#saturdayscenes from my upcoming Deserted Lands novella - TOILS & SNARES, a parallelequel to ALL IS SILENCE and a companion piece to STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS. This is the second scene and introduces the missing daughter from last week's scene. You can read last weeks scene here: https://plus.google.com/114306447211441312799/posts/WFgBxJgYznn
1197 words.

Maria Hernandez slipped into the quiet house as the sun set over the hills. She’d found the door swinging open. She closed it behind her. All the lights in the house were on. She glanced back, verifying that James’ truck was at the curb. The car she’d borrowed had made it here, but would it make it back to Portland? “James?” she called softly.

Inside was a mess. The remains of a meal lay out on the table. Many casserole dishes and glasses and bottles on the counter. She saw a photo of James’ mother and sister surrounded by candles and tokens of affection—remnants of a memorial service.   

Down the hall, she opened each door. “Mr. Johnson? I’m looking for James.” She had to know. She wasn’t sure if she loved James, but that didn’t really matter anymore.  

At the last door at the end of the hall she paused. This was James’ father’s room, the door had never been opened when she visited. Maria knocked softly. She thought she heard a sound. With a deep breath she turned the knob. A cloth draped over a lamp shade gave off soft reddish light. There was a body in the bed and another on the floor. As her eyes readjusted she recognized James on the floor curled inward at his father’s deathbed. Oh, God. Not you too. She knelt to kiss him, tears spilled. Her lips touched his forehead. Not cold. Not yet. Her hand felt for his heart. 

James shook. His eyes opened wide. “Ria?” He stared as if he didn’t believe she was real. “Ria?”

“You were sleeping.” She touched his face. “I’m here.”

James glanced around, still confused. His eyes took in the body on the bed and his body returned again into a fetal position. He convulsed. 

Maria wrapped her arms around his bulky body. “James.”  She held him as he sobbed. Her relief at finding him alive kept the tears rolling down her face. “I thought you were dead.” 

He straightened up and opened his arms to her. 

She lay her face on his chest, happy to listen to his pounding heart. “I’m sorry about your dad.”

His big arms held her. His teeth ground together. Then after a few moments, he spoke a strangled, “Thanks.”

They lay there, only moving when discomfort forced them to. Maria dozed until one of her own snores woke her. James shifted underneath her. 

“I’m glad you’re alive, too,” he whispered. 

“You didn’t answer your phone.”

James stared at her blankly. He patted his pockets. “Huh. I don’t know where it is.”

“It doesn’t matter now, I don’t have service here either.” Maria slid off his chest and rested herself on her elbow. “I need you to come with me. Back to Portland. I’m scared. I think we’re safer there.”

“I don’t think anywhere is safe from the disease.” James sat up and helped Maria sit up. 

Maria’s mind raced. How should she tell him? Her heart pounded and her mouth felt dry. Just do it. Tell him. Even with everything that he’s been through. It might pull him up from where he is. She knelt in front of James and held his face in her hands. “I’m scared because,” she spoke soft and gentle, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to our baby.” She watched James process the information. Fear mixed with joy flashed across his face then he shut down to neutral.
“Oh, god.” James’ eyes closed. He turned away from her. After a moment he returned to face her. “I didn’t know if you were dead… But, I. I didn’t know. Now?” His jaw worked. “Ria, I don’t know if I can handle it.”

“It’s okay.” Her hands returned to his face. “I’m here. You’re here.”

“Yeah.” Something softened in his features. “We’re gonna have a baby?”


James stared at her, then his eyes lit up. He jumped to his feet, dragging Maria gently to hers. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off her feet. “We’re gonna have a baby!”

“Yeah.” Maria laughed. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed. “Yeah. You and me.”

James kissed her, she tasted his salty lips. Then he set her down on the floor. “When?”

“I’m not sure. Near as I can figure, in about seven and a half months. That last time… Before you left.”

“I’m sorry I left, Maria.”

“No.” She lay her fingers on his lips. “Any boyfriend who leaves to take care of his dying mother is going to be a good father to my baby. You’re forever forgiven.” 

“Thanks.” He kissed her fingers. “She’s dead.” 

“I know.” 

“They all are.” James turned toward his father. He crossed to the bed and knelt beside. 

Maria went to him and took his hand, kneeling beside him. 

“Goodbye, Father. I know you are no longer here. Take care of Mama and Raya. I’m sorry you and Mama didn’t get to be grandparents.” He knelt and brushed his father’s hair back from his peaceful face. “I suppose I should do something, but there is no one. Hardly anyone left. No one to sings songs or give gifts to.” His voice faded out. “I’ll get some things and then we can go. You wanna drive?”

“Sure.” James handed her the keys. She saw the laser pointer she’d bought him to play with his dog. “Where’s Dozer?”

James shrugged, his jaw tightening. “Got hit by a car. My cousin was drinking and dying.”

“Jesus, James.” Maria wrapped her arms around him and hugged.

“I’m sorry.”  After a moment of stiff hesitation he hugged her back.
On the way to Portland Maria drove James’ truck, her hands tight on the wheel. It had been a while since she’d driven it, but it felt good. 
James sat next to her staring straight into the darkness, quiet again. She didn’t know what to say. All of his family were dead. As far as she knew, none of her family had died. Not yet.

“Father wasn’t sick, but when mother and Raya died… he stopped eating. I wanted him to stay; I needed him.” His body shuddered and he took a deep breath. “But I didn’t tell him. Not until it was too late. It’s like he just decided to die and then he did.”

“He loved you.”

“Not as much as he loved Mama and Karaya.”

“I’m sorry.”

The silence continued. James pushed the radio and spun it to a country oldies station. “Well, we got the old pickup truck and trunk-load of sorrows.”

Maria laughed. “We just need a bottle of whiskey and a dog.”

James didn’t reply. 

“Shit. I’m sorry, James. Dozer.” Maria drove on, wishing she when to keep her mouth shut.

James’ pursed lips smiled though his eyes looked like he was close to a breakdown.

The phone at her hip buzzed. She pulled it out. Missed call. She pressed the callback icon and the out of service notice popped up.

“Damn. I had signal. Missed a call from my dad.” 

“Hand it to me,” James said. “I’ll keep trying.”

About 15 minuted later they finally got through. “Dad?”

If you liked this scene, you can go to http://pubslush.com/project/1961 and become a fan of the next book and get copies of the first book ALL IS SILENCE.
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