by Lou Antonelli
Marcus fell into the hard routine of a small farmer, but he began with good seed stock thanks to Dr. Lageboer, and his farm prospered. His wife Jaypeg sent fresh vegetables from their farm to Dr. Lageboer on a regular basis. In recent years she would send a basket with one of their small children.
Dr. Lageboer busied himself cataloging the artifacts and records he had gathered up over the centuries. Marcus added whatever materials he found in the area as he traveled to trade.
One morning, as he flipped through an old hard copy World Book Encyclopedia, Dr. Lageboer rubbed his chin and tilted his head.
“I swear I almost heard something,” he muttered,
There was a buzzing, and then a voice crackled across the underground home. “Dr. Lageboer, it’s Jaypeg. It’s important. Marcus sent me.” Her voice crackled on the loudspeaker. “He says you have to hurry.”
The gap in the base of the hill opened, and the ancient garage appeared. The young woman and two children entered.
Dr. Lageboer came into the garage. “What is it, girl? Why did Marcus send you?”
She rushed up to the old man. “Marcus says something is wrong, the flying pig didn’t appear this morning, the sky is all wrong.”
Dr. Lageboer knitted his brow and walked outside. He scanned the sky. “Damn, he’s right.”
Jaypeg walked up behind him. “Marcus said you probably wouldn’t notice, because you don’t go outside for days. But he ploughs in the field every morning, and he said the clouds are different.”
“Where is Marcus?”
“He went to drive our cattle up the old courthouse hill, he said they might be safer there. He’ll come as quick as he can.”
“Safer? From what?”
The young lady trembled. “He said he heard distant thunder in the west. He said we need to come huddle with you, in case the gods start to war again.”
Dr. Lageboer walked into the cornfield and cocked an ear. He heard a low, almost inaudible sound, more of a vibration. “He’s right. Something may be up, you all go inside.”
The family entered the underground rooms as Dr. Lageboer climbed the small hill that hid his home. It was still morning, but to the west he saw darkness.
“That’s either a real blue norther,” he muttered, “or...”
There was a thunderclap to the east. He turned around. “Dammit!”
“Doctor Lageboer!” Marcus called out as he entered the cornfield.
“Get inside, now,” shouted Dr. Lageboer, as he sidled his way down the hill as fast as he could.
They arrived at the entrance at the same time. Dr. Lageboer pulled a lever and the door dropped down instantly.
“Inside, now!” he snapped. “To the basement!”
They passed through living quarters to a staircase and then down a level into the basement. In the rear was a heavy concrete wall with a steel door. Dr. Lageboer took out a large metal key and turned it in the lock.
“Everyone inside,” he said. “Quickly!”
It was large low room with heavy concrete pillars. “This is what used to be called a fallout shelter, we have food and water and supplies to stay here for months,” he said to Marcus as he checked some large crates.
He opened a closet. “If we have to close the air vent, we have an oxygen recirculating system. I have a generator as well as batteries.”
He opened a tall metal cabinet. “We have a first aid kit and medicine.”
“So you think my feeling is right?” asked Marcus.
“I saw these same signs in the sky over 300 years ago,” said Dr. Lageboer, “when the Transcendents fought amongst themselves and destroyed the world.”
The couple’s young daughter began to whimper.
“That’s okay, Missy, we’ll be safe here with the doctor, won’t we?” said Jaypeg.
“Yes, we will be safe. I survived the first war between the Transcendents, we’ll survive this one.”
He turned on a television monitor. The camera showed a fierce windstorm had whipped up outside. There was a flash of lightning, and the screen went black.
Loud booms and thunderclaps echoed in the shelter. Marcus held his wife and children.
“Doctor, in case we don’t make it...”
“Shush,” said Dr. Lageboer, raising a finger to his lips and looking down at the children. “I know, son. It’s been an honor on my part, also.”
Dr. Lageboer went over and closed the vent. “We’ve got plenty of oxygen.”
He looked at his companions. “We’re completely cut off from the outside world.”
* * *
For three days the ground shook and rumbled, but the shelter held. At first, the children whimpered and slept poorly, but they adjusted as if it were nothing but a thunderstorm.
In the middle of the third day, Marcus spoke up. “It hasn’t thundered for a while. Do you think it might be over?”
“Let’s take a look.”
The two men slowly opened the heavy metal door, and Marcus looked outside. “I can see daylight on the stairs, the hill and the house must be broken open.”
They walked up the stairs and into the house. They picked their way through the rubble until they came to a wide-open space where the garage had been. The old automobile was gone. The whole side of the hill had slid away. As they stepped outside they saw the sun was shining. The sky was bright blue but the landscape was gray, wet and flattened.
“Do you think the gods did this?” asked Marcus. “Or was it just a hurricane?”
“Hurricanes don’t last three days, and yes, they did this, this is what I saw when I came out of the bomb shelter after the first Transcendent War.”
Jaypeg was between them. “I wonder what happened?”
Their little boy looked up and pointed. “Butterfly!”
A piece of plastic-like film drifted past them. “It’s not a butterfly, Billy,” said Marcus.
Jaypeg held out a hand and grabbed another piece of chaff as it drifted. “I wonder what this is.”
Marcus scanned the sky. “The stuff is all over.”
“Oh, my god, I’ve seen this before,” said Dr. Lageboer. “This kind of shredded, pulverized debris, slowly falling to earth. It’s called flutter, and it’s what you get when a spacecraft breaks up as it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere. I saw it right here, in East Texas, when the space shuttle broke up in 2003.”
“But what does it mean?” asked Marcus.
“The gods are dead, they’ve destroyed themselves,” said Jaypeg.
“Don’t be silly,” said Marcus.
“No, she may be right,” said Dr. Lageboer. “If they had us inside of some kind of snow globe or matryoshka shell, and they’ve fought amongst themselves, perhaps it’s been destroyed.”
Marcus knitted his brow, and then Jaypeg heard it also. “Someone is whistling?” asked Marcus.
Dr. Lageboer spun around. The sound was coming from where the garden had been. He ran in its direction as fast as he could, with Marcus close behind. Jaypeg followed with the children.
The forest was devastated, with most of the trees broken or toppled, but the path to the garden was still discernible. They clambered over the trunks and limbs until they saw the garden.
It was still intact, in fact untouched, with vines and flowers unbowed and unbent. As they entered the garden, they saw an older silver-haired woman with her hair pulled up in a ferocious bun, standing by the tomato vines.
Marcus saw that Dr. Lageboer looked stunned.
“Elaine!” he cried
His wife held out half of a neatly sliced tomato. “Get some salt, Junie, the tomatoes are ripe!”
She walked over to him. “We can eat some together and relax now.”
“What...?” Dr. Lageboer gasped.
“It was a minor dispute. Some decided to leave humanity’s cradle and join their peers at the center of the galaxy. Some of us decided to return. What you call the Transcendent Wars were only the opening and closing of a door — to us, only seconds apart.”
“It’s nice to be back,” she said, smiling at Marcus and Jaypeg and the children. “And it’s nice to meet you in person.”
She handed Dr. Lageboer half of the tomato. “Cut yourself a slab, Junie, but please do be careful,” she said. “You are so awkward. I don’t want you to bleed like a stuck pig.”
She winked at Marcus. “Even of the flying kind.”
Copyright © 2012 by Lou Antonelli