“What the hell are you doing?” Screamed Earl Wise’s father as they stood outside of the arcade. “Skipping school again to play some dumbass video game about nothing? You have the potential to be so much more and you just want to be a loser.”
Earl got right back in his father’s face, “What the hell’s it matter to you, Old Man? You got the life you wanted well this is the life I want! A life where I’m trapped in sweltering heat and being comforted by an air conditioner and not a damn handheld fan! You want to talk about a loser dad let’s talk about you. Years of research, years of struggle, and all it ended up getting you was nothing. You are a teacher at a public school that has so many gang shootings the police recommend riot gear just to go into the building for the teachers even. You sit at your desk doing nothing all day teaching to people who will probably be dead before the end of the month and that’s being nice! Worse you drug me and Mom into it again. You’re a loser dad and you’re the biggest one I know.”
“Who’s the bigger loser here, Son? At least I made an effort to provide for you and your mother. I got my degrees and I pushed myself to keep us all together. I brought you with us because we thought it would be better for you to be a part of it. To learn from it all, and all you learned was how to be an ungrateful little brat. You have the intelligence of a genius and you waste it all day. You could be something, something special, and you would rather piss it all away. If your mother…”
“If she were here; is that what you were going to say Dad? Well she’s not here now is she? She died in that damned Death Valley that was so important to you. Killed by some guy that we didn’t even know mercilessly because he wanted our car and the clothes that you wore in your stupid closet! He strangled her and we weren’t there to help!” The younger of the two thought about punching him in the face, but this needed to come out. “You are a lousy father, a horrible husband, and I wish that you would just die!”
Arnold was taken aback by what his son had said to him. It hadn’t been the best life for them and Diane’s death had hit them both like a ton of bricks. What his son said though felt like that day all over again. Was his career truthfully more important to him than his own family? Had it encompassed everything that he was? What did he truthfully have to show for all his work anyway? Every day he felt like he was in a demilitarized zone where his life was on the line. Earl was so filled with rage it was just as bad coming home.
“If I could take back what happened to your mother I would.”
With that the Son had had enough. A heavy fist slammed into his father’s face and knocked him down on the ground. Blood poured from the older Wise’s face. Earl just looked down at him and pulled the keys from his father’s belt loop. “It should have been you! I hope you die and go to hell, Dad!”
He jumped into his father’s truck and turned the ignition switch. He took off.
In the real world Earl ran his right hand through his hair and looked out the window. A single tear rolled down from his cheek after telling the story. “Not all families are father knows best and happy days. For a lot of families it’s struggle to live and struggle to survive.”
“I am sorry to hear that you and your father parted on such unhappy terms,” said Allison with sympathy on her voice. “Did you ever see each other again?”
He nodded solemnly.
For a foreign made car the Toyota Tundra could get it on an open highway. Earl had the engine up to ninety and Seether’s “Breakdown” blaring on the radio. He weaved in and out of traffic passing cars left and right just for the thrill of it all. What he had said was haunting him but was liberating at the same time. Through the years it had all needed to be said and getting it all into the air was like having the chains broken after years of being locked up in a cage. Now he was going to get as far away from that loser and go somewhere where he could be appreciated.
After three or four more songs – and cussing out the DJ in his head for putting Pink on a rock station – a blinding white light flashed behind him that lit up the already bright evening sky. The DJ cut in screaming frantically through the airwaves about some disaster. Earl didn’t need to hear about it to know it happened. The heat from the catastrophe singed him even here. Looking in the rearview mirror he saw something he never imagined. A mushroom cloud billowed up from the ground where the city had once been.
For years he had wanted to tell off his father, but now all he wanted to do was see him one more time. He slammed his foot on the break and then thought about the chances of surviving this high speed breaking of a pickup truck. By some miracle he didn’t die in the ensuing swerve where his truck did a one-eighty. When he gunned the engine earlier it was to get the hell out of dodge. Now he was gunning the engine to get back there in the wrong lane. Cars he weaved in and out of earlier he repeated the same maneuver to again at an even faster speed. The governor chip cut him off once or twice, but Wise didn’t care about that. He’d rip it apart if he had to. Right now all he wanted was to see his dad and make sure that he was okay.
The drive took longer than Earl could ever have imagined it being. At the rate time was going he was sure that by the time he got there he’d look like Methuselah. After what felt like a lifetime he could see what remained of the burning Earth ahead of him. Skyscrapers were bathed in fire with flames shooting as high as one could see. Buildings were crumbling in on themselves from the massive gashes and scrapes covering them. Cars were left as withered messes of their previous selves with bodies trapped inside covered in fire. It was like something out of a bad movie seeing such loss of life. George A. Romero, if he were still alive, was probably taking notes for his next film using this tragedy to explain how his terrible creations rose from their graves. ‘No more room in hell’ and all that.
After some time on foot – the truck unable to make the necessary maneuvers – he found his way to Market Street where his house and, with any luck, his father would be waiting. When he arrived there he felt sick to his stomach. Most of the houses were gone or were about to be – his house included in the latter. Walls of the older home with ‘character’ as his father said were collapsed in and debris littered the once perfect land. Earl forced his way inside.
“DAD!” He screamed. “Where are you? Dad? Come out! Please? Daddy, please!” He kept repeating his frantic cries over and over again. His hands became bloody and burnt as Earl picked up pieces of their home and threw them aside. Wise’s lips were quivering and he felt like someone had taken a knife to his insides. The pain was temporary, it would subside. He couldn’t think about it right now. It wasn’t important. Nothing was important except for finding his father. Arnie could make it right again! Dad was Superman!
As he tossed aside another piece of material he heard something from nearby. It was barely there, hard to hear among the cries of a catastrophe, but it was as loud to him as a jet engine. Rushing over to it Earl picked up the pieces and threw them aside. The teenager dug into the debris like a dog looking for a bone in the back yard. It felt like it took longer than the drive. By now his young locks had to be as white as the driven snow. Personal hygiene could wait for another day. He pulled the last bits of wreckage away and saw his father trapped below.
The wood from the house had covered his broken body. Parts of his legs were charred from exposure to the fire. Bone and muscle could be seen below some of the wounds that were exposed to him. His father’s hair was singed off, but in his hand was a photo that he’d been clutching onto for dear life. Not even his father’s glasses were adorning his face. It was a struggle to speak.
“Earl? Earl is that you?”
“I’m here dad,” Earl said nearly choking. “I came back. I’m so sorry for what I said to you. I… I…”
His father was reassuring and comforting, “It’s okay son. Everything’s gonna be okay. I just need to rest here for a bit and gather my strength back up. I’ll be right as rain in a day or two.”
“Somebody help us!” Earl screamed at the top of his lungs. Where were the rescue workers? The firemen? The Goddamned Santa Claus? Any of them.
Arnold struggled to take his son’s hand, “It’s hard to see and hear, but they’re coming. They’ll be here soon. Listen, I’m sorry for what happened and I’m sorry about your mother. I always thought that everything was an absolute and wouldn’t change. I thought we were happy.”
“We were,” Earl answered back openly showing his tears, “Everything was good. We were together, we had everything we needed. We had each other.”
“Then your mom died at the hand of that colossus. I’m sorry I couldn’t help her. I’m sorry you had to grow up without her and with a loser like me. I’m sorry for everything.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” he caressed his father’s cheek. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. Everything was fine, everything is going to be fine. We’ll get you to a hospital.” To the heavens above, “SOMEBODY HELP!”
The older of the two leaned forward and cringed in pain, “We both know it’s too late for that. Just remember I’ll always love you and I'm very proud of you, my special boy. Promise me that you’ll go on and live. Promise,” Arnie coughed out the last word as he fell to the ground. The older man’s hand stayed firm on the photo he was holding.
“Dad? Daddy?” Earl said in cries as the salty tears rolled. It was too late. His father was gone. Looking down on the photo he could see it through his father’s dead fingers. On it was a picture of them when they were younger back in Death Valley. Earl, Arnold, and Diane were all smiling and happy. It was a special photo because of what he wrote on it after they got it back. It said “Remember the Kit’s Fox.”
“I built a makeshift tomb for my father back behind our home. I buried him there with the photo still in his hand and then I set out on the open road. By then though it was too late. Skynet had already taken over the globe with its prototype weapons and Luddite followers. So I found some people and I went into hiding. I tried to live up to my promise to my father, to keep going and have a good life, but how can someone have a normal life in a world populated by intelligent machines?” Earl took another long drink from the water bottle wishing that the water would somehow make it into his lungs. “Tell me the answer to that one, Major.”
Allison tilted her head, “I do not know. I believe that we simply press on with our lives as best we can. We are all perfect creatures made in God’s image. It is our job to find a way to serve him and live lives worthy of his love and affection toward us. For us we are living normal lives carrying out his will.”
As Earl looked out at the sea of devastation, “He has a funny way of rewarding us wouldn’t you say?”
“I believe that the next world will be far more worthy of us.” She answered honestly.
“Landing zone up ahead!” Yelled the pilot from his seat.
Allison turned in her seat and peered out of the window at the scene below. A group of humans were fleeing from a hidden back door. They weren’t having an easy time at it. An Aerial Hunter Killer was hanging above them in an attack position. While Earl couldn’t see it, Allison’s machine heritage told her the truth. The weapons were powered.
“We must act.”
Earl Wise smiled, “Time to prove that we’re worthy of the next world.”