Chapter 4 – Bryan Wick
Of course there’d be more bad news. Why wouldn’t there be? Well, at least the inside of the diner was in better condition than the outside. Black-and-white checkered floor, red vinyl booths, metal stools in front of the bar, shake machine on the counter; yeah, the 50’s vibe was strong, but it was all clean with only a little wear here and there. Bryan half-expected to hear Buddy Holly playing, but the jukebox was unplugged.
“My name is Frank McCormick. Now, I’m sure you all have a lot of questions, but the most important thing is that you stay inside. I’ll explain everything.”
Frank was an aging man. The top of his head was completely bald, leaving a grey ring on his temples and the back. He was short with a slightly protruding belly and gave Bryan the impression that he was a jovial man.
“You can start by explaining how we get out of here,” said the woman who had been chewing out the bus driver, her arms folded and eyebrows furrowed. Bryan looked at the little girl next to her. Poor girl. She probably had gotten used to that crap a long time ago.
The old man, Frank, let out a long sigh. “I’m afraid you can’t.”
People started shouting their questions at the same time again. Typical: someone comes along with answers, and everybody was too busy being an angry mob to hear him.
“Please, please. I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. Every time you go through that fog, you’ll just end up coming back from the other side. Trust me, I’ve tried it.”
“How is that possible,” asked one of the passengers. Bryan looked over at the man and saw that he was sitting in a booth with two women, probably his wife and daughter. He started to turn back before his mind registered how beautiful the daughter was, and he locked his eyes on her. Ivory skin and round, soft eyes. She wore a grey sweater with a frill in the neck and blue jeans, both of which hugged her curves in a delicate-but-not-overly-sexual way. She oozed femininity, looking both fragile and proud all at once.
Bryan must have been staring too hard, because those alluring, green eyes brought their focus on him. He looked away, but looked back just as quickly. Her lips were turned upward, exposing some cute dimples in her cheeks as she ran a hand through her amber hair.
“I don’ t know,” Frank’s voice pulled Bryan back to reality. Right: this was a horror show, not a love story. “A lot of things don’t make sense here.”
“How long have you been here,” asked the “commander” of the group.
Frank raised his eyebrows and said, “What year is it?” It didn’t seem like an act. It seemed like he honestly didn’t know; and that scared the shit out of Bryan. When a few people said “2017,” Frank started doing math with his fingers. “29 years,” he paused as everyone took a moment to grasp what he just said. “I’m sorry, but you really are stuck here.”
More commotion. Before Bryan could process, he heard a series of “no-s” get louder and louder.
“No. No. No. No. NO!” The man, who had been quiet so far, had his hands around his head and was shaking. On the final “no,” he stood up and made a beeline for the door. Frank got halfway through the word “wait” before the man barreled through him, opened the door, and ran for the bus. Frank tried to steady himself on the back of a booth. The man who had protested to leaving the bus helped him back to his feet before turning for the door, probably wanting to go after the other. Frank put a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t. Don’t go out there. It’s dangerous, and the air is poisonous.”
“Listen, Mr. McCormick—”
“Frank. Just call me Frank. And you are?” The bus started and sped toward the fog.
“Michael Hamman.” Michael was a tall, sturdy-looking man with calloused hands and tan skin, probably from years of manual labor. His black stubble with subtle hints of grey on his squarish face matched his short, tapered hair. The kind of man that seemed to be there to remind people like Bryan that they didn’t stand a chance.
“Listen, Frank,” Michael continued, “you keep saying the air is poisoned. With what?” It was about time someone asked. Frank seemed like a nice guy, but the dramatic tension was getting ridiculous. The bus zipped past and entered the fog again. Frank brought his fingers to the bridge of his nose and sighed.
That was it? Emptiness? What the hell did that even mean? Apparently, Bryan wasn’t the only one pissed off at the answer. He looked around and saw the same what-the-fuck look on almost every face. Frank saw their faces and didn’t seem at all surprised. He shook his head and sighed again.
“I’m sorry. I know that’s not a very good answer.” Yet again, the bus sped by.
“Not a very good answer?” Miss Attitude spoke up. “It doesn’t mean anything. Could you just cut the crap and tell us what’s going on?”
“Look, I don’t know exactly what is in the air. All I know is that if you spend too much time out there, you start to change.”
“How?” The bus kept going.
“Maybe you should just meet my wife,” said Frank as he looked over their heads and at the kitchen behind them. “Honey, why don’t you come out now?”
Everyone spun in their seats. From out of the kitchen, stepped an elderly woman. She was short–probably 5’1″–early 60’s-ish like her husband. Her grey hair was done up in that old lady ‘fro, and she wore exactly what Bryan would expect an old librarian to wear. She was a little plump, though not bad considering her age. But, that wasn’t why Bryan almost pissed his pants.
What was freaking him out was that this innocent-looking old lady was blinking. Not with her eyes. With her entire body. Every couple of seconds, her entire form–clothes and all–would lose its color completely and be replaced with blackness. Not even blackness; more like nothingness. The only contrast would be her eyes: the grey static of an old television. And then, the sweet, old lady would come back, her smile as heart-warming as a loving home.
If the sight wasn’t enough to scare the shit out of Bryan, then the realization that he had seen that form before was. He’d seen it in that fucked up dream he had on the bus.
“Hello,” she said, her voice tender and sweet. She blinked in and out again. “My name is Eliza McCormick.”