CHAPTER 4 PART 4: DON




The following thirty minutes were spent driving around the business district of Winston-Salem, hunting among the darkened shops for an open convenience store.

“It’s like a ghost town,” Gene said as they waited at a red light.

“There are people out,” Don said nodding to the car ahead of them.

“Sure, but not as many as you would think for a city of over two hundred thousand people.”

“It’s late.”

“It’s never late, not anymore. This isn’t the Fifties. Why is everything closed?”

The light went green but no one moved as first an ambulance and then a fire engine screamed by.

“And what’s up with all the emergency vehicles?” Gene asked, grabbing for his messenger bag.

“What are you doing?”

“Research,” said Gene. He’d pulled his tablet from the bag and began tapping away.

They continued forward, encountering no other vehicles but the one they were following. And it turned off a block later.

“Shit,” Gene said.

“What?”

“My tablet died.”

“Plug it in.”

“I forgot the adapter,” said Gene. “I can plug it into a wall outlet, but that’s it”

“Did you find out what’s going on?” Don asked.

“No,” Gene said, sliding the tablet back into his bag.

“Big Mart’s open,” Don said as they passed by the brightly lit super store.

“No thanks,” Gene said. “I’ll starve before I go there.”

“What’s wrong with Big Mart?”

“Come on,” Gene said. “Don’t you read. They treat their employees horribly. And their business practices are a bit sketchy to say the least.”

“Okay, well, nothing else seems to be open,” Don said. “It’s either Big Mart or we call it a night.”

“Which is what I wanted to do in the first place.”

“Hotel it is,” said Don.

Their hotel was called the Just Drop Inn. Gene chuckled as they pulled into the lot.

“What?” Don said, pulling into a space near the entrance.

“The Just Drop Inn.” Gene’s face was split by a broad smile.

“Seriously?” Don said, then sighed. “Still?”

“The name is hilarious,” said Gene.

“Is it?”

“You need to lighten up,” Gene said and then slid out of the cab.

There was no sign of anyone around as they approached the counter of the Just Drop Inn. The lobby was well-lit, but a foreboding sense of dread encroached upon the brightness. Don shivered and then shook it off.

It’s just the lack of people, he thought. It’s creepy.

They waited at the counter for a full fifteen seconds before Gene noticed the bell. He gave it a ring. The tiny bell pierced the silence like a chainsaw and Don found himself flinching.

Before the resonance of the bell had faded away, a woman entered from a room behind the counter. Her age and style of dress pegged her in Don’s mind as a college student. She looked, however, as if she hadn’t slept in three days. Her back bent with a weariness that belied her youth, and the bags under her eyes looked packed and ready for an epic sea voyage.

She went through the motions like an automaton, her voice monotone and emotionless. She only seemed to perk up when Gene asked about the complete lack of people.

“No idea,” she said. “All I know is that I was supposed to be off six hours ago but my replacement called in sick. Called my manager, she’s sick too.”

“And you stayed?” Gene asked, his face showing his disbelief.

“It’s not so bad. I have a TV in the back, and a couch to nap on. Not much business tonight anyway. You two are the first I’ve seen for five hours. Besides, I can use the overtime.”

“You think these other places closed down due to illness too?” Gene asked.

“It’s possible I suppose,” she said. “But that’s a lot of sick people.”

“It certainly is,” Gene said, looking conspiratorially at Don.

Don only rolled his eyes.

To be continued . . .





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