Sara ran through the house, and I followed a few steps behind. I don’t know what I hoped to find. Maybe there would be some message, somehow left behind, ink splashed on the walls or dust on the floor to spell out words. But there wasn’t anything. It looked almost as if Alexis had stepped out for the day, going off to meet with her friends for book club or a brunch where she’d listen sympathetically to their issues.
If I closed my eyes, I could almost convince myself that she would be stepping back in through the front door, any minute now.
Sara popped her head out from our guest bedroom. “Hey, am I supposed to be doing something?” she asked me, interrupting my melancholy.
I blinked, tried to think. “No,” I answered.
She didn’t go away. “Are you sure? You’re looking for your wife, right? You thought that she might be here?”
The comment, even stated so blandly, nearly brought tears to my eyes. I growled a little, fighting them down. “She’s not here, it seems. So we’ll be leaving in a few minutes. Go back and rejoin the others.”
She wasn’t here. I’d launched this whole trip, this foolhardy expedition inland, into the heart of the zone affected by the Event, just on the wild hope that I might find my wife here. But she wasn’t here, and it had all been a waste. Maybe, if we could stop Nathan Hobbson, or whatever he was now, we could try and spin the mission as not a complete waste – but none of that really mattered to me.
I’d failed in keeping her safe, failed in always being there with Alexis. Even if being there with her only meant that I’d died at her side.
It would almost be better than being here now, knowing that I’d lost her. She was gone forever, and I was trapped here in this hell, this empty world that would never again have the light of her smile, of her dancing green eyes, to help illuminate it.
“Did you see her note?”
I almost didn’t hear the words, at first. Only with great effort did they push their way to the forefront of my anguish. “What?” I said, looking over at Sara.
She rolled her eyes at me, an expression that certainly didn’t look out of place on her face. Basically a teenager already. “In the kitchen, silly. There was a note that she wrote for you, I think. On the counter. I thought you saw it already.”
Sara pulled back into the bedroom, and I heard the springs of the guest bed creaking in a few seconds; she must be hopping on it. I didn’t care, didn’t even tell her to knock it off. I bolted for the kitchen, spinning around wildly and running my gaze over the counters.
There! I saw a notepad, the kind that Alexis liked to use for her grocery shopping lists. It sat near the refrigerator, and I’d glossed right over at previously, thinking that it was just a half-finished list. I ran forward and grabbed it, fighting my fingers to not crumple it up as adrenaline surged through me and made me clumsy.
Sara was right. It was a note, a message. From my wife. Tears instantly swam in my eyes and threatened to prevent me from reading it, but I blinked them away, wiped roughly at my face with the back of one palm, stared at the note word by word.
“Brian,” I read. “Something’s happening. I don’t know what it is, it’s a pull inside my head. I can’t fight it for very long. It’s so strong. It wants me to join in, go with the others. I don’t think it’s going to hurt. It feels like it will be the right thing, like slipping into a warm bath. But I don’t know if you feel it, or where you are. I’m going into the bath, but if you’re not there, maybe you can come get me, find me. I love you.”
That was it. The pen lay next to the pad of paper on the counter. Just after writing the note, Alexis must have… been taken, disappeared, vanished like all the others. But she’d felt it, and had resisted, if just for a few seconds so that she could write me a message?
I set it down, moving it out of the way of the tears that I couldn’t contain any longer. She really was gone. Just like the others, she’d vanished. Had Nathaniel Hobbson done this? Did he somehow, with his unholy creation, reach out and make everybody in the United States, my wife included, vanish? Where did they go? Why?
Could they come back?
I hated that last thought, hated the hope that it briefly gave me. I fought it, tearing it to pieces and stomping those down into the dirt so that they couldn’t put themselves back together. I didn’t want to feel that terrible hope right now. It wouldn’t help.
Still, I tore the note off the pad, carefully folded it and tucked it into an inner pocket of my jacket. I patted it several times, making sure that it was secure, before turning away.
“Let’s go,” I called out to Sara, raising my voice so that it carried through the house.
She popped up a minute later, frowning. “We’re going already? I thought we were going to get to see all sorts of cool stuff you have.”
She shrugged. “Dunno. Do you have a big military gym with ropes to climb and stuff? And pits of mud, and those wires that you have to crawl under?”
“Not here,” I said, grappling briefly with the memory of how I tried, and failed, to convince Alexis to let me build just such a gym in the back yard. “But there’s a little store in town that sells freeze-dried ice cream, and we could have time to stop there if we get going now.”
It was a cheap ploy, but it worked. Alexis gave me one last little roll of her eyes, trying to make it clear that she knew that I was trying to manipulate her and was choosing of her own volition to go along with it, but headed out to the truck. I lingered for a moment longer, trying to think if there was anything else I wanted from my house.
One last thing. I opened the door to our bedroom, trying to mentally brace myself against the flood of memories that came from all my senses’ experiencing of the interior. The smell of the laundry detergent used on the sheets. The way the light landed in a dappled pattern on the comforter, split by the slatted blinds. The messy bed, still dirty from the last time my wife slept in it. I suspected that, if I’d lain down in that spot, I might still be able to get a whiff of her, a memory of her smell.
I stayed away from the bed. Instead, I went to her dresser, opening the small box on top.
Her wedding ring wasn’t there, of course; she’d almost certainly been wearing it when… when the Event happened. But there was a small locket in the jewelry box, one that I knew would be there. She only put it on for special occasions, ones that were special to both of us. Anniversaries, Valentine’s Day.
I lifted it up, carefully flipped it open. I looked down at the two pictures carefully tucked inside, behind paper-thin glass.
One showed her, Alexis, her head up and that beautiful, enchanting smile dancing around her lips. The other showed the pair of us, me looking uncomfortable and stiff, her with her arms wrapped around me and delighting in just being beside me.
I fastened the locket around my neck, tucking it beneath my shirt and jacket. There. I still had some part of her.
I headed back out to the truck, where Sara was already bouncing up and down impatiently in her seat, demanding that I tell her what freeze-dried ice cream was, whether it was cold and sugary like the real stuff.
We headed back into town, back towards the others. I chatted idly with her, but my thoughts were turned ahead.
We would stop Hobbson. It wouldn’t get my wife back, but if he’d done this… the son of a bitch was going in the ground. Even if it took my life.
Especially if it killed me, took me to the same place as where Alexis surely waited for me.
To be continued…