by Liam Scheff.
1 of 15×15
I woke to the alarm bell. But I wake to the alarm bell every day. What’s new…We’ve been petitioning the mayor to change the value on the radiation clock, so as we’re not rattled awake at 5 am, when the morning breezes breach the mountains, but he says it’s good for us to be reminded what we’re up against – the invisible enemy. “Radionuclides,” the three sisters: tritium, strontium, cesium.
We tell him that the alarm bell doesn’t stop radionuke-whatevers, and us not getting enough sleep craps up the whole morning’s school or work, so we’re all extra grumpy by lunch hour. He doesn’t care. He’s such a crack-head.
I mean, not a crack-head like it used to mean. But he’s as much the Mayor as I am ‘director of the 6th squad.’ Before a year ago, there was no sixth squad, and he was no mayor. He was a car dealer. And there were no squads. There was nothing. But then the reactor breached, or that’s how they called it, and Mayfield was burnt. And all the towns downriver had to run. Nothing was safe for 200 miles. it was bad over there.
We’re on the other side of the range, thank God, and our water comes down the mountain on this side, so we were safe. Or, so we thought until Clement Wilson took out his Geiger counters and radiation readers and told us, “you folks got a problem.” He didn’t include himself, though he’s not immune, either. It’s just because he hasn’t associated with the town folk for 15 years.
He’s been preparing for the end of times since his wife left him back in the ’90s, because he was such a great big ball of nuts. Always talking about the Kennedy assassination, with these scale models of all kinds of events in his basement and garage, Waco, Colorado, Connecticut — and they took over the living room, and one day she — his wife — just said, “Clement, it’s either Lee Harvey or me.” And you know what he said, ’cause she packed her bags and walked out, and went to her sister’s over in the next State. She never comes back here.
But Clement still says he’s better off because he’s been planning. It’s no secret that he’s got big canisters of water. He brags about it. His well water is double filtered through a state-of-the-art stainless steel double charcoal number that he had put in when he was getting ready for the end of the world, about 2004, when he said oil would run out. Well, it didn’t run out, but he said it “peaked,” whatever that means. So, he’s got a basement so full of dry food that the whole town was ready to trample his living corpse to get when they thought the fields had gone bad from…
Well, that’s the point. From radiation. Now, we’re not down-water from Mayfield. We’re 100 miles away, but the mountains should’ve protected us. At least, that’s what the National Weather Service and Nuke commission said. But then Clement came round with his machines and showed us the damned things ticking ‘sieverts’ and ‘cesium,’ and he put the fear of God into us.
Well, not just fear, I mean. His explanations were good, that’s why we believed him. He told us how the winds came through the pass and eddied at the foot of the mountain, about 40 miles away, in big swooping currents. He showed us on a computer animation he said comes from MIT or something. A big institution. And the swooping eddies, he said, made the radioactive atoms hang in the air longer and they had time to accumulate and then settle in the Manonga River — our water source.
We’ve always been proud — and told to be proud — of how good our water is, coming out of the Manonga. Straight from clean mountain rain, run into the river, into our aquifer, through sandstone. But, we use a lot of river water direct, just through a chemical wash at the treatment station. We use it straight out of the river for the fields. And old crazy Clement, he told us cause of the eddies and the strong winds that we were getting more than our share.
“More than our share of what?” asked Jack Johnson, the car dealer, way back when, a year and 3 months ago. “Well, of radionuclides,” old Clement said, and then gave us all a lecture on what it all was about, with strontium and cesium, tritium and some other “-ums.” And how it gets into your bones and teeth and lungs, because the meltdown they had over there went into groundwater and the whole thing exploded for days. But the winds were southwesterly then, lucky for us, he said. So we were spared, unlike Jacksonville, Everetville and Kenneton, which were all fully radiated, he said. Or, irradiated, I mean, though it’s the same difference.
So, we got spared that part of it, but then when summer came, the winds shifted to the north east, and we started getting sprayed. Mind you, it was a lot less than the first week, or even the first month after the accident, but it’s…accumulative, he says. Or, cumulative, I guess. But, same difference. Point is, it accumulates and doesn’t go away, and that’s the point he had to drive into our heads, because we didn’t, none of us, get it. We didn’t understand for the longest time.
It wasn’t until May Adams had a sheep that died, and then a litter of rabbits that all had bleeding sores and died, and then the chicks, too, their shells were weaker, and a lot of them died. But May is way out toward the hills, twenty miles from town, so she’s the bellwether, that’s what Clement said. And probably, he told us, everybody on that side of town should up and move to the other. Plenty of land, and he said the town should just re-title the deeds and make it a no-fault thing.
Then for awhile, everybody was yelling and nobody was talking. That’s when Jack Johnson, car dealer since 1988, “best deal in the county,” threw his hat in the ring and said what this town needed was an arbitrator. Someone to hear both sides and be impartial, with regard to saving the town and not causing undue strain and stress. For a moment, Judd Kemper had an idea to vie for it, but he put it down after one debate, seeing as he couldn’t even string together enough words to keep up with Jabbering Jack Johnson, who went to college and runs auctions down in Pelenberg every two months.
So, it was Jack Johnson who became our Mayor, (we never had a Mayor, we just had a city council), and it was Clement and Jack Johnson who split up the high school into squads, comprised of all of us. And it was Mr. Davis, the science teacher and wrestling coach, who elected yours truly to be the ‘captain of the 6th squad.’ Six out of 10 for the whole school. 15 people per squad.
Being captain means that I’m in charge of making sure everyone’s on time, which is impossible on any normal day, given everybody’s likely to be doing farm work or building houses or fixing some old rusty piece of machinery, or jumping into the quarry, or the lake. Although, the lake is on the wrong side of town, and Clement says to avoid it. Which means no fish, but people are still fishing. Anyway, that’s me now, captain of the 6th squad.
So, what do we do? We go out with boron in these barrels, and put on the old gas masks, and shoot the stuff into the air and on the ground. And we take the radiation counters out as far as we’re allowed to the foothills.
And that’s the worst part, which is mostly hot, sweaty, boring and stinks inside the masks and yellow plastic outfits they make us wear, looking like prisoners or looney bin escapees. Or like, “Escape from New York,” one of them future movies.
Then we had to move all of the fields to the east of town, which has hurt everyone, and all the growing is down about 40% or more. And everybody’s hurting. Because the fields on the other side were so well-smoothed out, and had all the irrigation set up, so, moving them has been a capital Pain in the you-know-what. But, we had to do it because the Mayor and Clement said so. And they were probably right, just in fairness. Probably right, given they showed us all the radiation readings.
And that’s about it. The alarm goes off on strong wind days if the meter chokes on some tiny flying particle. On the other side of the mountain, Mayfield is a glowing ghost town. Not even raccoons or rats run around in the streets. It’s just empty. Then the brush starts growing again a couple miles away, and it almost looks normal, excepting no animals are living there. But then you can see mice and rats starting up again… But the government says it’s not safe for people, and I guess I believe them.
Some reporters tried to go in six months ago, and they stumbled out with sores on their faces and arms. They went to the hospital and one bled to death. The other recovered and then got cancer and died. So, yeah, I guess I do believe them.
Clement says that can’t happen to us because of the flow of groundwater. But, he says it can happen to the towns on the aquifer that spread out southwest. He says it’s a 400 mile zone, and they’re only quarantining maybe 100 of it. But they don’t listen to him over there, they say he’s just a conspiracy nut job. And maybe he is…
But maybe he’s not. I don’t know if they had Clements over there, maybe they woulda shut down that nuclear plant before it blew. I suppose I’m glad we had him. I guess I don’t mind the alarm, if it means we’re not Mayfield.
This is Story 1 in 15×15. A story written in one hour with no major edits or revisions.