Five seconds later he was sucking air out of a tiny gap at the roof of the truck, slurping metallic-tasting, stagnant water with each breath. And then, silence.
Blinking. Under water. Frozen from head to toe. For the first time since he emerged from the womb, John wanted to take a breath and was not allowed.
MY LAST AIR HOLY SHIT I HAVE TASTED THE LAST AIR OF MY LIFE THE AIR THAT IS IN MY LUNGS IS THE LAST AIR I WILL EVER GET THIS IS BULLSHIT MAN
Suddenly there was open water to his left, the door that had been impossible to push open moments ago having gently drifted open on its own. A huge bundle of connected, drowned turkeys floated there. John lunged toward the door, found to his horror that he was glued in place and decided once and for all that this had to be a nightmare.
SEATBELT YOU STILL HAVE YOUR SEATBELT ON YOU STUPID BASTARD
His fingers were numb in the chilled water, making the task of freeing himself almost impossible. So dark. John realized he was seeing only by the dashboard lights, which were still on somehow. He mashed the seat belt clasp and after an eternity felt the belt loosen. He was so thrilled by this that he celebrated by releasing all of the air he had been holding in his mouth. John watched his life run away from him in a swarm of silver bubbles.
NO COME BACK MY LAST AIR COME BACK AIR
John frantically swam after his bubbles, shoving dead turkeys aside. Water in his nostrils, burning. The bubbles didn’t float up, but rather flew off to his left. The assholes. He chased them. Had to get the air back.
Seeing lights. Brain shutting down? John swam after the bubbles and toward the lights. Then he broke through the surface of the water.
He blinked water out of his eyes, and saw streetlights above him. He looked back and saw a pair of red taillights, only a couple of feet under the water, like the eyes of a lurking sea monster. The water was only about eight feet deep and he had only been about five seconds away from drowning in it. Jesus.
John sloshed through the water, climbing the embankment and clawing at weeds to pull himself up, as red and blue lights twirled their way toward him from the highway.
Now they show up.
An hour later, John found himself in handcuffs in the back of a squad car. He’d been totally unsuccessful in his attempts to impress upon the police that they needed to rope off everything in a ten-mile radius and set it on fire. He was equally unsuccessful in getting any of the cops to loan him a cell phone. His wouldn’t turn on and in fact there was still quite a bit of water dripping out of it. He needed to get in touch with Dave.
Another car pulled up. Not a cop car—a flashy silver sports car. A dude in plainclothes got out, flashed a badge and talked to the cops. Ah, finally they got the fancy police on the case. Now they’d get something done. The fancy policeman eventually came over to John’s squad car and pulled open the door.
“You’re John, right?”
John said, “Listen to me. You guys need to get to David Wong’s house.” John told him the address. “Franky is still alive, he’s mobile, and he’s got shit crawling out of him. He’s full of turkey now and I think he’s going to Dave’s place next.”
“Now why don’t you just calm down for a moment. I take it you’ve been drinking tonight?”
“No more than usual. We’re wasting time—”
“Who brought you out here?”
“I drove myself. I thought I’d find Franky here and I did—”
“What did you drive?”
“Well, it’s not here. You sure you didn’t come with your friend David? You two are the monster guys, right? With the Web site and all that.”
“Listen to me. I think David is at his house and if Franky is heading there, you want to get there first.”
“Uh huh. Because you think Franky will hurt Dave. Because he has ‘shit crawling out of him.’”
“I thought you said you had heard of us. Dude, if you don’t get over there, and fast, Franky is the one that’s in danger.”
6 Hours Prior to Outbreak
I woke up in my bathroom, startled. I had nodded off while pooping. Long goddamned day.
Three in the morning now. I tried to call John, got his voice mail, which was typical. John had set up his life perfectly so that he could get in touch with me anytime he needed something, but all of my calls to him were carefully screened. Everything always on his terms. I stumbled through the house, knowing that going to bed while it was still dark was out of the question, but at a loss as to what to do otherwise. The laptop was still on the bed, so I went to CNN’s Web site and found the video clip of the report with the security camera footage. The walking shadow, floating down the hall. Three other people visible in the frame, none looking at the shadow or reacting in any way. Just as Franky didn’t react when the alien bug thing was right in front of him. Invisible.
I moved the slider on the Web site’s video player back and forth. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. A black ghost floating down a hospital hallway. And nobody notices.
Forget it. This is ridiculous.
I closed the laptop. I threw on a jacket and stuffed the flashlight and one flare in an inside pocket. By the time I got to the front door, Molly was at my knee. Wagging her tail, sensing adventure. Together we strode into the night.
We walked six blocks to the late-night burrito stand. I leaned against a wall and ate from a wad of aluminum foil, occasionally grabbing chunks of chorizo and tossing them to Molly, who hurriedly swallowed each so she could immediately beg for another. There was a bottle of red Mountain Dew at my feet. I glanced at my watch.
Still more than three hours to kill until sunrise. I wrapped up the remaining half burrito and tossed it into the trash can. Molly watched this act of wastefulness with an expression like she had just seen her entire family die in a fire. I mopped orange grease off my hands with a half-dozen napkins.
At this hour, there were five other people eating at the tables in front of the burrito window—this establishment’s entire business model was catching the drunks who were pushed out of the bars when they closed at two. There was a pair of couples that looked college age—all four of them drunk off their asses, celebrating the fact that they would be young and pretty forever and ever. Then there was a short, fat guy off by himself in a biker jacket. I found his Harley behind him, in the parking lot. I wondered what his story was. Maybe he’s riding across the country, and will be in Ohio by this time tomorrow.
I wondered which of the five were Batmen, and what their secrets were. You couldn’t tell by looking. That was the point.
Molly and I were shuffling back toward my house when I noticed there was a silver Porsche parked on my street. To say that was unusual is a ridiculous understatement. This was White Trash lane, one house without a front door, another sealed shut with yellow police tape. My little bungalow had my 1998 Ford Bronco parked in the front. Sitting in the driveways of the next three houses was a 1985 Pontiac Fiero, a ’95 Geo Tracker and a 2004 PT Cruiser Woody. At least my property taxes were low.
The Porsche was crouched low along the gravel shoulder in front of the doorless house I thought was abandoned, three doors down from mine. The gleaming machine looked like it had been warped here right off a showroom floor. Even the tires looked scrubbed down to a pure layer of factory rubber.
I made it to the house and scanned around the yard. Nothing unusual. I was going to have to clean those gutters soon. The gigantic tree back there was dying and dropped every leaf by the first week of October. The leaves were ankle-deep but I knew they’d eventually blow into my neighbor’s yard. The old guy who lived there seemed to like doing yard work so I think that worked out for everybody. I let the dog poop in the yard and let myself in the back door. I passed into the living room and there was some freaking guy sitting there.
He sat in my tattered recliner, making himself right at home. Probably forty or so years old, dark hair with a little gray at the temples, about three days’ growth of beard stubble that followed an angular jawline. He had a chin butt. He wore a leather jacket that had been manufactured specifically to look worn and faded right off the rack, over a black button-up shirt that sat open at the collar with the top three buttons undone. He wore jeans and cowboy boots, legs crossed casually. He looked like he had been clipped out of a catalog and I immediately knew this was the owner of the Porsche.
I said, “I think you wandered into the wrong house, buddy.”
He did exactly what I knew he was going to do, which is reach into an inside pocket and pull out a little leather ID wallet. He flipped it open.
“Good morning, Mr. Wong. I’m Detective Lance Falconer. You and I are going to have a talk.”
5 Hours Prior to Outbreak
Molly went right to the stranger in my living room. He scratched her behind the ears, then she curled up at his feet.
“Pretty dog. How long have you had her?”
I hesitated, thinking at first this question was some kind of a trap. He was a cop, after all. Then I decided that was silly and that he was just trying to be polite. Then I realized his being polite was itself a method of getting me relaxed and accustomed to answering his questions, and that in fact it was part of a trap.
“She’s my girlfriend’s dog. She likes to bite people in the crotch, out of nowhere. You know it’s almost four in the morning?”
Lance Falconer glanced over at a framed picture on top of my television. It was a picture of me, looking chubby and pale and my hair looking like it was being blown around in a hurricane, standing behind Amy with my arms wrapped around her, looking over her, her mop of red hair under my chin. She wore sunglasses and a huge smile, I wore the expression of a man worried that a stranger was about to steal my camera.
“That your girl?”
“Yeah. We’re engaged.”
“She live here?”
“She’s away at school. Learning to be a programmer. What’s this about?”
“Can I ask what happened to her hand?”
The guy was good. Amy’s normal right hand was visible in the picture, holding a $5 stuffed elephant she had won at a carnival game using only $36 worth of tickets. Her left arm hung down almost out of frame. But if you were observant, down at the very edge of the photo you could see a little sliver of blue sky where the arm ended at the wrist.