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"I can remember the day we last had visitors pretty clear," said Old Bob.
"It just ain't the kind of thing a person's apt to forget about, now is it? Don't happen none too often, and certainly not that spectacularly."
Old Bob sat on the porch of a single story brick house on a porch swing, the breeze blowing gently, smoking a pipe. He understood of course that such a thing wasn't healthy. He was old, not stupid. And his mother had always told him not to smoke, too. But then, what did such little things like that matter when a guy got to his old age? He didn't have much longer, had already had longer than most everyone he ever knew or grew up with. He was fast approaching seventy three.
The porch creaked with each swing. The autumn leaves fell gently and slowly from the trees. Old Bob could smell rain coming, something he certainly didn't need. Well really, nobody needed the rain these days, now that he thought on it.
Yes indeed. Old Bob's days were certainly numbered. No harm in a little smoke, a little piece of enjoyment, as he thought back on those older days...
Summit Village sat on a side road from Highway 49 in Illinois. It was just enough off the beaten path that most people didn't realize it was even there, nothing more than a simple green sign that said Summit and pointed left identified the place at all.
Oh, it wasn't so sleepy as some places. Certainly it was more than the two or three house towns that didn't deserve the name. They had a market that sold gas and rented videos, a post office and police force that comprised of one person, Carol Oates. She certainly enjoyed the post office part of her job, but wasn't really all that big on the police part.
She didn't have to attend police academy or take any kind of special courses or anything like that. She just sort of fell into the job, seeing as nobody else really seemed to be interested in it. She understood why, of course. It was more boring than being a postal worker, if such a thing were possible.
The town had several houses, there was an official population of four hundred. Typical heartland main street that ran right through the center of town and down the road a piece. Those who lived in the area understood right where that road led, though most of the very few visitors to the village had no inkling that there was anything at all at the end of the road. The kids often went swimming out that way, but they never went to the end of the road either. That's where the guard posts were, just about a mile before the base itself. Strictly off limits to civilians, or at least that's what they had been told. Nobody really knew what went on there, and nobody much cared.
Carol drove her cruiser slowly, a beat up old number was all the village budget called for. She didn't want to risk it any more than necessary, knowing a replacement was coming out of her pocket. There were other reasons for slow driving, too. A long dust trail announced her coming to those she cared to announce it to.
The phone call had come around three in the afternoon. The sun was still high on this middle of fall day, the leaves were falling slowly and the wind carried a bit of warmth with it. One thing you have to understand about that part of Illinois, the weather is apt to be anything in any season. So she wasn't really surprised when old man Jackson called and complained again about "those damned teenagers having an orgy in the swimming hole," his words. Now she was required to go check out his story, but she knew she would find kids in the creek swimming and that would be that...unless she drove really fast and caught them at something.
That thought was dismissed immediately. No need to go asking for more work than needed, certainly. Carol was forty-five years old, not really old at all if you considered it. But nobody was of an age to catch their own kid at that kind of behavior.
Jimmy Moses swam. It was about all there was to do in this small town. Unless it was winter, that is. Then you could sled if there was snow. There were a couple of decent hills in town, but he hadn't bothered that much with sledding this year. Not since he had his fourteenth birthday and Jill Conners made fun of him for still doing the things a little baby does, the things that Robert Moses still insisted were the best times. But Robert was just seven, so Jimmy guessed he probably was still a baby at that.
Jimmy had noticed Jill that year, REALLY noticed her. Before, it was always the games that every boy and girl play together. Tease, harass, and in any other way possible aggravate the opposite sex. Some of his friends had stopped doing that sort of thing a year earlier, and he had never quite gotten over that, never understood...until this year.
So he was swimming. Enough of the little kid things, the baby things as Jill called them. Jill was five foot four and skinny as a rail, though maybe skinny wasn't the right word, Jimmy thought as he watched her jump in the slight pond that the creek made at just this point. Most people in town called it the hippie hole. The kids thought that name sounded a bit old fashioned, so they called it the swimming hole.
Erik and Frank were there, too. So were Elizabeth, and Madi and Matti. Madi and Matti had been teased as twins for most of their lives even though they weren't really related on account of their names being so similar. Elizabeth was the fattest girl in school and had been teased about a whole slew of things her whole life, mostly by Frank. But of course, Jimmy and Erik had gotten their fair share in as well. One thing you didn't want to do as a kid in 1983 was stand out.
Elizabeth was just jumping in the water when Jimmy looked up and saw the dust cloud. "Looks like it's time to scram," he said as he practically dove from the water back into his clothes. They were all skinny dipping at Elizabeth's suggestion. Jimmy didn't think anybody really wanted to skinny dip with Elizabeth.
Everybody scrambled for Elizabeth's beat up old Mercury, something his dad had referred to as a banana boat. She wasn't really a capable driver, either, as evidenced by the myriad of fender benders she had with it, but she was the only one who had a car so she had gained a whole lot of popularity the last year.
Carol Oates drove up real slow, taking a look at the cloud of dust the kids had left behind and understanding that her daughter, Elizabeth, was probably the instigator and definitely the get away driver. She smiled knowing that her slow approach had worked, all the while wishing she could bust that Frank Goins. He had definitely been paying a little too much attention to her daughter. Carol figured it was because she was the only kid in the group with a car, but boys being boys she didn't put anything past him really. She had a little too much firsthand knowledge of how things like that worked.
Mayor Bradley even thought of himself as mayor in his own head. It was part of who he was, had been for forty years now. That made it really hard to think of himself as Dan anymore.
Being mayor of a small town meant having a day job. His was running the Convenient Mart, the only place in town for gas or groceries. He saw every single person in town pretty regularly, everybody had to have toilet paper at some point. His prices reflected the fact that his was the only store in town, too. Lately that had hit a little hard, of course. A Walmart had opened up in the neighboring town fifteen miles up the road, a whole lot cheaper than he had ever thought about being. Until this year, at least. But trying to compete with their prices might just be economic suicide.
Sales were way down. He was in a slump. Of course he still had fuel. That was one thing Walmart didn't seem capable of selling on their shelves, thank goodness. And he recognized Elizabeth's car pulling in right at that moment, with several soaking wet teenagers jumping out and one girl obviously pulling up her pants, Madi or Matti, he couldn't remember which was which. But he sure did like the way those cheeks squeezed in to those pants.
Jimmy was first in the door and went straight to the way overpriced sandwiches in the way too old cooler. The rest were right behind, except Elizabeth who was pumping gas. Jill ran for the women's room. And Frank, who was jabbering up a storm with Elizabeth. She was certainly one who could miss a snack or two, mayor Bradley thought. Still, he didn't stop staring at her nipples through the baggy and soaked shirt, clearly without a bra.
A flash of light caught his eye, and he looked over to see Thom Waters' truck dragging the car trailer loaded up with all sorts of things, chairs and tables and decorations and things for the upcoming Plum Festival. That was about the only thing anyone had to look forward to in terms of social events in this village, that and bingo at the church every Tuesday, and Dan Bradley spent the entire year going over the budgets and collecting what he could at yard sales and discount stores elsewhere, storing up for the week of the festival. This week, starting tomorrow night with a dance at the First Baptist on Spring Street. Mayor Bradley, of course, was a regular member at the First Baptist on Spring street, as was most of the town really.
Robert Moses was swinging at the school. It was one of those towns where the school playground equipment really doubled as a park for the town. Jefferson Elementary handled Kindergarten through eighth grade, the high school kids had to catch a bus to Haldin up the road on account of the town of Summit wasn't big enough to have a high school.
That suited Robert just fine. It was definitely Robert, not little Bob like his mom liked to call him. He had an uncle named Robert, too, so everybody called him little Bob and he hated it. It made him sound like such a baby, and he was nearly eight years old.
Harry Gordon was Robert's best friend, although he didn't really understand why he hated being called Bob. Harry was the same age, although he was a lot smaller than Robert. He sat on the edge of the merry-go-round eating his slice of pizza that he picked up from the store, that's what everybody called the Convenient Mart. His soda sat next to him drawing ants.
Robert suddenly yelled out, "Hey watch it! Your sis-," that's when Harry felt the thump on the merry-go-round. He had just time enough to start to turn around before his soda went flying, the latest victim of his wicked older sister Sara. She was twelve, which made Robert and Harry miserable. Five years difference was enough that she was huge and mean, and she hated Harry for certain. She took every single opportunity to rub it in, too. Although she had chased off some older kids who were picking on him once.
"You owe me a new Coke, she hulk!" Harry yelled. She hulk was his newest insult, as they had just gotten in a new shipment of comics at the store.
"Maybe we ought to just go," said Robert. He definitely had a worried look on his face, and at first Harry thought it was his sister. He had worried looks when she was around, that was for sure. But when he looked up, she was just standing there staring over his head.
All three kids were looking at a whole lot of trucks pulling in to town, all painted with camouflage paint. "Oh awesome, army trucks!" said Harry. He was going to be a navy seal when he grew up, they were the toughest of the tough.
Jimmy was in the bathroom at the Convenient Mart. What a dumb name, he thought. So unoriginal, but descriptive of what it wasn't anyway. Convenient, that is. His stomach had started hurting bad right after he ate that piece of pizza.
Probably food poisoning, he was sure. That mayor Bradley didn't keep things very clean here, and there had been lots of times when his friends had told him not to eat the food. But he'd never had a problem before, so he always just figured they were putting him on.
Dan Bradley was counting change out to Elizabeth right at that moment, twenty-seven cents to be precise. That was something Dan was always fairly big on, precision. He figured that's probably what got him along so well in his job as mayor. That and precision took time, a little longer to stare through the girls shirt. Man but she was fat, he thought. And she certainly didn't seem to be skimping on the snacks he thought, as he glanced down at the junk food littering his counter. But a diet coke with it? It never made any sense to mayor Bradley why she piled on the sugar in her junk food but avoided it like the plague in a soda.
And she was sweating to beat everything, too. That was unusual. It wasn't really that warm out. Most folk thought it was too cool to be swimming, but teenagers would be teenagers anyway. Still, it wasn't warm enough to be sweating that profusely.
And now that mayor Bradley thought about it, she was looking kind of dizzy and swaying a little. She wasn't focusing, either. Just had a blank kind of stare off. That's when she fell down.
Panic set in for the mayor, then something akin to a spine asserted itself. "Hey, hey...you alright Lizzy?" He came around the counter quick, knelt down to check her out. Then he heard a loud crash and looked up to see a display falling and spilling all over the place as Erik Turner hit the floor.
About that time outside, Frank was feeling like someone had just kicked him in the balls. He had been fine just a minute ago, had even been making his move on Elizabeth who had gone in to pay for gas. Frank didn't go in because he didn't have any money, and he didn't want to feel stupid standing around not buying anything. He sat in the front seat, shotgun, waiting for Elizabeth and the others. Daydreaming about Elizabeth really.
Yeah, he knew her mom hated him. He didn't have a clue why, really. He had been in a little trouble at school, sure, but a three day suspension didn't seem like that big a deal to him. And that creep, Adam, had deserved the beating anyway. Nobody should make fun of someone just because they were a little big. And he didn't think it was right making fun of a girl anyway.
That pain slowly spread into his stomach and he started sweating all over as he looked out the dirty windows and saw Army vehicles cruising through town, a whole bunch of them. Mayor Bradley must have gotten them for the parade, he thought. He was feeling pretty dizzy, so he leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes... for the last time.
Carol didn't know what was going on. She had gotten back into town a few minutes ago and parked the cop car around back of the post office and she was just settling in. Tom Moses was in the front, obviously waiting to drop off a package of some sort.
Carol had made her way to the counter, but she seemed very distracted, looking out the window. Tom had always had a thing for Carol. Now he was married to Annie, although not for much longer. The divorce attorney said it wouldn't take too long if she didn't contest it, and he didn't see any reason why she would.
Carol was looking out the front window now, so Tom turned to see what had her so puzzled. Army trucks were pouring down the street.
"Now that's just weird" he said. "Hey Carol, you know what that's all about?" he asked as he turned toward her.
Carol didn't really like Tom that well. He had been friends with Matt Hobson, and she definitely hated Matt Hobson. Even after all these years, she hadn't been able to forgive him.
"I don't know, Tom. I'm a cop, not the mayor." she said. "Excuse me a minute." She stepped around the counter and headed for the door. She didn't know what it was about, and that was the trouble. The mayor should certainly have said something if he knew there was going to be this much army activity in town.
She stepped outside and stopped, stunned. Around town at any given time, there was apt to be not much of anything going on. Maybe some people were watering their lawns, or a couple of cars might drive through town. Someone might be taking a walk, sure. But as she looked around, she saw several people laying on the ground at various points through town. It was like they had just taken a break, or maybe fallen asleep. She took off her jacket, thinking how hot it had suddenly gotten and not feeling all that well. That's when she noticed the men getting out of the army trucks wearing hazmat suits.
Robert was running when Harry screamed.
"Leave him alone you she hulk!" he yelled as he ran, hoping to draw her off Harry. For surely she had just jumped on him for calling her she hulk, a mistake he himself had just repeated.
He glanced back over his shoulder as he ran towards their fort in the trees, and what he saw just didn't register. Lots of people were piling out of the army trucks in some kind of weird suits, and they seemed to be approaching the townsfolk who had come out to see what the hubbub was about. Some people didn't come out. The people in suits were grabbing Harry and Sara, both of them were fighting and kicking and screaming now.
Robert hid around the corner of the school and looked back. Someone was walking towards where he had ran so he took off, aiming for the woods. If he could make it to the woods he would be safe, he thought. He had been hunting with his dad before, he knew how to keep safe in the woods. As he was running he heard an explosion, it sounded like something out of a movie. He looked and saw a big smoke cloud in the middle of town, towards main street. "Oh God, what's going on?" he said aloud as he ran. Then he heard several loud pops and people screaming behind him, where Harry and Sara were being taken.
Mayor Bradley heard the front door bang open as he was checking on Erik and looked up to see several men in space suits pointing at him and the kids on the ground.
"Level one containment, sir," he heard one of them say into a walkie talkie.
"Now wait a minute, guys. What's going on here? I've gotta get a doctor for these kids," mayor Bradley said. He really wasn't feeling that hot himself, come to think of it.
One of the men in suits pulled out a pistol and shot Elizabeth. Mayor Bradley ran for the door, and heard a shot. Then the gas pumps exploded, and nobody in that building heard anything else ever again.
Old Bob sat on the swing on the porch at the nursing home talking to Steve, the orderly.
"No sir, back in my time it wasn't all that hard for a small town to disappear altogether," he said. "But I pieced it together over the years. I figure it was that army base at the end of Main Street, they done something. I think it was in the water, myself."
Steve had an incredulous look on his face. "You can't just make a town disappear, I'm telling you. There would be records, recordings or something. Newspapers! They keep them things forever in that national archive they got in Washington, don't they?"
Old Bob didn't seem to be paying attention anymore. Probably just putting on another story, he thought. Yep, another story...just like his other stories, all hogwash. It was easy to believe, because really most people don't want to believe the government could do something like that. And in the end, people believe what they want to.