So, after yesterday’s post, here’s one of the short stories from my notebooks. Not one of the stronger ones — Note how it’s basically a vague concept that peters out to nothing!
A Darkling Plain
by Jeff Somers
HARRY didn’t notice them for the first few minutes. His morning had been going according to routine: He’d woken up and allowed himself to stare at the ceiling for nine minutes, then slapped the alarm off and sat up. It was quiet, almost silent—he missed the roar of the bus, the chatter of adults off to work, car horns and slamming doors. As he shuffled for the bathroom in his underwear, the night before pressing uncomfortably against his belly, he wondered if he’d forgotten a holiday, if maybe the world was sleeping in around him.
He showered, dressed, and had his first cup of coffee for the day, standing in the kitchen with the paper spread on the counter as usual. Nothing in the paper caused him to read more than a few sentences, and he wondered again when he would stop reading the paper altogether.
It was a bright, sunny day, warm in the sun but cool in the shade. The walk to the bus stop was three blocks, two along the quiet side streets and a right turn onto Main Street. Harry was in the habit of walking this short distance, briefcase in hand, with his chin sunk onto his chest, pondering his day to come. He liked to plan and organize and be ready for the work ahead. Thinking of the work ahead made him happy.
As a result, he didn’t notice all the soldiers until he’d boarded the bus, digging change out of several pockets and ignoring the low buzz of conversation as he walked to the rear, selecting an empty double seat.
Then he looked up and squinted out the scratched and stained window.
There were soldiers everywhere. They wore bright white uniforms, fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. Cowls with wide plastic goggles built in covered their heads, giving them a faceless quality. Each one carried an automatic rifle slung over their shoulder. There were two on the corner, standing silently, one hand each on the strap of their rifles. Four stood against the wall behind the bus stop shelter. As the bus rumbled down the street, his eyes leaped from group to group, all of them appearing identical. He stopped counting after a hundred.
He looked around suddenly, seeing the rest of the bus for the first time. A few rows ahead of him sat Paul Drake from his office. Clutching his briefcase, he shuffled forward and crashed into the seat next to him.
Paul Drake was a round, balding man who had the breathless look of a man who sweated freely. He jumped and turned to stare at Harry.
“Jesus, Hank, you scared the shit out of me.”
“What’s going on, Paulie?”
“Don’t call me Paulie, goddammit,” Paul looked out the window and licked his lips. “No one knows. There’s nothing on the news. No mention of it at all. And no one I’ve talked to knows anything.”
Harry stared along with Paul. Groups of soldiers passed by like white clouds, there and gone. “This is impossible. Someone’s got to know.”
The bus route terminated at the subway, and Harry left Paul behind, walking briskly past an impressive row of soldiers lined up against the fence that separated the bus lanes from the subway entrances. he kept his eyes on the ground, afraid to look at them.
Underground, more soldiers stood around silently, faceless and ominous. Harry stopped just off the stairs, staring, crowds of commuters pushing around him like water, flooding the tubes. He noticed they gave the soldiers a wide berth on each side, crunching inward. The soldiers just stared straight ahead, occasionally shifting their weight.
Spying a Transit Cop near the electronic fare machines, Harry pushed against the crowd’s current and swam over to her.
The cop held up her hand without looking at him. Her long, red face was set in a tired expression, her eyes locked on something invisible in the distance.
“I don’t know anything. Believe me, I’ve tried to find out.”
Harry turned away. Keeping his eyes down, he walked to the turnstiles, acutely aware of the uniforms against the walls on either side. He paid his fare and stepped onto the platform, where another half dozen white uniforms waited, like statues. He looked around, noting the utter silence, and found everyone looking around, eyes meeting, little shrugs sent sailing back and forth through the warm, thick air.