Rearview Mirror

by Julian Penrod

Preface

Stories about the end of the world by nuclear war or whatever tend often to involve individuals who face it with strength, fortitude, determination. Who want to remake the world to a good form, if not a better one. This is a story about a group, among the most dysfunctional families there is, who find themselves in the situation of the world suddenly impacted by whatever event.


Tom yanked off the headset, tossed it onto the top of the emergency radio, switched it off and leaned back in his chair disgustedly.

“Still nothing”, he announced with a mixture of anger and impatience.

“You're doing it wrong”, said Bob again.

“Shut up!”, Tom ordered, “You just shut up!”

“You're not doing it right!”, Bob repeated, “You're never going to get anything that way!”

“What am I doing wrong?”, Tom demanded, “What? What? What?”

“You're not covering a wide enough range of frequencies”, Bob replied, “You don't know who's transmitting where. And you need more gain.”

“This is a limited use set!”, Tom spat back, “This isn't supposed to reach the moon! Just to the nearest towns. There're a lot of higher power transmitters out there. I should at least be able to hear them if they were sending!”

“That's another thing. The antenna's all wrong. We have to change it.”

“It took three days for a guy who knew what he was doing to assemble that thing!”, Tom answered, “I'm not going to start playing around with that!”

“Then you're not going to get anything!”

“It's only been a week. Somebody'll get through!”

“Not if they don't know there's anyone here to contact!”

“I'm doing the best I can with this thing!”

“You just want everyone to see you twisting the knobs! I don't think you care if you ever do get anyone, as long as we can admire the way you...”

“You just shut up! You hear me? Shut up!”

“Make me!”

“I'll make you shut up!”

The crash of a box of groceries being dropped onto the kitchen table announced that Father had returned from his trip into town.

“What's going on in there?”, came the roar from the kitchen, “What're you two doing?”

“Nothing, Father”, that from Bob.

“It didn't sound like nothing”, Father said, emerging from the kitchen into the dining area. If his manner wasn't enough to quell any disturbances, his appearance was. So tall his stiff, salt and pepper hair brushed the upper sill of the door, his military style bearing at least appearing to add another couple of inches to his height, and his almost shockingly grey eyes fixing with a stare almost like a rattler about to pounce.

Relatively smaller, less well toned, than their father, what could be considered “doughier”, with mud brown hair and eyes, Tom and Bob always automatically sank into a pose of obeisance, whenever confronted. They never meant it, and successfully imparted their resentment at having to back down, but ostensibly back down they always did.

“It's not bad enough the way situations are, but you two have to start carrying on?”

“Bob was trying to tell me...”, began Tom.

“Shut up!”, said Father, “I'm tired of having you two acting like idiots!”

Two more sets of footsteps from the kitchen. Mother burst in, staring stunned at the brothers and disgusted at their father. And, behind her, Jack, the brother who almost never said anything. He glared smugly at Tom and Bob, balling his hands into fists, just waiting for Father to give him permission to beat them to a pulp.

The impressive presence Father had honed went a long way toward forcing Tom and Bob to quiet down, the sight of the unspoken threat of Jack did the rest.

“Bob was telling me I don't know what I'm...”

“I said, shut up! I'm tired of you two hoodlums making a ruckus! We can't have a good time anywhere with you two always mixing it up!”

“Bob is saying I don't know how to handle the radio!”

“He doesn't”, Bob bawled. “He hasn't raised anyone for days! He's just pretending to know how it works!”

“I got someone before! I know how to work it! It's just that there's no one out there to...”

“Shut up!”, Father yelled again, then, to Tom, “I don't believe you!”

“What?”

“I want you to let Bob handle the radio part of the time.”

“He'll break it!”

“No, I won't!”, Bob screamed.

“I said I want Bob to handle the radio part of the time.”

“You know how much we need that! That's crazy!”

“Are you going to shut up, or am I going to have to...”

“That's wrong! You can't do that! That's going to get us in more trouble than...”

Tom stopped. Father knew what he was implying, what he was going to say.

“You blame me for what happened, don't you?”, Father demanded, “You think I'm responsible for what's happened!”

“We need the radio. Bob will only...”

“You're saying it's my fault?”, Father bellowed, wrapping Tom in a neck lock.

“Arthur!”, shouted Mother, “No!”

“Ow!”, screamed Tom, “Let go!”

“Leave him alone, you freak!”, Bob started shouting at Father.

“You think you're the one to tell me what to do, you runt?”, taunted Father, twisting Tom's head.

“Bob! You can't talk to your Father that...”

“Shut up!”, Bob bellowed back at Mother.

“Stop it!”, Tom shrieked.

Bob's response to Mother was more than enough justification. Jack launched himself across the room and tackled Bob, sending him flying against the radio.

“Stop it!”, Tom screamed again.

“The radio!”, yelled Bob.

“Go ahead, tell me I don't know what's right for my family!”, Father demanded.

“Jack”, Mother yelled, “Stop it!” Then, to Father, “Arthur, leave him alone!”

“Jack began punching Bob in the stomach, pulling him up each time he doubled over, to start beating him again.

“Jack!”, screamed Mother, “Stop that!”

“Stop it!”, more as a plea now from Tom than a demand.

“Admit you're a piece of garbage!”, ordered Father, “Tell me, you can't do anything! Say, 'I don't know what I'm doing! I'm just showing off!'” When Tom hesitated, Father lifted him by his neck and tossed him to the side, not releasing his grip. “Say it!”

“I know what I'm...”

“Say it!”, Father screamed, bulldozing Tom backward into the wall, forcing his neck to unnatural angles.

“Stop it, you animal!', Mother shrieked.

Jack had started pummeling Bob with his fist like a hammer.

Karen, her friend Susie, and her sister Kelly ran into the room.

“You're tough?”, Father yelled, “You're so much of a much? Then why are you getting this?” Father brought his knee up sharply, hitting Tom squarely in the face.

Tom' reaction was a cry of pain.

Father's reaction was to bring his knee up again.

Bob finally managed to land a blow against Jack.

That was more than enough for Jack. Grabbing Bob by his shirt, he slammed him hard against the wall. Then he slammed him again, and again, and again.

In the face of the violence, Kelly slunk to the couch near the picture window, then ducked partly behind it.

Karen took Susie by the arm. They walked over to the piano, sat down and Karen started to play the number she had just learned.

“Tell me you don't know anything!”, Father screamed bringing his knee up repeatedly into Tom's face.”

“Stop it!', Mother ordered impotently, “Stop it! I hate you!”

“Say it!”, Father ordered again.

Karen started to sing the song that went with the music she was playing.

“That's very good!”, Susie complimented her.

“Say it!” Another knee to the face. “Say it!” And another knee to the face. “Say it!” Yet another knee to the face.

Tom couldn't take it any longer.

“I don't know what I'm doing! I can't do anything! I was just pretending!”

Father stopped kneeing Tom in the face, but didn't release his hold around Tom's neck.

“Then why did you say you knew what you were doing?”, Father roared, grabbing Tom by his shirt and throwing him against the wall.

Bob was on the ground now and Jack was kicking him rapidly, using first one foot, then the other.

“Why did you act so big?”, Father said, punching Tom in the stomach, “Why did you act like you're better than me?”

“Leave him alone you piece of filth!”, Mother yelled at Father.

“Stop it!”, Bob screamed at Jack.

“I could sing that song, but I think you have to put it in a different key”, said Susie.

“Help!”, shrieked Kelly, sinking completely behind the sofa, “Help! Help! Help! Somebody help us!”

Father stopped, more because he had had his fill than because he felt Tom had “learned his lesson”. With a single move, he tossed Tom over at where Jack was beating Bob. It knocked Jack off balance, but when he saw it was Father who had thrown Tom at him, he relented from retaliating.

“You disgust me!”, Mother spat at Father, then turned and walked back into the kitchen.

“How many sacks of flour did we get at the store?”, Father inquired in the direction of the kitchen.

“Five”, came the reply.

“I want buttermilk biscuits with dinner.”

“Okay.”

“Girls”, Father instructed, “go help her.”

Kelly immediately shot up from behind the couch and ran to the kitchen. Karen continued singing, while Susie clapped in rhythm. Father ignored Karen ignoring him and walked through the kitchen to the back porch.

His license to be vicious suspended, Jack gave Bob a final kick and walked to the front door. On the way, he gave Tom a kick, too and, when he passed the piano, he grabbed the corner of the sheet music they were using and pulled it off onto the floor. Karen stopped playing and emotionlessly, stooped to gather up the sheets. Susie followed Jack out the door.

Slowly, Tom crawled onto the couch facing the picture window and lay down, facing away from the window. Bob sat on the floor at the leg of the table holding the radio, holding his knees to his chest.

When she had finished picking up the sheet music, Karen placed it back on the piano, then went upstairs to her room.

As the brothers dealt with their pains, a trickle of conversation drifted from the kitchen. A few comments from Father. Some instructions for Kelly, from Mother. Some more comments from Father, interspersed with Mother's voice in reply.

Then Father re-entered the dining area.

While we were in the town we found a motor home. It was almost fully gassed, the keys were stashed under the seat.

Bob recovered almost immediately.

“How big is it?”, he asked eagerly.

“Better than sixty feet”, said Father, “but that's not all. It's the outfitting.”

“How is it?”, Tom asked, interested.

“It's one of those luxury models”, Father replied, “It's a double decker. Separate quarters for Mother and me, you boys and the girls. Satellite reception, a full bathroom, powered window shades, a skylight, crown moldings and paneling!”

“You're sure it works?”, Bob asked incredulously.

“You still think I don't know what I'm, doing?”, Father roared.

Hugging his knees against himself again, Bob muttered a rapid apology.

“Answer me!”, Father demanded, “Say it! Say you don't trust me! Say you don't think I know what to do, how to handle things!”

“I didn't mean that”, Bob answered almost in a panic to avoid any punishment from Father.

“Tell me you think I caused all this!”

Father glared at Bob, willing him to retreat more and more into his cocoon, then cast an equally confrontational glance at Tom, gave a guttural grunt of disgust, then turned and stalked back into the kitchen.

The scene relapsed into its earlier state, the brothers nursing their wounds, muffled conversation coming from the kitchen.

Eventually, Bob uncurled from his position, rose and sat in the chair by the radio. Putting on the earphones he starting twisting the knob erratically, yelling, “Hello! Hello! Isa anyone out there? Hello! We're at Pratt Lake! Repeat, we're at Pratt Lake! There are eight of us! Is there anyone hearing this? Hello! Hello! Hello!”

He never noticed he hadn't turned the set on.

Two weeks it was supposed to be.

A trip. A family get -together.

At Pratt Lake. On Nettles Island in the middle of Pratt Lake.

The little house they regularly used, this time of the summer.

A vacation. A celebration since Jack had just gotten out of jail. A reward to Father for his promotion. It was going to have it all. Boating, swimming, fishing, some hunting. And seclusion.

It was just the family, originally. Then Karen invited her friend, Susie. Initially, Father wanted only the family, but, when he was introduced to Susie, he relented.

It was the same three hour trip up to Pratt Lake.

Complaints about boredom. Accusations of one's brother or sister edging them off their seat. Demands to stop for something to eat. Queries of how soon they would reach the lake. Questioning Father's driving, then Mother's driving. Father administering swipes of his hand or withering gazes that promised punishment later for infractions now.

Intermittently during the trip, Father tried engaging Susie in conversation, but she would respond distractedly. Most of her time was spent staring at Jack, who spent all his time watching sullenly out the window, clenching and unclenching his fist.

Pratt Lake was a more than usually welcome sight for the family when they exited the small pass between the hills and saw it. The little town of Wolcott that ringed the shores of the lake. The sailboats plying back and forth. The motorboats zooming from one side to another. The crowds at picnic tables along the shore. And Nettles Island near the center of the lake, with the house just visible between the trees.

They parked, as usual, at the parking lot of the Pratt Lake Inn, which owned Nettles Island. They got the keys from the manager of the inn. They off loaded everything from the van. They loaded everything onto the launch. Then they took off for the island. On the way Susie tried to engage Jack in conversation. For his part, Jack lurched about, trying to knock one of his brothers into the water.

When they reached the dock, Father began giving orders as to who should do what. Mother and the girls should go ahead to open up the house, freshen it up and start dinner. Bob and Tom were to bring up the bags. As the boys were carrying up the gear, when they were partway up the steps from the dock, Father gave a back handed smack to Bob for his questioning the choice not to use the new highway up. Seeing the permission to be violent, Jack grabbed the collar of Tom's shirt and jerked it back, unbalancing him and sending him flying backward down the stairs.

At the bottom, Tom struggled to get up as Jack stood glowering at him from the step where he had pulled him down. Tom did his very best to avoid looking at Jack, to avoid locking eyes with him. His shoulder still hurt from the time Jack had pulled his arm from its socket when Tom was only a few years old, because Tom had started crying when Jack grabbed the cookie from his hands and threw it in the sewer.

The early part of the afternoon was spent on getting the house ready. Airing it out and dusting, uncovering furniture, checking for broken windowpanes, starting the generator, unpacking. There was time for only a short period by the shore before dinner.

At dinner, Father talked about his promotion at Bradford Chemical, the new pieces Karen was working on on the piano, Bob's plans to rent a sailboat, general talk about where to go next summer.

After supper, Father read the paper, Karen played on the piano and Susie sang accompaniment, Mother did some sewing, Tom did some reading, Bob, Kelly and Susie had ice cream on the porch. It wasn't clear where Jack was. The television played softly in the background.

Then, before midnight, the television suddenly blanked out. Bob thought it was the antenna going out of position. A quick run outside disproved that. A check of the transistor radio gave no contact, either. Quickly becoming extremely disquieted by circumstances, they tried the emergency radio, and found that no more availing. It was Bob who made the discovery that nothing seemed to be happening in town. Lights were still on, even though it was near the time when most everyone turned in. There was no sound of conversation or cars starting up. No one seemed to be making across the lake to check on them on Nettles Island.

It was decided not to try to make for the village, they would wait until next morning and travel across.

None of them slept very much that night.

The next day showed the village no different than the night before, lights still on, no sign of movement. After only a token breakfast, they set out across the lake in the launch.

It was not surprising what they found. No sign of life anywhere. No people, no animals. No bodies, as if something had killed everyone and everything in town. Nothing on any radio, television or telephone. Larders and the stores were still filled with groceries, and Father could tell the gas station was still filled, so there would be no problem providing for their needs.

Tom recommended that they get in the van and try driving out, to see what, if anything was still there of the outside world. Father vetoed it. Tom expressed a fear that whatever had happened wasn't finished, that maybe they should leave to see what was happening to try to avoid becoming victims like at least everyone in the village. Father screamed at him for several minutes about not questioning his authority, about not looking for reasons to act like he, Tom, was superior and knew better. Tom relented.

Making a quick raid of some stores, they then stocked up and headed back to the island.

Tom lay in the sun on the Nettles Island beach. The only sound was the soft rustle of the wind, the slapping of waves against the dock, and the flapping of the sail on the boat Bob had commandeered. There was still no sound of life from the town, or even animals, birds or insects on the island. A short stint going through the motions of fishing demonstrated that there was no aquatic life, either.

What could have happened? How could it simply erase everyone, everything? If it killed them, where were their bodies? How did it affect them but not the family out on Nettles Island? What was it that attacked everyone and everything else?

For that matter, how did it eliminate all life on Nettles Island except for the family?

Again, he picked up the binoculars and trained them on the village. The motor home was there, just as Father said. It looked almost as big as the house they were in here, sleek, new, wood grained on the outside. He wondered when Father would do something about it. He had seemed so positive when he mentioned it. They could get out of here, find out what was happening elsewhere. Time could be wasting waiting to do something with it.

Some footsteps through the underbrush behind him. He didn't have to look, he knew what it was. The heavier steps were Jack, probably carrying a beer, stalking back to some spot to drink it. And the footsteps behind him would be Susie. There almost wasn't a minute when Jack was gone that Susie wasn't following behind.

Tom thought vacantly of the emergency radio. If no one was looking later or was involved in their own interests, maybe he'd try to raise someone again.

A figure out of the corner of his eye. Kelly walking halfway down the beach, tossing out a blanket, plopping down on it. Her legs drawn up to her chest, she rested her arms on her knees and her chin on her arms. She sat like that watching Bob criss-crossing the lake in front of the house.

Not for long, though. After a few minutes, Mother came out of the porch, literally screaming for Kelly to come in and help her. Kelly heard, too, but initially made no move to respond. As the demands became more insistent, though, she finally got up and trudged to the house.

“Where were you?”, Mother's muffled demand could be heard.

“ I was on the beach.”

“Why are you down there when I need you here?”

“What do you need me for?”

“I need you to help me around the house!”

“Nothing needs to be done. We're not starting supper for awhile, and Father said he might want to barbecue tonight.”

“That's no excuse!”, Mother roared, “I want you to help me around the house!”

“What do you want?”, almost plaintively.

“We'll see, we'll see!”, was the reply, “Just get inside!”

The sound of steps ascending the steps disconsolately slowly.

Presently, another set of footsteps. Distinctively Father, pounding to the area behind the house. A few minutes, then Father returned. The second set of footsteps with him were Susie's. Both sets of footfalls could be heard ascending the steps to the porch, then crossing the porch and going inside.

Another few minutes and the sound of an empty beer can tossed angrily at the side of the house.

“No planes overhead again”, Bob said over dinner, “No birds, either.”

“Stop concentrating on it”, ordered Father, carving into his chicken leg.

“I haven't gotten anybody on the radio”, said Bob, “It might as well not even be turned on.”

“Karen's going to get some more sheet music in the town”, Susie said cheerily, “We're going to do a recital.”

“That would be a nice change of pace”, Father said.

“I'm planning on making buttermilk biscuits tomorrow”, said Mother, “But I'll need some supplies.”

“How soon before we take the motor home?”, asked Tom, “It's got to be a world better in there than in the house.”

“Are you questioning me again?”, Father demanded angrily.

Any reward from the dispute would not be worth the pain. Tom relented.

“Kelly, refill the water”, Mother instructed. Kelly rushed to comply.

“Susie we don't know if we want to do sections from famous musicals or just string a few favorites together ourselves”, Susie said.

“Are you going to be singing?”, asked Father.

“And dancing!”, Susie offered.

“I said I'll need supplies if I'm going to make buttermilk biscuits”, Mother interrupted.

“We can go over tomorrow and get some stuff”, Bob put in, “And, while we're there, maybe it would be a good idea to check out that motor home.”

“What songs are you planning?”, asked Father.

Jack sat silently gnawing away at the meat,watching Father intently.

“'I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle',...”, Susie began.

“If she ever manages to get it right”, Karen cut in.

“You be courteous to your guest!”, demanded Father.

Kelly started filling some of the glasses and accidentally spilled some on the tablecloth.

“Do you have to be such a slob?”, Mother demanded, “You're no good for anything! I don't know why I ever let you help me!”

“You know”, continued Bob, “I bet we really could get that motor home running. It would probably be a great place to spend some weeks in!”

Tom watched, to see what kind of trouble Bob would get in for forcing the issue.

“We could go home”, insisted Bob, “We could go anywhere. If the owners aren't around, we don't even have to leave it. We could just live in it!”

“That might be nice”, Kelly put in, “We never really did spend any time enjoying just traveling. And if we don't want to go home, there are so many other places...”

“Make sure everyone has bread!”, Mother demanded of Kelly. Kelly hurried to comply.

“And, you know” Bob continued, “they were making even better motor homes than that one! We could just drive up to one of those dealers lots and choose any one we wanted!”

“You should get Karen to teach you some tunes on the piano”, Father said to Susie, “That way you'll do a little bit of everything in your little show.” A moment's pause, then, “Eventually, you could give a show all on your own!”

“She's got a long way before she can put on a show!”, said Karen with no small amount of anger.

“That's being very rude!”, Father shot back.

“I can get some material to make the girls some bathing suits”, Mother added.

“I really think we should do something about that motor home in the village”, Bob continued, more to himself than anyone else, since Father, Mother Karen and Susie weren't paying attention.

“I think that's a good idea, Bob”, Kelly offered encouragingly.

“When are you going to stop pretending you know more than everyone else?”, Karen shot back.

“I wasn't acting like that!”, intoned defensively.

“You're always acting like that!”

“Mother!”

“There might be better places to stay than Nettles Island!”, Bob insisted.

“What is the matter?”, Mother demanded.

“Karen keeps making fun of...”, Kelly began.

“Kelly keeps acting like she knows everything and is ordering everybody around!”, Karen spat out at staccato speed.

“Kelly! How dare you act like that?”, that from Mother.

“I was just trying...”

“Just take care of serving the table. That's what you're good at!”

“But, Mother...”

“Who says your ideas mean anything?”, Mother snapped at Kelly.

“I only meant...”, Kelly began.

“Do you hear what she's doing?”, Mother said to Father, “That's undermining your authority!”

“I just thought...”, Kelly tried to begin again.

“We'll take the motor home when I decide we take the motor home!”, said Father sternly, “Until then, I don't want anything more about it.”

The rest of supper was confined to trifles and, when it was over and the dishes cleared, they went about their separate interests. Mother worked on some sewing. Bob worked at the radio. He had finally figured how to turn it on. But he still got no return messages. Tom leafed through a pamphlet on deluxe motor homes they had found in the village on their last trip. Karen sat playing idly at the piano while Kelly stood watching her intently. Jack and Susie had disappeared somewhere in the darkness outside. Father stood on the porch, peering intently into the night.

“Can you teach me some music?”, Kelly asked.

“You can't play piano!”, Karen snapped back angrily.

“I'd be willing to learn”, protested Kelly.

“You'll just be a problem!”

“I want to be part of the show!”

“There's no place for you in the show”, Karen shrieked, then, to Mother, “Can't you tell her to leave me alone?”

“Kelly”, Mother intoned, “Stop bothering Karen. She's working on the show she and Susie are going to put on.”

“But I'd like to be in the show”, Kelly replied.

“You're being very rude!”, Mother said, “You won't be able to play the piano, you can't sing, you won't be good in the show at all.”

“But I promise I...”, Kelly began.

“I told you you have no place in the show!”, roared Mother, “That's for Karen! That's for Susie! You don't have any right to start demanding that you be allowed where they don't want you! You've got your nerve!”

“But...”

“If you keep on acting that way, you can go to bed right now!”, Mother demanded.

A few heavy steps outside the front door. Father leaving the porch, going off into the night.

“Still nothing!”, Bob declared, ripping the earphones from his head.

Sooner or later, he would get tired of that and Tom could have his way with it, unfettered, again.

“I think I'll make some funnel cakes”, Mother announced, “When we go over to the village next, I'll pick up the ingredients.”

“Do you think we'll have a barbecue?”, Karen asked enthusiastically.

“You can ask Father”, suggested Mother, “I don't think he would be against it.”

“Could we have a picnic!”, suggested Kelly.

“Yes!”, Karen took up, “Yea! A picnic! Pleeeease, can we have a picnic?”

“I asked first!”, Kelly declared.

“Mother, she's trying to play herself up again!”, Karen whined.

“When will you stop trying to place yourself in front of everyone else?”, Mother demanded, “Do you see anyone else fighting to be thought of as number one?”

“But I did mention it first!”, Kelly repeated.

“Maybe you're too good to spend time with the likes of us!”, Mother warned, “Maybe we should just have the picnic without you! Would you like that?”

“No, Mother”, Kelly murmured.

“What? What? What?”, Mother demanded, “I didn't hear you!”

“No, Mother”, Kelly said and sat down on the floor at the end of the sofa near the door.

“Can we really have a picnic?”, Karen asked again.

“You'll have to ask Father about that, too, but I think he wouldn't mind.”

“I think I'd like to try that motor home when we go to the town, next”, Bob declared, “I bet it works! I bet I could even drive it.”

“Your father might have something to say about...”, Mother began.

Suddenly, there was a clamor outside the door. Raised voices, two of them, Father and Susie.

A second later, Father erupted through the door, pulling Susie by the arm and tossing her toward Karen. For a moment he glared at her; for that moment, she showed no sign of acknowledging his stare, but sat down next to Karen. Then Father went to the sofa, sat next to Mother and picked up a magazine.

Another couple of seconds later and heavy, thudding clumps on the stairs announced Jack entering the house. He didn't say anything as he came through the door, just stood for a moment in the doorway with a trace of a smirk on his face, then he pounded his way up to his room.

“Let's go over 'Ragtime Gal' again”, Susie encouraged Karen.

“I think we might cut that number”, Karen said.

“No! That's so bouncy! And I've been practicing it! Listen.”

As Susie sang “Ragtime Gal” without accompaniment, Bob said to Father, “Do you think I could try to start up the motor home when we go to the village tomorrow? Maybe even drive it a little bit?”

“Where do I have to go that I won't be annoyed by that motor home?”, Father said with definitive exasperation in his voice.

“It's just that it's a real chance to...”

“Have you been working at the radio?”

“Yes, but I haven't raised anybody.”

“Maybe they're starting to try to communicate now!” You could be missing them!”

“Why don't you want to...”, Bob trailed off, knowing he was antagonizing Father.

“What don't I want?”, asked Father slowly, starting to rise to his feet.

“Nothing”, Bob countered quickly.

“What don't I want?”, Father roared.

“Don't hurt Bob!”, shrieked Kelly, running behind the sofa.

“Costumes!”, shouted Karen, “We can use costumes! Mother, tomorrow, when we're in town...”

“I didn't mean...”

Sensing a fracas about to break out, Jack came down and sat at the bottom of the stairs.

“Go ahead!”, Father demanded loudly, “Say it!”

“A cowboy hat!”, Susie spouted, “ A cowboy hat and cowboy boots!”

“I don't know what you...”

“Say I'm responsible for what happened! Say I don't know what's right for the family! Say I'm not helping make things any better!”

Father was pushing Bob. He wasn't going to accept it unless Bob said what he demanded. And he was going to retaliate if Bob did say it. It looked like Bob was going to be very unappreciated for a very long time. Tom saw a chance to regain control of the running of the radio.

“Say it!”, Father demanded again.

“Well, maybe you haven't done well for the family!”, Bob shouted back, “You never did tell any of us what you did at that company! We only hear that you got a promotion and more money! But what kind of projects did you start up there to get that?”

“So you're saying I'm responsible for everything that's happened?”

“What were they doing there just before we took off for vacation?”

“You're saying I caused everything that's happened?”

“What were they doing there?”

“You think I caused all this?”, Father roared, reaching to grab Bob with a neck hold.

But Bob, familiar with Father's moves, backed away quickly. His retreat, though was blocked by the table in the dining area.

Seeing Bob trapped against the table, Father changed his tactic to a swift and powerful kick that connected in the center of Bob's belly.

As Bob bent over in pain, Father followed up his kick with another to Bob's forehead.

Bob screamed in pain and Father grabbed him by his collar, hoisting him up.

As Bob's head came level with Father's, Jack bounded into the room, leaping at Bob, tackling him, sending the two of them flying into the radio set.

“Stop it!”, shrieked Kelly, “Stop it!”

“Mother”, screeched Karen, “Kelly's telling people what to do again!”

“Kelly, shut up!”, Mother ordered.

“But they're going to hurt him!”

“Shut up!”, Mother ordered, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

“Think you're enough to judge me?”, Father bellowed, picking Bob up by his collar, again, “Go ahead! Say it! Say you're enough to judge me!”

Before Bob could answer, Jack grabbed him from behind and slammed his face into the wall near the radio. Tom worried that Jack in his exuberance might damage the radio so it couldn't be used. But he decided not to interfere.

“You know”, Mother said, “I really think Kelly is becoming just a little too full of herself.”

“Answer me!”, Father bellowed in Bob's face, “”Say you're enough to judge me!'

“Kelly thinks she's better than everybody”, Karen said.

“When we have the picnic, can we have fried chicken?”, Susie asked.

“Tell me!”, Father roared, then punched Bob across the jaw.

“I don't like the way she tries to inject herself into everything that goes on, as if only she knows how things should be!”, Mother continued.

“Mother! No! That's not true!”, bawled Kelly.

“She's calling you a liar!”, Karen screamed.

Jack grabbed Bob by the waist and flung hims across the table in the dining area.

“I'm not going to stand for it and I don't think you should, either!”, Mother said to Father.

“The day you deserve to judge me...”, Father began but pointedly didn't finish.

Tom didn't even look at Father as he crossed the room to the sofa where Mother was sitting, or at Jack as he went back up the stairs. He was determined not to make himself look like he was a threat or a competitor.

“Arthur”, Mother said as Father sat down, “Kelly has been acting up again. She has been contradictory and she even challenged your authority.”

“No!”, Kelly shouted, standing up next to Father, “No, I didn't!”

“You see how she behaves”, said Mother.

“No! No, I don't!”

“She calling you a liar!”, taunted Karen.

“Mind your mouth”, said Father to Karen.

“I don't like the way she acts like she can act just any way she wants”, said Mother.

“What do you recommend?”

“Go to your room”, Mother said to Kelly. Initially poising to protest, instead, she trudged upstairs. A few seconds later the sound of her door closing was heard.

Bob returned slowly from the dining area, sat down at the radio, turned it on and listened.

The picnic was a marvelous success in the opinion of all who attended. Held on the opposite side of the island from the house, it featured steaks, hot dogs, hamburger, corn, French fries and lasted until long after the light had disappeared. When they returned, they unlocked the door to Kelly's room and found that she had bawled herself to sleep.

Tom packed up his tackle and stepped out of the boat. It was becoming a joke anymore trying to bring home anything.

Bob met him halfway up the beach.

“Still nothing”, Tom said.

“No birds, no animals, either. This is getting serious.”

“They've still got meat in the refrigerators in the stores in town”, Tom said, “That'll last awhile.”

“But what when they're gone?”

“We'll become vegetarians”, Tom said, “It's not impossible to live that way. We can set up gardening and bring in lots of crops.”

“Maybe we really should leave”, Bob argued, “at least to see if there's meat somewhere else.”

“No matter how much we find, it'll all spoil before we can use it”, said Tom, “What's in the town will last us until then. When it's spoiled, meat everywhere will be spoiled.”

A pause, then Tom said, “That's not all that's worrying me, though.”

“What else?”

“Plants need carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide comes from animals. If we're the only breathing animals left, how long will the plants last?”

“Is Father worried?”, asked Bob.

“I didn't ask him.”

“We should tell him.”

“I don't know if he'd appreciate it”, Tom said.

“We have to do something.”

“I don't know what would help.”

“Maybe we should just leave.”

“Father still hasn't decided to leave.”

“Why do you think he doesn't want to leave?”, asked Bob.

“He probably has his reasons.”

“Do you think he feels responsible for this and doesn't want to face what's out there?”

“Why should he feel responsible?”

“You're on his side!”

“Why would I be on anybody's side?”

“I remember when he was beating me up!”, countered Bob, “You didn't even say anything!”

“What good would that do? He wouldn't change his mind! Just like he won't change it now.”

“You're not going to say anything to him”, Bob said.

“I don't think it would help”, said Tom.

“Wouldn't he want to get us out of here if it meant our safety? Is he that afraid of admitting it's his fault?”

“Nothing says it's his fault. If you want to accuse him, go right ahead, but don't expect me to back you up!”

“Do you think Father may have had a hand in what happened?”, asked Bob. It was almost an accusation at Tom to suggest it.

“Why do you want to talk like that?”, Tom shot back.

“I mean, how could he manage something like this? What really happened? Is there anything out there, past the town? Is that why Father doesn't want to leave?”

“How could Father have caused this?”

“I don't know what that project was that he was in charge of. He seemed to think it was really big. He seemed to think he could get everything he wanted from this one project!”

“Don't you think he'd tell us if the project was going to do good for us?”

“Maybe something went wrong. Maybe things didn't work out the way they were supposed to.”

“How?”

“I don't know! Why did all the people and all the animals disappear? Did the thing his department was working on send us somewhere, like another dimension? Did it send all the other people and animals to another dimension? That's why I wonder if there is anything out beyond the hills! That's why I think Father doesn't want to leave.”

“How is this doing any good?”

“You're afraid of him!”

“So are you!”

“You saw him beating me up and you didn't lift a finger!”

“Well, you brought it on yourself! Why did you have to confront him like that?”

“I just wanted to know what was happening!”

“What have you got against trusting Father?”

“What have you got against knowing what's happening?”

A movement outside the range of vision suddenly caught their attention. Halfway across the lake, moving slowly, a dot. Someone rowing to shore. Kelly. She was alone. Her actions were deliberate, not tentative. There was strength and determination in her rowing.

“Should we tell someone?”, Bob asked.

“Maybe she's just going to fetch something from one of the stores”, replied Tom.

“What if that's not it? What if she's leaving?”

“I don't know if she'd try something like that.”

A stomp of feet signalled the arrival of others on the deck. Mother in front, Karen and Jack behind her.

“What's going on?”, demanded Mother, “What's Kelly doing out there?”

“She's not going for supplies?”, asked Tom.

“Kelly!”, Mother screamed, “Kelly! You get back here now!”

There was no answer from the boat.

“Where's she going?”, asked Karen.

“Maybe she's leaving”, offered Bob.

“Why would she want to leave?”, demanded Mother.

“Maybe she wants to know what's going on outside”, said Tom.

“There's no need to leave here!”, insisted Mother, “Not until Father says!”

“I don't know about that”, said Bob.

“What are you talking about?” Mother hissed confrontationally.

“Tom and I were talking”, said Bob.

“Tom? What were you talking about?”, Mother ordered.

Tom hesitated answering. It was obvious to Bob that he was delaying replying.

“Tom and I”, Bob made a point of saying, “were talking about the carbon dioxide. It's keeping the plants alive, but it comes from animals. If we're the only animals left, we can't possibly supply...”

“You blame your Father or what happened, don't you?”, shouted Mother.

“No!”, replied Bob hastily, “We were just talking about...”

“Don't lie to me!”, screamed Mother, “You're saying he's responsible for what happened!”

“No, we're not!”, insisted Tom.

“Kelly!”, yelled Karen., “Kelly! You come back here!”

“I can't believe you'd blame your own father for all this!”, demanded Mother.

“We were talking about the carbon dioxide, and it's an important...”, began Bob.

“Wait until I see your father. I'll tell him how you were talking about him!”, threatened Mother.

“Where is Father?”, asked Karen, looking about, “Where's Susie?”

Jack suddenly pushed everyone aside, jumped off the porch and raced around the back of the house.

“I'm not going to sugar coat it”, said Mother, “I'm going to let your father know exactly what kind of sons he has!”

The sound of shouting came from around the back of the house.

“Mother, you can't say that about us!”, bleated Tom, “We weren't accusing Father!”

“Where's Susie?”, asked Karen again.

“We don't blame him for anything!”, insisted Bob.

The sound of shouting got louder. Not because it was nearer, but because whoever was shouting was screaming at the top of their lungs. It wasn't possible to make out what they were saying, though.

“I don't think you should be invited to any of the family's other outings”, Mother said to the boys.

“Kelly's gotten to shore!”, Karen yelled, “She's getting out of the boat!” A short pause, then, “Where is Susie?”

There was a sound of scuffling and shouts of pain from around back of the house.

“Do you want us to go get Kelly?”, Tom asked, hoping it would assuage Mother's anger.

“If she's going to leave”, said Mother, “I don't know if she's welcome back. I'll mention this to Father.” Then, after a dramatic pause, “When I tell him about you accusing him of causing all this!”

The scuffling turned to shouting again. Louder now because it was just around the far corner of the house. Suddenly, Jack and Father stalked around the corner of the house toward the porch. Jack's hair was mussed and there was a thin trickle of blood from the corner of his lip. Father's shirt was ripped up the side and had some dirt stains on it.

“Father!”, shouted Karen, “Kelly went to the village, all by herself”, then, pointing at the boys, “And they've been saying you caused all this!”

Susie appeared around the corner of the house, wearing a bathing suit, walked nonchalantly to the porch and into the house.

“So you do think I'm responsible!”, Father roared at Tom and Bob.

“That's not true!”, Tom almost whined.

“Blame me! Blame me! That's all you know how to do!”

“No!”, Tom almost screamed, “That's not it!” A desperate search for a solution provided an answer. “It's him!”, Tom shouted. He pointed at Bob. “It's him! He was talking about it! He says you caused all this! You and that project you were...”

A powerful sideways blow to Tom's cheek, Father tossing his fist like a hammer. Tom fell to the ground, shocked. But he remained on the ground for only an instant, since Jack raced in, grabbed Tom by his collar and started punching him in the stomach.

Father grabbed Bob in a neck lock, slamming in the stomach with his knee.

“That's all you think of? To blame me?”, Father roared, “I give you a good home, a nice vacation, and you do this to me?”

“Where's Kelly?” Susie asked, appearing at the door to the house.

“I'm getting sick and tired of your better than thou attitude!”, Father spat at Bob as he aimed his knee at Bob's face.

“Kelly went to the town on her own!”, Karen said to Susie.

“Why'd she do that?”

“She's not allowed to come to any more picnics!”, Mother declared.

Jack tired of slamming his fist into Tom's stomach. Now he threw him repeatedly against a tree.

“What were you saying?”, Father screamed, “”What were you saying? Tell me what you were saying?”

“You did really cause this!”, Bob finally yelled, “”You did? You are responsible! It's all your doing! You sent us to another world or sent everyone and everything else away!”

“That's what you think?”, Father yelled, “That's what you think? What do you think of this?” Father threw Bob halfway across the yard, to where he landed on his side. Before he could rise, Father rushed to him and started kicking him in the belly.

“You like that?”, Father yelled, “You like that? You like accusing me?” A kick to the side of Bob's head, then “Why would you say things like that about me?”

“We have to leave!”, Bob struggled to say.

“We don't leave until I say so!”, roared Father, “Why do you want to go against my wishes?”

“They just want to leave so they can find some girls!', called Susie derisively.

“That's not true!”, Mother shouted, “”That's not true! They don't care about girls!”

Taking up Susie's banner, Karen echoed, “Yes, they do! They want to go somewhere and have some fun with some girls.”

“That's a lie!”, roared Mother, “That's a lie!” She picked up a folding beach chair that lay next to the porch and ran over to Bob.

“How dare you?”, she screamed as she brought the folded chair down on Bob's prone form, “How dare you? A wide arc and she brought the chair down again, “Thinking of girls! Where do you get the nerve? How could you?” Another blow with the chair, and another , and another, and another. “You don't know when you have it good!”, Mother shrieked, “This is the way it should be! This is the way a family should be! No distractions! No other interests! Nothing to take your attention away! You don't realize how perfect it is now!”

When Mother started hitting Bob, Jack let loose of Tom, in case she wanted to vent on him, and walked back around the back of the house. Susie bounded down the steps and followed him.

“I don't want to hear you questioning your Father again!”, Mother roared, “I won't put up with this kind of behavior! That is not how a family is supposed to act! You have no idea how good things are here! You will come to understand how good it is here!”

Mother threw the chair aside and stalked back into the house. Slowly, painfully, Tom and Bob struggled to their feet. Inside the house, Karen had begun playing the piano. Around the corner of the house, shouting had started up again.

Slowly, deliberately, he pulled at the oars. The sound of the paddles slapping the water was unnaturally distinct in the utter absence of all other noise. But each stoke of the oars equated to greater and greater distance from the island, from the others. He wasn't going to put up with them any longer. He had to get away. Father wouldn't consider leaving, Mother refused to hear of it. The arguments, the suspicion, the chaos. He had had enough.

A heavy set figure ran to the dock. It was Mother.

“Stop!”, she yelled, “Stop!”

He didn't answer.

“Why are you doing this?”, she demanded, “What good will this do?”

Still no reply.

“Why do you have to do this? This isn't necessary! It's only been five years!”

Stroke after stroke, further and further away from the dock. Mother kept yelling, but he paid no attention. Finally, she stopped yelling and just stared at him, as if trying to will him to return just by her indignation. When that didn't work, she turned and walked back to the house.

He reached the shore of the lake. The boat ground against the sand just beneath the water. With the same determination that led him to leave the island, he now left the boat. He would find a vehicle and then leave everything.

With growing certainty in his actions, he walked up from the beach to the town. Standing by the restaurant near the water, he listened again to the silence. There was nothing, no sounds of motors, no sounds of talking, no sounds of animals. He wondered vaguely where Kelly was, if she had decided to stay in the village or if she had left.

Or was the effect that had removed all the people in the village still active and she had succumbed to it?

He would find out soon. Slowly, he turned to make his way to the parking lot where the motor home could be found. Suddenly, there was a sound. From across the lake. From the island. The sound of a gunshot. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then silence once more.

Something that was along time coming, probably.

He turned away from the lake again and started toward the parking lot.

The mobile home was still there. All the more beautiful for being within reach, now. He boarded. The keys were under the driver's side seat. When he tried it, the engine caught. There was even still gas in the tank.

Slowly, carefully, he edged the behemoth out of the lot and made his way up the streets. There may be gas in there now, but he didn't want to take any chances.

The first station he came to had a generator for running the pumps. He filled up and poured himself several five gallon containers more.

Finally, he entered onto the same street they had used to arrive here and angled to take the road out.

He didn't know what he'd find. He might find the world perfectly normal, he might find the world but with no animals in it, he might find...

It didn't matter, though. Whatever there was, he was willing to face it.

As long as it meant he could put this place in his rearview mirror.

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