David and Christine didn't get a look at it. Neither can say for sure its color or shape. They’re both left feeling helpless about it. The boys from the empty pools are gone. Their thin little skeletal frames are nowhere in site. And the cans - the cans are gone too. The overdry pools are empty, clean. Makes David think a vacuum played a role in whatever has them now, some long and terrifying thing that can lift a human body this way, by use of suction, by way of tube.
David replays their discovery of the boys in his head. The boys and their berries. He and Christine made their way through the open front door, past the ransacked house, through the merlot covered carpet. They followed the shuffling sound coming from out back, like a pack of dogs rummaging. What he wouldn’t give for that kind of companionship, a little crew to run wild with.
Shirtless boys languidly paced around the lips of empty swimming pools, discarding beer cans into each, filling the bases of the empty pool shapes: rectangles, kidney beans, lima beans, squares. The beer cans lay with dead palm fronds from distant seasons. The empty pool bottoms were full of them, as are the once lively patios, the places of leisure that once overlooked pools filled with aquamarine water. Each of the bone-starved teens carry a can in one hand as they lift and shake the other cans, looking for something.
“What do you get out of it?” David asked a boy. “They cannot hydrate.” The boy glared at this fully dressed man as if he’d blinded him.
“The berries,” he said, low and guttural, from a mouth David could taste the dryness from.
“Berries at the bottom of the cans,” said another boy, taller, even leaner than the other one, eyes rolled way back, slumped against the red clay pool deck. He creaked his neck towards David and Christine. “They got something in them that helps.” He rattled his can, tilted his head way back, tapped its bottom to catch what was left in his mouth.
The boys kept sucking yeast from the corpses of cans while they watched. Each pellitt emits a moment of elation, like a burst of moisture on the tongue. David always had a protective foot slightly in front of Christine, in case the pack grew restless. It’s more terrifying to stare at the deserted than it is to flee in a panic. There’s so much hunger in the eyes of the young. David and Christine are nearing forty - that puts them at a major disadvantage. They may be hungry, but they will always be hungrier, they’ve known the feeling of being full. To the boys, life is all change, it’s these intruders that are doing it wrong. To these boys it is already so, and was so, and will be so.
This is foreign ground now, David thought then. The way these boys looked at them with their cavernous eyes and gummy mouths. He clenched his car keys in his pants’ pocket, released them. He eased his shoulders, tried not to show his discomfort to Christine. Act natural, he kept telling himself.
This place reminds him of Scottsdale when he was a kid. Already as hot back then as it is here now: blow-dryer hot, without a hint of a breeze. David and Christine are already on the run, but they didn’t expect to stumble upon this.
This was David’s mother’s house. His parents’ house actually before they divorced, a place of parties and talking and music and dancing. His parents were a furnace in the room, lighting it, filling all that visited with a sense of their warmth. The plants are just dead stems now. A palm tree was planted when he was young, here, in upstate New York. His dad laughed and said it seemed like “a goddamned joke.” David has a funeral for fall in his head, a trumpet blows. Christine often talks about the leaves falling and the eventual snow, and then the thaw. They’re chasing the last signs of cold weather. They heard Canada is sealing its borders to Americans any day now. But who can be sure?
They barely have time to inspect his mother’s house, barely remember what they came here for because of the disturbing discovery of the skeleton crew, and their even more terrifying disappearance. Just being here means they’re already behind. The state is now officially deserted. The kids were already deserted, and now they’re gone too. Who took all these deserted kids? Just teenagers. They looked like little old men. He finds the safe behind the headboard of his mother's bed. Removes the towel wrapped weapon.
Before they climb into the car in the dead of night David double checks to see that he left the door lock open on the house, as if it will help. “Stupid old man,” he says to himself. He rattles the word around in his head, old, smells the temperature rise off the blacktop. He gets in the car.
David pictures empty beach chairs in parking lots where the pavement keeps rubbing off on his shoes. He imagines the parking lot like the sand on beaches he went to when he was young. He thinks of beaches. Of that beautiful push and pull of the water. He stops himself at water as Christine yawns beside him. He wants to sneak a ration, wants to share one with her, he relents.
“I have to believe,” David says to Christine, “that it’s peaceful, that they’re safe.”
“But it’s probably not. I’m sure that it’s not,” Christine says back, looking at the stripes dashing beneath them on the faded grey highway as the sun blazes above them. “I heard the sound, David, like a jet engine, like some big moving thing.”