I left the door unlocked.
Rain pounds against the side of the car for the first few hours, but eerily turns to snow as the sun breaks over the ridges in front of me. The flurries drive the car near the guardrail with each gust.
Snow drifts that have refused, so far, to stick to the road begin brushing against the Jeep. Every few minutes I have to bounce up and down to stay warm enough to keep my fingers curled around the steering wheel. The heat in the Jeep works, but not well. On every radio station, static. The display reads December 15, 2:32PM. Cleaver is panting loudly next to me, his tongue hanging, contaminating the car with wet slobber with a shrill ping against the vehicle’s metal each time saliva drops from his mouth. And something under the hood is squeaking. Either it has been squeaking the whole time or I can only hear it now as the wind dies down for just a moment. Every other moment the ping of saliva is punctuated with a squeak. The melody becomes maddeningly rhythmic. I grab Cleaver’s jaw and gently pinch it shut. For a moment he holds it closed, looks to his right, to the front, and opens his mouth again. Ping! Squeak!
We pass a sign, almost lost in the storm. DOVER CITY, MORE OF A TOWN! In front of me is an ashen road, snow drifts dancing across it carelessly, each one less violent than the last. The snowfall itself is increasing, and the wind is giving up.
“If you’re burdened down with trouble…”
Cleaver turns to watch me.
“If your nerves are wearin’ thin…”
“Pack your load, down the road and come to Holiday Inn!”
Cleaver barks and I nearly veer off the road in surprise. I stare at him.
An awkward moment passes between us.
I slam on the brakes and the truck skids to a halt. Dover City is empty, of course. In front of me stretches the main street, tacked onto the highway. To the right sewing, hardware, and coffee shops offset the restaurants and bars to the left. My eye stops at a run-down, especially sketchy-looking building that might have recently doubled as a barn. Below a grimy overhang a sign reading Jay’s practically falls off the local bar. Barely legible beyond the snow a crisp slice of white spray paint crossing the door reads WHO in bold capital letters. There are no windows.
“Well Toto, we’re home.”
I step out of the vehicle, zipping up one of the army-issue field jackets I had been shivering in while inside the car. The air is crisp but not chilling, not literally. My skin tends to crawl when I’m alone in snowfall. I know for most people it’s spiritual or peaceful. But I somehow expect snow to make noise when it falls. Unless it’s huge chunks, snowfall will be silent. Like today. I look up and down the road but it’s pointless, the wind is dying down and the snow provides a sheet of invisibility. There could be anyone out there, and I would never know. I pull an army issue M16 from the back of the Jeep and I have to wrench it out of its spot underneath the seat. Probably not the best way to store it.
“Hello?!? Can anybody hear me?”
The yell bounces off the buildings’ walls and back in my face. The snow doesn’t miss a beat. Did I expect it to?
I hesitantly start across the street towards Jay’s. Against most of the buildings snow is beginning to drift into piles. As I approach Jay’s I can see that the door has been wedged shut from the inside where a piece of wood is shoved under the door and peeks out the other side. Had it been Jay before he too left Dover City? A small tool shed door is open on the end of the building and there I find an axe. After much effort I manage to mangle the hinges enough to pull the door towards me. The wood twists wildly under my hands. As I pull the door ajar an overwhelming stench of ripening flesh washes over me. My knees begin to shake and searing tears splash to my cheeks before I can even take a breath. Before I could see the source in the shadows I was reminded of rotten beef and feces. I get a face full of flies mere moments after this and need to step back into the snow to hold back bile. Tying my shirt up around my nose I go back in, even though the dogs won’t follow me.