"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts // And I looked, and behold a pale horse // And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him."
In the historic downtown of Baltham, it was busy as usual for small business owners that managed to stand strong against the Zemreaft Mall and the major retailers. Even know it isn't as popular as the modern downtown, people manage to find themselves in this area. There was the well known Kennedy Square Park with its ironic bronze statue of a lion and lioness. Some of the tourists often visit the park to take pictures of the statue while visiting the old town of Baltham. And there was the classic Sweet Bay Hotel designed to look like it was built in the early 1900s despite being constructed in the early 1980s. There were many more landmarks and areas only known to the locals.
Next was the modern downtown filled with offices, technology companies, and commercial districts that rivaled any city in the West Coast. There was the recently opened boardwalk filled with businesses with the aim of making tourists spend their. Despite the boardwalk being small, it was big enough to fit the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast called Revolution. Meanwhile, one of the ferries entered the terminal filled with people from Seattle. Theodore Ochoa was one of its passengers that developed food poisoning out of the blue and it was weird because he didn't eat much. Regardless, he planned on going back home after a long business trip in Baltham and hoped it would go away after rest.
However, it got worse.
He began to sweat only a few minutes after leave the ferry. Then, the headaches appeared with enough pain to cause him to lose focus. Next, when he pulled up to his driveway, he was weak and felt like passing out at any moment. His wife was gardening outside when she saw her husband nearly falling to the ground. She dropped her tools and caught him in time. She tried to ask if he was feeling alright, but got no response other than coughing. That was when she took him inside immediately and closed the door behind her. A nearby neighbor, Benjamin Dunnings, noticed the whole thing and wondered what was going on. But he decided to go back inside to finish watching his favorite lunch time show.
About fifteen minutes passed before Benjamin heard a blood curdling scream coming next door that caught him off guard. He got up from his recliner and ran outside with a cell phone in hand to call the authorities. Once outside, he saw other neighbors that also heard the screams. Some of them had already called the authorities even know the screams had stopped. Naturally, Benjamin and another neighbor went to the front door and began knocking on it. At first, there wasn't an answer. After a few moments of waiting, Benjamin decided to kick the door open knowing that someone was in danger. He saw a lot of blood on the wooden floor that concerned him and the neighbor. Benjamin decided to investigate the house while the neighbor stayed behind.
Once inside the house, he looked around for the source of the blood and found that the living room couch was covered in blood. A bottle of DayQuil and a broken mug laid on the floor in the living room. Benjamin began to question if he should have come into the house at all until he heard noises coming from the kitchen. He called out with a sample "hello" while approaching the room. No response. Then, he heard chewing sounds as if he was eating something. Benjamin carefully walked into the kitchen and discovered Theodore on the ground eating... his dog. He couldn't believe the sight and felt like throwing up.
It was the same dog that Theodore's wife always talked about ever since adopting her a couple years ago. She loved that dog to death and now her husband was eating him like it was a piece of steak. Eventually, Benjamin had to throw up because of the terrible smell. He saw a trash bin near and threw the lid to the ground before throwing up in it. The sound of the bin hitting the floor caught Theodore's attention almost immediately. And after Benjamin was thrown his guts up, he turned and saw that Theodore was getting up from the floor. He back away for his own safety while Theodore was rising up. Then, he turned to reveal his bloody mouth and it scared Benjamin enough for him to run. He kept on running as fast as he could towards the front door to alert the neighbors of what he saw.
Before he could reach for the handle, Benjamin heard someone coming down the stairs and turned to see that it was Chelsea Ochoa with a massive bite mark on her head. It was big enough that she was missing her left ear. Benjamin couldn't believe what Theodore had done to her and naturally went to her check on her. "Oh my god, are you alright?" Benjamin asked Chelsea, who only responded with a growl.
Outside the Ochoa household, the police officers were talking to neighbors about the situation until the door was kicked open. Benjamin cried out for help as Chelsea was biting on his neck and officers rushed towards his aid. One of them pulled out a baton and started beating her with it while another tried to pull her off of him. She turned towards the officer and tackled him to the ground while Theodore was walking outside for the first time since coming home. Neighbors cried out in horror while some started filming the whole thing with their cell phones. The other officer attempted to get her off of his partner, but the baton proved to be ineffective against her. Then, Theodore fell down and nearly managed to bite the officer in progress.
The other two officers pulled out their pistols and aimed at the couple demanding their surrender. Instead, they stood up and began walking towards them. Six shots rang out and each one of the bullets hit the couple. The crowd freaked out from the gunshots and started running away from the scene. Naturally, getting hit by a bullet meant you were on the ground in pain or dead. But, something strange was happening. Neither Theodore or Chelsea was on the ground and kept marching towards them. The third officer pulled out his pistol, aimed for Chelsea's head, and pulled the trigger. That was finally when she fell to the ground lifeless. The other two officers fired at Theodore's head and watched as he also fell to the ground.
Afterwards, the third officer rushed to check on his partner and the other victim while another officer was calling for backup and medical aid. One of the neighbors had been filming the whole time and decided to post the entire video on their Twitter account. In the matter of minutes, the video blew up and started to spread all over the website. Eventually, it got the media's attention and they began covering the breaking news. And there was still enough time before lunch ended.
"What?" Jake Elliott asked his boss, Bradley Doyle, while finishing the french fries that he brought from the nearby McDonald's during his break. Doyle was a tough boss that kept his short staff in line, but he had a kind heart towards his community. It was the reason why he kept the Goodwill running for twenty-four years with his older son, Wyatt Doyle. Jake entered Doyle's office and found him watching the news on the small tv that he brought used about a year before Elliott came to work here. It was on the news and showing footage of a deadly shooting in a nice looking neighborhood.
"There was a shooting nearby. Two dead and two wounded." Doyle explained to Elliott.
Elliott threw the ironic red fries container away and looked at the screen, trying to listen to what the reporter was saying. Apparently, information regarding the victims is being kept secret until the families are notified and footage of the incident was too graphic to show. That was when his phone went off in his pocket and Elliott went to check. He unlocked it and found a twitter notification regarding an old friend from Denver mentioning him. It was a video of the incident and Elliott hesitated clicking on it until Doyle wondered what the noise was.
"Oh, a friend sent me the video of the shooting." Elliott answered.
"Show it to me."
He handed the phone over to Doyle and stood behind him so Elliott was able to watch the footage. It started off while the two officers rushing towards the man and woman. The woman was still fighting the man, despite being beaten up with a baton and another officer trying to arrest her. Suddenly, she tackled the officer and started fighting him. Then, another man exited out of the house and made his way towards the other officer. After a close call, the officer quickly retreated before two more pulled out their guns and aimed at the woman and man. The officers fired several shots that caused the person filming to run away in panic; however, he managed to capture a bit more footage.
The last few seconds showed the woman still walking towards the officers and then the video ended. Doyle let out another "holy shit" and looked at Elliott to see his reaction to the whole thing. He looked like he was going to throw his lunch up because of the video.
"Goddamn." Elliott said while trying not to throw up. "I wished that I didn't see that video after all."
"You and me both." Doyle agreed and looked up at the clock. It was one o'clock and it meant that it was working time. He got up from his comfortable chair, handed the phone back to Elliott, and said, "I suppose we will get an explanation of the whole thing later. Until then, lets try to clean our minds of that video and get back to work."
"Yes, sir." Elliott lightheartedly saluted while walking back to the counter. Now, it was a matter of waiting until work ended at four o'clock.
While waiting for Jackson to arrive, she'd turned on the TV to check and see what was on. It just happened to be on the news channel, and there was a documentary on what live was like in North Korea which caught her attention, as like many others, she had always wandered what life was really like in the Northern party of Korea. All of a sudden, a line of flashing words appeared on the screen followed by a robotic narration. "We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special report from Channel 5 News."
The flashing lights was then replaced by a scene of a rather familiar-looking home where a deadly shooting had occurred. As more footage of the home was revealed, Ruby realised why she found the house so familiar. It was a five minute walk from her home, and she usually passed by it on the way home each day. Two dead and two wounded. She wondered what had happened. They were in a relatively safe and peaceful neighbourhood that tended towards more of the upper middle to higher wealth class, and so crimes of these sort were definitely not common.
As soon as the news report ended, it was replaced with the same flashing words and robotic narration.
"We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming."
Her phone went off with a ping and she unlocked it to find a twitter notification from one of her followers. It showed the video of the shooting, and had everything the news report on the TV didn't, which was just about everything. The news only had the aftermath, while this was captured live, with the action and all that. It showed two officers fighting with a couple, and how despite all the beating that was done, the fighting did not stop. It was only after the couple was shot in the head, that all the fighting ended with the man and woman dead on the ground.
Checking Twitter, Ruby realised that she wasn't the only one who received the video, and it was not going viral, but it was trending on Twitter right now, gaining more retweets and comments by the minute. The sudden ring of the doorbell gave her a shock, still startled by the violence of the incident that had she'd just seen. Placing a hand over her heart to calm herself, she got up to check who was it at the door. Seeing Jackson's scruffy mug on the screen, she buzzed him open and opened the door for him.
"Jackson! Have you seen the video?!"
"Seen which video? I've been on my bike, not really a good time to be watching any video. Took me to get her longer than it should. Accident a couple of streets away, seems like something big happened."
"That's what I'm referring to! The video of that shooting! It's going viral on Twitter right now!"
Parking his bike. Jackson took out his phone and found the video on Twitter. It was virtually impossible to not find it at this point. It was simply everywhere! Ruby stared at him as he watched the video, wanting to see his reaction towards the shooting. He was just as mortified as she was. "I've never see anyone received such a beating and still continued on fighting like nothing happened. What's going on with our world?"
"Anyway, leave that aside. All the cycling made me really hungry. Let's go up and eat and get ready the stream!"
"Yeah, sure. It's all ready. Stream preparation's ready, although I might need to heat up the food first."
It was a normal day for Donny, the poor guy going through the parking lot of Zemreaft Mall. He had found a half-eaten sandwich, promptly eliminating the 'half' before going to a water fountain for a few sips. When he went around with his coffee cup it seemed people were paying far less attention to him than usual and it seemed even the security guards were too busy to tell him to get the fuck out. Odd, really, because he hadn't washed himself in a while and was looking particularly like a hobo today.
Hours passed and his cup barely jingled as he shook it, much to the man's annoyance. It was enough for today but not tomorrow, it meant he'd have to repeat the routine unless some Saint went over to give a bunch of tens. What had people's attention so preoccupied? It was probably school today for the kids and still work time for other folk so naturally those at the mall would only be those with either something important, or nothing better to do. Yet, he had gotten used to that and had long since been accounting for it when choosing where he would make his living today.
Deciding that was enough for today he emptied his cup into a pocket and then went to figure out what the hell was going on, even his usually careless curiosity piqued. He saw a few kids on a bench all looking at one phone. He kept hearing something on the themes of "Wow!" and "Dayum!" and assumed that he had found his mark.
"Skipping school you little pricks?" The veteran demanded, getting behind them quite quietly as creepy old men like him could. They almost scattered until he placed a grimy hand on the shoulder of the two boys on the periphery. "Don't worry, I wouldn't snitch even if I cared for your sorry little asses enough to do so. Now what the hell is everyone freaking out over?" He queried, motioning with his head to the phone. They were quiet for a little until one of them spoke up, probably the unofficial leader of the snot patrol. "Some guys got shot!" He announced excitedly, snatching the phone away and pressing play on the video. A normal little part of town that he had once even been in, so far as he could remember. Two... sickly looking people going at the cops and then they aimed and fired. The Old man shuddered with a look here and there as the sound of firearms came about, to the giggles of the teens. But the first shots didn't so much as stop the two people, which was odd. Donny survived quite a lot more shots back then but he was wearing a damn plate carrier. Ordinary people had no business walking on after eating so many bullets. He didn't really wince after they collapsed when taking a shot to the head, off the top of his head Don could only think of that girl in... Pakistan - if he remembered right - could survive something like that. Jesus.... Alright now scram, go, be the kids your parents want you to be or some shit." After the kids vacated the bench Don sat down on it for a moment, before sprawling across it comfortably. He put a hand under his shirt to feel the old bullet scars, muttering for a moment or two about what the world was coming to before drifting off to sleep.
~a meal to start the end -1:32 PM, Downtown in Ramen Cafe
Famished and dehydrated, Gideon had finally made his way to his seat, after having been in the line for almost half an hour. Lunch hour was in full swing, as the restaurant was packed from wall to wall with patrons, but something felt off for today. Instead of seeing lively faces active in a litany of conversations, many faces were all huddled together, staring into their phone screens. Gideon pulled his out, thinking maybe there’d be an obvious reason, but scrolling through his normal Instagram feed gave him no such answers. All his focus on this topic, however, dissipated when the waitress came to his table, giving him a friendly smile, and sliding a menu in front of him.
Now, to eat…
After another 10 minutes, a group of Gideon’s courier colleagues walked in, spotting him at his table and started coming over. They only glanced up at him once, though, making their way over slowly, all while staring into their phones, same as the rest of the patrons. Gulping down some water, Gideon spoke up as his friends closed the distance.
”Everyone’s glued to their damn phones today, the hell is going on?”
”Oh, that’s right! You don’t use Twitter, huh?” David asked, finally making eye contact as he sat down in the booth with him, along with Carter and Jesus.
David, a 29 year old white man, with long brown hair in a smooth ponytail doing down his back and a scruffy beard, turned his phone towards Gideon. ”This video is being posted all over the place, check it out.”
Looking down at the screen, Gideon watched as two people, covered in blood and with crazed looks in their eyes, attacked and tried to bite or maul a pair of police officers, all the while, a man with a massive wound in his neck was bleeding to death behind them, all for an entire neighborhood to watch. The belligerent woman then turned her attention to a pair of police officers, who responded by pulling guns and shooting her multiple times, to seemingly no effect. Gideon watched on, horrified at how this madwoman had taken and simply ignored multiple rounds. He’d see some disturbing internet videos, witnessed how just one or two bullets could drop even the strongest man like a limp sack of potatoes, but this woman didn’t care. She just kept coming.
Finally, as the police trained their aim on her head, she finally fell limp, the headshot draining her body of all life. Gideon sat back, taking a deep breath and a sip of water.
”Christ, that kinda fucked up my appetite.”
”C’mon, G. We’ve shown you worse than that stuff.” chuckled Carter. Carter, with his very short blonde hair, brown eyes, and red, slightly sunburned pale skin, stretched out in his seat, and began to sip the lemonade the waitress had just placed, as Jesus and David ordered their food.
”I dunno, dude, I’ve never seen someone take bullets like that. Plus, it looked like that one dude got bit or shot in the neck? What the fuck is going on in that clip, dude?!” Gideon chuckled nervously, as he took another sip of his water.
Jesus, an older, early thirties, man of Hispanic descent, with short salt and pepper hair and long, survivalist style beard, spoke up after handing his menu to the waitress.” My wife sent me that video, she said she thinks they have rabies or something.”
”Rabies? Rabies don’t make you eat bullets like that, dude.”
”Can people even get rabies? I thought that was just bats and dogs and shit.”
”Yes, people can get rabies, dude. But usually, it just makes them hydrophobic and all shaky, I’ve never seen rabies do that to someone. That’s freaky dude. Way too fuckin’ freaky.”
As Gideon’s eyes began to wander, he noticed that some of the patrons had asked to change the channel on one of the cafe’s TVs, and turned it to the news. On the channel, a Special Report was airing, covering the same video that Gideon had just watched. Apparently the scene was still hectic, and the police had cordoned off the neighborhood, and residents were on lockdown.
The table of four men had all craned their necks to watch the report, as did most of the patrons in the cafe. Suddenly, Jesus raised a pointed finger, and began speaking to the table,
”Oh, holy shit! I know why I recognize that place! That’s where my sister-in-law lives!” He dropped his pointing hand, and pulled out his phone.
”You’re telling me your wife didn’t notice that the first time around?”
”I guess not, bro. But she just texted me the same thing, I guess she was watching the news too.” He paused, with his eyes scanning over his phone for a second.”She says her sister hasn’t sent her anything yet, but she’s about to call her. That’s crazy shit dude, I wonder if she saw it all.”
”Shiet, dude, you sure that wasn’t the one taking all those shots in that video? David joked.
Jesus gave him a playful punch in the shoulder, which drew a laugh out of David. ”That shit ain’t funny, bro. But no, my wife’s sister is even more Mexican than me, she’s dark skinned. The lady in that video looked white or something. She didn’t look like my sister-in-law.”
Gideon chuckled to himself, but the table’s conversation was cut short by the arrival of their steaming bowls of ramen, which they were more than ready to dig into.
Lunchtime. It was an everyday thing for the kids of the orphanage to eat at a large table in the main dining room, allowing the volunteers to keep track of all of the younger, squirmier kids while the older ones finished their meals and helped clean. Mahrie hadn't been feeling well that day, so after a little bit of bugging, she stayed home from school and joined the rest of the kids at the table. An old, twelve-inch CRT television sat not far away from the large wooden dining table, in view for all of the children to watch cartoons while they ate. Today though, it had been turned to the Channel 5 News. The weather was supposed to be nice this weekend, so the volunteers were planning a trip to the park, but first they needed to make sure the weather would be nice enough.
"We interrupt the weather report to bring you Breaking News."
Many of the younger kids were too busy chatting and playing with their food to notice the television, but many of the older kids and volunteers looked over at the scene change. Mahrie watched the television closely, one hand marking her stopping point in her book and the other holding a spoonful of Campbells Chicken & Stars soup. She put the spoon in her mouth, her eyes glued on the television as the commentator explained details of a deadly shooting in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. Mahrie recognized the house, the kids usually passed by it during Halloween, or stopped in the neighborhood during Christmas to sing carols.
It didn't take long for one of the volunteers to walk over to the television and turn it off, shaking her head as she walked back to the kitchen.
"People these days. What is the world coming to?" one of the volunteers asked, placing a paper towel and a piece of toast down in front of Mahrie.
"Everything the news has to show is all violence and killing. It's sad."
Mahrie sat silently for a few moments, her finger slipping from her book, as her mind wandered. She thought about the people who had lived in that home, she remembered their faces. She imagined them both gone, nonexistent from the world. What had happened? Were they both dead? The girl was caught up in a self-made trance, a little wistful at the thought of not seeing those people anymore. But before her thoughts got too far, a voice snapped her back into reality.
"Mahrie, dear, eat your soup, before it gets cold."
Mahrie blinked a couple times, looking down at the silver spoon that was resting in her bowl, barely gripped by her fingers. "Oh, sorry. I- I forgot."
"It's alright dear. Just let me know if you want more, but if you're still not feeling well, you don't have to finish it."
The young girl nodded as she glanced back down at her book, searching for her stopping point while taking another spoonful of Chicken & Stars.
The apartment’s curtains remained drawn, and whatever light came from the morning sun was blocked by the artificial night created by blackout curtains and poor living conditions. In the near pitch-blackness of the room, a figure moved, shuffling with meticulous awkwardness towards a shadowy bookstand. Hands raised up to gain balance, and a low utterance of a grunt came out of the man’s chest as he fumbled with a light switch, creating dim light in the room.
The man sighed, rubbing a hand over his face, contorting his skin as he groaned against the light, trying to find something in the mess of his room. Finally, he sat on an old sagging loveseat, covered in old blankets. The flashing red light of an answering machine begged to be checked, and he seemed to agonize for a long time before finally groaning again, making his way towards it, and pressing the “play button.”
“Daaavid!” The prolonged “a” with the almost insufferable nebbish voice made it quite clear who was trying to contact him. “How’s my favorite master of horror? Are you missing Seattle yet? Because I have some grreeat news for you!” more extended vowels and the promise of good news? It was Eddie Howell’s signature pitch; dress up the shitty deal and hope that David was too fucked up on his meds to say no. “A very cute little company out of Vancouver want to adapt The Screamers for a tv mini series! This could really do well on paperback sales of-” Click.
“Message deleted.” The answering machine voice droned on as David Marlowe slumped into a wooden chair at his small kitchen table. Eddie had spent the past two years tryting to get David out of Baltham and back to the “real world”. He always said that hiding out wasn’t the manly thing to do; and that he needed to get back into the public and get another big book published. Besides, the whole “scandal” deal was long forgotten. But he knew it had been forgotten because he had been forgotten. The moment his name was out there again, the faster the shit would hit the fan all over again. The gurgle of the coffee maker caught his ear; that must mean it was almost noon if it was boiling another pot. That meant he needed to start working for today.
“Sorry Eddie,” David muttered to no one in particular, “but there’s no way i’m going back to Seattle. Ever.” He finally forced himself up with a hearty groan, and poured himself a black cup of cheap coffee. He sipped at it, contorting his face with distaste, then carried the steaming mug to a dark writing desk in the corner of the living room. There he looked over the old IBM Lexmark his father had given him when he published his first novel. Still queued up on the page were a few...scribbles and musings, but nothing was solid. David replaced the paper, centered it; and prepared to write.
Fifteen minutes later he stood up, his hands shaking. This had been a common occurrence for the past six months: he would start a paragraph, and suddenly in the middle of it all; simply freeze. But this time had been different: it had been worse. David began to struggle to breathe as he tried to bring his fingers down onto the mechanical keys of the typewriter, and he found himself unable to think at all for a solid minute. Was this it? Was he coming to the end of his career as a writer? Would he die, here in this shitty hovel unable to even finish a goddamn paragraph?
“Fuck it,” He muttered to himself, walking over to his couch. He grabbed the remote to his television, letting the hum of the LCD screen tv flash bright vibrant light into the room. The news was on.
“-horrible accident today as several police officers were involved in a shooting-”
The channel suddenly changed to daytime soaps, then to crappy game shows, and finally to infomercials, until finally David hit the power button again, stood up and made a shocking announcement: “I have to get out of this fucking room.”
He washed, brushed his teeth, fixed his hair and threw on a jacket. For the first time in what felt like a lifetime; David Marlowe was going outside. At lunchtime.
It had been a new day at the office, but even so, her routine remained monotonous.
Ensuring that Lorraine had creme and two sugars in her coffee—she was often a snotty bitch if Noèle forgot—or that her supervisor, Bob Collins, had all his documents ready for his next meeting were but the tip of the iceberg of the same boring work day Noèle had known, yet still she found it hard to press on. Whilst the work she was assigned to were able to be accomplished with little to no difficulty, many of Noèle's associates and colleagues were often a pain to deal with. In truth, had Noèle known so many assholes wanted to sell jet skis and other water sport accessories, she would've likely skipped the application process and looked elsewhere.
But that didn't matter now; only the leftover takeout in front of Noèle, and of course, the person who she was eating with for the next thirty minutes within the bleak office break room did.
"You know," the woman spoke, stabbing a piece of broccoli with a fork, "You should smile more often, Noèle. I mean—it's not like you don't, just that you always seem so... tense. Like that you have a lot on your mind."
"Eh?" Noèle uttered, having been taken back by surprise. Whilst the woman across from her—Olivia—had become a dear friend since Noèle had started working at Wavemaster, such a comment was unexpected. The two of them were working buddies, and had seen a movie or two together in the past, but for all the time Noèle had known Olivia, it was as if she knew more about Noèle than she did herself. "You think so? I had no idea." Noèle continued, giving off an awkward smile.
"Hey, it's what friends do. We have to look after each other, right?" Olivia responded, returning the smile with one of her own. Poking another piece of her lunch with her fork, Olivia turned her head towards the break room windows; the deafening wail of an ambulance echoing off the window panes. It was a sound that the office employees had heard plenty, being that the office building was not that far from the hospital, but something seemed off today. Maybe it was the frequency, brought by some big new health scare that weird health nuts were panicking over.
Regardless, before Noèle had a chance to respond, the break room door flung open, and a nerdy-looking man with glasses flocked to the table the women were sitting at.
"Noèle; Olivia. You two have got to see this." The man announced, fiddling with his smartphone. With a press of a finger, the man turned the phone towards them, showing off the video that was now playing.
What unfolded was unnatural. Impossible. Illogical. Absurd.
"Ugh, Kevin; get that away from me." Olivia remarked, looking away with an almost disgusted look on her face. Her stomach was obviously churning just by watching the video. "You know I don't do well seeing those kind of things."
"W-Well... I obviously know that!" Kevin quickly snapped back, shoving his face back into his phone as he scrolled through the comments. "But the video is breaking headlines all over the place! You have to see it to believe it." He continued, beginning to obliviously spout off various comments left by Twitter users that had seen the video just mere seconds later.
For Noèle, however, the conversation was quickly droned out as she stared absently at the leftovers on the table. Something about that pork udong seemed no longer appetizing.
Fortunately, Kent did not have to rely solely on the colorful commentary provided by his morning crew to keep his day interesting. Shortly after Ray and Jerry had moved on to more menial tasks around the shop, a wealthy family from Texas had wandered in and inquired about his guided fishing excursions. The father quickly explained that the timing had forced him to bring his children along on a business trip and he was looking for a unique activity to ‘atone for his sins.’ While Kent had doubted the man’s motivations, he was not one to turn away a prospective customer, especially during the tourist season; he had booked them for a 10:00 a.m. launch time.
It was now nearly 1:30 p.m.
Aside from a few notable disputes from his pre-teen passengers – which the father had made no attempt to bring under control – the outing had gone relatively well. They didn’t get any major bites, such as a salmon or lingcod, but Kent didn’t really expect them to; they were far too noisy for that. Hell, they were lucky to have snagged a trout or two. And thankfully, that had been enough to appease them – another satisfied customer.
With his boat secured once more in the marina and a decent tip stashed safely in his back pocket, Kent trudged back to his shop, an equipment duffel slung loosely over his right shoulder. The bell above the door jangled when he entered, and his gaze immediately went toward the counter to find Jerry sitting casually in the corner. The other man’s jaw worked slowly as he munched on a bag of potato chips, his eyes fixed on the small television set mounted on the wall. He waved lazily when Kent passed in front of the register and dumped the bag at his feet. Other than that, he barely seemed to notice.
This, of course, roused suspicion.
Leaning forward, Kent tried to get a better view of the TV to determine what had engrossed his friend, but when that gesture still did not generate a response from Jerry, he simply shook his head and sighed. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to install that damned thing in the first place; it always seemed to cause a distraction, particularly when the Seahawks or Mariners were playing. Not that he didn’t like to see the games – it was more about principle. He was trying to run a business here, after all.
Issuing a sigh, Kent parted his lips to confront the other man, but before the words could leave his mouth, the phone in his left breast pocket began to vibrate. With a quiet curse, he fished the iPhone out of his jacket and glanced at the lock screen, noting that it was his wife. Jerry would have to wait; he needed to take this.
Swiping the screen, he pressed the phone to his ear. “Hey,” he answered evenly, shuffling around to the other side of the counter. From this vantage point, he could now see the TV quite clearly. It was tuned to a Channel 5 News report with the ‘Breaking News’ headline scrolling across the bottom.
He frowned slightly. Did that say something about another shooting? Well, he supposed he now knew what was troubling Jerry. If he was being honest, it wasn’t all that surprising for this world, not when it seemed like there was a new shooting every other day. It was easy to grow numb to it all...to feel helpless. Still, he took comfort in hearing Emily’s voice when it finally reached his ear.
“Well, there’s a surprise – I didn’t think you’d pick up,” she replied smartly, her tone holding a certain playful quality. “You usually let it go to voicemail. Slow day?”
“I took the boat out this morning for a family from Houston, so it wasn’t a complete loss.” He shrugged, his eyes still directed at the TV when the camera pulled back to show a wider shot of the scene. It looked…familiar somehow. “I was about to head out and grab a quick lunch, so you caught me at a good time.”
“Don’t eat too much,” she chided softly. “That’s what I’m calling you about – I got those reservations for tonight at McCormick’s.”
“Uh, what?” His attention was divided now, the scene on the television slowly coming into focus – the houses, the streets, the people. He knew that neighborhood; it was right here in Baltham.
“The place on the waterfront,” Emily continued after a moment, somewhat hesitant after his brief lapse. “You know, the one we’ve been talking about since last weekend...the one that was apparently booked solid when I called on Monday. We’re in – tonight at 7:30.”
“Oh, yeah...that--uh, that’s great, honey.”
There was another pause, followed by an audible sigh. “Kent? Are you alright?”
Pursing his lips, Kent shook his head and turned away from the news report, regardless of the fact that she could not see the gesture through the phone. Somehow, knowing that a terrible tragedy had occurred locally gave the issue a lot more weight. Did he know the victims? Would this trickle down to affect others operations throughout the community? There were so many variables to consider.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he breathed in a huff, his voice sounding more gravelly than usual. “I just saw something on TV...it got my attention.”
Kent narrowed his eyes, clenching his jaw slightly at her special kind of intuition. “So, you know.”
“I saw the report right before I called you. Last I heard, there were two dead, two wounded,” she relayed the information with surprising ease. “No idea about the victims yet, but I’m sure that’ll be released in time. It’s a shame.” She hesitated for a moment, almost as if she knew she was about to tread on dangerous ground. “Maybe I can even call Curt to see if--”
“No, he wouldn’t want to be bothered,” Kent countered quickly, his tone probably coming across more harsh than he intended. Even after all this time, his son remained a sore subject in any conversation. He knew Emily resented that fact, but Kent was a stubborn man; it was something she was going to have to deal with for the time being. The boy had made no effort to reach out to him, so why should he?
Sensing the tension growing between them, Kent inhaled deeply and tried to steer the discussion back on topic. “Anyway, Em, I’ll be home around six. Good job getting that table for tonight...I look forward to it.” He smiled sadly, his gaze drifting back to the television one last time. “I love you.”