THE LAST ITALIAN TUNE-UP, PART TWO “DAY ONE”

(THE FOLLOWING IS PART TWO OF THE ORIGINAL, SERIALIZED VERSION OF “THE LAST ITALIAN TUNE-UP”. BUT AS WE ARE NOW NOVELIZING THE STORY, WE ARE TREATING THIS, AND THE TWO OTHER SHORTS THAT WE’D RELEASED, AS A SORT OF “ROUGH DRAFT” FOR EARLY CHAPTERS OF THE NOVEL. WE ARE ALSO THEREFORE RELEASING THESE NOW TO READ FOR FREE, UNTIL THE FULL NOVEL VERSION IS COMPLETED. ENJOY!)

 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

It was late-morning, and Jack had just finished fixing the Chevelle’s distributor. He’d spent a good two hours on the job, occasionally cranking the engine and then swearing out loud each time it failed to start, until he’d finally solved the problem. What that problem had been, she didn’t know, although she guessed it’d had something to do with his choosing to rebuild the car’s original distributor, rather than just buying a new one. Apparently, the old ones were hard to set.

But the car was all original, and he’d wanted to keep it that way. Distributor included.

“Otherwise,” he’d told her over breakfast, “if I wanted- they make a new electronic version. Doesn’t have little, pain-in-the-ass mechanical ignition points or anything else that needs adjusting. You pretty much just drop it in, and…” He twisted an imaginary ignition key, then made a theatrical two-handed grab for an imaginary steering wheel. His knuckles went white, as if he were holding on for dear life.

She was inside, folding laundry, when she heard the Chevelle’s door slam yet again, and the engine crank once more. She steeled herself for yet another– you motherfucker, or maybe another- come on, bitch! His expressions of displeasure always took on an increasingly sexist tone as more time (and failures to fix whatever was broken) had passed.

But to her surprise, the sound that time wasn’t followed by swearing. Instead, the engine actually stumbled to life. Coughing, then stuttering, before it finally settled into a loud, loping idle.

“That’s it, sweetheart! Yeah!”

Which was also how it always went. First the anger, and the ugly words. Then the sweet talk. The forgetting that everything prior had had ever even happened.

The car’s booming exhaust note rattled through the entire house. She looked over with a frown as the antique washboard on the wall beside her began to vibrate in sympathy.

And she kept looking. Because soon, she knew, the washboard was going to dance. And God help Jack then, if it fell off the wall and broke. Because she would immediately march out into the garage with a few of the pieces and have his ass. In fact, she almost hoped it would fall. He knew how much she-

Suddenly, the engine began to rev… and drop. Rev… and drop. Spinning savagely up to a snarl before falling back to idle. The washboard jittered harder. But at least it didn’t fall. Although-

Dammit! She wished he wouldn’t do that. It was so… juvenile, for one thing. And God only knew what it sounded like to the neighbors. They were a good quarter mile away, but the garage seemed to act like a sort of megaphone. She knew, because she’d already been introduced more than once as “the one whose husband has the car”. The first time it had been by Mary Harmon herself, formerly of the now-declining bi-level. And hadn’t Jane detected the slightest hint of derision in the words, “the car”?

That was how he always did it, though. Because that was the official signal; anyone who wanted to go for a ride had better drop what they were doing and get themselves up to the garage, because Dad was getting ready to do another “Italian Tune-up”. Meanwhile, the washboard continued to twitch and rattle with every rev, as if it had a little engine of its own.

Another door slammed. That was surely Gary. He was so excited to get his license, so he could drive too.

Then a voice- “Wait! Wait for me! I wanna go too!”

That was Denise. The car door slammed yet again.

It was no big deal; Jack only did tune-ups once in a while, and he always took it easy when the kids went with him. He’d been warned: nothing too crazy, and NO damned burnouts; the Saturday night drag-racing parties that so often went on right in front of their own home were probably setting a bad example already. Between that, and Gary being around Jack’s macho hot-rodding buddies, and young Denise starting to notice the boys, Jack’s buddies’ sons, that often came with them- God only knew what dramas the coming summer might bring.

The Chevelle’s engine barked once more, and the big car burbled out of the garage.

Then it sat, idling for a few minutes. Probably while Jack did some last-minute screwing around with something.

It seemed to sit for a longer time than usual though. To the point that she started toward the laundry room window to see why.

But she before she could get there, she heard the engine bark one last time. And by the time she pulled back the curtain, the Chevelle was already at the end of the runway/drag-strip. Where Jack’s old Cessna Skyhawk should

No, where only Jack’s Cessna, and not his car, should be.

Suddenly, the Chevelle seemed to crouch, and its engine spooled up. It looked like Jack was using the “Roll Control”. The Roll Control was a device often used in drag racing. It allowed a car’s front brakes to lock while its rear brakes stayed free. This, in turn, allowed the car’s driver to rev the engine up and thus build power, so that when the Roll Control was finally released, the car would take off—launch, as Jack and his hot-rodding buddies called it—much more quickly.

“Like getting shot off a friggin’ aircraft carrier”, Jack had once told her.

And of course, the kids loved “Roll Control”. Maybe even more than their father did. She could imagine them all inside the Chevelle, getting ready to play the little game they always played with it. Jack’s foot would already be on the gas pedal, and Gary’s finger on the little red button. All while Denise was probably cueing up the theme from “Top Gun” on her phone.

They’d even recorded themselves a few times, on the GoPro that Jack had mounted to the car’s roll cage- were probably recording themselves again today. It was their version of home movies. Complete with soundtrack.

Jack: “Chevelle One-Nine-Seven-Zero to Tower- ready for departure on runway Two-Six.”

Gary: “Uh, Chevelle… Tower: Roger that Chevelle. You are cleared for takeoff.”

Jack: “Roger that, Tower. Have a nice day, sir.” And then, turning back to his daughter: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Please turn your attention to the pretty young girl in the back seat while she gives the safety instructions.”

Denise: “Everybody buckled in? Yes? Then hit it, Daddy!”

Then Kenny Loggins would howl one last time about riding into the “Danger Zone”, and-

Jane both heard and saw the Chevelle roar off in a cloud of white smoke.

And then they- it, was gone.

***

Not five minutes later, the washer suddenly made a POP! noise, and jerked to a stop. The light on the laundry room ceiling winked out too. She put down the towel she’d been folding and looked around.

Shit- that fuse blew again? So much of the house was new, but so much of it still depended on the old 1960s- whatever-it was, that sat hunkered deep down beneath it. And of course, the fuses were almost all the way down. Down all those damned stairs…

But

She looked out into the house’s great room… the second-hand on the wall clock had also stopped spinning. That didn’t make sense- she knew from experience that the two rooms were on different fuses… So, even if the washer had somehow shorted out the-

That was when all of the fire and carbon monoxide sensors in the house started beeping. She didn’t understand that either; they only did that when the power went out entirely… But why the Hell would the power go out on a beautiful day like this? Unless

I bet some dumbass probably hit a pole on the main road. Thanks, genius.

She resumed her folding.

As if I don’t have-

She stopped. What if that dumbass was Jack? But no, she reconsidered, Jack would have taken the field road, not the main-

She stopped again. Had she just heard a rumble?

She thought she had. A rumble like thunder, but very distant.

A storm then, maybe? But-

She looked out the laundry room window… the sky was blue, with not a dark cloud in sight. There was no storm she could see. Nor did one even seem likely. Nevertheless-

(RUMBLE)

What the Hell? She looked out the laundry room window again… but still didn’t see anything… The sky was still blue.

In fact, it was the bluest she’d ever seen it. She’d never noticed the sky to change hue before. She’d seen it go grey, of course, and to go dark- She’d even once seen it go green, which supposedly only happened just before a tornado, even though, on that occasion, no tornado had ever appeared…

But, more blue? This was a first.

Although it still didn’t explain the rumble. Maybe a transformer somewhere had blown up?

But then she heard more rumbles, this time more clearly. They seemed closer and louder.

So maybe it is a storm, but just coming from another direction?

She stepped from the laundry room out into the great room. Lined on two sides with tall, wide windows, it afforded an almost one-hundred-and-eighty-degree view; surely she would be able to see something from there.

When she looked out however…

Nothing. Just another expanse of extraordinarily blue sky.

She crossed to the far end of the room, opposite the windows, where there was a door. Atlas House, at least on the surface, was a large, log cabin-style home. As such, it had a wide, covered porch that spanned almost all of its remaining two sides. The door stood near the porch’s middle.

She pushed the door open, hoping that she might finally figure out what was going on. There was no sense putting the laundry out on the line if-

Her stomach dropped. What she saw through the door wasn’t a storm.

What she saw instead was something she couldn’t even comprehend.

Because far off in the distance, stretching from the earth to the sky- no, somehow, even higher than the sky, and as wide as her eyes could see, was an enormous wall of shimmering blue light.

It hung so incomprehensibly large that her brain mistakenly began to believe she was looking down, or that the world itself had somehow been turned upside down. So much so, that she even grabbed drunkenly at the doorframe to stop herself from falling out into it.

No, she told herself, this can’t- This is impossible…

She kept repeating that thought in her head, over and over. Until she realized something even less possible: that the immense wall seemed to be moving. And, as she checked its progress against the ground, she could see: it was coming toward her.

It ran steadily, like the light in a copy machine, or maybe a scanner, sliding over the distant hills as it bulldozed angry black lightning clouds along in the sky. She looked left and right, trying again to see if maybe it ended anywhere, but it didn’t; it just moved on a perfectly straight front that seemed to span the horizon, making its true size impossible to judge. The lack of perspective also stopped her from judging its speed, especially when she viewed it against the sky.

As the wall drew closer however, it began to cross distances that she could identify. She watched, mesmerized, as it cleared them in rapid succession: the water tower on far-off Rook Mountain, then, maybe a minute later, the fire station out on not-as-far-off Jonas hill, then the high-tension lines that straddled Green valley, and which ran almost straight towards-

A tremendously loud BUZZ… BUZZ… BUZZ… began to sound from one of the telephone poles – or at least what she’d thought were just telephone poles, that dotted the property. The poles had come with the property, and they were strung with long, thin wires that ran between the house, the hangar, and several other outbuildings which stood further away. And since none of the wires looked very substantial, she’d always thought they were just phone lines, or maybe just now-obsolete leftovers from Atlas’ brief, earlier life.

But one of the poles, she now saw, did have a faded, red, round thing atop of it, and that thing was now emitting the harsh, repeating BUZZ sounds. Almost like a warning.

Which, perhaps the sound was. Because not a second later, a puff of blue smoke coughed up from one of the large grates that lay embedded in the ground by the end of the runway. A thinner but steadier stream of smoke soon followed it, along with what appeared to be a shimmer of heat, as if some engine had begun running somewhere beneath. Although she had no idea why an engine might suddenly be-

It didn’t matter, she realized. Instead, she suddenly hoped that it was just that; some weird, underground part of Atlas, suddenly doing its thing, and not a fire. Because-

Whatever that—she looked back up at the shimmering blue thing—might be… she could only hope that it hadn’t done more to Atlas than just blown some fuses.

She thought of the POP! sound that the washer had made. Perhaps the washer hadn’t just died when the power went out, but been killed. Maybe by some further, more ominous effect of- she watched the shimmer that ran across the wall’s face; it did have a somewhat “electric” look to it. Which then made her think of power surges and jumping sparks, and of one of those sparks happening to land on something flammable, deep down inside of Atlas’ old, cold-war-era, pre-fire-code guts. And then of a small flame starting, like in some fire-safety video that had suddenly come terribly true.

CRAAACKLE…

The new sound drew her eyes down to the approaching edge of the… what? “Wall” still seemed the only good word to describe it. The “wall” now loomed about two miles off, and was still sliding closer by the second. Doing what though? And why? She already suspected that it had indeed killed the power, but-

What was it? A pair of Nikon binoculars hung from a hook beside the door. She grabbed at them. Normally she used them to spy on the pair of bald eagles that had made a nest on one of the nearby cell towers, but now she used them to look at the-

Yes, it was a wall; a humongous, blue wall. But what was happening on the ground beneath it? As it overtook more and more of the landscape? And shrouded it behind that shimmering blue?

The high-tension lines, for one thing, definitely seemed to be affected. Down their length, and as far as she could see, sparks flared and dripped from them. While just ahead of the wall, they seemed to be catching fire. So she’d definitely been right about that; there was the power loss. One of the wires suddenly let go, and began to fall… downward towards-

Her eyes caught sight of a man and a dog, not a hundred feet from the wall’s sparkling, crackling blue edge. They were trying to outrun it. But she could tell right away that neither had a chance. They’d probably been out for a leisurely hike. But now, at a run, the ground they were crossing was far too rough.

And they didn’t; the wall caught up with them only seconds later. First the man- he fell, and that was it. Then the dog…

She staggered against the doorframe when she saw what happened next. Both the man and the dog seemed to flicker red for a moment, a dark scarlet red, against the dazzling blue, which in perspective made them look almost black-

But then they vanished.

Oh my God…

A new sound came to her ears above the rumble and the BUZZ-ing. No, not quite a new one; she realized she’d been hearing it all along, but just hadn’t paid any attention to it amidst everything else she was hearing, and seeing.

It was the distant drone of an airplane engine. Small airplanes were always flying overhead, headed for the various small airports that seemed to dot much of the upstate.

She noticed this one though, now, because it had suddenly throttled up.

Jack had done that once, while she’d been flying with him in the Cessna. The tower at Newburgh had ordered him to clear the flight path of a bizjet that their crew had somehow missed on radar. He’d shoved the throttle knob in and pointed the plane down, just as the jet passed overhead, not a quarter mile away.

She remembered the abrupt, urgent sound the Cessna’s engine had made that day. And now, she was hearing that sound again. She frantically searched the sky for the plane that had to be—

No… was, she suddenly realized, was making the sound, because she couldn’t hear it anymore.

The engine sound had stopped. And a moment later, she saw why. The plane-this one a low-winged Piper, not a high-winged Cessna—was spiraling downward, beyond the wall. She guessed because the wall had either killed its pilot, or somehow killed its engine. Or most probably, killed them both. But whatever the cause, the effect was the same. Seconds later, the Piper smashed to the ground. A small fireball leapt from the wreck. Black smoke corkscrewed up behind it.

Seeing that finally broke the spell. At which point she realized- she was still standing stupidly at the open front door. While the wall-the thing which she now knew could do oh-so-much worse than just blow fuses—still marched steadily toward her.

She turned and stumbled back from it, back toward the laundry room. Hide! I have to hide!, she knew. But… she could think of nowhere to go. Aside from the laundry room and a small bathroom, this entire floor of the house consisted mostly of the big, open great room. It would offer no shelter at all. Especially with so many windows.

The rumble quickly grew to a pulsing, rolling boom. Through the laundry room door, she saw that the washboard was shaking again, but this time even harder than it had when-

Jack- the kids… they are out there in the-

But then, some deeper, instinctual part of her brain added its own voice to the cacophony. It began screaming at her to get away from the great rushing blue thing; that it would reach her any minute now, and then-

The washboard fell to the floor and shattered.

The wall would come right through the windows, she was sure if it. And then-

But she didn’t want to vanish like that man and his dog! She didn’t want to- whatever had happened to them, or to that plane and its pilot, just before they’d-

But where could she hide? Where?

Downstairs

Down where Atlas House’s “real” living space was. Down in what Jack still always referred to as the “LCCs”, even though now they only held a few big bedrooms, two bathrooms and a very nice living room.

But hadn’t Jack once jokingly told her that their nice living room would be one of the few in the world where you’d always be able to have a movie night, even after a nuclear war? And that, in the bedrooms, you would always get a quiet night’s rest, even through—ha-ha—the end of the world?

Only, Jack hadn’t been joking.

Because “Atlas House” wasn’t just a fancy name; it was a namesake. And although they’d settled on the name only after a few too many glasses of wine on their first night there, in a tent out by the end of the runway because the house itself hadn’t even existed yet, that namesake referred to something very real.

“LCC-1”, as Jack liked to call it, might now be a nice living room suite, and “LCC-2” might be several nice places to sleep and to do the rest of life’s necessaries, but the acronym “LCC” had once stood for the words “Launch Control Center”, and the thing those centers had once been prepared to launch had been a nuclear-tipped, Type-F, SM-65 “Atlas” Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile.

“A real city-killer,” Jack had once called it.

But if the missile were to have any chance of launching, both it and its crew had to survive first. Therefore, the “LCC”s were buried, deep underground. So, if a nuclear war ever were to happen, or maybe the end of the word did come to pass-

Or the world is overrun by a humongous blue fucking wall-thing that kills anything it can catch…

-while everything above: the hangar, the poles, the outbuildings, and now the house that she and Jack had built over it, might be destroyed, the “LCC” would most likely survive. At least in theory.

Which begged the next question- would she survive inside of it? Did the wall’s effects end at the ground level? Or did they reach deeper? It didn’t matter, she decided. She saw no other chance- she had to run!

She didn’t bother to shut the front door. She just turned and sprinted back across the great room. Past the laundry room, and toward the steel-grate door that led downstairs.

She yanked at the door- but it didn’t budge.

She tried the handle, but it was locked-

Of course it’s locked you fucking moron! The door was the original surface entry door that used to free-stand out in the open, before the house had been built around and over it.

Back in the day, it had been surrounded only by enough concrete to ensure that the door itself would survive a nuclear near miss. But beyond that, it had been designed to present as small and stout a target as possible. Putting a structure over it would only increase the chance of the door being either buried or damaged if said structure got smashed by a Soviet warhead.

But now, of course, with the worry of nuclear destruction mostly gone, such precautions had been deemed no longer necessary, even laughable.

At least by Jane. Jack, at first, had tried to find some way to keep the old entry separate from the house by digging a new, second tunnel in, but the cost had turned out to be prohibitive, even for him. And so, the door and its concrete mountings now stood framed within warmly stained pine trim, and surrounded by an expanse of drywall that had been painted a friendly shade of yellow.

Although, it still needed a five-digit code to open.

The code- Stupid, goddamned code…

He’d nagged her over and over about it. Rather than just leave the damned door open, he’d wanted her to use the stupid code. Every time.

“Just in case”, he’d said.

“The state cops are at least twenty minutes away. And the LCC is like a giant safe-room. The gun safe is down there too. So, if anyone ever breaks in, we, or more importantly, you, and the kidsI mean, you know you’re here a lot more than I am, would still be safe and sound.”

At least he’d made it easy.

“Look, the code is simple: zero, one, nine, seven, zero.”

The model year of the Chevelle, of course. Easy…

Her finger shook as she punched the keys, but did what it was told. Then she yanked the handle, and-

Thankyouthankyouthankyou-

-the door swung open. She turned and watched for a final few seconds as the wall slid across the nearest ridge, then down the access road, and then as it crossed the runway. Something inside the Cessna sparked. The wall filled the windows on the far-side of the house. She wondered if blue would be the last thing she ever saw as she threw herself through the door and pulled it shut. A half-second later, she heard the great-room windows shatter-

But… “I’m still here,” she told herself breathlessly. “I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still…

She kept on chanting the words as she ran down the stairs. As long as she could hear her own voice, she reasoned, she was still alive. She hadn’t, at least as far as she could tell, disappeared.

Not yet, anyway.

A small flame of hope kindled within her nonetheless. Maybe going underground would protect her. She was also, she knew, as she descended, increasingly sheltered by ever more concrete and steel rebar. Meant originally to be further proof against a Russian nuke, but… Maybe-

CRACKLE…

Behind her, the entry door spit sparks. And to her horror, the shimmering blue light spattered through the door itself. A split-second later, it began descending the stairs behind her.

With it came a boiling, crackling hum. The hum sputtered rhythmically with each step down.

She needed to descend two straight flights of stairs to reach the first “LCC”: “LCC-1”. Each flight ran roughly thirty feet long and twenty feet down, with a flat, twenty foot stretch in between.

She’d already reached the bottom of the first flight just as the wall breached the entry door. The good thing about this was that she suddenly believed she could make it to LCC 1 before the wall did. It was going fast, but not that fast; she could never outrun it, but with the head start she now had…

The bad part was, at the bottom of the second flight, through a large, heavy blast door, the stairs reversed direction for ten feet- toward the onrushing wall, and before reaching LCC-2. So, if LCC-1 wasn’t deep enough to escape the wall’s effect, she would probably, she knew, die there.

She ran on anyway; she had no other choice. Steps flew beneath her, two and three at a time.

By the time she reached the top of the second flight the wall had reached the bottom of the first. She couldn’t see it anymore; she didn’t dare look back, but she could hear it, even though the rhythmic stutter of its descent down the stairs had stopped. Not for long though, she knew, because it was gaining. The noise it made, that horrible, crackling, boiling noise, while temporarily smooth, had grown louder.

She hit the bottom of the second flight. Thank God at least that Jack hadn’t wanted to keep the stupid old blast doors closed too. She ran down the shorter, reverse flight of stairs that led to LCC 1-

No! Dammit!

The wall was already marching its way across LCC-1, toward her. LCC-1 wasn’t deep enough after all. She reversed direction yet again, and sprinted desperately back out toward the set of stairs that went further down to LCC 2.

She didn’t so much run down those as jump down them. She couldn’t see the wall at all just then; it was obscured by the sides of the stairway, but she knew she soon would. Once the final flight of stairs down to LCC-2 turned back on themselves that last time. Unless, of course, the wall’s reach had finally run out.

Another blast door and-

No! Oh God, no!

The wall had reached LCC-2 as well. It hung, glittering, not ten feet away, and would close that distance within seconds. Then, she would die.

She thought one last time about her children, and then about Jack. She hoped they might somehow have gotten away. Although-

And as for her: she could only think of how sad it was; that she would die here, alone, in the one place where Jack had thought they might all be safe, no matter what.

Oh, his official reason was just that he’d thought it would be “cool” to live there, with the dragstrip and the hangar and the cool 1960’s vibe that permeated the entire place…

But she knew the real reason. He’d always been so… scared.

To the point that he’d even moved his entire family into a long-since-retired nuclear-

-Missile base… Oh my God- I still have a chance!

She turned away from the wall and began sprinting as hard as she could. Back out of LCC-2, past the blast door, and past the stairs, toward the opposite wall. Toward a large, perfectly round, hole in that wall.

And then, into darkness.

Atlas House had indeed been built upon what were once the long-neglected remains of a cold-war era missile base. Jack and Jane had, after much discussion and two heated arguments, paid just over seventy-thousand (2006) dollars for both the property and “all aforementioned underground structures as listed per GSA auction G-B2588”. With “all aforementioned underground structures…” being the two 1960s-vintage “LCCs”, a twenty-thousand-gallon water tank/sewage reclamation system, a five-thousand gallon fuel storage bunker…

And a single, eight level, one hundred-thirty foot deep (albeit now-empty) missile silo.

What Jane had remembered just then was that the missile silo was connected to LCC 2 by a single, fifty-foot-long corrugated steel tube. A tube that ran straight out onto Level 2 of the silo, roughly ninety feet from the silo’s bottom.

And now she was sprinting, almost blind, down that tunnel.

Almost blind because the shimmering blue wall had followed her, and was now only about ten feet behind. She still couldn’t see it, because she still didn’t dare to look back, but its shimmer illuminated her immediate path.

Worse, she could now feel the wall. Whatever it was, it had begun reaching for her.

It reached with blue, electric fingers. She knew this because those she could see, if only from the corners of her eyes. They played over her flailing arms, snapped at her legs. They even tugged at her air, like static electricity gone mad.

And as they continued to gain on her, she began to hurt. The hurt came in the form of a hum, which seemed to resonate through her entire body, shaking her very cells.

This, she thought crazily, must be what it feels like to be in a microwave. Just before you get baked alive.

The hum ramped violently up in intensity, to almost mind-numbing levels. It vibrated the fillings in her teeth and penetrated her flesh, making her skin sting and itch. She felt her hair suddenly pull fully back from her scalp and her vision went blurry. Everywhere, the fingers grabbed at her. Static crackled all around. She became faintly aware of a wetness spreading down her legs.

The hum turned into a scream- No, she realized, she had begun to scream. A scream that echoed down the tube and back again-

Until it suddenly echoed no more. Because her scream just then had spilled out into a vast, black nothingness. Right in front of her.

Which could only mean- Oh n-

WHAM!

Her midsection smashed into something hard. Something that CLANG-ed, and which felt like a piece of pipe. Just before it sent her somersaulting, out into the sudden, empty darkness.

It was the railing, she realized too late. The one that stood at the edge of the silo. In her panic, with the wall chasing right behind her, she’d only thought about running, and about how she might, maybe still be able to escape. But she’d totally forgotten about the railing.

She’d only seen it a few times, on the rare occasions when she and Jack had gone out into the silo itself. They had to check the silo tube once in a while because it leaked, and because they had to make sure, whenever there’d been an especially heavy rain, that the water at the bottom hadn’t risen too high.

If the water did get high enough, Jack had to turn on the sump pumps, lest the back-up generators that sat a few platforms further below get flooded. The generators still worked, he’d said, even after all these years, and he didn’t want them to get ruined now. You never knew when you might need them.

“Jesus,” she’d told him on one such occasion, “how far down is the water?”

“Depends,” he’d replied. “Sixty, maybe seventy feet. So the water itself is maybe twenty or thirty deep.

But,” he’d gone on to say, “don’t you go swan diving in there. There’s old refrigerant tanks and machinery down there too, all sticking up from the bottom. And some of ‘em are pretty tall. It’d suck to land on one.”

She caught one last, upside-down look at the wall just after she went over. It spit and crackled over the silo platform, then spilled out over the edge, after her. For the third time in less than five minutes, she wondered if blue would be the last thing she saw before she died. At least the horrible, humming, baking sensation would finally stop. She hoped.

And not a second later, it did stop.

Although- she marveled… she, somehow… hadn’t. She could still hear the wall, sputtering above her as she fell…

But the sound she now heard, was of it passing.

She also briefly heard the steady, rattling sound of… an engine? Of course! It was one of the diesel generators, down in the silo. At the power outage it had dutifully come to life, just as Jack had said it would. Which meant that it, not a fire, had been the source of the smoke that had coughed up from the grate by the runway.

She’d done it, she realized. She’d finally escaped the wall. Not exactly by jumping, the way she’d planned, but falling had done the trick all the same. And if the generator was still running, even now, after the wall had passed, then Atlas house was still alive too.

Now, if only whatever lay below didn’t kill her anyway. Air rushed ever faster past her ears. The sound of the generator faded. She seemed to be falling a long way.

She began to wonder just how high the water might-

She felt the very briefest sensation of wetness. Then sharp pain.

Then nothing.

 

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