The day was strange even to begin with. The birds seemed to have lost their ability to fly and the flowers their ability to nod in the breeze. The air was stifling and nothing moved. There was no traffic and no pedestrians crossing at the traffic lights. The usually thriving town of Middleton was like a ghost town. I couldn’t breathe well and sweat was glistening on my golden skin, the back of my hair damp. Shops were closed, roads empty and even the summer crickets were deathly quiet.
I walked along the sizzling pavement in the hopes of finding a street vendor selling cold lemonade, but only came across a stray dog, who was wilting just as much as me. I couldn’t understand it, not a soul, no living thing apart from the dog who continued at my side, his face as questioning as mine. As we strolled along I caught a glimpse of something up ahead, a dark figure lying on the roadside. It looked like a dusty blanket, maybe discarded from a passing car.
The dog sniffed at the air and then backed up howling and leaping up into the air. I tried to walk him forward but he snarled and went for my hand. That was warning enough I left them demented dog to his growling and slowly edged closer to the thing.
The stench hit me long before I saw it, it was like rotting meat. Flies covered it like a sea of tar and it was much bigger than I first thought. I covered my nose and mouth with a handkerchief but my gag reflexes revolted and I threw up. I kicked at the thing attempting to remove some of the flies but they were enjoying their meal far too much. Flies buzzed and maggots squirmed, I picked up a stick and poked it several times before it flipped, I gagged before I’d had a chance to even figure out what it was. Flesh and bone bluish in colour was slashed and rotten, bone poked through skin in several places and long black hair, matted and dusty was strewn across ripped flesh. If it weren’t for the hair it would have been difficult to recognise this mound of carnality, but the hair was definitely human.
There was no skull for some reason it had been removed but the hair had been purposely left and laid across the remaining wreckage of humanity in a haphazard fashion, the dog remained where I left it and barked at me as if calling me back. I couldn’t bare the smell any longer so I returned to the dog that stopped yelping, the moment I reached its side. We turned back and headed for the main town. I prayed for some sign of life, my feet dragged and all I could see in front of me was a the hazy heat of water rippling in the air.
The traffic lights at the town junction flickered amber a few times then died out. The usual sent of summer corn and pollen was undetectable. I feared what would greet us, the sky suddenly turned grey and unbearable heat seemed to drain right out of the sky, leaving a distinct chill about us. The dog cowered and began to tremble, each step light and unsure. It made me feel uneasy, a peculiar feeling shivered through my body as they sky kept darkening until it was blacker than the hole at the bottom of my well.
I quickened my step making sure the quivering mutt stayed by my side, all the time checking over my shoulder. I sensed something following me, something unnatural, inhuman although I had no idea what. I reached the old barbers shop and pummelled the glass-fronted door with both fists. The dog scratched desperately with its trembling paws, leaving blood streaks on the glass.
I saw a shadow lurking at the back of the shop but nobody came. I crossed the road to the petrol station. The garage doors were wide open and an unfinished car was sat in the bay with its bonnet up. Tools were scattered across the concrete floor and petrol fumes streamed through the bitter the cold, night air. What was I thinking? It was 12 o’clock in the afternoon. I was frightened, petrified and so very alone. I slumped to the floor and pulled a disgaurded coat about me tightly. I sat silent for a while as the dog rested its weary head on my lap.
I caught a glimpse of something on the car door as the reflection of my watch flicked across it. I rummaged through the tools to find a torch. It shone across the car until dim light came to scratched in writing – perhaps done with a car key. I took the torch back and went over it slowly:
‘The growling menace beware, midday its strikes, only God can help us now!’
I shuddered as I tried to make sense of it all. What could it mean? Who wrote it? And what was a growling menace? I was beginning to think I should have stayed away from here. I only came because my aunt was sick, even though I don’t really like her much. I had to come as nobody else would. Her house was deserted, not a sign of her or her cats. I looked at my watch it was midday. If anything bad was going to happen it would be now.
The dog lifted its head from my lap and sniffed the air. It’s trembling stopped and a new-found confidence took its place. It rose to its feet stretched and dropped down, crawling on its belly like a cat, muscle rippling, to the open door and it disappeared leaving me totally alone and petrified.
I called out to the mutt as it crept out into the night, it wanted to be alone but I didn’t. I looked at my watch again and it was two o’clock and it was light again. Strange is it only seemed like seconds ago it was twelve O’clock.
The dog came back into the garage as morning light began with calmness about it. It barked and looked in the direction of the deserted supermarket and the end of the road. I took it that the dog was telling me it wanted to go there, maybe it had found something? The heat again was blazing hot and shimmering waves crested the horizon. We walked toward the supermarket with a new-found confidence, perhaps brought on by the seeming normality of daylight. Still not a soul around, no chit-chat among the locals, no human life force. What was going on?
It seemed as if I was at the brunt of a practical joke, but it was impossible to rid a town of two hundred people at my expense. I now wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible but my car I found was no longer in the place I left. In fact there were no cars on the street or in the car park. This was all so surreal that I couldn’t quite believe it. My mind was jumping backwards and forwards I felt somewhat confused as if I was stuck in a nightmare and I was either going to be woken up or something really terrible was about to commence.
I spotted in the distance a woman walking down the hill towards the town. I felt as if I’d just found water in the desert. My legs quickened and I somehow found the strength to run. As I approached the woman she smiled and asked me what I was doing outside in such hot weather. For a split second I thought that maybe that was it, everybody was indoors escaping the tremendous heat. But then I realised that at all the doors I’d hammered and the shops I’d called on weren’t occupied and the woman suddenly seemed like a threat.
I asked if she were a resident in Middleton and she told me that she walked for the previous town as she did every day Wednesday, it was part of an exercise regime the doctor had advised.
‘So you don’t know anybody here?’ I questioned
‘Oh yes deary, I know everybody here, it’s very quiet for a Wednesday’
‘It’s very odd there’s nobody about anywhere the shops are all closed and I think something’s happened here’ I told the lady who was wiping her brow under her straw hat.
‘Nonsense dear, perhaps they can’t hear you, let’s go over to Betty’s Boutique, I bet she’s around the back.’
I followed the old lady over to a Lavender Hill boutique it had a closed sign hanging in the window. She tapped lightly on the door and after getting no reply she walked around the back of the shop and shouted through the partly open door.
‘Betty dear it’s me Agatha, are you sleeping?’
After no reply the robust woman shoved the door open and shuffled through to the kitchenette.
‘Perhaps you’re right dear she doesn’t seem to be here, let’s pop over to the diner and see if old Bear’s got anything for lunch, perhaps Betty’s there’
‘Who’s Old Bear?’ I ask suspiciously.
‘He’s an old friend of mine, he’s been the chef there for thirty years, cooks a mean steak too. ‘she winked a wrinkled eye at me.
Once again I followed Agatha across the eerily quiet street to the diner. The door was open a fraction but again nobody was there.
‘Well this is very odd dear, how long have you been here?’
I found myself pausing for a moment before being able to answer the question; I finally recalled I’d been here for three days.
‘Three days? And you’ve been wondering around all that time?’
‘Yes I suppose I have’ It seemed strange to me that I’d been here for so long and not left.
‘Have you eaten anything?’
I thought about hat question carefully.
‘Yes I must have I feel full, but I’m very thirsty’
‘Here take this’
Agatha handed me a bottle of water from her purse. I gulped it down without leaving a drop.
‘And the dog, is he yours?’
‘No he just found me on the first day, or was it the second’ I wasn’t at all sure.
‘Maybe it’s the heat dear, it can make you confused’ Agatha assured me. The same darkness shrouded the sky and the heat was vacuumed out in a split second leaving us shivery and apprehensive. The dog wined and cowered not moving from where he sat.
‘What’s going on?’ Agatha asked with certain fear in her wrinkled eyes. I told her the story of the scratch on the car earlier in the day.
‘But it’s midday now.’ She told me, with a concerned look. What was happening? Was I losing my mind? A whole day has passed yet I didn’t recall sleeping. I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness, into nothing. I woke sometime later to scorching heat burning my face, my lips were cracked and dry and I felt dizzy. I looked around for the old lady and the dog, what greeted my eyes was something disgusting.
Agatha’s’ hat was covering her massacred body. The dog was at her side stone cold, its eyes bulging as if it had witnessed something so gruesome, it had stopped breathing. I burped and then coughed into my hand. There was blood. It wasn’t mine.