Short story – Judgement Day (full-length)

This story was first conceived as a ‘Drabble’ – a piece of flash fiction in 100 words. The 100 word version was blogged as part of the Friday Fictioneers challenge. Several people were kind enough to say that they would like more – so here it is! It’s about 1200 words long and will take about 10 minutes to read. I hope you enjoy it!

Judgment Day - rocket-launch 170826

Judgement Day

It was dark when Bob and Frank pitched their tent at Sturgis, and they were both weary. They’d ridden over three hundred miles from the previous campsite.

“Tired?” Frank, the driver, was used to long rides. Bob, who’d ridden pillion, was not.

“Exhausted.” Bob peeled the leathers off his slight form and gazed at the engagement ring Frank had given him. The large, rectangular garnet smouldered in its thick gold band. “I love this ring.”

Frank smiled.

“And I love you,” he replied. “Only a hundred miles tomorrow.”

“What will your dad say when we tell him we’re going to marry?”

Frank came over to Bob and put an arm round him.

“He’ll be okay, Bob. I know he’s a colonel, but not everybody in the military is prejudiced.” He took out a Marlboro. “Shall we look at the stars?”

As he unzipped the tent door, a dazzling point of light exploded on the horizon, growing rapidly into a fiery pillar thundering into the heavens.

“Holy shit! I thought they’d scrapped those! That’s a Minuteman!”

“Wow! I never thought I’d see one of those birds fly. It’s beautiful, isn’t it”

Frank was scrabbling with his money belt.

“Phone? Phone? Where did I put it?”

He pulled it out.

“No signal. No signal? There’s always been a strong signal here. What in hell’s going on?”

He paced back and forth, his face anxious, almost panicky.

“I need to ring Dad, let him know what we’ve seen, and then we need to ride south as fast as possible. There’ll be massive retaliation against the airbase in a maximum of thirty minutes.” He fiddled with the phone a few more seconds. Bob dived into the tent and came out with leathers and helmets.

They were gunning the bike within two minutes.

Frank stayed on back roads but traffic gradually increased. People were driving erratically. A sedan flew out of a side-turning, right in front of them. Frank swerved, almost lost control.

Bob clutched him tightly. He felt the sharp visceral fear of narrowly averted extinction, additional to and overlying the nightmare vision of nuclear Armageddon. He knew he mustn’t try to steer the bike himself; instead, he made himself just an extension of his lover’s body. And as he relaxed his body to merge with Frank’s, the fear left him.

They hit a long straight, with few vehicles, all travelling south as they were. Frank opened the throttle. The speed climbed. Eighty miles an hour, ninety, one hundred, one hundred and twenty. Frank started to sing ‘Bat out of Hell’ under his breath; Bob felt the vibrations in Frank’s body even above the vibrations of the bike as he held fast.

There were lights ahead, many lights, a whole sea of light.

Frank throttled back, pulled over a hundred yards short of the gridlocked traffic. A pick-up shot past them, skidded, side-swiped a wagon. Frank parked the bike, grabbed Bob and pulled him over to the ditch. Debris from the pick-up showered down.

“In. Now.”

They jumped into the ditch. It was wet. Frank had already pulled out his phone.

“There’s no signal here either!”

He looked at his watch.

“It’s forty minutes since the launch. If the Russkies were going to retaliate it would have happened by now.”

“North Korea, perhaps?”

Frank shrugged.

“Who knows?”

“We only saw one launch. Wouldn’t there have been more if it had been targeted on Russia?”

“I guess.”

They stayed in the ditch for an hour. More vehicles joined the congestion, but there were no more smashes. There was a constant cacophony of horns, and occasional gun shots.

“Phone’s back!” Frank waved it aloft in triumph, then called his dad. The call was diverted to an answering machine.

“Twenty past three. Do you want to go back to the campsite, or straight up to my parents?”

“Is there any news about the Minuteman?”

“Good point.” Frank opened the news app. “Just a report of traffic chaos, and a UFO sighting. Nothing about a missile launch.”

The two men looked at each other.

“I suppose it was a Minuteman?” suggested Bob.

“No doubt at all. Dad had access to all the videos on public release and I watched the lot.”

They trudged across to the bike and made their way back to the campsite. It took two hours through the obstructions, and there was a faint grey light in the sky by the time they arrived. They fell asleep immediately, and didn’t wake until noon.

They said little as they drank strong black coffee and munched cookies.

“You rode well yesterday after the missile launch,” said Frank, as they mounted the big bike. Bob said nothing, just slipped his arm around Frank’s waist.

They rode north. Traffic was light, but there were cops everywhere. There were still the remnants of smashed vehicles. Recovery trucks were working overtime. It was mid-afternoon before they reached Frank’s parents’ house.

“Hi, Dad! Hi, Mom!” Frank embraced them both. “This is Bob”

Frank’s dad was grey with fatigue, grim-faced and unsmiling. “Call me Jim,” he growled.

“I’m Esther.” Frank’s mom smiled. She gave Bob a hug, and a peck on the cheek. “I’ll show you your room, Bob.”

Bob glanced at Frank. ‘Go with the flow for now,’ he read from his expression.

“That’s very gracious, Esther. Thank you.” He followed the bird-like figure upstairs.

“In here”

Esther pulled the door closed behind them, and her face became earnest..

“I’m not sure how to say this,” she began, then, taking her courage in both hands, “I hope you’re not going to upset Jim.”

“Me too. Why would I?”

“You and Frank are lovers, aren’t you?”

“Did Frank tell you?”

“No, but I saw how it was as soon as you came in. Anyway, Frank’s spoken about you every time he rang us. Sometimes I felt I heard more about you than about what my boy was doing.”

“Then you’ll know how we feel about each other. We can’t deny that. I won’t deny that.”

“Just be tactful, Bob. Don’t push it on him. He’s not comfortable about having a gay son. I’ll help you talk him round.” Esther fluttered her hands. “I’d hoped for grandchildren, but I want my boy to be happy too.” She looked sad.

The sound of raised voices came up the stairs.

“Oh dear,” sighed Esther, hurrying from the room, Bob right behind her.

“Dad, I know it was a Minuteman. You showed me all those videos, remember?”

Jim’s neck was purple.

“Would I tell you lies? My own flesh and blood? I was on duty last night and there was no Minuteman launch. There are no Minutemen any more. They’ve been scrapped.”

“Okay, I believe you. It was not a Minuteman. But it was some sort of missile. I’m absolutely certain.”

Jim lowered his voice to a whisper. It sounded malevolent, serpent-like.

“I can’t talk about what happens in the airbase. You know that. Just get this clear. You did not see a missile launched. You would be in grave danger if you had. There was a meteorological phenomenon that misled people into believing they’d seen a UFO, and panicking. That’s all. Now. No more.”

Frank and Bob stared at him in silence, as he glowered at them.

“Okay,” said Frank at last. “Okay.”