Empty A short story

She woke up late.  Her normal time for waking up and getting out of bed was 7:20, she was so consistent her kids thought it odd. It made getting up any earlier or later difficult.

This morning was no exception. Her feet hit the ground at 7:21. Her article deadline was 9:00. One and a half hours to write a story. Taking her laptop and notebook in the sauna she looked through notes from the two interviews she’d conducted the day before. The heat from the infrared lamps soothed the aches away while a good lead found its way to the page. From there the writing flowed, coming together quickly and well. An hour later the sauna’s one hour buzzer startled her away from the final paragraph and the realization that sweat was dripping down her chest and on to the keyboard. Wiping the laptop down she checked the time.
Alec should be up by now, she thought, wondering if he’d slept in again. The dogs usually greet him as he walks up the stairs from the basement. She’d been so absorbed in writing she hadn’t heard anything. She wondered if he’d learn a lesson this time about alarm clocks and getting to bed at a decent time. But doubted it. He was only 21.
Stepping in to the shower she pondered the closing for her story. It was an important issue, dog training and positive reinforcement. She wanted people intrigued by the concept enough to investigate and learn how to be kinder and gentler with their best friends. Instead of pulling on choke chains or smacking them into submission, she hoped her article would enlighten dog owners in how to train more effectively and with more patience.
Finishing up in the bathroom she called Alec’s name. But he didn’t answer.
Thinking back to the night before, she’d gotten home from agility practice at 9. Alec popped his head out the basement door to say hi and then went back to playing computer games. She knew he’d been home.
Dam, she thought, looking at the clock. 45 minutes before work, just enough time to finish up the story, let the chickens and ducks out, feed the dogs and get dressed.
“Alec you better get up,” she yelled down the stairs. Only silence answered. She felt her shoulders tightening and a familiar knot grow in her stomach. Getting to his bedroom, seemed to take an eternity, the dogs gambling beside her were oblivious, wagging their tales and pushing the door to his room open.
The bed was empty. Empty.
The clock said 8:17. Where was he?
Swallowing the anxiety, she took seven deep breaths, sighing loudly as she released each one.
The first image was Alec laying in the yard, a cougar standing over his body, one had been seen last week in the ravine beside their house and two of the chickens had been killed. One had been carried away.  Trying to be calm she walked outside checking the yard for any signs he’d been out there. She let the chickens out, then the ducks, gave them food and water, delaying going back to the house where she’d have to start calling his name again.
Maybe he went out last night with friends?
In the house she dialled Alec’s girlfriend, after a few rings a sleepy voice said hi. But Amy didn’t know where Alec was either.
“I thought he’d be at school,” she said.
“I did too.”
The next image came in colour, the car in a ditch, half buried in water turning blood red. His girlfriend lives on a winding, dark, lonely road with no cell phone reception. It’s a valid image she tells herself.
“Alec,” she called, looking in his sisters room, the bathroom, outside on the deck.
Nothing. She remembered her six year old self loosing her three month old pup and calling for six weeks until her mother found the lady who picked the dog up and took her home. She remembered calling her daughter’s name over and over as they drove to the hospital, Megan gasping for each breath from an anaphylactic reaction, unable to say “mummy’ or “i love u” or “help me”, her voice disappearing into the fear laced air.
“Alec”, she called again, her voice catching as memories and images ran unchecked.
Distraction was key, control held by only a thread. She went outside again, all the while chanting ‘he’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine.”
What could have happened? Could he have gone out last night? She’d fallen asleep early, had she missed something?
She called his phone for the fourteenth time, leaves a text, feels the silence, fights the possibilities, calls his girlfriend again and hangs up before it starts ringing. Checks the bathrooms, calling, always calling.
At 9 she calls her husband. He’s at the gym, maybe he knows something about Alec going out last night or maybe he took him to the gym. But he isn’t there, he’s left already and he isn’t at his office yet.
Suddenly the phone rings, it’s Alec.
“Where have you been?” she asks trying to keep her fear from contaminating him.
“I left early.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course I’m okay.”
“You didn’t tell me.” she said, trying to be calm, trying not to let him know how worried she was, how close to losing it she had come.
“When will you be home?” she asks, pinching the skin on her hip to keep the fear from her voice, wishing she could run away and never feel the tightness in her chest, the weakness in her legs, the burning in her stomach ever again.
After they say their goodbyes, she sits at the table, waiting for the after math; the flushed skin, exhaustion and muscle weakness. One of the dogs comes over and rests his head on her knee and she gently rests her hand on his soft fur. Breathing deeply, she conjures an image of Alec playing badminton surrounded by his teammates and coaches then she sees him taking the stairs two at a time until he gets to the science department and the lab where he is working on a grant to analyze the water quality of tailing ponds. In her vision he’s enveloped in a golden bubble that keeps him safe from harm. Last year a friend said that was what she did when her children left home. Visualized them protected by a gold sphere.
When she felt calmer and her legs had stopped shaking she went downstairs into his room, made his bed, picked up his dirty clothes and put his laundry in the washing machine. She didn’t normally do this for him, but needed the comfort of the everyday, ordinary act of cleaning up after her son. She wondered if it ever got easier. If once they lived away from home, she wouldn’t feel the need to worry to keep them safe. Walking up the stairs she noticed the rain had stopped, it was almost time for her and the dogs to head out for their walk, but as she was shrugging into her coat the phone rang.
“Hi Mrs. Alverton. It’s Luke calling, is Ariane there? I haven’t been able to get a hold of her since last night. Has she come home yet?”
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