“Man, that throw was crap. Boo. Boo!” Luke watches as Jordan half-heartedly throws a potato chip at the big-screen TV. Fortunately for both the TV and the quarterback, he’s had a few too many and the chip makes it a grand total of about three feet.
“Bravo,” Luke mumbles into his own beer. Maybe he should cut his friend off. It was always hard to tell, though; judge it wrong, and sometimes you got the potato chips to your face instead. “Dude, change the channel. This is going to end poorly.”
Jordan spares one last condescending glance for the football game before beginning to channel surf. Luke watches the shows flash by: something about weddings, something about babies, something about people wrestling in jello. Man, reality TV really was the pits.
Jordan finally pauses on some spin-off of what was once an educational channel. “ALIENS,” proclaims the program, much too loudly, “Are they living in your basement?”
“Really?” Luke takes another sip of his beer. “I keep mine in the garage behind my road bike.”
His friend shoots him a look. “Just give it a minute,” he says. “The show on after this one’s pretty good.”
Luke hijacks the potato chips in case it is not.
The alien show thankfully comes to its conclusion. “You never know,” says some ‘expert’ that they have scrounged up from somewhere. His hair stands up wildly, not doing much to increase his credibility in Luke’s eyes. “They could be anywhere. Keep an eye out.”
Before Luke can make the cutting remark that comes to mind, the next show starts. “2012,” it states. “The year of the apocalypse. Today we will explore further signs of the upcoming end of the world.”
This cannot possibly be the show Jordan means, but a glance over at his friend tells Luke that it is. “You’re telling me you buy into this apocalypse crap?”
“Dude, it makes sense,” replies Jordan. He sets his beer down and starts counting on his fingers. “Killer earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts. Plus strange lights in the skies, and the break-up of governments around the world. It’s not looking so good.”
Luke shakes his head and debates throwing potato chips himself. “You know that they disproved that whole Mayan calendar thing, right?”
“If you want to ignore the signs, it’s up to you.” Jordan stares at the potato chips. Luke eats a few out of spite. “You can’t tell me that things aren’t bad right now. In fact…” Jordan stands so quickly that Luke chokes on his chips and has to wash them down with his beer. “I want to show you something.”
“Oh no,” says Luke. “Please don’t say you have aliens in your basement.”
“Dude, can you be serious for once?” Jordan sweeps past him, heading, of course, towards the basement stairs.
This from the man who throws potato chips at the TV.
Luke heaves himself out of the armchair – a mean feat, because he would swear the chair was trying to eat him – leaves his beer and the chips, and follows his friend down into the depths. He’s only been in Jordan’s basement a handful of times. It’s unfinished and full of junk. Luke brushes at a couple of cobwebs as he follows Jordan through a maze of decaying boxes towards the back corner.
Jordan stops, turning on him. “Before we do this, you’ve got to swear never to tell a soul.”
“Do you swear or not?”
Luke holds up his hands in supplication. “Fine, fine. I swear. Let’s get on with this.” Maybe he should have cut Jordan off a few beers back, because now his friend is determinedly poking at the concrete wall. Luke watches for a moment, entertaining fantasies where Jordan has, strangely enough, really been abducted by aliens, perhaps ones living in his basement, and no longer has a hold on reality. But then the wall swings open, groaning on hinges that were invisible only seconds before.
Jordan steps inside. Luke rubs his eyes, questions his own hold on reality, and follows.
There’s a whole room inside, a decent-sized one, that looks a bit like a fifties science fiction movie. The walls, ceiling, and floor are all lined with what looks suspiciously like lead, and two walls are full of strange electronics, vacuum tubes and blinking lights everywhere. A third wall contains shelves straining under the weight of canned food and gallons of water. “What the hell?”
Jordan surveys the scene with obvious satisfaction. “Pretty awesome, huh?”
The odd machines clank constantly. “What is this supposed to be, the starship Enterprise?”
“Very funny.” Jordan rolls his eyes. “Look, this stuff is near-indestructible. When nuclear blasts or EMPs take out all our technology, I’m going to be ready. I’ll still be able to communicate with the outside world, and I’ll be perfectly safe.”
“I bet the reception on this thing is terrible.” Luke gives the corner a kick. “How are you going to watch the game?”
“I’m not kidding.” Jordan turns on his friend, and the laughter dies on Luke’s lips. “When the End Times come, you’re going to wish you’d thought of this too, and you’ll come running, but I don’t know if I’m going to let you in.”
“Dude, whatever,” says Luke, but he’s chilled by Jordan’s words. “Look, I’ve got to run. Amy expects me home as soon as the game’s over. Same time next week?”
“Sure,” says Jordan, still regarding Luke with that hard look. Luke turns to go. “Remember – don’t tell anyone.”
Luke wants to joke, wants to say the witty comeback that comes to mind, but decides against it and hurries back up the stairs.
“You ever worry about the Apocalypse?” Luke asks his wife later that night.
Amy looks up from where she’s watering the plants. “Not especially, no. It’s probably a load of bull, and if it’s not, well – why bother worrying about it, then?”
“It’s just – Jordan’s got a freaking bomb shelter in his basement, fully stocked and everything.” Luke taps his fingers absently on the counter. “And I really think he’s being a bit crazy about the whole thing, but now he’s got me wondering. What if he’s not crazy, and we are?”
Amy fluffs the sage’s leaves. “Well, if it makes him happy, who’s to say it’s bad?” And then she moves on to the next plant.
Luke approaches the game the next week a bit cautiously, but neither he nor Jordan bring up the strange room in the basement. A few more weeks pass, and Luke begins to forget all about it, except to occasionally wonder what the machines are for and laugh. Outside of that room, any sort of impending apocalypse seems far away, and it’s only the conspiracy theorists that seem to cling to it. After all, even NASA said nothing was going to happen.
But still, his friendship with Jordan isn’t quite the same as it was, and Luke finds himself occasionally watching the game at home.
It’s a warm night, summer at its hottest, mugginess hanging in the air and mosquitoes buzzing against the screen, sensing warm blood inside. The windows are all open, since the air conditioning went out earlier in the day – just all at once, no warning – and though they have every fan in the house going, Luke still feels like he’s melting. The repair guy said it’d be a week; apparently half the town’s air conditioners broke. Luke’s strongly considering moving to Alaska.
To add to his troubles, the TV picture’s been going. He's half-tempted to call Jordan and see if he's getting a clear picture. Luke hasn’t seen static in years, but every few minutes his cable signal degrades to the point where he can’t see what’s going on. As a kid, he used to watch static and imagine a pulsating mound of ants. Now it’s just an annoyance.
Amy’s been in an ice bath for an hour and refuses to come out or share. “Probably just some sort of atmospheric interference,” she mumbles when Luke complains about the TV.
Luke wonders where she even came up with the concept and takes to occasionally trying to knock some sense into either the TV or the cable box. Hey, it used to work, back when things ran on mechanical parts.
The power fails about nine o’clock. Luke has to content himself with imagining the news. “Rolling blackout,” the reporter in his head declares. Or is it rolling brownout? Luke has entirely too much time to ponder the possible differences.
Bed’s looking like a good option. As Luke goes to see if he can pry his wife out of the tub, it begins to lighten outside. His first thought is that it’s the street light, that the power’s back, but everything in the house remains dark. Next he considers lightning – but the light is too constant – or possibly some sort of emergency lights.
Amy can wait. Luke reverses course, heading for the front door. As he reaches the couch, the house shudders. He has to stumble to keep his balance.
“The hell?” says Amy, finally emerging, wrapping her robe around herself. “Was that the strangest earthquake ever?”
Luke has never felt an earthquake, but he suspects that wasn’t one. They both stand still for a moment, seeing if the house feels the need to move again, but everything remains quiet. Luke rallies and heads for the door, throwing it open.
Outside, houses are on fire, cars are flipped, and it is oddly silent, perhaps because everyone’s focus seems to be up on the sky, where a multitude of strange lights reflect off of strange, metallic shells.
“Well,” says Luke. “The Mayans were wrong, and they’re not in the basement.”