The air was crisp and cool, a typical Friday afternoon for winter in Las Vegas. Noah Winston was driving home from his best friend’s house. The sun was beginning to set and it painted the sky with bright shades of orange and yellow. It blanketed over the view of the casinos on the strip making them seem warm and inviting. A large contrast to the reality of bank accounts lost and desperate attempts to gain back a paycheck. His mind was on the new video game Strike Down, which he had been playing with Travis.
He and Travis Morgan had known each other since they were ten. Travis lived on Sunrise Mountain and it was a rural community compared to the neighborhood that Noah lived in. Noah preferred the quiet and calm of the mountain and always looked forward to the serene ride home. He could clear his mind and have his thoughts wander, something that had grown difficult the last few months. Somehow spending the day killing zombies and saving the Earth from total contamination made everything bearable for awhile.
He had been saving to get a game system of his own, but when his father, Frank, took ill seven months ago with lymphoma, things drastically changed in their house. Noah had to put college on hold for a semester or two and change his part time job into full time to help out financially around the house. Supporting a family at twenty, going to school and work and caring for a father whose ill and a mother who is over whelmed was exhausting. There were days when Noah was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open, his body felt like someone had ran a truck over it and he found himself moving through the day as if he were half conscious.
Friday was his day though; he could forget the pressures at home and just hang out. It had been a rough week at work and his father had seen another new doctor, a specialist his mom said. Watching his father, who had always been so strong and capable, be reduced to a one hundred and forty pound shadow was sometimes too much to deal with. He had put in his Save the Souls CD and let the music take him away. He was only about half way down Charleston before Tree Line Drive when there was a loud pop and then a thud. His tire had blown. He turned his car down one of the side streets and got out to take a look. The moon wasn’t out yet and the sky was getting dark but still had remnants of gold and orange, the last evidence of the day that had passed. He could see the elementary school in the distance and the few houses on the street didn’t have their porch lights on yet. It would be dark quickly and he rushed to get his spare tire and jack out of the trunk. The temperature was really dropping now and he could see his breath in the air.
He walked around to the front passenger side of his car where the flat was and put the jack underneath and started pumping it up. He was just about done when out of the corner of his eye he saw someone running down the block. It was probably some kids playing, he figured, not paying much attention to them until he heard the blood-curdling scream. Jumping to his feet and looking down the street he saw what looked like a large object in the middle of the road halfway down the block. He started running toward the object. He didn’t know if it was a kid who had fallen off a bike or skateboard but as he looked around there was no evidence of either one of those. In fact he didn’t see anything else around. A car might have hit he kid and left, but he hadn’t heard or seen another vehicle.
When he got closer he could tell the person was definitely a teenage boy. The boys whole body shook violently and his eyes were rolling back into his head. Sweat dripped off of his forehead onto the ground forming a small puddle. His knees were folded to his chest in a fetal position with his arms grasping them so tightly they were rigid and blue. He had strange clothes. His shirt was faded blue, a simple button up with a long collar and suspenders. His pants seemed more like burlap from and old potato sack instead of anything he had seen for sale at his store and they were decaying before his eyes. Little by little the fabric seem to harden as pieces of it fell away and turned to dust. Noah was shocked and didn’t know what to do, he knelt down beside the boy who couldn’t be more than eighteen.
“What's your name?” Noah waited for a response but the boy said nothing. He just continued to shake and roll back and forth “Hey, dude, can you hear me? Do you understand what I'm saying? Everything's going to be okay, I'm going to call for help.”
The boy still didn't respond. Noah wasn't sure if it was because he was shaking so violently but it seemed like he couldn't hear him. Dialing 911, he gave the operator their location as he ran back to his car to get a blanket. The boys clothes had all but disappeared. The only thing left were a few strips of cloth that would be soon gone judging by the looks of them.
When he got to the car he grabbed a flashlight so he could get a better look at him. It had gotten pretty dark and he was having trouble seeing his face. He quickly ran back and covered him with the blanket and then turned on the flashlight and scanned the light over him. When he realized what he was seeing he was horrified. The boys skin started to look just like the fabric that had turned to dust. His body was beginning to harden all over and pieces of him were falling off.
The boy screamed out in agony again and started mumbling the name Emma over and over again. Noah tried to tell him it would be okay that help was on the way, but he knew it wouldn’t. This boy was disintegrating before his eyes and he couldn’t do a thing about it. He was paralyzed with fear and horror. All he could do was watch as in minutes the only thing left was a pile of dust.
He could hear the sirens coming. What would he tell them? They would think he was pulling a prank. He grabbed the blanket and quickly ran to his car driving in the opposite direction from the sound of the approaching paramedics. When he felt he was far enough away he pulled the car over opened his door and vomited into the street. He sat there for several minutes holding the blanket smeared with ash and playing the whole scenario out in his head over and over again but each time he couldn’t think of any explanation that sounded logical. Every time he closed his eyes and saw the boys face harden and fall away, he felt sick. He got out and walked around hoping the cool air would make him feel better and he could drive again. All he wanted to do was go home and collapse on his bed. He wanted the night to end.
When Noah reached home he was exhausted. His head was pounding and his gut felt like Chuck Liddell had used it as a punching bag for the last hour. He grabbed a glass of water, plopped two alka seltzer in it and went up to bed. He didn’t stop to check on his father or ask his mother about the doctor appointment, it could wait until morning; right then all he wanted was a dark room and his bed. The next thing he heard was his mother.
“Noah! Are you out of bed yet? You're going to be late. Honey hurry up and I'll make you some toast, you need to eat something.”
“That's okay mom, I'll just grab a pop tart and eat it on the way.”
Noah leaped out of bed and into the shower, he looked at the clock right before he had gone into the bathroom, it was eight in the morning, he had slept over twelve hours.
Saturday was the busiest day at the store and with Christmas coming soon it would be even crazier than normal. Noah worked at Fearless in the mall. It was the kind of store that the kids loved but mothers hated to go into because it reminded them they no longer fit the age bracket for mini skirts and low cut jeans.
Noah got dressed so fast he forgot his I.D. badge on the dresser and half way to work realized he had left it at home. He called his mother to see if she could bring it to him if she wasn’t too busy but it just went to voice mail. Crap, he thought, he would get docked for this. The one thing that Jim, his manager at the store was anal about was employee badges. They had to have it on at all times when working. If they didn’t he would dock an hour of pay. It didn’t seem fair, but Nevada was a right to work state so there wasn’t too much he could do about it. If he wanted to keep his job he'd shut up and take the loss.
It was total chaos at the store and Noah was partly thankful, he couldn’t get his mind off of the night before but with so many people coming in and out his mind was occupied enough to stumble through the day. He bought the paper at lunch to scan it for any news of what had happened Friday night. A missing kid, anything, but nothing. Either no one knew he was gone yet or nobody reported him missing. Either way Noah was going nuts not knowing what happened to him. The more he tried to get the boys face out of his head the clearer he saw it, the agony and fear in his eyes were haunting him and he didn’t know what to do about it. He decided that as soon as his shift ended he would go over and talk with Travis. He’d probably think he had gone insane but he needed to tell to someone.
The day finally ended and once again Noah found himself traveling up Charleston Boulevard. When he passed the side street he had turned down Friday night he couldn’t help but be drawn to it. Instead of going straight to Travis’s house he felt the car turn and he was once again at the same place that the night before had left him with so many questions.
He pulled the car over just like he had done before but this time he just sat listening to the radio and playing the past events over and over in his head. No matter how many times he thought of what happened he couldn’t come up with an explanation that seemed logical. Nothing he could think of could answer what had happened, he knew what he had seen, but it just didn’t make any sense. People just didn’t fade away to dust. He put his head in his hands and took a deep breath. Was he going crazy? Did he really see what he had thought, or was his head playing tricks on him? He had been under an enormous amount of stress these last few months; maybe he was hallucinating or dreaming. But when he turned to look back for any oncoming cars he saw the blanket in the back seat. Still covered with gray ash and crumpled up just where he had thrown it. It was no dream. Noah felt a shiver go up his back.
He looked over at Sunrise Mountain, as he felt the breeze from the open window. It was getting cold. The sky had its last flecks of gold and orange with hues of red and the darkness was beginning to creep over everything around him. He figured he would still go over to Travis’s; he could use a mindless hour or two of some major destruction. Zombies, just think about killing zombies...
He started the car and looked through the rear view mirror where he saw a group of kids, about three or four of them. They looked like teenagers and they ran quickly across the front lawn of a nearby house and onto the street. Something made him get out of the car and as he turned... he saw her.
She looked about eighteen or nineteen, with light brown hair down to her waist, slender and beautiful. Her face was delicate and smooth like porcelain, and although she was a distance away he could tell that her eyes were the deepest green he had ever seen. She turned and looked at him for just a second. There was a sadness about her eyes and yet her face expressed determination and strength. In an instance he knew he had to know her. His heart started beating so fast that he felt as if it would burst through his chest. His stomach ached with nausea and he could feel all the air in his lungs disappear. His head began to swim and everything around him went silent. He felt as if the blackness would take him and he would fall from his weakened knees. He stood for a moment and tried to take some air into his lungs and regain his balance. Then he started to walk closer to her, but they started running. Before he knew it, Noah was following them, he didn’t know where he was going but he knew he had to talk with her, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he had to get to her. They were quickly approaching the corner and across the street was a dirt field with a chain link fence surrounding it. There was a wooden sign staked in the ground in front. It read the future site of First Presbyterian Church, Noah stopped to take a breath. There he saw a portion of the fence that had been pulled back and he watched as each one squeezed their way through and onto the other side. He started running toward them again and as he approached the fence he yelled out, “What’s your name?”
She turned and looked back at him, but didn’t answer. She just turned toward the others to run with them through the partial wood framing of the church and …disappeared.
Noah stepped through the opening in the fence and ran over to where he had last seen her. It was impossible. Where could they have gone? He checked the area for a basement under the construction but there was nothing. He looked out toward the back of the property but the fence was up and nothing looked disturbed. Besides he would of have seen them running out there. Instead they had just vanished. He sat down and took a breath; this was beginning to become a habit. First the boy last night and then this, what the hell was going on? He couldn’t stop thinking about her, he had to know who she was and as he traced his memory for everything that happened that night, he remembered her clothes; they were as strange as the boys from the night before. He figured he’d get over to Travis’s before anything else weird happened.
The entire car ride over he was fixated on her. Where did she go? Where was she from? Why were her clothes so strange? The more he thought about her the more he needed to know who she was, and how could he find her again. Maybe she lived in the neighborhood, but he was sure he had never seen her before. He would have remembered. Her clothes, her dress looked as if she had just stepped off a covered wagon bound for California in 1865. Now that he thought of it, that was exactly what it was. Her clothes and the boys from night before were old. Not old looking, but old in style, as if they were from over a hundred years ago. Maybe they were in a play or something at the high school. He could check there on Monday. They always had the latest school production posted for everyone at the local market. The owner’s daughter was in theater and she starred in almost every show they had put on for the past two years. If there was a play, she would be listed with her picture as part of the cast. Monday seemed years away.
When he reached Travis’s he decided not to tell him what had been happening. He’d wait until Monday and see if he was right about the play. They had to be costumes. Why else would they both be dressed like that? Besides, at the moment he’d just sound like he had finally caved under all the pressures of the past few months. Waiting until he had more information to tell him would definitely be better. For a moment he felt calm and relieved and sure he had figured out the mystery. That was until he remembered the boy's fate the night before and the way they all disappeared earlier. Damn, he had to tell somebody.