Authors: William D. Carl
“Tell that to Bob Gunner.”
“The man you pistol-whipped and left to die on the floor.”
“Aw, Christ, I didn’t think of that,” he said, and he winced. “I just wanted to knock him out and get him out of the way. You’re right, though. He didn’t start to change, did he?”
She shook her head slowly back and forth. “No. We forgot about him, left him out there for those things to get.”
“Yeah … shit. He was a good man. A good boss. He had three kids and a wife. He’s just meat now.”
Her voice was rising with emotion, and Rick thought he’d finally distracted her from gathering incriminating facts about him. He did regret leaving that guy to be killed.
“We were running for our lives,” he explained, trying to sound more disturbed than he was, not an easy task. “I just forgot about him.”
She said, “I forgot, too, so I’ll take some of the blame. Still, you didn’t need to hit him with the gun. He wouldn’t have caused any trouble. He would’ve just stayed on the floor, thinking about his kids. They were good kids, too.”
“Okay, so maybe through neglect I accidentally killed a man,” he said. “One man in six robberies—and that wouldn’t have happened if those … those things hadn’t shown up.” Quickly, he added, “Of course, I could be lying again. I could’ve killed dozens of men over the years. Bodies could’ve been left all over the place.”
Chesya sighed. “I don’t think any of it matters much, anyway. We’re talking about all this morality and philosophy, and I think that when we open that door in the morning, we’re going to have a lot more to worry about than who got hurt in a robbery. I think it’s going to be terrible. Like the Apocalypse.”
“You think it’s happening all over?”
“Yeah. You saw how fast Gloria and all your friends changed. It only took a couple of minutes.”
“And all those sirens.”
“I heard car alarms and sirens going off all over the place outside the bank, and I mean a lot of them.”
“Yeah. It doesn’t look very good, does it?”
“If that’s going on all over the place, I don’t know if there’ll be anyone left alive in the morning.”
“Some people have to have gotten away, hidden themselves someplace safe, just like we did. I mean, we were lucky to be where we were with an open vault only a few dozen feet away. Maybe people hid out in their houses or their basements.”
They were quiet for a while, and Rick glanced at his watch. It was just after 10:00 p.m. They had at least ten more hours until the automated lock would slide open and allow them to exit.
Suddenly, he wasn’t sure he wanted the doors to open. What would be left of the world on the other side?
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe some of them hid. Maybe …”
They listened to the hum of the lights, wondering what the morning would bring.
SEPTEMBER 17, 5:30 A.M.
athy Wright was trying to get to sleep with Karl, spooning him, her arm wrapped around his thickening middle. They had slept in the same position for more than eighteen years. If they altered their arms or faced a different direction, they would both remain awake until they settled back into the old, familiar stance. Nineteen years of marriage brought many such traditions, and it was easier to settle into them than to fight them. When things were difficult, even impossible to handle, she scurried back to the nuclear model her mother had taught her. She chose to embrace the comfortable, mellowing into her middle age, ignoring the tough questions.
And there had certainly been tough questions lately.
Cathy felt the roll of Karl’s stomach beneath her fingers as he breathed softly. She’d chastised him to get to the gym more often, to watch his diet. He agreed that those were good ideas, but so far he had not acted upon them. Acting on advice was something Karl saved for the law offices of Wright, Steptoe, and Stevenson. Within his walls, he was the king, and there was little room for advice.
Little room for opposition and debate.
Listening to her husband’s snoring, she wondered if she had time to have another child, or if Karl would agree to an adoption. After Christian’s disappearance, she had been feeling the emptiness of her house during the daytime when Karl was at work. She missed the sound of her boy’s voice and his bragging tenor ringing from the dining room where he always seemed to be eating.
After what had happened, after all the accusations and sleepless nights of brutal refutations, Cathy doubted Karl would allow another
child into their lives. Even a baby can eventually be corrupted, can turn against his parents.
The parenting books she had devoured while she was pregnant had not addressed this. It was something that happened to other families, poor families. Rich children didn’t just disappear in the night after accusing their parents of abuse and neglect. It was as though someone had switched scripts on her, and she had to admit, if only in the deepest part of the night with her arm around her husband, that she was floundering.
She thought she had known her own child; then he simply changed overnight into a creature she no longer recognized. Where did that little boy go? And could he ever return to her?
Cathy felt something moving in the depths of Karl’s flabby stomach. At first, it was a tickling sensation beneath her fingers, then hair began to sprout from his skin. He awoke, clutching at his abdomen and screeching in pain, shoving her away.
In the moonlight that streamed through the open window, she watched her husband’s transformation in awe and alarm. She reached out to him, and he tried to grasp her hand, his eyes somehow reflecting the moonlight in an odd, golden manner. His hand lashed out, then the wrist changed, snapped into a slanted, doglike position, the fingers elongating as she watched, his fingernails growing long and black and sharp.
—that’s what Christian had called him. Karl seemed to be changing in affirmation of this charge.
When he dropped to all fours, he turned his massive head toward her, and she saw the hunger in his eyes, the desire … the frightening lack of recognition. She turned and rushed for the bathroom before he was accustomed to his four legs. Stumbling over her nightgown, she nearly fell, but she caught herself with her hands and hurtled forward. She slammed the door, locking it behind her, thanking God that the contractor had insisted upon the heavy oak.
He smashed his body into the door several times, until something else eventually caught his attention. He sniffed, gave a low growl, then started tearing the bedroom apart. After several minutes of ripping and crashing noises, he howled and bounded off somewhere.
She didn’t hear another sound through most of the night, except for some noises from the street, separated from the house by a good two acres of manicured lawns and a swimming pool. There were a few distant screams, some loud cars zooming past, and once she thought she heard something mechanical smash into pieces. There were a few minutes of crashing sounds from downstairs, muffled by the walls. Then it grew eerily quiet.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door to the dawn and looked upon the bedroom. One hand remained on the door to slam it shut if anything suddenly moved toward her. The other hand held a pair of scissors that she’d discovered in the vanity drawer. They weren’t very sharp, but they’d inflict damage in a pinch.
Her stomach growled, demanding sustenance.
“Karl?” she called into the brightening room. Orange and yellow hues sparkled off the crown molding.
The bedroom had been torn to pieces. The bedclothes were shredded, and long strips had been clawed out of the mattress, matching sets of five talon marks each. The dresser had been overturned, the drawers torn from it and tossed across the room, and the curtains were canted, hanging by a single side of the window treatment. The window itself was smashed, glass scattered across the floor. The closet doors were crumpled in the middle. The bottom half of one of the doors had been flung near the bed, but the top halves hung like batwing doors in a western saloon. Her clothes, torn into ribbons, were dispersed all over the room. She could smell stale piss, and she discovered the puddle near the bookshelves, which were, oddly, untouched.
“Oh God, Karl.”
Dawn had arrived in a cloudless, autumn sky in Cincinnati, edging the bridges that spanned the Ohio River in tones of gold and crisp yellow. The sky was blue, almost aqua, and the birds began to call out to each other, gossiping in singsong. The temperature rose to a warm seventy degrees, a vestige of Indian summer.
Cathy couldn’t bring herself to become enthusiastic about the weather.
She searched the house, discovering some new brand of destruction
in nearly every room. She tried the phone, dialing 911, but was greeted by a dead line. She attempted the same call on her cell phone, but she only received a busy signal. She wondered how many other people were trying to call for help.
Setting down her phone, she moved to the foyer. The front door had been torn from its hinges, and she ran her hand over the splintered wood.
Then, like so many others in the city, Cathy Wright put on a pair of shoes and, after peeking through the doorway and ascertaining there was no immediate danger, stepped out into a new world.
SEPTEMBER 17, 5:30 A.M.
hesya eyed Rick as he paced the length of the vault. She’d long been a people-watcher, and she could usually define behaviors of customers and coworkers. This skill helped her business sense. She could always tell when someone was nervous about a loan, no matter how the applicant struggled to maintain a smile. Now, as Rick paced and attempted to contain his hysteria, she noticed little things about him, telltale signals that she alone would heed.
Rick’s hair was graying at the temples, and she thought he was self-conscious of it because he ran his fingers through it just above his ears, where the new gray mixed with the sandy brown. His arms were muscular beneath his shirt, stretching the fabric across his chest, but his legs appeared thin through his tight jeans. This told Chesya that he worked out, but he didn’t discipline himself to complete the training, probably skipping his legs altogether. His desire for a cigarette belied a dependency upon smoking, and the frustration he exhibited showed that he rarely went without one of the cancer sticks. His nails were chewed down to the quick, a nervous habit.
All of these things showed a different man than he had wanted to personify during the robbery, a different image than the tough guy he’d been trying to display during the night. This was a man who was worried, afraid, a man who had trouble coping when things didn’t go his way. It showed someone who could be careless and haphazard. Despite the fact that he tried to affect a devil-may-care attitude, the way he was pacing showed a different side to him, a hidden facet that only she might notice.
And Chesya was determined to use her knowledge.
He would screw up eventually. When the door to the vault opened in a few hours, he would probably dash for the nearest exit, but if he didn’t, she would prepare herself for an escape.
“How long have we got left?” he asked, slumping down on the floor. His leg began bobbing nervously up and down.
“About three hours.”
“Jesus Christ! I’d sell my soul for a cigarette right now, for half a cigarette,” he said. “There’s a pack in the car, just outside the damn bank. For all the good that does me.”
“Those things’ll kill you,” she said, grinning at him.
“Very funny. I think those monsters out there will probably get to me first. We can’t stay in here forever.”
“At the rate you’re going,” Chesya said, “you’re not gonna last the night. Get a grip, man.”
“You ever smoke?”
“No. It’s a nasty habit.” She wrinkled her nose.
He laughed. “Well, nasty or not, it’s harder than hell to stop. I’ve tried a couple times, but I couldn’t stick with it. Even tried the patches, but I ended up smoking anyway and getting really sick.”
, she thought.
Also unable to finish projects that he starts.
She said, “Well, if you want to get your mind off things, we can always talk.”
Throughout the night, there had been long stretches of silence bookended by staccato bursts of whining and ranting. It didn’t do much to endear Rick to her, but at least she was beginning to realize he was human, that he was as scared as she was.
Chesya just kept her emotions buried deep within herself, a personal cemetery of stifled anger and fear and disgust. One of her ex-boyfriends had often commented upon her inability to show her feelings. He had told her he knew she had the feelings, but said that it would be nice if she shared them with him occasionally. He left her soon after that conversation, and she’d placed him within her cemetery, burying him among the other failed relationships. Not that there were all that many.
“Talk?” he asked. “What else can we talk about? I’m about talked out.”
“Who are you?”
“Oh, I think you know enough about me already. You’re a sly one, you are. What else is there? I’m Rick. I rob banks. Sometimes, for shits and giggles, I tell terrible fibs to bank tellers.”
She ignored his remark, intuiting that he was telling more truths than lies, just something she felt in her gut. She asked, “Do you have a wife? Kids?”
“No wife. Definitely no kids.” He wiggled his eyebrows Groucho style. “At least, none I know about.”
“You ever wish for that kind of life?”
“What? White picket fence, two-point-four children, and a dog named Scamp? Naw, I don’t see it. I think it’s fine for other jerks, but I don’t think I could stand it for more than a couple of days.” He paused for a moment. “Yeah, it might be nice to have a woman waiting for me at home, but I can go to any bar in town and pick up a woman for the night.”
She believed he probably could do it, too. He was certainly handsome, in a rugged, Marlboro Man way. He projected bravado when he wasn’t in the process of losing control, and many women would find that self-confidence attractive. She didn’t include herself among their ranks.