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SAD in May — Day One

May 1, 2014

This is StoryADay in May. Today’s prompt is by Neil Gaiman and Julia Duffy. 1200 words about “Going Home.”

Total Word Count: 1446


The Homecoming
By Lori Carlson

The setting sun poured soft coral hues into the front window of the Hyundai Accent. Its beauty was not wasted: Lenore leaned her head back, closed her eyes and allowed the last rays of the sun to soothe her. She’d been stuck in traffic for well over thirty minutes.

A few drivers behind her began honking their horns and yelling curses out their windows. Sighing, Lenore opened her eyes, turned over the ignition and turned on her radio. She waited to hear of any news about the traffic jam, but when none came, she turned the radio and ignition off. The drivers behind her were once again getting restless. A few were now out of their cars walking up the highway.

“If the news won’t tell us what’s going on, I will go find out myself!” yelled one 30-something driver in blue jeans and a t-shirt. A second driver — 40-ish, bald, in a suit and tie — agreed with him and began walking up the road beside the first driver. Before long, drivers were abandoning their cars behind, beside, and in front of Lenore, until she was the only one left as far as she could see. Even if traffic moved now, she would still be stuck.

Lenore pondered leaving her car and following the others. She glanced into the back seat: groceries. The frozen stuff was all unthawed by now and probably making a wet puddle on the seat, and it wouldn’t be long before the dairy products went sour in the early May warmth. There was nothing she could do about any of those things now anyway.

She turned around and looked up the road again: two rows of empty cars. There was still no sight of anyone returning. Why was it so hard for her to leave? What was she afraid of? She turned over the ignition. Again there was nothing on the radio about the traffic jam, nothing about hundreds of people walking away from their cars, nothing but classical music. She wanted to leave the radio on to comfort her, but she worried about the battery running down. What if everyone came back and traffic began moving? She turned the ignition off.

Reaching inside her purse, Lenore cursed herself. She’d left her cell phone at home to recharge. She was only going to the grocery store, after all. How could I have known it would take hours to get back home? No phone, no news on the radio, no returning drivers… she knew she only had two choices: leave the car or stay put.

Lenore grabbed her keys and purse, slid out of the car and locked it. She had a sinking feeling that she was making the wrong choice. She leaned against the car, took a deep breath and counted, breathing in and out slowly. After a couple of minutes, she realized that it was just fear talking. She could do this. She could.

She turned sideways in the road and looked up and down the highway. Still just empty cars as far as she could see. She began walking forward, passing expensive and cheap cars alike all left unlocked, a few with engines still running. If she hadn’t seen the people walk away, Lenore would swear the Rapture had happened and she was left there to rot.

She kept walking, concentrating on the road ahead of her. She barely glanced at a black Ford F-150 when a Rottweiler leaped from the back bed and began barking at her. Its mouth was all teeth and saliva, and its paws bigger than her own hands. She jumped back, nearly falling over her feet and let out a scream. The dog continued to bark and claw at the edge of the truck. Safely out of the dog’s way, Lenore let out a long sigh. The dog was well-tied to the back of the truck and could not get to her.

Her legs were wobbly, but she managed to start walking again. It was warm for the first day of May, and the tarred highway didn’t help with the heat situation. She pulled some tissues out of her purse and patted the beads of sweat from her forehead. I should have gotten a bottle of water. She cursed herself again for the second time in just under an hour. Her father had taught her all the safeties of being abandoned on the road or in the mountains. She knew to bring water. Lenore began looking into cars for water or juice, anything liquid. Apparently those who went before her either had no liquid or were smart enough to take some with them. She was coming up empty-handed and was about to turn back to her car when she came across an SUV with a twelve-pack of water sitting in the back seat. She tried the back door, but it was locked. So she tried the front driver door. It too was locked.

“Oh great!” she said, “The only car on the road with water and it is locked!”

She went to the other side of the car and tried both doors. Both were locked. Beads of frustration were sliding into her eyes. She wiped her forehead and her eyes. The saltiness stung, but it also made Lenore realize that getting frustrated was not going to solve anything. She leaned against the SUV. With her arms crossed, she began tapping on her elbows with her fingertips, something she’d done all her life when caught in a bad situation. It helped her to think. Finally an a-ha moment struck and she went to the back of the SUV. Praying, she tried the back door. When she heard it click and open, she began jumping up and down, then she realized that she would have to climb through a tonnage of baby stuff to get to the back seat. With determination, Lenore began tossing baby items out of the back and onto the highway. After several minutes, she reached the back seat and grabbed the twelve-pack of water. Stuffing three bottles inside her purse, she took a fourth one and opened it, downing the warm liquid. She tucked a fifth bottle under her arm and looked down at the mess she had made. She contemplated cleaning it up, but figured no one was returning just yet; she would just move on to see what everyone disappeared for.

With water intact, Lenore began to walk again. Rows of cars still littered the horizon, so she concentrated on the scenery on either side of the highway to break up the monotony. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking, but the air was cooler since the sun had set. The highway was mostly darkened, but now and again there would be an overhead light along the highway. She walked until she reached one of the lights, rested a few minutes, then walked on.

Finally, in the horizon, she saw lights flickering about and could hear the low hum of helicopters. Something was going on. She began a slow jog toward the lights. She wasn’t sure how far away they were, but she didn’t want to tire herself out too badly either. She only had one bottle of water left.

She couldn’t have been more than a city block away when she spotted rows and rows of people, thousands of them, maybe even more. She still couldn’t see what the light show was about, so Lenore walked up to the nearest person who appeared to be in a trance of sorts.

“Hello?” she whispered at first, but when she received no reply, she repeated it louder.

“Excuse me?” she continued, but again, no answer. She turned to the others all looking toward the light, all in a trance of some kind, none paying any attention to her.

In desperation, she tried to move further through the group of people, but no one would move even an inch to let her through. Frustration finally got the best of her and Lenore touched the shoulder of one of the bystanders. And at that moment, everything made sense. She stared toward the light, saw the Light Beings and their ship, saw the National Guardsmen bowed down before the Light Beings, and finally heard music. Classical music, just what she liked.

She wasn’t sure how she knew it or why she knew it, but the Light Beings had returned home. Nothing would be the same, but then, who wanted the same after this glorious reunion? Lenore stood there, like everyone else, all through the night and the next day until the whole world knew They had returned home.

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