We weren’t allowed to leave our home; the suited men were everywhere and kept insisting it was for our own safety. They wouldn’t give us a hint about what was going on.
Being right across the street, I stayed glued to my front window. It was fascinating at first. Then interesting. Then tedious. Still, I felt like I had to keep watching. There was something going on in there and I needed to know what. Nothing on television gave any indication something was wrong. Our cell phones had no service. It was as if the signals were being blocked.
Toward the end of the first day, I’d started to feel a surprising amount of apprehension. My wife, too. It felt as if we were about to receive terrible news, despite not having any reason to.
Another hour passed as we moped around the front room, frequently glancing toward the window at the commotion across the street.
Around 8pm, the sound started. It was low but intense. We felt it in our stomachs and teeth. Everything in the house rattled. A portrait of Lucy and me on our wedding day fell off the wall, shattering the glass frame. Our dog, Pupper, yelped from his hiding place under the sofa.
Outside, hazmat-suited people poured from the neighbor’s house. They huddled behind the trucks parked alongside the property line and waited.
The sound intensified. I could feel my teeth throbbing in their sockets and Pupper ran around in circles, barking and panicking. A vile smell filled the room. It had not been produced by any of us.
A red, miasmal cloud seeped from the doors and windows of the house across the street. I felt panic rising in my chest and instinctively brought my shirt up to cover my nose and mouth. My wife did the same. I picked up Pupper and carried him into the upstairs bathroom and placed him in the tub. It was his favorite place whenever he was scared, but I also hoped he’d be safer. The house shook like it had been hit by a truck. More objets fell from walls and cabinets.
Back downstairs, Lucy yelled, “you have to see this!” I galloped down the steps and pressed my face against the window.
A massive crack had formed in my neighbor’s front yard. I couldn’t tell how deep it was from where I was standing, but from the way the cops and hazmat guys approached it, I got the impression it was very deep indeed.
Beside me, Lucy slumped over. Before any concern or alarm could register, everything went dark.
Hours passed without either of us seeing or feeling anything.
Lucy was the first to wake up and the sound of her throwing up roused me soon after. I felt okay before opening my eyes, but the moment I did I felt overwhelming nausea. My head spun. The room spun. Everything spun. I slammed my hands over my eyes and the dizziness went away.
“Close your eyes,” I yelled to Lucy. Upstairs, I heard Pupper retching and whimpering.
Lucy sobbed and stumbled around blindly as I narrowed my eyes into slits and tried to see what lay behind the front window. There were shapes I recognized. The orange, hazmat-suited men walked around the crevasse and in and out of the neighbor’s house.
The red mist that had poured from the windows and doors appeared to have congealed and fallen on the lawn and bushes and street. The men walked through it with some difficulty, as if it were tacky. The smell was still there, but less powerful.
All this was glimpsed through narrowed, bleary eyes. Nothing was sharp. Nothing was focused. Any attempt to properly resolve anything beyond the distance of my nose resulted in another bout of acute nausea. Behind my confusion – behind my churning stomach and roiling bowels – lurked a profound, primal fear. It was a feeling that there was something outside our home that didn’t want to be seen.
Pupper cried from the room above us and Lucy crawled on her hands and knees up the stairs to try to comfort him. Outside, I heard shouting. Without thinking, I widened my eyes and tried to look. An astonishing wave of sickness swept through me and I collapsed to the ground, cradling my knees to my chest, as my stomach contents drooled from my mouth.
The shouts became frantic, but I was too weak to move. Colors shimmered before my eyelid-cloaked eyes and I yelled to Lucy and Pupper to stay upstairs. Lucy said okay. The floor vibrated as men outside screamed. The nausea returned even with my eyes shut and I gasped at the ferocity of it. A hideous, droning buzz filled the air. Again, my consciousness left me.
When I woke up, it was still light out. I shouted up to Lucy, and she muttered something. I heard her and Pupper starting to move around in the bathroom. With a great deal of trepidation, I opened my eyes. Nothing happened. I felt fine.
I lifted myself to my feet and looked around. The house was a mess – it looked as if there had been an earthquake. Books and magazines and dishes and glasses were strewn everywhere. Cold air poured out of the broken front window.
I looked outside and didn’t quite understand what I was seeing at first. The gash in the ground had closed and now resembled an ugly scar. But my neighbor’s house was gone. Simply gone. The street and yard were still covered in the unidentifiable, red substance.
Not a single person in a hazmat suit could be seen.
I checked my phone. For the first time all weekend, it had service. To my disbelief, it was already Monday. Whatever had happened on Sunday morning had knocked us out for 24 hours. I dialed 911. The operator told me, very pleasantly, that they had received calls from my neighbors and emergency services were on their way.
That part was true. The police, fire department, and ambulances arrived shortly after my call.
We were told on Tuesday that there had been a chemical spill. That a truck had taken a detour down our street and had, inexplicably, leaked. The substance “reacted with something the house and exploded” and “thankfully Mr. Davidson wasn’t home or else he would have been killed.” I knew it was bullshit. All of us did. But we had no evidence to prove it was anything else.
The “spill” had been all but cleaned up by Wednesday. Lucy and I did our best to clean the house up and repair the damages. We still feel lingering effects of whatever had made us so sick. That smell still sits in the air as a reminder of what happened, whatever it was. We want to forget it all.
It’s not easy, though.
It’s not just the smell. It’s the memories. It’s the missing house. It’s our poor Pupper, who hasn’t been the same since. It’s lots of things.
But most of all, it’s the people who’ve showed up at night. People I’ve never seen before. People who, until they’re physically threatened with violence by one of the neighbors, won’t get out of the road or lawn across the street. People who congregate in circles and chant and yelp in dim candlelight. People who spend the hours dragging their tongues across the areas that’d been covered in the red slime.