Rock the Baby

This page aggregates all the pieces that I published as a weekly serial in 2010. For the story behind the story, go here.

Sleeper

You can call me Ray. It’s what I call myself. My parents named me Jay, but in a cruel twist of fate I can’t pronounce the “J” sound correctly. I avoid it as much as possible. It was the last letter added to the English alphabet so I think we simply aren’t designed to say it. So I call myself Ray instead.

Some speech therapist that I went to in school told me that it’s a “voiced palatal-alveolar affricate” as if that made the problem easier to understand. She said I should put my tongue behind my upper teeth like I’m about to make a “T” sound, but then blow with a buzzing sound. My tongue kept slipping out and I gave her the raspberries. Every freakin’ time.

I’m writing in this notebook to document the beginning of the New World. Today is the first day in the New World. New Year’s day. New World’s day. Day one. Year one. Do over. Reboot.

No one is celebrating though. There were no New Year’s Eve parties last night. You see, we didn’t know the New World was starting today. We didn’t know the Old World was ending yesterday. But it did.

In the Old World I would be posting this on a blog I suppose. I was a blogger since I was in high school. Yeah, I got beat up a lot. But when I’m not reading something I’m writing something. There aren’t blogs any more. Nothing electronic works any more. I have this old notebook and a couple cheap ballpoint pens. And a yo-yo. I have a lot of time now to practice with the yo-yo.

Forward Pass

I suppose we should have seen this coming. More of us, I mean. There was an article on line, I think, a few weeks ago. I saw the headline. I started to read it but only got through the first paragraph or so. Then I watched an episode of Chuck on TV. I remember because the article was predicting the end of the world and Chuck was saving us from the end of the world. At the time I thought that was so cool.

I guess I’ll never see that show again. Or any show. Did I tell you that electronics don’t work now? Do you have any idea how many things there are that don’t use electronics? Not very many, let me tell you.

When I was in high school I had to read a perfectly awful book about what happens when the moon gets knocked out of its normal orbit by some meteor or comet or something. The story was totally inaccurate and unbelievable. Even though we have lots of time to read now, don’t waste your time on it.

Anyway, we don’t have electricity. Or running water. Even if I had electricity, it wouldn’t make any difference. Not even the battery-operated stuff works now. My cell phone? Doesn’t even make a good paper weight. Everyone’s phone is nothing more than a worthless chunk of plastic. I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t feel so bad about not paying my bill last month.

Wouldn’t you know, I filled the gas tank in my car only two days ago. Fat lot of good that does me now. Cars are all electronically controlled these days which means, of course, I have like a half-ton paperweight out there in the parking lot. Anyone have a shitload of paper they want to slip under it? Go ahead. The keys are on the kitchen counter.

Tomorrow I’m going to my parent’s house across town. Damn, that’s going to be a long walk. And I’m moving my yo-yo to my index finger. Stupid slipknot is giving me a blister. It’s getting too dark to write now.

Walk the Dog

Maybe I should have stayed in my apartment, but without food or water or electricity there wasn’t much reason to stay. The grocery stores were empty in a few hours after the old world ended. People were fighting over every last scrap of stuff. Looting everywhere. It was really scary. And you know, without electricity most of that stuff is going to be spoiled in a couple days. Serves the bastards right if they get sick off it.

Something else that’s scary is that I didn’t make it to my parent’s house like I planned. I’m guessing, based on the progress I made today, that it will take another full day to get there. Part of the problem is that I got a late start. I had a 12-pack of beer that I didn’t want to leave behind and didn’t want to carry with me. I drank ten of them last night. While I can drink that much in a night, I can’t drink that much in a night and get an early start the next morning.

So I got up late today, a little hung over and not completely packed. I probably should have waited another day. I was a little… impaired. But I threw some stuff into my backpack and started out in the early afternoon heat. After an hour, I had already finished off the last two beers. I was going to be really thirsty the whole way.

But I wasn’t lonely. Lots of other people were out walking too. I was reminded of the nursery rhyme about the guy going to St. Ives. I didn’t meet a man with seven wives, but I did meet a guy with a dog named Walk. I thought that was pretty funny. I wonder where everyone is going, but I don’t ask. Everyone looks more glazed than a Krispy-Kreme donut. Zombie-like, but we aren’t after each other’s brains. We don’t seem to know what we’re after really.

Now it’s getting dark though and I don’t think it would be safe traveling at night. Besides that, I’m freakin’ tired as hell. My feet and my head hurt. Come to think of it, so does pretty much everything in between. So I’ve ducked inside a looted store and I’m going to hunker down for the night. And I’m learning to yo-yo with my left hand now.

Creeper

I feel like crap. I tried sleeping but the place I holed up in was hot as hell, I was sore as hell, and the floor was hard as hell. I looked outside and the moon was up. There wasn’t much of a breeze but it was way better than being inside. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but I started walking again.

It was freakin’ creepy walking around in the middle of the night. There was enough moonlight though that I could see well enough. And I was surprised at how many other people were out and about. Turned out that was a good thing because there were some trouble-makers out too. Kids. Too scared to admit to being scared so they gotta act all tough instead. Lucky for me, by then I was tagging along with a group going in the same direction as me. Safety in numbers, you know.

After the sun came up we were close enough to my parent’s house that I split off by myself. I walked the streets of the neighborhood I grew up in and felt kind of like I was a kid again. I even started whistling “Feeling Groovy” for a little bit until I realized I probably looked like a freakin’ idiot. Not that anyone was looking as far as I could tell, but it was still probably better not to draw attention to myself. Mom used to sing that song all the time. Funny the odd bits we remember sometimes.

When I got to Mom and Dad’s house it was locked up tight. Of course I have a key. It’s on the same ring as the key to my car and my apartment. The same ring that I left on my kitchen counter because I didn’t see the point in carrying them when the car doesn’t work and the apartment isn’t worth going back to. But I remember hearing that yo-yos used to be weapons so I tried flinging mine at the window by the back door. Yeah, it bounced off and hit me right in the face. I found a rock in the garden that worked much better. Note to self, if I have to defend myself… use a rock.

I wonder where my parents are. Their car is here. I can’t believe they would take off and not leave me a note. I can’t believe they would take off at all. Were they already out somewhere when the old world ended? Was that Mom’s bunco night? That would explain why she wasn’t here. And Dad always sneaks off for a few hands of poker when she plays bunco. I don’t know whether they’ll be back at all. Not if they feel safer where they are. No, that can’t be right. Unless they’re together somewhere, they’re both going to come back here. If they can.

Today I’m giving the yo-yo a rest. I’m collecting rocks.

Loop the Loop

I cleaned up the broken glass and then started pulling stuff out of the icebox. It wasn’t really cold, of course, after being shut off for a couple days but it wasn’t all spoiled yet either. I spent an hour stuffing my face and then lay on the couch. I quickly fell into a deep sleep.

When I woke up the sun was low in the sky. My body ached all over and I groaned like an old man when I stood up. Groggily, I staggered to the bathroom to take a dump. When I finished, I hit the flush valve out of habit. As I stared at my reflection in the mirror I suddenly realized that the toilet tank was refilling. I reached out and turned the faucet on the sink in front of me. Water! I hadn’t even tried the tap here.

I splashed it on my face and let it run down my chest. It was freakin’ wonderful! I cupped my hands and drank. I had no idea why I had no water in my apartment when it still worked here. I didn’t care. But now I was fully awake and realized this couldn’t last long. With no electricity the pumps wouldn’t be able to refill the water towers. It was only a matter of time before this would be all gone.

I allowed myself a quick shower and shave. Again, freakin’ wonderful. I toweled off and pulled on clean shorts. Then I plugged the drain and started letting the tub fill with water. Turns out, I was in the nick of time. When the tub was a little over half full the water slowed to a trickle and then stopped.

I went back to the kitchen and ate some more. Tomorrow I can pull out the gas grill and have a hot meal. Stuffed again I went back to the couch. I wondered some more about my parents. I’m worried that I don’t know where they are. Other than that though, I felt safer and more satisfied than I have since this whole ordeal started. Clutching a rock in one hand, I slept.

Around the Corner

I could hear my parent’s names. Someone was calling for them and hollering, “Heeellllllooooooo”? Slowly, the voice dragged me out of my slumber. I was still clutching a rock as I padded toward the back door. Then the voice turned cold and said, “Hold it right there.” I saw the barrel of a shotgun sticking in through the space where I had broken the window. I guess I should have covered that yesterday. Too late now. I froze and peered through the broken pane.

Note to self… do not bring a rock to a gun fight. The gun was pointing right at my head. At the opposite end I saw a shock of white hair and a milky eye that I recognized as belonging to my parent’s next door neighbor. I yelled, “Don’t shoot, Mr. Evans. It’s me, Ray. Do you know where my parents are?” Mr. Evans doesn’t always hear too good.

He withdrew the gun and I let him in the back door. He told me he didn’t know where my parents are. He was on his way to get the news when he saw the broken window. It’s nice to know that in my parent’s neighborhood neighbors still look out for each other. Had I taken a face full of buck shot I might not think it so nice.

I walked with him a few blocks. There was this group of people milling about on the corner. I recognized some of them and gave them the head nod of greeting. Old Mr. Evans was talking a mile a minute. I think he was really happy to have someone new to talk to. He explained that there were spots like this in pretty much every neighborhood now, spots where people gathered to share news. A few people would walk from one spot to another and back again. They would pass on any news they had and gather what they could to take back home.

I asked him how anyone knew where to go. I thought we would have to go to city hall or something to get official news. He laughed and laughed at that. The elected politicians, he said, were the first to abandon every neighborhood they had heard from so far. There were simply certain houses in every neighborhood where people naturally congregated. It didn’t take long to find them because everyone would be out on the front lawn. The network grew organically.

So far, we knew that the problems extended as far as anyone could walk in three days. This might really have been the end of the world. That’s pretty scary. But no one knows what caused this. Speculation runs the gamut from aliens to terrorists. Personally, I’m pulling for the aliens. It will make this notebook a lot more interesting. While we waited for news, I took out my yo-yo and wondered what aliens look like.

Flying Saucer

I was standing off to the side waiting on the news to arrive and practicing with my yo-yo. Suddenly there was a woman standing in front of me. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen up close. Maybe the most beautiful woman in the world — a strawberry blond, very pale complexion, but her eyes are the deepest blue. So deep I was falling into them. A blue I wanted nothing more at that moment than to stare at forever.

“Nice yo-yo,” she said looking at my blue Duncan Classic which was spinning down by my ankles. “Blue is my favorite color.” Then she looked at my face again, expectantly. I was falling deeper and deeper into those eyes. I wanted to say, “Exactly the color blue that your eyes are, that’s my favorite color.” I stared back, unable to articulate a single syllable for the longest time. The yo-yo stopped spinning. “Mine too,” I finally answered. I was in trouble.

I fumbled with getting the yo-yo rewound. Most of my wits had completely abandoned me, so I used the time to gather the few that were left. I asked her, “What do you think the aliens look like?” She smiled at me and I could feel my knees trembling. She leaned close to me and I thought I was going to fall right over. “Not aliens,” she whispered, “I know what caused this and I need your help.”

She put her hand on my shoulder. It had the paradoxical effect of keeping me from falling over and making me feel even weaker. Her eyes were so close I swore I felt the air stir when she blinked. The way I was raised, when someone needs help you give it to them. And I know it sounds old-fashioned, [or, you know, sexist] but if a woman asks for help you don’t even question why. I have a feeling those values are about to be severely tested.

She wanted to go someplace where we could talk. I told her we could walk to my parents’ house. Her eyes smiled into mine. “Your yo-yo stopped again.” Sure enough, it was dangling by my ankles again. And then, I couldn’t believe this, as we turned to go she said, “My name is Gigi.”

No freakin’ way.

Lariat

Mr. Evans gave me a wink and a nod. I felt kind of bad that I wasn’t waiting around for the latest news, but this woman says she knows what caused all these problems. That’s gotta be worth something. Besides, she said she needs my help. What else could I do?

She was holding some kind of little steel case and I offered to carry it for her. She said no, let’s go. I told her my name is Ray as we walked to my parents’ house. Of course, that’s not really true. How do I explain to a woman named Gigi that I can’t pronounce the “jay” sound? What the hell do I call her? I got a little bit of a break on that. As she explained where she is from and where she wants to go she showed me her ID from some place called BokonoCorp. She has a PhD. She may not like me calling her “Doc,” but at least I can pronounce it.

We didn’t talk much more on the way home. She wouldn’t give me any details until after we were safely inside the house. Basically, she wants to go to BokonoCorp headquarters which, it turns out, is a few miles on the other side of my apartment. I’m not thrilled at the idea of walking back there, but I do know the way.

When we got to the house she asked if I had water. I told her about the water in the bathtub and that there were bottles of water to drink that weren’t cold of course. She asked me for a big mixing bowl. I pulled the biggest one I could find out of the kitchen cabinets. She explained she was going to dip a bowlful of water from the tub, use that to freshen up a bit, and then pour it down the toilet to flush it. I didn’t ask where she got her urban survival training.

While she went to clean up I pulled out the gas grill and checked the propane tank. Full. Good old dad even had another full tank on the shelf. Who does that? Anyway, it reminded me that I still don’t know where my parents are. I wonder if those people running around getting the news can pass the word around that I’m looking for them?

The freezer yielded some steaks and onion rings that were starting to thaw. I set them on the kitchen counter and pulled out my yo-yo while I waited for my guest. When she walked in the room looking even more beautiful [if that’s possible] I asked her to tell me what caused all the electronics to stop working.

“I did,” she told me. She put that little steel case on the table. “With this.”

Break Away

I had to sit down. It’s been four days since the world as we knew it ended. Electronic devices don’t work any more. We have no power. We are running out of water and food. And now I meet a woman who tells me that she caused this with something that she has in a small steel case sitting five feet away from me.

I asked her what it is because I was too afraid to ask her what I really wanted know, was it safe to be sitting this close to it? She sat down across from me and rested her hands on the case. She said they call it “cold fire” and she was part of a team that had been working on it for several years. I looked at her and wondered again how much trouble I was getting myself into. Her eyes glowed like a summer sky.

She went on to explain that cold fire was a combustion process that produces light but not heat. They had recently developed a catalyst/enzyme chip that not only sparked the combustion but then reacted with the light to reclaim and recycle nearly all of the materials consumed. Put one of the chips in a sealed glass container and you have a light bulb that lasts almost indefinitely and never needs electricity. Totally self-contained.

But four days ago one of the prototypes had broken in the lab. There was a sudden and violent reaction when the cold fire met the air in the lab. An unexpected side effect was an enormous electromagnetic pulse. That’s what knocked out all the electronics. She was able to re-confine the materials, still burning, to the steel case that now sat on the table between us.

Since the EMP was unexpected she couldn’t estimate how far its effects extended. Already it was well beyond anything she would have guessed. Her hope was that the lab at BokonoCorp headquarters was still functional so she could use their equipment to extinguish the cold fire she was carrying.

And then her eyes — those incredibly deep blue beautiful eyes — started to well up with tears. She told me that she hadn’t told me the worst part yet. No way did I want to ask her, but I couldn’t sit there like an idiot [any more than I already had] so I did. The worst part, she explained, is that what was supposed to be the ultimate in low-cost illumination now looked more like a small, inexpensive, devastating weapon.

Un-freakin’-believable.

I stood up and spun out my yo-yo. I didn’t realize until that moment how I much use it now to clear my head.

Elevator

I probably spent a good five minutes or more running through my limited repertoire of yo-yo tricks. Finally I turned around and asked, “So, Doc, are you hungry?” She had been sitting waiting patiently while I was yo-yoing.

I told her the food was going to spoil if we didn’t eat it. I wrapped the onion rings in tin foil and grabbed the steaks from the counter. She followed me outside and I fired up the grill. While I tended to the food she was content to stand on the patio and watch. She still seemed a little drained from the revelation she had made a few minutes earlier.

There were a couple [okay, more than a couple] questions running through my head. I make it a point though to avoid asking questions that I don’t really want to know the answers to. That severely limited the potential for my inquiries.

Some people overwork food on the grill. They constantly poke and prod and flip. I think it’s best to keep the lid closed. Let the heat come at it from all sides. You only need to flip the steaks once to get the grill marks on both sides. Other than that, leave ’em alone. Today I found I was poking and prodding and flipping. As soon as I realized that I closed the lid and took a deep breath.

“What exactly do you need to do to that thing in there?” I asked.

She explained her plan. The lab at headquarters has a vacuum chamber. She was going to put the cold fire in there and remove enough air to halt the combustion, then put everything into an insulating material to keep it from reigniting. I wanted to ask how to fix what was already messed up — power, water, transportation, communication, pretty much all of modern life — but I didn’t.

Instead I asked, “How do you like your steak?” I didn’t tell her, but I was afraid I had already messed up the food with all the flipping I had done earlier. We were going to get what we get whatever her answer was. I had to smile when I opened the grill and she said they look perfect as is. She volunteered to go in and set the table while I put the food on a platter.

When I brought in the food there were two places set at the table each with a bottle of water. The steel case was no where in sight. I was grateful for that. At the same time I wondered where she had stashed it. Something about not knowing where it is now that I now what it is had me feeling a little uneasy.

The steaks turned out better than I expected them to. I think the onion rings were really good too, but I like mine a little on the soggy side anyway. She said everything was wonderful but kind of in that way that any guest says when she doesn’t want to be impolite to her host. I wondered how long it had been since she ate last. Seems to me that it would be another impolite question for me to ask though.

I decided to risk being impolite in another way. There was one question that kept nagging me more and more. It went against the way I was raised to ask her, but I figure that anyone who brings a bomb into my house has already taken us beyond the limits of normal social interaction.

I looked across the table into those wonderful blue eyes. “Why me?” I asked. “Why did you ask me for help?”

Her answer, “Your yo-yo.”

Man on the Trapeze

I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. I had allowed myself some little flights of fancy that Doc had seen some potential in me for being heroic. So far I have been able to provide food, water, and shelter. And I’ve played with my yo-yo. But it was the yo-yo that made her ask for my help? No freakin’ way.

The way she explained it though, it sort of made sense. She told me that everyone she has seen since the accident — yeah, the end of the modern world reduced to an “oopsy!” — has been either scared out of their wits or mad as hell. Or some combination of both. When she saw me with my yo-yo she said I was the only one who looked… serene. Sort of a Zen thing.

Here’s another question I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to know the answer: How could she be sure I was “serene” and not simply too… simple to appreciate what was going on? When I think about the first words I said to her, that was a distinct possibility. And I wonder what she would have done if she had decided on the way home that I am an idiot. Worse, I wonder if that is exactly what she thinks.

I started to clear the table and realized I should have heated some water on the grill to make the clean up easier. I opted to leave the dirty dishes in the sink and clean them after our next meal. If we’re going to walk to that corporate lab of hers there’s no point in starting today. Better to get an early start in the morning. Hmm, I remember how well that plan worked for me last time….

I wanted to go back out to find Mr. Evans and hear any news that had come in. Doc asked if it was okay for her to stay and get some rest. Hmmm, I met her only a couple hours ago and she says she caused the destruction of the modern world. She has the device that caused the destruction here in the house. I showed her to the guest room.

When I found Mr. Evans again he was still waiting along with everyone else for another runner to come in with news. A couple runners had come and gone while I was away, but they didn’t have anything really new to report. I asked him about trying to track down my parents. He introduced me to Melissa Kreisberg, another neighbor from a couple blocks over. She was keeping a list of who was missing, hurt, or dead.

Dead? I asked whether there were a lot of dead in the neighborhood. She said there were four that she knew of so far. One was on a pacemaker and one on an insulin pump. The electronics had quit working. One guy had fallen down his basement steps in the dark and cracked his head. And one woman was really old and in poor health. She might have died anyway. Not that that made it easier to take. She didn’t know where my parents were, but she had them on the list of missing. She made a note to let me know if she found out anything.

About then a runner came in all out of breath. “Choppers,” he said. Helicopters have been flying over an industrial park to the west. They haven’t landed yet. But everyone thinks that means help is on the way. Soon.

I had to get back home.

Stop and Go

Someone stole the gas grill. I had left it on the patio like we always did. Silly me. I should have remembered we live in different times now. Still, they can’t have gotten far. I wonder whether it was a neighbor or some roving bandit that took it. Either way — damn.

Suddenly I was worried that they may have gone into the house as well. Doc was in there alone. Probably asleep. And the cold fire, the cause of so much destruction, was in there somewhere too. Or was it? I didn’t know whether to hope that it was still there with Doc or somewhere far away. But if someone took it without knowing what it is, we could be facing another level of devastation.

I ran into the house. The place wasn’t ransacked; that was a good sign. I didn’t see any signs of anyone having been there other than me and Doc. I made my way to the guest room. The door was open. She was curled up on the bed. Snoring softly. Adorable. The steel case was on the floor next to the bed. Other than the missing grill, everything seemed to be as I left it. How odd what’s starting to feel like “normal” these days.

I allowed myself a moment to wonder what it would be like to be curled up next to this beautiful woman. To feel those luscious curves. To look into those big blue eyes at the beginning and end of each day. I’m such an idiot. I hope she never reads this. I retreated to the family room and pulled out my yo-yo. The hypnotic effect of watching it travel up and down the string, spinning, practically flying at times had the desired effect of quieting my mind.

I didn’t hear Doc get up so I was startled a bit when she walked in and stood next to me. I told her the good news about the choppers being seen. However big the area of destruction is, it’s obviously not the whole world. But she didn’t look happy about the news. She looked scared. “Where,” she wanted to now. “Where were the choppers exactly?”

Well, of course, I don’t know where exactly. But I remember the runner said they were west of here. Over an industrial park. At that her eyes — Oh, my god I can’t get enough of those eyes — got even bigger.

“We need to get out of here,” she said. “Right now. We have to go.”

Roller Coaster

Doc’s blue eyes were blazing like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She ran to the guest room and grabbed the small metal case that held the cold fire. Then she grabbed my hand and started to pull me toward the door. I stood my ground — more out of total confusion than anything else.

I didn’t understand what the rush was about. If we left right then we would never make it to BokonoCorp before dark. That would mean having to find someplace safe to hunker down for the night. Or traveling all night which sounds even less appealing. Plus, shouldn’t we pack some food and water first? What’s the world coming to when I become the voice of reason anyway?

Doc turned to face me and I don’t think I have ever in my life seen anyone that looked so scared. I told her what I thought about leaving right away. I asked her what the hurry was for. She told me that the lab where the accident happened is in an industrial park west of here. Helicopters over that area means that they have located the center of the area of destruction.

“They aren’t coming to bring help,” she said. “They’re looking for the cause. They’re looking for me.”

I had to admit, it made sense that they were looking for the cause of the end of the modern world. Of course, now we knew it wasn’t really the end of the whole world, but it sure knocked the crap out of our little corner of it. But how, I wondered, could they possibly know that Doc was involved? Or that she was here instead of where the accident happened?

She looked close to tears. She said she had something to show me. She asked if I had a compass. To draw circles with? No, the kind that points to the north pole. Not that it mattered. I didn’t have either one. She brought a cast iron skilet from the kitchen and put it on the side of her little metal case. It stuck. Big deal. So the case is magnetic.

Then she explained, the case isn’t magnetic. It’s an aluminum alloy. Non-magnetic. The magnetic field is caused by the cold fire inside. It’s strong enough that they can track it from the helicopters. It was an EMP after all that caused all the electronics to fail.

I was regretting that I never asked her whether it was safe for us to be around that thing when she said there was more to show me. She peeled the skillet off the case and placed it on her outstretched hand. She turned her hand over but the skillet didn’t fall. It stuck.

“You’re magnetic?” I asked.

“It’s not my freakin’ personality.”

Was she mocking me?

Over the Falls

I peeled the skillet from her hand and tried it on my own. It didn’t stick. Doc told me that she got magnetized by the massive EMP that knocked out all the electronics only because she was so close to it. Being near the case with the cold fire in it was not especially hazardous. Except that now there are people in black helicopters looking for it.

I maintained that leaving immediately was not our best plan. At the very least we should pack some food and water. And I still think it makes more sense to leave in the morning. Let’s say they do know where the accident happened. They would spend a little time investigating there before they go looking around for the stuff, right? And what are the odds they would think to look here in the middle of suburbia? They would probably go looking at other BokonoCorp locations first. So we might be easier to find in the lab than we are here.

I wondered again what the world is coming to when I am the voice of reason. Doc agreed though that my reasoning made some sense. I got her to sit down on the couch and pretty soon she didn’t look quite so scared any more. But then I didn’t quite know what to do. I sat next to her for a few minutes and felt awkward as hell. So I stood up and started practicing my yo-yo tricks again.

She had rattled me more than I realized because it took me several tries to hit even the simplest of tricks. I was starting to get into the zone though when Doc started talking. “I’m sorry I got you into this,” she said. “I’m sorry that I’m so much trouble.” And those big blue eyes looked close to tears again.

I put the yo-yo away and sat next to her again. I told that she really hadn’t been too much trouble. I mean so far all she had cost me was a steak that was going to spoil anyway. That reminded me that someone stole the gas grill so I didn’t know how we were going to cook another meal. I guess we could check with the neighbors, see if we can share resources. But then Doc told me that after I left she couldn’t get to sleep right away. She had pulled the grill back into the utility room.

That was really good news and simple as it sounds we both started feeling better. That got me thinking about all the tools and stuff that Dad keeps around the house. I wondered if there wasn’t some way we could neutralize the cold fire without having to go all the way to the BokonoCorp lab. “Wait here,” I said. “I’ve got an idea.”

Brain Twister

Ever since I found out how hazardous the cold fire was I had been mulling over what we could do about it short of taking it all the way to the BokonoCorp lab. We didn’t even know for sure that the lab wasn’t knocked out by the EMP. And then what? How far would we have to go? And could we even get there now that people were searching for us?

I went out to the utility room. Sure enough the gas grill was there, thanks to Doc. Dad’s workbench was well stocked with hand tools. He had lots of hardware sorted in tiny drawers and plastic containers. There had to be something in there we could use to neutralize the cold fire. My first idea was to convert a bicycle pump to create a vacuum. I’m not sure how well it would have worked, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t find the pump anyway. I had told Doc I had an idea though and I would feel foolish going back in empty-handed now. I kept looking.

It occurred to me that it might be possible to replace the air rather than try to remove the air. The shelves held a variety of bottles and cans — everything from cleaning products to fluids for the car. I surveyed the containers of motor oil, anti-freeze, and windshield washer fluid. The extra propane tank sat on a shelf next to a cooler. Beside that, a deep fryer. I had forgotten about that thing. We deep-fried a turkey. Once.

I wondered if we could use the propane to replace the air around the cold fire. We have plenty and it’s heavier than air, but I suppose it might make an explosive mixture during the transfer. And how would we make the transfer? I eyed the hose from the propane tank on the gas grill, still thinking that might be our best choice in spite of the risks. Would the hose fit through the drain plug on the cooler? I pulled the cooler off the shelf and caught a glimpse of large bottles behind it. I pulled one out. It was the cooking oil from the deep fryer.

I pulled out more bottles. The pot on the fryer was 32 quarts and we had at least that much cooking oil. I swear I heard a “ping” sound and the light bulb appeared above my head. I called Doc outside. “Bring the case,” I told her.

Double or Nothing

Doc held the case in her hand and a quizzical look on her face. I showed her the deep fryer pot, the cooler, and the bottles of cooking oil. I told her my idea. What would happen if we covered the cold fire case in oil and then opened it? The oil should act as an insulator. And since cold fire is by definition cold, the oil should not burn. So won’t that stop the cold fire? And won’t that stop the magnetic field?

A tiny crease formed across her brow and those dazzling eyes darted left and right a few times as she considered the idea. Then her face relaxed and a great smile spread across it. “I think it will work,” she told me. “Or it will blow up in our faces.” For that smile I would risk getting my face blown off and more.

The case didn’t fit in the fryer pot. That would have been my preference. It fit easily in the cooler though and we poured every bottle of cooking oil we had over it. I tried insisting that Doc go inside. I didn’t see any sense in putting both our lives at risk and this was my idea after all. She tried insisting that I go inside since it was her experiment that caused all this in the first place. We stood appraising each other’s resolve for a minute or two and decided we were in it together.

I held the case down so it was completely covered by the oil. Doc released the lock and slowly lifted the lid a tiny bit. One big bubble glooped out of the case like belch. Several smaller bubbles silently followed. When we had gotten all the air out that we could, Doc relocked the case.

I grabbed a screwdriver from the workbench and tested it briefly against Doc’s arm. It stuck. I moved the tool to the cold fire case. No more magnetism. It worked. And there were no explosions unless you count our whoops of happiness. I grabbed a couple shop towels and we wiped the oil from our hands.

Suddenly Doc threw her arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek. She held the embrace and cried freely on my shoulder. I breathed deeply and wrapped my arms around her. Nothing in my life ever felt as good as her body pressed tightly against mine. My heart thumped so hard against my ribs I was sure they could hear it across the street.

Or was that the sound of helicopters traveling overhead?

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