when Larry Johnson, one of the local supervisors for Avista Utilities, arrives. Mark takes Larry aside, introduces himself. “The generators at the hospital aren’t going to last long,” and Larry is already nodding, breaking in with how that last lightning flash might have hit one of the substations, there’s a couple of his crew already here. From the way he talks, Mark can tell the man almost seems to welcome the chance to actually do something, something he knows. Just do his job, like he would after any storm. Mark makes sure Larry and the other three have his cell number, and Sophie’s, and Dr. Robb’s. He fights the urge to tell them to stay together, then stops them as they head back out to say it anyway.
The noise from the entry lobby gets louder as more people arrived. Sophie reports back to Mark periodically – people say they can’t reach folks in nearby Pullman, mutters about some sort of government screw-up, or aliens, or the like. Mark shakes his head, and posts a message to a moveable mailing list he frequents (the host and address changes all the time). He also flips through the news Websites and the TV, not learning much.
Urged by Bowman not to stay alone in the car, Jackson goes into the hospital, trying to stay on the sidelines, away from the hospital staff who had worked with Peggy Willis, or from the many others in Colfax who know him, know his crime. Hank Brewer shows up, starts trying to calm folks down, organizing someone to take over the cafeteria and start meals, asking people to check in and make lists of folks who might be missing. People’s emotions are running high. “Is it true that no one can raise Pullman?” someone asks. “Or the state police?” someone chimes in. “What happened to Jimmy?” “Yeah and why’s he not locked up in jail anymore?” another points to Jackson, who wants to sink into the floor.
“Listen, folks,” Hank bellows out as he stands on top of a table. “We have to calm down and not let ourselves lose control. Jackson’s here because he saved Jimmy Masters. He fought off the guy who attacked him, and then brought the deputy right here. He could’ve run after that, but he didn’t. He’s one of us, and he’s here with us. I know there are a lot of rumors going around, but you gotta hold it together. …”
It’s about 4:30 a.m., and Mark can only barely hear the distant sounds of Hank’s voice. The sound of messages arriving drowns it out.
Early morning East Coast news reports are sparse – CNN had a short blurb about some sort of chemical spill by a freight train in Whitman County, feds are ordering people to stay in their homes and not travel. Will see if anyone else has some chatter. -fl1ck
Dud3! N0 weigh! Its the ALIENS!!!
Shut the fuck up, SOCOM, if you don’t have anything useful to add. M., a friend of mine in Manila tells me weird things are happening north of the city there – a whole village apparently just disappeared.
Shut the fuck up yourself, FlamingFag. Why don’t you go make sweet sweet love to your PS3, ashoel? I bet you have a “friend” in Manila, you just love those young boys, dont’yuo? They lov you logn tiem.
Red, just automatically shitcan anything from him – the rest of us only have to see him when you respond. M., nothing more coming out of the usual news sources. A link in Pullman txted to say the whole town is now under an evacuation order – right before cell service and all internet connections were cut off.
It’s the government conpsirign with the aliens!
Olá. As always, always, pardon my poor English please. The transmission of radio reports here in Cuiaba, Brazil is that the people have gone in Pontes E Lacerda to northwest – I am going Adaho my cousin on his motorcyle and to see if we can find some information. The transmissions sounds very same as that M. is telling of Washington. One makes to think does anyone what is is that goes on? Does one know any in the american government that could be able filling in them?
Coromondel here in NZ has gone silent.
Just a bunch of sehep fuckers anywya.
All – The Spanish government has declared a national emergency in Malaga and has issued a request for immediate assistance of the European Union. The electrical grid went down first, and all cell communications are dead. If there’s something going on, this is the biggest population center that has been hit – Malaga proper has over half a million people, and the greater metropolitan area has more than a million total.
Thanks, C. Grim stuff. A contact of mine suggests that we all check out this site: antipodemap. Call up Malaga and notice what comes up on the other side of the world.
Mark enters the URL, sees the GoogleEarth interface, finds Malaga on the map … and sees Coromondel, New Zealand directly opposite.