Alert sirens wail as Chris struggles to protect all he holds dear.
"And I'm Tommy T-Bone, providing the music you want, now!"
"Thank you Tommy, now before we begin let me fill up my cup of iced tea. Today I got ... Honey Lemon Tea. Would you like some tea Tommy?"
"No-no, I'll just stick with some good ol' fashioned coke!"
"Your loss Tommy. Now, today is a special day as we are reaching our 30th year in preaching the gospel and we'd like to do a promotion we like to call, 30 in 13! We want to further the message and to do so we need to expand our towers. We've made deals in multiple surrounding states and are looking to raise $30,000 before the new year! Isn't that exciting Tommy?"
"Oh, you bet Rob!"
"You know Tommy, in Luke 6:36 it is written to "be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." That's why if you provide us a gift of $300 before 2013 you'll not only earn membership to our 30 in 13 Founder's Club, but you're also setting yourself up for the Lord to give back unto you. Isn't that just amazing Tommy?"
"Rob I think what we're doing is good and is really going to help a lot of people. I think a lot--"
Chris switched the radio off in his car as he continued to cruise down the street. He made a clicking sound with his tongue in disgust. Chris himself was not a believer, but he did enjoy listening to the radio ministry morning programs if at least to further his disbelief at what he felt were morally bankrupt practices. There was also little alternative to the country stations.
The air was cool and the leaves had fallen off most of the trees. The sky was a light gray color and there were very little signs of life in his small town besides the black sports car at the gas pump. Chris stopped at a four-way stop and glanced at the black car then picked up his phone to double-check the time and to see if he had any missed calls from his wife. No messages, he mumbled as tossed the phone into the cup holder.
The nozzle to the gas pump was hooked to the vehicle, but no driver was present. Chris himself was unsure why he even bothered to stop at the four-way, no one else was around anyway. Even the driver of the black car knew better than to stand out in the biting wind that was responsible for the nude trees. He continued through the four-way and proceeded on his way home. Then the sirens howled.
Bewilderment sprinted through Chris's mind. What was going on? The floor pedal met the beige carpet and the small red compact car growled happily in response. The sirens continued to wail and the wind howled back. These sirens were different though as they maintained their steady tone, not like the wavering tornado sirens that Chris was familiar with. And it was not even Wednesday, the usual test day. Something was wrong. By the time Chris got to his driveway he could see dark clouds in the south, not rain clouds though, but pure black. Their darkness sent a trembling chill down his spine. He covered his ears and raced to his front door. He released his right hand to fumble with his keys that he then dropped to the ground. The sirens drone continued faithfully as he searched for his keys at his feet. The sackcloth clouds had now blotted out the sun and there was only darkness in the lifeless town. He pounded on the door with his right hand while ramming it with his left shoulder.
After what felt like an eternity to him, the door swung open as he was about to give the door another shove. Chris fell to his knees onto the white tile floor., his hands catching his upper body. His 13 year old daughter stood at the door, still in her pajamas. Gasping for breath Chris turned to face her.
"Baby, where is Mommy? It's very important." He didn't want to shout at his startled little girl, but his ears continued to buzz from being outside with the siren's drone. The house did a much better job at muffling the sound than his hands.
"Mom went to the store. What's wrong Dad?"
"Nothing baby, where's your sister?"
"She's watching T.V., we're watching--"
Chris's 3-year-old daughter bounded down the long tile hallway with her arms outstretched. Both of the children appeared to not even be phased by the ruckus that even now continued outside. Chris scooped her up in his arms than knelt back down and pulled the oldest one in close.
"Listen to me girls, I think there is some bad weather coming. The sirens are going outside and we need to go downstairs into the storm cellar." It was not the weather, Chris knew better, but what choice did he have. Whatever was coming was not friendly. Tears began to well up in the oldest daughter's eyes. "I'll do my best to get a hold of Mommy, but first I need to take care of you guys, OK?"
The oldest nodded in acknowledgement while the youngest was just happy to be in her Daddy's arms.
"Let's go girls." The three hurried back out the front door and raced to the corner of their small brick home and turned right. A storm cellar had been built behind the house for bad weather and was well-stocked with non-perishable food, batteries, flashlights, and most importantly water.
"Snow Daddy!" the youngest called out.
"Snow! Yeah Daddy!"
Gray flakes began to fall from the clouds. Chris sat the youngest down at the cellar door and outstretched his hand to catch a flake. A large, gray flake gently placed itself on the tip of his finger. He raised his thumb to meet his finger tip and mashed the flake between his fingers. An ashen, black soot now rested where the gray flake had landed. It was not snow, it was something far worse.
"Cover your mouths girls!"
The youngest dramatically placed both hands over her mouth with eyes widened; the eldest covered her mouth with the anticubital space of her arm. Chris held his breath and clasped the rope tied to the door in his hands and began to pull. The door groaned but opened with little effort.
"Inside girls," sputtered Chris while still holding his breath.
The oldest charged down the steps, familiar with the cellar and quickly switched on the lights. The youngest took each step carefully, her small hands against the right side of the wall.
Chris took a deep breath of the ashen air, "Kelly, take care of Lea. I will be RIGHT back, I swear!"
"What?! Daddy NO!"
The door gave a smaller groan as it shut back. Even though the sirens still cried into the darkness, Kelly's painful expression of betrayal had burned itself into Chris's mind. They wouldn't be trapped if I don't make it back, Chris thought to himself, it can be opened from the inside. It just takes some effort. A ripping cough tore through his chest interrupted his thoughts. He had to make it back inside the house. The coughing continued and proceeded to ravage his chest as he staggered back into the brick home.
Where's my phone, where's my phone, Chris thought to himself as he raced around the home. Then he remembered. Grabbing a dust mask laying by the kitchen sink he charged back into the thick dark. Enough ashen flakes had fallen now to remember his boot prints as he dashed to the car. The passenger door swung open and the phone grasped firmly in his hands. Chris then proceeded back to the home, unlocking his phone without looking as he ran. Once inside, he slammed the door shut and took off the dust mask, breathing in large gasps for air. He knew his home's air filters would not be enough to purify the air, but the mask made him short for breath. Chris looked at his phone in horror.
Not a single missed call or text. Where is she? He pulled up his contact list and dialed The Wife. No service. I wouldn't even be able to leave a voice mail even if I wanted too. That's when he realized he was in the dark. Chris flipped the hallway light switch up and down to no avail. Donning the dust mask again, he held the phone out in front him and used it as a flash light and guided himself back outside to the cellar. He pulled the metal door open again and with a metallic groan he shut it behind him. Both girls stood at the foot of the stairs, both faces red and puffy from tears. The youngest smiled and called out once again, "Daddy!"
Chris hugged both the girls. "Are you both alright?"
"I'm fine." Kelly replied, arms crossed.
"I'm fine too, Daddy!" Lea chimed in.
"Good, good. Let's figure out what's going on OK?" Chris stepped from the girls to a wooden table with a dirty yellow radio resting on top of it. He brushed off some dirt and clicked it on. A red light began to glow and the family was greeted with static. Chris turned the dial gently, hoping for any signal he could get. Most of the stations carried static, while a handful held dead air. Then he got to LJRD. A piercing, high-pitched tone sounded through the radio, eerily similar to the sirens outside. Three buzzes sounded and then, "This is the emergency broadcast system. This is a national emergency. A designated representative will appear shortly over the Emergency Broadcast System." Three more buzzes, then the tone again. The tone stayed on for about 20 seconds and the message repeated.
"Daddy the sound scaring me!" Lea whimpered.
"I'm sorry baby, Daddy just needs to listen to this OK? It'll be over real quick. Let's go play with Sissy for a minute, OK?"
Then there was dead air, but it was similar to the sound a record makes when there is no audio. Just a slight scratching sound. Then a voice. "Today, at 1721, the United States faced a ... -aster unlike any other. All states have been ... All affected ... evacuate ... -milies to the East. The states affected are as follows: ..."
"It keeps cutting out!" Kelly cried.
"I know, I'm not sure what to do! It's a wonder the radio even works down here."
"Fix it! Do something!" Kelly was becoming hysterical.
"I know - I know, I can't do anything Kelly! Be quiet!"
"Mom's still out there!"
"I know baby, I know. The best thing we can do right now though is stay here and wait for the power and cell phone service to come back up. Going outside for a better radio signal or to look for mom isn't going to help anyone."
Kelly burst into tears and sulked in the corner, crying into her knees.
Lea pulled on her dad's hand, "Sissy sad? Why crying?"
"She's just upset, she's OK."
"Stop it Lea, leave me alone!"
That is when the storm shelter and the ground around it began to tremble. Followed by loud, powerful explosions. Each impact could be felt even underground. The scared family huddled together on the floor, Lea smiling, Kelly in tears, and Chris watching the door. LJRD now played the melancholy dead air that the other stations had played, and the family had no choice but to wait for the darkness, whatever it was, to pass.