What he assumed passed for homes on the outskirts were spread strikingly far apart. Standing on the porch, only the vague, angular shape of a rooftop could be seen through the brush in the distance. The emptiness between the structures flourished in vibrant colored flora radiating hues of deep crimson and violent purple, easily distinguishable in the moonless night.
He followed the shadow line’s retreat from the rising sun. Through the wide suburban streets lined with lonely parked cars covered in timeless dust. A tire swing hung motionless from an oak tree’s thick branch criss-crossed with planks of wood nailed on as a makeshift ladder to the tree house above. It should have inspired a happy nostalgia.
Where were the people? The quiet overwhelmed. A tidal silence pressed against his ears. He longed for the buzz of bees or flock of geese overhead. A rusty lawn mower sputtering the cobwebs before finally catching life. Nothing lived other than the possibility of memories.
He reached the center of town shortly before the sun aimed its rays straight down. Every shop and restaurant held its doors open, welcoming only lonely ghosts. The signs all written in a language unfamiliar to me, He could only guess what the shops purposes were by peeking inside and looking around.
The first on his right appeared to be a hardware store of sorts. The metal and wooden object that hung on the walls had the aspect of tools. Some were sharp enough to make him think of weapons. A four foot pole painted blue supported an transparent cylinder on the top. Touching it sent a biting electric shock through his arm sending his brisk shouts reverberating through the town. He licked his finger and left the tools to their own devices.
Next door looked like a combined cafe and book shop. He glanced at the wall between the two businesses and stopped. A small rectangular piece of metal stuck at an angle from the rough concrete. Two small holes were on the top. The front opened to reveal a plastic strip running the width of the bottom. A USB connector?
He leaned in closer, tentative to touch it after his incident with the cylinder. The sun glinted off the top sparking clean and free of the dust covering everything else in sight. Nothing written anywhere to indicate the devices purpose, he continued on to the shop. Book spines lined the walls offering more unintelligible symbols. All the stacks color coordinated. A rainbow crossing the entire spectrum spread from one section of the store to the other.
An open kitchen took up the rear end. Pans and cooking utensils hung from hooks on the walls. Knives of various widths and lengths suspended by their blades along a thick magnetic strip. Everything cleaned, ready to work but passing their existence unused for what may have been decades.
Twelve circular tables with five chairs each spread in a long rectangle around the floor. Place settings and glasses half full of water waited patiently for diners who might never come. The bar displayed a full stock of bottles. Every one of them labeled in the strange, unreadable squiggle marks. Looking for a good scotch, he pulled the cork from a dark glassed bottle. The pungent sourness chased up his nose before he breathed in. Every hair on his body twinged in repulsiveness. Quickly he slapped the cork back in the neck with an open palm and put the bottle on its shelf while swallowing hard against the urge to throw up.
He took the chair nearest to sit until the waves of nausea passed. Goose flesh rose on the back of his neck. He spread his fingers wide on the tablecloth, taking deep cleansing breaths. He opened his eyes after his stomach finally unclenched. Passing notice earlier, he looked at the black rectangles laying in the center of each table. A small blue and silver sticker was placed in the lower right corner of the devices. Below that a orange light pulsed slowly. Possibly a power indicator.
He picked it up and felt an opening on the left side. Turning it, the small rectangular USB port beckoned for connection. The darkness pulsated with tangible energy. He placed his index finger over the hole. Subtle vibrations pushed against his skin through to the bone. His eyes glazed over. He weaved a counterclockwise semicircle. Colors faded in the room around him. The world gone sepia. The circle he twisted widened. The chair legs creaked under his shifting weight. His hand slipped knocking a fork to the concrete floor.
The high crack burst him to the present. The rush of colors back to his eyes were daggers of ice to the brain. He tightened his jaw until the ache simmered to a low roll. He slid his hand across the table finding nothing but the place setting next to him. The black rectangle lay on the floor in front of his feet. He nudged it forward with the toe of his boot. It bumped the fork beside it as it spun half way round leaving the USB port facing the open door.
A hint of movement passed by the window to the street. He looked to the left and right seeing nothing but the empty buildings and parked cars. The tables appeared to have grown larger in the last few moments. Their shape becoming more oval than circular. The glasses all emptied of their contents. Each filled with a layer of dust as if the water had never been there at all. The black rectangles were all missing from the table centers.
He kicked forward hitting nothing but empty space. What was inches away only moments before now lay half out of the door. The USB port angled in the direction of the wall outside. He stood with no feeling in his extremities. The walk across the room more swimming through a thick cottony fog.
Outside he held the device in his hands. Turning to the left he lined up the USB port jutting from the wall. They fit together with little resistance. Holding the black rectangle against the wall, a low hum trembled upward from the ground beneath his feet. Windows rattled in their frames. Cars parked along the road wiggled on ancient, rusty squealing shock absorbers. Light posts bowed over the street whipping back to collide with the sides of buildings. Dogs barked. Birds sang. Radio chatter overlapped cash registers and footfalls on sidewalk. Conversation. Singing. Laughter. Screaming.
“Mommy, what’s this?” The little boy pointed at the strange black box suspended on the side of the wall. He wiped his runny nose with his arm.
“Honey, don’t do that. You’re going to ruin your sweater.” The tall brunette reached in her purse and pulled out a tissue. “Hold still.” She grabbed the boys face pinching his nose with the cloth.
“Did I do that too hard?” She kissed him gently on the cheek smoothing out his hair. “I’m sorry boo bear.” She took his hand pulling him briskly through the crowd walking along the road. The boy looked away from the black box and didn’t think about it again.