He preferred order, routine, the safety of the expected. He took the same route home from his job as an actuary every day. He had a standing haircut appointment the third Saturday of the month and hadn’t missed a trimming in six years. He ate out just once a week, Friday night, and always at the same Chinese restaurant.
Growing up, he’d been nervous and solitary, mostly speaking when spoken to and otherwise keeping to himself. If life was a meal, Leonard had only nibbled at it. As he matured, his hunger for life grew but he hadn’t known how to begin. By devising routines and schedules that stabilized the restless world, he found himself finally able to eat with other people.
Leonard’s life seemed immeasurably dull to those who desired novelty and variety. But not to him. He took pleasure in not contending with the changeable lives others led, appreciated that his schedules kept at bay the world’s roaring chaos. It kept him sane, he told people when they asked, which wasn’t often.
He didn’t know how true that was.
Diane, Leonard’s wife, appreciated the calm stability he brought to her life, coming as she had from a first marriage marked by unpredictable fists. But two decades into their quiet, pleasant union, she began to feel that the world might hold greater pleasures if one were open to a little risk. And so she started suggesting to Leonard that he loosen his grip.
He resisted at first, saying he didn’t see the need, but secretly afraid. Over a month or two, Diane gently cajoled him into a resigned agreement.
And so one sunny morning, instead of turning right at the end of the street, he headed left, taking a new route to work. It seemed an almost meaningless decision until he passed the movie theater advertising an all-day film festival featuring one of his favorites: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The chance to see the movie on the big screen for the first time in years, and to inject a second impulsive act into his day, compelled him. He called in sick (his first sick day in three years; his first feigned sick day ever), and idled away an hour in a coffee shop waiting for the theater to open.
He enjoyed the film immensely and congratulated himself for his willingness to shrug off his self-imposed restrictions, thinking he’d surprise Diane with an impromptu lunch date.
It had been a clear, sunny morning two hours earlier, but things had changed while he watched the movie. It had rained, and rained hard. The streets were soaked, the gutters backed up. The clouds hung low and heavy and the lights in the parking lot had been turned on, revealing his to be the only car present despite passing a smattering of cars when he entered the theater.
It wasn’t until Leonard was heading home that he realized there were no other cars on the road, no buses. As he passed one strip mall after another, the shops were closed, the lights dimmed. Was it a holiday that he had forgotten?
The house was dark, Diane nowhere to be found. He picked up the kitchen phone, but instead of a dial tone heard nothingness. He jiggled the cradle a few times, to no effect. He looked at his cell phone, but it indicated no signal. The computer couldn’t connect to the Internet. The TV offered just a snowy chaos.
Leonard walked his block up and down, knocking at neighbors’ doors, hoping someone could explain what was happening. But their lights were also out.
Unsure what to do, Leonard drove back towards his office via his normal route. He saw no one.
The office was empty. He walked to the wall made entirely of windows and looked out on the small city, searching anywhere for signs of life: a lit window, a moving car, a pedestrian. But he found none. He was alone.
With the grasping conviction of the lapsed superstitious, he sat down at his desk and began reviewing the risk mitigation reports he’d been handed yesterday, hoping to rejoin the current of life he’d left that morning.
But a man can’t step in the same river twice and it was too late for Leonard. He had, without realizing it, turned his back on the sturdy scaffolding that had kept chaos at bay.
© Sam Costello
Sam Costello is a writer living in Providence, RI. Has fiction has appeared in Punk Planet. His short horror comics have appeared in Cthulhu Tales, Negative Burn, and his horror webcomics anthology, Split Lip, which can be found at http://www.splitlipcomic.com.
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