The Gathering Storm

A random idea that popped into my head and hopefully will turn into a story. What if everyone in an entire town disappeared, fled without warning, and was not found? What could cause such a thing, and what would it mean for the world?

In the silent afternoon sky, a storm gathers. Darkness swells the clouds, and slowly they drift and loom, like colossal warships from a world devoid of love.

Green fields steadily grow gray as the gloom of the storm sweeps over the small northern country town, and if anyone were around and observing the approaching foulness, they would surely comment on the massive dark clouds and the strange quality of the day, but no human resident has penetrated the silence for quite some time.

Down a gravel road many used to frequently travel, a farmhouse sits, stark and idle. It is filled with the possessions of a family who once lived and belonged, and almost nothing has been disturbed since they have gone. On the walls, there is a thick film of dust on the many photographs of a couple, and their two twin girls.  Smiles, sunlit beaches, winter snowmen, hugs, family.

No one has come in to collect the photographs or furniture, or anything.  The house is nothing more than a display, now, a husk, and no one dares to meddle with the family’s possessions, in fear that what little chance the lost have of coming back will be thwarted.  This is irrational, yet the superstitiously undisturbed houses spread for miles.

On the kitchen table sits a lone toy.   It’s a stuffed rabbit with dark, beady black eyes and brown and white fur.  A fat, glossy spider has claimed its limp ear as a place to rest.  It sits, motionless.

Long ago, a little girl held this rabbit close.  Long ago, it was left in panicked haste on the table as she was scooped up in her father’s arms and hurried out of the house.  The family fled as quickly as they could, and they were not the only ones in this town who did.

Legions of cars had cleaved through the night at once, frantic, desperate.  Several accidents had occurred, but no one was left in their vehicles.  They all moved on.  To what place it has not been ascertained.

It had become a ghost town that night.  More than a ghost town.  Not one person was left.  Thousands of homes were vacated suddenly and inexplicably, all around the same time.

Every restaurant, every store, every tavern, and every church had been left grimly empty.  The police department, the fire station, the town hall, also had been deserted.  It no longer matters, anyway, for no one is there to use these faculties.

Pots and pans had been left on stoves in preparation of meals; bookmarked novels had been set down on night tables in the glow of lamps.  Beds had been left unmade; clothes had been draped across chairs and thrown in hampers.  Television sets had flared with life.

Family dogs and cats had gone with them, as well as the occasional pet bird, and stray creatures now roam the deserted town, forlorn, lost, and hungry, but always quick to flee when someone approaches.

When the town had stopped communicating with the outside world, police squads from a nearby city had been sent out to investigate.  They found only desolation, unfinished scenes of domestic life, signs of countless lives broken off and taken elsewhere, but with no clues of where they had gone.

Profoundly disturbed and baffled, they had called Special Forces, the army, the FBI, the media.

Soon the world heard of the disappearing townspeople, and the world became increasingly aware of disquiet quite unlike any they had ever experienced.

It was nameless and gnawing, and as nearby towns were searched for the thousands of missing people, and as nothing and no one came up, it was not easy to forget.

Friends and colleagues, relatives and acquaintances from places far and wide could not understand nor accept.  The wide scope of the vanishings could not be explained away. No bodies were discovered.  No tip lines were called.

The world waited and watched for the answers, and the answers did not come.

It was a town frozen in time, stripped of all its soul.

It was a town that had been taken.

 

Countless people worried thereafter, fearing the same unknown fate.  Religious fanatics were prompted to preach of the End.  Paranormal investigators were speculating with abandon.

There were many theories, but no way to prove them.

Despite everything, however, the world gradually settled back into its routine, into its drama and strife.

The town still sat in an expectant hush, but nothing could be done.

 

The clouds hover over the farmhouse, but do not break. No storm strikes for hours.  The sky darkens steadily, and not even birds chirp from their roosts in the looming trees.

A scraggly stray dog, gaunt and ravenous, growing desperate by the minute, wanders up to the front window of the abandoned farmhouse. After a whimper and a hesitation, it leaps through the front window, crashing through the glass.  The brittle noise echoes and never seems to stop.

Unscathed except for a few minor cuts, the mutt shakes itself, treading carefully across the shards of glass, curiously sniffing the dusty air.

It prowls the living room, slinking past a worn wooden table and a faded flower-patterned armchair, testing the air for traces of any worthy morsel.  The silent house inspires an unmistakable sense of wrongness, and to the dog, this is nearly unbearable, for it feels closely watched, and sharp instinct flares.  

Although it is feral and fears people, it does not smell people, anymore.  Instead, the strange scent of something else fills the abandoned house.

It wants to leave as fast as possible, but the constant pangs of hunger are too demanding to resist.

The kitchen offers stale snacks, which the stray eats after smartly pawing open the cupboard doors and tearing open boxes of Ritz crackers, potato chips, a bag of rice cakes, and little else.

Everything else is rotten or moldy.

Barely satisfied with what is found, the dog intends to go briskly back the way it came.  Exploring the house further does not seem wise.

Suddenly there is a change in the atmosphere, an unnatural pressure in the air.  The stray pricks its ragged ears and listens, attentive and anxious.  It is not the approaching storm that grabs the dog’s attention. Something else is in the making, somehow, but its simple mind is unable to reason out why.

Wind abruptly whooshes in with sudden and shocking force through the broken window, a cold, dry, assaulting wind.  Although this wind is not strong enough to rustle even the papers lying on the table, the toy rabbit shudders, and flies into the air on its own accord, landing face-up on the family room floor.

Its black eyes glitter.

The dog cringes as though in expectation of a blow.  It can sense approaching danger, wafting through the air, an energy that can only be read on the deepest level.

 An unseen presence has suddenly taken roost in the house, and the dog knows that this force wishes to have it, and that is too much to bear.

The dog bounds across the floor as the wind picks up, leaps through the window in a panic, alternately yelping and growling, cutting its flanks on the glass but not caring, and flees into the day as the wind picks up even more,  and becomes overpowering.

The farmhouse creaks and groans like a beast disturbed from slumber and the rabbit lifts up on its hind feet and dances in the air, its paws flailing, the furry ears and head tossing limply from side to side, as though some invisible ghost child is content to play quietly and without an audience.  For minutes this goes on, and as they pass the rabbit’s dance becomes quicker, more frantic, until it is no longer dancing but shaking back and forth, convulsing in the air.

Throughout the house, deafening noises begin as the inanimate become the animate. Cupboards and doors fly open, slam closed, fly open again, and slam closed.  The farmhouse is alive with a wild, frenetic energy that is both within and without the weather.

Pictures fly off the wall and shatter.  The wind fills the house with a moan, stirring up dust, eagerly sifting through all that is left of the lost family: memory.

The rabbit twirls, as though caught up in a cyclone, and then flies into a wall, cracking its glass eyes against the plaster as though it were thrown in anger.

And then nothing moves.  The wind dies down completely, but the air is again filled with the eerie quiet.

 

There is no rain, the town is dead, but a storm gathers.

 

The End

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