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A Rupture in Ragnarok

by Brian Trent

It was always easy to find his way from the fallout shelter to the landfill. As the sickly green phosphorous of sunrise appeared in the east, Bernie was already outside, walking, head low, his bag clutched tightly in one hand.

Despite his limp, Bernie had mastered an awkward side-shuffle like a wounded spider. It was a surprisingly fast locomotion, pushing and pulling. Speed was essential. Staying outside longer than an hour was fatal, but his shuffling run could put him at the landfill in ten minutes.

Then he would sort through its filthy piles, sifting and picking like a fussy bird. A magazine here, a plastic toy, newspapers, cutlery, knick-knacks... for thirty minutes he’d brave the radiation and fill his bag like Santa Claus.

And the route to the landfill was easy to follow despite the rubble. A line of fire hydrants marked the way home like bizarre metal mushrooms; built of cast iron, they would persist until that distant day when the sun popped like a boil in space.

The sky was very green; his vision swam like in a beer bottle. There were no birds of course. Lots of glowing clouds, looking so pretty... like the spreading of angel wings.

Bernie halted. He squinted, so that his skin wrinkled like old leather around the eyes.

The landfill was already visible, but that wasn’t what snagged his attention. For weeks now, he had caught a floating glimmer above one particular spot on the road. Like a ghostly balloon. It always vanished before he could get close.

And here it is again! Bernie stared, scratching his bald head. Twenty yards off it floated, a rippling light, as if a tiny fountain bubbled from an invisible faucet in the air. Silver, glittering, like sunlight through a bend in a Venetian shade.

Otherwise the world was utterly still. No birds, of course; such frail creatures couldn’t survive the new world. Bernie told his daughters the sweet lie that they still existed. His tales of red robins, blue-jays, and white-headed eagles always made the girls clap their hands in delight.

Now Bernie studied the glimmering spot ahead of him. It was stronger than ever before, clearly no hallucination. He approached in a slow circle, cautious as a bird actually, hopping, a nervous bobbing of his head.

The glimmer revealed itself in greater detail as he approached. Bernie sucked in a gasp through his parched lips.

A circle in the air! A window, floating there like a magic porthole!

And on the other side? Bernie trembled at the sight of blue skies — blue! — and below this, a field of living green grass! He pressed his face to within an inch of the rupture and gawked.

Then Bernie soon spotted two primitive hunters, dressed in loose-fitting animal-skins and carrying bone-tipped spears. They were moving through the tall grasses with delicate care, hunched and silent.

Primitive hunters? Bernie’s mind raced for an explanation. Was he being afforded a magical glimpse into the ancient past? But how? Had all the radiation somehow... damaged... the membrane of time? He wanted to doubt what he saw, but the reality of the hunters could not be denied. They approached, their heads a tangled mass of dark hair, the chiseled strength of their arms visible even from this range. It made Bernie painfully aware of his own frail weakness — and of the shivering, pale creatures constituting the shelter’s families.

The hunters grew closer. Bernie realized at last that they were stalking him, or at least, the sight of this magic rupture. It was as strange in their superstitious era as in his.

Yes, Bernie thought, humanity has stumbled, but even in our great nuclear misstep we’ve advanced so much from those backwards days! Back in the underground shelter there were thinkers and planners (the shamans of our tribe, he thought uneasily) who promised that someday the world would become habitable again, and people could return to the world’s surface!

Bernie recoiled a step from the rupture. The hunters could clearly see him, for as he stepped back they rushed forward with their spears held aloft. Bernie jumped aside, expecting to see an ancient spear fly through the narrow rupture. If only they could try pelting him with fresh meat! And furs! There would be a nice gift from the past!

But no spear came. After several moments, Bernie dared to peek through it again, but it was gone. The strange phenomenon had expired just as it had in prior weeks. He waved his hands around, hoping to feel it. He crouched, hobbled to different angles of viewing, even craned his neck to see if it was floating at a higher altitude. But minutes passed and it did not reappear.

Bernie hurriedly rushed for the shelter, as fast as his limp would permit. The pilgrimage to the landfill was too dangerous now — he had lost track of precious minutes. Besides, he had so much to tell! He didn’t know if anyone would believe him, but Bernie was respected among the tribe. He’d do his best to make them believe.

He gleefully followed the line of cast-iron fire hydrants home.

* * *

The magic hole vanished just as the spear left the hunter’s hand. It sailed through the warm breeze, striking nothing. The hunter ran to retrieve it, and plucked the weapon wonderingly from the grass.

His friend was speechless for a long while, brow furrowed in fear. “He was one of the gods. Great rapture! We may be cursed for attacking him!”

“We did not know!” the other protested. He lay his spear gently on the ground, in offering and supplication to the deity he might have offended.

“Come!” said his friend. “Return to the cave! We must tell the shaman what happened!”

“May he forgive us!”

Daylight was failing, but the two ran swiftly. Despite the tall grass stretching in every direction around them, they never worried about getting lost. The mysterious line of bizarre metal mushrooms always pointed the way home...

Copyright © 2009 by Brian Trent

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