When I was a kid growing up in West Virginia, my father often spoke about how easy my childhood was compared to his. He was a man who liked his drink just as much as he liked to embellish his hardships. School wasn’t served by buses, so he trekked uphill, both ways, in driving snow, even during non-winter months, without shoes. This story supposedly explained his thick calluses and mangled toes. At dinner time, once he’d gone through half a bottle of the Turkey, he’d box my ear, often for no reason, and tell me how, when he was young, all his family had was one meal a day, which usually consisted of a thin broth thickened with the bones of animals found along the side of the road. When his slaps brought tears to my eyes, he’d laugh and tell me how his father beat him regularly during drunken tirades for such small infractions as sniffling too loudly.
According to him, I had it pretty good.
We lived in a modest community not too far from where my father was born and raised. He called the place he lived as a child a house, but the structure was really what I would describe as a shack: four wooden walls, one room, and a roof made of metal. By the time I was a boy, his parents were long dead, and the structure was a crumbling mass of splinters and rust.
I’d never meant to pay homage to my father. Rather, I hoped to leave him decaying in his grave. But 485 years later, sitting in the world I’d created, a replica of the West Virginia countryside, I realized that my father would never penetrate my bliss. What I’d created was a place of tranquility rather than a cauldron of terrible memories.
High mountaintops populated with tall sugar maples stretched as far as the eye could see. The sky was crisp blue, bright like two suns lit it up. I was in a valley, nestled between two low hills, lying on a red and white-checkered blanket with my daughter, Lila, and grandson, Sam. We sat under a tree, about twenty yards from the image of my father’s house. The air was warm and a bit moist. The smell of dirt and decay filled my nose.
“He’s really not that bad,” Lila said between nibbles of a deviled egg.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. Lila always held an optimistic view of the world.
“Dad, he’s just a guy with an opinion. Just because you don’t agree with him doesn’t mean that he’s not a decent person,” she said.
“Victor Newberry isn’t a good person.” If they gave me a minute or two to rant, I could spit a few pretty choice words about that low-life. But I wasn’t going to launch into a discussion of politics. Not unless they really wanted me to.
I reached into the brown wicker basket in front of me and pulled out a bright red apple. I looked at it for a moment before I sank my teeth into the crisp round body. Juice dribbled down my chin.
“He was even nice after I told him that you worked intelligence for the Laslow Corporation,” she said. My daughter was tall and tan with wavy auburn hair down to her shoulders. She wore a white dress printed with small red flowers, a dress that her mother bought for her. This image came from a family trip to the Outer Banks after she graduated from high school.
“Why would you tell Victor Newberry that I work for Laslow?” I asked.
“You’re mad?” She looked at me with those big, brown eyes and little pieces of what was left of my heart softened.
“I’m not mad,” I said. Was I irritated that my daughter worked for a left wing rag like The Worlds? Definitely. Victor Newberry and his liberal editor-cronies spent their days uplifting the death and destruction wrought by the Green Revolution. And now my daughter worked with them, talked to them about me, told them where I worked. So sure, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like her life choices. Then again, she didn’t like mine.
But I didn’t want to spend more time at the Source fighting about my daughter’s career mistakes. Because of their schedules, I had eight hours with them every two weeks. Spending that time arguing was a waste.
“Maybe when you get home, we can get a transport to the mountains,” Sam said, ever sensitive to my moods, “get a cabin for a couple of days. Then you can feel what actual mountains are like again.”
“I’d like that,” I said. I didn’t want to think about what I would have to do to get a couple months off of work in order to go home.
A soft wind blew through the trees and tousled Lila’s hair. I looked to my right, past where the cabin stood, into the dense forest. Bird songs played underneath the rush of the wind. I took a deep breath and let memories fill me.
I swung my head back to Lila and saw a smudge of black and blue over her shoulder. The smudge began to grow, and the yellow sun bled; the bright blue sky turned the color of a painful bruise. It was as though an unseen force pulled Lila and Sam away from me, down a long corridor. They talked as though nothing were different, as though they had no idea what was happening to them. I watched them go, aware of what was likely to come.
Underneath my beautiful world at the Source was the darkness of another place. It was a place that I didn’t recognize. The blackness of night covered the sky. Pale yellow lights reflected off a clear surface separating me from the heavens. I was under a dome.
Around me, I felt the movement of bodies. They shuffled along, the noise of their feet and conversation swam through me. Though I couldn’t understand their words, I gathered that they were excited. The inflection in their tones conveyed happiness and anticipation.
I smelled hot dogs.
Then I looked up. Ahead stood a tremendous structure; rounded glass and steel; a stadium. I realized where I was: New Mumbai, Three Spheres Basketball Association, Game 7 of the Finals.
And then came the explosion.
The air pulled away from me. Goose bumps flashed across my skin. Then, everything reversed. Air sped toward me, pushing me back. I toppled over. The light came next, a blue flash. The smell of burning flesh slashed the air. The cries of people echoed. Then there was still blackness and the powdery remnants of bodies.
I felt myself drawn home, my spirit going back to the body that it regularly inhabited. I’d have plenty more time to inspect the scene, relive the moments of horror before the explosion. Lights flashed in front of my eyes as I was drawn back to my authentic life.
I had to get to work.