In the past it had been easy to believe in Mother Nature. The science of the natural world hadproven to be true even through unbelievable natural phenomena since the mythologies of ancient times. But now we all talk about it, photograph it, discuss it, speculate about it and hope that nature as we knew it should be, would go back to how it was.
I stood in my small kitchen holding a fresh cup of black coffee, excited about my upcoming camping trip to the southern Oregon coast. The Interweb reported on forest fires in the Cascades but this was nothing new in this west coast of twenty-first century America.
Green areas were off limits to humans anyway, guarded by teams of experienced “Sandy’s,” a term first used in the movie “Logan’s Run,” to describe the police who captured “Runners” escaping the inevitable, and then handed down to the protectors at Burning Man who stopped runners into the pyre. The new Sandy’s job was to put out the self-immolators whose ranks were increasing with so many people protesting every dangerous regime in the world.
Tomasino had been a Sandy until his narrow escape a couple of months earlier. His suit protected him but the strain from unsuccessfully trying to put out a family of burners, women and children chained together who breached the fence and threw themselves into the raging forest fire, had been the last straw.
Janey wanted to see the eclipse, maybe the last one of the century. “Whatever you do Janey, don’t go. I can feel something evil coming with this eclipse. Dreams, my dreams portend…” This was almost the last thing Tomy-o said to her before he completely checked out of reality.
Janey held her phone up to her face. The usual screens flashed on one after another. It was six-fifty, everyone used military time because day and night could fool you if you had been sheltering for a few days and the ash from the burns obscured the sky. The screen next showed the outside temperature. It was already ninety degrees. These days the temperature stayed between a high of ninety-five to a low of eighty-five depending on the intensity of the sun, the nearness of the fires and the amount of debris burning in the streets.
The date flashed and then the city page with graphs showing electricity available, areas of outage, water levels and how much and for how long these necessities would be available in the area. The food pages buzzed in on availability of everything from cooking oil to apples and where garbage could safely be dropped off.
The most important notices then lit up the screen indicating where the fire points were located, first, close by and then fanning out through the northwest. This was the function of the Internet in this generation. They had only heard of the good old says of fun and games on sites called Facebook and Instagram. Information these days meant survival or death.
Tomy-o, that’s what everyone called him, hadn’t left the safety of his basement shelter since “IT” had happened. Being on the front lines had deeply scarred his psyche although his flesh had survived without a single singe, not like some of his front line friends whose bodies were traumatized by burns, crushed by falling trees and rocks or tumbling buildings.
Being a Sandy was a coveted job and paid a huge amount of cold hard cash. The job was short lived as most lives were cut short. He had walked away after that particular nightmare. At first the fires were caused by nature, lightening strikes in the “droughted” forests or by delinquents with illegal fireworks.
Suicidal terrorists were the latest scourge who figured out they could die in a blaze of glory by strapping emollients to their bodies in the form of a specially formulated gel that exploded into fiery shrapnel, creating a firestorm destroying everything around them.
Janey checked her preparations. Her car secured in the metal clad garage had been gassed up last week when the getting was good and the gasoline truck was in the neighborhood.
Since these days of disaster had begun and fire attacks had become the norm, from man-made chaos to natural acts many things had changed. Houses that were once charming bungalows were now fronted with heavy-duty sheet metal to protect from fire. What were once well-tended lawns and gardens were now armed moats. Communities now resembled medieval fortresses.
Tomy-o’s basement bunker was well protected. He had everything he needed in a space smaller than a tiny house. Janey made food for him and left it outside the door. They had installed self-composting toilets throughout the house and were hooked up to the main water supply but had an efficient emergency water system. He had planned to be hide away for only a few days but as the weather and chaos outside increased he had stayed in his cell the past few months.
Lately he had been dreaming stranger, more prescient dreams. The last dream frightened him and he told Janey, “It was like this,” he said when she brought him his morning oatmeal. “You are dead but come back as a ghost to tell me that you are going to die. You take my hand and we fly along the coast. The sun is sinking in a fiery blast. And the world below is erupting. I see crowds of people floating up into the air passing us by their mouths open. A strangely beautiful sound crashes around us getting louder and louder. Suddenly there is nothing but a wall of fire that vaporizes all of the other people in the air, while you and I become transparent floating gently back to earth.”
“I really don’t want you to go to the Eclipse. I have a really bad feeling about it.”
Janey listened to him carefully but since his withdrawal didn’t exactly trust him anymore. She was tired of being under siege inside and outside the house. “Tomy-o, I know you are stressed out but I’ll be just fine. I can take care of myself. Just because you had a hard time doesn’t mean I can’t take it. I have taken all precautions. I am armed. I feel that you are just trying to keep me here, somebody to feed you and take care of you.”
Well, she didn’t actually say this to him but thought it and thought about her options. He was very persuasive and had been right there on the front line. But this was a special thing, The Eclipse of the Sun. She had been getting her degree at the University in Astrophysics before these latest disasters. This event spoke to her heart and she so wanted to be there.
Tomio’s dream freaked her out. Some of the things he dreamed in his bunker had come true. Little things like their missing cat, Mr. Big. He said the cat was alive but didn’t want to come home until Tomy-o was feeling better. And funnily enough when she put some cat food on the porch that night the food was eaten. And then there were other things like lost keys and messages from people he knew she would get before she got them.
Tomy-o fidgeted in his little cell after Janey left. He couldn’t eat the oatmeal. He couldn’t swallow any coffee. He was worried and felt his heart racing like it had done when he first got the jitters. He thought he would throw up and sweat broke out on his forehead. He shivered like he was cold even though the temperature in the little cell stayed at a comfortable seventy-one degrees.
For the first time in many months he felt he had to leave the room, to plead with Janey to stay. This resolve made Tomy-o feel better. His thoughts were clearer and he felt strong with resolve. He put on normal jeans and a t-shirt. Barefoot he left his self-made prison and went upstairs. “Janey, Janey are you still here? Oh Janey it’s me. I’m better. Where are you?”
Janey turned around from her seat at the kitchen table. She was in the process of unpacking her backpack. She looked up and smiled so relieved to feel that life could now be endured. His need for her eclipsed the eclipse.