By Christopher Ryan
He ran a hand through thick gray hair as he peeked out the window at the holiday barbecue his sons were throwing. “They’re not kids anymore, ya know?”
“Honey, they are in their mid-twenties,” his wife said at the television room’s door before beckoning him toward their bedroom.
He crossed after her. “I know, right? When did that happen? Just the other day they were…”
“‘Time is fleeting,’” she teased, entering the solace of their room.
He closed the door, shutting out anything and anyone but them.”’Madness takes control,’” he responded, falling onto the bed, laughing with her. “We thought we had all the time in the world back then, Connie.”
“And suddenly here we are with responsible grownups where our kids used to be,” she shook her head. “All of them out there; we knew them when they so little. Now they have careers and lives.”
“And we’re sleepy,” he laughed.
She turned out the light. “That’s okay. It’s their time now and they are making the most of it.”
They found each other in the dark, and hand-in-hand, fell asleep.
He was up early the next morning, running his miles as was his custom, amused that so many cars were still parked in front of their house. By the time he finished, two were already gone, and two were left.
When he entered the house, one of his sons was lurching toward the coffee pot. “How many slept over,” Dad asked.
“Responsible thing for all of them to do.”
“Walked? He lives in the next town now!”
“That’s what I said, but he wouldn’t listen and we were busy cleaning up. The walk was probably good for him.”
Sunday passed bright and hot, with an even hotter encore on Monday. One car remained, amusing the dad. “Hey,” he told his son, “if it’s still there tomorrow, we put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it.“
“I’ll text Steve about it.”
“Tell him the walk back is equally good exercise.”
Tuesday morning, the dad got up even earlier, trying to beat the rising temperature. He decided to just do laps around the block, making it easier to bail if the heat got to be too much.
He used Steve’s car as his marker. At least it would be of some use to somebody, he chuckled, seeing as Steve apparently didn’t need it.
He noticed a whiff of backed-up sewer on the third lap. As he came around for the fourth, he took a good look; the sewers were clear.
He glanced around for another source of the stench. There was nothing. No overflowing garbage, no road kill, no…
He dismissed the idea instantly, but slowed to a walk. Couldn’t be. Maybe some local wildlife got hit by a car and crawled under there to die. Maybe it had been lying in the heat for a few days, ripening.
Or maybe the horrible smell is coming from the car itself.
The dad shook off the ridiculous thought. Or tried to.
He forced himself closer, each step landing on a weaker leg, his knees shaking by the time he inched to the rear driver’s side window. His eyes studied the roof of the vehicle, fighting against moving lower. But he had to know. Had to. I’ll just check under the car, he lied to himself, eyes finally lowering…
Steve hadn’t walked home.
The dad stumbled back, clutching his chest at the shock of what three days roasting in the summer heat had done.
He crashed to his knees, grabbing at his phone with suddenly clawed and quaking hands, managing to dial 911 before collapsing on the street. “Help him,” he gasped into the phone.
Everything became a jumble. Feet running. His wife screaming. His son pulling at a car door. A howl rising either from the approaching police cruiser or his own throat….