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Friday, June 19, 2015

'8 Days': The first two chapters

8 Days is my next book and I've been working on it for about two weeks.  It's nowhere near being finished, but I'm very pleased with the progress so far.

In case you missed the earlier post on the subject, here's the story in a nutshell: "Imagine that the world is coming to an end in eight days.  What would you do with the time you have left?  Now imagine that those eight days pass and the world doesn't end after all.  How do you feel about what you've done?"

And, after the JUMP, I will post the first two chapters.  (Language warning, I guess, if that kind of thing bugs you.)




"The fuck?"

Dr. Martin Skammer flipped through the papers and glanced up at his screen.  The numbers were all there.  He looked at the top of the page to find the designation.  "2019 GG."  When he looked at the screen again, an email alert popped up.  The subject line read, "2019 GG vs 2019 GR1."

Skammer pulled at his hair.  "No, no, no."  A few moments later, the image loaded and the evidence was right there.  He stood and paced behind his desk.  "No."  He leafed through the papers and then tossed them onto the chair.  The possibility had been so small, so stupidly ridiculous, no one ever considered it.  No one sought it.  The astrophysicist looked at the clock on the wall.  The time for which the world held its breath would arrive in less than two hours.  It would arrive and then pass without incident.

Martin felt light headed and he wobbled back onto his heels.  He gripped the shelf of his bookcase, dislodging a few science fiction ships from their pedestals.  His skin rippled with heat and he felt tingling descend from his face toward his toes.

His stomach gurgled.  Skammer took a step toward his desk and knelt by the trashcan.  He vomited and his body was made rigid by his tensing muscles.  After three productive heaves, he fell back onto his rear and wiped his mouth.  He looked toward the monitor and saw the image from space again.  It pierced his eyes and made his skull ache.

With great effort, Martin crawled to the desk and grabbed the mouse.  After jostling it about to see the cursor, he minimized the email screen and pulled up the camera feeds from outside the facility.  Tuscon was miles away but the thick, black smoke which choked the sky for days still hung there.  He shook his head and stood up.

Skammer picked up the phone and lifted a Post-It from the desk.  After dialing the numbers, he waited for the connection to take hold.  Given the last several days, he was pleasantly surprised that the clicks gave way to ringing as quickly as they did.

"Bunker.  Go."

Martin swallowed hard and then exhaled.  "This is NASA.  I need to speak to the president."

The man on the other end sighed.  "Hang on."

The doctor walked to the coat hook and rifled through his pockets.  He found what he was looking for and removed it, laying it on the desk.

Sounding very tired, the president spoke, "Yes?"

"Mr. President, this, uh … this is Dr. Martin Skammer at Kitt Peak.  I have some news."  He pressed his eyes closed and then pounded the receiver against his head three times before continuing.  "2019 GG has been deflected, sir."

There was a lengthy pause.  Very softly, the president said, "What?"

"A couple of days ago, another object struck it."  Martin found that his mouth had gone dry.  "Um, another one hit Double-G and knocked it off course."

The president was quiet again.  "'Another object?'"  Pause.  "If it was two days ago, why are you finding out now?"

"Power outages, mostly.  Rolling blackouts.  And a lot of the workers just aren't working anymore so no one was watching."

The president cleared his throat.  "Now … now it's not going to hit the Earth?"

Skammer nodded before he spoke.  "Yes, sir."

"Are you shitting me, son?" the president asked.

"No, sir.  I am not."  His throat clenched and he let his fingers touch the countours of the object he had taken from his coat.  "It was discovered by Australia and confirmed by Paris and Pan-STARRS."

"Are you … it's going to miss us?"

"For the most part, yes.  There will be some smaller objects, some debris from the impact, that will enter the atmosphere, but that will be … minor.  Very minor.  Double-G itself will just skirt the upper atmosphere."

The president took in a deep breath.  "Goddammit.  God-fucking-dammit."  Skammer closed his eyes and pulled the phone away from his ear.  "You piece of fucking shit!  You and your asshole friends unleashed some holy hell a week ago, and now you're trying to tell me, 'Nevermind'?  No fucking way!"

Martin placed the receiver on the desktop and he lifted the gun.

"Do you have any idea … any fucking clue what is going on out there?  The world is on fire!  People have gone in-fucking-sane and it's because of you!"

This was his father's gun.  Skammer saw him use it at the range all the time.  He wondered what his dad had been doing the last few days.

"Goddammit!  What am I supposed to do now?  You've shit on the entire world with your nonsense … will people even know?  How will they find out?!"

The tingling that coursed across his body was gone.  He still felt lightheaded and hot.  And floating.  Martin felt like he was adrift in the office.  With a quick and smooth motion, he placed the barrel of the weapon in his mouth and let his tongue curl underneath it.  As the president harangued him from the phone, he pulled the trigger.

He stopped talking when he heard the shot.  After Skammer's body hit the floor, the president said, "Hello?  Hello?!"  He cupped his hand over the handset and told someone nearby, "I think the fucker just shot himself."



Natalie stood still.  Her eyes fixed and locked on the screen and on the lips of the president.

"Members of NASA's Near Earth Object Program, the European Space Agency, the China National Space Administration and the Indian Space Research Organization have all confirmed the observations first made by independent astronomers two days ago and first reported yesterday.  A large asteroid is, in fact, heading toward Earth and will strike on April 8 at about nine o'clock PM, Eastern Time."

"Oh, sweet Jesus," a woman at the bar said.  She spilled her drink and moved her hand over her mouth.

Natalie glanced from her to the TV again.  She placed the tray on the counter and took a step forward.
"Unfortunately, 2019 GG is approximately five miles in diameter."  The president paused and seemed to shudder as he read ahead.  People in the restaurant began to use their phones; only some of them left the room to speak.  "The projected impact zone is in south central Asia."

"Thank Christ," the woman at the bar muttered.

"While certainly deadly for billions of people in that region," he swallowed hard, "the effects will be far reaching and extraordinarily catastrophic."  The woman gasped again and the president continued, "The thermal shockwave will ignite forest fires around the world.  Earthquakes will rack the whole planet.  Volcanoes may be awakened.  Tsunamis, pardon me, mega-tsunamis will cross the oceans and ravage coastlines.  Ash and debris will cloud the sky and blot out the sun for years.  That, plus enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfates released by the impact, will cause massive cooling.  There will be deadly acid rains and choking dust.  Our climate will be irrevocably altered.  Plant life will die and most animal life will follow."

Natalie turned and began to walk away from the bar.  Customers leapt from their tables and made their way to the door.  No one paid their tabs and no one stopped them.  When she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she heard car horns and sirens in the distance.  She looked up and down the street and saw businesspeople running on the sidewalk, tearfully screaming into their phones.

"What the fuck is going on?" a man said as he walked past the restaurant's storefront.

Natalie turned toward the parking lot.  She stumbled over the curb and was shaken from her daze.  At the same moment, she reached to her side and realized she had forgotten her purse.  When she reentered the restaurant, she found the place empty. The only sound was the echoing voice of the president. 

"I urge calm.  I ask that all Americans … I ask everyone around the world to please remember what has made us great.  Our compassion.  Our desire to live.  Our kindness."  Natalie emerged from the employee room with her purse and watched the president wipe a tear from his eye.  He sniffed quickly and leaned forward, clasping his hands over the desk.  His entire demeanor changed.  Whatever had been rehearsed was now done.  "Look.  This news is not what anyone wants to hear.  I understand.  But … we only have six full days before it happens."  He shook his head.  "Spend time with your family.  Live life as best as you can in what little time is left to us.  But … don't lose sight of the fact that everyone is in this together.  We are … we are all …"  He paused and his eyes looked from side to side.  They glistened with tears and he straightened up.  "Good luck to you.  Good luck to us all."  He nodded and said, "Pray.  Pray."  He looked off camera and made a "cut" motion with his hand over his throat before he scooted his chair away.

As the news anchors' faces filled the screen with stunned silence, Natalie left again.  When she re-emerged onto the street, the cacophony was even louder.  She turned left toward the parking lot and got within sight of her car when she saw that the street was blocked.  The same young man who didn't know what was going on moments before was now lying in the street.  A truck had hit him and swerved into a utility pole which was now preventing all cars from leaving the lot.

Natalie just nodded.  Her wide eyes closed a little and she licked her full lips.  She stepped around the downed lines, found the sidewalk and began the multi-mile trek home.  She took out her phone and tried to call her husband, but the call wouldn't connect.

A mile later, after having passed fender benders and crying pedestrians, her phone rang.  She pressed the screen and lifted the device to her ear without even looking to see who it was.  "Hello?"

"Thank the Lord," the woman said.  "Are you alright?  Where are you?"

Natalie's voice was small and weak, "I'm fine.  I'm walking home now."

"Your father and I are going to try and fly there today.  We want to be with you, you know."

"I know."

Her father spoke in the background and was barely audible to Natalie.  "Tell her to get home and stay there.  Stay with David."

"She's going there now," her mother said.  "You're sure you'll be OK getting home?"

Natalie nodded.  A few moments later, she spoke, "Yes."

"The roads are already bad on the interstates they say.  I don't know about the airports, but we'll try."
Natalie nodded again.

Her mother teared up and began to sob.  "I wish I could be with you.  I love you so much."

"I love you, too, Mom."  Natalie put the phone in her purse and kept walking.  Her amble was slow and her gaze was distant.  Every few blocks or so, she took out her phone and tried to reach her husband.  The connection failed every time.

The sound of a large pane of glass being shattered shook her from her new reverie.  She turned to the left and saw a group of five men leaping through a gaping window into a pawn shop.  Natalie's arm twitched in the light breeze and she quickened her pace.

She had walked almost three miles but she remembered none of it.  Suddenly, the weight of the situation relented and she began to process what was happening.  Her throat tightened and her hands shook as she removed her phone from her purse again.

The call didn't go through.  A text, however, had arrived.  "WHERE ARE U?"  It was from David. 
She typed back, "Walking home."  She pressed 'send' and watched the phone try to comply.  It failed.  She pressed 'send' again and put it back in her purse.  Behind her, more glass broke and she heard yelling and laughter.

Hours later, the sun was ready to set and Natalie's legs ached.  She turned the final corner and saw home ahead.  Sirens echoed down the hill and through the trees in the heart of the city.  Her feet dragged and kicked gravel in the final yards before her house.

"Nat!" David yelled as he ran from the porch and met her at the sidewalk.  "Fucking hell!"  He grabbed her and held her tightly.  "I've been trying to reach you.  None of my calls went through."
She felt weak and her arms were barely able to reach around David's back.  She didn't squeeze or bury her face in his shoulder.  The dread she felt was gone.  Now she felt an urge to run.

"Let's get inside.  I've heard sirens for hours."  He took her by the hand and led her into the house.  She sat on the couch and David went to the fridge where he removed a pitcher of water.  "The power's gone out once already.  I don't know how much longer it will last.  I've been trying to watch the news, but they've had problems.  You know Michael Jones on 6 News?"

She nodded.  "Yeah."

"He got up and just walked away, live, on the air."  He shook his head and brought her a glass of water.  "It's been crazy."

She took a sip and looked at the muted TV.  It was New York City, Times Square.  Store fronts were being broken into by some and people carried out televisions.  The camera panned away from the looters and toward the middle of the Square.  People were hugging and clenching bottles of liquor.  They were singing and yelling something.  Their mood seemed positive, though.  The camera moved again and showed a large procession of people carrying handmade signs.  "JUDGEMENT DAY IS UPON US," "REPENT NOW," "THE LORD IS NIGH," were just a few.


The boy's voice was quiet and Natalie turned toward him slowly.  "Hey, nugget.  How are you?"

Davey huddled closer to her and looked back at his father.  "I'm scared.  Daddy's angry."

Natalie hugged her four-year-old tightly and whispered, "He's not angry.  He's scared, too.  There's something happening out there and it's scary."

"What is it?"

Natalie smiled a little and caught sight of David shaking his head.  She looked back into her son's eyes and said, "You don't have to worry about it now."

She felt it again.  She became dizzy and it was as though her mind was screaming, Run!

She hugged Davey again and said, "I love you."

He smiled and hugged her back, "I love you, too."

Natalie stood and went upstairs to the bedroom.  A few minutes later she emerged wearing clean clothes and with her makeup fully applied.  She took a deep breath, nodded to steel herself and went downstairs.

Davey was playing with Lego while David flipped through channels.  Some were shut down, showing only "technical difficulty" images while others showed fires and throngs of people.  Natalie went to David's side and pulled on his arm.  "Come in here."  She walked toward the dining room and her husband followed.

When he got inside, he saw that she was differently dressed and made up.  "Where are you going?"

She nodded and said, "Out."

David's eyes widened and his mouth opened.  No sound emerged for several seconds.  "Where?"

She shrugged.  "I don't know."

He quickly shook his head and asked, "Why are you going out?"

While her mind screamed, Run, again, her mouth said, "I have to.  I need to.  I can't be here … for the next six or seven days."

David staggered back and leaned against the wall as though struck.  "How can you say that?"  His voice started loud but he reined it in, glancing toward the living room where Davey played.  "How?  We're your family."

"I know."  She turned her head to one side and continued, "I can't stay here, though.  I have to get out.  I feel like I can't breathe."

David continued to swoon and narrow his eyes.  He gesticulated and began to speak a few times before finally straightening up and saying, "I can't believe you would do this to us.  You're all we have."

Natalie nodded and struggled to keep her tears withheld.  "You had your time, back in the day.  You … sowed plenty of wild oats.  I didn't."  David began to interrupt but she raised her hand.  "I need to.  I need to do this."  She began to leave the room and said, "I promise to be back before it happens."

Tearfully, David cried out, "Don't!"

Natalie picked her purse off the coffee table and looked at her son.  Davey was looking toward the dining room fearfully while her husband's sobbing filled the room.  She looked into the purse and took out her phone.  She regarded it for a moment and then tossed it onto the couch.


She knelt down and smiled.  "It's going to be OK, nugget.  Daddy's upset but he'll be fine.  You stay here with him."

"Where are you going?"

"Out.  Just out for a bit.  I'll be back in a couple of days."

They hugged again and she turned toward the door before the tears escaped her eyes.  She closed it behind her and walked out into the night.


David woke up as the sunlight fell upon his face from the window.  He looked around his son's room and saw everything as it should be.  Superman and Batman decals on the wall.  A Lightning McQueen mobile gently turning.  His stuffed animals spread about as they were last night.

Last night?

David slowly lifted his arm and looked at his wrist.  Five days ago when the cell networks went completely down, he took his old watch out of his sock drawer and set it to keep time.  It was 7:21 AM.

He took in a deep breath as he tried to think and remember the days.  Had he miscounted?  April 8 … 9:00 PM Eastern.  That was the time the president said.

Slowly, he took his arm out from under Davey's still-sleeping form.  He crept off the child's bed and out of the room.  He walked into the hall bathroom and instinctively flipped the light switch.  Of course, nothing happened.  After peeing, he went down to the kitchen.

He was up at ten o'clock local time when the asteroid should have hit.  Asia, he thought.  Maybe it wasn't as big or bad as they said?  But David had looked up information on asteroids, too.  They should have felt something.  An earthquake, a shockwave, a heatblast …  Maybe not?

He drank some water and walked over to his cellphone.  After putting the battery back in and turning it on, Davey came downstairs.

"Hey, nugget," his father said.  "How are you?"

"I'm fine."  He wiped his eyes and hugged David's leg.  "I'm hungry."

"OK.  Cereal?"

Davey said, "I want pancakes."

"We don't have any electricity, you know."


The phone finished starting and David looked at the bar indicator.  None.  He powered off the device and put it in his pocket.

"Is Mommy home?"

David sighed as he pulled the box of Cheerios from the cabinet.  "No."  He was furious at Natalie for days.  By the seventh, he became worried.  She said she would be back, but she wasn't.  Then the eighth came and she still hadn't come home.  David thought about it for a moment and realized it was the sixth when he finally understood why she left.

It had been just David and Davey, father and son.  The world outside their home was falling apart, but inside, they played Lego and board games.  They read books together.  It was nice to see his son happy knowing what would come soon, but that asteroid hung over his head like a storm cloud every bit as much as Natalie's disappearance.

David wanted to leave, too.  He wanted to go out and get drunk one last time.  He wanted to hit on a chick and see if he still had "it" one more time.  He loved his son beyond all measure but, dammit, he wanted to get out of this house.

Davey's spoon clanked against the bowl and David glanced toward him.  He smiled thanks to that odd parental pleasure of seeing one's child eat with relish. 

"Can we get more milk?"

David glanced back toward the cooler and said, "That was the last of it.  I don't know where or when we can get more."

With his mouth partly full, Davey asked, "Can I have Cheerios with water?"

David laughed and said, "Sure, but I don't think it'll taste good."

"Are you staying home from work again today?"

"I told you, nugget," David said as he stood up, "I'm not going to work anymore.  I'm gonna be here with you."

He walked around the house to all of the windows and opened the curtains.  The boards were still in place so the sun cast bright bars of light across the rooms.  He unlocked the deadbolt and chain and stepped out onto the porch.

The air was cool and there was a slight breeze.  Birds chirped nearby.  Dew clung to the yard.  David stood still and listened intently for something.  Anything.  There were no sirens.  No gunshots.  No vehicles.  He glanced up and down the street and caught sight of one other figure on his front porch about a block away doing the same as David.  The distant man or woman was standing and looking around for a sign of … something.

DAY 10

"You're cheating."

David laughed, "No I'm not."

The boy crossed his arms and said, "You hit the ice and the bear didn't fall."

David shrugged and said, "I know more about physics than you."

"Isn't that cheating?"

"Knowing something you don't?"  Davey nodded and his father laughed.  "No, it's not."

"I think it is."

A click and hum drew David's attention away from the game.  The lights in the living room and kitchen came on, dimmed and went off again.

"Will the electricity come back on for good?"

"It should at some point."  David looked back at the game and lifted his tiny plastic hammer.  As he did, the lights returned and they didn't waver.  "There we go."

He stood and as he walked away, his bare foot came down on the sharp corner of a plastic block of ice.  "Be careful, Daddy."

David inhaled sharply and stumbled away from the play area and toward the television.  After turning it on, he cycled through the channels and saw only an error message from the cable provider.  He picked the phone off the table and walked over to the plugs by the sink.  Once he connected it, he powered it on and waited to see how many bars he had.  Still none.

Once he set it down, he heard a key in the door lock.  Then one in the deadbolt.

"Mommy!" Davey screamed as he jumped up.

The door opened and it was Natalie.  The boy hugged her legs and she leaned down to hug him, too.  David was frozen in place in the kitchen.

"We played games and read and did all kinds of things, Mommy."

Her eyes lifted and caught her husband's stunned stare.  "That sounds fun."

"It was."

Natalie stood and walked toward David.  He stayed where he was.  Her blonde hair was mussed and pulled down in a tie.  Her makeup was gone and darkened her eyes beyond the bags that hung there.  Her eyes … they were so bloodshot they seemed entirely red.  She lifted her arms to hug him and as she did, he reached up and placed a hand on her shoulder, pushing her away.

It surprised himself as much as it surprised her.  She frowned and her eyes filled with tears.  "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

The worry that he had felt was burned away by the anger that preceded it.  "You said you'd be home before it happened."

She spoke again and her voice cracked, "I lost track of time."


She shook her head and said, "Please don't do this."

David's chest puffed out and he said, "I don't think you should stay here."

Thanks for reading.  More to come soon ...

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