Dusk

One

I

David Engle cursed under his breath as he jumped back, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car for the sixth time. One would assume, he thought furiously, that there would be a break in the traffic at some point! He was on the right-hand side of the highway, pinned between the concrete wall behind him and an unceasing line of cars, all moving at least seventy miles per hour, in front. Less than fifteen minutes ago, David himself had been part of this never-ending high-speed current of steel and exhaust that lay before him. He had been taking a dollar out of his wallet – an act that he had since decided was stupid – when his car hit a bump in the road, which, in turn, made his wallet fly out of his hands and through the window.

David had instantly pulled over, and had been in the same position ever since. He couldn't just leave his wallet; it contained his credit cards, driver's license, and a little over a hundred dollars in bills. He thought his library card was in there too, but David couldn't even remember which branch it was for. Even worse was the fact that he could see his wallet, over in the far left lane. It hadn't been damaged yet, due to it being in the center of the lane. Every car had missed it so far.

There was a break in the cars, and David rushed across the highway. He got to his wallet this time, but before he could reach down for it, he heard a semi's blaring horn. He dove for the side of the road, feeling the hot gust of air from the passing truck before his feet even hit the concrete.

"Shit." David was within easy range of his wallet now, but he was stuck on the wrong side of the road.

II

What the hell is taking so goddamn long? Mark Negel strummed his fingers impatiently on the gas station check-out counter. It was nearing ten minutes, and the fat bitch in front of him still wasn't finished purchasing her shit. Who does all of their shopping at a gas station? Not only was she taking far too long to just check out, she had to bitch about every goddamn thing the cashier was doing. First he wasn't scanning the items in the correct order ("If you do it out of order, you'll tally the tax wrong!"), then he charged her too much ("This coupon expires Wednesday, it's still valid!"), and finally, he bagged her items wrong. God forbid he'd put a bag of potato chips in the same bag as a jug of milk.

"Yeah, excuse me? Can we hurry this up? I really need to get going." Mark tried to control his annoyance, but it was to no avail. The woman in front of him turned around to face him directly, showing herself in all her glory.

"You think I don't? Let me tell you something, dick, you're not the only one with a schedule. I don't need this drop-out venting his frustration on my groceries, that I paid for, because he can't get a decent job."

"I really don't care. I only have two items, you're the one that's bought half of the damn store." For emphasis, Mark held up his bag of hot fries, and bottle of Coke.

"I'm not going to hurry up and flatten my bread just because some asshole behind me wants to get home to his beaten-down apartment so he can drink 'till he passes out. Learn to wait." With that, the woman turned back around, and resumed directing the cashier in the 'correct' way to bag her groceries.

What kind of goddamn gas station sells bread, anyways? Again, Mark had to take a few deep breaths to control his anger. To pass the time, he picked up a newspaper from one of the stands, and flipped through it. The headline was about a recent homicide. Local, too. He was currently in custody and the press wasn't getting any information from him. Little was known of the situation, but the victim had been his next-door neighbor, of whom he was supposedly on good terms with. Unfortunately, the victim wasn't available for questioning, because he was dead. The man had shot the neighbor, with a fatal wound to the head.

Damn. Crime wasn't unknown to this city, but homicides, especially intentional ones, were few and far between. Mark checked the date of the newspaper. It was today's issue; the murder had happened yesterday. Mark's main hobby was game hunting, so he worked with guns quite often. He had a collection at home, all in exceptional, working condition, with appropriate ammo for each firearm. With the experience he had, Mark had yet to be the cause of an 'accident' with a weapon; he had never hit a piece of property, let alone a person. He prided himself in his marksmanship and safety in using guns.

"Alright sir, I'm sorry about the wait." The bitch was gone, and Mark could finally check out. He replaced the newspaper, then, giving it a second thought, picked it up again.

"This is all, thanks." He set the soda, bag of fries, and newspaper down, and waited for the cashier to ring him up. He was really thirsty.

After he had paid, Mark took the items, declining to take a bag, and went out to his car. The woman who had been in front of him was still parked, attempting to load all her groceries into the back of her van. As Mark unlocked his car and opened the door to get in, the bitch dropped one of the bags, spilling the contents all over the asphalt. Instantly, a string of curses came pouring out from between her lips. Chuckling to himself, Mark got into his car, and, still watching her flail about trying to pick up her eggs, left the gas station parking lot.

III

Ashley Browning had just managed to begin fading into sleep, for the first time in hours, when her phone pierced through the silent room again, causing her to cringe in pain. Agitated, she rolled out of bed, and stumbled over to the phone. It wasn't ringing anymore. Whoever was calling, the bastard had hung up. I wonder if it was the same guy, she thought wearily. Someone had been calling repeatedly all day today, and she had yet to reach the phone in time before whoever it was disconnected. They never waited for the answering machine, they just hung up. Ashley groaned inwardly in exasperation, and shuffled back to bed. She had been feeling a migraine all day today; she had decided to skip class and just try sleeping it off. So far it hadn't gone away, but she also hadn't managed to get to sleep yet.

Ashley got back under the covers, and pulled a pillow over her head. She had drawn the blinds in her room, and, as an afterthought, thrown a towel over that, to block out as much sunlight as possible. Even still, the remaining light seemed to only make her head throb harder. She had taken some medicine for migraines a few hours back, downing it with a twenty-ounce bottle of water, but it still had yet to take affect.

It seemed that at least something had taken affect: the water. Ashley got up and walked across her room to the restroom. After she was finished, she went over to the sink, and splashed some water on her face. It was only in the mid-seventies in her room, but she was sweating profusely. She hoped the migraine would go away soon, because she was starting to get worried. It had already been almost five hours, but it wasn't gone yet. After a short consideration, Ashley took another two pills for her head, and drank some water out of the faucet.

Without pausing for anything else, Ashley climbed back into bed, and turned over onto her side. No sooner had she closed her eyes, the phone rang again. Ashley was so frustrated she felt like screaming. The high-pitched ring was piercing her ears, making her feel worse and worse every second. Clenching her jaw, she got out of bed again, and pulled the phone off the hook. She tossed the receiver into the wastebasket. There, she thought. Now I won't have to worry about that anymore.

With a feeling of immense satisfaction, coupled with just as much relief, Ashley turned back around and was about to get back into her bed, when she heard a tinny voice coming from the wastebasket. Apparently the guy hadn't hung up this time. With an inward groan, Ashley turned back around and stalked over to the wastebasket, and grudgingly reached down for the phone. As it reached her ear, she heard the last word of what the person on the other end had been saying.

"-Dead?!" Ashley immediately recognized the voice as belonging to one of her friends.

"Hey Stef."

"Ashley! What the hell happened to you? You were supposed to help me study for that trig exam today! Do you have any idea how badly I did on that test?" Ashley cringed slightly and held the receiver away from her ear; the volume of her friend's cell phone was just making her head pound harder.

"Look, I really can't talk right now. I had a huge migraine, so I didn't want to deal with school, okay? I'm going to bed, I'll talk to you later."

"But-" Ashley turned the phone off, and set it back in the cradle. After pausing for a second, she unplugged the phone cord from the base itself, to ensure she wouldn't be bothered anymore. With that, she turned around, slipped under the covers, and finally drifted off into a light, restless sleep.

IV

It had taken far too long to get back to his car, David decided. He was just turning down his street, and the sun was already sinking into the horizon, bathing the street in a surrealistic orange tint, caused from the pollution in the atmosphere. It was David's favorite time of day, and had been since he was a child.

As he drove down the street, David gazed out at the houses he passed. He had moved here almost a year ago, yet it still felt unfamiliar. He hardly knew most of the neighbors; most of them, he had only seen on occasion. The neighborhood really kept to themselves, which David didn't necessarily like. It made him rather uncomfortable, if anything. For the most part, he had tried to ignore it, but he couldn't help wonder what would happen if he ever needed help during an emergency.

While David was watching the houses he passed, he saw a small grey cat walking along the side of the road, which he immediately recognized as belonging to Earl Collins. Earl was one of David's few neighbors that he had gotten to know. He was in his late seventies, almost eighty, and a war veteran. While Dave wouldn't call him a particularly close friend, Earl was still an interesting person to talk to. His wife, Erin, had died several years back, leaving behind her cat, Vivvy – the same cat that David was now watching out by the road. What struck him as being odd was that Vivvy was a housecat, and wasn't allowed outdoors. Earl had never been very fond of cats on the whole, but since his wife had passed away, he had become rather protective of Vivvy.

David pulled his car over to the side of the road, wondering to himself what Vivvy was doing outside. He assumed she had gotten out without Earl knowing, because, to his knowledge, Earl had not let her outside once. David got out of the car, and started to approach Vivvy. She promptly evaded him and ran underneath the car. Cursing, David lowered himself down to his knees on the warm asphalt, and looked under the car.

Vivvy was, of course, hiding under it. David reached out for her, and she cleverly slid from his grasp again, this time running out from under the car, across the street. David wasn't fond of cats, and this was one reason why. Exasperated, he got back to his feet and started to cross the street, but stopped midway as his eyes caught sight of something particularly interesting. Across the street, a few houses down, was a large white tent covering one of the houses. A white van was parked in front of it.

What caught David's attention the most was that this house belonged to Earl. Normally, David would have brushed this aside as just being a routine insecticide spraying, possibly for termites, except Earl, being retired, was tight on money and wouldn't have hired an exterminator to spray his house.

Then again, maybe Earl had decided to hire a professional, David decided as he slowly stepped towards Vivvy. Keeping his eyes on the house, he snatched her up – she was distracted momentarily by a leaf at the time and didn't run away. Not looking away from the large white tent, David got back into his car and drove down to his house, which was just to the left of Earl's house.

He assumed that Earl wouldn't be available to take Vivvy at the time, so he brought her into his own house and set her down, closing the door behind him. David walked past the answering machine, noticing that he had a new message, but not caring to check it. He was sweaty from spending nearly an hour out on the highway, feeling like a frog stuck in the middle of a road, and had a strong desire to get changed and lie down.

David did precisely that.

V

Mark was pissed off.

He pulled into the driveway of his house, and exited the car, slamming the door behind him. The bag of hot fries, which had been sitting, forgotten, in his lap, fell to the concrete and emptied their contents. A small gust of wind blew them across the grey stone. Mark didn't care. They were stale.

He was home, after a long weekend at the NRA convention several cities away. The actual convention had been enjoyable enough, but the drive home had been hell. First he had to deal with that bitch back at the gas station, but things had gotten even worse afterwards.

After the gas station, Mark had driven for several hours without incident. However, the Coke had gone through his body rather quickly, so he had parked at a truck stop to go to the bathroom. After returning, he noticed that his back door wasn't closed all the way. Shit. Mark immediately had jogged over to his car and opened the door completely. It only took him a few seconds to realize what was missing – his rifle. Shit shit shit. He had taken his hunting rifle with him to the NRA convention. His car doors hadn't been locked. Someone had stolen the gun.

Shit.

The parking lot had been empty, too. Whoever had taken the gun was gone.

So, with that, Mark had gotten back into his car and left the truck stop. He decided to call the police and report it as stolen when he got home – he didn't have a cell phone.

It was at this time that Mark had opened the hot fries, and discovered that they were stale. He was already in a bad mood. That made him pissed.

Almost as a kind of finale, while Mark had been nearing arriving home, the sun had set, leaving him to drive in the dark. This especially annoyed him because both of his headlights were broken. He had been meaning to replace them, but headlights were pricey, and he didn't have a lot of money to spare.

Mark had made it home without hitting anything (anything large, anyway – there was no noticeable damage on the front of the car), and was now standing outside of his front door, rummaging through his pockets in the dark (the porch light was broken) for the house key.

"God dammit." Mark swore aloud. He couldn't find them.

Where the hell could they be? He swore again. They must have fallen out of his pocket back at the truck stop. Normally, all of his keys would have been on a key ring together, but his old one had broken. They cost less than a dollar to replace, Mark knew, but it was a hassle all the same. Now he was even more pissed off at himself for not having just replaced the damn thing.

He had a spare key, but the fact that he had lost the original just made the day even worse. Mark heaved a sigh, and got down onto the ground, sweeping his hands across the stone porch, trying to find the hide-a-key rock.

The rocks did a terrible job at hiding keys – Mark was sure that even Helen Keller would be able to tell one of them apart from a real rock – but they were more effective than keeping a tray by the door with a sign over it, saying, "SPARE HOUSE KEY."

Mark straightened up, removed the key, and tossed the rock back onto the ground. It bounced with a thud and rolled off the porch somewhere in the dark. It didn't really matter to him; he'd need this spare key for a while anyway.

The house was dark when Mark entered, and it was dark when he flipped the light switch. Dammit. The circuits must have switched. He didn't want to deal that right now. His day had been stressful enough as it were, and Mark was sure that if he went out back – in the dark – and poked around at a bunch of circuits, he'd break something else.

It was getting late, too. He had been driving for hours, and it was already after ten. He was planning on getting up the next morning to go hunting, and decided to just go to bed.

Mark shuffled to his bedroom, which was one room over, and dropped onto the bed. He fell asleep within minutes, without even taking his shoes off.