BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL
(End Of Days Series – David Nadas)
“Hello? … Hello?… F’ing thing! ” Jammie shouted into the car’s navigation screen as if that would speed up the Bluetooth connection from her mobile phone.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Her husband’s worried voice asked through the speakers, catching only her last remarks.
“Yeah… I’m fine…. It just takes so long for the phone to work its way through the screen thingy to the speakers and you have no idea if the other side is hearing you… whatever….yeah… I’m fine… What’s up Grumps?”
“I hate when you call me that… “
“Sorry, Paul, but you sound so seriously grumpy.”
“Jammie, have you checked your phone lately? Every device on the planet with an emergency alert is going off!”
“Yes I heard my phone, but it’s in my purse on the back seat… What am I looking for? A Kia Soul with tinted windows? A white Camry? A maroon 2017 Honda CRV Touring? Wait… that’s what I’m driving…. I suppose the amber alert could be about me because I heard a BOOM and I thought a Walmart eighteen wheeler had hit me–– and you know my premonition of being taken out by one of those…. So then I scooted into middle lane to let it go by and some A-hole started honking from behind me, so I moved back into the fast lane and almost clipped some Millennial who was lying so far back in the seat I thought it was one of those self-driving EVs…. where was I? Oh yeah––”
“Jammie…. Are you through?
“Sure… what do you want me to pick up?”
“What? Where are you?”
“I’m on 15 South.”
“Paul, I’m on 15 South… I can’t just pull over––”
“Pull off the road, Jammie, NOW!”
“Do it!” She heard and the space in the car went silent.
“Paul.. Are you there?”
“Yes.” Paul said calmly this time. Please pull off the road, Jammie.”
“Ok, I’m taking the Poway Rd Exit–– Good God! There’s another Walmart truck exiting in back of me. I feel like I’m being herded to my death….”
“Let me know when you’re on the side of the road”
“Ok, just let me find a safe place to park. There’s like no shoulder here and the only place that looks decent is occupied by a food truck with yet another Walmart rig next to it! Where am I, Walmart Truck Hell? Is this where they all meet up and compare their kills?
––Hey, I just took out a minivan.
––Yeah, those are great. Love the crunch but not as good as clipping an RV
–– ‘Cuz they’re full of people (chuckle, chuckle, chuckle). Do Walmart truckers stamp icons of cars indicating the number of kills they have, like the WWII pilots did?“
“Jammie, get serious. Pull off the road.”
“I’m trying, Paul. Okay, I see a shopping center up ahead. I’ll pull in. Oh Christ, Paul, it’s a Walmart Supercenter!” This must be the mecca of Walmarts, because judging from the size, this one probably gives birth to smaller Walmarts––”
“Jammie! I’m not joking around. You need to pull in but do not shut off the car or you’ll cut me off.”
Jammie did as he asked, parking as far away as possible in the lot, looking around at all the haphazardly parked Walmart rigs around her.
“I’m stopped,” she said, unbuckling her seatbelt. “What is so important that I now have a front row seat at my premonition?”
“The world is coming to an end, Jammie.” Paul said through the connection with Jammie detecting a crack in his voice.
“Tell me about it Paul–You should see this place. It’s like I crawled into a den of sleeping Walmart Trucks and there is an alarm clock with two giant bells on it next to them about to go off in three seconds and I can’t reach it in time––”
All she could hear was a slight whimper coming through the car speakers.
“Paul? She said gently. Paul was not the kind of guy who would tear up like that. Paul? Is everything okay?”
“Jammie. I’m serious. Look at the alert on your phone. You heard that boom, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but I thought that was the Walmart truck?”
“It wasn’t. Apparently there was and undetected intergalactic rock the size of Manhattan that came out of nowhere and just skimmed Earth, passing close enough that it tore a trench in the upper atmosphere on the other side of the planet and that was the boom we all heard––”
“But it didn’t hit us… that‘s good, right?”
“Maybe, maybe not. At least if it had hit us we would have never known it, but it took out most of the satellites communications and seriously screwed with Earth’s electromagnetic field, so much so that scientists speculate a reversal of the poles and we will lose all our protection from radiation until the fields realign. It’s not good, Jammie.”
“So.. like how long does that take? Can’t we just stay inside for a bit?”
“No one really knows. There’s evidence in Earth’s past that the poles have switched many times before, but no one knows if it’s an overnight thing or several thousand years.”
“So like how much radiation are we talking about?” Like we all have to wear 500-block lotion just to take out the recycle?
Paul started to laugh. This is what he loved most about Jammie; she could get him to laugh in the most dire of situations, turning the corners of his mouth upward as much as he tried not to smile.
“Like it is going to kill most of the vegetation and the downstream effect will be pretty devastating for terrestrial life not to mention we are losing a boatload of atmosphere. And it gets worse; they think it will slingshot around the sun and head right back at us.
“Oh… that’s not so bad, it will give me time to put on some makeup.”
Paul burst out laughing on the other end of the phone. And then there was silence and a crumble of soft sobs.
There was another Earth shattering boom and her car seemed to bounce in place, with the rear hatch window shattering into micro tiles as the car settled ninety degrees from its original position. She had instinctively ducked into the passenger seat, looping her forearm under it to hold herself tight against the cushion; a scenario she had practiced in her mind dozens of times thinking she would one day see a Walmart truck jackknifing towards her and slicing the roof off like a mandolin does to an onion.
When she got up to look, she was facing the Supercenter, watching a wave of tarmac make its way across the lot, flipping standing groups of people, cars and trucks like toys before slamming into the front where every window seemed to implode simultaneously. She expected to see chaos, and hear rivers of alarms, sirens going off, but it was dead silent.
“Paul? Paul did you hear that? My God Paul, what was that?” she asked into the air, trying to roll down the driver window to see up into the sky as if whatever did this was still up there, but the button was not working.
“Paul? Are you there?” she asked looking directly at the navigation screen that was now dark, and noticed the car engine was off. She pressed her foot on the brake and pushed the start button, but nothing happened. She opened the door and stepped out. It was pin drop silent. People were starting to get up as if someone had pulled the Earth carpet from beneath them. As people started running toward the building that was billowing a grey white dust out of every orifice, Jammie realized the entire roof must have collapsed within. She turned in a circle and could see the same thing being played out in every direction. Every tree, signpost, anything that had been vertical was not lying on the ground. There was destruction everywhere and that destruction had taken out everything that was capable of making a sound.
Fishing out her mobile phone, that was lodged behind the gas pedal, and pressing every button was as effective as trying to give life to a brick. She tossed it into the seat and stood up, resting her arms on the roof watching as people were dusting themselves off and scratching their heads, discovering the same about their own mobile phones. She watched as everyone tied to start their cars then open the front hoods to more head scratching.
She looked up but there was nothing but blue sky. The sounds of humanity started to flood back and there were fires evident in the building, smoke everywhere, but no sirens, alarms to be heard. Whatever happened took out anything and everything that was electronic.
People began to realize the situation, organizing and trying to assess the damage done, wondering if they could save anyone inside. The only sounds were sounds of material things breaking or crumbling, stitched together with cries of fear.
Jammie started to walk toward the group, when a vintage jungle truck rolled up beside her, still running.
“Get in!” the guy said.
Jammie was fluxed, looking around and then back at him.
“If you’d rather walk to where you need to go, that’s fine with me,” and he ground his shift into gear.
“Wait!” Jammie called out. “Ok, but how do I know you’re not going to take me down some dirt road and … well do things to me before you choke me to death and the last thing I see is your twisted smile?”
“I’m afraid I can’t offer that kind of excitement. I’m just a normal guy,” he said, reaching over and opening the passenger side door, shoving it a couple of times as it protested against the rusted hinges. “But you better make up your mind, and quickly,” he said nodding his head to the crowd of people behind her that saw an operating vehicle and started running towards them.
Jammie didn’t hesitate and jumped in, closing the door as the truck lurched forward and the driver, not bothering to follow parking lot rules, rode up and over the curb and through a row of planting on the straightest path to the exit.
Jammie was pressed against the seat, gripping the roof handle and console, managing to only shriek a few times as the planting were uprooted and thrown upwards over the brush guards, bouncing off the roof and up over the rear. When they exited the Walmart Supercenter, the driver stopped in the middle of the road and pulled up on the emergency brake.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sucking in the on side of his mouth as if something were stuck in his teeth.
“I think I would have been better off down the dirt road with your hands on my throat––Do you always drive like this? I mean there are distinct entrance and exit arrows, streets and things clearly marked for cars,” she said, straightening out her blouse that had hiked up during the ride.
“Sorry,” he said, sincerely. “But the faces on those people running towards us looked like a scene from the Walking Dead. I don’t think they were about to kindly ask us for a lift.
She looked back through the rear window to make sure the walking dead were still not running towards them.
“Yeah,” she agreed and faced him. “Hey, why exactly is this thing running when every other vehicle isn’t?” She asked, now curious, looking around at the sterile metal compartment with not a hint of softness to it. Just beige on beige on beige chipped paint over grey metal.
“Well, this is a 1968 Defender,” he said tapping the dashboard as if this was his pride and Joy. “There are zero electronic parts in here. This is completely mechanical, including the manual crank starter in the grill. Nothing is going to keep this baby in the corner.”
He could see she was looking him up and down from his blond spiked cropped hair, neatly ironed flannel button-down to the patina of jeans that looked from the same year as the truck. She guessed he was in his early fifties, like herself. His rolled up sleeves revealing tight arms and a ropy physique––someone not afraid of manual labor and a clean living. He was contrary to the compartment they were in––impeccable. Not unlike herself.
“My name is Darrel. Darrel Glick,” he said stretching out his hand.
“Jammie,” she said, remaining on a first and only first name basis, still not entirely trusting him to give her last name as she reached over and shook his calloused hand.
“Where to, Jammie?” He asked, placing one hand on the steering wheel while the other rattled the shift into a spot that popped them forward.
“And don’t worry,” he added, seeing the distrust of lines stacked along her forehead. “All the dirt roads I know of are in back of us,” he said, with a wink before turning his attention ahead, turning from time to time to see how she was coping.
She had always possessed a good instinct in people, albeit sometimes bluntly telling a person what she thought with no filters. Settling back into her seat, the lines on her forehead began to melt.
He followed her directions back to route 15 and continued south, weaving between stopped cars with their passengers either still inside or looking under the hood or walking down the highway, never bothering to help anyone and going off-road now and then to avoid gatherings which might pose a problem for them. The people he passed seemed star struck, not knowing what to make of the little tan truck bouncing by, out of place to the Tesla, Audis and modern versions of itself–– the spit polished Land Rovers with their custom leather interiors now worthless heaps of junk, some trying to pursue them on foot but falling far short when their Louboutins, Manolo Blahniks or Balenciagas refused to touch dirt.
“So what’s your story, Darrel?” Jammie asked.
“I had a good gig going until COVID came along, then got permanently laid off from my tech job, but with everyone still clicking away on-line, the trucking industry held up so I thought, ‘What better way to social distance and earn a living at the same time?’” And you?” He asked.
“Wait, let me guess,” he interrupted. “You are a stay-at-home-mom, have a husband who retired early so he could perfect his golf game, have grown kids with families, own a dog, and live in nice house with an ocean view,” he said giving her a once over look and nodding in confidence of his guess”
His assessment spooked her and she leaned forward to stare at him as he kept his gaze out the window.
“Wait a minute… Do I know you from somewhere?” She asked. “Have we met before?”
“No. I would have remembered you,” he said, causing her to blush.
“Then how would you know all that about me?”
“I was in Big Data,” he said as if those two words needed no other explanation.
“What does that mean?” she asked. “Like you sat in a windowless room, dressed in a faded black T-shirt with skulls and lightning bolts on it, drinking red Bull and eating day old cold pizza in front of a billboard of flat screens, spying on people surfing the internet?”
“The T-shirt was red,” he said, matter of fact. “And my drink of choice was Mr. Pips.”
This brought a chuckle to Jammie who faced forward and leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms in front of her chest, momentarily, before leaning forward again to see his face as he drove.
“Seriously? Do people like that really exist?”
“Yes,” he said.
“So why are you driving this clunker?”
“She didn’t mean that,” he said tapping the dashboard. “Yes, at the time, I could have afforded any car but this is what I wanted.”
“Oh, turn here!” she shouted, almost missing her entrance, a nondescript packed crush-stoned driveway that skirted through a grove of brush, winding its way along a canyon ridge.
Darrel dropped the defender into a lower gear and headed up the drive until they rounded a bend and through the trees he could make out a sleek and modern structure almost indistinguishable from the landscape around it, beyond, unobstructed views to the coast miles away.
“Ahhh…” he said. “I’ve hit the mother load,” he said, bringing a huff to Jammie.
“Don’t even think of looting anything or holding us hostage. My Dog is trained to attack at the sight of flannel.”
As they pulled into the driveway, Paul was already standing outside with their Papillion resting at his feet.
“Is it safe to get out?” Darrel asked, nodding toward the small dog.
“Don’t be fooled,” Jammie said confidently. “One wrong move and the last thing you see after being taken down to the ground will be the eyes of my Millie.”
They opened the doors to the sound of popping metal and stepped out, brushing the dust that had swirled through the open windows of the truck on their way up the drive.
Paul immediately rushed over and held Jammie in her arms, kissing her hair and cupping his hands along her face,
“I thought I would never see you again,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“Me too she said and kissed him lightly upon his lips. You can thank Darrel for that, “She said, turning to introduce him.
Paul stepped over, shaking Darrel’s hand. “I can’t thank you enough.” Paul said looking deeply into his hazel eyes, not knowing what else to say.
“Nothing to it. I’m here for the Silver,” he said, getting a laugh from Jammie.
Paul shot a confused look between them.
“Never mind, Paul, I’ll clue you in after we get a drink,” she said, locking her arms into each of theirs and leading them into the house.
On the back terrace, Darrel and Paul were seated in cane chairs, staring out over the stone sitting wall, a glass of 25 year old Michter’s Whiskey in hand, looking at the sun about to set over the Pacific, a light breeze coming from the west carrying a marine freshness with it.
“Nice view,” Darrel remarked.
Paul was silent, taking in what Darrel said, knowing this view would be gone not long from now. “Cheers,” he said, raising his glass.
“I’m more of a craft beer guy, but this is damn good,” Darrell commented, lifting his glass where the sunset refracted through the amber color of the whisky.
“I was saving this bottle for a special occasion,” Paul said.
“It doesn’t get more special than this,” Darrel replied.
“So how does this end?” Jammie asked, walking up behind them, and taking a seat.
“Hard to say,” Paul said. “That asteroid ripped a nice hole in the atmosphere, sort of like a slow leak in a balloon. At the same time, the magnetic disturbance was enough to begin the reversal of the poles. I don’t know much more than that because everything is down.”
“When do you think the Internet will be back up?” Jammie asked.
“I doubt it’s coming back. Every satellite now has it’s GPS screwed up or was fried.”
As the sun set over the Pacific, a darkness had swept over them, and where the starburst of lighting from homes, buildings, shopping centers and street lights once filled the landscape below, rendering the sky a sheet of grey, their eyesight had adjusted to the darkness, and painted from horizon to horizon was the plate edge of the Milky way with it’s full spectrum of stars and dust clouds like a river of light.
“Wow that is gorgeous, “Jammie said. “You’re telling me that was always there but we could never see it?”
“Sadly true,” Darrell said. “This is what Native Americans saw every night before the neighborhood went to shit.”
They were leaning back with their feet resting on the warm stones of the fire pit Paul had started from scavenged wood along the slope of their property, something he had not done for years due to the wildfires and stigma that an open fire brought about by the increasing pressure of California culture.
“I’m afraid Paul,” Jammie said.
Darrell pulled his feet from the warm stones, brushing off his pants as he stood.
“Well, thanks for the hospitality and view,” he said. “And I honored to have met you both, but I better be on my way.”
“Wait! Where will you go?” Jammie said getting to her feet.
“Seeing the two of you, together, well, there’s someone I ought to go see.”
Jammie could tell from the sadness that veiled his face that he was talking about an apology, the kind of apology for walking out on someone he still loved.
“Let me see you out,” she said.
Paul stood and the two men shook hands with no words passing between them, the interrupted awkwardness welcomed by Jammie looping her arm into Darrell’s as she led him through the open slider into the great room and towards the front door. As he was about to step out, she stopped him with a gentle pull on his sleeve.
“She’ll appreciate it,” Jammie said with encouragement. “And if that doesn’t work out, there’s always the dirt road thing you got going,” which brought a genuine friendship to his smile before he turned and left, his silhouette against the cascade of blue starlight, reminding everyone just how small they are in the universe and what truly matters.
For those who have been following this series, or for that matter, for those who are reading this for the first time, the series started as a casual conversation with a friend, who when asked: “If this was your last day on Earth, what would that be like? Would you have any regrets? Would it be anything unusual? Her reply surprised me, and that lead me to ask other friends the same questions.
Of the stories written so far, writing Blue Light Special was one of my favorites. My friend is convinced she will be taken out by a Walmart Truck…
On a side note, I am working with a friend and author, Richard Murray, in putting together an anthology of Sci-Fi shorts of which a section will be titled, End Of Days.