In the Treehouse
“My doll hasn’t had any yet,” said a small voice.
“We’re not playing tea anymore. We’re playing school,” came another voice.
“I’m the teacher this time!” said a third.
The high-pitched prattling of three little girls could be heard in the woods surrounding the treehouse for some distance. The structure sat twenty yards back from the tree line and one hundred yards from the main house. Voices, clanking of plastic dishes, and scraping of makeshift furniture seeped through cracks in mud-splashed windows and rotting wooden walls.
Inside, the make-believe universe was shifting from tea time on a garden patio to early morning in a one-room school house. Two of the girls struggled to move tree stump stools to the front of the classroom they had concocted in their minds. The third stood facing them, doing her best to mimic the expression of stern authority that she associated with teachers.
“RIINNNGGG!” the teacher yelled, “Girls, you’re late for class!”
“We haven’t started playing yet,” the elder student protested.
“I’ll ignore it just this one time,” said the teacher, “but please do try not to be tardy in the future.”
The younger girl sat up straight on her tree stump with her hand raised high.
“Yes, Miss Gregg?” said the teacher.
“I wouldn’t have been late except that I was helping my sister drag her desk chair over here,” she said.
“That’s okay, Helen,” said the teacher, “Now if you’ll take out your readers and open them up to page fifty-four we’re going to learn about Chris Columbus and the Indians.” The oldest of the students picked up two Little Golden Books, which were on the floor near her. She handed a copy of The Little Red Hen to her sister who held it upside down as she pretended to read.
“Everybody ready?” asked the teacher.
“Yes, Miss Davies,” the students replied.
“Page seventy-four says that Chris Columbus rowed his boat called the Mayflower from England to America way back when no one knew it was here yet. When he got here with the pilgrims, there wasn’t any food and they were all lazy because they were from England where the servants made all the food. They would’ve starved but the Indians came and felt bad for them and taught them how to grow corn. Then they all had Thanksgiving dinner together and were friends.”
“That was real nice of those Indians,” said the oldest.
“Alright. Now we’re gonna take a test and I’m gonna grade it with a check or an ‘X’” said the teacher.
“We don’t have nothing to write with, though,” said the youngest.
“We’ll just do it out loud then,” said her sister.
“Okay. Francie, what was the name of the boat that Chris Columbus rowed to America?”
“The Mayflower!” answered the eldest.
“Good. You get a check,” said the teacher.
“Can I be the teacher now?” asked the youngest.
“You gotta take your—” the teacher had been raising her voice over a crescendoing whistle, subconsciously as she answered. She had time to shout, “What is that?” before reality shifted once again.
CRACK! A fluttering boom ricocheted towards the treehouse. In the seconds it took to reach them, the three girls had time only to look at each other in wide-eyed curiosity. Then the mud-splashed windows burst and the rotted wood splintered and flew through the air around them. A chaos of leaves, sticks, books, teacups, and dirt erupted in the universe the girls had created there.
There was a wave of soft heat. Then the woods fell silent.
In the Ford
Jim Stratton drove the length of Hunt Road four times each day. His first trip was in the morning on his way to work as the manager at the Florence Winn Dixie. He came home at noon, for dinner. The third trip was on his way back to work, at one o’clock, and the final one was on his way back home at five. Pine trees grew along the side of the road and that day, they swayed slightly in a wind that wasn’t typical for the month of March.
Most days, Jim Stratton didn’t notice the trees. He’d driven back and forth along that road so many times that he thought of the background as one thing, rather than individual parts. But today, he saw everything differently because he was looking through the windows of his brand-new Ford F-100.
Jim’s left hand rested on the steering wheel but his right swept back and forth over the soft leather seat beside him. Every once in a while, his fingers would be sidetracked by the seatbelt buckle which lay next to him on the sea. His last truck—the old one his father had used for twenty years before passing down to him—hadn’t had a seatbelt, and he wasn’t used to buckling it.
“Eisenhower’s interstate highway system project is going to change the landscape of America. Getting from Miami to New York will be a matter of getting on one road and—”
Jim turned the knob on the dashboard radio and a little yellow wedge moved across the dial. He stopped when he heard Johnny Cash’s voice come through the static.
“Well, you asked me if I'll forget my baby…I guess I will, someday…I don't like it, but I guess things happen that way…You asked me if I'll get along…”
He gripped the wheel with his right hand and rolled down the window crank with his left. It was windy and cold but even unpleasantness felt good in that car. He sang, “I guess I will, some way…I don't like it, but I guess things happen that way…God gave me that girl to lean on…Then He put me on my own…”
It was a sad song and a gloomy day but Jim Stratton couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt so good. Here he was in the truck he’d been saving for over the past three years, on his way home to his pretty wife, who would have a nice supper ready when he got there. It was a simple, easy happiness. So, he sang and watched the trees sway, and waved to the one or two people he saw walking along the road as he headed home.
“Heaven, help me be a man and…Have the strength to stand alone…I don't like it, but I guess things happen that way…”
Then he saw it.
There was something egg-shaped, falling out of the sky over the tree line by the Gregg place. It had what looked like a fin and tipped nose-first as it fell.
“What in God’s hell is that?” he said, and put on the break.
He pulled off the road, opened the cab door, leaned out of the truck just in time to see the object disappear behind the tree line. A few seconds later he heard a BOOM, like thunder coming from underground.
The swaying of the trees became unsynchronized and a rattling hum grew louder and moved out of the forest. A tuft of dust sputtered out from between the pines.
“Jesus H. Christ. What was that?”
In the Kitchen
Effie Gregg was washing a potato and adding up the minutes until dinner would be ready. Fifteen to boil the potatoes, three to mash and mix. And the chicken should be done in about twenty minutes too.
She knew it was time to step out onto the back porch and yell for Walter and the children, so they could come in and wash up, but she was enjoying the quiet.
“I’ll set the table and then call them,” she though and, “If the potatoes boil over I’ll whip them instead of mashing them.”
Effie walked over to the old china cabinet where she kept the everyday dishes. She liked to keep her pots in the hanging cabinets because she had the feeling that it wasn’t sanitary to keep them in the lower cabinets, which was the same place she kept the drain cleaner. This left the china cabinet for the dishes. (They certainly couldn’t go in the lower cabinets.) Thank goodness they didn’t own any fine china, then what would she do?
She counted her many blessings as she whipped the potatoes into submission. She held the big metal bowl of potatoes in the crook of one arm and paced the room as she whipped. In a moment, she found herself in front of the window that looked out to the back yard. She could hear the sound of metal things clanging together, every now and again, from the direction of Walter’s workshop and assumed he was piddling around inside. She couldn’t see anyone else from her position at the window and, again, she basked in her solitude. “Maybe I just won’t call them at all,” she thought.
Then she heard another clang. But it didn’t come from the workshop and it didn’t stop, as the strike of a hammer would have. It shifted into a whistle that threatened her solitude—approaching, approaching. She saw a large black piece of metal falling down among the trees.
Then it shattered.
Black bits hurtled towards a window that wasn’t in its frame anymore and Effie instinctively fell to her belly as the house lurched inward.
In a moment everything was still again, but the whistling hadn’t stopped. Effie cupper her hands over her ears and the sound became more hollow. She knew the whistling was coming from inside now.
As she drew her hand away, she noticed blood on her palms. She reached up and rubbed at a stinging place on her face. Her hand came away with more blood…and potatoes.
She heard a voice in the yard, yelling above the noise in her ears and she stood up.
It was Walter. Effie stood up and looked out of the hole where the window had been. Walter, looked up at her, “What in the hell was that?” he said.
In the Cockpit
Captain Bruce Kulka was settling in at the back of the aircraft. They’d taken off from Savannah about an hour ago were making their way up the east coast to Canada before making the transatlantic jump to the UK.
Bruce didn’t like long flights like this. That’s not what got him into the Air Force. He had been attracted by the nuance of the branch—the speed and power with which Air Force duty was done. This was not his favorite kind of assignment, but he made no made no complaints even to himself. He was a realist that way. Just another day at work, that’s all it was.
He took the plane’s coordinates and recorded their location. Somewhere over the norther part of South Carolina. They were making good time. He sat back to let the hum of the engines lull him into a nice, shallow nap but then—
“Kulka!” He was alert again.
“Yeah, Cap?” he answered into his radio.
“There’s a fault light on up here. Something’s not right with harness. Check it out, won’t you?”
“10-4, Cap,” Kulka replied. Then he unbuckled himself and climbed back to the bay area.
The size and appearance of the bomb always struck him with gravity. He knew this one wouldn’t be used but still, it was so imposing. The harness that held the bomb in place was at the top of the rig. He reached around the side of the vessel and attempted to pull himself up. Something slid out of place under his grasping fingers. There was a click and the sound of pressure releasing as the hydraulics that held the bay door in place began to move.
He had time to step back and stabilize himself against the wall before the bomb fell.
With the bay empty, he could see straight through to the cockpit. Captain Koehler and Captain Woodruff stared at him. For a moment, none of the three men registered what had happened.
It hit Kulka first.
“Oh shit…Shit. Shit! SHIT!”
In the BombThe bomb was a large metal shell with a fin that looked like a tail. There aren’t more specific words to describe it. It looked like any other nuclear weapon. And like other nuclear weapons, its size and shape made less of an impression on its appearance than its history. To see it falling towards the ground was to see all of modern warfare and the daily threat it imposed, making good on its promises.
At its core, there was a small quantity of uranium and plutonium that, when triggered, would unfold and disperse its compact energy out and through anything in its path.
An atomic bomb is not a bomb of weight, fuel, or fire. It bears no relation to the boulder in the medieval catapult or to gunpowder packed into dynamite. It is its own species. A product of evolution that says only the fittest will survive when matter is broken down to its fundamentals and universal entropy unleashed. It is the bearer of the chaos out of which all things were assembled. Here was the power, not of Dionysus or Nobel. Here was the power of God himself.
And it was falling.
In the Crater
T The crater is filled with grass in the warm months, leaves as the air gets cooler, and water through most of the winter and early spring. It isn’t really a crater now—just a small hole, several yards wide. Time and weather have lessened its impact on the landscape.
The few tourists who trek onto private property to see it are disappointed. There isn’t much to look at. It wasn’t worth the trip.
And so the story fades from history. What happened was an accident. The worst wasn’t realized. Only a few people were injured when it could’ve been—
—We don’t like to think of what could’ve been. Let’s leave it here—an unbelievable anecdote.
“Did you know that an atomic bomb was accidentally dropped on Mars Bluff, South Carolina? The crater’s still there. We can go see it.”