Out Of The Dark – Snippet 17
One more cannonball while I’m trying to cook here, and someone isn’t getting any hamburgers!” Dave Dvorak said ominously, turning to look over his shoulder at the water-plastered head of dark hair which had just bobbed back to the surface of the swimming pool.
His outsized stainless-steel gas grill was parked on the wooden deck at the deep end of the pool. The deck was separated from the pool itself by a four-foot flagstoned surround, and one wouldn’t normally have thought a slender, nine- year-old female could have produced sufficient spray to reach him. His daughter, however, had risen to new heights — not to mention new elevations off the diving board — and the brisk breeze sweeping across the pool had carried him a hefty dollop of chlorine-scented rain.
Morgana Dvorak’s contrition didn’t sound especially sincere, her male parental unit noted. She was the smaller of the twins — although there wasn’t a lot to choose, height-wise, between her and her sister Maighread — which seemed to have imbued her with an automatic need to test the limits more than either of her two siblings. Maighread was just as capable of working her way towards a desired objective by any means necessary, but she preferred indirection (not to say sneakiness, of course) rather than head-on confrontation. Their younger brother, Malachai, was even more . . . straightforward than Morgana, of course. He didn’t so much “test the limits” as charge straight at them. Morgana undoubtedly pushed more rules than he did, but nobody could have pushed the ones he did any harder. Probably because he shared his mother’s red hair. That was Dvorak’s explanation, at any rate. Sharon, on the other hand, was fonder of the explanation which had been offered by one of their friends who also happened to be a child psychologist. Malachai, she’d said, was physically a clone of his mother… but psychologically he was his father in miniature.
An explanation which was patent nonsense in Dvorak’s considered opinion, thank you. And one which made him contemplate a thirteen-year-old Malachai with a distinct sense of dread.
“Yeah, sure you’re sorry!” he told his errant daughter as she trod water, and she giggled. Unmistakably, she giggled. “You just bear in mind what I said, young lady.” He shook his spatula in her direction. “And if you’re not careful, I’ll cook your burger all the way through, too — turn it into one of those hockey pucks your uncle likes!”
“Hey, now!” Rob Wilson objected from where he reclined, beer in hand, in a folding chaise lounge strategically located upwind of the grill. “Cooking is good. Just because you like your food raw doesn’t mean smart people do.”
“There’s a difference between cooked and charcoal, you Philistine,”
Dvorak retorted. “I’m just grateful I managed to rescue my children from
your unnatural fascination with things that go crunch.”
“Rescue them? Is that what you call brainwashing them into eating sushi?” Wilson demanded.
“Sushi? Did someone say sushi? Yum!” Maighread Dvorak put in. She’d just come out of the house, carrying a platter of buns. Her younger brother and her cousin Keelan came behind her, carrying potato salad, pickles, lettuce,
and sliced tomatoes and onion rings. Morgana had deposited the mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup on the picnic table before launching herself into the pool, and Sharon and Veronica Wilson brought up the rear with iced tea, soft drinks, and what looked like a wheelbarrow load of potato chips.
“Unnatural, that’s what it is,” Wilson said, smiling at his niece. “Fish isn’t food to begin with, even when it’s cooked. But raw?” He shook his head. “Next thing, you’ll be expecting me to eat vegetables!”
“Potatoes are vegetables,” Dvorak pointed out, “and you eat — what? Nine or ten pounds? Twenty? — of them a week!”
“While I always hate coming to Rob’s defense, potatoes aren’t vegetables,” his wife corrected him. He cocked an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged. “Potatoes,”
she explained, “are a traditional Irish delicacy whose ancient pedigree and lineage place them in a unique category, transcending the limitation of mere ‘vegetables.’ Besides, they have very little of that chlorophyll stuff that gives all those other vegetables such a strange taste. Or that’s what I’ve been told causes it, anyway. I don’t eat enough of them to know, myself.”
“You shouldn’t encourage him, you know,” Dvorak said. “Vegetables are good for you.”
“Vegetables,” his brother-in- law riposted, “are what food eats before it becomes food.”
“Carnivore!” Dvorak snorted.
“Me, too! Me, too!” Morgana put in from the pool. “I agree with Uncle Rob! But keep mine pink in the middle, Daddy.”
“Of course I will,” Dvorak assured her. He slid the current crop of sizzling meat patties to one end of the grill, over a lower flame, and began flipping fresh burgers onto the high- temperature end. “We’ll just let your mother’s and your uncle’s sit down here and cure into proper jerky while ours cook properly.”
“Don’t let mine get dried out,” Alec Wilson, Rob’s grown son, put in.
“Yeah? Well, in that case, you’d better come down here and start building your burger now,” Dvorak invited. “Certain lazy people — I mention no spouses or brothers-in-law in particular, you understand — are going to lie about until the overworked cook gets around to building theirs for them, so they’ll just have to take theirs the way they get them.”
“Nonsense, I’m sure my wife will look after me just fine, thank you,” Wilson said.
“I hate to break this to you,” Veronica told him, “but I’m afraid I’m going to be too busy swimming to take care of that for you.” She smiled sweetly at him. “Sorry about that.”
“Wait a minute,” Wilson protested, sitting up in the chaise lounge, “you know I can’t cook! You’re supposed to –”
The side door onto the pool deck slammed suddenly open, so violently every head turned towards it. Jessica Wilson, Alec’s wife, stood staring out of it, and her eyes were wide.
“Jessica?” Sharon’s tone was sharpened by sudden concern. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“The TV.” There was something odd about Jessica’s voice. It sounded . . . flattened. Almost crushed. “The TV just said –” She paused and drew a deep breath. “Somebody’s attacking us!”
The entire Dvorak-Wilson clan clustered around the big- screen TV. Dave Dvorak sat in his La-Z-Boy recliner with his daughters in his lap and Sharon perched on the chair arm. Malachai was in his mother’s lap, and Dave’s right arm was around both of them. Rob Wilson stood beside the coffee table, quivering with too much anger and intensity to sit, and Veronica, Keelan, Alec, and Jessica sat huddled together on the long couch.
“…still coming in,” the ashen-faced reporter on the screen was saying. “Repeating what we already know, many American cities have been attacked. The exact extent of damage is impossible to estimate at this point, but we’ve lost all communications with our affiliates in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, and several smaller cities. Indications are that the continental United States has been attacked with nuclear weapons. I repeat, with nuclear –”
His image disappeared abruptly, replaced by the insignia of the Department
of Homeland Security.
“This is an emergency broadcast,” a flat, mechanical voice said. “A nationwide
state of emergency is now in effect. All active duty and reserve military personnel are instructed to report to –”
Dvorak pressed the button on the remote, and the TV went dead.
“What the fuck do you thin –?!” his brother-in-law snarled, turning on him with atypical fury.
“Shut up, Rob,” Dvorak said flatly. Wilson gaped at him, red-faced with anger, but Dvorak continued in that same flat voice. “I don’t know what’s happening,” he said, “but just from what we’ve already heard, it’s pretty damn obvious somebody’s kicked the shit out of the United States. God knows who it is, but if they’ve managed to hit that many cities simultaneously, then it sure as hell isn’t the Iranians! And whoever it is, and whatever they’re after, things are going to go to hell in a hand basket pretty damn quick. So instead of sitting around watching TV and hoping somebody will tell us what’s happening, we need to get our asses in gear. This is exactly what you and I have been working on the cabin for the last three years!”
Wilson closed his mouth with a click. Then he shook himself, like a dog shaking off water, and made himself draw a deep breath.
“You’re right,” he said. “How do you want to handle it?”
“Well, we’re lucky as hell we’re all here in one spot,” Dvorak said. He stood, easing his frightened daughters out of his lap and settling them in the chair he’d vacated. Then he reached out and cupped the side of Sharon’s face in his right hand. “The fact that we are all here means we don’t have to go start collecting people, at least.”
He let his eyes circle the faces of the adult members of the family, then looked down at the children and smiled as reassuringly as he could before he returned his gaze to his wife’s face.
“Sharon, Rob and I will get the Outback hitched to the van. While we’re doing that, you and Ronnie get organized to clean out the pantry and the gun safe. Then shove anything else you can think of that might be useful in on top of that. Keep your PSN90 and a couple of the twelve-gauges out and loaded.” His expression was grim. “I hope you won’t need them, but if you do, I want you to have something heftier than your Taurus.”
She looked at him silently for a moment, then nodded, and he turned to Alec.
“Alec, I need you to stay here and help Ronnie and Sharon get that organized.
Most people’re probably going to be sitting around, too shocked and too busy wondering what the hell’s happening to make trouble for anyone else — for a while yet, at least — but we can’t be sure of that. So keep an eye out. And get my Browning auto out of the gun safe. I don’t want anybody shot if we can help it, and it may be silly and chauvinistic, but a lot of the kind of people who’d make trouble are less likely to push it if they see a man with a twelve-gauge standing in front of them than if they see an armed woman even if she’s got a Ma Deuce. Stupid of them, but stupid people can kill you just as dead as smart people.”
Alec nodded, and Dvorak gazed into his eyes for another moment, then drew a deep breath.
“And, Alec,” he said, his voice much softer, “if somebody does make trouble, don’t hesitate. Warn them off if you can, but if you can’t…”
“Understood.” Alec’s voice was equally quiet, and Dvorak turned to Wilson’s daughter-in-law, who worked with him and his brother-in-law at the shooting range.
“Jess, I want you to come with me and Rob. We’ll hitch the big trailer to
my truck and go clean out the range before someone else gets any bright ideas about helping themselves to the stock.”
She nodded. Her color was stronger than it had been, although it was obvious she was still more than a little frightened.
“What about the dogs, Daddy?” Maighread asked. Her voice quivered around the edges from the obvious tension and fear of the adults around her, but she was trying hard to be brave, and Dvorak’s heart melted inside him as he looked down at her.
“Don’t worry, honey,” he said, managing — somehow — to keep his own voice steady as he ran his hand lightly over her hair. “They’re covered under the plan, too. But speaking of the dogs,” he went on, turning to his wife again, “don’t forget to break down their crates and stack them in the trailer somehow.”
“Anything else you’d like to suggest?” Sharon Dvorak retorted with something like her usual spirit. “Like maybe that I should remember to bring along my hiking boots? Or pack along all the stuff in the medicine cabinets? Stick my Swiss Army knife in my pocket?”
“Actually,” he put his arms around her, letting his chin rest on the top of her head, “all of those sound like really good ideas. Be kind to them — they’re in a strange place.”
He “oofed” as she poked him — hard — in the pit of the stomach, then stood back and looked at all the others again.
“Go ahead and switch the TV back on while you work, if you want, but don’t let yourself get mesmerized watching it. We need to move — move quickly — and there’ll be time to figure out what’s going on after we get ourselves safely to the cabin. Clear?”
Heads nodded, and he nodded back, then looked at Wilson and Jessica.
“Let’s go get those trailers hitched,” he said.