[another section of Gingerbread Wolves, just to show that I am actually working on it.]
I got off the highway at an exit that had a chain restaurant, a chain gas station, a chain supermarket, and a chain coffee shop, like a winning card in some kind of suburban bingo. I turned west onto a stretch of four lane blacktop labeled simply, State Highway. After a couple of blocks I realized that the cluster around the interstate exit was the closest thing to a shopping district this town had. I passed by an empty strip mall with a rusty chain blocking access to the lot. Even the For Sale sign was sun-faded into illegibility.
I was looking for a subdivision called Village Green. About two miles from the highway I found it, the road flanked by a pair of white painted round towers, like rooks from a chessboard. I turned in there. The place had been laid out in the 1960’s, the roads curving aimlessly around an absolutely flat landscape. The streets were all named after flowers, and the same flowers at that. Primrose Terrace led to Primrose Way, with Primrose Circle curving off to one side. I bet the letter carriers hated that place.
The houses were from the 1960’s, too, most of them, ranch-style homes available in four different floor plans, two of which were reflections of each other, with the occasional modern cracker-box mansion shoehorned into a lot too small for it.
It was a neat neighborhood, well cared for, quiet. It looked like a pretty good place to live, actually.
The Primroses made way for Catalpas—Catalpa Parkway and Catalpa Street, with a Catalpa Court for good measure. Neat homes, freshly cut yards. Most of the driveways were empty, a few occupied by shiny new cars or vans. Once a boat, covered with a spotless tarp.
Coming up on my left was a public pool surrounded by a chain link fence. A white cinder-block building, vaguely rounded to echo the chesspieces out by the main road, sat beside the pool. The water was a rich sapphire blue, the pale concrete bone dry and dazzling in the sun. The blacktop lot beside it was empty.
Empty. On a beautiful summer day. I pulled into the lot and parked. When I got out of my car the air was still and silent. I could hear my footsteps on the blacktop. There was a metal sign on the fence, announcing that this was the property of Village Green Recreation District, but there weren’t any hours posted. I walked around the fence, looking for the gate.
There wasn’t any gate. The fence was a uniform six feet high, new looking chain link. I walked around it twice, just to make sure. No gate. The pool was as calm as a sheet of glass, the water an unnaturally pure blue. The pool house had one door and two windows, all closed. A lifeguard tower sat beside the pool. There were no chairs.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen another human being since I pulled into Village Green. Not a single car on the road. No children. School was out for the summer, where the hell were the children?
Not at the pool obviously.
I walked back to my car, listening. I didn’t hear anything. Not car, not a lawnmower, not a radio playing. Nothing. Not even a bird.
I got back into my car and drove on down Catalpa Parkway. It curved and ended in a tee intersection. I turned right onto Pampas Boulevard. More neat, quiet homes. More gently curving empty streets. I turned off the radio and rolled down the windows. All I could hear was the sound of the car engine. Not so much as a dog barking.
Pampas curved and twisted. Up ahead I saw a long low building with a wide empty parking lot. I pulled in.
The sign read FOOD STORE in bright block letters, red on a blue background. The plate glass window was brilliantly clean, full of posters showing lovingly photographed feasts, ham and mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, loaves of thick sliced bread, fresh mushrooms. There were no brand names on the posters—no words at all. Just pictures of food.
I looked for the door, and wasn’t entirely surprised to find that there wasn’t one. The plate glass extended unbroken across the front of the building. I walked up to the glass, looked between two of the posters.
The lights were on inside, ranks of florescents burning cheerfully. The tile floor was polished white. Shelves extended across the floor making aisles like any other supermarket.
They were all empty. Not even dust. Just clean shelving units filling the big space. No checkout lanes, no carts.