Andrée Gendron

The February Editor's Pick Writer is Andrée Gendron

Please feel free to email Andrée at: adgendron50@gmail.com


by Andrée Gendron

Ding Dong.

“Jesus.” Jill Simms shook nearly jumping out of her skin when the doorbell first rang. She was fully occupied with washing clothes by hand in the kitchen sink at the time. The loud, abrupt clanging shot across the high tin ceilings of her Victorian fixer-upper like a bolt of lightning that arced through her skeleton then escaped down the copper drainpipe.

Plop. A mismatched pair of socks she had been feverishly flogging fell back into the cold gray water to rejoin their soaking sisters. That entire room resembled a dark, cramped slum full of dripping wet laundry.

Jill’s bloodshot eyes darted side to side in search of a dry towel. Sadly, there were none, so she reached up and wiped her shriveled fingers on a dusty ruffled curtain as a bit of canned ravioli from breakfast crept up into her esophagus. She winced, fought down the bile, wishing her stove worked. Jill was saving up for a gas range since some idiot had replaced the old one with a useless electric range. Thankfully the old gas line and shut off valve was still intact.

Rather than answer the door straight away, she tiptoed across the wet puke-chunk-patterned linoleum floor (yet another so-called home improvement courtesy of unknown idiots) then inch-wormed down the hall to the foyer closet hoping to hear four more rings. That was the ‘all safe’ signal her friend Matt Peterson set up—five rings spread out, not all at once. He had been a local cop and a former beau who needed to move two counties away to marry well but kept in touch with his high school chums.

Jill’s powerless house was darker still inside the closet. She felt around for one of the potential weapons she had stashed in there: a broom, two wet mops, one crutch, hiking poles, a busted snow shovel…

She came away with a wooden baseball bat.

Ding-dong. A second ring got her to relax but only slightly. She needed to hear three more rings. She prayed for them to follow soon. The thought of having to use a weapon on her neighbors was terrifying, sickening, but something dreadful had happened two nights before in their peaceful, bedroom community. Jill didn’t have a violent bone in her body but knew she may have to defend herself.

That critical moment of needing self-defense had quite possibly arrived.


It was windy that first day and rained off and on. Nothing unusual there. But as Jill was getting ready to call it a night, everything changed.

The typical autumn rain shower suddenly turned into a sour smelling squall around 9:30 p.m. She recalled hearing the 9:15 train whistle blow just north of town at the Mill Street crossing. Shortly after that, the steady breeze became gusty.

Jill started to run one last trash bag out to the bin by the road when something foul in the air stung her eyes and her nostrils, and left a bad taste in her mouth. She instinctively dropped the trash and retreated indoors via the side entrance mudroom. Jill gargled and spat out whatever that was burning in her throat first then hurriedly peeled off and bagging up her wet smelly grub duds shoes and all. After that, she ran upstairs stark naked and took a long, painful shower. Since all the windows were already closed tight, it was not unreasonable for her to presume the air inside her home was safe, but she owned a respirator and would keep it handy as a safety precaution.

After a head-to-toe inspection in a full-length mirror, Jill seemed no worse for wear. Hazard averted, she thought. Her skin felt too sensitive to dry off with a towel. She skipped her usual shower shave and opted against using any lotion as well worried it would cause an adverse reaction. Jill noted a distinct slouch in her posture and feared the early onset of rounded shoulders; something all the women in her family eventually developed. Otherwise, her mid-forties figure still looked firm and fit.

Once she changed into clean clothes, she noticed her long thick hair still felt oily. She pulled it forward, sniffed it twice and shrugged. It smelled like her mango peach shampoo. Nothing more. Closer examination only showed that a half inch band of gray roots needed touching up beneath her bottle-blonde locks. One eye looked irritated. Pink.

She stayed inside, watching the gale rage on but found it difficult to sit still. The strange event had left Jill feeling jittery. Next, the power cut out just after 10:00 p.m. The world outside seemed to take on a surreal glow. She noticed how the odd, oily rain beaded up and rolled off everything then formed iridescent puddles.

Jill spent a fitful night on her couch marked by disturbing dreams. She prayed for the dawn but only awoke to discover that the worst of it was yet to come.

That morning, she was roused by a loud crash, and someone was screaming. Getting up from the sofa wasn’t easy. Her skin felt tight as if it had been scorched although it appeared only slightly red. She had taken a few painful steps to the picture window then peered through the drapes. Her head hurt as irritated eyes were hit by the unfiltered rays of sunlight.

After taking a moment to adjust her sight to the outside, she saw people she knew wildly waving their arms and shouting while running down the road away from something—apparently, each other. They were all carrying random makeshift weapons.

Jill felt astonishment when she saw a brief skirmish between the banker, Carl Knapp, and a storekeeper, Thomas Templeton, both close to retirement age. They each drew blood with a boxcutter, then scurried off to stab and slice others.

More people ran by, skirmishes broke out, blood was shed. Jill noticed their skin was stained with bright red blotches. She also saw that the oily puddles had soaked into the not-yet-frozen earth but left behind a rust-colored residue all over the ground, the driveway, and on her white SUV.

The ‘red madness’ was everywhere, on everything and everybody.

“That must be what’s behind all this,” Jill whispered to no one. How else could she explain why everyone in town except her was acting crazy—certifiably crazy? Ordinary people had gone berserk. yelling nonsense and attacking one another.

Jill desperately wanted to help but didn’t dare set foot outside. These people needed to be cleaned. Rinsing them off made sense but she would’ve needed a firehose. The best she had was a fifty-foot garden hose and an electric pressure washer. Useless.

Frightened and confused, she continued to discretely watch her wild-eyed neighbors through the narrow space between the drapes. At one point a local squad car came along much to Jill's relief, but she soon realized the officer was taking potshots at people through his open windows. The old couple who lived across the way from her place never got along. By 8:00 a.m. the Stewarts were gone. Jill saw Pam Stewart repeatedly wound her husband, Bill, with a pair of shears, but he got her back with one chop of his ax before they both dropped dead.

Jill fought hard to reel in her own emotions. Realizing she was still sane and not entirely helpless, she began securing her home from the ever-growing mob outside. That meant having to make some radical renovations then worry afterward about the extent of the damage. Her main priority had to be her own survival at whatever cost from whatever was going on.

Gunshots were heard in the distance. Jill spotted pickup trucks full of heavily armed crazies running carloads of crazies off the road. The mayhem continued at all hours of the day and night.

That second night was long and horrifying for everyone involved. Jill stayed awake and crept around her house stockpiling potential weapons by the front and back doors. She tried to eat something. At first, she couldn’t touch a bite but then she couldn’t stop.

The next day began with more screams and more gunshots. Jill didn’t risk trying to get away. No one could get away. She decided to stay busy and quiet.

By that evening, she noticed it had gotten quiet everywhere. Too quiet. Jill found the silence more unnerving than the anarchy. She stopped looking outside, knowing that bodies were left where they fell. Even the birds hid or flew away for safety—all but the carrion birds. Jill wished she could fly away too. Instead, she passed another sleepless night on her couch with a bad stomachache, shivering in the dark.

Fortunately, she had managed to get a call out to Matt just before her cellphone’s battery died having already lost her landline when the power quit. Jill figured lightning had struck a pole, or the wind caused a tree branch to fall on a transformer. She saw a bright flash in the moonless sky and sparks from several streets away. Then everything went dark. Dark, then toxic. Infectious and unnerving. Deadly and desperate.


Ding dong.

The doorbell rang a third time.

Jill bit down hard on her tongue. Her eyes teared up and overflowed, but she didn’t dare make a sound. Not one peep. As hard as she had tried to stay focused, she felt overtired and overwhelmed by it all and drifted off momentarily.

Still, she was confident that her house was well barricaded. She had boarded up all the windows and doors using the expensive hardwood planks from the flooring project she planned on tackling once school let out for summer break.

Ding dong.

It was the fourth ring, and she felt hope. Her shoulders relaxed. Matt must’ve gotten through, Jill thought. She crept closer toward the front door waiting several anxious moments more in the gloom before the fifth ring eventually came.

Ding dong.

There! The fifth ring. It was the signal from Matt!

Jill raised the bat high over her head and swung. Carefully measured and cut boards broke free from the doorframe they were screwed to as she beat them into fragments. She stopped beating the door only once to look through the peephole just to make sure it was really Matt before dropping her defenses entirely.

It was him, all right, in his wide-rimmed black cowboy hat. It seemed she would not have to bludgeon her neighbors after all. Jill thanked God for that, but before she could release the locks, she felt another pang of paranoia, half expecting to see Matt’s dead head stuck on a pole and held up by one of the crazies just to fool her. She looked through the peephole again.

“Back up,” she demanded.

Matt took a step backwards on the front porch as ordered.

Seeing he was alive and whole, Jill smiled through the tears as her throbbing tongue still hurt like the dickens. She fumbled at first with the sticky deadbolt. As the door swung open, Matt’s long black duster was swept forward by the suction. His ginger bangs and beard looked lit by flames as warm sunlight blazed behind him.

So relieved to see him standing there finally, Jill risked stepping outside for the first time in two days to hug her friend then she quickly yanked him inside. Her taut skin stung from his firm embrace.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” she whispered. Her old beau had promised he would come for her and he did. Matt was always a good reliable guy, she thought.

“It’s been a while, kiddo,” he said in that deep friendly tone everyone in town knew well as if they were old chums merely catching up on old times—as if there were no carnage at all just beyond her property.

With the oak door slammed shut, Jill hurriedly reset the lock. She hoped Matt brought her news that might explain what the hell had happened. Living alone had never been harder for her as it was during and after that freak storm blew through town. Just then she felt a chill run down her spine as she remembered Matt lived south of her on the same path the red madness had taken.

“You okay, buddy? Did the storm reach your place?” she asked him.

Matt shook his head in the darkness. “No, thank God. Turns out a chemical explosion occurred when a freight train jumped the rails north of town. Strong winds carried the toxic dust across town.” He seemed to strain his eyes to see Jill in the dimly lit hallway. She was hugging the wooden bat he had bought her long ago along with a matching ball and glove. They had gone on a few casual double dates with friends that included several Red Sox games. “You kept it all these years?”

“Sure I did,” Jill said, followed by an awkward pause. “Those were good times.” Wrong time to get sentimental but we once had some laughs together, didn’t we? She wondered why Matt had never asked her to marry him. It was tough for her to go to other girls’ weddings and to watch them raise families. In time Jill would drive their kids to school. I would have made a good wife and mother—

Matt gently patted her arm. His voice took a serious tone. “I won’t lie to you, honey. The death toll is high. But no one here can be blamed for any of it. Luckily the chemical only affects people within the first forty-eight hours of exposure. The rain helped dilute it and keep it from spreading any farther. It was making folks so irrational that they wanted to kill everyone on sight.”

Jill nodded vigorously, having witnessed the mayhem firsthand. She was feeling jittery and irritable earlier, but by now she just wanted to cry. She tried to hold it in. That was something Jill had plenty of practice with over the years—holding it all inside: the heartache and bitterness. She had to look away from Matt. “Then I’m glad you came when you did,” she said, swallowing hard. “I’ve been hiding in this house waiting on you for what seems like forever.”

Matt backed away from Jill, seemingly unsure if the toxic spill had gotten to her too. “Look I tried to get here sooner, hon, but this whole area was off limits. No one allowed in or out including the powerline repair crews.”

Jill wiped away tears and said, “I’m just glad you made it, is all.” She was exhausted.

They walked through her home together. Jill had nearly destroyed every room trying to stay safe from the red madness outside then went on to rig up several sturdy clotheslines in her kitchen. Miss Self-reliance Simms kept herself busy for two days and nights with a handsaw and screwdriver then apparently soap and water not knowing what else to do. Her calm, methodical head and resourcefulness most likely saved her life though at times it was touch and go.

She thought about what Matt had said—“a train wreck, chemical explosion, and strong winds. No one here could be blamed for their actions.” The perfect opportunity to get away with murder. Wait…what?

Did Jill secretly want Matt dead? Why? For not sweeping her off her feet years ago?

No! She shook her head even though it hurt to do so. For once she was genuinely grateful that she lived alone, mostly for the kids she never had…or pets for that matter.

Matt asked, “Hey, you okay?”

Jill felt the dead weight of the barely used wooden bat hanging limply at her side. She thought about why she had chosen it in the first place and why she had called Matt and not someone who lived closer. Pulling her fingernails out of the potentially lethal weapon one by one Jill eased her grip and let it fall to the floor. “I was running out of food,” was all she cared to say.

“You’re all right now. Smart lady, staying indoors, but let’s get you out of here,” Matt said.

“Am I all right?” Jill asked, looking straight at him. His kind face was a mixture of concern and admiration. All at once she had felt forgotten but also cherished, resentful of others’ wants while ashamed of her own darkest desires. As eager as she was for him to arrive swiftly Jill thanked God Matt was ordered to keep away. Had he shown up any sooner— “Yeah, I could do with some fresh air,” she concluded.


Luis wept. There was nothing left for him to do or say. He had already heard and seen the Canadian geese heading south for the winter in their striking flying ‘V’ formation one last time. Once he had gotten Shadow, his pickup truck, into position over the train tracks, he killed the engine and tossed his keys out the window.

The truck was parked in the wrong lane to avoid the crossing gate. Luis felt his last November rain on his bare skin. Shadow’s engine crackled as it cooled down. Inhaling the crisp night air, Luis smelt the pungent earth and thought he had finally found peace. But soon the gentle rain shower turned into a pounding deluge, so he rolled up his window and waited. The noise was deafening on Shadow’s roof.

Luis waited and wept.

Minutes later the rain let up just in time for Luis to hear the inevitable train whistle blow. He had timed it well, not wanting to get there too soon in case someone came by asking questions and not so early that he risked losing his nerve. The whistle blasts got louder as the train came closer, warning anyone who might be in the Mill Street crossing at 9:15 p.m. to clear the tracks.

The train whistle kept blowing as man and Shadow sat there, awaiting the bitter end. His ’76 GMC truck had been painted flat black to “look cool” according to Luis. It was the latest trend, but he hadn’t dropped it to the ground like a hotrod since he lived off a bumpy dirt road that needed the high clearance. Consequently, it got poor reviews from the locals. Only his old pal, Matt Peterson, had anything nice to say about it.

Luis had already removed the manual door lock knobs keeping him from pulling them up and jumping out at the last second. And he felt certain his bad back would prevent him from crawling out a window. Luis had deliberately trapped himself inside his only staunch companion. He hoped the freight train’s lone headlight wouldn’t help the operator to spot the dark object in time to stop. Luis didn’t want it to stop or slow down.


The train was reliable, keeping a regular schedule. Luis would lay awake in bed each night waiting to hear the whistle blow at 9:15 p.m. before crying himself to sleep. His wife, Trish, lay beside him snoring and already out cold thanks to all the cheap wine she drank. Having to get up early most weekdays, they usually turned in by 8:30. He thought she almost looked pretty in the dark, that she might have been pleasant company when she was quiet and not screaming at him.

Luis expected to start a family later in life once he was established. He and Trish became friends in junior high. They developed a physical relationship by tenth grade; something that Luis felt all young men should have, but girls like her were not meant to be keepers. Then again once a new baby shows up, old plans change.

He knew the risks. He thought to leave, move in with family out west but stayed to see what he got—it was a boy. Paul was a cute kid, so Luis remained a while longer. A year after graduation, Martha, a daughter came. Luis kept threatening to leave, but once the twins were born, he was tied down for good.

Luis and Trish married. People said their wedding was one of the funniest they had ever been to. The groom looked as if he was attending his own funeral that whole day. Luis couldn’t recall any of it. Apparently, the evening ended when he accused Trish of trapping a husband because all her friends were getting engaged or married.

All her friends except Jill Simms. She stayed single. He had loved Jill but married Trish.

Trish accused him of being a selfish dreamer, saying the real-life demands of supporting a family would do him good.

Over the next several years Trish accused him of being a lazy bum unable to hold down a steady job. In Luis's defense, he had been hired then laid off along with numerous co-workers three times. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Two shops downsized, and the third moved its factory to Mexico. The intervals when he was unemployed were brief and not his fault. Then she called him nuts for hiding away in his ‘thinking shed’ night after night to play with stinking mud.

Luis once had big dreams. He was a self-proclaimed civil engineer and inventor. Trish and everyone who sneered at his notions would one day see how smart he truly was. He just needed time to perfect his formula for rubberized concrete. Luis swore it would one day revolutionize the building industry, solve problems with structural integrity on things like bridges and dams that needed to withstand frequent temperature fluctuations and occasional earth tremors.

Nobody cared. Working for other men making things other men invented just to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of children other people wanted was not how Luis foresaw his life turning out, not at all what he was supposed to have become. Luis Lewinski’s initial invention patents were going to secure his place amongst the sort of men people took seriously. He would have the support of his equally enthusiastic colleagues and propel his career forward with evermore innovative ideas.

Luis expected other men to work for him.

That never happened.


Suddenly the gate came down, missing Shadow by only inches. At the same time, the two red signal lights started to flash back and forth beside Luis. A clang-clang-clang racket declared the imminent railroad crossing hazard. It sounded like someone repeatedly beating on a saucepan with a ladle.

The wind and rain increased. Visibility became nil. The train’s flickering headlamp strained to pierce the moonless night. Luis waited on the wet, windswept tracks for the freight train to slam into him and his Shadow. He chose the freight train rather than the commuter train figuring that would have caused far too many injuries, too many deaths.

Luis wished that he hadn’t had to kill Trish. He hadn’t harmed the kids: Paul, Martha, Katy, and Michael. The kids would be well cared for by the family.

Luis didn’t have a violent bone in his body but knew that suffocating Trish was the only way he’d go through with his suicide. He smothered her with a pillow, not wanting to leave a bloody scene behind for their children to discover. He knew they would miss their mom and that would be hard enough for them to deal with. Luis wasn’t entirely irresponsible, although learning that their own father had killed their mother would overshadow that fact. His brief note simply stated he never intended to hurt anyone else but himself.

The 9:15 was upon him right on schedule. The horn blasted one last time. It sounding angry, deafening. Its lone headlight was blinding. Luis shuddered and wept to hope the operator and crewmen would survive the wreck.

His last thoughts went back to Jill, and he wished her well.

Andrée Gendron lives in Massachusetts. Her writing recently appeared online at Folded Word, The Five-Two Poetry, Aphelion Webzine, and Down in the Dirt.

Check out her publishing credits, poetry, fiction, and artwork at: