Friday, January 16, 2009

TOO MUCH SKY by W. J. Sander

August 15, 2011, 12:48 PM, Bhopal, India:

Mangala Chaddha pushed her daughter higher and higher. Ritee was a wild child and exulted in swinging higher than any of the other children. Mangala was looking up at her free-spirited daughter when she saw the sky rip open. It lasted but a second, then her life was erased faster than she could perceive. At least she saw it coming. That was more than what most of her 300 million nearest neighbors could say.

August 15, 2011, 5:09 PM, Perth, Australia:

Bilby Rugger popped open a beer and collapsed on the sofa, exhausted after a 10 hour shift. He clicked the remote and was instantly captivated by the un-packaged appearance of affairs. The news anchor was visibly flustered.

" . . . we are losing signals in a concentric pattern, suggesting a, uh, conflagration originating in . . . India. We are waiting for a satellite . . . Just a minute . . . The foreign desk of . . .. This just in, it's moving about the speed of . . ."

Bilby watched the anchor jerk up wide-eyed, then wink out. Bilby started to rise. He never finished.

August 16, 2011, 5:39 AM, San Francisco, California:

Mark Mizell was having his 15 minutes of fame, which meant he would be famous the rest of his life. Everyone else had deserted the studio, returning to loved ones, whatever. For the first time, he got in front of the TV camera he had operated for twenty years. He was The Man.

" . . .Tidal waves, earthquakes, hurricanes, no more sunlight, an ice age . . .. My suggestion, panic. If there is any purpose to that emotion, any circumstance worthy of it, this is it. Feel free. Panic . . .."

August 16, 2011, 7:11 AM, Leesburg, Idaho:

Ernie Reman always had his first smoke of the day watching CNN, watching for Biblical apocalyptic prophesies to come true. After about ten minutes he knew he wouldn't be going into work today. Probably never have to change another tire again. This was the event he had waited his whole life, 38 years, for. He felt an adrenaline surge, a moment of thanks.

As he got out his copy of the phone tree, he watched the TV screen display the sped-up satellite photos chronicling the extinguishing of civilization, at least of night time lighting. One city after another went dark. There was now a timeline. Idaho had another hour and twenty minutes, give or take. Take.

Being on the leeward, rain-shadow side of a mountain range would work for them. That and being five hundred miles inland and half a world away . . .

As captain, he had three names on his list. Ponsy picked up on the first ring.

"You hear the news?"

"Huh? No."

"Listen up then. This is it. Big time. Climb in your truck and get over to that new Super Mega-Mart at the edge of town. Bring all your weapons, wear your revolver. Switch the AK to automatic. Make your calls. And forget wearing camouflage-there won't be any green around for a while. Get moving! This is hardcore."

No more green; no more blue or yellow. Gray. This was something the tree-huggers never factored in, obsessed as they were with mere human tinkering. This was Nature at its most extreme, most violent; the deck re-shuffled. If it's not an asteroid, it's a Yellowstone. Hell, that's what he and his men were all about, back-to-nature; well, this was all the way back. Hang on.

He knew the Lodge, fully stocked as it was, wouldn't get them through. They couldn't get that deep into the mountains in time anyway. He made the other two calls and packed up.

He drove off, leaving his 220 pound wife asleep upstairs. She ate too much, fucked too little. Time for a trade-in. Hardcore.

August 16, 2011, 7:55 AM, Leesburg, Idaho:

The Mega-Mart parking lot was a mess. A few cops were trying to maintain order, keep the looters at bay. Why?

It took them a precious ten minutes to find each other. They were twenty strong.

Ernie addressed them. "We have a half-hour. First the cops. We'll give them a choice, explain it simply. Join us, with your weapons, or die on the spot. I know you all can do this. Then we take the Mega-Mart . No time to evacuate orderly, no point. They're all dead people anyway. Just spray the place. They'll die or leave soon enough. Let's go!"

Only one cop joined them. They gathered up all the weapons and moved on the Mega-Mart . They hit the gun shop in Sporting Goods first, securing that. Then they were off, running down the aisles, screaming Leave! and spraying bullets. It was over surprisingly fast.

Ernie corralled off ten of the best-looking women into a corner, leaving them to their wailing.

There were only minutes left. The men didn't need any orders, they were survivalists, could think on their feet. They began pushing check-out counters, anything with bulk, against the front wall, the windows.

Ernie glanced at his watch, watched it stop working. "Cover!"

Some of the men dropped under the counters, others ran for the center of the store. The latter were blown off their feet in a rain of glass. The former rode their counters like reverse sleds for a few feet, then were tumbling in a sea of debris.

Ernie pulled a display on top of himself, wedged in a corner. The howling didn't stop. The pushing. Presumably all went black. His eyes were clenched shut. The pelting of sand and dust went on and on.

The wind let up, but didn't stop. Maybe it never would, not in his lifetime, which might not be saying much.

The men started extracting themselves, congregating. Three of them, including the cop, were badly injured. There would be no treatment, they would be of no use. They seemed to understand that as Ernie put a bullet in their heads, one by one.

He had to shout to be heard. First order of business was to re-build the front entrance wall. The structure seemed to have survived intact otherwise. There were plenty of nails and hammers in the hardware department. They dismantled what they could to use to enclose the front wall.

It was hard going, battling the wind, bandannas over their noses and mouths. Someone had found swimming goggles to protect their eyes. Visibility was that of a moonlit night, and that was outside, at noon. Even that pathetic light had failed by the time they completed a make-shift wall. Coleman lanterns sputtered in the dust-laden atmosphere inside.

Ernie had had Frank put together a fire pit outlined with cinder blocks and cook some spitted chicken from the freezer. The whole place would be a freezer soon.

The exhausted men ate sitting on bedding draped over lawn chairs. Four men were on post up front. Occasionally the others heard the pop of gunfire as party-crashers were discouraged. It was thoroughly black outside. The four had thrown flares into the parking lot. Whereas that had made the targets discernable, it also drew them, like insects to the flame.

Only two of the women ate, the others were in some kind of shock. Ernie let them be. Give them a week or so. Like the men, they were clothed in many layers of summer wear plucked from the store's stocks. Ernie wondered if there were storage areas where some winter wear might be found. A task for tomorrow. One by one they fell asleep, a guard duty roster worked out.

August 17, 2011, day, Mega-Mart :

Ernie had to post all the men on sentry. He worried even that might not be enough. Twice now concerted mass assaults had been launched against them. Only the automatic fire of the AK 47s had saved them. Hundreds of dead and dying littered the front parking lot in the dim unreal light.

He had two men roaming the interior walls, alert to any incursion from back doors, loading docks, hell, through the wall itself. Thank god, due to the EM pulse, no engines worked anymore. A bulldozer would breach the place easily. He needed more manpower.

He found a bullhorn and went up front.

"How many are out there?"

Ponsy shrugged, then pointed out several cars behind which men were hiding. "At least those, probably many more."

Ernie raised the bullhorn to his mouth. "Any man with a weapon and bullets who wants to join us, come forward now. We won't shoot."

They doubled their ranks in an hour. Any more than that would be dangerous, a threat from within. The new men were thrilled and compliant. Most of them didn't know each other.

Thirty-six men could hold the place. There were still massive amounts of unspoiled food. The cold worked in their favor that way. Soon though, forays for wood to burn would have to be sent out. There wasn't all that much in the store to feed the fire. Things were shaping up. After dinner, Ernie chose one of the women and took her off with him.

Day 17, night, Mega-Mart :

Ernie worked his tongue along his teeth. He had never been much of dental enthusiast, but already some damage was apparent. The grit was everywhere, you couldn't keep it out, not even from the food. Half the time he had something in his eye. His nose blew black.

He was up front, talking to Ponsy. Ernie himself never pulled guard duty. There wasn't actually much need anymore, few people tried to assault the place, few people left. The biggest duty now was shoveling mud off the roof. It didn't rain, but the swollen sky couldn't hold its churning burden and released a near constant drizzle of thin gray mud. He was concerned about build-up on the roof, a cave-in. Best to keep it manageable.

They heard rustling outside.

"Hey, inside, we want to talk."

"Then talk," Ernie called back.

"It's just my wife, Carolyn, and I. I have something to offer. I'm a doctor."

"Step into the light." Ernie fired up a lantern.

They approached. The woman was a beauty. At least used to be, you could tell. Now she was bedraggled and starving. Still, he could think of a couple of cute outfits off the racks he'd like to see her in. Water was a problem for all of them, but at least get some of the mud off. And some high heels on.

"What kind of doctor?" They could use a doctor, even just a pharmacist. The pharmacy was packed with stuff they didn't know squat about.

"A chiropractor."

Ernie laughed out loud. The idiot should have just lied.

"We can massage ourselves, buddy. Hey, your wife can massage us," Ernie called back. Poncy snickered. Ernie waved the guy off. "You leave. She can stay. Come on in, honey."

The woman took her husband's hand and pulled him away before Ernie could react. He considered shooting the husband, but she would run and he was loathe to go out there after her, there might be someone with a gun. By the time he thought that through, they were gone.

"Hell!" He lit a cigarette. Ponsy knew enough not to say anything. They smoked in silence.

After a half-hour the woman returned. Didn't say anything, ask for asylum, explain that her husband had insisted, nothing, not even Hi, just marched up to them and past them, inside.

Ernie kind of liked that. He caught up to her, took her arm and led her to a dark corner.

Day 19, morning?, Mega-Mart :

The first person they saw in two days came up, surprising the guard, Jones, one of the newbees as the original survivalists called them.

The guy was holding his hand out. "I have gold. I have gold coins. Someday gold will be worth something again."

Jones invited the guy in, took the gold, and slit his throat. Yeah, someday . . ..

Day 21, Mega-Mart :

It was like she was dead. Ernie could spread her legs, do what he wanted, but she did nothing. Nothing. Less than not stimulating, it was becoming humiliating.

"Okay, lady, it's been four days now. I've been pretty patient here. You either respond or get booted out there, go looking for your dead husband."

For a moment Carolyn just lay there, her Mega-Mart mini-skirt bunched up around her waist, one gaudy high heel still on. Nowhere was the air good, but here in Ernie's corner stall the stale sex stench was sickening. She couldn't make out his bearish bearded face in this light-the fire was eight aisles over-but she could track him by his breath. Why did she want to live? She didn't have an answer, but she did.

"You stupid bastard. What do you expect?" She hissed. "I hate you and despise myself. You want a 'response', you'll have to rape me." She barked a laugh. "I give you permission."

From the first slap, the violence, the thrashing, and the emotive energy turned Ernie on. She fought hard. Her cries excited him. He loved her voice. 'You Fucking Bastard!' was her nom d'amor for him. By the time he got inside her, he only lasted seconds. The best sex of his life. He was keeping this one to himself.

Day 37, Mega-Mart :

Ernie had pulled aside his original eighteen. "Time to re-assess. The food isn't going to last forever at this rate. We're top-heavy. We don't need all these men any longer. We can handle the up-keep. There's no one left alive out there who isn't set up like us. This can go on for months, maybe years. We don't need to feed an additional eighteen men. We can keep the women though."

No one wanted to be the lone dissenter. And it certainly made sense. That evening as they were having dinner, the originals slowly left the circle, turned around, and sprayed the newbees with automatic fire. Hell of a mess. The women cleaned up.

Day 66, Mega-Mart :

Ernie strolled up to several of his men. He noticed they stopped talking, then obviously changed the subject. He joked around awhile, then left them.

He couldn't have someone thinking faster than him. They didn't need even eighteen men any more. But how many? You needed three men to reliably mow down fifteen armed but seated men. Which three? This was a little more delicate, many of the men wouldn't cross this line, they were a unit. He had to be careful who he approached. He figured two of the weakest, the most submissive, would be pleased just to be chosen. Honored. Ernie even thought the fifteen would understand. Posthumously.

And so it was. Ernie, Ponsy, and Frank. And eleven women. And now enough food and cigarettes and booze for a year or so. Not bad.

Day 282, Mega-Mart :

All the women were pregnant. The sky was lightening daily. You could almost see the sun. Carolyn browsed the seed department.

That night Frank called them all out. Ernie came at a run. By the time Carolyn got there, they were all looking up.

A scattering of dim stars staged a shaky debut. And there!--a jaunty crescent moon posed nude in the raw sky, as though it had never been away. Carolyn wiped away a tear. Ernie just stared and stared.

Day 283, midday, Spring?, outside Mega-Mart :

The sun was definitely visible in a pearl-white sky. The ground was no longer frozen. The women began planting over the mass graves.

Carolyn had talked it over with the other women. One more culling. Times three.

She went over to Ernie. He was sunning--sunning!--on a chaise. She nudged him with her foot.

"You got us through," she said, without preamble. "Around the world people like you got some of humanity, themselves at least, through. I'll give you that." She took a deep breath. He just stared stupidly up at her as she continued. She never talked to him. He felt flattered, accepted.

"I've always wondered what brutes were good for," she said. "Now I see they're necessary. Once every hundred thousand years or so. Some of our boys might be brutes, at the gene level. But you won't be around to teach them."

She pulled out a revolver and shot him in the chest. Then in the head. Twice. She was an unreliable shot. Finally she was sure.

Day One, midday, Spring, Outside:

Carolyn folded her arms over her bulging belly and looked up. Blue. God, the sky was blue! And big. It was like being inside a robin's egg, as though she were about to be born. No . . . like the world was about to be hatched. She laughed, throwing out her arms, spinning. So much sky. Too much really, for so few people.
--Brought you by RK

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