The final load of pine planks clacked together, and Dewey Ingram sauntered toward the cab to retrieve the bungees. The truck bed was loaded to the max and would require careful driving to prevent a disaster on the farm roads. Load secured, Dewey inhaled deeply and took in the sky. A storm was coming, the atmosphere taking on that musty odor of a room freshly vacuumed with a dirty, overloaded filter. But there was something else in the air, something unfamiliar, foreign. Alien perhaps. Dewey leaped into the cab, and the truck rumbled to life; a still, small voice told him to get home––fast.
Five generations of Ingram farmers had worked the family’s steadily growing plot of land before Dewey inherited it, the land reaching its zenith of productivity in the past decade since his father’s passing. The current construction project the Ingram patriarch had been laboring over for the past three months was the first significant addition or alteration to the Ingram farm since Dewey’s grandfather had added indoor plumbing in 1949. Despite the crazed comments from naysayers (even his wife, Mattie) about Dewey’s paranoid doomsday prepping, Dewey Ingram felt deep in his spirit that he was right. It was a premonition, of that, he was certain. The current load of pine boards would complete the fortification of the structure covering the recently installed underground survival bunker.
Boards shifting with a thunk at each turn, Dewey headed West through town. Windows down, wind ruffling his faded Carhartt work shirt and freeing flecks of sawdust from dark, shaggy locks, Dewey squinted his hazel eyes at the ominous clouds gathering toward his destination. The smell of dust had given way to the chlorinated aroma of ozone and something underneath, reminiscent of burnt sugar. Surprisingly, Dewey traveled the entire expanse of the graveled road leading to his farm’s entry gate without a single peal of thunder or crack of lightning. Still, his anxiousness had reached the point of tightness in his chest, shortness of breath. He felt he’d gained some mountainous peak, and each strained breath failed to satiate his body’s need for oxygen.
Mattie’s angelic face shone in the massive picture window over the kitchen sink. She smiled warmly and waved as Dewey pulled up the drive, quickly returning to whatever project busied her hands out of view. Dewey faintly recalled her saying she would make fresh apple pies today and imagining the cinnamon sweetness temporarily quelled his stress. A shrill shriek and trailing giggle rang out as he killed the engine and opened the driver’s door; a peripheral flash of straw-yellow hair flying flag-like through the air; a lower strawberry blonde mass bounding by like a galloping mop head. Chloe, eight, sprinted through the yard in a wide arch; Autumn, six, followed, skipping at top speed.
“Hiya, Daddy!” Chloe yelled, doing a floppy fingertip to wrist wave as she curved through the side yard, eyes straight ahead.
Autumn’s mass of reddish hair continued its bounce as she skipped straight into her father’s arms, and it flipped against his face. “Hi, Daddeeee!”
“Hey, punkin,” Dewey said, peeling strands of hair from his mouth with his free hand, then clearing the mass away from his daughter’s sweaty face. “You and your sis been good for Mommy while I was gone?”
“Mmm-hmmm.” Autumn’s sky blue eyes shone. “Pumme down now! Chloe’s still it!” And she pecked a quick, hard kiss upon Dewey’s bristled chin, then wrangled herself free. The chase continued.
Dewey rubbed at his chin; it felt like Autumn’s kiss had caught him with the edge of a sharp tooth. Then, in a blinding flash and deafening crash, lightning tore through the sky, the simultaneous thunder shaking the sheet metal walls of the barn. Chloe and Autumn screamed in a way that only children do, something between terror and delight. After only a brief pause to allow Dewey’s heartbeat to regain its track, the sky was rent apart with four more back-to-back explosions; Dewey saw three of the bolts segment the sky in flashes of lime-green light that appeared to follow the surface of some invisible, distant dome. The boards began to rattle in the bed of his truck, and for a second, Dewey went blank. The planks strained against the bungee cords as if being pulled upward by an invisible hand.
Spinning on his heels, Dewey caught the eyes of his daughters, frozen at the edge of the drive. Before them, countless pebbles rose off the driveway like a hailstorm in painstakingly slow reversed footage. Dewey hadn’t shared his apocalyptic visions with anyone but Mattie, but they had not contained this. As fear clenched Dewey’s heart in an iron fist, he bounded into action.
The thunder came again, this time in a sharp, staccato crash, and the simultaneous lighting this time split the sky into jagged segments partitioned by brilliant blue lines that took a preternaturally long time to fade.
“CHLOE! AUTUMN! Get into the bunker! NOW!” Dewey screamed and fled for the house. He glanced at the girls as he sped by; they were still transfixed on the floating pebbles, many now having reached above their heads. “NOW, GIRLS!” They quickly scurried towards the unfinished shed containing the bunker entrance, shielding their faces as they cleared a path through the floating gravel.
The planks were stretching the bungee cords in the truck bed, and a few loose lawn tools were slowly jittering heavenward as if being pulled by a frail marionette string. Dewey mounted the side porch, eyes wide in horror as he saw a garden hose rising into the air like a king cobra from its charmer’s basket. He lunged for the door, only for it to swing inward and out of reach; Dewey stumbled into the mudroom and crashed into Mattie.
“Dear God, honey, be careful,” Mattie said, peeling Dewey’s crumpled form off with damp hands.
“Get to the bunker!”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“GO, MATTIE! FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” Dewey shot an arm toward the spectacle of floating objects outside, and Mattie’s instantaneous screech left him with a ringing in his right ear.
Shoving Mattie ahead of him, the couple exited the mudroom and were assaulted with queasiness and a deeply unsettling feeling of buoyancy.
The fulmination split the sky with a fiery orange river and countless tributaries. Mattie’s scream echoed those of her daughter’s from the distant bunker entrance. A loud POP! and the bungees flipped through the air like dead snakes; Dewey’s fresh load of pine began rising toward the abysmal sky flashing with the multicolored strobes of a dance club.
Bare skin stinging with the bites from running through the sharp floating rocks, Mattie and Dewey reached their daughters, who were in the throes of a simultaneous snotty cry. “Mommy!” they each wailed, ceasing their fruitless attempt to lift the heavy bunker door and leaping into Mattie’s arms. Dewey moved them from the door’s path and swung it open, cursing himself for not taking the door’s weight into consideration. He’d have to create a pulley system to allow the kids to operate the door but now was not the time. “INSIDE! All of you. Now!” Dewey yelled.
He hit the breaker, and a soft light came from the cavernous bunker; the girls descended amidst tears and Mattie’s petitions for protection. The sky’s next report shook everything like an earthquake. The world became a brilliant neon pink as Dewey was flung off his feet and into the shed’s thin wall. His girl’s screams flew from the bunker as a horrifying realization cast Dewey Ingram’s world in grayscale.
“Dewey!” Mattie yelled. “Get down here!”
Stumbling to his feet, Dewey made it to the doorway. “The walkies and the radio are still inside the house, babe. I have to get them first.”
“No! Just come down now…”
“I’ll be right back. I love you.” And then the heavy bunker door clanged shut between the lover’s tear-stained gaze. Dewey fled toward the house.
The gravel now loomed above like a flock of distant birds, and clumps of the lawn were ripping away to begin the skyward climb. The planks were popsicle sticks in the sky, and parts of the roof were beginning to tear away at their corners. Dewey barely had footing, almost weightless, swimming through the tangy, thick air. More detonations above, and this time the sky burned with green flames. Dewey’s vision faded to white in the glare momentarily, and the ringing in his ears morphed into a muffled roar.
It was better inside the house, more grounded. Dewey rushed around sharp corners and tables, reached his study, and quickly threw the electronics he’d been outfitting with fresh batteries into Chloe’s pink canvas book bag he’d grabbed from the kitchen table. A two-way radio, some walkie-talkies, a small AM/FM radio with old-school dials, flashlights. He swept the tabletop of old and new batteries into the bag and zipped it up as he fled back through the house.
When the sky came into view at the edge of the mudroom, something inside Dewey Ingram snapped. The impression he’d had of the lightning running down a dome over his farm was now impossible to resist. The rolling lightning of a plasma ball filled the sky in pinks, blues, greens, reds, and yellows. And some distant pulse in the center of the sky was cycling up to a manic speed.
WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP!
It was like a recorded track of a helicopter rotor getting to speed played through heavenly-mounted city-sized speakers. The truck was bouncing slightly, front- then rear-wheel inching off the ground, and, even clenching the door frame, Dewey could feel the terrifying weightlessness of his body, the sea-sick roil in his belly. How would he make it across the expanse to the shed?
Dewey shouldered the pack, backed to the edge of the mudroom, and ran through the doorway without thinking. The serpentine hose at the back door was at the perfect angle to grab as he bounded off the side porch.
The world became the dark murk of a cloudy night, and Dewey smashed into the dirt, hose in hand. The gravel began to fall, tearing into his flesh and pinging off his skull. The planks clattered and splintered upon the truck, vertical boards smashed through the windshield. Dewey sprinted toward the shed in the sea of black, the searing pain becoming distant. Then he was in the shed, blood burning his eyes as he desperately searched for the bunker door.
The light of a noonday sun returned in an instant, and behind the deafening screech of the air, the shed cracked apart. Dewey watched in horror as the bunker door shrunk in his vision while he soared into the sky surrounded by his shattered shed. The Ingram farm and all its accoutrements ripped apart and took flight amongst rooted trees and clumps of brown earth. Dewey lost consciousness as he rose into the upper atmosphere.
Huddled and shuddering while their acapella wails echoed off the bunker walls, Mattie, Chloe, and Autumn Ingram awaited Dewey’s return below the flickering light. The walls of the bunker shook, and a queasiness overtook them.
Then, the girls were weightless.