Timothy Stone is content with his uncomplicated life. He works as a paralegal in a law firm in downtown Portland, Oregon. He has his own condo in the Orenco Station district in Hillsboro. He helps his mother care for his father who has Alzheimer's.
Life is about to change.
With earth's resources spent, the governments of the world have banned together to come up with a solution. If the earth could rest from human interference for twenty years, it would renew itself. In order to accomplish this, the entire human race must be placed in suspended animation in newly constructed Suspended Animation Centers (SAC's)
"Get ready to hit the SAC and have the best rest of your life" was the propaganda that drew in the multitudes.
Trusting the government with his life and the lives of his parents doesn't come easy for Timothy. But the government left him with no option. Either go along willingly or be forced.
Waking up to find his mother still "sleeping" and his father missing was the first sign that something had gone terribly wrong. However, before he can help his mother, he must find his father first.
Title: AWAKE Author: James M. McCracken Publisher: JaMarque Publishing Genre: Post-apocalyptic, Sci-Fi Length: 314 pages Released Date: 2017 ISBN: 978-09667853-2-6
The drive to the old farm on the west side of Hillsboro was depressing. The grey sky continued to refuse to give up its moisture. Once-green fields were nothing but dry stubble and dirt. Trees resembled dead sticks that someone had stuck into the ground. It was a far cry from the summers of Timothy Stone’s father’s childhood. Philip used to tell his son how much he loved playing in the branches of the leafy oak trees and running barefoot across his family’s lush, green lawn.
Tim turned into the driveway. The front yard was just dried, cracked dirt, no flowerbeds. The trees were long dead and gone. He drove past his parents’ two-story farmhouse and parked his Volkswagen Bug in the barn. Grabbing a tarp from the workbench, he covered his car, careful not to harm the solar tiles on the roof. They were a gift from his best friends and neighbors, Godfrey and George Bjorge and their father, John, when Tim had graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. He closed the barn doors and snapped the padlock secure.
When Tim turned toward the house he was struck by what he had just done. He looked back at the padlock and shook his head at the pointlessness of it. He glanced at his watch. The bus would be arriving in an hour to pick his parents and him up. He hated to admit it but he was beginning to feel nervous and a bit scared.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, putting my trust—no my life and the lives of my parents—in the hands of total strangers. It’s not the same as going to the doctor. With the doctor there is a relationship, a trust that was built up over time. No, this is the government. There is no relationship, or even a hint of trust. We don’t even know if this insane plan is going to work. What proof is there that this planet can save itself if we weren’t around?
Stop it! It’s too late. What’s done is done, just accept it.
Tim walked across the gravel driveway to the back door of the farmhouse. Opening the door to the enclosed back porch, he went inside, making sure to close and lock it securely behind him. The air smelled musty and stale and yet, familiar and comforting. He walked past the shower room and remembered the day it was built. He was about ten at the time. It was his mother’s idea. She was tired of his father and him tracking the outside inside after working in the fields.
Just beyond the shower room was the back door. Tim gave it a knock before opening it and walking into the kitchen. His mother was standing in front of the sink. She had her long, auburn hair that was streaked with grey pulled back in her usual bun. Over her housedress she wore a blue and white floral-patterned apron. She didn’t look at her son. She stared out of the window above the sink at something, possibly the dirt yard or the grey sky, on the north side of the house. Tim could tell she was worried.
“Hi, Mom,” he greeted her and kissed her cheek.
“Mom, Timmy? Really? I’m twenty-eight years old. Can’t you just call me Tim?” he teased, trying to lighten the heaviness that hung in the air.
“Let’s not talk about that right now,” she answered. “Is your condo ready? All the perishables and garbage taken out like they told us to do?”
“Did you cover the furniture with your sheets like I showed you? You don’t want to have to do a lot of dusting when—”
“Yes, Mom, I covered everything,” he assured her.
“Good.” She nodded but still hadn’t taken her eyes off whatever she was looking at outside.
“Do you need me to clear out the refrigerator or take out the garbage?” Tim asked.
“No, it’s all done. I emptied everything in the compost heap behind the barn by the old garden and let the chickens loose. It just doesn’t feel right. How will they survive?”
“Instinct?” Tim suggested but honestly had no clue. It was another scathingly brilliant idea by the all-powerful government. Release all the animals.
Tim looked around the kitchen. Everything was neat, clean and in its place. “How’s Dad?” he asked.
“He’s in the front room. He’s a bit more confused this morning and a bit agitated. He doesn’t remember what’s happening today but I think he senses it deep down. He keeps taking the sheets off the furniture—” Her breath caught and for a split second she looked as though she was going to cry.
Tim gave her a hug. “We’ll be okay, Mom, I promise. I’ll go check on him.”
The front room was through the dining room and off the small foyer. Tim had never realized how many sheets his mother had. The dining table and chairs sat beneath one large sheet. The sideboard had been covered with another. The grandfather clock in the corner, its pendulum stopped, was covered. Even the large mirror on the wall had a sheet over it. Tim couldn’t shake the creepy feeling he had. The room reminded him of one in a horror movie. Any moment he expected to see a vampire or Frankenstein jump out at him from the shadows. He shrugged off the thought.
Tim found his father seated in his overstuffed rocking chair. A crocheted afghan that Tim’s mother made for him covered his lap. Philip pointed the remote at nothing in particular and pressed the buttons. The TV switched from the news channel to a blank screen with static.
Philip looked up at Tim and smiled, then pressed a button on the remote and tucked it away. The television was still on the non-channel but was no longer making any noise.
“How are you doing?” Tim asked.
“Everyone I can and the easy ones twice,” his father answered and laughed.
“Good,” Tim said and pretended to laugh at the joke he had heard every time anyone asked his father how he was. Inside, Tim’s heart broke a little more.
When he was a boy, Tim thought his father was Superman, fast, strong and fearless. He worked hard all day plowing fields, sowing seeds, reaping the meager harvest the parched land offered. Every evening he would come in covered in a layer of thick dust that reminded Tim of his mom’s talcum powder that she kept in the bathroom cabinet. After dinner his father would go out to the barn and spend another hour or more working on one piece of equipment or another before coming in and resting in his chair.
But Philip looked different now. His skin was as pale as the talcum powder; his broad shoulders were slumped; his eyes, once as dark as fresh coffee had faded to the color of weak tea. He smiled and stared at Tim, but his eyes reflected confusion. Tim could tell his father was trying to figure out who he was. Again, Tim’s chest ached deep inside.
The memory of the first time his father forgot him was scarred into his memory. It was almost a year ago. Tim had come over for dinner on his twenty-eighth birthday. His mom brought out a cake and his dad looked baffled. He asked her what it was for. She answered, “It’s Timmy’s birthday.” He looked around and said, “Well, shouldn’t we wait for him to come home from school?” Tim was sitting right beside him. It felt as though a knife had stabbed his heart; but, time dulled his pain just as it faded his father’s memories. Even though his wasn’t aware of it, Philip needed his wife and son more now than ever before.
Tim bent down and gave his father a hug and felt his father’s shoulders tense.
“It’s me, Dad, Timmy,” he whispered. His father relaxed and hugged him back.
When Tim stood up he noticed his father looking around the room at the sheets covering the furniture.
“What’s going on? Why is the laundry lying about?” he asked.
“We’re going on a trip.”
“We are? This is the first I’ve heard of it. Who said we’re going?”
“We’re just going uptown for the afternoon,” Tim explained trying to calm his father’s growing fear.
“We have an appointment.”
“We need to take care of some business.”
“Okay.” He seemed satisfied with that answer. He looked around the room again. “What’s all the laundry doing lying about?”
As Tim launched into a repeat of the previous conversation, his mother entered the room.
“It’s time to change your clothes, Philip,” she told her husband.
“Change my clothes?”
“You need to put on some clean clothes.”
He looked at his flannel shirt, pulling it away from his chest so he could see it better. “These are clean.”
“Honey, I need you to put on the new shirt and pants I bought you.”
“But these are fine. I like these.”
Tim could tell his mom was becoming frustrated and that no amount of trying to convince his dad was going to work, but he didn’t know what to do. So, he remained silent.
“Well, I’m going to change my clothes. I can’t go to town looking like this,” she said. She turned around and headed for their bedroom off the dining room.
“Dad, why don’t you go give Mom a hand?” Tim suggested.
“Okay,” Philip said and pulled himself to his feet with the aid of his twisted walking stick. Years ago, while plowing the lower field he came across a fallen branch, six feet long, twisted and gnarled. He stripped the bark, sanded it down smooth and put three coats of varnish on it, making himself a walking stick.
Tim followed his father into the dining room and watched him disappear into his bedroom, a room that had been off limits to Tim since as long as he could remember.
Moments later they both emerged, dressed in clothes that looked as if they were going to church on Sunday. In actuality they hadn’t been to church in years, not since Philip was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s and the pastor, realizing he wasn’t going to inherit anything from them, stopped making house calls.
“You both look beautiful,” Tim said.
“Thank you, Timmy,” his mother smiled.
The sound of a bus pulling to a stop on the gravel at the edge of the road sent Tim and his parents scrambling. While his mother grabbed her coat and purse, Tim helped his dad slip on a jacket. He sent his parents ahead, out the front door, while he rushed to the back porch to turn off the main circuit breaker to the house and the well out back. Going back into the kitchen, he turned the water on to drain the pipes. With the house secure, Tim hurried after his parents, locking the front door behind them. He slipped the key into the pocket of his jeans and the thought occurred to him, the next time he’d unlock the door it would be twenty years from now.
After a bit of arguing about whether or not his father needed his walking stick in order to get around and that it was not a weapon to be used in some fit of confusion, the driver relented and let him board the bus with it. Three young boys Tim didn’t recognize jumped up and moved to seats toward the back of the bus, leaving the front seats for them. Once everyone was settled, the bus turned around and headed back up the street. It rattled and shook with every bump in the road, jarring Tim’s already frayed nerves. He looked at the faces of the others on the bus. He could tell they were just as worried and nervous as he was. No one said a word to each other. Tim glanced at his parents. They were holding hands. His mother’s blue eyes looked damp but Tim knew she wasn’t about to cry, especially not in front of strangers. He looked out the window.
It’s been two years since the President made her address to the nation; an address that would affect the lives of every living person in the country and around the globe. “Due to the depletion of the earth’s natural resources, the leading scientists of the world have come up with a plan: If the earth could rest from human interference for a short twenty years, it would renew itself. The oceans, rivers and streams would cleanse themselves from the pollutants we’ve dumped into them. The air would also become fresh and clean once again. The land would become fertile; crops would be plentiful. All of this because we would not be interfering with it, polluting it, ruining it.”
Madam President continued, “To accomplish this, the entire population of the world will be placed into suspended animation.” She explained that Suspended Animation Centers, or SACs, would be located in every city and town in the country. “In every Center, two trained attendants will remain awake to maintain the computers and all of the systems that are needed to monitor the population. They will be on hand to awaken everyone at the end of the twenty years.”
She then introduced a man in a military uniform who looked older than Tim’s dad. He stood up and explained how, by working together on this global crisis, the nations had set aside their differences and agreed to disarm their weapons so that no accidents would happen while everyone slept. It was a nice thought, but Tim didn’t put much faith in anything the man said. After all, for over six thousand years men and women in power had been trying to accomplish world peace, why would it suddenly happen now?
Madam President next asked one of the scientists to step forward. He introduced himself and said he was forty-six years old. Tim was surprised. The scientist looked to be Tim’s age. The man explained that, for the last twenty years, he had been in suspended animation as part of the testing that was done on the process. He tried to reassure everyone that they would be safe. “It’s like going to bed one night and waking up the next morning, only it’s actually several years later,” he chuckled. Tim didn’t think it was funny. What proof did anyone have that this guy was telling the truth? For all anyone knew he could have been lying. The man launched into a detailed explanation of the process which left Tim confused.
When he returned the podium to the President, she called another scientist forward. This woman discussed the issue of food storage and safety. “To prevent an infestation of rodents and other non-desirable invaders, all perishable food stuffs should be disposed of and not left in cupboards.” She then assured everyone that hoarding food was not necessary. The government would see to it that food storage facilities would be set up in each city and town. These would house safely preserved foodstuffs to be used to cover the gap between the time when everyone was awakened and when food production would be restored. The locations of these facilities would be kept top secret to prevent looting and only a handful in each town or city would know their location. Amid the barrage of shouted questions from the reporters present, the scientist backed away from the podium and returned the conference to the president.
After that announcement, it seemed like overnight the Suspended Animation Center in Hillsboro sprang up. The SAC in Hillsboro was built across from the Washington County Courthouse on Main Street, on the site where the old Washington County Museum and Civic Center once stood. It was the tallest building in town at fifteen stories high. The building took up two entire blocks from First Avenue to Third and from Main Street to Washington Street. It was an impressive building, Tim thought.
The bus pulled to a stop outside the SAC’s main entrance. The driver opened the doors but no one moved. He looked in his rear view mirror.
“Come on, people. Get going. I have other people to bring in.”
Philip stood up first. He started for the door. Tim and his mother quickly followed him.
Standing on the sidewalk, Tim looked up at the outside of the SAC building. Thick ribs of steel covered by stone and concrete rose out of the ground and reached to the top of the building. Between the ribs were walls of smoke-tinted glass. It reminded Tim of the old Wells Fargo Tower in downtown Portland, only a lot shorter, but for Hillsboro it was a skyscraper.
Tim put his hand gently on his dad’s back and ushered him up the steps to the tinted-glass doors.
“What’s this?” his father asked.
“This is where we need to go,” Tim’s mom answered.
“What are we doing here?”
“We have an appointment,” she said, her voice quivered slightly.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“It’s okay, Dad. Come on,”
They entered the SAC. Inside, the lobby looked like any other professional building. A large, circular reception counter sat in the center of the room, directly in front of the doors. Four women in white lab coats stood behind it, one facing in each direction. Tim and his parents walked up to the counter.
A young woman looked up.
“Your names and addresses?” she asked without a smile.
“Philip and Della Stone, 33133 SW 331st Avenue,” Tim’s mom answered.
“And you?” the woman asked and looked at Tim.
“Timothy Stone, 1450 NE Orecno Station Parkway,” he answered matching her cold, unemotional delivery.
She took a breath and then waited for her computer to respond.
“You may have a seat. We will call you up when ready.” She motioned toward the seating area to the right. Obediently Tim escorted his parents to the waiting lounge and took a seat on a rather surprisingly comfortable, leather sofa. The sofa faced a large flat screen monitor on the wall. It played a video of some guy in a white lab coat touring the SAC while explaining what was about to happen. Every few minutes a different ad interrupted; the same ads that had been bombarding the television for the last two years. One ad, videoed in black and white, showed chimneys pumping black smoke into the air; drain pipes empting dark goo into a stream; and barren farmlands. Then it switched to color and showed a clear, blue sky, clean streams and rivers, lush green fields--obviously computer generated—with the miserable jingle Tim couldn’t get out of his head, “Get ready to hit the SAC and have the best rest of your life.”
“What’s that nonsense?” Philip asked and motioned toward the monitor.
“It’s a commercial,” Tim answered.
“Well, turn the channel.”
Neither Della nor Tim said anything.
When the program returned, the man in the lab coat continued his tour of the building. He showed everyone that in addition to the fifteen stories above ground; there were five basement levels that housed the ventilation system, the fuel cells for the electrical power system, the large computer system and a floor designed to look like a town square complete with two apartments where the heads of the SAC would live. Tim found the whole video to be a bit unnerving.
Just get on with it, he thought and tried to calm his uneasiness.
“Mr. and Mrs. Philip Stone, Mr. Timothy Stone,” a woman with a clipboard called out.
Tim and Della stood up and helped Philip to his feet.
“Come with me, please.”
They followed her into an elevator and up to the fifth floor. The doors opened onto a lobby that looked like a hospital ward. A reception desk sat directly in front of the elevator with two men in white scrubs seated behind it. Their escort announced them before she returned to the elevator. Probably to take other people to their doom, Tim figured.
“Right this way,” one of the men said and led the trio to a small room beside the elevator. The room had no windows. Four chairs, two against one wall and two on another, sat beneath a framed picture of green farmlands and another of a thick forest. The man in scrubs motioned for them to sit down.
“Good morning, my name is Robert. I have a few questions to ask you.” He looked at his clipboard. “First of all, do you answer to Phil, Philip?” He looked at Tim’s father who didn’t answer.
“Philip,” Della said for him.
Robert gave her a confused look.
“My father has Alzheimer’s,” Tim explained.
“Oh.” Robert wrote something down on his clipboard. “What about you, Mrs. Stone.”
“No, I mean, do you go by Della or Del or—”
“Mrs. Stone,” she answered abruptly.
Again a look and more writing.
“I go by Tim,” Tim offered in order to move things along.
“Very well,” Robert said. “Do any of you have any allergies to medications?”
“No,” Della answered for all of them.
“What about eggs?”
“No.” Again she answered.
“Hay fever or any environmental allergies?”
“Just mold and wet dirt,” Tim spoke up.
“Well, there won’t be any of that here,” Robert smiled at him and made a check mark on his clipboard. “Now, so you know what to expect, in a moment you will be fitted with wireless electrodes that will be used to monitor your vital signs. Then I will be back to escort you down the hall to one of the sleeping rooms.”
“Sleep?” Philip said. “I’m not tired.”
“It’s okay, Dad.”
“This is crazy. I’m going home.” He started to stand up but Della took his hand.
“In a few minutes, dear,” she said. Philip sat back down.
“Mrs. Stone,” Robert spoke. “If you would come with me for a moment, we will fit you in another room.”
“I’ll stay with Dad,” Tim assured her. “We’ll be okay.”
Reluctantly she left the room with Robert.
“Where’s your mother going?” Philip asked.
“She has to go to another room for a moment. She’ll be right back.”
“Oh.” he nodded. He looked around the room and then back at Tim. “Where’s your mother?”
“She had to go to another room. She’ll be right back.”
Again he looked around the room while they waited.
Right when Philip opened his mouth to ask again, the door opened and a woman in colorful, teddy bear-patterned scrubs entered pushing a cart with a small tray.
“Hello, I’m Julie,” she smiled and greeted them. “If you wouldn’t mind unbuttoning your shirts, please—” “Why?” Philip snapped.
“So I can put these on you,” she answered holding up two half-dollar sized discs with a small wire sticking out on one side.
“Like hell you are!”
“Dad, please. It’s so the doctor can check your heart. That’s all.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my heart.”
“I know, but please, let them check.”
Julie looked at Tim and gave a slight smile. He hoped she understood what was happening.
“Okay,” Philip relented. He unbuttoned his shirt and lifted up his t-shirt.
Julie quickly stuck the four electrodes on his chest and torso. She then did the same on Tim’s.
“You can button up again,” she said and left the room.
Before Philip could say anything or peel the stickers off, the door opened and Della entered the room. She gave Philip a kiss on the cheek and helped him button his shirt before she sat down beside him.
The wait wasn’t long. The door opened again and Robert invited the three to follow him. He led them down the hall to the right of the reception desk. The hall was well lit by wall sconces. It looked more like a nice hotel than what Tim had imagined for a place like this. Robert stopped in front of a door about halfway down the hall and opened it. Tim and his parents followed him inside.
White sheets hung from the ceiling like curtains and formed a hallway, shielding whatever was behind them from view. The Stones followed Robert to where the curtains stopped and where two men in blue scrubs stood, one behind a portable podium and the other in front. Beyond them on either side of the narrow aisle, Tim could see large, glass, pneumatic tube-like things that were tilted back slightly.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Stone,” the man in front greeted them.
Tim could feel his heart beat faster while his anxiety grew.
“If you would please step into your chamber,” the man said to Della.
“No, Philip first, please,” she protested. Tim could tell by her voice she was frightened.
The man looked at her.
“Mr. Stone has Alzheimer’s,” Robert whispered to the attendant.
“Oh, of course,” he said. “Mr. Stone, would you stand in here please.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a sl—”
“It’s a new x-ray machine,” Tim interrupted. “It will only take a few seconds.”
The attendant gave Tim a look that said he wasn’t pleased that he interrupted him but Tim couldn’t care less. This was his father and if they wanted his dad to cooperate, they needed to let his mother and him, the people he trusted, handle him.
Della gave Philip a kiss and then Tim helped him into his chamber. At first Philip tried to stand straight up. “It’s okay, Mr. Stone, just lean back and relax,” Robert said in a kind tone. Philip did as instructed, resting against the padded back of the tube.
“I need to take the walking stick,” the attendant said.
“The hell you will!” Philip said. He tightened his grip on it and pulled it away.
“Will it hurt if he kept it?” Della asked Robert. “It’s sort of a security blanket for him.”
“It will be okay,” Robert told the attendant who didn’t look pleased.
That brief interaction made Tim realize Robert was more than just another assistant but what his exact role was in the SAC was still unknown.
“Now, Mr. Stone, close your eyes and continue to take slow, deep breaths,” Robert instructed in a gentle tone. “You will be okay, I promise.”
Philip closed his eyes. The glass door slid shut. The lights above the tube began to flash.
Tim stood watching his father, expecting him to open his eyes, but he didn’t.
“Okay, Mrs. Stone,” Robert said and directed Della toward the chamber beside Philip’s.
“That’s it?” Della said looking back and forth at Philip and then Robert.
“Yes, he’s asleep.” Robert answered with a nod.
“Oh,” Della said faintly. She looked at Tim before stepping into her chamber. Tim rushed forward and gave her a quick hug and kiss on her cheek.
“I’ll see you when we wake up,” he told her.
She leaned against the back and gave him a nervous smile.
“I love you,” Tim said.
“I love you more,” she answered.
She closed her eyes, the door slid shut and she was asleep.
Robert looked at Tim and smiled as though he knew how frightened Tim felt.
“It’s okay, Tim. It doesn’t hurt,” he tried to reassure him.
“But I don’t like tight spaces.”
Robert smiled. “It’ll be okay, just close your eyes and keep them closed. You’ll do fine.”
Tim tried to smile but felt his lips quiver. He stepped into the tube across from his mother’s and leaned against the padded back of the chamber. It felt spongey, like memory foam. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. There was a whoosh sound as the glass door close. Tim fought the urge to open his eyes. I wonder what being put into suspended animation feels like? Will I dream? What if I have a nightmare? Worse, yet, what if I need to use the bathroom? What was I thinking I…
Tim opened his eyes. The glass door in front of him was still shut. Immediately he felt a rush of panic. Let me out of here! He put his hands up and felt the cool surface of the glass door. His heart began to beat faster. He couldn’t get enough air. He looked through the glass and saw Della still asleep in her tube. His breathing began to slow. He looked to her left, expecting to see his dad but instead the tube was empty and open. Panic rushed back. His heart thumped harder and faster in his chest. A red light above his head began to blink. He felt the glass start to vibrate and quickly took his hands away. The door slid open with a hiss, like a seal being broken. Tim gasped as though starved for air. Once breathing normally again, he took a step out of the tube and his legs gave beneath him. He fell to the floor.
“What the hell?” he said but no one was listening. He looked up and down the aisle, at the rows of tubes with people still fast asleep in them. They’re still asleep?
Slowly he pulled himself to his feet, using the door of the tube to steady himself. His legs felt weak. What’s the matter with me? I only closed my eyes for a second. He took a few deep breaths. The air smelled strange, like perfume. He looked around to see where it was coming from and noticed an air vent in the ceiling. They must be piping in scented air, how strange. Tim took another deep breath and felt something pinch his chest. He pulled his shirt up and peeled off the electrodes, throwing them on the floor of his chamber.
He decided to give walking another try. With his hand still holding fast to the tube, he took a step. So far so good. He took another step, let go of the tube, and crashed to the floor. You’ve got to be kidding me. What is going on? What did they do to me? He noticed a door at the end of the aisle and decided to crawl toward it. Maybe if I could get outside I would feel better and steadier on my feet.
Tim reached the door and used it to pull himself up again. His legs felt a bit stronger. What I wouldn’t give for dad’s walking stick right now. With a bit of effort, he managed to get the door open. I don’t remember it being so heavy. He stepped out into the hall. That’s odd, where did all this dust come from?
A layer of thick dust dulled the green-tinted concrete floor making it appear grey. Cobwebs hung from the wall sconces. Using the wall again to brace himself, Tim made his way toward the elevators beneath a flickering sign.
“Please let them be working,” Tim said out loud. His voice was faint and raspy. His throat felt dry.
He pushed the button and heard the familiar whine of the cables as the car was brought to his floor. The doors opened and the light in the ceiling of the car flickered. Not wanting to fall again, he carefully stepped inside and leaned against the wall. He pressed the button for the first floor. The doors closed. While the car descended, Tim noticed footprints in the dust on the floor. Other people are awake!
The elevator doors opened and Tim stumbled out. The lobby was deserted. The monitor that had so proudly played the video tour and commercials was dark and silent. The reception desk, and even the marble tiled floor, looked as if they could use a good dust mopping. How can this be right? I closed my eyes a second ago. How could this get so dirty this fast? Where are the people running this place?
Something moved outside and caught his attention. What’s that? Slowly he headed for the tinted, glass doors. They opened by themselves as they had when he and his parents arrived. Instantly blinded by the bright sunlight Tim staggered back a step and the doors closed. What’s going on? What’s the matter with me?
After giving his eyes a few minutes to adjust to the light he tried it again. Using his hands as a shade, he walked out the door and stood on the steps of the SAC. His mouth gaped while he looked across the street at the courthouse. Ivy covered the once bare façade of the historic, old building on the right and spider webbed its way across the newer half on the left, covering windows and walls alike. Trees! There were trees on the front grounds. Grass! Green grass covered the once barren landscape in front of the courthouse and even grew in the cracks of the pavement of Main Street.
This is crazy! Twenty years couldn’t have already passed. I couldn’t have slept twenty years… wait a minute, those trees look too big and too old for only twenty years. What’s going on?
Tim staggered down the steps using the handrail for support. He walked out into the middle of the street. Turning around he looked back at the SAC building. Some of the windows were cracked; others were shattered. Maybe a bird flew into them—birds! I hear birds! He looked around for the source of the chirping and noticed birds perched high in the trees in front of the courthouse. That’s when he saw the clear blue sky. It was beautiful, like staring into a blue sapphire. Tim had only seen a sky that color in paintings and pictures his father showed him when Tim was a young boy.
Dad! I have to find him, but how long has he been awake? Where would he go? He must be frightened and confused. Maybe he headed for home. Tim started walking. The farm was only three miles away. It would take Dad awhile to walk that far but he could make it.
Tim started down First Avenue and headed toward Baseline. Everything was quiet, uncomfortably quiet. He looked around, peering into the shadows for any sign of his father or anyone for that matter. Surely I can’t be the only other person outside. I saw the footprints. Where is everyone?
He made it to Baseline and looked toward the east, toward the center of town, nothing. There were no cars on the road, no people. It was a ghost town. He turned toward the west and headed out of town.
Trees covered in thick leaves of every shade of green imaginable lined the street. Overgrown bushes and tall grass reclaimed the parking lots of the old Elmer’s café and the county sheriff’s office and jail. A sudden feeling of fear engulfed him at the thought, What if the prisoners are awake? Tim quickened his pace.
He reached Dennis Avenue before he slowed down and felt calm returning. The traffic lights weren’t working but he heard a clicking sound in the control box mounted on the pole by the walk signal. He looked up at the lights. The lenses were broken. But there’s still power.What do you know? He smiled and felt comforted by that. I guess that old military guy knew what he was talking about after all.
Tim couldn’t get over how eerily quiet it was while he continued. Usually Baseline, the highway to Forest Grove, was noisy with cars, trucks and buses. He began to feel more worried for his father. He must be so confused.
The Hillsboro West strip mall was a few blocks up on the left. Tim remembered the old Buttercup Restaurant he frequented as a teen. The food was horrible but cheap and all of the popular kids went there after school. The Buttercup was torn down a couple years after he graduated from high school to make room for an auto parts store and some other smaller shops.
The sound of breaking glass, a window shattering, startled Tim. He searched for the source. At the Oak Street end of the Green Bamboo Restaurant building he spotted two people. One appeared ready to throw something at the building. The other was standing back. Both were dressed in jeans and dark jackets and looked to be teenagers.
“Hey!” he shouted to them and waved. His throat still felt dry and scratchy; his voice, hoarse.
The two froze and looked at Tim for a second before ducking around the end of the building.
“No! Stop! I only want to talk to you!” Tim shouted and coughed. The need for something to drink became stronger. Maybe that’s what they were after. Tim looked along the side of the building for a hose bib. Damn those in-ground sprinkler systems! He started walking again. I’ll get some water when I get to the farm.
Tim came to a wall of laurel on his right. He remembered his father telling him that at one time a hedge separated the pioneer cemetery from the highway, but all Tim remembered was a row of twigs. He felt the smooth waxy leaves and looked up. It must be over twice as tall as me. That was the moment it hit him. He turned around and looked across the street at the bushes, green grass and wild flowers. They are all so vibrant and beautiful. He couldn’t remember ever seeing so much color.
Distracted by the scenery, Tim reached the top of the hill west of Hillsboro and almost missed his parents’ street. The sign marking SW 331st Avenue was nothing more than a rotted wooden post with a faded stop sign hanging upside-down by one bolt. The two-lane, dead-end street was narrower with shrubs and vines creeping across the pavement in an attempt to reclaim the land beneath.
I’m almost home; just a mile and a half more.
Tim stopped when he reached the neighbors’ driveway and stared at the house. He wondered if he should check to see if they had awakened and were home and if they had seen his father. All of the windows were dark. There was no movement outside by the barn. He decided to keep moving and continued on to his parents’ farm.
When he reached the edge of the farm he froze in shock. Tall fir trees, shrubs and grasses had overtaken a large portion of his dad’s field across the street from the house. In the front yard of his parent’s home, oak trees with huge green leaves had grown tall, shading the house. He looked down. There’s grass growing! Beyond the trees Tim could see that the house was still standing. Other than in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, it didn’t appear any worse for wear. The driveway entrance to the left of the house was partially blocked by overgrown blackberry vines.
There might be enough room for me to get my Bug through. My car!
Tim looked at the barn. The roof sagged in the center and appeared ready to collapse at any moment. The windows on the side facing the house were all shattered. He rushed to the door. The lock was rusted and broken and laid on the ground next to a rock the size of a softball. The hasp was loose, hanging by a single screw. It came off in his hand. He threw it aside and slid the door open.
Cobwebs and dust coated everything. The smell of mildew and dirt was strong. Tim noticed footprints leading to the workbench and around his partially uncovered car. Dad? He turned away from the barn and looked at the house.
“Dad!” he called out and ran to the back door. He pulled the key from his pocket but saw it wasn’t needed, the door had been jimmied. Dad wouldn’t have done that. His heart pounding and adrenaline coursing through his veins, he slowly opened the door. It creaked. Tim cringed. Slowly he stepped into the back porch. He tiptoed passed the shower room and noticed the electrical panel door was ajar. He checked it. Some of the breakers were flipped but the main breaker was still off.
Quietly he opened the back door and went into the kitchen. There was a noise in the other room. “Who’s there?” he called out.
There was no response. Slowly he headed into the dining room. The sheets over the table and chairs had been disturbed. His heart pounded loudly in his ears. When he entered the foyer, he looked in the corner for his dad’s old baseball bat. It was gone. Unarmed and still shaken, he peeked into the front room. The sheets that covered the furniture were removed. His dad’s chair was empty and slightly rocking as though someone had jumped up.
“Dad?” he called out even though he knew it wasn’t him.
“Don’t come any closer!”
“Okay,” he answered. He felt his body relax a bit. The voice sounded like a frightened young girl.
“I mean it. I have a gun!” she threatened.
“It’s okay. I won’t come any farther.” Tim looked at the mirror hanging on the front room wall across from the foyer. He felt another rush of adrenaline. In the glass he could see the stranger pressed against the wall beside the doorway just inches away from him. Her face was shadowed but he could see the gun in her hands.
“I’m not going to harm you. I just want to talk to you,” he said, speaking slowly and softly hoping to ease her fear. “My name is Tim Stone. This is my parents’ house.” She dropped her hand a little and Tim could see she was holding his father’s pistol. He felt his fear melt away. The gun wasn’t loaded. They haven’t had ammo for it for years, since his dad was diagnosed. “How long have you been awake?” he asked keeping his eyes on her reflection.
“Forty-eight days. You?”
“I just woke up today. What’s your name?”
“Lily. Lily Evers.”
“Hi, Lily, may I come in? I would like to sit down. My legs are still a bit wobbly.”
There was silence while she appeared to be thinking it over.
“Okay, but don’t try anything. Remember, I have a gun,” she warned.
“I won’t forget.”
Cautiously, with his hands raised, Tim entered the front room. He kept his eyes on her reflection while he inched his way across the room to his mother’s chair. Sunlight was coming through the window and by sitting in his mom’s chair he would be able to see the intruder more clearly.
Lily moved slowly over to the sofa against the inside wall across from him. She sat down on the arm nearest by the foyer, staying as far as possible away. She held the pistol with a tight grip in her trembling hands. It worked. Tim was able to see her face. She was young, seventeen or eighteen, tops. Tim found her attractive. Her hair was light auburn and long, past her shoulders. There were bits of straw grass tangled in it. Seeing her he suddenly wondered what he looked like. He felt his hair and face. That’s odd. His face still felt smooth as if he had just shaved and his hair didn’t feel as though it had grown either. How can that be after—however long I had been asleep? Does suspended animation include stopping the growth of hair?
“So, Lily, where did you live, I mean, before?” Tim asked.
“My family lives—lived on Northeast Montgomery Street by the airport.”
“Lived? What do you mean, isn’t it still there?”
She shook her head. “It’s all gone. No houses.”
“Gone? I don’t understand.”
“The place was overgrown with vines and bushes and stuff. I found piles of charred bricks and rusted, twisted metal. There must have been a fire.”
Her hands began to tremble more. She gripped the gun harder and pressed her hands into her lap.
“It’s okay,” Tim tried to reassure her. “There’s plenty of room here for you to stay. You don’t have to leave.” She looked at him as though she didn’t believe him.
“I mean it. There are two bedrooms upstairs. It’s a big house.” After hearing what he said, he guessed he didn’t need to tell her. Since she found the gun that was hidden upstairs she’d obviously already seen for herself.
“I’ll think about it. I mean about letting you stay here,” she said, holding the gun up again.
Instantly Tim felt his anger ignite. Who does she think she is, breaking into my parents’ home and trying to dictate to me, who stays or who goes. He fought the urge to snap at her.
“How did you end up here?” he asked instead.
She appeared to think for a moment. Tim assumed she was trying to decide whether or not to answer his question.
“I spent a few days walking around town, trying to find where my other family lived but I got kind of lost. I ended up by the cemetery and spent the night in the laurel hedge. I figured I would be safe there but that’s where they found me.” She looked down at her lap and turned her head as though struggling not to cry.
“Men,” she corrected herself.
“Did you know them?”
She shook her head.
“What did they look like?”
“I don’t know,” she answered and shrugged her shoulders.
“Do you remember what they were wearing?”
“Two were wearing orange jumpsuits with Washington County printed on the back. The other two were in regular clothes, jeans and shirts. At first they were nice. They gave me some food and water. But then they wanted something in return.” She pressed her hands and the pistol into her lap and began to cry. “There were too many of them,” she said, her voice strained. “I couldn’t fight them.” She pressed her hands deeper into her lap and began to cry.
Oh my god! What Lily was trying to tell him and at the same time, not, came through loud and clear. After years of seeing a therapist about his OCD and other issues, he knew that her saying something didn’t necessarily mean she trusted him. It was more about her need to tell someone. Still, he instantly felt a connection with her and wanted to protect her.
“It’s okay. You’re safe here. No one is going to hurt you again. I’m not going to hurt you, I swear.”
She looked at him. The dust and dirt on her cheeks was streaked with tears. “That’s what they said,” she snapped and held the pistol up, aiming it at him. “You’re just like them.”
“No,” Tim answered and held up his hands. Even though he knew the gun wasn’t loaded, he still hated having it pointed at him. His father repeatedly told him while teaching him to use a rifle, “never aim a gun at anyone you don’t intend to shoot.”
“Lily, I’m not like them. Please, you gotta believe me.”
She looked at Tim with a suspicious eye. “Promise?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “How did you get away?”
She lowered the pistol and Tim felt his body relax again.
“One of the guys broke into the liquor store just off the main street and stole a bunch of bottles of some old stuff. They sat around drinking it and offered me some but I only pretended to drink. I waited for them to pass out and then I ran away.”
“Did you see anyone else around?”
“A few people, old people, but they wouldn’t help me. They seemed too scared and wouldn’t open their doors.” She shook her head.
“Where? Where were they?”
“One was right up the street,” she said glancing over her shoulder at the foyer. “But the others were in the houses near the cemetery.”
“I see.” Tim nodded and wondered if by up the street she meant the Bjorges next door? “So you ended up here?”
She nodded. “I figured since this was the dead end of the street, no one would come by here. I’d be safe.”
“Well, you are safe and as I said, you are welcome to stay here. Have you found anything to drink?”
“The water’s not working so I put some pans out to catch rain water but I’m afraid I drank the last of it.”
“That’s okay.” He started to stand up. She jumped and raised the pistol, pointing it at him again. Tim froze then sat back down. “I only want to check to see if the pump is still working.”
“For the well out back. The house uses well water.”
“Oh, okay” she said. He could tell she still didn’t trust him. She stood up and pressed her back against the wall at the end of the sofa. She kept the pistol pointed in his direction.
Slowly Tim stood up and walked past her, staying as far away as he could. Once in the foyer, he headed to the back porch. He was aware that she was following him and felt the pistol aimed at his back. He opened the door on the electrical panel box and flipped the main breaker on. Instantly the light above the box by the kitchen door came on.
“Ah-ha!” He couldn’t help but grin. He flipped the breaker for the pump out back. “Come with me, I’ll show you where the pump house is.”
Tim didn’t wait for her to reply. He headed out back behind the barn. The pump house was a small wooden shed his dad had built after drilling the well. It was about the size of an outhouse. The wood looked grey, sun bleached, but it was still standing. He unlatched the rusted hasp and opened the door. After a few minutes of manually pumping to prime the machine, it kicked on and began working.
“Run back to the kitchen and turn on the cold water faucet. Let me know if you get anything,” he told Lily without looking at her. He heard her run off.
Moments later, “The water is dirty and rusty,” she called out from the back door.
“Good!” he answered and closed the pump house door. He headed back to the house.
“We can’t drink this,” she said showing him the dirty water that poured into the kitchen sink and down the drain.
Looking in the sink Tim noticed about five partially eaten apple cores. From the amount of browning he guessed Lily had only been here a couple days.
“It’s okay. These old pipes are notorious for being a little rusty at first. If we leave the water on for a while it should clear up. Let’s give it some time.”
With all the excitement over the water, Lily dropped her guard and actually stood beside him watching the water pour from the faucet. That’s when Tim noticed the pistol was lying on the counter. He smiled and began to relax.
“How about we sit down for a bit, my legs are still a bit shaky.” Tim walked across the room to the breakfast table and pulled out a chair. He motioned toward the other chair across the table for Lily and sat down. Still a bit wary, she eventually walked over and sat down.
“I heard you before you came in, you were calling for your father?” Lily started the conversation. “Is he awake?”
“Yeah, I think so. When I woke up, his chamber was open and empty.”
“Well, if he’s awake, wouldn’t he have come back here?”
Tim nodded. “I thought he might, but he has Alzheimer’s and with everything looking so different, I’m not sure he’d be able to find his way. He’s probably out there wandering around lost and confused.”
“Well, what about your mom?”
“She’s still asleep.”
“Oh,” Lily responded sounding like she was at a loss for what to say next.
“It’s okay,” Tim assured her and smiled. “What about your parents, your family?”
Suddenly her expression changed and she looked down at the table in front of her. “They didn’t wake up.” “Well, they will,” he said trying to sound positive.
She started shaking her head slowly. “No. They won’t. Something must have gone wrong. When I woke up, I saw—” Her face contorted and she began to cry.
Instinctively Tim jumped up and wrapped his arms around her. Her body tensed for a moment and then she buried her face in his chest and held onto him.
“It’s okay,” he said and let her cry. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”
She continued to sob and Tim continued to hold her. He glanced over his shoulder at the sink.
“Hey, look, it’s cleared up.”
Lily lifted her head so she could see. Tim felt her arms relax and slip from around him. He let her go. She wiped the tears from her eyes.
Tim opened the cupboard and took out a glass. After rinsing the dust from it, he filled it with cold, clean, clear water. He smelled it to be sure. There was no odor. He took a sip, tasting it for anything foul. A smile spread across his lips and he held out the glass to Lily.
She grabbed the glass and quickly drank its contents, spilling some down both sides of her face.
“Oh, that’s good,” she sighed and held out the empty glass. “More, please.”
Tim filled it up again and handed it back to her before grabbing another glass from the cupboard for himself.
His thirst quenched, he felt his stomach growl to be fed.
“Let’s see if we can find something to eat,” he said.
“There’s nothing here,” Lily spoke up looking around the kitchen, “Just some green apples by the barn.”
“Let’s go take another look.”
They walked outside. Tim was still not used to how bright the sunlight was or how fresh and clean the air smelled. They rounded the back corner of the house and found the apple trees. He picked a few of the larger apples and handed them to Lily. Then he had a thought. He headed to the back of the barn where his parents’ compost pile used to be. The weeds and grass had grown tall, to his knees. He found several familiar plants and felt excitement bloom in his chest.
“Stay right here, I’ll be right back,” he told Lily.
“Where are you going?” she called after him.
“I’ll be right back.”
He ducked into the barn and moments later emerged with his father’s potato fork.
“These are potato plants,” he explained and plunged the tines into the ground. “My dad showed me pictures of them from when he was a kid.” He turned the clump of dirt over. Immediately potato bulbs, from the size of large pebbles to softballs, became unearthed. He eagerly gathered them up, handing them to Lily.
“Hang on a second,” he said noticing another cluster of plants. “If these are what I think they are,” he said taking hold of the base of the green stalks and pulling. “They are!”
“Carrots?” Lily asked.
That evening they dined on fresh potatoes, carrots, a few beets and some green apples. It felt good to eat. Tim tried to remember the last meal he had before he went to sleep but came up blank. It didn’t really matter.
Later they sat on the front porch and watched the sky over Mt. Hood in the distance darken as the sun set on the other side of the house. Without the pollution, there weren’t the bright reds, purples and oranges but it was still so incredibly beautiful.
“Please, call me Tim.”
“Okay, Tim,” Lily started again. “Where do you think your father would go?”
“I have no idea. It’s hard to say what he’s thinking or feeling. I just hope I can find him before—” he stopped himself before he spoke the words and made it real. While he stared out at the trees in the yard, he tried to push the thought from his mind.
“I’ll help you find him, if you want,” Lily offered.
Tim looked at her and smiled. “I’d like that, thanks. What do you say we go check to see if the water heater still works?”
They left the sun to finish setting on its own and went back into the house. Tim turned the hot water on in the kitchen sink. It was clear. He felt it. Cold. He let it run for a while and felt it again. It was warm and then hot.
“We have hot water!” he announced.
After finding a bar of soap still in its wrapper in the linen closet outside the shower room, Tim grabbed a clean towel. He handed both to Lily. “Since you’re my guest, you can either shower or bathe. I’ll wait until you’re finished.”
“Thank you,” she said and smiled. She slipped into the shower room and closed the door. Tim heard the lock click and the shower come on. He headed into the house and to his parents’ bedroom.
Switching on the light, he was surprised that the LED bulb in the ceiling fixture still worked. I guess they do last a long time. The blankets and pillows on his parents’ bed were disheveled. This must be where Lily’s been sleeping. He turned toward the closet and pulled out an old pair of his mother’s gardening jeans and held them up. They look about the right size. Grabbing a blouse, he was about to close the closet door when he noticed an old scrapbook on the shelf. He took it too.
Standing outside the shower room door, he knocked softly and listened. The water shut off.
“It’s me, Lily. I found some clean clothes I think might fit you. I’ll leave them by the door.”
She didn’t answer. Tim returned to the front room.
Settling into his mother’s chair, he opened the album. Carefully he turned the pages that were fragile and brittle. His mother’s handwriting was still legible beneath each picture. He continued to turn the pages. Suddenly he stopped. He stared at a photograph of an old house with a boy in the yard. The writing beneath the photo read: Philip Stone, age 13, outside his parents’ home on East Walnut Street.
Tim was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t hear Lily walk into the room.
“What do you think?”
Tim jumped, nearly dropping the album.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. What are you looking at?”
“It’s my parents’ old photo album. I think I may know where to find my father.”
Day Two. Sleep eluded Tim. He dozed off and on seated in his dad’s chair in the front room. Thoughts of his father, lost and confused, wandering around like a homeless person filled his head. He was anxious for daybreak so he could go searching.
The sun was still behind the mountains to the east but it was light enough to see. Tim and Lily started out for the house that used to belong to Tim’s grandparents. Even though it was on the east side of town, it wasn’t all that far. While they walked, they both continued to marvel at how different the world looked. How bright the colors were. How clean the air smelled. Those scientists were right, the world did cleanse itself.
“So, what did you do for a living?” Lily asked.
“I’m a—was as a paralegal in a law firm in Portland.”
“It’s not that exciting. The lawyers handled family law cases, divorces mainly,” Tim explained. “I spent most of my time doing research on the internet. It’s amazing what people put on there and the pictures they post of themselves; some really bad stuff that doesn’t help them in their divorce case.”
“I bet,” Lily responded but sounded a bit distracted and distant.
“What did you do?” Tim asked to change the subject.
“Nothing much,” she answered with a shrug and kept looking around.
The pair made it to the Hillsboro West strip mall and Tim could tell Lily was becoming uneasy. She walked closer to him and became very quiet. He wondered if this was where she was attacked and if the two he saw yesterday had anything to do with it.
“You doing okay?” he asked her.
She nodded her head and wrapped her arm in his. Tim couldn’t help but smile. He felt proud. He was walking through town with a rather hot girl holding his arm.
“No one will hurt you. I’ll protect you,” he assured her, although deep down he wasn’t sure how or with what.
They headed east along Oak Street, figuring it was best to stay off the residential streets and more on the main drag. There was less chance of running into trouble. They passed the old, Catholic Church. Tim noticed that some of the stained glass windows had been smashed. They stopped and listened but didn’t hear anything.
“Guess whoever did that is gone,” he reasoned out loud.
They continued down past the Miller Education Center. Same thing, windows smashed. What would anyone expect to find of use or value in an old school? What’s the point?
Tim noticed cars covered in dust parked along the curbs of some of the side streets. Some had the solid, “never a flat” tires. The cars that didn’t sat on rims with rubber shards. Tim wondered if their fuel cells still worked.
Three more blocks and they came to Tuality Medical Center. Lily tightened her grip on Tim’s arm again.
“It’s okay. We’re almost there.”
The streets were eerily quiet. The hospital, even though it was normally as quiet as a library inside, was always bustling with traffic, both vehicles and pedestrians outside. Seeing it like this was a bit creepy. Subconsciously Tim quickened his pace and they reached SE Tenth Avenue before he realized it.
“Only a couple more blocks,” he told Lily. She let go of his arm.
They crossed Tenth Avenue in the middle of the block and headed south toward Walnut Street. Tim’s heart beat faster with anticipation of finding his father. Inside he was flooded by different emotions: anxiety, fear, sadness, pity. He imagined his father had to be feeling the same and more, frightened, confused and lost.
When they turned the corner onto Walnut, Tim spotted the house. Even though the rhododendron bushes were overgrown, nearly covering the large front window, it was unmistakable. He had seen the house, inside and out, many times while growing up.
“Dad!” Tim shouted when they reached the front door. He tried the doorknob, locked. He pounded on the door with his fist. No response. He could see that someone had been there because the tall grass had been knocked down, leaving a path. “Dad!” Tim shouted again and disappeared around the side of the house. The path led around to the back door by the garage. He tried the door. It was locked tight.
After making a thorough search of the garage and property, he was sure his father was no longer there. That is, if Philip ever was.
“I’m sorry,” Lily said when Tim rejoined her on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“It’s okay,” he said, trying to sound hopeful. “We’ll find him. Since we’re in town, let’s go by the SAC. I want to see if anyone else has awakened.” The reality was Tim only wanted to see if his mother had. She would know what to do.
They made it to Main Street without seeing a soul. Lily seemed relieved by that. Still, Tim wished there were someone he could ask, someone who may have seen his father, maybe even taken him in.
When they reached the Cultural Arts Center Tim heard an alarm bell ringing. It grew louder the farther up Main Street they walked, making Lily more afraid. She wrapped her arm in his again. When they reached the middle of the block, between Fifth and Fourth Avenues, Tim realized it was coming from the bank on the corner just ahead.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said and nearly laughed. “Someone is trying to rob the bank?”
“I don’t like this,” Lily said and tightened her grip.
“It’s okay, no one’s going to hurt you.” Tim smiled at her. She relaxed a bit but still held fast to him. They continued on their way.
When they reached the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street, Tim saw him, a man dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He looked young, but at that distance Tim couldn’t be sure. The guy had just crawled out through a broken window on the front of the bank. In one hand he clutched a canvas bag and in the other he gripped a walking stick. Tim didn’t think first. He charged across the street.
“Hey, you!” He shouted in an angry tone.
The young man’s eyes widened. He fidgeted for a moment not knowing which way to run, then, suddenly he bolted toward Fourth Street. Tim chased after him.
“Stop! I just want to ask you a question,” he called to the crook. The guy kept running, passed one block and then another. He turned left on Edison and headed west toward First.
Damn, this guy can run. He must have been awake for a long time.
“Please, stop!” Tim shouted again, nearly out of breath. He felt his legs slowing down and hope of retrieving his father’s walking stick slipping away.
Just when Tim thought it was over, Lily bolted past him. She closed in on the guy right when he reached Second Avenue. She shoulder blocked him, knocking him into the power pole. He hit hard and fell to the sidewalk, dropping the walking stick and the bag. He groaned and rolled over onto his back, stunned. Winded but still able to move quickly, Lily straddled him and pinned his arms down. She began to pummel him with her fists.
“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed at him.
“Stop it! Stop it!” he cried out and twisted under her. “I never touched you! It wasn’t me!”
“You were there!” she said and punched him in the jaw. His head jerked to the side.
When Tim caught up with them, he grabbed the walking stick which was lying just out of the thief’s reach.
“Hey, that’s mine!” he protested and with renewed strength rolled over, knocking Lily off him.
He scrambled to his feet. Instead of retaliating, he quickly retrieved the canvas bag he took from the bank. He turned around and glared at Tim. That’s when Tim realized just how young the guy was. He had to be at least eighteen since he was in jail but his face looked as if it had never seen a razor, it was smooth. The guy lunged for the walking stick but Tim pulled it away just in time.
“Where did you get this?” Tim demanded.
“What’s it to ya’?”
“This belongs to my father,” Tim answered. “Where did you get it?”
“Chill man, I didn’t steal it!”
“No one said you did. I only want to know where you found it.”
“Why should I tell you; you aint no police.”
“How do you know?”
He cocked his head and slowly grinned but didn’t answer.
“Let’s just say if you tell me, I’ll forget that you stole that from the bank.” Tim nodded at the bag.
The boy thought about it for a moment. Tim hoped he wouldn’t think too much because, he had no back up plan.
“All right,” he answered. Tim silently sighed in relief. “I found it by the cemetery off Main. It was just lying on the ground.”
“When? When did you find it?”
“Man, I don’t know, two, maybe three days ago?”
Before Tim could ask anything else, the young man took off running and disappeared up Second Avenue.
“Three days ago,” Lily repeated sounding a bit worried, which Tim thought was sweet of her. “You don’t think—”
“Let’s go check it out,” Tim said. They headed back toward Main.
“What would your dad be doing at the cemetery?” Lily asked while she kept pace beside Tim.
“Maybe he remembered his parents are buried there? I don’t know. With Alzheimer’s he sometimes has moments of clarity, so maybe he went there. Or maybe he became lost on his way back home.
“Oh, before I forget, you were quite something back there.”
She looked at him with a slight bit of confusion.
“The way you took that boy down,” Tim said. “I also heard what he said to you while you were hitting him.”
“Yeah, well, what can I say, he had it coming,” she explained and took his arm again. Tim smiled and they pressed on.
When they reached the entrance to the cemetery they stopped to catch their breaths.
“How will we find him in there?” Lily asked. “This place is so big.”
“We’ll start at my grandparents’ graves then search from there, I guess.”
That’s one thing about cemeteries, Tim thought, there aren’t a lot of trees to block the view. Although, without the groundskeeper’s interference, a few wild trees had sprouted and grown up over the past twenty-whatever years but the view was still pretty clear.
They followed the broken blacktop road to the top of the hill by the mausoleum. Tim stopped and his breath caught. A dark figure was curled up near his grandparents’ graves.
“Dad!” he yelled and rushed toward the curled up figure.
When Tim drew nearer, the man slowly raised his head and looked at him. Tim knelt down beside him.
“Dad, it’s me, Timmy.”
Philip looked at his son without any sign of recognition.
“Where’s your coat, Dad?” he asked while he looked his father over. The knees of Philip’s slacks were torn and stained with grass and dried blood. His shirt was torn. There were bits of leaves, twigs and pine tree needles in his silvery grey hair. He had a bruise on his cheek and Tim instantly thought of the boy.
“Are you hurt?” he asked out of habit but realized his father wouldn’t answer. Tim touched his dad’s hand, Philip felt cold. Quickly, Tim slipped off his jacket and put it around his father, sitting him up.
“Do you think you can stand up?”
Philip started to make an attempt and Tim helped him to his feet. Lily held out his walking stick. Philip grabbed it and stared at her. Tim recognized the look; his father was trying to figure out whom she was and if he should know her.
“Let’s find him something to drink,” Tim told Lily. He looked around and spotted the water faucet by the side of the road. “There!”
“I’ll check it,” Lily volunteered and ran ahead. She turned it on. The water sputtered at first then turned into a steady stream. Tim could see it was rusty.
“Let it run a while,” he instructed while he ushered his father toward it.
Philip moved a lot slower and seemed stiffer. They inched across the grass. By the time they reached the faucet, the water was running clear. Tim looked around for something to use as a cup but Philip stepped forward and stooped down a bit. With one hand on his walking stick and the other on the water pipe, he began drinking straight from the spout as if it were a drinking fountain. After he had his fill, he straightened up. Water dripped from his chin but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Better?” Tim asked.
“Let’s go home.” Tim held out his arm to his dad. Philip grabbed hold.
“We can cut across the cemetery,” Lily suggested. “I know a shortcut.”
“That would be great.”
Tim and Philip slowly made their way across the cemetery following Lily. She led them through a narrow stand of trees and across the pioneer section of the cemetery. They bent down and made their way through the laurel and out onto the highway. At that point, Philip stopped to rest. The trio made it back to the farm just when the sun had started to set.
While Lily took Philip into the house, Tim grabbed the potato fork and rushed out back. He dug up a few more potatoes and found some other wild vegetables. As he walked onto the back porch, he remembered his mom’s secret hiding place built into the wall across from washer and dryer. She once told him, after Dad was diagnosed, that she hid knick-knacks and other mementoes in there that she feared might get broken.
Tim set the vegetables down on the top of the dryer and turned around. To everyone else it looked like an ordinary wooded plank wall. Tim reached out and gave it a slight push. He heard a click and the door popped open. To his surprise but as he hoped, instead of trinkets, he found food. She had been hoarding a secret stash of food. Thank you, mom, he thought and quietly laughed.
The cupboard was organized, just as Tim expected. The top shelf was filled with jars of dried beans, lentils, rice and macaroni noodles. The next shelf had jars of canned corn, string beans, beets, peas, squash, spinach and even a couple jars of local honey that looked dark as molasses and appeared to have gone bad. On the next shelf were cans of Spam, corned beef and tuna fish. The cans of tomato sauce on the bottom shelf were bloated and rusted. Those are definitely bad. Before closing the door, Tim grabbed a can of corned beef and a can of spam to see if they were still good. For now, he decided to keep the cupboard a secret.
When he entered the kitchen, Tim was greeted by the sound of television static. He set everything down on the counter beside the sink. The can of Spam fell onto the floor. Lily walked into the kitchen just when he stood back up. She immediately spotted the can.
“Wow! Where did you find that?”
“In the barn,” Tim lied.
“Guess I should have looked harder.”
“So, what’s my dad doing?”
“He found the remote and is flipping through the channels. They’re all like that, nothing but static.”
“That’s okay, I don’t know if he really watches it or if it’s just a habit to have it on for the noise.”
After washing the vegetables and putting them on the stove to cook, Tim searched the cupboards to see what spices he could find. He found an unopened jar of pepper and another of salt. After digging a bit more, he also found a bottle of Mrs. Dash’s Imitation Butter Sprinkle. He pulled off the foil seal and sprinkled a little out to taste it. It wasn’t too bad. Next he opened the can of corned beef. Lily made a face and cringed.
“You don’t like corned beef?” he asked her.
“When was the expiration date on that?”
Tim looked at the label. “I don’t know.” He gave the contents a sniff. “Still smells okay. Here, you want to try some?”
“No!” she shrieked and took a step back.
“What’s the worst it could be? If it tastes bad, spit it out.”
“You try it then.”
Tim took a fork and cut off a small piece. He smelled it again. It smelled like corned beef still. He touched it with his tongue to get a taste. “Seems okay,” he reported. “Here goes nothing.” He put it in his mouth and chewed it before swallowing. “Tastes good.” He smiled and held out the fork to her.
“No, I’ll stick with the veggies,” she said, still leery.
That evening while they sat in the kitchen and ate their meal, Philip didn’t put up his usual argument that he wasn’t hungry. He ate and then went to his bedroom and closed the door. Tim did notice that his father didn’t ask about Della or say anything at all. It worried him. Was his Alzheimer’s getting worse? Tim waited a little while before going to check on him.
Standing at the bedroom door, Tim knocked lightly.
Philip didn’t answer.
Quietly Tim opened the door a crack and looked in. Philip was fast asleep under the covers. Tim closed the door and returned to the kitchen. Lily had already washed the pans and dishes.
“How is he?”
“He’s asleep. I don’t think he’s been awake all that long.”
“What makes you say that?”
“If he were awake as long as that boy said, he would be in worse shape. People can go without food about three weeks, but without water a person would die in three days. No, I think that guy was lying and judging from the bruise on my dad’s face, I think he stole the walking stick.”
“Well, he’s home now,” Lily said and leaned against sink. “And no one’s going to hurt him. So, what’s next?”
“I don’t know. My mom is still in that place,” Tim answered and sat down at the breakfast table. “I just don’t understand it. Why hasn’t everybody been woken up? The plan was that we would be in suspended animation for twenty years. From the look of things we were asleep a lot longer than that.”
Lily’s face registered shock as though she hadn’t thought of that before. She glanced out the window over the sink and then turned back to around. “You really think so?”
“Yes, I do,” Tim answered. “Another thing, where are the two people who were running the SAC?”
Lily shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
“You know what also doesn’t make sense; we still have electricity and yet there isn’t anything on the TV. No news reports. No nothing. There aren’t even cars on the road or people from outside Hillsboro passing through town.”
“Hey, you’re right,” Lily said sounding surprised. She walked over and sat down in the chair across the table from him. “What if you go back and wake everyone up—”
“Me? I don’t know anything about it.”
“Well, maybe you could check around. See if you could find those guys or maybe there are some instructions somewhere? I can stay here with your dad.”
Tim looked at her and couldn’t help but remember when he was her age. Life was so simple then. He wished it were that easy now.
“Okay, I’ll go have a look.”
Day Three. The next morning, just after sun up, Tim headed off to the SAC, leaving his dad at home with Lily. Philip was still asleep.
When he reached the end of his parents’ road, he realized he was either becoming more used to the walk or his strength had finally returned. Still, he wished his Bug was running. Everything on it that he knew to check, the solar tiles, the solid rubber tires, appeared fine. It just didn’t have any power. Before leaving Lily helped him push it out into the driveway. Maybe a few hours the sun will reenergize the fuel cell.
Walking up to the SAC Tim noticed that someone had broken out the windows on the First Avenue side. Inside he found a landscape brick lying on the lobby floor amid shards of glass. Someone was either upset over something or had a strange way of getting their kicks. Either way the act didn’t make any sense to him.
Tim pressed the elevator button and the doors opened immediately. He stepped in and touched the button for the fifth floor. The doors closed and he felt the car start to rise. To his surprise and horror, it stopped on the second floor. Feeling a bit fearful, Tim stepped to the front corner by the buttons. The doors opened but there was no one waiting. He decided to have a look around.
The hallway looked the same as the one on the fifth floor. A reception desk was directly in front of the elevators. It was covered in dust but he noticed there were finger prints. Someone had gone through the drawers already.
He headed down the hallway toward the back of the building and opened the first door on the right. It was a large room filled with sleep chambers. He decided to have a look. Down the first aisle, he saw people still asleep in suspended animation in their tubes. Above each tube lights pulsated.
When he reached the end of the first aisle, Tim rounded the corner and started back up another. Immediately he noticed something that didn’t look right. A couple of the tubes were empty, the lights above, dark. The people must be awake. Then he noticed the tube across from them. The lights above it were out. The glass door looked as if someone had tried to pry it open and inadvertently knocked it off its track. Tim looked at the little girl inside. She lay crumpled at the bottom of the chamber, her head resting against the glass. Tim’s breath caught as the realization hit him. He stumbled back and bumped into the unoccupied chamber behind him, his eyes fixed on the little girl.
Stop looking at her! She’s dead. He heard a voice in his head shout.
Pulling himself away, he kept walking, looking up at the lights and then at each person asleep inside. He didn’t recognize any of them. Even after reading the nameplates beside each chamber, still no recognition. At the end of the row, he noticed another tube where the lights above were dark but there was still someone inside. The man appeared to be sleeping but his skin is pallid. He’s dead. Tim looked at the tube. It appeared to be fine; but then he noticed a small hairline crack in the glass about half an inch long near the top. Possibly from someone stumbling and falling against it, he reasoned. Whatever happened, it killed the man. He thought of the row where his mother still slept. There were chambers with people asleep beyond hers. He quickly hurried to the elevator.
While Tim waited he made a mental note: Trying to force open the tube is not the way to wake the occupant.
When he reached the fifth floor, he nearly ran to the room where he left his mother. He needed to see her; to be sure she was still okay. To his relief, he saw the lights above her tube were still blinking. Her skin still had its normal pinkish shade. He touched the glass and wished she would wake up.
After a few minutes of staring at her, hoping her eyes would open; he turned away and decided to have a look around. He found four empty tubes one aisle over and read their nameplates: John Bjorge, Anna, George and Godfrey. He recognized them immediately. John was not only a friend of the family but his parents’ neighbor. He owned a mechanic shop in town. If they’d gone home and were still there, maybe John would help him get his Bug going.
He started back to the lobby feeling excited and hopeful. Once in the elevator he noticed the buttons for the five basement levels. Still wanting to find the people who were supposed to wake everyone, he pushed the button for the lowest level.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Immediately he was hit by the sound of machines running. He took a quick look around but there wasn’t anyone on this level, just the ventilation systems doing their job and huge generators that sat idle. He took the elevator up to the next floor.
The fourth basement level was different. The elevator doors opened to a large room. Black leather office lounge chairs and a small couch sat against the wall opposite the elevator. On either end of the wall was a door. The one on the right was the men’s room and the one on the left, the ladies room.
Tim stepped out. It was quieter but there was still a humming sound coming from a door to the right. He noticed a sign on the door and went to check it out. Mainframe Room Authorized Personnel Only, the sign said. Oh, that’s right, this is the computer level. He headed up to the third level.
When he the elevator doors opened Tim was struck by a faint, putrid odor. It brought back memories of finding a dead possum in the field behind the barn when he was a kid. He decided to check it out even though he was a bit fearful of what he might find.
Lower Level Three seemed to be set up like the floors above. A reception counter sat in front of the elevators. A hallway stretched in both directions running parallel to Main Street outside. At the end of the hall, he noticed a door that didn’t look right. The odor became stronger the closer he came to the broken door. He covered his nose and mouth with his coat sleeve but the stench was still gut-wrenching.
The lock on the door had been pried open. Tim gave it a gentle push and it swung open freely. Inside was a sleep chamber room unlike those on the upper floors. This room was more opulent. The sleep chambers that lined the walls faced the center of the room. The floor was carpeted but Tim couldn’t tell the color through the dust. A large, round, dark green velvet, tufted sofa-bench sat in the center of the room. A large arrangement of fake flowers sat on top of the center back. Above it a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. I could have used that when I woke up.
Standing in the doorway, Tim knew right away that everyone was dead. Whoever had broken into this room had smashed the glass of every tube. Why would they do that? Holding his breath he entered the room to check the brass nameplates affixed to the wall between each chamber. He tried to avoid looking at the bodies but he couldn’t help not seeing them. Some were children and women. He read each nameplate and finally found one he recognized: Jose de Angelo. The Mayor! He found another, Franklin Green. The chief of police. Then another, Donald O’Rourke. The Washington County Sheriff.
Tim began to panic realizing this was no random act. These defenseless people were targeted specifically. He started to back out of the room when he tripped on something and fell. He dropped his coat when he hit the floor but grabbed it and covered his mouth and nose. He looked around to see what had tripped him and noticed a three foot long metal pipe. He felt his stomach churn and scrambled to his feet. He reached the hall right when he became sick.
How could this happen? Where were the heads of the SAC? Why didn’t they stop this?
Tim didn’t wait for the elevator. He took the stairs to the second basement level. Judging from the undisturbed dust on this floor, it appeared that no one had ventured there. Perhaps whoever murdered the city’s officials knew where to find them?
The second basement level surprised Tim. It was different from the others. The hallway seemed wider and was made to look like a narrow street with a sidewalk on either side. It was all an illusion, just creative painting. When he saw the mural on the inside wall he realized this was the floor he was looking for, the one where the two heads of the SAC lived and worked. He remembered seeing it in the video but seeing it for real was more impressive and intriguing, like walking down Main Street at Disneyland.
Fake façades of old houses lined the outside walls complete with windows with curtains and lights by the front doors.
Windows, how odd.
Tim stepped up to the first window and peeked inside. To his surprise it was a bedroom. He quickly backed away, feeling like a Peeping Tom. Then he noticed a sign above the door, “Wilson’s Fine Furniture.” It’s not an apartment. It’s a furniture store. He felt less embarrassed. He took a look in the next window and saw it had living room furniture. What great attention to detail, they thought of everything.
In the central core on this level, he found a small movie theater, a fitness gym, library and a grocery store that required a keycard to enter. The outer wall on the east side, beside the furniture store, was a locked door with a façade that looked like a real house complete with a mailbox with the name, Dr. Robert Anderson on it. The outer west wall had a house façade also and the mailbox read, Dr. Michelle Dever.
Tim still had not found anyone. He knocked on the doors of both residences but no one answered. He turned the corner along the south wall and saw an office sign hanging above a door almost in the center. He practically ran to the door.
The wall around the door was decorated to look like a country doctor’s office. A paned glass window with curtains hid the wall behind it. The sign above the door had the name of Dr. Michelle Dever painted on it.
He tried the doorknob and was surprised to find it was unlocked. “Hello?” he called and opened it and immediately fell back a step. Lying in the middle of the office floor were the skeletal remains of a body. Unlike downstairs, there was no putrid odor to warn him. When he recovered from the shock, he slowly approached the office.
The carpet beneath the bones was dark and discolored. The body’s clothing was nothing more than remnants of rotted fabric. He noticed a plastic ID badge and kicked it, flipping it over. It was discolored but he could still make out a few letters. It was Michelle’s. The bones must be all that’s left of her.
He noticed an interior doorway across from the entrance. This time he approached it with caution.
This must have been her private office. A large desk stood in the middle of the room. A lamp and a computer monitor sat in one corner; a framed photograph in the other. There was an opened log book and a pen in the middle of the desktop. She must have been working on something. On the wall behind the desk hung a dusty painting of a narrow river with jagged mountaintops in the background. Tim looked down at the carpet and his breath caught again. On the floor, behind the desk, were the remains of another body and a corroded pistol nearby.
Tim approached to the desk, careful of where he stepped. He took the book to read later. When he closed it, a paper fell out onto the floor. He picked it up and read its one line message: Oh God, what have I done? What an odd thing to write.
He turned around to leave and noticed a bookshelf behind the door filled with large blue binders. He read the labels on the spines. They were manuals about the computers, the ventilation system, and other important topics but nothing about the suspended animation process that he could find. He noticed binder fourteen was missing. How long, he had no way of knowing but the absence of dust where it was supposed to be made him think it had been removed fairly recently. He took a few minutes and searched the office, checking the desk drawers but nothing. It wasn’t there. He searched the outer office and its bookcase as well but came up empty. He was about to leave when he heard the elevator bell ping. The sound sent a wave of panic through him. Still clutching the log book from the desk, he grabbed both ID badges and rushed back into the hall. The elevators were about twenty feet away. He spotted the door leading to stairwell in the opposite direction and made a dash for them. He ducked into the stairwell and raced up the stairs, not looking back.
He didn’t stop running until he reached Dennis Avenue. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and whoever that may have been. After catching his breath, he walked back to the farm. While walking he thumbed through the logbook, reading random entries.
December 25th, Day 2606. Today is our seventh Christmas. Robert and I had an argument. I think the solitude is getting to him. He wanted to wake up some of our guests. I suggested he call Chuck in Forest Grove if he wanted to talk to someone else.
January 17th, Day 2629. A strong thunderstorm is battering the building. I checked the cameras and there appears to be a fire by the airport. I don’t think it will pose any danger to us here. The heavy rains should take care of it.
April 21st, Day 2720. It’s been three days since we have had any contact with the Forest Grove SAC. Robert tried to raise them using Skype and his cell but to no avail. I contacted Aloha. They made an attempt but no response.
November 10th, Day 2927. We still haven’t had any word from Forest Grove and now we have lost contact with Aloha as well. Portland Downtown is not responding either. I sent an urgent message to Washington, D.C. and am waiting for their instructions. Robert thinks we should take a drive to check it out but our orders are that we not leave the building.
December 17th, Day 2964. Robert took the Hummer and drove to Forest Grove. I don’t know what repercussions this will have on the environment. I guess time will tell. He was supposed to be back an hour ago.
December 20th, Day 2967. Robert finally returned. The news isn’t good. It appears that an explosion on the ventilation level ripped through the Forest Grove SAC followed by a fire. There were no survivors. The entire population of Forest Grove is gone. God rest their souls.
February 13th, Day 3022. Robert is beginning to show signs of mental fatigue. He’s on edge most of the time and I’ve caught him talking to himself while he’s making his rounds.
March 1st, Day 3037. Robert has snapped. I’ve had to give him a sedative to calm him. I sent another urgent message to D.C. but still haven’t heard from them. They haven’t even responded to my first message sent last November so I don’t hold out much hope.
Tim was nearly home when he stopped reading. He couldn’t believe the government wouldn’t have tested these people to make sure they could handle being alone for this long or at least given them a backup plan. He decided not to tell Lily what he’d seen. Well, at least not everything. There was no sense in frightening her until he found out more.
“We will have to wait until I find the missing binder or everyone wakes up on their own,” he explained at dinner. “If we try to wake them, we risk killing them.”
“Where’s your mother?” Philip asked, catching Tim off guard.
“She’s away for the night,” Tim answered and hoped his dad would be okay with that. Two minutes later Philip asked again and then again. Tim reminded himself that his father had put up with his asking the same question over and over when he was little, so he could to show the same love and patience. For the most part, Philip didn’t seem aware of what happened to the world outside. Tim imagined it is one blessing of his father’s disease.
James M. McCracken, Author PO Box 1171 Redmond, OR 97756