Short Story | ‘The Morning After’ by Scott Livingston, Illustration by Mike S. Young
The grating sound of shrill beeping shattered the silence, reverberating off the corrugated metal walls of the narrow, dimly lit room. He awoke with a start, fumbling with the buttons of his Diver’s Timex.
“Six-thirty,” he groaned. “Time to start a new era.”
The weary man ran fingers through his hair as he gazed at the sleeping form of his beloved wife. It had been a rough couple of days for all of them, most especially her, but it was time to awaken to a new day and a new way of living.
“Wake up sleepy head … I’ll go roust the kids.”
His eleven year old son shot up like a rocket, but such could not be said for his daughter, six years young and cranky when stirred.
He propped her up in the cot, attempting to ease her into consciousness, to which she responded with a gentle descent back to her pillow.
“Just a few more minutes Daddy.”
“C’mon sweetheart, Mommy needs your help in the kitchen.”
Young Daniel was invigorated by the prospects of this new morning, brushing his teeth, combing his hair and dressing in record time. His father watched proudly, enthusiastically timing him with his stopwatch.
“Well done Danny, one minute, twenty-two seconds!”
Suddenly, Clarissa became inspired, leaping into her jumper, strategically draped over a nearby side chair the night before.
“Show off,” Danny exclaimed.
The young family gathered around a metal dinette set in an adjacent chamber as Dad gave assignments to each member.
“Honey, why don’t you whip us up some breakfast while I hook up the topside cable and antennas? Danny, you and Clarissa check the gear.”
Their breakfast of bacon and fresh eggs never tasted so good, a sensation enhanced no doubt, by the distinct possibility that it may be a long time coming before the next such feast. Powdered eggs, though bearable, were a poor substitute for the real thing as was the freeze dried bacon-jerky stored in abundance within the well-packed pantry.
Danny ceaselessly scrolled the frequency dial of the compact radio atop the dinette table, searching for signs of anything unusual.
“Same old stuff Dad, maybe we missed it.”
Danny’s father exchanged a wry smile with his wife. “Now don’t believe everything you hear … or don’t hear son, most of those stations are on autopilot, everything’s recorded. We’ll be finding out soon enough.”
“Well, I’m ready Dad, how about you?”
Clarissa cried out, “Me too … I wanna go!”
He knelt beside his daughter’s chair, softly brushing her cheek. “No no sweetie, you help your mommy check the TV stations, Danny and I will look outside.”
The pair maneuvered through the tight maze of steel cubicles, stopping at a wooden armoire near the exit.
“Put your mask on son, and make sure it’s sealed around the collar.”
The man retrieved an M4 rifle from the cabinet and turned toward the welded-rebar egress ladder then paused. “Uh, Danny … you forgetting something?”
“Oh yeah …” The young man eagerly grabbed the 30 ought.
“No … the Mossberg!” He lightly slapped the side of his magazine. “Remember, assault rifle for general-purpose, shotgun for close encounters. Don’t be forgetting your training at a time like this son.”
“Sorry Dad …”
He gave the boy a reassuring hug. “That’s okay buddy … now, let’s go have a look at day one!”
The pair emerged through a hatch, discreetly hidden within the mock tool shed in their back yard. Poised at the door, the duo prepared to greet the new age with a hope and a promise, not to mention an ample supply of ammunition.
With Danny bringing up the rear, his father burst through the door, assuming a battle stance! To their great surprise, the homes were still standing, the sky was still blue and their neighbor, Phillip Jenkins was standing still, motionless behind his sputtering mower and gawking … at them.
Not daring to spook the well-armed pair, he eyeballed the father and son, adorned head to toe in their camouflaged combat regalia. Must be another drill, he thought.
Danny pulled off his gas mask, waving a khaki arm enthusiastically. “Hey Mr. Jenkins!”
Phillip stood dumbfounded, his mouth agape with befuddlement. Recovering from his stupor, he managed to raise a hand, wriggling his fingers in response, then added a weak smile before cautiously returning to his labors. Jenkins shook his head in disgust as he rounded the corner, disappearing out of sight. At least he didn’t set off that obnoxious siren again.
Crouching low, the father and son team darted from bush to hedge along the side yard, periodically popping their heads up for a quick reconnoiter of the neighborhood …nothing, absolutely nothing had changed!
Undaunted, they stealthily made their way back to the shed, returning to deliver their report.
“Anything over the airwaves honey? It’s situation normal above ground!”
She shook her head. “Not a thing baby, I think we may have dodged the bullet.”
“Nah, it can’t be. This is the day after; we allowed plenty of wiggle room for all the time zones. I just can’t understand it.”
His loving wife pulled him close, cradling his cheek against her neck to console him. “Well hey …” she said. “Everything’s O-K, that’s a good thing isn’t it!?”
He gazed at the painted metal floor brooding, not yet ready to surrender to reality. “Well of course it’s good that the planet hasn’t suffered mass destruction on a global scale unlike anything witnessed by the whole of humanity, but then again, I was kinda looking forward to a fresh start.”
He wrestled with the chaos of lingering doubt for several moments until reason regained a foothold, driving him to revive his determination. “NO, too many people agreed … today IS the day!”
She massaged her brow, trying to think. “Maybe it’s some kind of, I don’t know … reverse Rapture. Could it be that only the righteous remain!?”
Her husband shook his head. “Nah, Phil’s still around, we just spotted him from the backyard and I’m pretty sure I saw Jack’s wife rifling through boxes in her garage.”
His wife nodded wholeheartedly, acknowledging her husband’s moral assessment.
“Well, I wouldn’t let it upset you honey, there’s never a bad time to be prepared. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?”
“It’s not tomorrow that worries me babe.”
“Well what is it?”
He paced the makeshift kitchen floor obsessing. “For starters, there’s only three more shopping days till Christmas and I haven’t bought a thing! It was hard enough convincing the kids that we didn’t need a tree this year but now … they’ll be expecting presents just like the rest of their friends.”
The couple scanned the seemingly endless rows of vacuum sealed canning jars, dry goods and Mylar packets of meals ready to eat. So much planning, so much preparation, had it all been for naught?
Suddenly, something occurred to him, an avenue he had not yet explored. In an instant he ran to the laptop, quickly going online to fire up his search engine with renewed vigor.
His fingers raced across the keyboard, then he hit enter. Not finding the object of his desire, he tried different keywords. Again and again he maniacally plied the engine for answers.
Baffled by her husband’s newfound enthusiasm, she leaned close, peering over his shoulder.
“What are you looking for babe?”
With his eyes ablaze and hands trembling ever so slightly, he turned to her with a beaming smile.
“I’m wondering whether the Incans might have had a calendar too!!”
Illustration by: Mike S. Young