Chapter 20 – Carter Townes
It was about goddamn time. Frank had been making every excuse to delay the information they all needed. Intel was the most important facet of devising a strategy. Carter had learned that the hard way, and he’d be damned if he let that happen again.
“I’m sure most of you haven’t,” Frank continued. “It happened before you were born.” He waited, no one speaking up. “Back in the 50s, a town called Midhaven in Kansas disappeared without a trace. No one noticed for a while; it wasn’t exactly a big town or famous at all—10,000 people living there and nothing more than a rest stop on the way to someplace more interesting for everyone else. It finally made the papers once a few people reported seeing signs for a pit stop that didn’t exist. A few reporters came to the area where the town had been but found nothing but open fields. After a few weeks, reporters stopped coming, and the papers stopped running the articles. Eventually, the entire story was forgotten along with the town and its people. Well, this is part of that town.”
Eliza cleared the plates as Frank talked, blinking in and out. Carter still didn’t trust her, and that jackass Michael trusting her was all the more reason not to. She was apparently the psychic that brought her and Frank here, and according to Frank, the psychics were harmless. Bullshit. At some point, Carter would have to find out who the psychic was that brought him here. For now, though, there were more pertinent questions.
“Where’s the rest of the town? What’s behind the woods?”
“I’m getting to that, Sgt. Townes,” Frank said.
“Who cares what’s behind the woods,” the hot one, Aubree, said. “How do we get out of here?”
“I’ve already told you,” Frank said. “We can’t.”
“Well, if we were asleep when we came here,” she protested, “why don’t we just go to sleep and drive through the fog?”
“I don’t think we’re in that story, ” the kid, Bryan, said with a huff and his arms folded. Everyone looked at him, dumbfounded. Once it registered that no one understood, he continued. “Whatever. Either way, I doubt it’ll work.”
Aubree turned her head away after giving Bryan an “ugh!” She looked like the kind of woman who had grown accustomed to men throwing themselves at her feet and just going along with whatever she said. Bryan, obviously, wasn’t going to be one of them. Still, the whole encounter was pointless, and the interruption was annoying.
“Right you are, son,” Frank said. “Believe me when I say,” he addressed the group, “we’ve tried everything.” Dishes clanked in the kitchen as Eliza turned on the sink. “As for the woods,” Frank said, turning back to Carter, “I haven’t gone into them. The Empty People usually come from the fog, but they’ve come from the woods before, too. Plus, with poison in the air, even if there happen to be no Empty People, it’s still a fight against time. Honestly, if the rest of the town is out there somewhere, it’s lost to us. Besides, I doubt you’d find anything out there but more Empty People.”
“What about the electricity and the water,” Carter asked. Frank was leaving something out. If there were only Empty People out there, then who was maintaining the power plant, the lines, the pipes? These were the details vital to survival.
Frank’s eyes drifted to the floor. He took an annoying couple of seconds before responding. “Has anyone seen the clouds?” He waited. No one answered. “Well,” he went on, “they haven’t moved since you all got here.” Those who were near the windows peered through the boards. “In fact, they never move.” He let it sink in for a moment. “It gets somewhat lighter in the day and very dark at night. Other than that, nothing changes. As far as I can tell, this place is exactly the same as it was when it disappeared in the 50s.” He waited again for the information to register.
“And the electricity was on and the water was running when it disappeared,” Michael, the fuckup, said.
“Yes,” Frank said. “The power never goes out, and the water never stops running. This place is stuck in time.”
No one spoke for some time. In the kitchen, Eliza finished the dishes and turned off the sink.
“What about the air,” Rachel asked. Frank turned to her, obviously needing clarification. “You still haven’t told us how it can be poisonous and somehow not get inside.”
“Right, that,” Frank said. Eliza emerged from the kitchen and sat next to him in front of the bar. He looked at her for a second before she put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure you all remember the dream you had when you got here.” A few people nodded. “Do you remember the little girl?” More nods.
Carter sure as hell remembered. “Welcome, Carter,” she had said. “You’ll be one of us, soon.”
“That little girl appears to everyone when they first come,” Frank continued. “I think she made the air poisonous.” He paused. “She wants us all to be Empty People, but she likes it just as much if we stay inside. I think she loves for us to feel afraid and secluded. Maybe that’s how she felt. I don’t know. But, I do know that staying inside is the only option.”
“So, we’re just supposed to be good little mice in this twisted girl’s cages,” Rachel exclaimed. “Is that it? Just stay put until we decide to go out there and become one of the Empty People, or die of old age in this hellhole?”
Frank’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t think you understood what I meant when I said, ‘nothing changes.'” His voice was full of pity.
“What,” Rachel asked.
“We came here in 1988,” Frank said as he put his hand on his wife’s lap. “We were both 63 years old, and we haven’t aged a day since.”
Carter stayed in the diner as everyone returned to their rooms to collect their thoughts. They were weak.
As he waited on the staircase for his flask to fill up in the cellar, he thought about everything Frank had told them. He wasn’t sure what he could do with that information. The only thing he was sure of was that at some point some very hard decisions were going to have to be made.
And he was going to have to be the one to make them.
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