This story followed a writing prompt of tumbleweed. Visit Studio 30 Plus to join in the fun.
She remembered his voice smiling through the phone having extended an invitation to this dismal place. As she took in her surroundings as she drove down the main road into the town, she could almost hear the wind whisper a warning to turn back. The old euphemism about the sidewalks getting rolled up after dark came to mind when Marlena noticed the cracks, huge chasms actually, in the concrete pathways aligning the roadway. It was hard to imagine any life here whatsoever.
Work had drawn her to the location that otherwise would never have been on her radar. From the looks of things, this was somewhere mangy dogs went to die after they’d been poisoned by anti-freeze puddles. It was a place of zombie movies, with very little sound or movement, only the occasional bare tree limbs swaying in the breeze or a loose sign twisting on its post. Marlena waited for a tumbleweed to roll past but sat watching a red light flash above her at a lone four-way stop instead.
Nothing moved except the crimson signal above her head, its round glass surface glistening in reflection of the streetlight. Both sources illuminated an otherwise dismal scene. The sheer blankness of the town sent a shiver down Marlena’s spine. Something was definitely amiss, but she couldn’t quite figure out what.
No lights shown from inside the house windows. No businesses were open either. Even though it was dinner time, there was not one car in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant just past the intersection. A grocery store across the street was also dark, apparently closed for the night as well. Was everyone inside for some Sunday evening curfew, or was there a church somewhere with its entire population crowded into the sanctuary?
A sudden chill come over Marlena, and her palms turned clammy. The sky was growing dark with shadows being cast here and there, and she could sense someone’s gaze upon her as she glanced across the gloomy neighborhood. Even with the brisk rush going down her skin, her shirt grew moist, and she tugged at the fabric creases in her armpits.
An emergency siren’s shrill blast broke through the silence of her respite sitting solo in the roadway. Marlena jumped in the driver’s seat and gasped at the abrupt jolt of noise, the screech of the warning system ripping through the otherwise quiet air. She caught her breath, growing further dismayed at the confusing situation, and spied movement from the corner of her gaze.
A man stood beside a pale green post office box on the curb beside a brick building in the next block was almost camouflaged from sight. His slight build helped blend him into the bleak environment, wearing gray work pants and a stiff matching jacket with a name stitched across the flap of a breast pocket.
An eerie smile spread across his face when he saw Marlena had noticed him standing there. His deep-set eyes squinted almost to a close, but she knew he was starting at her. She looked back at him, concentrating hard to read the small blocked letters on his coat. Those weren’t letters at all but a number series stitched there. The man acknowledged her with a stiff wave and mouthed the word, “Hello.”
Her senses warned her not to engage, but Marlena’s confusion at the directions to her destination and curiosity about the empty town outweighed her fear of the menacing figure. She had to find the place where she was to meet her business contact. Resigned to her fate, Marlena exhaled a heavy sigh, and guided the car slowly to the opposite side of the street where the stranger stood.
As she lowered the car window to greet him, he spoke instead. The man smiled again, nodding his head, and said, “Yes, it’s just you and me. I’m so glad you accepted my invitation to come.”