I don’t know how long I sat there.
A while later, Minion licked my face. I wiped my eyes and looked over at Kevin. He was still dead. You’ve failed as a father. Your son is dead, and you don’t know why. What kind of a father lets his son die in the middle of the night, without even realizing it?
I shook off the voice of guilt, hugged Minion, and pulled myself up off the floor. I’ve got to let somebody know about this. But who? I’d called everyone I could think of, and nobody responded or even answered. The only other solution I could think of was to drive in to the Constable’s office and report it in person. I went back to my room, threw on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, and headed for the garage. Minion followed me right at my heels. He wasn’t in his usual playful “pleasetakemewithyou” mood where he got excited about going for a ride somewhere with me. He whined several times and acted almost clingy.
“No, I need you to stay here and keep an eye on. . .” I couldn’t say it. “Keep an eye on things for me. I’ll be back.”
He sat, his hind legs coiled springs, and barked twice.
Both of the cars were still in the garage, although I don’t know why I expected otherwise. I was still in shock from finding Kevin, but I was also horribly confused by the lack of response to my phone calls.
I rolled the windows down on my battered old Subaru as I headed down the driveway and was surprised at how quiet it was. I don’t live in an urban area. Jasper County only has about 35,000 people. But I lived close enough to the lake that I almost always heard a boat or two out on the water. I glanced off to the southwest towards Jasper and saw a column of smoke, dark and thick enough that I didn’t think it was somebody burning brush in their backyard. It was far enough away that it was probably in Jasper itself. That wasn’t a good sign, but it might explain why no one was answering their phones.
I’d barely gone a mile down Farm-To-Market 1007 when I came across a truck in the ditch. I hit my four-ways as I pulled over. I didn’t see any smoke or steam coming from the truck, so I assumed it had happened a while ago. The driver was an older Hispanic man, maybe in his late sixties, judging from the hair. He was slumped over towards the center of the seat with dried blood on his forehead and around his mouth. I didn’t bother checking for a pulse. He didn’t look like he was still alive, and even if he was, I didn’t think I’d be able to get ahold of anyone in emergency services to come help them. I trotted back to my car with a much greater sense of urgency. I decided to skip Ramiro Thomas’s house—he was the nearest constable—and go straight into town. Something very strange was going on, and I doubted Ramiro would be home at this point.
I made it on down to 255, intending to head east over to 96 and on into town. Three cars sat crumpled together in the intersection of 1007 and 255, a large puddle of antifreeze and oil spreading out from the middle, making the tangled mess of metal something of an island in a dark lake. It looked like a car traveling south on 1007 had hit one of the cars on 255, and then another car came in from the other direction on 255. The car that had been on 1007 had two kids in it, each maybe eighteen or nineteen. There was a man in the eastbound car and a woman in the westbound car, both maybe my age. All four of them were dead. I couldn’t tell if it was a result of the crash or if it happened beforehand, but that didn’t really matter.
The last six people I had encountered this morning were all dead.
I made it on to 96 after passing one more crash, a single-car crash about a half a mile from the on-ramp, where the road curved from almost due west to south-southeast. It looked like the driver had been eastbound, and just drove straight off the road. If it been an airplane crash, they’d have called it “controlled flight into terrain.” I didn’t see any signs that the driver had even touched the brakes. This one looked to be another teenager, a redheaded girl.
She made seven dead people so far this morning.
It was only about a mile and a half from 255 to the outskirts of Jasper, and maybe another half mile to the town itself. The fire I had seen earlier looked to be on the southwest side of town, maybe where 63 and 190 came together, but it was hard to tell from where I was. I’d kept my window down on the way to try to hear something, but I didn’t. No sirens. No planes. It was like I was the only one left alive.
I passed three more single-car crashes on my side of 96, along with one car in the northbound lanes that had just stopped. The driver was a younger black man, and the stick-shift was in neutral, but the car was still idling, as though he’d died midway through shifting the transmission. He looked like he was asleep, but his skin was still cold to the touch, and he was just as dead as everyone else I had seen that morning. Eleven.
I continued on down 96 then cut over on Houston toward Maine, intending to at least pass by the fire station and then check City Hall and the police station. At this point, I didn’t expect to find anyone alive. But I couldn’t conceive of something that would cause so many people to die so quickly, and I was becoming terrified that I might be the only person left in the town of 8,000 people.
The apparatus doors were closed at the fire station. No cars or trucks lined the parking lot, meaning the volunteers hadn’t responded to any calls. I pulled in the broad driveway and parked off to the side out of habit, as though they might show up at any second to respond to the fire south of town. The man-door was unlocked, and I stood there holding it open for a long minute. The building was as silent as a crypt. No movement. No radio traffic at all on the scanner.
My heart racing, I crossed the threshold and began exploring. Seven red and white fire trucks sat gleaming in the morning light that slipped through the garage door windows. The doors on two of the engines stood open, and I climbed up into the cab of the nearest one. I didn’t see any signs that anyone had been in the truck recently.
I made my way through the rest of the station, checking the two offices and a meeting room. The whole time I was in there, it was eerily quiet. The scanner on a table near the man door dutifully scrolled through all of the radio frequencies in the county. I didn’t hear a peep. I sighed, headed back to my car, and drove to the police station.
The Jasper Police Station sat just two hundred yards around the corner from the fire station. But I still put my seatbelt on.
The parking lot was about as I would have expected at almost noon on a weekday. Three department SUVs sat in the parking lot along with half a dozen civilian cars. The American flag, the Texas flag, and the city flag all drooped on their flagpoles, barely fluttering their bottom corners in the slight breeze.
The silence was beginning to overwhelm me.
I had almost reconsidered my decision to come here on the short trip over. I expected to find more dead people. At this point, I was batting a thousand on dead bodies. I’d encountered almost a dozen people since I woke up, and all of them were dead. I had no reason to think this portion of my nightmare would be any different. And I expected the doors to be locked beyond the lobby. I had visited more than once while I was trying to write various articles, and I recalled being buzzed in by someone at the front counter. I couldn’t remember though if the counter was behind Plexiglas or if it was just an open counter space that I might be able to climb over if I needed to.
I took a deep breath and entered. It was just as quiet in here as it had been at the fire station. The air conditioner hummed, and I tried to remember the last time I was in a public building that was quiet enough that I could hear the HVAC running. It had definitely been a while—probably going back to the day my mother had died in the hospital.
I saw the first body as soon as I entered the lobby. She was a middle-aged woman, an officer with JPD whom I didn’t recognize. She wore a black polo shirt and tan slacks, so I assumed she was a detective. She lay in the middle of the doorway that led back to the main part of the department as though she had collapsed as soon as she opened the door. I went through the motions of checking her pulse and blue eyes and found her to be as dead as everyone else I had encountered today. That made twelve.
I wandered on through the hallways, occasionally calling out, “Hello?” The chief’s office was empty, as was the captain’s office. Two dispatchers were slumped over their consoles. Fourteen. I stared at the monitors, trying to figure out where any of the officers were, but I couldn’t understand the software well enough to know what I was looking at.
A phone rang somewhere in the building. From the tone, a cell phone. I tried following the sound, but it quit ringing long before I could locate it. I waited for several minutes to see if the caller would try again but heard nothing. That’s a plus, I guess. Means there’s at least one other person alive out there.
I went back to the radio operator’s console. Let me try and get a message out here. What’s the worst that can happen? It took me a few minutes to unclip the headset from the woman in the right-hand seat and get her laid out appropriately on the other side of the dispatching area. It seemed incredibly insensitive to just dump her on the floor. I sat in her chair and scooted up to the console, slipping her headset on over my head. The transmit button was actually a pedal on the floor. That way dispatchers could type with both hands rather than having to press a button somewhere. I still couldn’t find any of the patrol officers on the screen. I was able to figure out that her headset was ready to transmit on their primary frequency. I started to hit the transmit pedal then stopped. What the heck do I say at a time like this?
Hit the pedal. “Any station this net. Any station this net. Any Jasper police unit, please respond.” I released the pedal and waited a full minute before transmitting the same message again. Five minutes later nobody had responded. I tried something else. “Any station monitoring Jasper police. I am a civilian trying to figure out what’s happened. I will be back on this network at 1800 Central time.” I spent the next fifteen minutes or so punching buttons on the console that looked to be labeled with different frequencies. Each time I changed frequencies, I transmitted the same basic message and waited for a reply. It was a very quiet fifteen minutes. I sat there for several minutes trying to figure out what to do next, but my mind remained blank. What do you do when there’s nobody to report the apocalypse to?
Copyright © 2019 Bob Mueller
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