by Brett J. Talley
When the wind comes to Los Angeles, it blows dry . . . and hot. It creeps up quietly. Sneaking up behind you, like a thief or an old friend. Sometimes it tickles your senses, caresses your neck. Other times it hits hard, like a slap in the face. It brings the smell of heat, the taste of dust. It nuzzles your legs like kittens. It nips at your heels like dogs. It pats you on the back, it rubs you on the stomach. It surrounds you, envelops you, embraces you. Makes you sweat.
That’s how it was that summer, like all summers, when it came. Slowly at first. Trickling down the mountains, dancing down Mulholland, sweeping through its dark corners, its hidden places. Loping down Sunset and Cahuenga. Furtively, secretly. But then with a roar, a howl. The wind came, like it always did. But that summer, it was different.
The wind carried more than the dust, more than the heat. It brought a shadow, a cloak of fear, a shroud of secrets. We all heard it. Heard its murmured warnings, its whispered cries. Then we saw it on the news. First with laughter and smiles. A joke it seemed, hallucinations of drug-addled minds. Reports of a wild animal in the hills, they said. The Beast of La Brea some called it, mostly in jest. But then they stopped laughing.
It was the animals that were struck first. The birds, the squirrels. And then the dogs and cats. Disappeared without a trace. Without blood, without remains, without struggle, without sound. No one ever saw what did it. No one ever knew where they went.
There were rumors, of course. Twice told tales. Sarah’s friend’s boyfriend says he saw a shadow move across his backyard, the night his dog went missing. Probably a coyote someone said. Maybe. But then it wasn’t just dogs and cats.
It seemed I overheard a different story everyday. In cafes and coffee shops, in beauty parlors and boutiques.
“Did you hear about the Johnsons?” they’d ask.
“Nobody knows,” they’d say. “One day they were there, the next they were gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said. One day they were there. Becky Johnson went to school. Dave Johnson went to work. Alice Johnson stayed home. The next day, they didn’t.”
“Did someone call the police?”
“Of course someone called the police.”
“What did they say?”
“They don’t know. They say that when they got to their house, everything was in order. Nothing was out of place. They even fixed breakfast.”
“Yeah. If you believe what you hear, the coffee was still hot.”
“I just know what I hear.”
And so it went. I’d walk down the street, my street, in Silver Lake, like I did every summer. The wind would blow around me, tickle my senses, carry me along. But every day it seemed the people on the street were just a little bit fewer, just a little bit less. Where they went, I didn’t know. Whether they hid in their houses in fear, cowering behind locked doors. Or whether there was no one left to cower.
There was an old man. He used to stand on the corner of Griffith Park and Hyperion and sell fresh fruit. Some days it seemed like he was the only one left.
“Business is slow,” he’d say. “Business is slow, and I think it’s gonna get slower.”
“Why do you say that?” I’d ask. He’d just chuckle.
“You know as well as I. Look around. Where are they going?”
“I don’t know. Away?”
“That’s certain. It’s the wind, you know.”
“It came down different this year.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just came down different. Like it had a purpose. Like it had a hunger. It’ll take us all, I suppose. The wind. Before it’s gone.”
“But it’s just the wind,” I pleaded.
“Ain’t it always just the wind? Or is that just what we tell ourselves. When we hear or see something we can’t explain. But sometimes . . . sometimes it’s more.”
The next day, the old man was gone.
But the wind remained. Blowing through the empty roads, the alleys. Swirling in deserted parks. Parading down abandoned subway tunnels. No one to kiss. No one to touch. No one but me.
I don’t know what I’ll do now. I went to my high school yesterday. There was no one there. No teachers. No students. No parents. Truth is, my mom and dad disappeared a week ago. They didn’t leave a note. They didn’t even take the car. I guess I didn’t want to believe it, not at first. There’s no denying it now.
The electricity still works. The plant’s running on its own. But how long will that last? How long can it? It’ll go soon. And when it does, the world will go dark. But the wind still knows the way.
I turn on the TV every now and then, just to see. There’s nothing on now, of course. Not that there ever really was. You might have thought there would have been an emergency broadcast at least, but there’s not. Whether it happened so slow that no one noticed or whether the world didn’t want to see, it all ended with a whimper, not a bang. Just the blank blackness of electricity on a screen.
Truth is, I don’t know if there is anyone else left in all the world. I took the car yesterday to the city. Right to the heart of Los Angeles. I don’t know what I thought I would find. But I know what I hoped to see. Death, destruction, blood. Signs of a disaster. A disaster I could understand. A disaster my mind could take. But that’s not what I found. It was quiet, empty, and perfectly in order. It was as if the city went to sleep and never woke up. The same as everywhere else. Perfect silence, perfect stillness. Except for the wind. Running down the streets. Brushing through the palms.
I didn’t come back till it was almost dark. As I pulled the car into the drive, I thought I saw a shadow move behind me. I tried to make it out, as much as you can a shadow. Can’t say I saw much, but I guess my mind made up for what I couldn’t see. And in my mind, I saw a beast. A great stalking terror. With massive shoulders, loping on all fours. Fiery eyes and sharp teeth.
“It’s just the wind,” I murmured to myself. Just the wind, blowing through the trees. Casting shadows on my soul.
I don’t know what I’ll do now. I guess I’ll wait. The same fate awaits all men, right? In the end? I guess the same fate awaits me. When will it come? I don’t know. Why does it wait? I can’t say. But I do know this. When the wind comes to Los Angeles, it blows dry . . . and hot.
Originally published June 2011 in the Absent Willow Review.