Saturday, October 1, 2011

Locke Hills - Day 1, 3:00 pm

Marcy drove the van and Tim sat in the passenger's seat. The whole trip the two of them split the driving between them, talking animatedly up front, apart from the rest of the group. They worked together back at the office. Both of them were in their mid-twenties, and single, and they'd grown very close. Behind them sat Mike, a little older. He tried again and again to enter the conversation without much success. He talked too loudly, and no one answered. Tim said something that made Marcy laugh and touch him on the arm, while Mike stared at that like it was a spider scuttling over the seat. He and Tim had been friends once.

Watching the three of them go at it from the middle seat was Vincent. Deep into middle age, he had a thick northern accent. He was solidly built and full of scars. He looked like he'd been in fights, serious ones. He was the construction supervisor of the company, and no one knew exactly where he'd been living before this job, because he wouldn't say. A smile played on his face as he watched Marcy and Tim flirting, and Mike trying to butt in.

And in the very back in a kind of constant shadow was a small-boned dark-haired man with pale skin, and his name was Gordon. He came from one of the offices out of state, and no one knew him. He said almost nothing. They tried to include him in conversations when the trip began, but eventually they gave up. They drove through the neighborhood staring at the houses, getting a feel for the place.

"Where should we start?" Mike wanted to know.
"It doesn't matter," Vincent said. "We can start anywhere. We'll split up into two groups, cover more ground."

Vincent had gone over the checklist with them beforehand. They were looking for broken windows, cracked walls, graffiti, water stains, pests -- any signs of major damage or decay. They needed a full report for the entire neighborhood so the bank could assess current value. There was a rumor of an upcoming government program to buy places like this off the market. There were other plans, other possibilities. But as with so much property out there, the bank didn't really know what it had. They would have to find out. They would spend a few days here, and nights living out of a hotel near the highway.

They found a spot to stop the van, and they all stumbled out, sore from the trip. They walked around to bring the feeling back into their legs. Mike pulled the cooler out to offer something to Marcy and the others. He tripped over himself and knocked it on its side. Ice and water bottles tumbled out in a spray pattern, and one rogue orange rolled quickly out of reach. It headed for the curb, and disappeared beneath a drain with a plop. Mike smiled sheepishly. Marcy returned his smile, and he warmed to her for the first time that day.

Vincent took Gordon to one side of the street and the remaining three began at the other. They took pictures with digital cameras and scribbled notes on a clipboard, careful to mark the address of each house. An hour into the job each group had covered two houses when Tim found a crack in a lower wall... and something that was barely visible beneath the sheet rock. It was odd enough that they stopped everything and called Vincent over for assistance.

All of them were clustered around the crack, when Vincent stuck his utility knife into the wall and drew the thing out. It was tough fabric and came grudgingly, caught for a moment on some buttons. He held it up for them to see -- a blue dress shirt, maybe a hundred year's old. In the front pocket they found five iron nails, black with rust. And though they didn't know this, at the moment they uncovered the shirt in the wall, a strange wind blew through the storm drainage pipes. There was a low noise in a minor key, barely audible, that came out from curb grates all over the subdivision. The orange floating down in the dark water developed a rip in its waxy skin. A single cockroach crawled out of it, as if newly hatched, and flew away.

NEXT CHAPTER

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hey, The Power's Back


Attention Residents of Sunny Cove Subdivision:

Your offerings of gasoline, canned goods, and lawn furniture have been deemed INADEQUATE! If we do not receive further supplies by sundown today, I, Gerry Steubens... The Flail of Metro Richmond and the Lash of the Unworthy... shall unleash a wave of terror and destruction upon you. Your yards and gazebos shall be destroyed and salted! Your pets shall be killed or taken into slavery! You will be killed, and your wives and daughters will be...

Oh, hey. That stoplight is on now. Was that always on? ATTENTION! WAS THAT STOPLIGHT ALWAYS ON? THE ONE BY THE ENTRANCE, ACROSS FROM THE HARDEES?

WHAT? Huh.

Okay, then. Um, Thanks very much for all your help during the blackout, people. I really think we came together as a community. It was nice to see everyone helping out so much. Especially during that first night when we did that forced march to loot Rite Aid. I'm going to be stepping down now of course. I think the authorities will probably take over, so we don't really need anyone to be the Great Terror.

Obviously I'm going to release the DuPonts from my tool shed now. I want to remind everyone that they were hogging the common room facilities that first night. You all remember how boring it was, and how much we all wanted to use the bumper pool for a little community tournament. And they were being real jerks about that sign-up sheet. So, maybe I overreacted, but it's not like we didn't have a reason. There might be some kind of legal action, so I just want everyone to be fair and tell the truth.

I went too far with the brandings. There's no excuse for that one, so I just won't mention it anymore. Also, I'm sorry about what happened to Ted Martin's bull terrier. But that was an accident -- I just did not realize Juliet was in the garage when we took it out during the Night of Retribution.

I'm going to go back inside now to enjoy the air conditioning and watch some TV! I think we can all agree that's going to be great instead of the singing and chanting and mandatory supplications. Anyway, this leather mask is chafing me a little, so I'll go now. I am not going to be your warlord anymore... but I'm still Community League President, and as you know the election is next Tuesday. I'll get Juliet's head out of the playground by then.

(Photo of a burning car in Strasborg, France by Francois Schnell. Creative Commons license
here.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Locke Hills - Arrival

There were two hundred houses in Locke Hills, every one of them empty. A construction firm bought the land from a farmer's estate, demolished the old buildings and graded it flat. Within two planting seasons silent new homes in off-white shades sprang out from between the curbs and the drains and the pristine blacktop. Credit tightened, then stopped, and the company dissolved. Nothing was left but lawsuits and bankruptcy hearings and these empty rooms.

The place was circled by a lane named Maple and cut into sections by streets named Oak, Beech, Cherry, and Elm. Each house was one of exactly six models: the Monarch, the Tudor, the Lee (which was split-level), the Windsor, the Stewart and the Moore. The homes stood against the dark curtain of trees and held nothing within: not a single scuff or coffee stain or height mark penciled against a wall. They smelled of new carpet, their faces blank as fresh paint. Silence lay steadily against the vinyl and Plexiglas of Locke Hills. These homes sheltered no ghosts. They waited.

And then one afternoon, some few hours before sunset, a gray van came rumbling through the gated entrance. Five people, consultants from the bank. They stopped, got out, and stared at the vacant porches, the curtainless windows, and the clean black street stretching into another clean black street just like it. They began to work, going quickly so they could leave before dark.

NEXT CHAPTER

Photo by IDuke. Creative Commons license here.
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