Monday, June 2, 2008

The End of the World, Part 4

"I'm standing here on the eastern end of Long Island, Mike," the correspondent said from the radio. "The eastern horizon has been steadily brightening for the last half hour. The first rays of the sun should be striking us at any--" the monologue suddenly cut out, replaced by a rustling of clothing and a strange thump.

"John?" the host asked. "Hey, buddy, you there?" He paused for a moment. "Uh, folks, I have no idea what happened. My producer says we're still getting the feed. It's like John just disappeared or something. We're going to hit a commercial while we try to figure out what's going on."

Jack turned off the radio. "That was weird."

"Yeah," Emily nodded. "Think we're going to find out how things are going on the east coast?"

"Why don't you just look it up on the internet?"

She blinked a couple times. "I'm a moron," she said, pulling out her iPhone. She began tapping the screen. "I use this thing all the time except when I actually need it."

Jack shrugged. "I forgive you. Hey," he tapped her knee as a thought struck him, "I just had a thought. See if you can find out if Nate would be safe if we hid him underground. Maybe it's a matter of not letting the sun hit him."

She began tapping again. "Dazed Parisians emerge from entrance to underground tunnel," she read a caption. "'It offered no protection,' one man said, 'Our son was there one moment, then he was gone.'"

"That doesn't sound promising," Jack said.

She clicked the screen again. "Hundreds of Romans waited out the dawn in the city's tunnels and ancient catacombs," she read, "Only to find that they suffered the same fate as those who hadn't tried to flee." She clicked another link. "'We ran for the caves in the mountainside,' said one mother from the tiny Russian village, 'We threw rocks over the entrance and prayed for the mountains to protect us, to protect our children. It...It did nothing. My Vlad is gone. My Elena is gone.'"

"Well," Jack shook his head, "That just about kills that idea." He goosed the throttle, pushing the car nearly to 170 before deciding to back down to 160 again. They were nearly to Dixon, one of the larger towns along the I-88 corridor between Chicago and the Mississippi River. He turned the headlights off again, knowing that the southern part of Dixon nearly reached the highway and it was likely they'd be seen. As a concession to safety, he began easing down toward 120 or so. The moon was bright, but he could barely see. Forty miles per hour was way too fast for a night drive with no headlights, but he was desperate.

"Huh," Emily said, still reading off the iPhone, "This is odd. 'We were up before dawn, like always,' Zhou said, 'We were walking across the field to begin work when all of the sudden my brother was just gone. Later on I heard that children were disappearing, and wondered if it was the same thing. But my brother is nearly sixty years old. It cannot be the same thing.'"

"Maybe that's the same thing that happened to the guy on the radio," Jack ventured.

Emily nodded. "Could be. Maybe there's some sort of conspiracy going on, too."

"Hey," Jack pointed across the highway, "There's another one of those crazy buses. Cedar Rapids Evangelical Free Church."

"That's, like, the middle of Iowa," Emily scratched her head. "What are they doing here?"

"Maybe they're part of the conspiracy?"

"That's a pretty damn weird conspiracy."

"It's been a weird day."

A sudden noise from the back seat alerted them to the fact that Nate was waking up. Emily unbuckled her seatbelt and twisted around to get him out of his car seat. "How are you, bubby," she asked. He gurgled in reply.

"He reeks," Jack said.

"Yeah. I'm not entirely sure that this car was designed with an eye toward changing poopy diapers at a hundred miles per hour, though." She opened the diaper bag at her feet and began wrestling with the problem.


Zorya said...

Well written story, but it's giving me the creeps as I am babysitting my 2 1/2 yr old grandson today.

I wonder how this would work if part of the basic premise included polytheism?

Geds said...

I'm terribly sorry, but I think it's supposed to be creepy. One of the accusations Fred levels against Left Behind a lot is that it's just not creepy enough. But there's nothing about the setup that's not inherently creepy or downright scary.

I imagine a lot of time would be spent trying to play one god off against another for personal protection. That's how it tended to work, at least in the Greek/Roman contexts with which I have the most anthropological familiarity.

Of course, assuming the Wave continued and no one was able to save their child, whether they asked Zeus, Thor, or Anubis for help, there would be a mounting wave of horror. Everyone would slowly realize that one of three things was happening: all of the gods had turned against them, something was happening and the gods didn't care any more, or something new and more powerful than all the gods combined was sweeping across the globe.

Huh. That's a cool story, too.

Zorya said...

Oh, no apology needed. My kids are 29, 22 and 13, all out of the presumed age limit for being snatched. I just didn't realize how seriously creepy this story arc was until I had the kiddo underfoot today.

I would love to see the polytheist line followed to a logical end. Another way to look at it would be from the viewpoint of the modern pagan movement, where the Wave is on the way and some of them successfully appeal to the old gods to protect their children. What would happen when people realized that their children didn't disappear? Would they have to go on the run to escape becoming lab subjects of a hysterical nation? (using the US-centric viewpoint)

So many ways to twist this... :-)

SchrodingersDuck said...

It's an unusual cliffhanger - "will they change the nappy without soiling the leather seats!? Stay tuned!" ;-)

But seriously, I love the way this story is turning out. It's gripping and it really makes you care for the characters, which is quite an achievement given that we know they're unfortunately doomed to failure.

Geds said...

It's an unusual cliffhanger - "will they change the nappy without soiling the leather seats!? Stay tuned!" ;-)

Yeah, that totally wasn't supposed to happen that way. I suddenly realized that I was writing what was supposed to be the next section, couldn't shorten that up to fit in with what I'd written and couldn't come up with anything good, decided, "Well, this seems like a good stopping place," and just kind of cut it off. In retrospect it is kinda funny...

Another way to look at it would be from the viewpoint of the modern pagan movement, where the Wave is on the way and some of them successfully appeal to the old gods to protect their children. What would happen when people realized that their children didn't disappear?

That's, uh, that's like the opposite of a bad idea for a story...

DMD said...

"prayed for the mountains to protect us"

bonus points for the Revelations reference

SchrodingersDuck said...

Also, the idea of families trying to hide underground is chilling. I might actually write a short story based on the idea - perhaps about Londoners trying to hide in the Underground, or Parisians in the Metro.

Dash said...

Actually, I liked ending on the dirty-diaper reference. Brings back the basics in a way L&J never manage to do--yeah, you're fleeing for your child's life, but some things can't be let to wait.

About the polytheism, I suppose it depends on the deities. In Hippolytus, Artemis says that, when one god has a wish, the others get out of the way. OTOH, when Demeter's grief for her daughter threatened the crops and thus the survival of the human species and thus the gods' sacrifices, Zeus took action. But not in any particular hurry.

So with a polytheistic system, you might (a) have gods deciding to act only after all the children have disappeared in a 24-hour period, largely be letting people have new children, or (b) have some god(s) standing up against whatever is doing this thing. I have to admit, the idea of, say, Inanna or Kuan Yin rising up and protecting the children--or her children--has a certain appeal.