The Nuke

They might not die.

It was hard for the crowds not to overreact when a nuclear missile had blown through all defensive protocols and was heading unerringly towards the airport. Like a madman Kevin ran around, asked for help, demanded information from the staff who still manned their stations like the band on board the Titanic.

Kevin’s brother Ben had a broken leg, was returning home from a vacation in Costa Rica where he fell off a balcony and landed on a tiki hut. The brothers found a way to make it funny. Something to laugh about and chase away the pain and embarrassment from the stupid accident. Kevin had scrambled to get to the airport in time for Ben’s unexpected return flight. He always rushed to his brother’s aid, like good brother’s do.

Ben sat lame on his suitcase, wondering if he was dreaming. The planes on the runway were breaking all rules of order as they fought to take off. They were crammed with people, desperate souls praying to god that they’d make it out of the area before the bomb hit. Or at least off the runway.

Even above the roar of horror and panic, Ben could hear Kevin shouting. He tracked his voice through the terminal, a familiar voice. Something to focus on.

***

When they were younger Kevin and Ben bought cheap-ass used cars and outfitted them for a demolition derby in the backyard of their Aunt Jenny. The boys never were up to much good, and Aunt Jenny was regarded as the black sheep of her family. The trio got along famously.

So when the boys presented their idea for a start-up demolition derby league, Aunt Jenny mulled the idea over for thirty seconds and gave them the approval. She even said they could use her backyard; the property connected to an old strip pit, and if the pioneering event happened to spread from turf to stone, well, there’s nothing that could be done about that.

Over a hundred people attended the First Annual Pro-Am Lockasonna County Demolition Derby, but Kevin and Ben were the only drivers.

They put on one hell of a show, even if they both barely crawled out of their cars by the end. It was the only event they ever held, but it was the only one needed.

***

“Ben, holy shit man, this is really happening,” Kevin’s face was pale and splotchy. It was winter and the extra layers he wore were making the frantic running a stifling exercise. He’d given his coat to Ben, who hadn’t needed one in Costa Rica. Before they heard the news of the missile Ben was thinking that the coat was really nice. Kevin must have bought it recently.

Ben nodded, his throat too dry to speak.

“That agent there, she said there’s a flight still boarding. We’re going to need to run.”

“Uh,” Ben’s voice was still dry. His speech was barely intelligible, “Kev. My leg’s fucking broken.”

Kevin nodded and said, “I know, so I’m sorry about this.”

Without warning Kevin hoisted his brother up and dumped him on a luggage cart. Ben found no trouble screaming in agony as his leg was jostled so roughly. One hand grabbed onto the cart handle for balance and the other dug fingernails into his palm.

“That fucking hurt, god damnit,” Ben said, his teeth gritting together.

“Get over it,” Kevin said. He pushed the cart with breakneck speed and lunatic carelessness through the terminal.

***

A few summers ago Ben and Kevin went hiking in the Adirondacks. The brothers made visits there every year and always tried a different hike, always something kind of stupid, kind of dangerous. Something worth reminiscing at the bar.

Kevin had been watching reruns of Survival Dude, that guy who went out into the wilderness with a full camera crew and “survived” by eating disgusting shit. In the last episode the Survival Dude climbed a jungle vine to sleep safely in the heights of a tree.

So Kevin decided to climb a wild grapevine into the heights of an old maple tree. He made it about fifteen feet before the vine snapped and Kevin plummeted to the ground.

He cursed and punched the ground and tried to move his left arm but couldn’t. It was dislocated.

So Ben knelt down, checked the injury carefully, and told Kevin, “We’ve got to hike out of here before it gets dark.”

Kevin jaw dropped in mock astonishment, “Uh, yeah, I know that.”

And without the slightest tell Ben grabbed Kevin’s wrist, dug his ankles into Kevin’s torso and pulled the dislocated shoulder with Herculenean might. Ben didn’t know if it would actually work, he’d only seen it in movies.

The shoulder slid back into place and Kevin nearly fainted from the pain.

“That… that fucking hurt. God damnit.”

***

The cart went careening around corners but the brothers maintained their balance. The terminal was rapidly emptying itself of people. The brothers reached the destined terminal. Kevin supported Ben’s weight and the two hobbled through a pair of doors, past the airport security, then into an empty terminal.

To their right the plane they were striving to catch was already heading out to the air strip.

They’d lost their chance.

“Holy shit,” Ben said. The pain made him lucid.

“Yeah,” Kevin said.

They looked around.

The walls were colored an ugly maroon, the emblem of the airline that used this gate. A security guard stood leaning against a wall. He smoked a cigarette with utter placitude.

A group of people were kneeling together in prayer. A black woman with a knitted red shawl and coke-bottle glasses held out her bible and read from it. Kevin couldn’t recognize the passage but Ben did. The people held hands together tightly. Ironclad grips. They wouldn’t let each other go.

Panicked, freaking the fuck out, a pilot was leaned over, heaving into a paper bag with so much intensity that Ben wondered if he was trying to fill it with enough hot air that he could float away from the danger.

A service dog, a black lab with grey on its chin, was strolling the hallway and stopped to eat a bag of chips somebody dropped.

“I, uh,” Kevin started, “I kind of want to be outside.”

Ben nodded.

***

The emergency doors opened. Kevin helped Ben get down the steps and onto the grass outside of the airport. They saw a guard shack that had been abandoned.

The night sky was robbed of its blackness by the putrid yellow lights of the airport. High above Ben thought he saw a star. It was only an airplane.

“Well this sucks,” Kevin said.

“Yeah,” Ben said. He lifted the lapel of the jacket and snapped the buttons shut. “This is a nice coat.”

A flash of light hit. Impact.

“Oh, shit!”

Kevin grabbed Ben in an embrace, “I love you, man.”

Ben grabbed back, “I love you too.”

Kevin watched the rolling vantablack cloud spitting fire and sparks and promising death. He was terrified that it took so long to reach them but he realized it was adrenaline twisting his perception. It felt like he had a few more precious moments to live but every sensation was terror and fear.

The brothers held onto each other as the cloud consumed them.

Whatever consciousness remained remarked curiously how much it felt like a wave of hot electricity. Every atom in their body had been consumed in half a second.

It wasn’t unpleasant.

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