by Stephanie Lamoureux
Hailey was waiting impatiently at the connivance store for the clerk to find the brand of cigarettes she wanted.
“Yeah. Green Menthol.”
Hailey looked unimpressed at the guy working the counter. A short but heavy set boy, who could not be more than nineteen, was dressed in a blue Mini-Mart uniform with a bright metallic tag — TRAINEE, pinned to his shirt pocket. This explained the delay. Never mind the excuses, Hailey was use to getting her way and was short tempered, so this new guy was just a sitting duck waiting to be shot.
“Excuse me, but Peter always keeps them on the third shelf to your right,” Hailey said while rolling her eyes.
The trainee extended his hand over the pack of menthol cigarettes, missing them completely.
“Ummm this one?”
“No, you just passed them, the menthol ones!”
“Oh Paul Mall okay.”
The trainee garbed the regular Paul Mall’s not the Green Menthol’s, handing them to Hailey with a half dazed stare.
“Are you high? These are the fucking regular ones, I want the Paul Mall Green Menthol’s you just passed,” Hailey was about to explode with anger.
“Peter! Peter! Where is the manager Peter!”
The trainee started to cough uncontrollably; he raised his hands to his mouth (covering them like a shield) and continued to cough in rumbles. Peter came out from the back storage room and looked speculatively at Bruce (the trainee) who was now wheezing. Peter grabbed a water bottle and opened it and handed the bottle to Bruce.
“Hello Hailey, forgive my nephew here, he just started last week, plus from the sounds of it, he’s got a nasty cold coming up; the usual brand I presume?”
Peter didn’t wait for Hailey to answer and reached for the Paul Mall Green Menthol’s she always asked him for on Saturdays.
“Here you go my dear.”
Hailey changed from angry bitch face to a crushing smile instantly, as she had a soft spot for Peter. You see Hailey has had a ‘thing’ for Peter ever since the sixth grade, mind-you he was twice her age then, now he was pushing forty-something and Hailey just turned twenty, but that never made a difference to Hailey, she liked Peter for his rugged good looks and easy-going attitude, but Peter would never gave Hailey the time-of-day, because young girls with an attitude problem were just not appealing to him, even if Hailey was hotter than Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson cloned together.
“Thanks Peter, sorry you know how hot-tempered I get sometimes,” Hailey said while brushing
a lock of curly blond hair from her cheek.
“It’s that temper that gets you in trouble over and over again,” Peter replied while scratching the black stubble of his goat-tee.
“Yeah, so true, but sometimes the fun is getting into trouble.”
Hailey leaned over the counter purposely, showing off her cleavage from her white tang-top.
Peter took an eye full, this was the same song and dance they did ever time Hailey came in the store, she would flirt like a school-girl and Peter would shoot her down, but always after enjoying the show she presented him.
“Hailey you and my nephew here are the same, you think shooting your mouth off or getting your own way is going to get you somewhere in life, it’s not, maturity is a virtue not a virus.” Peter said while tapping the back of Bruce who was still coughing like a man on his death bed.
“Well naughty girls need love too.”
“True love is something you have yet to discover Hailey.”
“Maybe someone older and more mature than I am can help me find it?”
“The only thing you have to find now is a way to quit smoking and get your life on track, but I’m not your Dad to say such things.”
“No, but you could be my sugar-daddy if you wanted to,” Hailey said and waved Peter a kiss.
“Hailey, stop okay, enough of these games,” Peter said with a stern face.
Hailey laughed. “You know I’m just teasing. God where’s your sense of humor?” Hailey took out her gold tinted Guess wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill to pay for the cigarettes.
Peter knew better. Talking some sense into Hailey was like talking to a manikin; pretty on the outside but hollow on the inside. Peter walked to the cash register and took the money from Hailey.
“You know, —”
Bruce (the trainee) never stopped coughing, now he was crouch over the counter spitting out blood. His body shivered. All at once, he fell to the floor.
“Jesus! What’s wrong with him?” Hailey cried.
“I don’t know?” Peter was shocked to see his nephew convulsing on the floor, blood fell from his eyes, nose and mouth. A terrible smell exhumed from Bruce’s body; the coughing never seizing to stop.
“Water! Water…” Bruce yelped.
“Hailey, call 911, I have to try to stop the bleeding,” Peter sounded frightened.
Peter ran to one of the grocery shelves of his store and ripped open some bags of paper towels; he napkin them over Bruce’s nose but the blood just went right through the paper towels’. So many questions raced through Peter’s mind, Hailey could see the worried look in his eyes. It was obvious, Bruce needed help and fast.
“Shit, I need something that will stop the bleeding.”
The color red was everywhere, Peter’ clothes were stained as well as his hands and forehead.
Hailey just stared, horrified at the blood-filled boy lying beneath her. The blood wetted the tips of her toes that were exposed from wearing sandals; that were once a lovely shade of pink.
“Don’t just stand there; call God Dame it, call 911 fast to send an ambulance,” Peter exclaimed, annoyed and desperate.
Hailey felt completely lost and terrified as she stood there and began to sob in total panic. Despite the sobbing, Hailey managed to dial those three numbers that stood between Bruce’s life and death situation. The 911 operator never heard such a weeping voice on the phone before.
Peter stood up and ran to the back room to get some towels’ that would hopefully stop the bleeding.
His thoughts were clouded. Why was Bruce bleeding? He is coughing non-stop… would he chock on his own blood? Is he going to die?
Mary-Jane was Peter’s baby sister. She had a hard life; pregnant at seventeen with Bruce, the father a run-away hoodlum who was going nowhere, who beat her for years until one night he took off, never to be seen or heard from again; Bruce was five years old at the time. On welfare by twenty and living at the trailer park by twenty-five with no ambition or self respecting career expect selling weed on the side; on occasion dancing at the strip club by the airport on highway eight, such was the life of a young girl gone rotten, Peter was guilt ridden as he was unsuccessful with helping his baby sister during those troubled times. Mary-Jane was now thirty, addicted to drugs and living a life of crime and prostitution. Peter recently attainted guardianship of Bruce, a last attempt at helping out his baby sister. After all Mary-Jane went through, the news of her only son dead under her brother’s care would be unbearable to think of; Mary-Jane would defiantly snap!
Peter had to stop the haunting thoughts that plagued his mind, he needed to focus, where were those towels? His memory returned, of course the washroom, he took two towels and ran back to see Bruce spitting blood still, on the floor.
What seemed like hours only was ten minutes which elapsed until the paramedics came in and took control over the situation.
One paramedic had brought in a stretcher and was preparing it to transport the boy to the ambulance. The other paramedic was clearing the airways of the boy by manually inserting a breath pump over his mouth.
“How long has he been like this?” The paramedic asked.
“He was coughing for about fifteen minutes but then he fell to the floor, I tried to stop the bleeding, but the blood never stopped, is he going to bleed to death?” Peter said while putting his hands on his face trying to stop the tears that came, he did not want to sob in front of other men.
Hailey was crying fanatically, clutching to her purse like a blanket.
“Not if we get him to the hospital in time, sir please step back we are going to left him up now.” The two paramedics straightened the boy’s body and tied him into the stretcher and hoisted him to the ambulance.
“Hailey go home, I’ve got to go to the hospital.” Peter was shaking and teary eyed.
“No I want to be with you, what’s happing to him?” Hailey looked venerable and innocent for the first time in her short life; she was sincere in plea for answers.
“Fine, I’ve got to lock up the store meet me at my car.” Peter had no time for arguments and he honestly did not want to leave Hailey in that fragile state of mind.
Peter was losing it while he drove with Hailey to the hospital. There was some light traffic Midtown on the road to the hospital. It was starting to get dark outside. Cars were jammed. Peter honked his horn and was frustrated with the cars in-front of him. He thought I should have just gone with the ambulance; I’d be there by now. He forgot that Hailey was with him, sobbing in the passenger’s seat. He looked at her for a moment, than reached for her hand and said, “Try to calm down its going to be okay.” Horns blatted impatiently behind him. After a couple of minutes the traffic had begun to move again. Peter joined the traffic flow jerkily and drove as fast as he could. The radio was on, the song Every Breath You Take by Sting and the Police was on.
“When did he start to be sick?”
“Just this morning he looked a little out of it, he didn’t say much just that he felt dizzy.”
“Was he coughing?”
“No, he was just a little spaced-out that’s all.”
“I don’t understand what would make him sick like that all of a sudden.”
The song stopped and a special announcement came on the radio.
We interrupt your regular programming for a special weather alert. The state of New Hampshire and parts of western Vermont are going to have its first big thunder storm of the season. With possible winds up to 60 mph and heavy rain fall we caution citizens to stay indoors and to board up your windows if necessary. Weather stations are astonished at this weather phenomenon that seems to have developed out of nowhere, but is estimated to hit downtown New Hampshire in about two hours. We caution drivers to stay off the roads. Here is a list of safe houses if you cannot find shelter during the storm. City Hall…
Hailey turned off the radio.
“We should have listened to the rest of that,” Peter said with a hint of frustration.
Hailey just looked out the window; it started to rain, lightly. Her eyes looked hazed.
“Christ! Why is this all happening at the same time?” Peter said while looking over at Hailey. She was just sitting there, staring outside the window, motionless.
A flash of lightening. Rumbles of thunder began to brew. A storm was coming.
Peter grew uncomfortable and remembered he had to get to the hospital quickly. He was just five minutes away and traffic was easing up.
“Are you alright Hailey?” Peter asked knowing full well she was in some state of shock or something.
“Nothing… everything… I can’t seem to think right.” Hailey started to rub her forehead.
“I have a migraine.”
“Well that’s understandable we just went through something traumatic, my head is not feeling well too.”
“No, it’s not that… I am not thinking right, my mind is getting dizzy.”
“Just lay back and relax, I’ll get a nurse to give you an Advil or something when we get to the hospital.” Peter drove over the speed limit and an inner suspension creped to this mind. Was Hailey getting sick? But why and was it from Bruce? Was this contagious? What was this sickness anyways, too many questions, no answers, got to get to the hospital pronto, Peter put the pedal to the metal.
It was 8:30P.M. The medical reception room was packed with people. Dozens of what looked like parents coning over their young children who all were bleeding from every orifices of their body and coughing, that wheezing dry cough that Bruce was making they all had the same symptoms. The hospital’s intercom kept sending Doctors to the emergency room, the hospital was in chaos, an outbreak of some sort had spread.
Peter tried to get the attention of one of the nurses.
“Hello please can you help me find my nephew he was brought here by ambulance,” Peter said with a panic tone. The nurse looked annoyed as she was obviously in a state of panic herself trying to manage all these young children and young adults suffering from this sickness, none of the older parents or older adults seemed to be sick, a fact that was not realized at the time of the epidemic.
“The Doctors are seeing each patient as fast as they can, in case you hadn’t notice we are in the middle of an outbreak of some kind here,” The nurse said while walking back and forth from the reception desk.
“Yeah I know but I have to find my nephew his name is Bruce Thompson he would have arrived about twenty minutes ago by ambulance,” Peter pleaded.
The nurse looked at him closely. She knew that she could not control the chaos around her but she could show this poor guy where they take the people from the ambulance to the ER.
“All right. Follow me.”
“Thank you.” Peter took Hailey by the hand and followed the nurse.
The halls and waiting rooms of the hospital were populated with people, sick people or should I say young sick people, all who looked like Bruce and now Hailey. The smell of rust and salt filled the air. The rustle of wind and rain crashed against the sides of the building, you could hear the storm brewing outside. The world had seemed to turn up side down in an instant, nothing made sense and this all felt like one big bad dream to Peter.
“Over there, that is the main entrance to the ER,” The nurse did not even leave a chance for Peter to answer; she turned her head and speed walked back to her station.
“Okay here—” Peter said, but realized he was talking to him-self.
Peter proceeded to the ER. He looked over and saw Hailey crouched on the floor. Blood feel from her left nostril.
“Oh my God Hailey, are you okay?” Peter lunged for Hailey and cradled her to his chest.
“I’m so thirsty.” Hailey’s eyeballs were turned back.
“Help me, somebody help me,” Peter shouted for assistance.
Two very tall men appeared from the ER room. They were both dressed in a light gray suit topped with a physician’s white coat. Their hair or lack of was fine and blond. The two Doctors could have passed as twins as they had similar facial features. Their eyes were a light blue and their skin Caucasian but with pink undertones. The two walked towards Peter and Hailey, staring more at the young girl.
“Doctor please help-her,” Peter was frustrated by the lack of reaction he was getting from these two (so called Doctors).
The two male Doctors gazed at each other and one of them took Hailey by the arm and made her walk towards the ER room. When Peter was walking to join her one of the male Doctors looked at him with a stern face and pursed lips and said, “Stay here.”
“But I just want to be with Hailey, I also have to find my nephew Bruce, please I just want to be near them,” Peter sobbed.
Apathetically the male Doctor replied, “Stay here, they are fine.”
Peter was losing what little patience he had left and demanded that he stay close to Hailey. Peter jolted towards Hailey and attempted to take her by the hand. The male Doctor who held Hailey turned around and looked intensely into Peter’s eyes. Suddenly Peter was paralyzed, he could not move. All he could do was look; look deep within this male Doctor’s eyes that changed color. What was he looking at? Those were not the eyes of any normal man.
The other male Doctor repeated to Peter again, “Stay here, they are fine, stay here, they are fine, stay here…”
Peter was frozen in his steps but could see faintly into the ER room. It was empty, he could not believe his eyes, it was empty but not empty; he could hear movement from inside, there were people in there, the florescent lights of the ER room were illuminating an odd white glow.
What was in this empty room? The two male Doctors took Hailey into it. They vanished. Peter screamed inside. The world he once knew was alien to him now. Time seized. He was motionless on the outside but trembling on the inside to move; he tried to nudge his body forward, but could not. Peter’s body was exhausted after hours of failed attempts to move, his body still paralyzed, soon his mind fell unconscious. Peter only saw darkness now. The sound of thunder and rain echoed from the hospital. A faint humming sound came from the ER room; which continued to be empty to the outside world, all through the night.
Eight months later:
Peter held a jug of water that was for a water-cooler and carried it to the front cash where a customer was waiting to purchase it. It was lightly raining outside; the weather network announced that New Hampshire would experience the heaviest rain fall state wide. This would be good for a greener countryside but Peter did not like the rain anymore, and prayed every night for it to stop.
“That will be fifteen dollars please,” Peter grinned but it was forced.
The young man paid nonchalantly. Peter noticed he had a look about him; something too regal, clean and strict of character for someone as young as he.
“Would you like me to take this to your car,” Peter asked as the young man looked unwrinkled and fragile somehow.
“No thank you, stay here, I am fine,” said the young man gracefully.
The young man picked up the water jug like it was a paper weight, and exited the convenience store. Peter rubbed his head; he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since the night he brought Hailey to the hospital. But Peter could not complain, business was booming, well the water bottle business was, most of his store’s stock was now filled with water bottles and or water based products. It seemed like the citizens of New Hampshire liked their water, and wanted it in mass quantities; any good merchant would jump on the bandwagon of supply and demand.
The pain didn’t stop. Peter reached for his bottle of extra strength ‘Advil Migraine’, and popped a couple of pills into his mouth. Peter drank Pepsi, avoiding bottled water whenever he could. With his eyes closed, he drifted back in memory, to the night the storm hit, when Bruce fell on the floor of his store, the blood, when Hailey felt dizzy and was escorted by the Doctors into the ER room, that glow, those eyes, it was all so confusing for Peter, he knew better than to think of it, the memory only induced more pain.
He opened his eyes, and saw Hailey standing in front of him. She looked at him for a moment
pensively, and then shot him a smile. Peter was stunned he had not seen Hailey since that night at the hospital. He did hear she was alright through people on the street, that she had recovered; all the sick individuals did, quite spontaneously. Bruce even did, he was working now for an Engineering Company downtown, guess he was lucky to get such a job, considering he had no University or College degree. Peter was happy for him. Peter was glad to see Hailey too looking all grown up in her two piece blue navy business suit. Funny Peter never knew Hailey to wear glasses, now she wore them which did make her look smart. Hailey’s once long curly blond hair was neatly tied back in a bun. She was still pretty but had a look about her that was more beautiful and sophisticated then just a young pretty girl.
“Hailey?” Peter said with a hint of shyness.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“I’ve been working at Pfizer Incorporated, you know the pharmaceutical company. I’m their new head of marketing, making lots of changes for a new advertising campaign. Life is good and the money doesn’t hurt either. You seem well,” Hailey asked while taking Peter’s hand across the counter, squeezed it briefly, and then let it go.
Peter’s heart raced, he was oddly attracted to Hailey.
“Yes, I’m good, same old Peter here, so what can I get you today? Do you want you’re usual Paul Mall Green Menthol’s like you use to get?” Peter didn’t wait for a reply and started to reach over to get the cigarettes.
“No, I don’t smoke,” Hailey said while placing three bottles of water on the counter from the shopping cart.
“You don’t, since when?” Peter asked.
“Since you took me to the hospital, that night,” Hailey said while taking out some cash to pay for the water bottles.
Hailey’s eyes were looking at him intensely, they changed color.
He expected Hailey to be the same old Hailey he once knew, but she was not. He looked at her with a glare of wonder. Those eyes, he never forgot those changing color eyes. This was not Hailey. He was now talking to a stranger; someone he did not know or want to know. His gut told him not to question her anymore.
“Good for you that will be six dollars and fifty cents for the water.” Just give me the money and get the hell out of my store. Sweet Hailey what happened to you that night?
Hailey handed over the money and Peter wrapped the water bottles in a plastic bag and handed it over to Hailey.
“Thank you, take care of yourself Hailey,” Peter said.
“I will, I’ll be seeing you soon Peter, goodbye,” Hailey said while exiting the store.
Peter went to the window, looked out and stared at Hailey.
The parking lot was empty expect for Hailey’s BMW which was now driving out of the lot. Peter continued to look out the window for what seemed like a few minutes but was actually an hour. Peter looked up and gasped. His stomach was now in knots. He saw that another storm was coming. The clouds were darkened. The skies were flashing with lightening and the sounds of thunder were getting louder. The rain began to fall heavier. Peter repeated to himself, “If I just stay here, I’ll be fine, stay here and I’ll be fine.”
Peter forced himself to move despite his fear and decided to close the store early. It was 8:00PM. He would close up the store and sleep in the storage room, the roads would be too dangerous to drive on now, among other things. Peter took the keys from his pocket and locked up the front door. He closed the lights and headed for the storage room which had a nice oversized bean-bag facing a small black and white TV that still had good reception. Peter was sheltered from the storm, he had everything he needed to eat and would just wait-it-out. He sat down on the bean-bag which was delightfully comfortable, he thought relax everything is fine. A sigh of relief swept over him.
“Okay some mind distracting telly should ease my nerves,” Peter said to himself while reaching for the on button. He sat back down and felt a wet drop on his forearm. Peter looked down. On his arm were two puddles of blood that had fallen from his nose. Peter was horrified at the sight of his own blood. This was the moment Peter had feared since that night.
Outside the wind rustled through the branches of the trees. Lightening filled the sky. The thunder sounded like an orchestra playing. A storm was coming, a bad storm. The rain fell with get velocity. Inside the convenience store you could hear the cries of a man yelling and bawling, the sounds echoed and mixed well with the sounds of the rainstorm. Peter always knew they would find him sooner or later. The storm was here.
Stephanie Lamoureux 2015 ©
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