What type of star is a criminal? A shooting star!
Our next entry by Tim Dwyer will bring out your inner Henny Penny, screaming, “The sky is falling!” For his main character, Bill, that is certainly an apt description for his predicament. If the difference between life and death was telling your story, would you survive? Please enjoy,
by Tim Dwyer
“This man and his stupid machine have trespassed on our hunting grounds, which is a capital offence… that means the death penalty for you dumb-asses out there.”
The ‘Judge’ cackled loudly, and the gathered gang responded in a nervous, witless snigger.
“The accused will now tell us his version of events.” He said this with an exaggerated, dramatic flourish. “We’re all looking to hear a nice story.”
“I’ll tell you the honest truth,” I said. He paused, glaring, and strode up to me until his face was inches from mine, and in a falsely reasonable tone he said, “Well, ya dumb-ass, that’s your version too, isn’t it?”
He backhanded me in the face, which knocked me to the ground. “Now get on with it! Or do you want me to make my ruling right now?” Then, grinning with his mouth, “Are you that eager to find out…asshole?”
A scattering of laughter sounded from the tribe, who sat in small groups on the ground or stood by the open fire. They were starting to enjoy the performance.
The Judge broke into a wide smile as he surveyed his untidy flock. He was of medium height and heavy build, strong but slow, with dark hair—I could not tell in the firelight whether black or dark brown. His face held a scraggly two-week beard covering his chin, his plump cheeks and the front of his neck.
“No, no I’ll tell you. We were just looking for clean water, that’s all. We didn’t mean to disturb you or anything.”
“Yeah? Well, we’re disturbed now, and your time is running out. So get talking before I change my mind and move on to the punishment part of this trial.”
This set off mutterings from the group. They were dressed mostly in blue jeans and ragged, faded shirts.
He sat down at a picnic table positioned to be in view of the whole group, and upon which, besides remnants of his dinner, was a large, decorative sabre—the kind one sometimes sees hanging on the walls of pawn shops.
As I picked myself up off the ground, I tried to concentrate on how best to tell my story. I had no idea what would happen afterwards, apart from the likelihood the Judge planned to kill me for the fun of it and was making a show of the occasion to extend the amusement. I decided to tell it as it happened and hope for the best.
“Before the disaster, I worked for a large engineering firm at their main office in the suburbs. They had moved to the suburbs to be closer to the staff engineers; many of whom left town to escape the crowds and the crime and congest…”
“Look, dumb-ass, we don’t give a shit about where you worked. Get on with your damned story!”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “On that day just before quitting time I took the elevator down to the Archive Room in the basement below the underground parking level. I wanted to retrieve an old paper file from a project that was completed many years earlier. The client needed further work done to one of their industrial sites. I opened a labelled storage box and was picking through the musty files when I heard a thump.
“My first thought was that a car bumped into a supporting post in the car-park. But after a second thump I noticed a faint, almost continuous rumbling, and I became convinced that something strange was happening. I was not overly worried at that point. Then more thumps: boom, ba-boom boom, boom-ba boom ba-ba-boom ba-boom—continuing nonstop. And then the lights went out. What might have caused this? Heavy construction? The emergency light at the stairway exit was powered by batteries, so fortunately I could still see my way around in the dimness.
“I tried the elevator push-buttons, but as I expected, there was no response. Then amid the booming I felt a huge bump, along with what sounded like an explosion, which knocked me off my feet. And I heard the horrifying rumble of rubble tumbling in the stairwell. When the rumbling stopped, I hurried to the stairwell door and opened it carefully. Broken concrete spilled into the room narrowly missing my feet. Through the choking dust and in the dim light, and with a background of continuous booming, I saw broken concrete fragments, some of them huge, filling the landing and extending up into total darkness. I tried to use my phone but there was no signal.
“A ball of panic swelled in my stomach. I did my best to hold onto the thought that, whatever was happening, a rescue crew would find me and get me out. This hope faded as the minutes passed and the horrible booming continued. I detected the faint acrid smell of smoke, and as the smoke thickened in the room I began to cough, pulling my shirt up over my nose and mouth. I felt the temperature in the basement increasing, and I sat on the floor in a corner trying to keep from coughing. This is how I stayed through the rest of it, with fear and panic steadily building.
“After six hours the booming dimmed, and the frequency of loud thumps reduced, first to one or two per minute, then to a few in the last hour, until there was only a fading, barely perceptible rumble. During the rest of the night there was nothing—nothing but silence in the near total darkness—time punctuated by my coughing and intermittent shouting for help. The dust and smoke were everywhere and my cough became more intense, and as the emergency lights faded I realised I had to get out on my own.
“With light from my phone, I tried to find a way up the stairwell, but rubble blocked it completely. That left the elevator shaft as my only means of escape. I dragged a low filing cabinet over to the doors …”
* * * *
A rough biker gang accuses Bill, a straight-laced engineer, of trespassing on their ‘hunting grounds.’ Their sadistic leader demands hearing Bill’s story before giving the death penalty. His story: Bill is in the basement when he hears rumbling. The building collapses, and he emerges to find the entire city devastated by an intense meteor shower. He and two other survivors, an injured woman and a AI robot, search for food and water, and find the devastation is likely to cover most of the planet. Bill and Jennie become very close, however she dies from her injuries.
Bill finishes his tale, convinced he will be executed to entertain the gang. During a distraction he stabs the Judge with a tent peg, killing him, and announces he is willing to lead them.
Timothy Dwyer is an American writer living in New Zealand. He has written a novel and a number of short stories, with a focus on science fiction, and in particular, artificial intelligence. He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering, specializing in Instrumentation and Controls, and worked as a consulting engineer. Before his engineering career he was a professional rock/jazz musician—and he remembers most of it. He loves cats.