Verna looked down the list of callers and questionable cases and then knocked on the door, waiting for an answer. She looked up and down the street, which was literally dead quiet with the dread anti-energy of suburban sprawl. It may have once spawned brief sporadic flashes, but the kids were long since gone. She looked around to a neighbor’s lawn where children’s toys still littered the lawn.
Verna felt the all-familiar ache that it didn’t hurt as much as it should. It was practically reflex at this point, perhaps some distant Jewish trait that always made her extra hard on herself no matter what.
“Why don’t you add highlights to your hair,” Alice asked adjusting her far more lacy and impractical home outfit covered in an odd mixture of zippers, chains, and black lace. Verna stopped in wonderment at the question and turned.
“Well, I mean you’ve got the whole sport dyke thing going on with the cap and ponytail, but I mean, it’s awfully subtle. I mean, no wonder, you haven’t had a date in five-“
“Years, so yeah.”
“I’ve been busy…”
Verna paused in mid-awkward stance and grabbed herself by the mind and focused away the weakness. “Why are we even talking about this?”
Alice seemed taken-aback for a second and then rallied. “The silence was getting to me. It’s kind of triggering. The apartment next to mine had a loud baby you know and…”
Verna nodded along. “In that case, I like the natural look, now if you don’t have any-“
“How are you two doing?”
With a startled movement, she looked back nervously towards the door which remained imposingly shut.
“Over here, darling.”
Verna turned to the neighboring yard where there stood what would have been a young blonde throwback from the 50s wearing high-heeled shoes and stockings if not for the single orange and green bracer around her left arm, stepping her way gingerly through the toys in the yard.
“Ah, hello, miss. Are you er....” Verna glanced down at the sheet of paper before continuing, “Mel?”
“Oh dear me gracious no, I don’t know anyone named Mel. I just came out here to do a little shopping for my husband, he’s so needy, sometimes.”
“So are you some sort of charitable group or something?”
“Yes, actually…I’m sorry, but are you ok?”
“Why of course I am, why ever would you ask?”
“Well you didn’t seem…er…your lawn is…er…Aren’t those a little problematic,” Verna finally spit out pointing to the scattered children’s toys and expecting the worst.
She wasn’t prepared.
“Oh lord, we got lucky there, Captain Steele had all of his son’s toys stolen, bless his heart. He lost his wife and son you know, terrible tragedy.”
“I…bah…gah.” Verna babbled, unable to even muster any response to her self. She had been kicking herself for three weeks for not feeling enough and here was a woman, seemingly unaware of what had happened.
“Wait, didn’t you also lose kids,” Alice stepped in and finished.
The woman’s face went completely blank.
“Captain Steele lost his son and wife. I need to make my husband dinner and there’s only so much time. By the way, have you accepted Jesus Christ?” The woman continued with no apparent recognition of the conversation before. With that, she walked to her car and began driving away, while Verna stared dumbfounded and shaken.
After the car had disappeared a meek voice sounded behind her.
“Can I help you?”
Verna turned around slowly to see a meek teenager with pigtails and a long shirt. Their face and legs clean-shaven, but their chest overly flat.
“Er, are you Mel Cooper?” Verna enquired. “Did you call into The Center for help?”
“I did…” The teenager seemed to be clinging to the half-closed door as a protecting barrier or dear friend.
“Well I’m Verna Zee and this is my friend Alice and we wanted to follow up with you and make sure you were doing alright.” Verna said, moving her expressions into ones of professional empathy.
“I’m fine, really. I don’t hear the voice when I stay in the house and I’ve learned how to run to the store when it’s not looking.”
“Wait, when what’s not looking?”
“Wait, what?” Verna was taken aback slightly. If what she was saying was true, then that meant the Rapture theory did have the most validity, but then again, that just raised many more questions.
“The Deity. If I go out when it’s looking, it goes into my head and it starts yelling at me, calling me a freak, trying to change things. But if I’m quick then it’s okay. I’m more worried about my girlfriend and boyfriend.”
“I haven’t seen them in a week and I’m worried that the Deity may have gotten them.”
“Well what did they look like?” Alice asked kindly cutting in.
“Don’t press her Alice, can’t you see she’s scared?”
“I’m not a she.”
Verna kicked herself. How inappropriate she’d been. “I’m terribly sorry, young man.”
Verna froze. “Alice, pronoun help.”
Alice shook her head and leaned in. “What pronoun do you use?”
“Well I’m a transwoman myself, so bisexual?”
“Asexual, but my boyfriend and girlfriend are cool with it.” The teen clutched the door less and seemed to let it swing. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude.”
“That’s ok, from your call, you sounded like you were having some real troubles. Can you describe your boyfriend and girlfriend to me?”
“Well he’s kind of gangly with bright pink hair and she’s got long blonde hair and looks kind of plain, but they’ve both got these orange and green bracers I made for them. Or rather one each…”
Verna felt a sinking feeling in her stomach, but tried to rally herself. “We’ll go looking for them immediately. On another note, your neighbor was acting rather odd a minute ago-“
“I don’t have any neighbors.”
“They disappeared with my parents.”
“But what about the woman who just drove away?”
“I didn’t see it…er…you are going to help me, right?”
“Of course, sweetie,” Alice chimed in and stepping forward. “Now, I’m going to stay here and you can tell me some more about what they look like. And my partner will-“
“Be right with you. I just want to look into something real quick. You won’t mind will you?” Verna finished.
“I’m not five, you both do realize that, right? I’m just nervous.”
“Right,” Verna said distractedly before heading back down the path.
“Ignore her,” Alice said behind her while entering the house. “Now do you have any photos or any other clues that can help us know where to start looking…”
The conversation continued, but Verna was already out of earshot. She looked back to make sure the door was closed and then ran over to the neighboring house, briefly tripping over the discarded reminders of Earth that was. She knocked on the door hoping desperately to be wrong about her hunch, but even before the door opened, she knew it was a vain hope.
The “husband” opened the door. A young teenager in an older man’s suit with short pink hair whose blonde roots were already growing briefly up to replace them and around his right wrist, the same orange and green bracer she had seen on the other girl. And at that point, the makeup had preventing her from noticing that she seemed teenish in body as well.
“Do you know a Mel Cooper?”
The man answered in a chirpy happy voice. “No, I’ve never heard that name before.”
“Do you know a Captain Steele?”
“He lost his wife and son you know, it was very tragic.”
“Did you lose any parents?”
“Captain Steele lost his wife and son.”
“I see. Do you know where he lives?”
“Captain Steele lost his-“
“I’m sorry to have bothered you.
“Have you seen my wife? She needs to make me dinner.”
“I’m sure she’ll be home soon.”
The walk back around to Mel’s was achingly slow and painful and the deep gulf in Verna’s heart was once again threatening to swamp all the progress she had made earlier. She tried the doorknob of Mel’s place entering in and closing the door and breathing a deep painful sigh.
“Did you find anything,” Mel muttered apologetically, trying to hide a pan he had briefly before prepared to swing at the seeming intruder.
“Is that your parents’?” Verna asked, her heart too hardened to really mind the assault she narrowly avoided.
“It’s Marc’s. Your friend is up in Marc and Erin’s sex room. Well, my parent’s bedroom really, but they’re dead and gone now. Bastards.”
“Right.” Verna said before heading up the stairs. Up at the top, she found Alice sitting in the door-frame. “Did you find anything,” Verna asked.
“There was this in the bed sheets, I don’t think Mel found it.” Alice held up a handful of what looked like some form of prescription drug. “There was also a letter that had fallen under the dresser. It was a suicide note.”
“But they’re both playing Stepford Couple next door.”
“What do we do, Verna,” Alice curled up tighter, clutching the note to her leg so that it crumpled. Verna knew enough of Alice’s history to guess. When she had been a young boy, her first boyfriend had dispatched himself in a similar way. Verna knew she needed to get them out of here.
“Let’s go.” Verna said, wrenching her to her feet and taking the letter from Alice’s hand and shoving it in her own pocket.
“Mel, we’re both going to put out some queries to some friends of ours and they’ll keep an eye out. If you need anything or are scared that the Deity is coming after you, this is my personal cell phone number and I will answer it any time, day or night. Got it?”
“I don’t feel right-“ Alice began before Verna dragged her out of the house.
“She’s very helpful minded. But we have a few more places we need to hit. Have you heard of a Captain Steele?”
“No. I’m sorry. I’m not really that helpful, I guess.”
“Quite all right.” Verna stated, the careful practiced calm face, approaching a level of cracking. She shook Mel’s hand and prepared to move away, before Mel immediately hugged her.
“Thank you so much,” ze stated, while Verna nervously twitched. “You be careful of the Deity now. If you feel Him at all, you need to pretend to be as normal as possible and find shelter. You need to do that.”
“Ok, I will kid. Listen, anytime, really.”
The hug tightened and then released. Verna was outside the door that was now closing.
“Thank you” was the only reply as the door closed firmly shut on the outside world.
“Was that a good idea, V-“ Alice began.
“We still don’t know what happened. But we don’t want hir to repeat anything of the sort.”
“I guess,” Alice replied tentatively.
“I just wish I could have gotten a lead on this Captain Steele fellow. Sigh, what’s the next name.”
Verna stopped and looked behind her where Alice was staring shaking into a sheet of paper. Verna sighed. It had been a bad idea to involve her at that level. She was a great shoulder to lean on, but the scene had obviously triggered some bad memories amidst the confusion.
“Verna,” she spoke softly.
Verna reached an arm around her back and held her awkwardly to herself. “It’s going to be ok, you’ll-“
“No, Verna, look.” And with that Alice pointed down to the next name on the list, one Chloe Steele.
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