Tuesday 5:45 A.M. April 6, 2015
The sun finally broke over the horizon and a few birds were seen in the sky. It was a new day but the same old routine. The red light flashed 5:45 A.M. and the alarm rang loud enough to wake the dead. A young man rolled over in his bed and quickly shut it off. He stretched out all of his tightened muscles, still weary from yesterday’s shift. He popped himself out of his bed to make it, not wasting any time burning sunlight. He grabbed his uniform in his fists and headed for the shower, as per his usual routine.
Breakfast was quick and easy. Time was not his ally on the daylight side, so he kept to his staples: a bowl of plain oatmeal with a glass of milk. Placing the oatmeal container back into the pantry, he realized he was down to his last cylinder of oats, and at that, he was close to empty. He made a mental note to pick some more up in a day or so. Bottles of medication lined his counter, organized first by size, then the symptoms they subdued. Byron sighed. It had been a great few days and even though he was pleased with the results of the new medication, its process was still just as taxing as before. The muted voices forced their presence on his conscience again as the flashes of light he had come to know were centered on their tone. And that tone was not a happy one. No, if he was honest with himself, they were pissed off. In his peripheral, streaks of red and black danced violently with each pill he popped into mouth. Forcing them to behave yet again. “Shut up Carlos,” he spoke at the mirror.
After rinsing and placing his dishes in the sink, he grabbed his store keys and ventured out into the blinding sunshine. Like clockwork, his OCD kicked in, and the double-checking of all the windows and doors began, ensuring that each one was secured. Once outside, he sighed and began his two-block walk to work. Bryon was definitely not the driving type.
He did not seem to notice the deserted streets or the eerie silence that followed him. He gave it about as much attention as he did on most other days, slim to none. His focus was laser spot-on, mostly with his head down watching his feet. His pace, his gait, even the placement of his feet between the gaps in the sidewalk where they were divided was lining up measured with such fanatical precision. He was confident he had lined up with his footfalls from the day before and the day before that.
A few garbage cans laid on their sides, spilled over at the end of a neighbor’s driveway. Put a small pause in his obsessive routine. He quickly righted them and continued on his way without missing a beat. He half-sprinted, half-skipped, catching himself up to where he would have been if he had not stopped. Rounding the last corner, his destination loomed off in the distance, just across the silent street. Various newspaper and circulars flew across his path. He made a mental note to come hit the curbs around the restaurant with his broom and dustpan to get it back up to his level of acceptance.
He approached the door, keys in hand. His awareness kicked into high gear when he reached for the doorknob. The door had been left slightly ajar. He realized he must have done it himself. He was not an extremely forgetful person, but every sixth or seventh time he worked, he would forget to lock up the door behind him. It felt familiar to him, so he felt no trepidation when he reached to push the door open. He stopped only long enough to let it register, more likely to mentally kick himself to not do it again. He walked in secure in his belief that everything was status quo.
His entry was uneventful.
Byron headed to the time clock, and punched in, 6:30 A.M. on the dot. In the four years since his sixteenth birthday when he began working at Nana’s Cafe, he has never once been late. Come rain, shine, snow or lightning. Somehow, he always adjusted and just trudged through it. Without fail he would cross the threshold, none the worse for wear.
He gathered up his cleaning supplies, and headed straight to work. “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” Nana used to chant. Byron eventually got sick of hearing it, so he filled every second of his shift on the clock doing his humdrum routine. He made little games out of it, always trying to get that one spot just one degree cleaner than last time or maybe he would work on how fast he did it. Instead of something taking ten minutes, he would push himself to do it in nine, and so on and so on. Bathrooms are always first and luckily, they were in fair shape. In fact, curiously enough, they were about as clean as he had left them last the night before. Hmmm…very lucky. As it turns out, he was almost never, ever, lucky.
He turned and headed to the dining area and noticed the disarray. He sighed to himself thinking that the night shift forgot to clean up before they left. Once that was done, he headed over to the main kitchen and finished getting the coffee pots ready, placing all the cups’ handles facing to the right. They were lined up perfectly as if the very cups themselves were for sale.
After a quick check of the time on his watch, 7:59 A.M., he walked over to the main window and flipped over the open sign. The small buzzing sound from his watch alerted him to the time. It was 8:00 A.M., he scanned outward to the barren streets wondering where his co-workers were. They were late.
A soft breeze picked up accented by some newspapers seen tumbling down the road. The faint outline of the heading was still visible “Outbreak Spre-“.
He took his breaks on time; he even made himself a small lunch not wanting too much to be taken out of his paycheck. The day was the slowest it has ever been in the history of the café.
No one came into work.
No one was out on the streets of the town.
No cars passed by.
Not even the garage truck, which was late for Tuesday’s pick up as well.
He was alone.
His shift ended at 4:00 P.M.; he clocked out, remembering to keep his promise to himself to lock the door behind him and began his trek home. Deciding to stray away from the sidewalk for the first time, he kept to the center of the street, with his shadow cast behind him as he disappeared around the last corner to his home. His routine would not change the next day or even the next day after that. Despite several days of this, he failed to realize his routine remained the only meaning in his life he had left.
This is Byron.
This is his home town of Dodge City, Kansas.