The day of January Moon’s disappearance

1 – The background of the postcard-sized picture portrayed a small child suspended on a swing. The child’s face was frozen with the wonderment of adolescence and the sheer joy of the moment while the foreground offered only a blurry glimpse of radiant coffee colored eyes, dark hair and the bright smile of a woman so beautiful a halo shadowed over her. This attractiveness emanated from her most of the time, for the love of life she lived and enjoyed day-to-day. Unfortunately, it was the very last picture that was ever taken of her.

That was six years ago, the day of January Moon’s disappearance.

The picture was old, worn by time, and creased in the middle where it was folded over so many times that it had been recently repaired with Scotch Tape. He carried it with him everywhere he went. Each time he pulled the photograph out of his pocket to look at it, an unintentional smile broke out across his face and he vividly recalled that gorgeous day.

Together, they strolled through Central Park, holding hands and laughing at something so ridiculous, he could recall it with pristine detail. It was spring, late April, flowers in bloom, the smell of fresh cut grass and scented mulberries throughout the park, when a ball flew from the playground as he attempted to take the photo. As she began to fall, January caught herself with outstretched hands, grasping for his, at the same moment he had pushed the button on his cell phone. It is evident in the photo, though it’s nowhere near professional, that not even the ball under her feet or the gravity working against her could remove the look of love from her face. It always seemed to be present with her.

He would give anything to be able to see that look again.

She had played hooky to be with him that day. It was a week after Samuel asked her to marry him when his promotion came through at work.  After ten years of working as a bank teller, he had finally made it into the big office of Branch Manager. She had insisted that his first day as the new boss required a celebration, so January had arranged a small picnic in Central Park during his lunch hour.

  

It was nothing overly fancy, simple even. January had prepared ham sandwiches on toasted rye with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Samuel’s favorite. She packed two kinds of chips, Doritos and Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion. Sometimes he liked the variety. To wash it down, and because she knew he wasn’t one to drink wine or alcohol during work hours, she had powdered Pink Lemonade already pre-mixed in water bottles. It was sweet, romantic, fun and adoring. All the things that Samuel thought he could never have.

That hour had been special for him. To have someone who cared enough, and to make the gestures that she had that day, was something he never developed during any previous relationships. That day was the day he knew he had made the right choice in asking for her hand in marriage. January Moon had made him feel like a man that could accomplish anything.

When he returned from lunch, his office staff had picked up a small cake and surprised him with a congratulatory celebration in the breakroom. They all had worked together for years and they seemed genuinely happy that Samuel was their new boss.

Once back in his office, he phoned January to thank her for the lovely lunch hour they spent together, but she didn’t answer. He left a quick voice mail thanking her more than once, and reminded her they were going out for dinner with friends at seven. Their best friends, Shelly and Jack, who lived in the same building, found out that Shelly was pregnant only yesterday. It seemed to be a great week for everyone.

Then, like the smile that overruns his face every time he sees the picture, it faded now as he remembered the rest of that day when it went from fantastic to heart breaking.

When he returned home around six, January was not in their apartment. He called out to her as he put his keys on the counter and threw his jacket over a chair in the small dining room area. When she didn’t answer, Samuel checked the bed and bathroom. She was nowhere in the apartment. After he walked through the small residence again, he wondered where she could be. She knew they had plans and it wasn’t like her to be late.

  

He called Jack, who was two floors up, and asked if January had gone up early. He figured maybe she was helping Shelly get ready, but she wasn’t there either.

Jack stated, “Shelly was actually looking for her this afternoon. She thought January had taken the day off and was at home today.”

Immediately Samuel’s heart sank and he knew she hadn’t been back to the apartment since lunch.

After some thought, he told himself not to jump to conclusions. He wasn’t someone who panicked often but January was special. He reminded himself instead that January is a strong and independent woman, only a couple of the things that he loved about her.

She’ll be ok, he thought.

 

By nine, he couldn’t help it anymore; his worry grew into full-fledged panic.

Jack and Shelly had come downstairs to sit with Samuel, who was now on the phone with the police, who were of course no immediate help. The rule of thumb is that a missing person’s report could not be taken until said person was missing for more than 24 hours. Samuel cursed into his cellphone and then slammed it down on the counter.

“They won’t even listen to me,” he said angrily to no one specific.

And it didn’t get any better from there.

The next three weeks was a blur for Samuel. The police finally took the report and looked for January throughout the city, but there were no clues for them to follow. She had simply disappeared without a trace. She didn’t take any clothes or property from the apartment and all her music C.D.’s, her makeup and family pictures remained in the same place they had since the day they moved in.

Jack had taken time off work to be with Samuel, and together, at least five times now, have searched every inch of Central Park, the last place January was seen. Samuel himself had quit his new Bank Manager position and was putting everything he had left in savings into finding January. In three weeks, he had spent over twenty thousand dollars.

Several private investigators were working on the same missing person’s case, and like the police, no one could come up with any clues as to her whereabouts. Samuel had also thrown money at people on the streets offering staggering amounts for information on his fiancé, only to be told the same result. They knew absolutely nothing.

Three weeks of misery in, nothing was getting better. When Samuel was convinced things couldn’t get any worse, the fourth week was literally world ending. In a matter of days, groups of people began to come down sick. Hospitals were flooded by walk-ins. Residential calls for police and fire rescue units were ineffective, they could do nothing more than provide emotional support until medical personnel became available. In less than a day, phone calls were going unanswered.

Jack had stopped by Samuel’s place on his way home from work, a routine he had taken up over the past few weeks to check in on his friend. That had been when Samuel noticed Jack’s red nose, sore and cracked. It was so awful that it was the first thing he had concentrated on, other than January, in days. Jack looked as if he was going to fall over.

“What the hell is wrong Jack,” Samuel asked horrified.

“I don’t know,” he responded, “It came on fast. I just wanted to check on you before I went up and went to bed.”

“You need to go to the hospital.”

“I’ve been.” Jack staggered and grabbed the doorway jam to remain standing.

“There is a line out the door. People with the same thing. I think it’s an outbreak of some kind.”

Samuel helped Jack upstairs. He didn’t think he could make it on his own.

Inside of his apartment, they found Shelly on the couch, dried blood around her nose and mouth. She wasn’t breathing.

Jack went to her and kneeled on the floor beside the couch, shaking her, trying to wake her.

Samuel dialed 911 only to get a busy signal. He retried several times but to no avail. No one was coming to help.

He looked out the window of Jack’s apartment, they were only on the fifth floor, but he could tell chaos was already here. The traffic was backed up and he saw a few cars driving on the sidewalk, no cares as to the people on them, trying to get anywhere. Most people were moving slowly, as Jack did, likely stiff and sore from whatever disease was tearing through the city. Even the common cold could leave you achy.

Samuel went back to console Jack, but he didn’t have the chance. Jack lay slumped on his wife’s chest, dead.

Within the next week, the virus had ravaged the world and looked to be gone. Damage done. Billions, it was heard, died around the globe. No one knew the exact cause or the exact numbers of survivors but pockets of people remained.

Over the next year, power plants failed. Though many were shut down correctly before everyone died, or emergency shutdown procedures kicked in, there were a few that did not. Three nuclear power plants in the United States went critical and caused meltdowns. In Arizona, Montana and Ohio, the areas surrounding those power plants were now all devastated with a 200-mile radius of nuclear winter. Of course, this is only rumor coming from travelers who have ventured into New York from other places. There could be more.

Fires raged it seemed like for years. City blocks remain scorched everywhere he goes by the black soot of fire. He’s traveled as far as Washington with groups of people from his colony collecting provisions and has seen first-hand the damage done by fire to what was once our nation’s capital.

Animals, the cows, the pigs and especially dogs, now run wild. The domestic side of them regressed. Canine attacks continue to grow more and more by the day, people are being attacked daily, but because they do, most nights survivors do not go hungry. If they could stop the animal before any real damage was done, a midsized dog could feed a small group of ten.

Samuel is a survivor as everyone else left on earth is. Living day to day, he has learned over the past six years to hunt, fish, make a fire and shoot a gun. His MBA in this new world means nothing. Without a gun, survival would be hard, but even now, bullets are getting harder and harder to find, although he did find two bricks of fifty in a house last week. That was the best score he’s had in quite some time.

Samuel stood, folded his blurry picture of January and stashed it away next to his heart inside the pocket of his tattered army jacket. He was never in the Army, this jacket he took off a dead soldier he had found on the streets years ago. He was bigger then, six years back, now the jacket draped on him because of the weight he’s lost. He could get another, off a thousand racks across the state, but this one is sentimental and warm.

He looked out over the city from the Brooklyn Bridge and saw the dirty streets and tattered buildings of a place he no longer calls home, but lives. Abandoned cars flood most of the streets along with dirt and garbage that has begun to collect around them. Plant life has found its way through the cracks of concrete streets and sidewalks, and green has begun to grow around just about everything.

Nothing looks the same as it once did. The world had changed and Samuel had changed with it.

January Moon - Chapter 1

© 2020 by Eric Sikes