Friday, May 16, 2014

Featured Creature: The Rathbone Assignment Part I, Erica's Test

The Rathbone Assignment Part I:
Erica's Test

Erica grabbed the plastic grocery bag with the toothpaste and toiletries in it to keep in the front seat with her.  She placed the rest of the grocery bags in the back of her minivan and closed the hatch.  She reached down into the bag of toiletries and gently took out the plain pink box.  Such a simple design, she thought, for something so complex.

Birds at the edge of the parking lot took flight.  She paused to watch the them as they scattered and reorganized into a flock in the air.  They formed a soft edged triangle as they flew behind the far end of the grocery store.  Beyond them, behind a purple bank of clouds, the sun was burning the horizon a deep orange.  She dropped the box back into the bag and tossed the bag into the passenger seat with her purse.  

She exited the parking lot onto Hwy 130 south and headed home.  It was a long drive to the house but Erica always enjoyed the forest and farmland she passed along the way.  Except for the Army base, Rathbone was just a small country town. Erica didn't mind, she enjoyed the solitude.  In fact, when she found out that Derrick had gotten the assignment at the Rathbone base, she was ecstatic.  She had grown up in this exact kind of landscape and it always made her feel like home.  It was something that she had always wanted her children to experience and to understand.  

She absently rubbed her belly with her free hand.  She hadn't said anything to Derrick yet, she wanted to surprise him after dinner tonight.  The test was just to give him a visual confirmation, but Erica already knew.  She had splurged at the store and bought several of the thick T-bones Derrick liked as well as some big potatoes to bake and asparagus to grill.  They would have a nice solid meal and talk about what was next for their family.  Her phone buzzed with a text.  It was Derrick.

"Shift ran over.  Just getting out.  Home by 8.  Love U  :-*"  She smiled.  This would give her more time to set things up, take a longer shower, light some candles.  The candles might give it away, but she could just play it all off as a romantic evening of trying again.  They had been trying to get pregnant since Derrick had gotten the Rathbone assignment.

It was a cushy duty.  He mainly guarded stored materials for the Army. Erica knew that there was more to his job than simply watching over materials, but she never asked.  His position had a level of clearance that meant his work never came home, but she had seen the men in lab coats at the base and the convoys of unmarked tankers coming and going.  She was comfortable with the little she did know.  At least Derrick's life wasn't in danger everyday.

She was grateful that Derrick wasn't going to see any overseas tours into hot zones anytime soon. His assignment was two and half years and they had only been in Rathbone for almost three months.  They had plenty of time to officially start their family.  She brought the windows down and let the cool evening air tickle her fingers.  The sun had fallen below the horizon, casting the trees as black sentinels on the road sides.  She turned the headlights on and hummed to herself as she drove.

A mile before her turn, a group of three police cars rushed past her in the darkness heading north on 130.  Their lights painted the corridor of trees in stark reds and blues.  Go get 'em boys, she thought.  Their sirens and lights had only just begun to fade when an ambulance rushed by going the same direction.  As she turned off 130, two more police cruisers passed.  Their lights flashed in her rearview.  Her stomach jumped.  Worried, she pulled over and sent a text to Derrick.

"U Okay?  Call me."  She waited several moments, listening to the idling of the minivan and the fading sirens.  She pursed her lips in frustration.  She always forgot that Derrick refused to use his phone while driving until she needed him to answer.  She dialed his number but got the customer-is-not-available message.  The stretch of highway 130 between the base and the house was full of dead zones.  She sighed and patted the phone against her leg.  Erica decided that she would give him thirty minutes, then she would start worrying.  She moved her minivan back onto the road and sped home.

By the time she had gotten home, the sky had faded from dark blue to black.  A dusting of stars had emerged and a single line of clouds lingered in front of the freshly risen moon.  The motion sensor light came on as she pulled into the carport.  She checked her phone.  Nothing.  She flipped the hatch open and began carrying the groceries inside.  As she grabbed the last set of bags, one bag split open and sent oranges and a bottle of soda rolling down the driveway.  

"Dammit!"  She moved to where the oranges had gathered at the edge of the grass.  She sighed and rubbed her forehead.  "Derrick, c'mon...just call."

As she bent to pick up the oranges, her phone rang.  She dropped the orange in her hand.  It bounced several times and rolled down the driveway and out into the street.  She dug her phone out of pocket.  It was an unknown number.


"May I speak with Mrs. Erica Wilson?"  The voice was distant and truncated as though the person on the other end were speaking though a long tube.

"This is she."  Her stomach knotted.  Erica bit her bottom lip trying to hold back the tears that threatened.

"Mrs. Wilson,  This is Lance Corporal Mark.  I need you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say and to follow the instructions I will give you explicitly.  Can you do that for me Mrs. Wilson?"

"uhm...I - Yes."  She felt dizzy.

"Mrs. Wilson, I first need to ask where you are at this moment?"

"I'm home...bringing in the groceries.  I'm standing in my driveway."

"I need you to go inside your house immediately and lock all the doors and windows."

"But I just dro-"  Her feet were far away and numb.  She stared at the orange in the road.  It was a million miles away.

"Mrs. Wilson, Erica, I need you to go into your house right now!"  The Corporal's voice took on an unpleasant edge and Erica found her feet moving automatically.  She quickly pulled the carport door to and turned the deadbolt tight.  She slid the chain lock into place and locked the doorknob.  In reflex, she turned off the exterior lights.

"I'm inside."  She moved about the kitchen checking the window locks.

"Erica.  As you finish each room, you need to turn off any light sources in the house.  Do you have a flashlight available?"

"I - I do.  Has something happened to Der-" 

"Bear with me for just a few more moments and I will explain.  Right now we just need to make sure that you are safe."  She reached into the kitchen's junk drawer, pulled out a small flashlight, then turned the kitchen light off.  The darkness rushed in at her.  Her ears grew hot and thrummed with her heartbeat.  She couldn't seem to catch her breath.  She tried to turn the flashlight on, but it slipped from her fingers and into the blackness.

"Erica?"  Waves of vertigo washed over her.  Lance Corporal Mark's voice seemed further away.  She was falling away from it and into the darkness.

{8x5.33,  created in Adobe Photoshop}

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