by Steven Carr
Dan and Clarisse paused momentarily when they heard gun shots before walking into the northern entrance of Pike Place Market. Clarisse sighed as she passed the empty stands where the flower vendors once sold roses, geraniums, tulips, and chrysanthemums. She sadly ran her hand across the white plastic sheets that covered the tables. The fragrance of those flowers still lingered in the marketplace, a week after the last one had sold.
Clarisse gripped harder onto Dan’s arm and pulled him to a stop just in front of an empty glass case where fish once rested on mounds of crushed ice. The remains of a dried-up trout laying in a puddle of stagnant water was all that remained within the case. A cockroach swam across the water toward the fish carcass leaving a small ripple in its wake.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said, urging him on with her hand on his arm until they exited the market and stepped out onto Pike Place.
In front of them, Pike Street stretched quietly through Seattle’s downtown. Like the market, it too had been mostly abandoned. Only a few trucks and cars moving from one traffic light to the next, their drivers stopping at the red lights from conditioning, their destinations uncertain. A few wanderers on the sidewalks seemed less sure of where they were going or why, some showing the early signs of going tired, shuffling along as if unable to raise their feet to even take a step. The destinies of the shufflers were more certain.
“I can’t,” Clarisse said, turning her head away from the scene in front of them.
“I’m sorry,” Dan said patting her hand. “Are you tired?”
Her eyes betrayed her fear of the question.
“I mean can’t you walk anymore?” he quickly corrected himself.
“Yes, but I need a break,” she said. “Can’t we sit down somewhere for a little while before we walk back home?”
“Of course,” Dan said. “I doubt if there is a restaurant open. Will a bus stop bench do?”
“I’d sit right here on the curb if I didn’t think soldiers would mistake us for having gone tired and put bullets in our brains,” she answered.
“There are some benches on 1st Avenue,” he said as he took her hand in his and led her across the street. It was only a block up Pike Street to 1st Avenue, but as soon as they stepped onto the street, the air had changed. It had become hot, still, and reeked from the fetid smells of garbage that had piled up on the street. Bodies of people who had gone tired and died, had decayed while propped up against a wall or street lamp, or while lying stretched out on the sidewalk as if taking a nap.
Dan and Clarisse sat together on a bench found on 1st Avenue, south past Union Street and across from a closed Starbucks. Clarisse put her head on Dan’s shoulder. “I sure would love a double latte,” she said.
“I’d like something with ice,” he said. “An iced coffee would be perfect right now.”
They sat in silence for several minutes before Dan said, “I bet they still have ice.”
Before Clarisse had time to object, Dan got up from the bench and started across the street.
“What are you doing?” Clarisse asked, following behind him.
“I’m going to get something to drink. Something with ice.”
Standing at the window, the couple looked in through the large plate of glass at the tidy interior of the store. Nothing was out of place, as if the last employee had cleaned the place, went home, and went tired knowing that he or she had left behind a spotless place for whoever happened to survive the pandemic. Perhaps someone would need that last cup of Starbucks coffee, even though drinks like coffee, with caffeine, had all but disappeared. Dan went to the door and pulled on the metal handle. The store had been locked.
“Damn,” Clarisse said kicking at the metal guard at the bottom of the door.
“Don’t give up so easily,” Dan said as he scanned the street before taking off at a half run down the street and returning a minute later with a brick in his hand. “All the bricks in Seattle are still good for something,” he said, raising his hand back, about to smash the glass in the door.
“Dan, you can’t,” Clarisse said putting her hand on his arm.
“It’s looting, and we could be shot for it,” she said.
Dan kissed her lightly on the cheek. “I doubt very much that anyone will care if we break in. There aren’t enough police left to arrest us and the military isn’t interested in thieves.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said stepping back.
Dan smashed the brick against the glass several times before a long crack formed from the top to the bottom of the door. He kicked the glass hard then stepped back as it splintered into two large pieces that fell into the store. The burglar alarm went off causing a high-pitched echo that shattered the quietude.
Clarisse put her hands over her ears. “Dan that alarm is going to draw unwanted attention.”
Dan reached his hand through the door frame and turned the handle on the inside and pulled the door open. “If anyone besides the mercy squads have enough energy to pay attention to anything, then they are welcome to join us for a cold drink.” He held the door open as Clarisse went into the store, trying to avoid the shattered glass on the floor. Dan followed her in and let the door close behind him. On the wall next to the door was the alarm system code box. Dan stared at it for a minute and then smashed it with the brick. The alarm stopped.
“Nothing like good old-fashioned know-how to fix a problem.” He flicked on the lights and smiled as the blades of the fan in the middle of the ceiling began to turn.
“Dan,” Clarisse said quietly from behind him.
He turned. At the counter a young woman in a crisp white blouse and khaki pants was holding a gun pointed their direction.
“I know how to use this,” she said, adding, “And I will if I have to.”
“We mean you no harm,” Clarisse said. “We just wanted to get a drink.”
“Something with ice,” Dan added.
The girl eyed them for a moment. “You look harmless enough.” She put the gun down to her side, “but you’re going to have to pay for the door.”
Clarisse stepped beside Dan and took hold of his hand and squeezed it tightly. Her palm was sweaty, and her fingernails dug into his skin.
“What’s your name?” Dan asked the girl.
She looked at him blankly for a moment and then looked down at her name tag. “It says I’m Marcie. I must be Marcie.” She yawned and then leaned back against the empty shelves behind her. “Everyone stopped coming to work,” she looked up at the whirling fan, “but I need the paycheck to pay my tuition?”
Dan introduced himself and then Clarisse. “Can we get something to drink? Maybe something with ice?” he asked.
Marcy picked up a cloth and wiped the counter. “Well, we’re all out of coffee and there isn’t any milk or cream and as you can see there isn’t anything left in the cooler. I can’t imagine what has happened to the deliveries. They are usually very prompt. I mean, after all, making coffee drinks is our business.”
She lifted the cloth and stared blankly at it then tossed it in the trash. “There may be a few bottles of juice in the storage unit, but you will have to pay with cash. The credit card machine stopped working for some reason. I tried to call the manager, but his cell phone isn’t working, or he has it turned off. He really doesn’t care about his job. I don’t think he even cares if he gets fired. He doesn’t have student debts like I do.”
Dan reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet and pulled his hand from Clarisse’s and opened it up. “I didn’t bring any cash,” he said. “Can I give you an IOU?”
“I’ve never done that before, so I’ll have to try and call the manager again.” Marcie yawned again. “I had to walk all the way to work this morning. Or was it last night?” She was rambling again. “I can’t believe that bus drivers would go on strike at a time like this. And I couldn’t get a taxi. No one answers when you call them.”
“You do know what is happening?” Clarissa asked.
“Of course I do!” Marcie felt as if her intelligence had been questioned. “People want more pay, but in these tough economic times how can anyone go on strike?” She stepped from behind the counter and shuffled to a door, opened it, and disappeared down a short hallway.
“She’s going tired,” Clarissa said sadly. “What are we going to do?”
“What we’ve had to do a dozen times already,” Dan replied. “Pray that she goes completely tired very quickly.”
Marcie came back through the door empty handed and stared blankly at Dan and Clarisse. “Oh, I didn’t realize there were customers out here. I’m so sorry.”
An Army jeep pulled up to the curb outside of the store.
“Oh me,” Marcie said, “More customers.”
A young Army sergeant jumped out from the front passenger seat while two corporals got out of the back. They were all carrying M16s. They stood on the sidewalk looking into the store.
“Is everything okay in there?” the sergeant called out. “We were down the block and heard an alarm go off.”
“What are we going to do?” Clarisse quietly asked Dan.
“Stay calm,” Dan took hold of her hand.
“We’re okay in here,” he called out. “We just needed to find some ice.”
“Raise your hands, we’re coming in,” the sergeant said.
“Okay, we’re raising them,” Dan replied. Dan and Clarisse raised their hands above their heads
As the three opened the smashed door and came in, they were wary but friendly. Their uniforms were starched, and their boots shined, as if they had just come from an inspection.
“I hope you don’t want a Danish or a muffin or anything like that,” Marcie spoke to the group as she wiped the top of the counter with a white towel with the green Starbucks logo printed on it. “Do you think we’ll get as many tourists this year as we did last year?”
One of the corporals, a young man who looked as if he had just graduated from high school, turned to Dan, “Is she joking or what?”
“She’s going tired,” Dan whispered back. “She’s showing all the signs.”
The three soldiers raised their guns and shot Marcie, twice in the chest and once in the head. Marcie fell behind the counter.
“How could you do that!?” Dan shouted at them, angered and horrified, as he wrapped his arms around Clarisse.
“Better that then to find her dying of thirst or starvation in here or being raped out on the street,” the sergeant argued. “Can we give you folks a ride anywhere?” he asked. “We’re the only working taxi in town and we don’t charge.”
“No thanks,” Dan said, “we’d rather take our chances on foot.”
The sergeant stepped up to him. “I’m forgetting my manners. I’m Staff Sergeant Brad Evers. We’re not going to harm you or this lovely woman you’re with.”
“She’s my wife,” Dan said.
“We mean you no harm,” Sergeant Evers reiterated. “You sure you don’t want a ride? It’s kinda dangerous out there these days.”
“You soldiers are the only thing dangerous,” Clarisse blurted out.
Sergeant Evers gazed at her thoughtfully, the left side of his lips curling into a half-grin. “We’re just doing our duty,” he said. “There’s few of us left either but we have a sworn duty to serve our country.”
“Our country no longer exists,” Dan said.
Sergeant Evers pointed his gun at him. “It exists as long as I have this.”
“Please, just let us leave,” Clarisse said.
Sergeant Evers lowered his gun. “Certainly, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Do you know what I miss?” Dan was now seated by Clarisse on a bench, looking out at the undisturbed waters of the Puget Sound.
The burned remains of a passenger jet fuselage stuck out of the water.
“Pizza delivery,” she laughed, trying to sound lighthearted.
“I miss that to be certain, but I miss being able to go into an internet café, getting online, and reading what was happening to the rest of the world.”
“You read the same things I did when people started going tired. Roaches exist wherever there is man, and scientists said they caused all this,” Clarisse said.
She picked up an empty plastic bottle from the sidewalk and threw it into the water, where it bobbed up and down for a moment and then disappeared beneath the surface. “I guess we’ll never know just how long the roaches had been carrying the pathogen on their bodies and passed it from one generation to the next. Or from one species to the next, until finally finding its way to us.
Dan stood up and stretched. “It sure sucker punched humanity almost overnight.” He lowered his arms and looked up and down the empty stretch of sidewalk that ran along the beach. “It was like we were the roaches, and suddenly the lights had been turned on, but instead of scurrying away, everyone started going tired.”
“Well not everyone. At least not yet,” she said, looping her arm through his. “Maybe those soldiers or the others we have seen or met are immune to it.” After a brief pause she added, “maybe you and I are immune to it.”
The sound of footsteps behind them made them turn around. A pretty, young woman in jeans and a t-shirt with a “Virginia is for Lovers” logo on it was crossing the street toward them. She was carrying a very still, blond curly-haired baby in her arms. As she came nearer, she held the baby out to them.
“I can’t imagine what’s wrong with him,” she said. “He just kept yawning and yawning all night, and now he won’t eat his food and doesn’t seem to recognize me. I’m going to take him to the doctor but for the life of me I can’t remember how to get there.”
The woman looked up at the sky. “Rick was due home last night, but he must have gotten stuck in London. I can’t reach him or anyone by phone. That’s very strange isn’t it?” Then she yawned, pulled the baby to her, and hugged it. “I seem to have forgotten where I parked the car, but if I don’t find it, I’ll never get anywhere on foot, will I?”
Clarisse let loose of Dan’s arm and went around the bench toward the woman. “Would you like me to help you with your baby?”
“My what?” the woman answered as she held the baby to her chest, then turned and walked back the same direction from where she had just come.
“It would have been better if we had just nuked ourselves out of existence than to go like this,” Clarisse said watching the young woman lay the baby on top of a mailbox and continue walking.
It was late afternoon when Dan and Clarisse reached the Macy’s Store on Pine Street. They weren’t headed there in particular, but upon reaching it, they were surprised to see the glass doors wide open. They stood on the sidewalk across from the store, cautiously waiting and listening. Pine, like most streets downtown, was sparsely littered with the staggering forms of citizens going tired and the bodies of those who had already gone. However, to Dan, this street had a “different feel”.
When gun fire erupted from a nearby street, Dan said, “We’ve entered a dangerous area.”
“Let’s just hurry on or go back and take a different street,” Clarisse said in a near-whisper despite there being no one, they could see, within earshot.
Just as she said that, two men wearing only boxer shorts came out of Macy’s carrying the limp body of a nude woman.
“I wish they had at least a little fight still in them,” the huskier of the two men said. “But it sure is easy pickings.”
Dan put his arm around Clarisse and backed up into the shadows of one of the storefronts. He put his finger to his lips, a sign for Clarisse to remain quiet. They watched as the two men sat the tired woman against a Macy’s outside wall next to a window display. For the first time they noticed there were several other women, all nude, lined up like sitting mannequins, against the wall.
“Oh my God!” Clarisse exclaimed too loudly.
The two men looked across the street, at Dan and Clarisse. “You got a real live one with you buddy,” one of the men said. “We haven’t had one of those for a couple of days.”
Dan grabbed Clarisse’s hand and yanked her hard, pulling her along as he broke into a full run up Pine for two blocks. At 6th avenue, and with no one in pursuit, Dan and Clarisse stopped on the corner to catch their breath. The jeep with the soldiers they met at the Starbucks, that morning, pulled up beside them.
“You folks still doing okay?” Sergeant Evers asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Dan said. “We’re headed home.”
“Good idea. Not much to see down here anymore,” he said.
The young corporal in the back seat yawned loudly. A terrified look crossed his face as the corporal seated next to him took his pistol out of its holster.
“It’s better to go tired in your own home if you can, than out here in the streets,” Sergeant Evers said.
Sergeant Evers pounded twice with his fist on the outside of the door that he was seated by, and the jeep pulled off, disappearing around a corner a block away.
Then a single gunshot echoed from where the truck had turned.
Now on Olive Way and headed toward their apartment, they watched as a nun in a white habit pulled behind her a line of a dozen men, women, and children, each tied by the wrist to a rope and moving like walking rag dolls.
“Where are you taking them?” Clarisse asked the nun.
“To safety, somewhere that those bands of soldiers can’t find them.”
“There’s one patrolling this area, so be careful,” Dan informed her.
“Thank you,” the nun continued on her way, pulling her charges with her.
At the front door to their apartment building, Dan looked up and down the street before taking his key out and unlocking it. They quickly went in, locking the door behind them, and crossed the quiet lobby to the elevator. Eddie, the concierge, was still sitting at his stand, his head down on his folded arms in the last stages of being tired.
“Maybe we should give him some water or something?” Clarisse said as the elevator doors opened.
“Keeping him alive to prolong the inevitable won’t do him any good,” Dan affectionately squeezed Clarisse’s hand as they stepped into the elevator.
As the elevator hummed its way along to the floor where the couple shared a spacious, well-decorated apartment, Dan said, “I imagine if the electricity suddenly goes off and we’re trapped in here, it will be a lot like dying from being tired.”
“Except we’ll be awake most of the time and know what’s happening,” Clarisse replied.
As the doors to the elevator opened, Clarisse let out a gasp. Sitting beside the door to their apartment was their upstairs neighbor, Rod Tyler. He was dressed in pajamas, his rugged tanned face frozen into a mask of blank expression. His broad chest heaved up and down very slowly; a small trickle of drool slid down his cleft chin from his parted lips. He had been Dan’s best friend for several years and a frequent visitor of theirs.
“Rod, Rod, Rod,” Dan said as he and Clarisse got out of the elevator and rushed to him.
“Just yesterday he was perfectly fine,” Dan said, sliding his arms under Rod’s, and lifting him to his feet, holding him in a standing position while Clarisse opened the door. As Dan maneuvered Rod’s body into the apartment and laid him on the sofa, Clarisse poured some whiskey into a small glass and brought it to Dan. Dan took the glass and put it to Rod’s lips, attempting to pour some of it into Rod’s mouth. He gave up quickly and threw the glass against a wall where it shattered.
“We’re going out with neither a whimper nor a bang!” Dan yelled, standing up and looking down at his tired friend. “The human race is sleeping its way into extinction brought about by roaches.”
“We’re not extinct yet,” Clarisse said taking her lover by his hand.
About the Author
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 150 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published recently by Clarendon House Books. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebook and Twitter @carrsteven960.