He tells himself it was always like this. How he sees it now is through the eyes of an adult. He saw it differently then, as a boy. That isn’t entirely true, he thinks. It was different then. There was a more communal aspect of the town that has since died. More movement. More businesses, no matter how small or fading. They were there, nonetheless. Trying in a desperate economy. The caboose of an engine before the caboose was phased out.
Now, it seems, whenever he visits, everyone is tucked away in their homes. Behind screens. Big and small. The Infernatron/InterLace TP System has taken them hand in hand into the void. They appear, briefly. Then, they disappear, returning to the cartridge.
Many of the characters are still there. The flesh and bones of the town. They are just older now. Slower moving. It’s the blood that flowed through the veins and the heart that are missing. Extracted. They pulled the heart right out of the chest. The supporting characters. The comic relief. The Falstaffian figures. Much like removing the herbs and spices from a dish. Or, the pretty girl with freckles, embarrassed by the tiny pigments placed on her skin, covers them. A dab here. A dab there. What made her unique, in absentia.
She is gone, too. The happy, happy one. The smell of pot when she passed you by at the post office. The slur of her words. The red in her eyes and shuffling of feet, slow-like. Everyone else’s eyes are so white. And he is gone. The sound of an engine backfiring as it rounded the turn back down the street toward his home. You knew it was coming. PA-POW! But it would still catch you off-guard like a gunshot leveled by your head. How he’d come to the store late at night after riding around drinking a lone double-deuce he kept behind the driver’s seat. Always the same. Insert the coins into the machine. RC Cola now in hand. Kr-quish. Followed by a scratch of his back on the upright post like a bear against a tree. Calm and stoic one minute. Then, he’d let out a guffaw. You couldn’t really call that sound a laugh. It was a guffaw.
And there are others. Maybe younger bodies sit in waiting to replace them. The time just isn’t right. Their age not proper. Or, maybe they too, are tucked away in their homes. Forever and ever.
It was once different. He knew it so. Now, he is little more than a stranger in a strange land. If he lifts the rocks, one by one, will he find that life still scurries where it’s unseen? Perhaps the children are in the woods. Always in the woods. But he hears no shouts, no war cries. He hears no trampling feet.