pandemic tales from the dark side of dystopia
The Amtrack train depot in Rutland, VT was the last stop. It was a quiet working-class town in a valley at the foot of a mountain full of snow-based winter sports, ski lodges and resorts. Tabitha’s big old suitcase tumbled off the train, caught up with her black Frye boots as she stood akimbo, struggling to pull the oversized suitcase down the metal stairs onto the concrete of the station platform.
Eddie’s road warrior they’d called it when he first got it for his tours. They’d joked it was big enough for a body. Now it was time to find out if that was true or not.
She needed to get to the Verde Inn, about thirty minutes north. Since the pandemic had made it impossible to get even an Uber or Lyft, the inn sent a car for her. The driver was a dead ringer for silent Bob in Clerks. After clambering into the minivan, Tabitha stared out the windows at the stragglers loitering in front of the nearby Walmart.
This was a place where desperation festered. Fueled by stimulus checks and social welfare, a few oily men with overripe bellies straining the linings of parkas, and a woman pushing a stroller who looked like she’d just rolled out of bed, flocked to greet the departees, spilling out of the station like cockroaches and rats fleeing the storm drains. The down and out Walmart dingleberries perked up like half wilted plants smelling the rain of drug dealers flowing in with the trains. Perfect synergy for pandemic times.
Once they got on route 7, Tabitha asked the driver, to stop at a gas station. She needed to pick up some waters. This was the critical element of her plan. To get to the hotel room ahead of Allison and get the doctored water there and waiting.
Silent Bob helped her schlepp the suitcase onto the luggage dolly. He smiled, nodded and stepped back toward the minivan when she slipped him a twenty.
Walking in through the double sets of wooden doors with antique stained glass, she was ensconced in a glowing late afternoon amber hued world; a nostalgia inducing scent of maple and wood stove. The older man at the front desk looked up and slipped the mask hanging from his ear over his face.
“Can I help you?”
Dressed in aviator sunglasses, slouch cap, black mask and wearing Eddie’s charcoal gray overcoat, Tabitha made her voice deep enough to at least pass for androgynous, if not a man. “Checking in.”
She signed a waiver about COVID safety procedures and lied that they had already done the two-week quarantine. She flashed Eddie’s license. They were about the same height but she doubted this kindly older gentleman would look that close. Her masculine-sounding horse voice explained, “my partner Allison Kimball will pick up the key at the desk.”
The hotel was at least a hundred years old with a fireplace in the lobby and gilt framed warbled mirrors reflecting a ballroom full of Dutch colonial furnishings. Tabitha used one of Edward’s credit cards, signed and rolled her road warrior suitcase across the parquet floors.
The glass enclosed vintage elevator, framed in iron and oak, had a manual scissor gate. Tabitha pulled the accordion metal closed before creaking and grinding slowly up to the third floor where her family suite was.
Opening the door to suite 322 was a feast for the eyes. She took in the peacock themed period room, with its busy patterned wallpaper dominated by a topaz blue king-sized bed. Bay windows overlooked the busy main street below, centered around the tiny gazebo in the town green.
Tabitha had booked the multi-room suite to avoid any questions or issues. Vermont was famous for its live and let live policies, but she wasn’t willing to test it. Pandemic rules left too many unknowns. She opened the ginormous suitcase and extracted smaller items from home like the carefully wrapped Humidor Bourbon, her own backpack of personal items, a duffel bag full of Eddie’s personal effects; phone, wallet, shoes and some clothes. She plugged his iPhone into the charging station near the bed.
Leaving Eddie’s things scattered about, she hid her backpack in the armoire and covered it with extra pillows and blankets.
Wearing the slouch cap, mask and dark sunglasses, Tabitha let herself out to go for a walk as soon as she’d scribbled a note in Eddie’s standard caps script. “Went to get food, back soon.” She left the waters beside the note.
Alrighty Aphrodite come and get it.
The little Vermont town had all the charm and sparkle of Woodstock with a quiet underlying feel of working-class Rutland. Tabitha found an open pub and donned her mask. They didn’t have her favorite Bourbon, so she ordered a double Whistle Pig whiskey instead. Bikers whizzed past the front window in their helmets and masks. The stifling sense of impending doom lifted after her second whiskey.
She needed to give Allison plenty of time to get to the hotel and consume the water. What she didn’t need was for that bimbo to be awake when she returned. But just in case, Tabitha had a taser in her purse. She took out her own phone and checked her list. Everything seemed in order.
Leaving the pub, she found a restaurant with decent food and French wine. She ordered the salmon special. Lingering over her escargot, she watched pedestrians outside, hobbling in their masks from the hardware store to the pizza shop. Life creeped and crawled on despite absurd constraints on personal space and freedom. She was getting the stink eye from the waitress even though she was one of only three patrons. They had to close early. New state mandate.
Upon returning to the room, Tabitha was pleased to see a blonde tumble of curls heaped on the bed.
“Hello dear.” Tabitha walked over to the bed, scowled down at the unconscious woman, uncurled her hand from around the half empty water bottle. She lifted her limp tanned wrist, noting the candy apple red nail polish on her freshly manicured hands. She rolled here eyes. Who the fuck gets a manicure during a pandemic? Tabitha checked her pulse, “and good night.”
She put on a plastic pair of surgeon’s gloves, picked up Allison’s phone and typed out a plausible suicide text after she used her inanimate finger to unlock it.
A smile slithered across her face as she hovered over the send button. Tabitha looked at this pretty little strumpette Eddie had been fucking behind her back for the past year or so. What she lacked in class was more than made up for in youthful elasticity.
Tabitha stood, opened her medical bag, retrieved the medications. She wandered into the adjoining room to make sure she’d thought everything through. Her mind was whirling, uneasy with indecision. She poured a whiskey neat, swallowed two of her own prescription capsules, finished the glass off and refilled.
Burgundy walls of the sitting room adorned with bookshelves of old volumes. A delicate Cherrywood Elizabethan desk sat under the window while the Dutch colonial furniture faced the fire place. Heavy gold and green accents in the demask tapestries, a pinstriped love seat and velvet armoire.
Tabitha closed her eyes leaned back onto the recliner at the window overlooking the street, contemplating the dosage to get the job done. It was dusk. Faint echoes of indigo and rose flared over the mountain tops behind the lacey white curtains.
Tabitha let her eyelids flutter, then close, falling into a dreamless sleep.
When she woke with a start, it was night. Stars winked at her from the windows.
Is it done yet?
She pulled at the recent memory like a fisherman trying to reel in a giant catfish. Allison’s final text is ready to go. Tabitha scanned the table top. Her black bag open, the syringe laid out and ready to go beside it, just as she’d left it. Dammit, no.
The candlelight beside her battled with the ambient glow of the muted television. Not much to do now but get on with it.
The burning candle unfurled a whisper of rage that was enveloped in an undercurrent of shame. She sat staring at the single candle burning. A symbol of all that had gone wrong. Until a far more startling fact occurred to her. Did I light that?
Has someone been in here while I was asleep?
She looked back over at her works on the side table beside the armchair she’d fallen asleep in from the perspective of a hotel employee. Obviously, a medical kit. Maybe they’d think someone had diabetes. Or a heroine problem. No telling. Need to just get it over with!
A burst of flame popped.
It wasn’t the candle.
She stood. Her gaze shot across the bedroom toward Allison, whose form lay still on the bed. A sheet draped over her inert body.
Did I do that? Tabitha rubbed her eyes. Losing my mind. She reached for the syringe but a shadow caught her eye in the other room. Is it the light or is someone in there?
Tabitha silently made her way across the hardwood floor avoiding the creeks of the old Vermont woodwork.
Fire flickered in the siting room mirror. Smoke plumed out from the adjoining room, luring her toward it. The fireplace was crackling and the orange glow she thought had been the candle burned away the dark night.
“Is someone in there?” Tabitha hovered by the arch of the doorway, hesitating to turn the corner, the syringe clutched in her hand, now extended out in front of her as if it were a weapon.
A deep thrum of laughter sent a peel of shivers up her spine.
No, it couldn’t be…
She turned the corner, entered the sitting room, took in the fire.
The shadows in the flames flickered and spewed forth a strange figure. At first it appeared to Tabitha to be like a child and a cold wind whipped around the room, accompanied by the tinkle of laughter that went from the sound of a child to the surly guffaw of an old man.
The smoke curled, and Eddie’s form emerged with the phosphorescent glow of the supernatural, which gave him the appearance of transparency, and his hair was white with old age; but he had been only in his fifties when he’d died, so it had been black and yet his face was young as if in his twenties when she’d met him.
The orange glow of the firelight in the room gave him a fullness and youthful pallor despite his phantasmagoric spectral appearance.
“Eddie?” Tabitha lowered the syringe to the table, dropped it. She moved toward him.
“That was your plan, Tabitha?” He nodded at the syringe. “Seriously, how did you ever get through med school? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Look, don’t kill Allison. Just don’t.”
Tabitha stopped moving toward him, recoiled as if slapped. “Is that what you came here to say? All the way from the other side to protect your damned whore?”
Eddie shook his ghostly white-haired head. “No. I came here to tell you if you keep going the way you are, it doesn’t end well. Trust me.”
“But I have a plan. I’m going to ditch the body in the lake and then drive to Mexico and stay there for the winter. Then, wherever I want. After I wait out the pandemic.”
“You’re going to get caught.” He closed his eyes, hesitated a moment, then opened them. “Don’t you think a red rabbit convertible is just a little conspicuous on the road? That’s the car she drove here you were planning to use as your escape vehicle. Eventually all credit card statements and trails will lead to here… then what?”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Tabitha started pacing, from the window to the fire.
Eddie pointed to the bed in the room where Allison lay. “Shadows of things, Tabby. I can see them.” He slowly, gravely, silently approached. “Honey….” He looked at her tenderly. “You’re such a dumb ass.”
“Fuck’s sake, Eddie, what should I do?”
“Seriously, Tabby, this just ain’t right… figure it out.” He laughed. The sound echoed and faded. “What, back on pills again?”
Tabitha stopped pacing and stood with her mouth open, eyes glazed. “You know about that?”
“Zonked on pain meds?” He grimaced. “How could I not? Why do you think the extended tours kept happening?”
“But the pills were because of those extended tours, you asshole.”
“It’s a perfect catch 22, my dear,” the Eddie-but-not-Eddie ghost smiled. “My fob for your comb.”
“We were neither and both at fault. But this,” he gestured to his faded ghostly form, “what I did. It’s not your fault and it is not hers either. Tabitha, what the fuck are you doing?”
Tabitha sobbed, leaning forward, her forehead resting on her palm. “I don’t know, Eddie, but I am so angry and I just can’t just keep living the same shit every day. Today is no different than yesterday or next week, in this empty tunnel of nothingness…is killing me.”
“Tabby, you don’t know nothing from nothingness.” He laughed. “So, you’re going to kill her? A kid with her whole life ahead of her? How is that going to solve anything?”
“You and me? We were done a long time ago kiddo. Maybe if we’d let go sooner this wouldn’t have turned out like it did.” He raised his transparent glimmering hands, holding them up before she could speak. “Again, not your fault, but we got to take responsibility for our own actions.”
“Well fuck! What do I do now?”
“That’s up to you, Tabby. Figure it out sweetheart.”
“But, Eddie… wait!” He was disappearing into the swirling flames of the fire, but he turned to wink at her before the smoke swept him away.
Tabitha stared at the fire long after Eddie was gone. “I don’t know what to do without you,” she whispered into the starry still night pouring in from the third-floor window of her rooms at the Verde Inn.