THE ONE THING
It is an early summer evening. The light and heat will linger in the tiny cul-de-sac neighborhood. Bright figures are skating, thrashing, sprinting, hiding and squealing. They are children who are plotting to make this perfect time of day last forever.
The cul-de-sac is a lively remnant of finer times. The curved street is lined with restored Victorian houses. They are lined up like grand old matrons who have dressed themselves in their finest foliage and who wait for the appreciation of those who adore them.
The carefully restored homes and ancient landscaping provide a mystical world where no one questions the sudden appearance and dissolution of wildernesses, palaces, spaceships and ancient forests. A child can be a princess or an alien, an African Queen or a ninja warrior.
A handful of older children are trying to be cool and sophisticated. They are too young to be allowed to wander out of earshot of their aggressive guardians, but they are too old to play stupid children’s games. They discuss tweets and texts and clothes and enemies. They pretend to know what sex is all about. They have no clue, even in this age of prime time virtual pornography.
In Oakland, California, where it is assumed that they are nothing more than racial statistics, the little ones belie those assumptions during this slice of perfect time. They only have their imaginations, instead of television or the computer, to work with.
The teenagers who do know some things about sex are sequestered in bedrooms, struggling with quadratic equations, listening to forbidden music, talking on their cell phones and practicing for the band. A few pioneers are making out, getting very close to the real thing.
There are watchful women and men, who wash cars, sip coffee and beer, clip overgrown bushes and gossip. A few relax on the front porches that are attached to some of the homes. They play with infants and toddlers, discussing whatever are in the news and whoever is in the playoffs.
Gradually, the air cools. The street empties. Families sit down to dinner tables that are laden with rice and beans, roasted chicken and artisan bread, green salad and cold drinks. Dinner is a never ending battle between small, crazy dinner guest and large, tired host. The topic of S-J-C (Summer School, Jobs or Chores) prompts surly teenagers to provide such enlightening responses as “nothing” and “Yeah, I did it already”.
Mischievous and competitive younger siblings pipe up, loudly providing increasingly surrealistic details about their day. They use the resulting distraction to remove offending food items from their plates without actually ingesting them.
In some houses, there is tension. Money problems. Difficult teenagers. In some houses, there is laughter. Drooling babies put on the floor shows. Dad’s lousy sense of humor gets a workout. In most cases the humor gets the tension under control.
After the sounds of clanking dishes, of beeping computers and televisions, of ringing phones, of yelling parents, of howling babies, of splashy baths, of the thumping of feet and the squeaking of bedsprings, there is relative calm. The house lights gradually go out. The sweet neighborhood settles in for another night.
A van rolls into the cul-de-sac and stops. There is no sound. The engine is not running. Inky wraiths emerge and spread like a disease through the neighborhood. There are eight of them, each one making his way to a darkened home with impossible silence.
A second van arrives and several more dark entities emerge. Several more come in by foot, rapidly making their way to the rear of the houses. All are dressed in black clothing, baseball caps, athletic shoes and anoraks. The letters “F.B.I” are stenciled on the backs of the anoraks.
There is information about this neighborhood that can be obtained from patient observation, official files and computer databases. The wraiths know every fact of life in the cul-de-sac. They know where every person is sleeping. They know incomes, ages and vehicle serial numbers. They know purchasing habits. They know how well (or poorly) the kids are doing in school. They know who owns weapons and they know where it is that those weapons are located.
When all of the intruders are in place, someone blows a piercing whistle. Each and every doorway easily gives way to carefully planted mini-charges. Men pour into the homes, through rooms, up stairways.
Angry shouts, pitiful pleas for help, and sharp orders are the only sounds as the unprepared occupants are shocked out of their sleep. There are no shrieking alarms. No one is worried about the silent alarms. These are all serviced by one company. That company made a special offer to the entire neighborhood a few months ago…
Because these are uniformed men who are apparently from the FBI, no occupant, not even the men who work in law enforcement, tries to reach for a weapon or to put up resistance. Within seconds, it is quite obvious that something is horribly wrong. There is no gunfire, only slight spitting sounds. The few occupants who are not killed instantly are horrendously wounded, yet still unable to accept what is going on. The screams and cries decrease until there is only the hiss and spit of the silenced weapons.
The dreadful spitting sounds go on for a wile as the men comb every room, locating and killing every occupant. When their task in complete and every resident of the cul-de-sac is dead or mortally wounded, the men begin to search for flammable items. Paint thinner, lawn mower gasoline and rubbing alcohol is all put in the center of the first floor of every house, along with the bodies of the murdered occupants.
Again, sound pierces the ragged night. It is the whistle. Simultaneously, one horrible, volatile mound in each house is ignited. The men flood out of the houses and into the waiting vans. Within three minutes, forty men and four vans are on the I-80 freeway, heading toward the Sacramento Valley.
It takes thirty minutes for fire engines to arrive at the blazing cul-de-sac due to the strange coincidence of several abandoned cars that were blocking the street that leads to the neighborhood.
© Edith Rene Allen 1998