In the Before Times (something he always called it in his head but never out loud, at least not since that one time he said it and Doc Wendy looked like she’d take his head off) Henry had never been an early riser. His parents, his bosses, his professors, his coaches, they had all tried all sorts of crazy things to get him somewhere on time before ten o’clock. Alarms that were loud enough to tear a hole in his eardrum. Alarms that required he solve a math problem or a puzzle before they shut up. Cold buckets of water. Nothing ever worked for long. Henry just loved his sleep.
Spring had finally come to the Biddies, but only because Marietta had said it had.
Birdie had spent the night pacing in front of her bed, tossing this way and then immediately getting uncomfortable and turning back the other, pacing some more, being mad at Wendy, and then being mad at herself, staring out the window at the stars like some kind of sad movie heroine, and finally falling into broken, unsatisfying sleep as she gripped a pillow to her chest. All the while June slept a deeper sleep than he had since he had stumbled into town, not even waking when she had stubbed her toe while pacing.
Wendy flipped through the book. She remembered the pop-science books from when there had been bookstores. Always at the front of the store, on one of the tables people browsed through to kill time but never picked up from. Always colorful with a cutesy title. The books would be hardcover and big, but when you picked them up they seemed to be light as a soul, and the print inside would be huge. Summer or airport reading designed to make you look smarter to strangers.
There were three ways to survive the Blues, and they were not equal. The worst was also the rarest.
Birdie kept herself at a jog as she went through the mall, peering into the stores. If she went any faster, if she started to run, the panic would set in. There was no reason to panic. Not yet. He’d be here, somewhere. The good memories the lit-up mall had brought to her were gone. There was only one memory, the same memory her mind retreated to whenever she became stressed.
The air on the other side of the doors was stale. Mostly it smelled of collected dust, but Nico was almost positive he could still smell the cinnamon and brown sugar from the pretzel stand. It was cold, colder than outside. The further they walked in the heavier the clouds of breath in front of them became. It was a tomb. Darker than he would have thought, too. The ceiling, high above, arched into sky lights that only managed to turn the darkness into a musty gloom.
John Robinson sat at the kitchen table in front of the wood fireplace and wished he had a scotch. Oh, he could have one if he really wanted. He was staring at the bottle in its cardboard case, sitting at the top of the liquor cabinet. No one would say a single word to him if he poured himself a little into one of the tumblers and ‘partook,’ as his Daddy used to put it. But, as far as anyone knew, no one was making scotch anymore. And if they were it wasn’t getting to the Biddies. He had to be choosy about scotch. Everyone had to be choosy about everything, really.
On the corner of Astoria and Sunday on the ridge above Broken Hearts were four Victorian homes. In happier times this was referred to in the town as the Biddies’ Corner, known for the four old women who had lived there and spent much of their lives together in one house or another, playing bunko and drinking gin. Not a one of them had survived, although the word had been Mrs. Rockby had tossed herself down the cellar stairs before the disease could get her.
The little town of Broken Hearts in the mountains of Colorado looked very pretty. All of the lights were off, of course, and there were no cars parked along the side of Main Street. But the street and the sidewalks had been shoveled and salted. The trees that lined the street had been trimmed. Most of the windows of the shops and cafes and the bank weren’t just intact, they were clean and decorated for Christmas. The few windows that had been broken had been neatly replaced with large sheets of plywood. It looked like a charming, functional hamlet, and the man walking down the middle of Main didn’t know no one lived there at all.