by Joseph Rubas
Bill Wexler woke at six, as he did every morning, and kissed his wife.
“I’m going for a run,” he said.
She didn’t reply.
Bill hurriedly and silently dressed in his sweat suit and left the house, being careful not to make too much noise; it was a Saturday, and Linda and the kids liked to sleep in.
Outside, the day was bright and warm, the scarlet light of the sun falling through the trees along Grover Street and casting shadows along the sidewalk. For a moment, Bill stood in the middle of his lawn, scanning the houses across the street; Fox Meade was a nice subdivision, but the neighbors were really letting the place go. Grass grew riot all around him, and the houses themselves looked strange, dirty. Gene Donovan’s front door was even open, just inviting trouble.
Bill jogged across the street and followed the sidewalk south, toward US2, which bordered the subdivision to the north. He usually jogged all the way to the beach in the morning, past the shops and drive-ins, along the boardwalk, and then back home through the woods. It took him an hour and a half all told, but the time flew by.
Bill loved jogging. When he ran, all of his thoughts and cares melted away; lost in the rhythm of the run, he simply was and that was all.
At Fox Meade’s richly appointed entrance, Bill stopped, caught his breath, and went on, running down US2’s southern flank. No cars passed him as he went.
Fairview, a mile down, sat empty in the morning sun; approaching over the tall hill separating it from the rest of the county, it sparkled like a gem on the seashore.
In town, Bill passed the police station, the ice cream shop, the pharmacy, and the town hotel. There was a lot of broken glass on the sidewalk; at the intersection of Main and Beachside Drive, two cars sat tangled, metal twisted and burnt.
Bill didn’t notice.
The roar of the sea and the cry of gull whirling overhead kept Bill company on the boardwalk. He breathed deeply of the salty air, and sighed contentedly. For as long as he could remember, Bill had always wanted to live by the sea. When he moved Linda and the kids to California, it was like coming home.
Bill passed through town once more. A stand of forest stood between Fairview and Fox Meade, the initial leg of it up the hill. Bill walked this part, huffing and puffing; even from here he could hear the sea and the gulls. What a perfect life.
At the top, Bill paused and looked back over his shoulder. He thought of his life before Linda, back when he was nearly four hundred pounds and lonely, trapped in a basement in Iowa. It seemed so long ago, in a different life…a life he didn’t think of often. He lost the weight, met Linda, had two beautiful kids, and moved to the sea. That was that.
Back in Fox Meade, Bill did a lap of the richly appointed clubhouse; the gated pool was empty.
Finally home, Bill stripped out of his sweats and hopped in the shower.
The water was off.
He fiddled with the handles, but nothing happened.
He got back into his PJs and sat on the bed. “Linda? You up?”
* * *
They ate at the table, in the sun-washed kitchen. Linda and the girls weren’t very hungry; none so much as attempted to touch their food.
“What’s wrong with you guys?” Bill asked.
No one spoke.
Linda slid out of her chair and collapsed to the floor, her head thunking against the tiles. That sound, the wet, sickening crack, woke Bill briefly from his languor, and, for a moment, he saw the world as it really was:
The girls, in their chairs, were dead, their faces blue-gray and their eyes closed, mouths slightly parted. Flies buzzed around their heads, looking for a landing point.
On the floor, wearing the pink bathrobe she died in, Linda was rotting, her face nearly black.
He was alone, his perfect life piled in rubble around him, taken cruelly by the plague.
No! God, please!
As sudden as it had come, the lucidity was gone; Bill was safely back in the delusion.
“Here, let me take you to bed,” he said, standing. “You girls be good,” he warned as he picked Linda up off the floor. “Mommy doesn’t feel good.
Upstairs, he tucked Linda in and kissed her forehead.
“You sleep. I’ll take care of the girls.”
He didn’t mind.
He loved them so much.
“What a perfect life,” he said as he closed the door and went back downstairs.
Joseph Rubas is the author of over 200 short stories and several novels. His work has been featured in: Nameless Digest; The Horror Zine; All Due Respect; Thuglit and many others. He currently resides in Florida.