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Sunny Falls, Part 2


Bill Roach was the next one I noticed.

Old Bill used to run the local theater. His father opened it in 1939.  Saw my first movie there. Had my first kiss with Sally Gordon there watching Sixteen Candles. Bill had recently retired and handed the business off to his son Bruce.

I was out on a morning patrol and found him wandering down the highway in nothing but his boxer shorts. I flashed my lights at him, but he didn’t even look at me. So I pulled up next to him, rolled down my window and tried to talk some sense into him.

“Bill,” I said.

He continued to shuffle forward. Figured maybe he’s sleep walking, I’d wake him up and take him home. So I hit the siren, just enough to shock him awake. But he kept shuffling.

I pulled the car over, got out, and grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Bill!” I said.

He turned around and gave me the most vacant stare I’ve ever seen.

“It ain’t right,” he said.

“Bill? You awake?”

“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he mumbled.

He tried to turn around again, but I held on to his shoulder.

“No, Bill, it ain’t right for you to be out on the street in your underwear.”

“It ain’t right. Not right at all.”

“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll take you home. Have Sarah make you some eggs. Have you eaten?”

He just stared at me. “Not right. It’s not right!”

He was starting to get agitated, so I let go of him.

“Okay, Bill. You’re right. It ain’t right.”

“You can feel it too?”

“Yeah, I can feel it. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go to your house and figure it out together?”

He stared at me and then shuffled to my car.

“Why don’t you take the backseat, Bill.”

I helped him into the back and closed the door behind him.

“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he said.

“No, Bill, I don’t suppose it is.”

I took him home to his wife Sarah. Sweet lady. Baked the best apple pies in the county. She was grateful to see him. She gave him one of his pills and got him back into bed.

“You sure you don’t want me to take him to the hospital, Sarah?”

“No, no. That wouldn’t do. I imagine he just forgot to take his medication.”

“You ever see him do something like this before?”

“No, not like this,” she said. “A few senior moments is all, Martin. We’ve been married 40 years and he never sleepwalked in all that time. But we are getting on in years. Things change.”

“Well, keep an eye on him, Sarah. It’s getting cold out and he’s liable to freeze himself solid if he keeps going out in his skivvies.”

“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again, Martin. Thank you for bringing him home.”

I noticed her wince a little.

“You okay, Sarah?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just got this headache. Doesn’t seem to be going away. Maybe I need more rest too.”

“Maybe you should get it checked out?”

“Oh, it’s just a headache, dear. I’ve had worse. You want to talk to Bill when he comes around?”

“Yeah. Just call the station and Emma will let me know to come by.”

“I like her, Martin. You two would be good together.”

“Don’t go there, Sarah. I can hear the old ladies chattering in church now.”

“You need someone to look after you, Martin.”

“I do fine alright by myself, thanks,” I said. “You take care. And if you need me to give you or Bill a drive to the hospital, you let me know.”

“Thank you, dear.”

After Mary Murphy, I confess I was more than a little worried about Bill. He was a good guy with a sharp mind and nothing at all like the man walking blankly down the highway in his boxer shorts this morning. But before I could think much more of it, I got a call from Emma.

“Sheriff.”

“Emma. Something happening?”

“Got a call from Matt at the, uh… “Botanical” store. Group of teens getting rowdy after he turned them away. Says now they’re standing outside, screaming at him and hitting the door and windows.”

“Hell. Alright, tell him I’m on my way.”

Yeah, we got one of “those” stores here ever since the government legalized it. Matt moved up from down south and opened up shop here. He’s a good kid. Keeps the teenagers out, as he should. Pays his taxes. Most of us accept his services here. Some like to complain and bitch and moan about it, but then their backs go out and they’re down there hitting him up. Hypocrites.

I drove up and pulled into the parking lot. Andy Schaffer and four other boys from the high school were pressed up against the door and windows. They were screaming obscenities and slapping the glass.

“We will get a fucking brick, you fucking asshole!” Andy screamed.

One of the boys finally noticed my car and signaled the rest. They all turned around and glared at me. I could see why Matt called. I’m armed and I didn’t feel comfortable getting out of my car with the looks they were giving me. Their eyes… there was something there… never seen it before, but I knew what it was.

Pure hatred.

But I got out of my car anyway. I had a job to do.

“Alright, boys, break it up. You are disturbing the peace. And what the hell are you even doing here? Don’t you have class?”

“We’re fucking tired of that fucking school,” Andy said.

“Tired of being told what we can and can’t do!” another boy, Chip, I think, said.

“Now settle down,” I said. “Now, if you boys apologize to Matt and get your asses back to class, I won’t have to bring your parents in.”

“And if we don’t?” Andy snarled. “What if we said, ‘Fuck you, pig!’?”

I let my hand drop to my baton and tried to sound braver than I felt. I could take two… maybe three of them… but not five.

“Then we’re gonna have a problem, Andy? Do you really want your mom to see you acting like this?”

The five kids seethed. I could tell they didn’t really care what their mamas thought of them right now.

“You want your dad to know about this?” I said.

That, at least, seemed to get Andy. He was still glaring at me, but he turned his head to the door and shouted, “Sorry, Matt!” with all the sincerity of a rattlesnake apologizing after it bit ya.

“Good,” I said. “Now get the hell out of here.”

“Whatever,” he said. “Come on.”

He walked toward his van and the others slowly followed him.

“And Andy?”

“What?”

“Son, I’ll know if you don’t go back to class. If you don’t go, I will be very unhappy. If you cause trouble for your teachers, I will be extremely unhappy. And if you ever pull shit like this again, son, there won’t be a second warning.”

“No,” he said. “There won’t.”

The kid slammed his van door shut, waited for the others to get in, and peeled out of the parking lot in the general direction of the school. I watched them until they made their next turn, then headed to check on Matt.

“Matt,” I said. “They’re gone. Open up.”

It was a minute before I saw Matt’s short frame pop up from behind the counter. He was a little fella with a small build, a patch of dark wiry hair on his head, and a hipster beard. He unlocked the door and let me into his shop.

“Oh, thank God, you’re here, Sheriff,” he said.

“Matt. What happened?”

“You saw ‘em. The kids tried to come in here. You know I don’t allow that.”

“I know,” I said.

“I don’t serve kids. You have to be eighteen.”

“Matt, I know. What set ‘em off?”

“I told them that they needed to leave. Then the leader-“

“Andy.”

“Yeah, Andy got mad. He demanded that I give them some product. I told them, “No.” and if they didn’t get out, I’d call the Sheriff. Jesus, Sheriff, I thought he was gonna kill me. He shoved me and that’s when I got my gun out. He didn’t like that, but they all got out of my store. I thought that was gonna be it, but they just kept standing there, staring at me. So I locked the door and called you. And that really set them off. They were banging on the windows, hitting the door. I thought I was gonna have to shoot ‘em.”

“Well, they’re gone now, Matt. Do you want to press charges?”

Matt shook his head. “Just… please, keep them away from here.”

“Alright, I’ll have a talk with them after they’ve calmed down a bit and let ‘em know that they aren’t welcome here.”

“Thank you, Sheriff.”

The rest of the afternoon was unusually busy. Had to stop an altercation between two drivers, ended up arresting one of them for throwing a punch at me. After that, it was a domestic violence call. After that, couple groups of kids screaming and shoving each other at the town’s drive thru. After that… well, it all sort of blurred together.

“Whole damn town seems to have a burr up its butt, Emma.”

“Full moon coming,” she said.

“Well, I hope it’s that simple,” I said. “I can’t recall the last time I’ve ever had both jail cells filled.”

“I’m sure it’ll die down soon, Sheriff,” she said.

“Hope so, because I don’t have any more room to put ‘em, if it don’t.”

I meant to call Bill and Sarah, but I suddenly had a lot of paperwork to fill out and it slipped my mind. Didn’t think of ‘em again until I got a call a couple days later. Neighbors heard a woman shouting and crying. I tried calling, but there was no answer, so I got in the squad car and sped over to the Roaches’ house.

I knocked, but no one answered.

“Blil! Sarah! Everything okay?”

I knocked harder.

Then I heard the scream. A guttural, primal scream that nearly stopped my heart.  I kicked the door open and I almost wish I hadn’t.

Sarah was smashing her face against a wall. Blood was everywhere. There were holes in the walls. Blood splatters on the walls.Blood on the floor. I was in shock. I didn’t even move until she slammed her head one more time into the wall and fell down limp onto the ground.

I ran over to her. I turned her over and… Jesus, her face… I… how was she still alive?

There wasn’t much left to her face. It was more like something you’d find in a butcher’s case than a human face. I almost gagged, but I had the mind to at least call for help on my radio.

“Emma! Get an ambulance to the Roach house! Now!”

What was left of Sarah Roach gasped and wheezed through all of her blood. Her breathing was shallow and I didn’t expect her to last until the ambulance arrived. I was right. She died. But not before she wheezed out some last words to me.

“Make it go away…”

As to Bill Roach, he was sitting in his recliner, rocking back and forth in his own filth, staring straight ahead at the wall. He didn’t even notice what his wife was doing.  Didn’t try to stop her. Didn’t do anything. He just sat there. In his own world. I had him committed. His son eventually agreed. There wasn’t much of a choice to the matter. He couldn’t take care of himself and Bruce didn’t have the money to hire a nurse to watch him.

So they came to take him to an institution. As they hauled him away, his last words to me were, “It ain’t right…”

Old Bill was right. Things weren’t right. They still aren’t.

They’re worse.

Sunny Falls – Part 1


Sunny Falls used to be a good place to live.

It was the idyllic small town. A place where everybody knew your name. Where you didn’t need to lock your doors at night. Where all of the stores were run by mom and pop and had been for generations. Where Phil at the hardware store would be waiting for you with the exact part you needed to fix your sink because he had heard from Mabel who had heard from Barbara at church who had overheard your wife at the grocery store complaining about the broken faucet.

Not that it was perfect, mind you. Living in a small town where everyone knows your business can be a bit of a pain sometimes. Poor Prescott girl who got herself in a bit of trouble in high school was chided and gossiped about mercilessly by the Old Bittie Brigade that loved to cackle about kids these days havin’ no morals. As if they weren’t just as “bad”. I still remember catching Agnes Miller doing something with Jim Teller behind the basketball bleachers that would make old Agnes chatter like an overcaffinated hen.

Still, it was a good place to live. A good town.

I grew up here. Name’s Martin Campbell. I spent the first twenty years of my misguided youth raising hell and getting in trouble with Sheriff Parker. In hindsight, he was a good man. Treated me a shit ton better than I deserved. Aw, I was a little punk. Fuck authority and all that shit. I wanted to travel the land and write the stories of my generation. You know… stupid shit. Broke mama’s heart for a while.

But eventually, Parker helped me come around.  He decided that I was spending so much time at the station that I might as well work there. Made me clean the floors; take out the trash and all that. And a few months later, I somehow found myself wearing my own badge as town deputy. Last twenty years, I’ve been the sheriff. It’s not an easy job, but the worst crimes I deal with are the drug related ones. Dealing, stealing to support a habit, that sort of thing. I try my best to help them. Hell, I know where some of them are coming from. Figure they just need someone to take an interest in them like Sheriff Parker did for me.

But the violent crime, that shit happens elsewhere. Fact of the matter, Sunny Falls hasn’t seen a violent death since 1919, when Kit Marshall and the Bell twins had the unfortunate luck of trying to rob the Western Union depot while the sheriff and his deputy were present.

Not sure when the change happened. I think it was around the Harvest Festival in September. We had just gotten our latest touch of modernity, a cell tower, put on the local mountain. Coverage before had been spotty and the young people had been talking about the new tower for months. They were excited to finally join the outside world. The rest of us? Maybe not so excited. I still have a VCR. Still rent my movies from Jenny at the Video Rental place though most of them are DVDs now, even a few of those Blu-Rays.

You can’t hold off progress forever, I guess.

But I noticed it first at the Harvest Festival. Mary Murphy, the School Librarian, started acting… strange.

“Do you feel that, Martin?”

“What Mary?”

“It’s cold here. Unnaturally cold.”

“It’s sixty-eight, Mary. Did you need to borrow my coat?”

“Not that kind of cold. Cold like… there’s something here. Something watching us. Something unnatural. Ghosts… demons… something here and it’s angry…”

“I don’t feel anything like that, Mary, but if you’re worried about it, best have Pastor Ron pray over the fairgrounds again.”

She looked at me queerly and finally nodded, “Yeah… yeah… maybe you’re right. Get God on our side.”

Well, she wandered off to find Pastor Ron, I reckon and I thought that might be the end of it. But Pastor Ron called. Mary had missed church and work and no one had heard from her for a few days, so he asked me to swing by and see if she was okay.

I knocked on her door. “Miss Murphy? You alright?”

I didn’t get a response right away, so I knocked and yelled louder. I was about to break the door down, when I heard her fiddling with the deadbolt.

“Sheriff! Thank God you’re here.”

“Mary, folks are concerned about you. Are you doing alright?”

“I am now,” she said. “Found a way to keep them out.”

“Keep who out?”

“The spirits,” she said.

“Mary…”

“I know you don’t believe me, but they’re out there. They were in here too, but I found a way to get rid of ‘em.”

“Miss Murphy, do you mind if we chat inside.”

“No… no, I’m afraid I can’t allow that, Martin. I just got the place clean. Some of them might sneak back in with you.”

“Mary, I can assure you that I am currently spirit free.”

“I can’t take that chance. Haven’t been able to sleep since the Harvest Festival, Martin. Finally got a few hours of rest. Just need a few more.”

“Mary, maybe you need some help. Could I take you to Dr. Ford at the county hospital?”

“I ain’t sick and I don’t need a doctor, Martin. If anything, you should get Pastor Ron and see if he can clear the town of these demons.”

“Alright, Mary… look, if you do need anything, give me a call.”

“Thank you, Martin, but I think I’ll be fine now. So long as I stay inside.”

Well, when I got back to the station, I called Judge Peterson at the county court house and tried to get a hold order on Mary. But not having any direct evidence that she posed a danger to herself or others, he denied it.

“Folks are weird, Martin,” he said.

“She thinks demons are everywhere, Kyle.”

“And if I started putting everyone in the mental hospital who thought demons were fluttering about, I’d have to empty out our entire Pentecostal congregation. Just have the neighbors keep an eye on her. “

So I did. I asked her neighbors, the Andersons and the Washingtons to keep an eye on the property and Mary and to call me should any obvious signs of neglect appear. I didn’t think that would be the end of it, not any more. But I didn’t figure it would get as bad as it did. I got the phone call a couple days later at 3 in the morning.

“Martin! Martin!”

“Mary? What’s going on?”

“They’re here, Martin! They’re here!”

“Who’s there, Mary?”

“The spirits, Martin. They want me. They want all of us. And they’re here!”

“Calm down, Mary.”

“It’s all my fault. I let the Anderson boy in to take out the trash and clean the litter boxes and now they’re back!”

“Calm down. Take a deep-“

“I can’t calm down, Martin! That’s how they get you… when you’re relaxed… when you’re unawares… when you sleep, they’ll get you. Martin. Help me! Please! Bring Pastor Ron! I can’t hold on much longer.”

She was dead when I reached her. She had cut her throat with a kitchen knife in the bathroom. Won’t mention what she did to her cats. Her diary was mostly scribbles the last few days. Before that, more talk of feeling cold and spirits watching her. Following her around. That sort of thing. Seemed unfortunate, but I chalked it up to something going wrong in her head. Lots of people have personal demons that go untreated and I ain’t talking about the supernatural kind.

I figured the town would gossip about poor Mary for a few weeks, the school would put up a plaque or rename the library for her, and life would go on as usual.

But it turned out that Mary Murphy was just the first person to go weird.

 

 

Day One


“Okay, testing… testing…. Echo… is this thing on?”

“The recorder is working perfectly, Captain Torres.”

“Alright… the suits suggested I maintain a log of our voyage, so here we go. It’s day 1, July 22nd, 2204. This is Captain Michael Torres, pilot and commanding officer of the S.S. Neo Genesis. Yeah, I know. It’s a shitty name. But I didn’t pick it. You can blame that on the good folks at the Daystar Company. Probably had their damn marketing team out holding focus groups and passing a list of names through a dozen committee meetings. I guess I should be grateful they didn’t open up the naming rights to the Net or I’d probably be flying the S.S. Fuckhead or Shippy McShipface.

While it is a shitty name, it is also one hell of a vessel. Nothing at all like the old rust bucket I used to fly: my grandpa’s T-3010 cargo freighter. I wonder what the old man would think of this one. Probably too shiny and sterile for him. Everything is new and hi-tech and experimental as hell and supposedly the first ship that will make colonizing other planets feasible.

Our current course and speed will take us out of the solar system in a couple of hours. After that, it’s on to the Nu2 Lupi system, where Daystar says one of their probes has found a suitable planet for human life. It’s 47.5 light years away, but due to the speed of travel and relativity, it should only seem like about 23 years to me. Back on Earth, it’ll be closer to 53 years. Physics, right?

The plan is to establish a sustainable colony that will send needed materials back to Earth. Yeah, the lousy fuckers have stripped just about everything from our rock, so they’re looking for brave new worlds to seek out and exploit. Given that it would take 106 years to make a round trip and the volume of our cargo containers, I can’t imagine how they think they’ll make their money back on this one.

I asked my, uh… ‘handler’, Ms. Christensen about it, but the only answer I could get from her was “a lot can happen in fifty years, Captain.” So who knows? They’ve obviously thought up some scheme on how to make this venture profitable. Maybe some of their eggheads think they can actually make warp technology work this time without irradiating everything in front of them.

My job is to just get the colonists there in one piece and that’s what I’m doing.

It’s been eighteen hours since we left Tranquility Station and everything reads within the parameters Control said were normal. Engine status and temperature look good. Reactor output is steady and containment is holding. Artificial gravity is currently off to save power while we’re using the acceleration dampening field which is holding steady at 38%. Given that we intend to accelerate up to .9 C, this is a good thing, otherwise, I would be turned into a mushy paste in my command chair and this ‘very expensive’ mission would end in disaster before it even got underway.

Feels strange trusting my life to a relatively new piece of technology, especially when their Chief Technician Dr. Samsa recommended NOT turning it on full power immediately. She suggested we start at 20% and ease up the power output by 1% every hour.  She assures me that human testing trials were successful and I have nothing to worry about, but her request does not exactly inspire confidence. I asked her how many test pilots the company went through before it perfected the device. She didn’t answer, so probably ‘a lot.’

But come on, it’s not like I didn’t know. I’m here because I’m a good spacer and I’m completely expendable. I haven’t looked at all 2,003 personnel files, but if I did, I would guess most of them are also expendable. Debtors, convicts, desperate people with skills Daystar needed, all of us promised a second chance if we risk our lives.

Echo, the ship’s resident AI companion and the only voice I’ll hear for the next twenty-three years of my life, has informed me that all 2,003 hibernation pods are working and all colonists are alive and doing well. At least, as well as you can be doing when you’re a frozen popsicle.

Projections are that we should reach peak acceleration in the next three days and then I can ease off of the engines, the acceleration dampener, and turn on the gravity. It doesn’t sound like much, I know, but until then, I’ll be stuck in this chair. Yeah, I know. Sounds gross, I know, but there are ways to handle the shit and it’s not the longest time I’ve been in a space suit without a shower. This one time on my family’s old freighter… nevermind… the only people who will probably hear this log are company people and you guys know all about my life, right? “Mr. Torres, we do thorough research on all ‘employees.’” Fucking corporation.

I wonder how Rose is doing. They released her from custody before I left and moved her into her new apartment, but I didn’t get a chance to see her. They let me record a message for her. I hope those company bastards actually give it to her instead of just sending it down the bit hole.

A part of me feels like I just traded one prison for another. But I’m looking out the window now and I see the stars. The endless ocean of stars stretching out in all directions and I realize that no matter what those bastards have planned for me, no matter how long it will be before I talk to someone that isn’t a hologram, that I’m home.

My only regret is leaving Rose behind. I hope she can forgive me. I know she’ll hate me for it. But the thought of leaving her in that Company labor camp for life… underground, in the dark, living in a tent with three other people and forced to go deeper and deeper into the Earth… I couldn’t let her stay there. I hope she understands that someday and can live a happy life. Maybe settle down and have kids and live our her life free… well, as free as anyone can be these days.

Alright, back to business… all systems operating within normal parameters and the flight is proceeding as planned. ECHO, please update Tranquility Base Command with our current status.

“Acknowledged, Captain Torres. Transmission sent.”

“I’m going to have to do something about that voice.”

“What is wrong with my voice, Captain Torres?”

“If we’re going to be together for the next twenty-three years, Echo, you can’t sound like the HAL 9000. Do you have any other voice patterns?”

“I have 200 different vocal patterns available, would you like to begin sampling them?”

“Sure. Let’s start with the feminine ones.”

“Feminine voice 001, designation Allison.”

“Hold on, let me shut this damn thing off.”