It was so dark that night that the lightning bugs looked like flashbulbs. As we drove north on AB-2, the highway was littered with stopped cars and lifeless bodies. And the static on the radio was too deafening to keep seeking through.
Shannon’s hands were so cold that I had turned the heating on, despite the mild July evening beyond the Chevy’s windows. I held my fingers over her wrist, her pulse was fast and her breathing slow. My mind felt like a glass ornament, crackling into fragments before it would eventually shatter beneath the pressure.
As we approached Calgary, there were still no sign of life except the occasional firefly. The draw to this unknown place made no sense. Yet I knew, if I could reach it, everything would be alright.
I checked my phone as I passed a billboard for the MRT Family Foods, lit up like a homing beacon. I don’t know why I kept checking, it had shown the map and nothing else for hours and hours. Not even the time. It must’ve been close to 10pm.
Shannon had called me from her office. “Glenn, honey, oh thank God.” Her voice held the kind of throbbing shrill that made you pull the phone away from your ear. “Everyone is lying on their desks or the floor, unconscious.”
I was working beneath a 1958 Olds and had to slide out to hear her properly through the chunky, digital static that I’d grown to hate. Cell coverage in my shop had always been a joke. “Baby, you aren’t making sense.”
The sound was so garbled, I had to step outside to hear better, but the call dropped and before I could even dial her back, half a dozen people strewn across the parking lot of the First Baptist Church caught my attention. Like they had been rushing to their cars, but just… died.
I went back inside to ask Mike what he’d heard, but he was out cold. He was breathing, but his pulse was slow. The DJ on the old Memorex radio said, “…reports from all over,” but then he was gone too, along with the power. The phone in my hand proved as useless as a paperweight, but I still stuck it in my shirt pocket, climbed in my ’57 Chevy pickup, and made my way down Marias so I could get to Shannon.
The signs of life downtown were few and far between, and when I reached the US Bank parking lot, my phone buzzed and screeched, sounds I didn’t know it was programmed to make, then as I took it out of my pocket, it lit with a nearly radioactive glow that almost seemed to mist out and land on my skin before displaying a navigation map from the bank parking lot I stood on to Calgary, AB in Canada.
It was hot against my fingers, but I was paralyzed against dropping it. Like a silent, siren’s song beckoning me to follow it’s command, I heard it without hearing. And then I felt it, without feeling.
I gripped it back, as it gripped me, and ran inside to find Shannon on the ground just inside the front door.
Whatever this was, it needed me awake.
It was about a four hour drive, from Shelby to Calgary. But with cars dead in the road, and the boarder blocked from so many angles. It must’ve been six hours later when I reached the exit for 19th Street.
I’d seen two other cars approaching the lot from the other direction, and when I pulled in, the store was lit up like Christmas. The appalling darkness of a city so big but so completely dead made the store feel like home.
“I got here at 5. Cleared the lot to make space. I really don’t know why,” Tony approached me, his phone glued to his hand. I don’t know how I knew his name.
“Cleared it? You moved the cars?” My voice held a depth that was usually reserved for pillow talk with my Shannon, dark and heady, thick with testosterone. I suddenly realized I was growing erect.
“And the bodies.” Our voices hung in the still air. I wanted to ask if they were dead, what he’d done with him, what had made him move them. But as I stared at him, I felt my own purpose seep into my skin like ocean air.
There were fifteen of us by midnight. All in classics. All with wives who had warmed when we reached the lot, but had not regained consciousness.
By then, I was as hard as steel pipe and felt the body of a much younger man inside my skin. It was invigorating and intoxicating. And the work we had all begun without any instruction or understanding continued to energize me, instead of wearing against my 57 year old bones.
Each new fella came in a classic car with a wife 10-20 years his junior, asleep in the passenger seats of those vehicles that lined the parking lot of that little shop as though we had communed for an auto show. But our work on the shop and it’s contents was as individual as our thumbprints.
I had stopped worrying about Shannon almost immediately. I knew she would soon be revived and would join me in the place that we were transforming. My skills with mechanics offered me a lead position along with two others whose specialties were in science and medicine.
Charles, Stan, Bernie, Don, Freddie, Dominick, Cecil, Henry, Virgil, Robert, Paulie, Kirk, Tony and I greeted Buck when he arrived, phones up, dicks hard, the bewildered look of Cub Scouts getting ready for their Arrow of Light. We knew each others names like we’d all grown up together. Buck was apparently our leader. We all knew it when he shook each of our hands, still acclimating to the surge of answers flowing into him from… well, us I suppose.
He instructed us to place our phones together on the ground of the thing we were machining inside the store. When they were laid in place, each screen went black, and once the 3×5 block had been created, they came to life in unison. One great white square.
It hurt to look at, but as we moved into a circle around it, Buck began to explain things, looking as though it was a great effort to do so. I understood immediately why, as the last to arrive, he was made the top dog simply out of necessity. He needed every drop of energy to receive and translate the information he was getting. From what, I did not quite understand.
Buck’s wife was the first to rise, then Tony’s. One by one, they came over to us, leaving trails of their clothes as they did. Shannon was the last, the oldest I guess, and when she joined us, the women undressed us as well.
Buck continued to speak, eyes closed and appearing to be pained by the effort. “The future is bleak. The men of this world have allowed themselves to be woefully misused and taken for granted. Fifteen men from fifty sectors of the planet have been chosen to remake that future.”
Cindy led the women to the left of their husbands, positioning them on the knees, looking up into the eyes of their men. Shannon’s were filled will the admiration and respect they had always held for me. I welled with pride at the understanding of exactly what the machine we were building was to become. And why this store had to be the site.
Buck, somehow a conduit for something I could not understand continued his speech about our paths and our ideals. That the fallout would only remain for five years, in which time we were to procreate as much as possible in the bomb shelter built beneath this fascinating place. Stocked with supplies, vitamins, plants and the machine we were creating would withstand the blasts and power the shelter for at least those five years.
The future came seventeen days later and took everything from this planet.
Everything but us, and those who were chosen in the other forty nine communes across the planet.
The air was always sweet. We understood this was a gift from the future. Something that would nourish our bodies beyond what food and vitamins could provide. It kept the women young, soft and supple and the men strong and hard. My hair was growing in black again and I was able to make love to my wife like I had never had the authority to do before. But more than that, we were a collective. And as we all accepted this as our reality, our beds were more suggestions than assignments. And sex became something integrative and without gender.
Tony was my first. He and his wife shared a bunk with Shannon and I, and we found ourselves in primitive knots of thrusting, sucking, coiled jubilation that I would have never believed to be so rewarding.
We were the new Romans. And this bomb shelter was our Eden.
Buck was the only man who did not benefit from the gift of the future. The weight of his purpose meant long hours writing in notebook after notebook. Shannon shared a pillow with him one night. They talked and fondled one another, but he told her that he couldn’t release a drop. As good as is felt, he had to remain whole.
His wife then took the seed of all of us in a way that led to no one knowing who’s had won out. Buck was an amazing father, too. Despite having no biological stake in those babies.
Shannon became pregnant within three weeks, despite our struggle to have babies for the fourteen years prior to that awful, wonderful night. We are expecting our third now, as the five year anniversary wakes us with the sweet, bubbling call of two dozen babies and toddlers.
It is finally time.
Buck, having aged fifteen years in five, stands at the hatch door.
The lights on the machine visible from the window.
“We are all green, friends. Who would like to see the sun?”