Billy had forgotten his trepidation about the cars along the road into town. Those fears came rolling back as he started to see them again. He drove very carefully around them, as if afraid he could somehow disturb them.
Remembering that he was coming to town in part to get the things he would need to bury the Widow George, Billy was again reminded of all the people who had died in town, and now these on the road. Who would bury them? Say words over them?
“I can’t do it all,” he said to himself, shaking his head. “I can’t do it all. I’m going to take care of the Widow, and then I’m going home, and I’m going to stay there.” Seeking out people who might still be alive just wasn’t working out, he decided. He could make it just fine on his own, and he knew it. It would be nice to have other people to talk to, but he didn’t need it. He just wanted it.
And Momma always said that needful things came before wantful things, he thought to himself. I might want to have neighbors again, have friends again, but I don’t need them. And that was the end of it, so far as Billy was concerned.
Billy was in town by now, still driving carefully, although the streets in town weren’t nearly as bad as the road leading into it. He eased to a stop when he neared the center of town, looking at the sky. Frowning, he looked at his watch.
“Wow!” he exclaimed out loud. “It’s almost four!” It had been a full day. He looked at Rommel.
“I didn’t know how late it was, boy. I think we need to hurry.” He started looking at his list.
As he read things off, a flurry of ideas started coming to him. Things he needed, things he should learn more about, things he should look for. Frantically, lest the ideas get away, Billy started scratching them down on his notebook.
Library; encyclopedia, animal care, sickness, solar,
Co-Op; hand tools, seeds, fertilize, wire, cattle, chicken and horse feed,
Pharmacy; my meds, first aid stuff, regular meds for colds and such
Hardware store; whatever I didn’t get before
Mister Traywick’s Fillin’ station; gas,
Manes’ Auto Parts; parts for everything, oil, filters, spark plugs, wires, tires for everything
Billy sighed in frustration as things begin to slip away from him. Fleeting bits of information he had not been able to get down on paper nagged at him, but he couldn’t recall them all.
“Dang it,” he slapped his leg in more frustration. “Rommel, we need to think more on this. I need to make a P L A N about the town, that’s what. And stick to it. Yeah, that’s what. I need a plan to get everything I need, and get it. Once I’m done, we won’t never have to come back here no more. Sound good to you?” Rommel wagged his tail stump, though of course he had no idea what Billy was saying. Billy didn’t care, just glad for the company.
“We can either go back home and think on it, or we can stay here, at the shop,” Billy said, this time more to himself than anything. He looked at his fuel gauge. He still had a half tank of gas in one tank. He switched over, and saw the needle rise to three-quarters in the passenger tank.
“We’ll get what we need for right now, and head home,” he decided.
Billy went to the Co-Op and grabbed some gloves and a mask like people used to spray chemicals with. He hoped it would keep the smell from getting to him at the George house. He grabbed a large bag of lime, as well, and a shovel from the rack. He finally grabbed a roll of heavy plastic. Taking these to the truck, he placed them in the back. It was getting late, he realized.
“Let’s go, Rommel!” he called. “I don’t wanna have to be buryin’ no body in the dark!” Rommel dutifully jumped into the truck and the two started back out of town. Billy noted that there were several U-Haul trailers at Mister Traywick’s, and nodded to himself. He’d use one of them when he came back.
Billy forcefully ignored the cars on the road, this time, and drove with purpose to the Widow George’s house. Once there, he put on the mask, donned the gloves, and rolled out enough of the plastic to place poor Widow George’s body in. He went straight to the carport door again, but hesitated once he got there.
What am I going to find in here?
Taking a deep, calming breath, he shook of that thought, and went into the house.
The mask kept the odor away, but the house was awash in flies. Huge, ugly, biting, black flies. Billy went first and opened the windows and doors, allowing some air in, and many of the flies out. That done, he looked at the mass on the kitchen floor.
The Widow George had died on her kitchen floor. Her body was the most horrible thing Billy had ever seen. Black and blue, bloated and swollen, covered in fly larva, just the sight was enough to turn his stomach. He looked away for a moment, unable to recognize the kind old woman. She had always been very nice to Billy. Treated as well as she would have treated her family. It was hard to see her like this.
Shaking his fear off, Billy turned to his work. He poured a bit of the lime on Widow George’s body, helping get rid of the last of the flies. Next, he carefully laid the plastic out on the floor next to her, making sure it was straight. Thinking of what was next, Billy hesitated again. Knowing he had no choice, he was still reluctant to touch the body. Carefully he reached down and gently took her ankles in his hands, pulling her toward. . . .
Her body came apart.
Billy stood frozen in horror for a full second, and then the room began to spin around him. In seconds he was hyper-ventilating, gasping for air through the mask’s filters, panic filling his mind and preventing any form of rational thought. He backed away from the body, fighting the urge to retch, eyes locked on the horrid scene. He stumbled slightly as his foot hit the back of a chair from the kitchen table, and then he was running blindly out of the door.
When Billy hit the carport door he was still in a panic, and running was the only thing he could seem to do. So he kept running. Rommel’s head came up when Billy came running out of the strange house, and he instantly looked to see what might be chasing his person. To Rommel, the house smelled like death, and he didn’t like that. It reminded him too much of his last person.
When nothing came out of the house, Rommel took off chasing Billy down. His person was almost fifty yards away from the house when Rommel tackled him, bring them both to the ground. Stunned, Billy ripped off the mask, still gasping for air. He lay there on his back, looking at the sky, for a long time, his breath coming in ragged gulps.
Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. . . . His mind echoed that one phrase for a very long time. He didn’t know how long he had lain there when he finally got himself under control. He rolled over to his hands and knees, his breath calmer if still a little ragged, and pushed himself to his feet.
“I ain’t goin’ back in there,” he declared for anyone near by to hear. Of course there was no one. Billy was simply talking aloud, trying to allay his fears in any way he could.
“C’mon, Rommel,” he ordered. The dog fell in beside him as he walked to his truck. He threw the mask to the ground, followed by the gloves, which he would never have used again, anyway.
With tears in his eyes, both at his failure, and at the horror he had seen, Billy backed his truck away from the house, and headed home.
He swore right then and there that he wouldn’t come back. He couldn’t do no more for Widow George.
He had to look after himself now.
Once home, Billy went immediately and took a long, hot shower. As he stood beneath the shower head, the image at Widow George’s house played over and over in his mind, terrorizing him all over again.
Billy had never had an encounter like that. When his parents had died, he had been distraught, but their bodies had been cleaned and dressed at the funeral home before Billy ever saw them. He had not had to endure the trauma of seeing them immediately after the accident.
Both of Billy’s parent’s had been only children. He had no close relatives that he knew of anywhere. As a result, the loss of his parents had been his first real world loss, other than favorite pets as a boy, and one horse that had been injured in a fall and had to be put down.
The first weeks after his parents had died had been very hard for Billy. He was used to having them around, depended on them to help him see things clearly. Fortunately, his parents had prepared him well for the time when they would no longer be with him. They hadn’t anticipated him losing both at once, nor so early, but both his mother and father were realists. They knew that anything could happen, at any time, and had worked hard to ensure that Billy would be able to survive on his own, without them. Had they not done so, Billy would have been in dire straits after the plague.
Billy shut off the hot water, allowing the cold to keep pouring over him. The water helped to calm him, as he fought to get the horrible images out of his mind. This had been a very long day, and it had been trying for him in many ways. He breathed deeply as the water flowed, feeling his calm slowly returning to him.
Calm was always Billy’s watchword. He knew that he was easily frustrated, and easily distracted. He couldn’t allow that. Not anymore. He shut the water off, finally. Leaving the shower, he dressed in clean clothes. He looked at the clothes he had discarded, and decided to dispose of them. Right away.
He gathered them up, careful to wear gloves, and took them outside. The waning light was just enough for him to see the burning barrel he kept a good distance from the house, and he walked straight to it, and dumped the clothes without a thought as soon as he made sure the pockets were empty.
It was supper time, but Billy didn’t have an appetite, and something told him he wouldn’t keep the food down regardless. So he fixed himself some lemonade, and sat on the front porch for a long while that evening, listening to the crickets and the night birds, watching fireflies in the distance. He breathed long and deep, enjoying the cooler air now that night was upon him.
Finally, when he was so very tired that he could barely keep his eyes open, Billy went to bed. Rommel trotted into the bedroom behind him, jumping onto the large bed. The dog watched Billy closely, as if he knew something was bothering his person. He didn’t know what it was, but it was enough that he could sense Billy’s unease.
Billy was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, but rest was elusive that night. His dreams were haunted by images of Widow George, asking him why he hadn’t buried her proper, of bodies in cars, along the road, crying in anguish that they were not moved, and of blind panic and sheer terror at the images.