Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Reddit Writing Prompt: Empty Hometown

The following is a writing prompt from Reddit, offered up some time ago. I wrote a rough short story based on the prompt. Enjoy!

Reddit: [WP] Took a wrong turn while hiking and got stuck in the woods for 24hrs. You found your way back only to find your hometown deserted.

by David W. Henderson, (c)2019, All Rights Reserved.

I stumbled out of the woods and onto the two-lane road. It looked familiar, but lack of sleep and food kept my mind too cloudy for clear thinking. I lumbered along for a while before coming across the familiar green metal post sticking up out of the ground with the the blue and yellow "48" on it. I was on County Road 48. From the looks of things, I was heading into town rather than away from it, so I chalked that up to good luck and kept on walking.

The cows in the fields on either side of the road stood by their barbed-wire prison bars, chewing on grass and doing all they could to ignore me. Every now and then, one would raise its head and look at me for a moment with huge round eyes that appeared too big for the sockets they occupied. Birds chirped from the trees. Wind rustled leaves. No cars came by, which was a bit odd. It was a smaller road, but it was paved and served as the main way into or out of our sleepy little town. I kept walking.

Eventually, I saw the town gradually take shape before me. Nondescript brick storefronts, most of them empty for decades, came into view and I quickened my pace. Though much of the town had dried up and blown away, we did still have a couple gas stations, a school, several eateries, and more than handful of antique shops selling wares which reminded the people of what life used to be like when the town a bustling city.

The clock on the bank showed 8:30, but all the streets were empty. No cars drove from place to place. I didn't hear children playing in yards. No one sat waiting for their turn at the gas station pumps. I could faintly hear music playing somewhere in the distance. No one was outside.

I walked to the gas station nearest this end of town, a Shell station as of late, though it had been many brands over the years. I opened the door and walked into the brightly lit convenience store. The counter was empty, but that wasn't unusual. The workers were often in the back dealing with stock or in the restroom taking care of their own business.

"Hello?" I called out, my voice reverberating off the metal shelving half stocked with various treats and supplies. No reply. "HELLO? ANYONE HERE?" I yelled. No answer. I knocked on the bathroom door and opened it when I heard no reply. Empty. I walked to the back where the EMPLOYEES ONLY sign hung above a door and called out again, "Hello? Anyone here?" Nothing. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was. I stepped through the door. The stockroom was full of supplies but that was all.

I came back out front and grabbed a twin pack of chocolate cupcakes--the ones with the white swirls on top--and a Yoohoo from the cooler. I walked to the counter and waited. Looking through the large windows to the outside world, I couldn't help but noticed how quiet everything seemed to be. Or how dead. Nothing was moving except for the occasional stray dog or cat that walked along the road. No people, though. I looked around inside. Still no signs of life in here, other than myself.

"HELLO!?" I yelled out again. Something wasn't right. I took five dollars out of my pocket and put it on the counter. That was more than the total cost, but I wanted to get out of there quickly. "Close enough," I said to the register as I pushed my way through the front door. The traffic light to my right and one block up went through its cycle, though no cars passed beneath it.

I ran across the street to the hardware store and tried the door. It was locked. That was unusual because the store regularly opens at seven o'clock. People have things to do, you know. Or, HAD things to do, it seemed now. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and hit the "wake" button. Nothing happened. I remembered that my battery had died earlier the day before. I had set out for a hike in the woods and had forgotten to charge my phone first. Brilliant.

I decided to head for Jack's house. Jack lived a couple blocks away and was one of my best friends from high school. This was a small town. Most folks stayed here. Where else would we go? What else would we do? Sure, there was an open road and a world around around us, but staying trapped within the confines of city limits proved to be the norm rather than the exception. We did the best we could with what he had and we took pride in what was left of our town. It's hard to explain to folks. Growing up here, one is a part of the town as much as the town is a part of the person.

I knocked on Jack's door, but no one answered. "Jack!?" I called out. No answer. I hollered again, hoping someone, anyone would hear me. Silence. I picked up a rock that lined the sidewalk to Jack's front door and turned it in my hand. As the bottom came into view, I pulled open the cover to where he had kept his spare key. taking the key, I went inside. Everything was in place. Nothing seemed to me knocked over or messed or missing. Except Jack. I searched the house, calling out every so often to see if anyone else was inside. Of course, no one was.

I found Jack's car keys hanging near the garage door, so I took them, went out into the garage and got in his car--a newer model Ford Mustang convertible. I figured if I was going to drive around town and figure out what was going on, I might as well do it in style. Besides, it sure beat walking.

I drove. I stopped at random houses. I honked my horn, well, Jack's horn, to try and get some attention. Nothing. I stopped by the courthouse, the police station, the post office. Nothing, or more to the point: no one. The town was empty. It was as if the rapture had taken place and I was the only one left behind. I kept driving. I spent the full day exploring the town I had lived in my whole life, discovering parts of town I had never seen and visiting the old haunts of my youth. In none of this did I encounter another human being. I drove home. One would think the first place i would have driven was home, but I wasn't thinking straight. I'm not sure what I was thinking. But, now, I drove home.

The ranch-style house haunched on the top of a small hill. I drove up the driveway, honking the horn the whole time. I pulled under the carport, hopped out of the car and unlocked the door. I rushed in, hoping someone would be there.

"Kara?" I called out, hoping my wife would answer. "Scooter? Shawn?" I called out for my son, first by his nickname then by his given name. No answer. I searched frantically, knocking over lamps and tables and anything else in my way. I pushed through doors and searched through closets. Empty. I must have searched for more than hour before collapsing in a heap of spent adrenaline and tears onto the living room couch. My eye caught the cordless phone on the table beside me. I picked it up, turned it on, and got a dial tone. I dialed 9-1-1.

An operator on the other end said, "9-1-1. What is your emergency?"


For information regarding usage, publication, distribution, etc, please contact me: davidinark@gmail.com

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