Five Mile

Five Mile

 

Introduction

 

My pen name is Kip Caller.  I’ve used it so much that it has become a permanent fixture.  My friends know me as Kip.  Chase my canine partner still knows me as Steve Simpson.  Not that Chase’s opinion counts in the real world outside of our little white country cottage, he is just a dog.  He is much more than that to me.  One slurping wet kiss from him helps me face the morning and I hate the morning and the twenty-four hours following.  My age?  Let’s say too old to understand the complexities of rap music, yet I do remember the Vietnam War first hand.

 

I say that my friends call me Kip but I should clarify the statement.  My circle of friends include Frank Young who lives a mile down the road from me and stops by once a week to drink beer and watch sports.  The rest of my inner circle of friends includes my agent, my editor, and my thirty year old son who thinks of me as an asshole but does call me once in awhile to make sure I’m still alive.  It worries me slightly that he is so concerned about my breathing or not breathing.  Perhaps my will is in the forethoughts of his concern.

 

The fact is I have contempt for life, my ex wife, and the phony workers at the utility company.  I write, not a great writer, just a writer.  You won’t see me on the front page of Time nor will you see a film clip of me shaking hands with some great dignitary as I am accepting a Pulitzer Prize.  Nope, I am the writer with just enough creative juices to puke up a mediocre novel that people buy randomly because the name Kip Caller appeals to them or the book cover graphics are cool.  My books help fill the many pages of internet book discounters, a filler, just an extra in a great cinematic burlesque.

 

I made enough money to keep making my house payment, eating, and paying the bills.  Fans, do I have fans?  Not as many as Dean Koontz or James Patterson.  However, occasionally someone recognizes me from a photograph they saw on my Amazon author’s page, otherwise, I remain anonymous.  I prefer it.  That’s why I live out on the scuffed and loosely graded gravel road known simply as River Road.  Traffic is a rare commodity out here.  Farmers, fishermen, rubber rafters, and an occasional rowdy group of drunken kids or even younger lovers drive by slowly.  A speed of over forty miles an hour will cause tires to lose footing on the gravel thus leaving drivers helpless to steer their vehicles.

 

The winter is rough.  Snow and ice storms will often shut our power down and close our road.  The rule along this little stretch of wilderness is to own a generator and plenty of gasoline.  Every resident owns an all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile.  The closest gas and grocery store is Gobles about five miles north in a small river village called aptly Five Mile.  All two hundred citizens of Five Mile are either retired or make a living at the small butchering plant two miles further north of the town’s limits.

 

In mid October I decided to fire up my old Honda Accord and drive to Five Mile to do some preparation shopping.  About this time every year for the past ten years I would shop the small town to gather staples for winter.  I needed gasoline, extra food, and booze, mostly booze.  Winters are difficult to endure without the dark yellow healing powers of tequila and cheap scotch.  This day generally excited me, not sure why.  Maybe the idea of complete solitude afforded by winter’s crass behavior invigorated me.  However this day turned out to be a deadly one not soon to be forgotten.

 

***

 

Goble’s Gas and Go stood on the main drag of Five Mile, actually the only drag in the town.  Today there were few customers.  Mike Goble owned the place and how he could afford to keep the lights on stood beyond my imagination.  Some days he probably would be better served by staying home and selling junk on E Bay.  I filled up my reserve tanks for the generator and topped off the tank of my car.  The sky began swelling up for a cold October rain storm so I scurried into the station to pay for my gas.  Nothing stirred or should I say no one stirred?  The old desk fan Mike kept running year around hummed and oscillated to keep Mike cool.  Only there was no Mike.  I scanned the convenience gas station and saw no one, but I could hear something beneath the humming of the fan, a groan.

 

Not a normal groan, it sounded more like a groan made by an animal, like a pig or wild boar.  No, it was too rhythmic to be an animal. Something told me I didn’t want to visit the place from which this sound emanated yet it drew me in like a magnet to steel.  My mind began arguing with itself.  The logical section, wherever that might be, told me that Mike and the sound were one in the same and the reason for that could not be a good thing.  The illogical side of my argument told me to check it out.  After all, Mike is a good guy and wouldn’t harm a flea.  He drank beer with me over at Saunders’ Bar and Grill.  Mike loved to talk about his son who made it through the rigors of medical school started practicing medicine at some high and mighty hospital in Chicago.  “Mike isn’t going to hurt you.”

 

Unfortunately for me the illogical side of the argument prevailed so I cautiously walked in the direction of the sound, no longer a groan.  I padded as quietly as I could through the most distal aisle from the checkout.  I turned the corner of a row of crowded shelves and my body literally jerked with revulsion when I saw the creature writhing in agony on the floor.  The creature Mike screeched in agony.  I say creature Mike because the thing carried Mike’s face but contorted like the old fun mirrors at a carnival.  One mirror distorted your head and made it look three times bigger than normal another would distorted your body so it looked like a pear.  This is no mirror.  This is creature Mike with pleading eyes.  I knew the odor from a chemistry class I took as a youngster, hydrochloric acid.

 

I could expect a thirty minute wait if I called the sheriff’s office.  They would need to stop for a couple of glazed before coming to visit Mike’s new insane asylum.  Torn between just running the hell away from the gas station and attempting to help Mike, I did nothing.  I stood there with my eyes glazed over like the donuts the county boys were surely eating right now.  Suddenly I felt something gripping my leg, the Mike creature.  “Holp!”  Mike screamed.  “Holp!”  I tried to twist my leg out its grip, but Mike’s grip held like a vice.  I had no choice but to grab the hand-like aperture and try to wrestle myself free, but I stopped when Mike called my name.  “Kip,” I could only stare down in pity.  “Kip, holp…moonstar in fife mill.”  His grip loosened as he gasped.  Mike lay dead and I ran to the cashier’s counter and grabbed the phone.  Donuts or not I called the sheriff’s office.

 

***

 

“Holy Love of Mary what the hell is it?”  Deputy Brett Morrison, a large man with a girth that would definitely give Santa Claus pause to consider a diet program.  Morrison’s head appeared to be shaved and his blue eyes the only remaining characteristic suggesting at one time he might have been handsome.  He stood at least six inches taller than me.  What’s with these cops?  Is it a requirement to be no smaller than a rhinoceros to wear a badge?  “It, I mean the deceased sure looks like Mike, but just his face.  The rest of him looks like some kind of digested penguin.”  I would have laughed but the deputy’s face showed no humor.  “What did he say to you again?”

 

“Kip, help there’s a monster in Five Mile.”  Those weren’t the exact words, but more a translation of the creature’s last garbling attempt at speech.

 

“Shit, the only monster I know in Five Mile is Clarence Otter and he’s just an asshole.  Do assholes count as monsters?”  I tried to read the deputy’s face.  Surely this was some kind of nervous humor.  I’m sure Morrison didn’t possess a metaphysical bone in his skull so it had to be humor.

 

“I don’t think so,” I said as flatly as I could, humor didn’t find me at this moment.  “Do you think you should kind of make the rounds to see if anyone has seen a…a monster?”

 

The deputy stared at me not with a look of anger, but more of a state of perplexity.  He searched for words.  “Okay, let’s start over at Saunders.  I mean if anyone has witnessed something strange that would be the best place to start.”

 

His reference to “we” did not go unnoticed.  I wanted nothing to do with this strange incident.  I told him as much.  “Deputy, shouldn’t you call for back-up?  I would love nothing better to help you, but I have to get home.”

 

He smiled, “Kip you’re the only witness I have and I must insist.”  I followed dutifully and reluctantly.

 

***

 

The possibility of alien life forms has always been an interest to sky watchers and apocalyptic believers.  The number of believers of other-worldly visitors has increased over the past fifty years.  There was nothing like a heavy dose of fear to draw more sinners to Jesus.  They multiplied like flies on a corpse.  But, this is real and reality is something religionists like to deny.  Stuff like global warming and the truth of the earth’s real age were not real to them.  They were products of over stimulated scientists.  Of course the over stimulated sex drives of their ministers were simply the results of being human and God forgives all that kind of nastiness.

 

What I saw today could not be assigned a religious paradigm or maybe not even a scientific paradigm.  All I know is that I saw what I saw, a terribly mutated store owner who tried his damndest even in what had to be unspeakable pain to tell me what happened and he used the word monster.  I am not the kind of guy that goes out to look for dragons and things which go bump in the night, but today I ran into the unknown howbeit serendipitously.  What is the definition of a monster?  I say a monster is a chameleon.  Its color changes to fit the mind of readers, watchers, and fear mongers.  In other words it is a subjective entity for monster hunters.

 

***

 

What we saw at Saunders’ Bar and Grill drew a gasp of shock and complete horror from us both.  Though its usual dark and dreary ambience lay undisturbed the bar reeked of body fluids and the sweet smell of raw flesh.  Morrison bent over one of the bar stools and began vomiting as I scurried back through the front door.  What the hell did I just see?  Not much, it was too dark to see much of anything.  I held my head like it would burst with too much stimuli being fed to it.  Did I see old Roy Saunders hanging onto the cash register with his head lobbed off?  Did I see a half dozen maybe more customers with their entrails ripped away from their chests like the kill floor in a meat butchering plant?  I’m not certain.

 

Morrison scuffled right behind me wiping his mouth with a napkin he must have lifted from the bar.  “Jesus fucking Christ, Kip, what the hell is happening?  I’ve got to get help.”  Although I sympathized with the situation the deputy faced, I personally wanted to get the hell out of Five Mile as fast as my little Honda could move.  Unfortunately the small part of my brain that still contains a trace of morality told me I needed to remain with the deputy.

 

“Deputy, I’ll stay with you but you have to promise me that you’re going to yank that pistol out of its scabbard and hold it in your hand at all times, that is, after you make the call.”

 

“Okay, I can do that.”  Morrison sounded like a little obedient child even though we were nearly the same age.  “I think we need to check some other places.  Whatever we’re dealing with must be hiding somewhere.”

 

“Shouldn’t we wait?”

 

Morrison nodded somberly.  We sat down on wooden bench in front of Saunders’ Bar.  He spoke into his walkie-talkie or whatever they’re called.  “Chief, this is Morrison we need help at Five Mile.  We got at least seven or eight down.”

 

The voice on the other end choppily replied, “Copy that deputy, two cars on the way…chief’s guiding the show.”

 

“Copy that.”  Morrison said without emotion, “We’ll stay put until they get here, shouldn’t be more than five minutes or so.”  With his pistol in his hand he sat in a prayer position.  He held his head as exasperation obviously ruled his mind.  I felt the exasperation.  In fact, if I had a pair of scissors I could probably cut it like a piece of heavy cardboard.  Morrison chose to stand instead of sit on the bench.  I couldn’t help noticing, even in the midst of this surreal soiree, the physical differences between the deputy and me.  Here I was dressed in my usual sweatshirt, an old military hat covering my salt and pepper hair which was way too long and often crept over my beady brown eyes.  The deputy’s appearance of course more than antithetical to mine, a Marine wannabe and a waif who wants to be no one in particular?

 

***

 

Back up came rolling in like the cavalry riding into a massive genocide of Native Americans.  Things were deadly quiet except for the sound of brown and tan cruisers making their way to Saunders.  Behind them came three ambulances obviously borrowed from the county seat of Lordes Crossing.

 

The big man getting out of the lead cruiser wore a brown wide-brimmed hat with gold beading encircling it like Caesar’s crown, must have been Sheriff Montclair.  “Who’s that twerp standing next to you Morrison?

 

“Name’s Kip,” I said with more than just a little indignation.

 

“I know who you are.  I’ve read a couple of your books.  The question is what the hell is going on here?”

 

“I’m honored you’ve read my books,” I said snidely, “but I’m afraid what we have here is not from one of my books.”

 

“Well sheriff,” Morrison began, “It appears we have a murderer running the streets of Five Mile.  You might want to check out Saunders.”  He gave his thumb a ride to the bar and grill.  “And over at Gobles is an even stranger sight.”

 

***

 

Jay Devon stood in front of the mirror checking out his new look.  He assumed the dead woman lying on the couch was named Sawyer since the little swinging sign on the light post outside proclaimed “The Sawyers.”  The cute white ducklings waddling around the name Sawyers disgusted him making the killing and eviscerating much easier, not that either task posed an inconvenience.

 

Jay cared little about the nasty little boys wearing badges.  He would wait them out until dark.  He figured Mrs. Sawyer would have no visitors today.  By the looks of all the flowers and the small urn on the fireplace mantle the lady’s husband was dead.  Jay saw no pictures of kids or grandkids so everything was going smoothly.  As soon as night made its way into this little burg he would slip into the darkness and disappear.

 

No one in Five Mile remembers him but he remembered them.  Just a red headed kid with a face full of freckles, kids only knew him as a punching bag for their bullies.  His only purpose for coming here was to exact revenge, to kill the people that laughed him into insanity.  His killing complete he needed now only to wait.

 

Mike Goble, his first kill today, drove the school bus in which Jay would sit and have his school mates spit on him and pinch him at every stop.  He used acid on old man Goble, slow and painful just the way he liked it. The rest of the bastard he shot in the head and gutted them, not quite as much fun as hydrochloric acid.

 

Jay worked as a graphic designer for digital films and commercials.  His company Rainbow Productions stood on the north side of Indianapolis in the Carmel area a rich man’s haven.  However he could not afford the exuberant cost of living so rented a small apartment on the inner city.  Currently two bodies were buried beneath his house, one a homeless man and the other a player, gang banger.

 

So far, Jay Devon remained a stranger everywhere he went.  In the city he could easily get lost in the crowds, but this was a risk.  How many red headed killers roamed Cross County?  His SUV was well hidden in a small copse of woods just north of the small town.

 

Before Jay’s parents died of mysterious gunshot wounds on the south side of Indy, they tried to have him admitted to a mental health center but were told that Jay would simply outgrow his reclusive and oft time violent behavior.  His high school years in Indy were tumultuous to say the least.  After nearly chewing off the arm of his prom date for not providing a blow job, the judicial system sent him away for a brief stay at a detention center.  No one bothered him at the center, too many stories were told of his violent and deluded behavior.

 

He attended a nearby technical institute and learned how to create digital designs.  Jay loved the job and for three or four years his appetite for violence subsided, but eventually his hunger overwhelmed his love of job.  Thus, the world welcomed Jay Devon another psychopath with a need to kill and laugh about it.

 

***

 

I insisted that I needed to go home to feed Chase who probably by now prepared himself to break the Cardinal rule of no peeing in the house.  I can’t say that I blame him.  If left to myself with no accessible bathroom facilities I no doubt would pee wherever possible.  Sheriff Montclair had other plans for me.  “You stay put Kip.  I don’t really give a rat’s ass about your dog’s urinary tract or his bowel movements.  We need you for a statement.  After Morrison takes your statement you can leave, but as cliché, cliché can be, don’t go too far from your home.”

 

Morrison decided to take my statement on the bench in front of Saunders’ Bar.  I didn’t care for the questions being asked.  They implicitly gave me the jitters.  “Where were you before you decided to get fuel from Goble’s and if you were somewhere else in town, just where might that be?  Did anyone see you arrive?  Do you know of anyone that might not like you in Five Mile?”

 

The questions were necessary I guess but nevertheless I felt like a person of interest.  I said as much.  “Deputy Morrison could you be thinking I might have had something to do with this crazy massacre?”

 

“No, no,” He assured me, “Just standard questions we must ask.  Besides if you did all of this why call the police?”

 

“Exactly,” I replied yet I was still uneasy about it.

 

I’m not paranoid but I do care about what’s left of my reputation.  I squeezed myself in the Honda and decided to head home.  All traffic through the little town had been averted and travelers were now trying to figure out how in hell to get home on the secondary routes.  If you know anything about Indiana one wrong turn onto a gravel road could lead you to Siberia or worse.  Out of habit I glanced up and down the empty street.  That’s when I saw something or someone.

 

Three houses down the street from Saunders I saw a curtain move.  Not unusual right?  I normally would have thought nothing of it, but these weren’t exactly normal times.  It was the hands, hands that were red.  I argued with myself.  They could have been red gloves.  Perhaps they were the hands of…what?  People seldom wear gloves around the house, but someone who decided to use the entire business district of Five Mile as a butcher shop might have red hands.

 

As my id and ego wrestled with one another over the idea of mentioning it to the sheriff I heard a thump on my side window.

 

***

 

I startled when I saw the expressionless eyes of a sparrow staring at me obviously dazed by its unexpected impact with my window.  I’m not superstitious.  I want that known up front, but I have to say that the eerie red hands and the sparrow’s misguided landing had me spooked.  Morrison’s smile indicated to me he saw the sparrow’s accident.  The sparrow fluttered off in a rather erratic flight pattern.  “That was the only funny thing that’s happened so far today,” He said.

 

I laughed nervously but didn’t feel amused.  “I just saw something deputy.”

 

“The bird?”

 

“No, something weird or worse, someone moved the curtains in the third house down from Saunders.”

 

“Nothing unusual, there are nosey neighbors in this flea bag town.”

 

“With bloody hands?”

 

Morrison stared at me and said nothing.  He swiftly grabbed the microphone strapped across his shoulder.  I heard him forward the information to the sheriff.  Suddenly I saw men running towards the house with weapons in hand.  That’s when the house exploded.  The ground shuddered with earthquake-like tremors.  Two officers were blown back by the impact.  One of them hit a parked car the other was thrown mercilessly on the cold asphalt of the street.  I couldn’t see the third guy, but felt certain I saw at least three men running towards the house.

 

Morrison responded lightning fast.  He ran towards the officers down and was speaking into his mike while running.  Paramedics rushed towards the downed officers.  I was frozen in place.  It was like watching an episode of some true-to-life television program except no cameras were rolling.

 

Almost immediately the house became engulfed in flames.  A siren began whining and within minutes Five Mile’s only fire truck pulled up to the scene.  Three men cloaked in their rubber raincoats jumped off the back of the truck.  I felt certain some of their team mates were lying in an eviscerated heap at Saunders.  Their chance of putting out the fire would be similar to my chance of going home and not finding dog pee on the carpet.

 

***

 

As I watched the insanity I heard another thud, and then thud thud thud.  Soon there were at least a ten birds lying on the car’s hood.  Unlike the first bird these sparrows were dead on arrival.  What was happening?  Is there a sign on my car that says traveling mortuary for birds?  I didn’t think so.  I slipped out of the car and stared at the instant cemetery on my car’s hood.  I reached down to examine one of the birds but instantly pulled my hand back when I saw some kind of orange colored residue on it.  My first thought was pesticides, farmers use them but this was October and generally spraying was a spring thing.

 

Staring into the sky for more of my feathered Kamikaze friends my throat tightened when I saw the orange cloud hanging over the town.  My heart sank.  If these birds died from exposure to the ingredients in that cloud my worry about Chase peeing on the floor could very well be a futile concern.

 

I noticed a couple of the volunteer firemen staring up at the sky.  They too spotted it, its size too huge to measure.  From my vantage the orange haze appeared to span miles, maybe the entire county.  I left the birds and my car and ran to the nearest cover which happened to be Goble’s of course.  There were two paramedics moving Mike’s corpse onto a stretcher.  Neither of them looked over twenty-four or twenty-five years old.  I felt obligated to warn them not to go outside.  “Have you guys noticed the cloud hanging over our heads?”

 

One of them with buzzed blonde hair and a nametag declaring him to be Paul Smith shook his head and said nothing.

 

“There’s an orange low hanging cloud over us.  If I were you guys I wouldn’t go out there.”

 

Smith glanced out the store’s large windows and gasped.  “Holy shit what is it?”

 

“Don’t know, doesn’t look good though.”  I scanned the street and it was empty.  The troopers and firemen must have finally decided on a plan, take cover.

 

Just as I turned back towards the two paramedics the door swung open and Morrison bounded in.  The look of fear burned in his eyes, “Fuck, do you see that out there?”

 

I nodded my head but my mind wandered elsewhere.  The thought of dying kept zoning in on my principles.  I have been an atheist all of my life so dying didn’t have eternal consequences in my world, but leaving the world alone did bother me.  To leave my dog, my best friend, without a goodbye or a scruffy bark seemed unconscionable.  I also thought to myself that the last place on earth I wanted to die was this ghost town called Five Mile.

 

***

 

Jay lit the match just as he opened the backdoor.  He waited until the last possible moment.  No one saw him slip away from the carnage.  Running through a cornfield he headed for his vehicle.  He could see the copse of woods just at the end of the field.  His car was parked near the field and out of sight to onlookers.   Jay didn’t have a clue what floated above him.  There was no time to look up.

 

Once in the copse of woods Jay realized something dreadfully hung from the trees, a fog.  No, it couldn’t be fog.  The color wasn’t right, orange.  Fog is not orange and the smell, the putrid smell cut like a knife through his sinuses.  His eyes felt like they were bulging out of their sockets.  Frantic now he tried to make his way to the car, but fog can play tricks on the geography of things.

 

Just a faint shadow darker than its surroundings stood at a short distance.  Jay was certain the shadow was his car but the closer he hiked towards the more it looked nothing like it.  Instead of a car he walked straight into a large bramble bush.  “Son-of-a-bitch!”  He screeched from the pain of several needles sticking into his chest.  His mind began rambling.  The fog was affecting his judgment.  He laughed insanely at the thought, “My judgment,” He said to no one.  His fucking judgment just blew up in Five Mile.

 

Another image showed itself.  This time he felt certain the shadow belonged to his car.  He ambled towards the image.  There in the midst of the poisonous fog stood the car.  Fumbling for his remote opener he gulped another mouthful of the ethereal gas.  Jay became dizzy like vertigo dizzy and fell to the ground.  The trees spun around him as he lay flat on his back breathing more of the deadly air.  Sooner than he expected he felt a drowning sensation as if he were beneath thirty feet of water and out of air.  The last thing he saw was a sparrow falling from the sky, the orange smoky sky.

 

After degutting half the population of a small Midwestern town it was an irony of sorts.  A man who somewhere in his twisted and demonic mind thought himself invincible lay in a soup of orange indignity with a flock of dead sparrows posed to be his pallbearers into the world of death.

 

***

 

Sitting in the quiet gas station I heard the furnace kick on and felt air coming out of the duct work a thought struck like lightening.  “The ducts, we’ve got to block them!”  I yelled with an urgency I didn’t recognize.

 

“Shit!”  Morrison chimed in.  “You’re right, that fucking air will get in here and kill us all.  It’s death.”  With that the deputy sprung to his feet and swiftly made his way through a door in the hallway that accommodated the restrooms.  Shit, I thought, the bathrooms, they’re vented.  I ran to them and found them locked.  The cashier’s counter, that’s where people picked up the key for the restrooms so I turned and this time I ran at full trot to the front of the store.  The keys were hanging on a hook next to the cigarette shelves.  I grabbed them and headed back to the bathrooms.

 

Each bathroom had its own plastic vent pipe.  I needed something to break the vents open so I could stuff something in them.  Again I trotted out of the restrooms and found the janitor’s closet.  I found an old hammer, duct tape, and a bunch of carpenter towels.  I managed to break both pipes with the hammer and stuffed a bunch of towels into the vents and then I used some duct tape to keep the rags from retreating from their new found perches.

 

Morrison left the furnace room at the same time I left the restrooms.  “I cut the intake pipe on the furnace and water heater and stuffed them.  We should be good to go.”

 

“God, I hope so.”

 

***

 

The two paramedics zipped what was left of Mike Goble’s corpse into a vinyl black bag.  They packed ice on top of it with the hopes that keeping the body cool would slow decomposition.  Paul Smith the paramedic with the nametag introduced his partner as Tony Smith his brother.  So we were the honored guests of the tag team Smith and Smith in a weakly sealed gas station.  All of us wanted to be just about anywhere on earth than where we were at this moment, a two-bit town enshrouded with some kind of poisonous gas and a butchering murderer somewhere in our midst.

 

Night began its slow crawl through the main street of Five Mile.  At least that’s what my watch told me.  It was difficult to tell day from night with our new atmospheric phenomena seating itself on our little section of the world.  We took a vote and Smith, Smith, and I won.  Opening one of Mike Goble’s cases of beer, the three of us decided to get shit faced drunk.  Morrison acted as our keeper.  He had lost contact with anyone beyond the gas station.  His transmitter picked up only static.  I’m sure it had something to do with atmospheric conditions.

 

I must say I was drinking beyond my normal intake of alcohol.  Usually I was a seven beers a week kind of guy, scotch and gin were more fitting to me, but tonight being possibly the last night on earth or anywhere else for that matter I chose to make an exception.  Smith and Smith became Smith One and Smith Two.  The more I drank the more of a blur they became and soon I couldn’t distinguish one from the other.  Not only did I drink to numb my brain from the chance of being dead when the sun came up, if it came up, but also I thought about my canine friend at home frantic that his master had not returned for a nighttime romp in the yard.

 

Smith One grabbed a chicken salad sandwich out of refrigerated section of the store.  Electricity left us several hours ago, not sure why.  My guess would be of course the apocalyptic situation in which we found ourselves.  Munching on the sandwich he muttered between bites.  “Not too bad, still a little cool.”  That encouraged Smith Two to search their newly found forest of food.  I was way too wasted to eat anything.  Instead, I scuffled to the back of the building and searched for some empty boxes.  I found two cardboard cartons each one inked with the words Toilet Paper.  I took the boxes into the storefront and piled them on the floor.  I proceeded to flatten them, hence my bed for the night.

 

“Shuckin’ in a little early aren’t you Kip?”  Morrison smiled pleasantly, more pleasantly than my previous encounters with him.  Perhaps he too realizes that tomorrow at best is tentative.

 

“Yep, I’ve drank too much and I want to forget everything for a couple of hours.”

 

***

 

I slept a drunk’s sleep restless and unsatisfying.  Morrison woke me up with a nudge.  “Kip, can you hear that?”

 

Groggily I sat up from my cardboard bed and listened.  “Wind?”  Wind was a good thing.  I stared out the window but saw nothing, nothing orange.  “That’s a good thing.”

 

“Damn right it is.”

 

I did see a few leaves passing the main window.  They appeared to be blowing from the north and east, unusual but not rare.  “Nor’eastern.”

 

“Kind of strange this time of year, but it can happen.  By the sound of it that orange shit could be near the Mississippi River by now.”

 

“Let’s wait and see.  I wouldn’t trust going out there right now.”

 

“Well and let’s not forget there’s a monster loose somewhere in Five Mile.”

 

I didn’t want to burst Morrison’s bubble but the monster is probably halfway to Iowa by now.  My head pounded like a hammer on an anvil.  I searched the sales counter in the darkness and found a lighter.  I needed to locate some over the counter pain pills.  My throat felt like someone camped out in my mouth with a bad case of gas.  Maybe a few breath mints would be good right now.  It took me several minutes but I managed to find the items I needed to feel human again.

 

Crazy as it sounds I grabbed a pack of cigarettes and decided to smoke one.  I haven’t smoked in fifteen years, but I think the occasion warranted a relapse.  Now just why in the hell would I do it?  I coughed after the first couple of drags, but my lungs adapted well to the new experience, funny how old habits never really disappear.

 

The Smiths woke up when the wind hit full force.  I heard one of them reacting to the wind.  “What the hell’s going on?”

 

“Wind,” Morrison said.

 

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Smith spat.  “Sounds like a fucking tornado.”

 

He did have a point.  The wind was bearing down on Five Mile like a tornado.  The building rattled with the force.  Before I could get words out the roof launched off the foundation.  Above us the sky pitched and rolled like a black ocean in an upside down world.  I noticed something wrong immediately.  In this pitched night there was no thunder, no lightening, or rain.  If this was a typical storm there would be light works happening around us, nothing.  Besides, October was not a month which produced tornadoes, snow maybe but not tornadoes.  I’m not the only one who noticed.

 

“You see that Kip?”  Morrison asked.  “There’s no rain or anything.  Can’t remember ever having a storm this time of year that would rip the fucking roof off,” He was yelling by now.  The wind in itself was thunderous making it difficult to stand, see, or hear.  I heard a crack and the next thing were the windows.  Instead of blowing in they exploded outwardly.  “We better drop!”  Morrison screamed.  “Drop!”

 

No one argued.  I sure in hell didn’t.  I fell like a rock to the floor of what was left of Goble’s gas station.  Smith and Smith followed suit.  I couldn’t see Morrison but my guess he heeded his own warning.  The ferocious wind never stopped.  Like something out of one of those news feeds that show big buildings being imploded and all the people watching are applauding with joy, the entire building snapped like a dry twig.  I felt myself being lifted off the concrete floor so I grabbed the nearest thing still standing, the pipes leading to the pop machine.  I hung on with every bit of strength left in me.

***

 

The sun came up but the entire sky changed to gray instead of the sickening bird killing orange.  The sun hung like a silver coin above the grayness.  The wind continued to preternaturally blow at sixty or seventy miles an hour.  To stand would be immediate death.  Right now I wasn’t sure if we were safe in our current positions.  I say “we,” but I could see no one else.  Smith and Smith, and Morrison were not in sight.

 

As I scanned the carnage around me the wind slowed down and soon became only a breeze.  The sun peeked out of the grayness and almost immediately the sky started to blush with blue.  I let go of the pipes my hands coldly hung to for the past few hours.  I stood up cautiously and found that not only were my hands weak but so were my legs.  They buckled beneath me and I managed to fall on my shoulder against the cold concrete beneath.  It hurt like hell but that was proof that I was still alive, but where were the others?

 

I managed to rise from the concrete like Lazarus only without the dead thing.  I stepped slowly trying to get my legs working better, a little wobbly but they soon gained some feeling back.  I stepped out to the street and scanned up and down the main drag.  I saw a few of the sheriff’s men gathering around the fire truck, the only vehicle not driven or flown away by the wind.  “Hey,” I managed.

 

“Hey back to you.”  I didn’t think I would ever be happy to see Sheriff Montclair, but there’s always a proverbial first time for everything.  “How in hell did you survive?  That place was flattened.”

 

“Luck, pure luck, and some sturdy water pipes.”

 

“I’ve managed to contact the state boys and they should be here soon.  Soon as that weird fog lifted and the wind died I was able to get back into the conversation.”  He motioned for me so I drifted John Wayne style across the street.  “Listen, I think we lost your team and Mike’s body so we’re going to join up with the state guys and do a search.  We’ve lost a couple of other guys too.”  Montclair’s face showed serious concern.  “Would you mind joining us?”

 

“No, of course I will, any word on the bastard that started this holocaust?”

 

“None but we’ll find him,” He said with resolve, “Hopefully dead.”

 

“Does anyone know what caused all of this?”

 

“Well I’ll tell you this, it wasn’t our murderer.  He is simply a footnote compared to what really happened.”

 

“Which is?”

 

“Let me say this, we no longer have a city called Cleveland.”  With that the sheriff ambled away and went back to his group of deputies.

 

***

 

I sat on the street curb chewing over in my head what the sheriff just told me, no more Cleveland.  If my read is right, we just experienced the aftermath of an act of war.  The poisonous gas in the air was orange.  If my memory is correct we used a poisonous gas during the Vietnam War called Agent Orange to kill jungle foliage so the enemies couldn’t hide behind banana trees or whatever.  The wind, a blast of wind generally accompanies an atomic explosion.  It makes sense but what are the consequences?  Have we declared a war?  Was there a nuclear accident?  I have so many questions.  Perhaps the biggest question my home, did it still exist?  Or did it and my dog explode like Goble’s Gas and Go?

 

The sounds of rolling police cruises interrupted my reverie.

 

***

 

The search lasted all day.  The town scattered with rubble and debris from the storm made it difficult to find the dead souls who once lived and cared about life in the small town of Five Mile.  Needless to say, evening once again began its crawl to impair our search.  Instead of continuing the sheriff and his comrade with the state police called off the task.  Most of us, including the sheriff and deputy had no way of getting to our homes.

 

The state troopers were charged with getting us home that is if any of us had homes left.

 

I did.

 

***

 

The mega windstorm cut a swathe three miles wide the length of which has yet to be determined.  The swathe missed my home by half a mile which places the home just yards away from the quarantined area, quarantined by reason of nuclear hotness.  Prior to going home local hazmat officials measured with sensing devices to find the edge of the contaminated land, not because they knew I wanted to go home but because they wanted to draw a line of safety for the populous of Cross County.

 

Chase ran in circles when I stepped through the doorway, yelping and jumping for joy.  That’s why I loved him.  Yes, I found three piles of pooh and several puddles of urine in the kitchen.  I was grateful he picked a room that could easily be cleaned without throwing out carpets and furniture.  My clean up only took an hour, a cheap price to pay for having my home and my dog back.  Chase drank at least a gallon of water and more food than I could scoop.  This entire incident gave me a renewed belief on the relationship between a man and his pet.  It’s not completely symbiotic.  Animals rely on people to be responsible and when a master fails in being responsible the effect can be disastrous.

 

Being a cross between a Weimaraner and Doberman Chase requires little more physical care than an occasional bath and flea prevention, but his essential need is love and that is an easy chore for me.  I cared and trusted him more than I do humans.  Chase never lies, cheats, or steals…just love, that’s his specialty.

 

Fortunately any home south of the storm path retained electrical power.  I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went a couple of days without it. After two hot showers and a hot meal I decided that I needed to know the current events.  I turned the television and turned on CNN and there before me was Wolf Blitzer discussing the sequence of events that led to this disaster.  According to Wolf the CIA managed to divert similar disasters in LA and New York.  Six known terrorists were caught in both cities, all planning to commandeer airplanes to carry their deadly payload.

 

The three terrorists, now deceased, slipped by Homeland Security and managed to detonate a nuclear weapon over the city of Cleveland, Ohio.  A single terrorist managed to steal a one engine plane to spray as much of the metropolitan area of South Bend, Indiana as possible.  These incidents were meant to be synchronized, but thankfully two out of the four events were blocked before beginning.  It could have been worse.  The death poll has mounted to more than a million and the far reaching effects of the attack are not currently known.

 

“Damn Chase we could have been in a world of shit.”  Chase stared at me with a puzzled look.  He knew only that his master is home and all is well in his limited world.  I shouldn’t say that.  Chase’s world is actually less limited than mine.  He is free, free to do as he chooses and I on the other hand have decided that the free world is not as free as people think.  We are all birds in this social cage and our cage has been breached.

 

Now that my little old Honda is missing in action I must revert to my old Ford truck.  The only thing holding it together is rust.  If I lose the rust Chase and I will be driving in the cold October air with a bad case of hypothermia.  Besides the engine the only thing which works is the heater, but the blower motor has only two speeds, low and high.  Needless to say, having the truck as a backup was a blessing but not a thrilling experience.

 

Instead of going anywhere I stayed home.  After the Five Mile experience I developed a new respect for seclusion and the art of meditation not to mention a renewed respect for what I owned no matter how minute it might be. Two days ago I clung to life and had no time to think about its value.  I did not have a family but I did have life, a precious commodity that others were capable of snuffing out at a whim.  There was a dissonance, incongruence in the thought, one I never ponder much, but ponder now.  Who should have such power?  Who dares to play superman in this comic book world?

 

My thoughts angered me.  Chase sensed them and stared at me occasionally whimpering.  Something changed, something wrong, no longer did the breath of freedom fill my lungs completely.  No longer did I smile at the thought that I possessed freedom by the simple act of moving somewhere no one could touch me.  What I felt was universal.  For surely no man or woman could live completely free, it was folly to think such, but preconceived beliefs that once chained me to the possibility have been shattered and I have fallen into a soup of depression and discontent that hovers above me as sure as the cloud of orange which once enveloped the town of Five Mile.  I and all those who share this earth as their home are simply actors living in a cage, a cage built by someone else and easily destroyed by our masterful puppeteers.

 

***

 

After a few days of self-examination and grappling with things I couldn’t change.  I made a half-hearted attempt to return to the Kip Caller who existed prior to the Five Mile tragedy.  That’s how it was billed in the Lordes Crossing Daily, a tragedy.  Sometimes the English language doesn’t give us the right words to describe things.  Either that or we are stuck on certain words to use for specific events, but that’s an argument in which I choose not to participate.

 

Chase and I drove passed warning barriers and were told by the signs to detour here and detour there.  Eventually we made it to Lordes Crossing without being scanned with a Geiger counter.

We immediately drove to a fast food joint and ordered the biggest cholesterol-filled hamburger on the menu.  I ordered one for Chase and one for me.  So what if it clogged our arteries.  We would die satiated.

 

Our next stop, Johnson’s IGA, this stop the most important, we needed supplies for the winter including plenty of food for Chase and plenty of can goods.  I seldom chose frozen foods.  They were more expensive and if electricity failed which it sometimes does the food would perish too easily.  I liked to take my time in the store and follow my list of needed items religiously.  The checkout clerks generally gasped with disgust when they saw me approaching their lane with two carts in tow, but the five hundred dollar receipt would make their bosses happy.  It was that trickle down fiscal thing Republicans always revered.

 

Once out to the truck Chase barked in appreciation of my return and I’m sure the checkout clerks were howling just as loud at my exit of their store.  I loaded up the bed of the truck with my bounty and we headed next to my auto insurance agent, Larry Casper.

 

“Kip, God it’s good to see you alive.   Man, we heard Five Mile was destroyed and we knew you weren’t far from there and then we heard you were there when the shit hit.”

 

“Thanks Larry, things got just a little strange.”

 

“Good news on your car.  Well, it’s sort of good news.  The car was demolished and in a tree.  As far as I know it may stay there for awhile, but you’re covered and a check will be sent to you soon.  In fact, I have some papers for you to sign and the check will be in the mail.”  He led me to the back of the office and showed me a chair where said paper work was signed.

 

After that we went to Tom John’s hardware store on the south side of the small city.  I bought some large fuel containers for more emergency kerosene and more gas for my generators.  Of course from there we went to Martin’s Mobile a block down from the hardware store.

 

***

 

Our last stop which is always my last stop, Catnip’s Bar and Grill.  I wrapped Chase in a wool blanket to keep him warm while I went in for beer or two.  Catnip’s is the real news organization of Lordes Crossing.  Anything or anybody you need to know can be found sitting at a booth or at the bar in Catnip’s.

 

“Kip Caller, you’ve arisen from the dead surely the Lazarus of Cross County,” Rip Bean yelled as I tromped through the ringing doorway.  The patrons laughed, some applauded, and others simply held their glasses up to me like I just crossed the Rubicon or something.  “First drink’s on me.”

 

“Sounds great, Beaner.”

 

“You got that dog out there in the truck?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Remind me to send a soup bone home with you.  He’s a good ol’ boy.”

 

“He sure is.”

 

Scanning the dark barroom I recognized most of the faces, patrons for years.  I did notice a couple of new waitresses, cute…damn cute.  As I took my place in a booth closest to the front window the youngest waitress slipped a cardboard coaster on the table with a brew of dark beer sitting on top.  “Can I get you anything else Kip?”  She knew my name…of course she did Beaner felt the need to announce my presence.

 

“Maybe some cigarettes, do you sell cigarettes here?”

 

“Just the strong ones.”

 

“I’ll take a pack.”  She left with just a hint of mysterious perfume floating behind her, intriguing.  I always tried to get this booth when I came to Catnip’s.  I could better see my truck and Chase.  I felt more secure.

 

The dark haired girl briskly walked to my booth with a pack of cigarettes.  I of course broke all my cigarette smoking rules.  I have been trying to quit the real ones now for about two years, but this seemed to be a new occasion and new reason not to quit.  The girl did something very surprising.  She sat down across from me.  “I’m Kara and I’ve never known a writer before.”

 

“I’m Kip and I’ve never known anyone named Kara.”

 

“We have something in common then.  Is Kip your real name?”

 

“Actually my name is Steve, Steve Simpson.”

 

“I like Kip better.”

 

“Me too.”  I think she was flirting with me but if I had children they would probably be her age. “So Kara how much do I owe you for the smokes?”

 

“On the house,” From a fan who has never read one of your books.”

 

“Please, you needn’t do that, but thank you Kara.”  Her dark hair was cut short and she was very thin, almost anemic.  If I were a doctor I’d order chicken soup for her, but her deep blue eyes gave way to my thoughts of being a care giver and led me to more intimate ideas.  “Have a smoke with me?”

 

“Sure, I’m on a much needed break.”  She politely fingered a cigarette out the pack and said, “Besides, Beaner told me I could gain some wisdom from you.”

 

“I’m shattered.”  I exaggerated my pain by slapping my hand over my chest.  “Here I thought you were here for unmentionable reasons.”

 

“Those come later.”  She smiled, definitely flirtatious.

 

“I have no wisdom,” I whispered.

 

“You survived the impossible and that had to give you a new look at things.  You know like maybe live seems different now.”

 

“Aye, it has done that.  I no longer think that walking across the street is a sure thing any longer.  I no longer believe that what goes up must come down.  I don’t believe every story written must have an ending.”

 

Another beer magically appeared where the empty glass once stood.  “That’s a lot,” The girl said with a hushed tone.  “You have learned a great deal and now I know why you’re a writer.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you see beyond the next tractor pulling contest, the next WWE wrestling championship, or the next Colts football game.”

 

“I think I like you even though your thirty years younger than me.”

 

“The feelings are mutual,” She smiled.  With that she stood up and scurried away.  Left alone to my thoughts I decided then and there that I needed to write.  I was meant to write and this entire life changing experience inspired me.  Here I am watching Chase watching passersby.  They are no one to him, but that’s the line drawn between animal and man.  I see a story in everyone and in everything.  Human life is much more interesting and is full of irony.  Humans are full of irony and being a writer I love the incongruence of existence, the paradox, and the dissonance of living with the human weakness.  Yes, humans are weak and make mistakes with one another and with the world around them.  I must write.

 

Soon the bar began filling with the usual crowd and I started seeing even more familiar faces, the mayor, the county council boys, and several of their serfs.  Even in local political prides the lions are always the kings of the nighttime jungles.  The social order of things doesn’t change no matter the size or location.

 

Kara returned with a fresh beer and I reached for my billfold but she waved me off.  Again like the wind she scampered off into the bowels of the nightclub.  I gulped the beer and left a large tip for Kara.  With few people noticing I padded out of Catnip’s.  To stay would have been to heed the carnal desires of an old man and old men should not relinquish common sense to the curiosity of young beautiful girls.

 

***

 

 

Chase and I spent the next several days cutting old trees down in the woods strung along the river and gathering twigs and driftwood, anything that could start a fire and maintain it if for some reason our emergency systems failed.  I know it sounds obsessive but I guess it’s one of my many shortcomings.  Besides, Chase enjoyed the romps along the river and barking at an occasional flock of ducks swimming on the river’s surface.

 

I thought about the girl Kara on occasions.  Perhaps they could be better described as fantasies, but at my age I consider all fantasies as fair game and of course harmless.  Her intelligent eyes, her boldness, and a naked beauty broke my heart.  As old age goes I am old but the thoughts of having never experienced the hunger, the closeness afforded by mutual trust and love will haunt me until my last breath is released into this world.  I congratulate you Kara for making me feel once again and you, you don’t even know.

 

As time passed the American government finally came clean with the events which happened at Cleveland and other cities, and small towns like Five Mile.  There in fact was a terrorist attack by Iranian forces that came to the U.S. years ago and assimilated the ways of our life. They managed to obtain the poisonous pesticide known as Agent Orange, but they fucked up royally.  Instead of firing our atomic missiles at various strategic targets they discovered they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.  For fail safe reasons our military command changed launch commands for our complex missile system.  It was a standard of procedure apparently. Thus, the intruders were able only to fire one missile and it never left the ground.  Subsequently, the dumbasses blew themselves up and of course much of Cleveland and a few other places.

 

***

 

Snow came.  Mid December brought one of the worst snowstorms in memory.  With the use of my snowplow attached to the ATV I managed to clear my driveway and Chase as usual chased me from a distance.  He didn’t like the sound of the roaring engine, but he did like rolling in the path left behind.  The sky was as blue as any I’ve ever seen.  It has always amazed me that the earth constantly attempts to heal itself no matter how much man tries to blacken it with his desire to rule.  My guess is that it will never stop man’s constant hacking away and tearing apart.  It’s an innate quality that makes us of no more value than the plastic cups we throw out of our cars on the concrete highways leading us to somewhere else.  After all, we must be somewhere else, anywhere but where we are at the moment.

 

I pulled the ATV into its resting place next to the garage.  My stomach was gnawing away and I needed lunch.  I laughed as I watched Chase running towards me.  He has always been a joy to watch especially when he runs.  He’s as graceful as a deer.  Suddenly he fell.  At first I thought he must have slipped on the snowy path, but he didn’t move.  God, he didn’t move.  I stopped my climb to the front door and ran towards him.  He was no more than fifty yards away and I ran full tilt to him and fell to my knees beside him.

 

Chase was dead, my companion and my friend.  My chest heaved from the sudden exertion so I lie down beside my friend and felt a loss that can find no words only tears.  I sobbed like a child uncontrollably.  It mattered not who saw or who heard…tears know no social morays.  They were ripped from my heart like bullets, each one bringing a new death until the final death.  I rolled onto my back staring at a hawk making its way north towards Five Mile.  Grabbing my chest I felt my heart pounding and then nothing.

 

The End

 

Epilogue

 

Kip Caller died on a frigid day in December next to the dog he loved.  Sure it could be said that it simply was a coincident.  The man died over exerting himself and the same could be said about his dog, but the thought fleeting perhaps as it is must seek recognition.  Can a man die broken heartedly over the dog he cherished?  I say yes and will never think otherwise.