Transplant (An original short essay by Michele E. Gwynn)
Charlene awoke long after the sun set feeling disoriented and stiff. She stretched, reaching out her hands, and rolling her wrists to work out the kinks. She pulled her knees up to her chest one at a time squeezing, and then putting each leg back down again. Three deep breaths, and one good cough later, she sat up and put her toes on the floor. It was cold. Funny, she thought, but it was hot out when I laid down for my nap.
She stood, and looked around the bedroom. It was neat. Nothing was out of place. James must’ve cleaned up while she slept. Nice of him.
The lights were out except for the one in the kitchen at the far end of the hall. Charlene made her way towards the light feeling her stomach grumble in hunger.
“What’re you doing?” She called out ahead as she turned the corner into the kitchen. There James sat at the four-seater oak table with spindle back chairs. He was staring off into space, unmoving, until he heard her voice. Then, he turned and stared at her, hard, but his eyes seemed blank. It was as if he were in shock.
“Honey? What’s wrong?” Charlene approached her husband of the past eleven years, and automatically reached out to feel his forehead testing for fever.
“Hello, dear.” His voice sounded flat to her ears. She felt no elevated temperature. Indeed, he felt a little on the cool side.
“You’re cold. Heck, it’s kind of cold in here? Did we have some kind of a front come in or something?” She leaned down, and kissed the top of his head before sauntering over to the refrigerator to pull out last night’s casserole for reheating. It wasn’t there.
She turned to James. “Did you reheat the casserole? I don’t smell it?” He’d gone back to staring out of the window facing the backyard.
“Reheat”, he said. His weird lack of response made her pause. She looked at the back of his blond, curly head and waited for him to say more. He didn't. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was 7:30 in the evening, and their son, Brad, should have been home.
“James, where’s Brad?” James didn’t answer. Instead, he stood up, and walked towards the door leading out onto the back patio.
“James? Where’s Brad?” She asked again, beginning to feel alarmed.
Just then, a loud whistle blew in the distance becoming louder as James opened the door and stepped out. A chilling wind gusted inside making Charlene wrap her arms around herself. She wasn’t dressed for cold weather. It was August, after all, and she wore a t-shirt and jean shorts. Her feet were bare, but she felt the cold beginning to numb her toes. She slowly approached the open door, and leaned out looking to see where her husband had gone. She didn’t have to look far. He was standing at the south corner of their yard doing absolutely …nothing. The shrill whistle continued to blare. On her right, she heard a door open, and her neighbor, Elly Maddox, walked outside in her bathrobe slowly making her way to the south corner of her own yard. Her little, brown, weenie dog, Hector, followed, oddly silent in light of the fact that a loud, high-pitched whistle was piercing the night.
“What the hell…” Charlene stepped out onto the cold ground shivering as she made her way to investigate just what her husband and neighbor were doing. Looking across the fences of residents further down, she noticed they were all coming outside in various states of dress to walk over to, and stand in the southern corners of, their yards. There, everyone stopped and stared blankly ahead.
A hand touched her shoulder. Charlene jumped, yelping. “Ah!” Her heart pounding with fear, she stumbled, and fell over onto her backside. Looking up, she noticed it was only her son, Brad.
“Jesus, son! You scared the hell out of me. What are you doing? What’s going on around here?” She started to get up, and as she did, saw the blank look in Brad’s eyes.
She waved a hand in front of his face. “Brad? Hon? What is it? Are you sick?”
He stepped around her joining his father in the south corner of the backyard where he stopped and waited.
“What the hell is going on around here? James? Brad?” Charlene walked across the grass, which had a crispness to it as if it had been recently frozen, and was just beginning to thaw.
As she reached her loved ones, Charlene stood in front of them looking from one to the other. It was like they were in some kind of trance. They didn’t seem to even notice her; not one flicker of their eyes indicated recognition. The lights were on, but no one was at home. The whistle stopped.
James and Brad looked up, and raised their arms heavenward. Charlene backed up, and turned to look skyward. "What the hell!" High above in the night sky where the moon usually reigned as the brightest jewel in the obsidian abyss sat not one, but four moons! Each shone brighter than the next, and in neon colors of pink and green and yellow. Rings of sapphire blue surrounded each one, and their luminescence was so bright, it was blinding.
“What? Oh My God! James, what’s going on? Why are you all staring at this?” Charlene started falling apart as tears gathered in her eyes making the strange sight grow blurry. She looked out over the yards beside and behind her house noting that all the other people were standing with arms raised to the night, unmoving.
She reached out and shook her son. “Brad, stop this! Stop it, I said!” Brad continued his solitary moon worship, unresponsive to his mother’s words. She stepped back, and looked at her husband. Without thinking, she swung her right hand, and slapped him across the face hard.
Although it was dark, she was sure she left a hand print. Finally, James lowered his eyes and looked at his wife. “Assimilate” was all he said before grabbing her arms, and dragging her back towards the house.
“Let me go! James! Damnit, what are you doing? Stop!” She screamed, kicked, cussed, and fought injuring herself on the cold, hard ground. Her son grabbed her legs, and three of the neighbors hopped their fences coming to help haul her inside. No one said a word. The only voice that shattered the night was Charlene’s. Her screams could be heard two blocks away, yet no one came to help.
As Mr. Maddox closed the back door of Charlene’s house, the four moons pulsed five times before going dark, as if a light switch flipped off in the heavens. Hector calmly followed his owner back across the yard where he was picked up in her arms. Elly Maddox, who was fifty-three years old last December, crouched low, and then sprung up and over the fence where she landed as cleanly as a gold-medal winning gymnast. She set Hector down, and they walked back inside their own home.
The night temperature fell quickly after that forming a light layer of frost over every surface, and all became eerily quiet. No more whistles. No more wind gusts. No more screams. Just…silence.