The sound of jet engines blared in the tiny rooms. Victor plugged his ears and waited for the howling to stop. He really hated to be the one to do this. But there was really no one else.
Those Servers needed rebooting, and that’s all there was to it.
He pulled his fingers from his ears. The worst was over. Soon the Servers would drone into the back as just white noise. Now the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads – that was a sound he could never ignore.
He pulled his phone from the belt clip. It was illuminated by Mary’s photo. She wore an exasperated smile and black strands of hair hung in her face. It was the first photo he snapped on the phone; she had just woken up from a nap.
Victor sucked his lower lip, his thumb hovering over the big red Decline button. He walked over to the window behind his desk. The phone reported no bars, and the call disconnected. He clipped the phone back to his belt and his hand went instinctively to the white band around his finger. He twisted the skin between his thumb and forefinger — his personal worry stone.
He rested his forehead on the windowpane. It was damp with cool condensation from the mist hanging in the air. He almost wished he could stay here forever. Opening his eyes, he could almost make out the distant lines of Sweetbrook Hospital, a wraith in the distance. The blinking blue light of the heliport told him where he was.
This was his lighthouse. If he ventured too close, he’d wreck himself on the rocks. Mary would be getting off work right now. If she pulled the night shift. No. He would stay over here. His office was on the upper floor of what used to be a Haelig Meyer department store, its floor cluttered with deceased computers. He’d stay over here in MIS. That’s where they preferred him anyway.
“My friend,” said a voice from behind accompanied by a hairy brown hand landing on his shoulder. “I got you tickets for speed dating at Sharkie’s. They have karaoke!”
“I’ll have to pass… my heart will always belong to Mary.”
“That is the most melodramatic thing I have ever heard,” Ramir scolded. It always amazed Victor — the only place he’s ever actually seen the cliché Indian systems admin was here in the Falls, of all places. “And yet they make fun of arranged marriages. Look, they work. The secret is that the husband and wife lead separate lives…”
Victor chuckled. “Hey, want to take a ride today?”
“And if the hospital needs us?”
He patted the pager on his hip. “They know where to find us.”
It always surprised people to find out that there even was an IT industry in Ichor Falls. Half of the town was still on AOL, assuming they had any Internet at all. Even facilities the size of Sweetbrook Hospital were wired. There were no actual paper trails with medical records, thanks to Bill Clinton and HIPAA. Some nurse left a senator’s STD screeen out in the break room one too many times.
The real issue here is that prior to 1998, Sweetbrook had no records.
Victor pulled his truck into the dirt lot in front of Amaranth Mental Hospital. Ramir whistled when he dropped out of the passenger side. Victor couldn’t blame him — even at high noon it was creepy as hell. He decided the mist might actually help the old folks in the New Haven Rest Home right across the hospital. Wouldn’t have to look at the thing.
It destroys a family, this kind of winter. Towns have a long memory — the Falls especially, though the memories of people are mercifully (or unfortunately) short. In a little less than seven months he and his mother and sister will move away, at the onset of what will be called the Ethylor summer. That season will be remembered.
But no one will remember this winter. Not even him. He is still a child, only in second grade, and while he will dream about this for years to come, he will not remember. The thoughts will tumble out of his mind shortly after they move across the river into Ohio.
Darkness descended on Avery like waves. She watched it dance and shift on the walls of her bedroom, growing darker and darker the longer she watched it. The shapes undulated and swam never keeping a form for longer than a second. Sometimes she could recognize the shape. A person. A bat. Other.
People recognize patterns. That is what the eyes do. That is what makes art something than just a series of lines and colors. A TV show more than a splatter of dots. We find patterns everywhere. A fluffy bunny floating down a lazy path in the sky. A face in wooden paneling. Nothing new. Nothing strange. Just something the brain does to make sense of the world and to comfort itself.
But what was ever comforting and sense-making about the shapes on the wall?
Avery rolled over and pressed against her boyfriend’s naked back. She hated the feel of it. She had heard before that we choose our mates by scent. His smell nauseated her. She wondered if she should wake him up before her mom got home. She wondered if she even cared anymore.
She closed her eyes, and the shapes kept dancing on the backs of her eyelids.
Her mother didn’t care about Mike staying over. Or didn’t notice. Or just never came home. It wouldn’t be the first time.
They walked hand in hand through Lower Alethia not making eye contact, because that seemed like the thing to do. The eyes are the window of the soul. Also the first thing to decay. It had occurred to Avery that Alethia would have been the town’s eyes.
They climbed a tree in front of the parking garage and skipped pebbles over the hoods of oncoming cars. No school today to fill the void. So today’s agenda was petty vandalism and pot.
Mike launched a stone. It crunched into the passenger side window of a passing Lincoln. A corner of the glass spider webbed into tiny squares. The car halt to a halt with a piercing screech.
I am now sitting on an old bench, the green paint chipping as the old boards splinter underneath my weight. My heart is beating rapidly, and I am fatigued, cold with sweat in the frosty morning air. It is four o’clock, and the moon is heavy in the sky, masked here and there by a vagrant cloud or two. The soft hushes carry the smell of damp grass and dirt; the dew is congealing upon the withered blades found creeping through the cracks in the concrete walkway.
Behind me is the madhouse; the malign edifice from which I recently came, bolting madly with the cumbersome voices whispering at my back. I swear I could almost feel their words upon my skin, as some weight upon me; almost as much as the wind that cools my perspiration as of this very moment. But as I wait here, pausing often to look timidly over my shoulder, half-hoping to see the faint outlines of animated bodies in pursuit, to prove that I am not quite insane, I do so that I may bolt again in fear for my life.
If I should die this morning, if those deviant figures should rise against me unexpectedly, I wish to have the events prior recorded here, so that any who may come across my dismembered body may know what has come to pass.
My name is William L. Hume Jr., and I am a middle-aged man living out a very poor mode of existence in Ichor Falls, West Virginia. My means for such a distasteful living are as equally detestable as the mode, but do not assume that I have lived as such since the days of my ignorant youth. I once attended a small community college, around the ripe young age of nineteen, spending two years as a studious incumbent of the collegiate atmosphere, but my father fell under the effects of an illness from which he did not recover. I dropped out to care for him for a period of time, though it swept him eagerly, and thus was a curt struggle.