Love and Family During the Great Death
Chapter 1: There Wasn't a Cloud in the Sky
Copyright© 2012 by Crumbly Writer
Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1: There Wasn't a Cloud in the Sky - A man and his daughter drive into a massive meteor shower that disrupts their lives, but it’s only the beginning. It’s the beginning of the end, or is it? An Apocalyptic tale that focuses on individuals trying to maintain love, hope and family amongst death and dying. Note that this is a VERY dark story, a sort of anti-post-apocalyptic story. It's an interesting 'reinterpretation', but if you're squeamish, you may want to avoid it.
An excerpt from the "History of the New World", a chronicle of the events which changed the story of human existence, and the central event which triggered it:
The Great Death: A term used to describe the great pandemic which destroyed human civilization in year 1PA ("Post Apocalypse").
The actual date of this event is unknown. Although time has been recorded ever since based on that date, most people started recording time from when they recovered, not from the occurrence itself. Few wanted to remember the event. The pandemic also took a while to unfold, even though it was said to have swept over the world in record time.
Despite the widespread loss of electricity, there were clocks that continued working, but the survivors refused to keep track using the older Gregorian calendar. Most went so far as to stop recording their birthdays, listing the date of their birth as day 1, the day their lives restarted. Since everyone recorded day 1 from the day they recovered, whenever two survivors met, whoever had been conscious the longest claimed the right to record keeping, although it was suspected many individuals lied about the date to inflate their status.
We know many of the events that led up to the Great Death, but no one has been able to pinpoint how close to the other recorded events the Great Death occurred.
"And then she said, 'I don't know what you're talking about!'" Alice related her story with the enthusiasm only a young teenager can conjure, over a drama only a teenager could take so seriously. David Scott, her father, nodded patiently, even though he had no clue who she was talking about. But he was encouraged she was so enthused, whatever the topic. He was especially pleased that she was opening up to him in a way he realized he'd lose in only a few years. He was taking her to his house for the weekend. He was taking her home.
David had worked for a major corporation for years, punching numbers and doing analysis. He'd graduated near the top of his class and planned to accomplish great things. He'd made a lot of money, but hated what his job. He realized, after having worked hard at his career, that the only ones benefitting from his work were the large corporations that used his efforts to shortchange the typical American.
He developed and patented a new mathematical process which helped those corporations do away with thousands of jobs, making them a boatload of money. But David earned enough from it to retire early. That wasn't the problem. The problem, and the reason he only had access to his daughter every other weekend, was that he stopped making money.
He instead dedicated himself to building a 'monstrosity out in the middle of nowhere', as his ex-wife called his home. David undertook building a house as far from the modern world as he could stand. He built it in the side of a mountain in the small remote town of Fowler's Crossing in West Virginia. His ex, Linda Evers—since she resumed her maiden name—thought that too extreme and assumed he was simply 'withdrawing from the world'. She'd resented being removed from society, yanked out of the city and forced to do without. She saw it as him losing his drive. She claimed he no longer had the motivation to succeed and she couldn't live with someone with no ambition anymore. He'd tried arguing with her, but it hadn't helped. They'd divorced shortly thereafter. David hadn't fought it, figuring if she was that unhappy then she deserved her freedom, but he missed his daughter, Alice.
That was why he treasured every other weekend so much. When forced to discuss child custody arrangements, Linda argued he'd chosen to live too far away from everything a young child needed to thrive. The judge, whom Linda insisted on involving, agreed. So instead of having equal time, he only got twenty weekends a year. Linda got the major holidays as well.
But Alice loved the little time she spent with her father. He wasn't concerned with 'mundane events' like dance class, soccer lessons and the many activities her mother scheduled her for every day. Whenever she visited her father she got to actually play in the woods like a wild woman. She could climb trees, scale the mountain behind the house and skinny dip in the nearby pond. While she wasn't quite a tomboy, she was when she visited her father, and enjoyed the ability to relax the demeanor her mother insisted she continually maintain.
She'd helped her father build his house, so now felt it was partially hers as well. After all, she worked hard building it, just as he had. She knew every inch of it, and felt possessive of it. She could point out the stair railings she'd installed, the tile she'd help lay, the plumbing lines she assisted with. She'd learned a lot; all things her mother would never allow her to do.
Linda was, in a word, obsessed with her role in life. At least as far as Alice was concerned. "If you want to get ahead, you have to play the roles you want to assume," she'd tell her daughter. Thus Alice was never able to dress in jeans and let her hair down. She always had to wear dresses, and she had to have her hair maintained all the time. She could only associate with the kids of other upwardly mobile professionals. Most of the activities she was scheduled for were designed to allow her to meet "important people", which she already recognized meant rich people who could give her a "boost up" in life. Thus she enjoyed the occasional chances to escape them with her father.
But now her father was asking about school, and as well as she did in school, she felt it was yet another duty she had to do for her mother. She had to maintain her grade point average, she had to take part in science fair projects, she had to do volunteer work for several 'service organizations'. It was too much for her, so when he asked her about school, she simply talked about her day-to-day interactions with the other kids. She knew he hated it, and she knew he never really listened, but he was always very patient and would never interrupt for fear of alienating her.
"So then Betty says she doesn't really like him," she explained, not even sure if she had the right people in her story. She wasn't quite this caught up in the lives of everyone at her school. Well, she was. After all, her mother insisted she knew everyone who was 'important'. She just never enjoyed the whole 'social networking thing' very much. But if it kept her father from focusing on whether she was improving her GPA or not, she'd rather talk nonsense as long as she could.
Alice really loved her father, just as she loved her mother, but her dad was much easier to take, and he didn't qualify his love based on how well she did in a wide variety of tasks. Sure, dad liked to work with her around the house, but if she got bored and wandered off to stare at the clouds he wouldn't reprimand her. He'd insist that she do a good job, that whenever she did a task she do the best she could at it, even if it wasn't a great job, but when she was ready to quit he'd let her, knowing she'd worked hard while they were at it. She always felt she deserved the breaks when she eventually took them.
"But everyone knows that isn't true," she continued with her story, "because she talks about him all the time. Just this past Tuesday, she was going on and on about what he looked like while he was working..." she stopped speaking mid-sentence as her attention was diverted by something she saw out the window.
"Uh ... Dad ... what's that?" she asked, pointing up at the sky to the left through the windshield ahead.
David looked up, taking his eyes off the road where he'd been concentrating. As long as he'd worked in the city he'd driven the long daily commute through the heavy traffic, and while he was still good in heavy traffic, it still made him nervous. There was too much that could go wrong since there was so little that he could control. At home he controlled everything, aside from random acts of nature. Here, there were dozens of possible risks, none of which he had any control over.
It took a second, since he didn't see anything at first, but then...
"There it is again," Alice cried.
"Damn," David said, forgetting his promise to his ex-wife not to swear in front of their daughter, "That's a meteor. At least I think it is. It may be a meteorite. No, wait, actually it's a meteoroid when it's out in space, a meteor while in the atmosphere, like that one, and a meteorite when it hits the ground, if it survives that long," he explained, going overboard in his explanation of something Alice was more interested in observing herself. "But I don't think I've ever seen a daylight meteor shower before. You should pay attention since these don't occur very often."
"Man, that is so neat," Alice exclaimed. "Did you know this was scheduled for today?"
"No, I didn't," he admitted. "Believe it or not, nature doesn't always remember to schedule everything with me like she does with your mother. Sometimes she likes to have some fun of her own by surprising us."
"There are more of them. They seem to be increasing. I thought those only happened at night?"
"Well, technically they can happen anytime, since they're just objects in space that enter the Earth's atmosphere. The only reason we associate them with nighttime is because they're hard to see in full daylight, whereas at night they're easier to see," he said, launching into his 'education mode', as he called it. He tried to make education fun for Alice by bringing up odd facts and little scientific or history minutia to entertain her. He knew she resented the education that his ex forced on her, and he wanted her to have her own fascination with life, science and the world at large.
"So why are they so bright?" Alice asked.
"I guess it's because these are bigger than the ones you typically see at night," he told her. "I didn't see anything in the paper about a meteor shower," he continued. "Normally they report events like this so us 'country folk' can go out at night and stare at the sky."
Alice giggled, since they were both aware of what her mother thought of his decision to live out in the country. Alice figured he was one very intelligent member of the 'country folk', as he held a couple of degrees and seemed to know something about just about everything.
"Look, they're coming down faster now," she observed, pointing at the sky as the trails of the meteors began to fill the sky.
"Here, let me turn on the radio and see if anyone is reporting on this. Maybe they'll tell us what it is," David replied. He liked teaching Alice to research things and to keep herself informed. He didn't harangue her about it, but he wanted her to know how to learn things on her own so she could develop her own interests.
He turned the radio on and jumped from station to station, but no one seemed to be talking about it at the moment. "Guess we'll have to wait for the news to come on. I'll turn on NPR. They're more likely to report it than anyone else since they like to remind everyone how smart they are," he teased, since he was so educated as well. What he didn't need to mention was that he didn't have any of the premier channels found on satellite radio, believing the free AM/FM was fine for his parents and it was fine for him.
Needless to say, NPR didn't have anything about it either. "Guess we'll wait for their news on the hour," he said, giving up on the radio.
When he looked up again, he saw it was indeed getting much heavier. The sky was alive with motion and the red of high altitude fires. David began to get nervous and started thinking this might become more serious than just a brief science lesson. Shifting his gaze from the road to the sky, he observed that the meteors seemed to be moving towards him. Not that the trails were heading towards him, as they seemed to go in all directions, but they seemed to be getting more numerous the farther they drove.
"I think you'd better get into the back seat, Alice."
"Why? This is fun. I've never seen something like this," she argued.
"Just humor me and do it."
"But you always say not to climb around in the car while it's moving," she said as she did it anyway. She was young and thin, so scrambling over the center console and through the narrow gap between the seats was no problem for her.
"We'll make an exception in this case," he told her. "It's probably nothing, but I don't want to take any chances."
Alice heeded her father's advice. He didn't normally carry on about perceived dangers. That was her mother's specialty. Linda would stress about random men on the street, about vans that drove through the neighborhood when she was younger, or about germs on door handles. However, if her father casually mentioned she should watch out for something, there was usually a very good reason to be cautious, as she'd learned many times while working around the house. He never tried to scare you into doing something, instead he always understated everything.
But he was right. The streaks in the sky were getting much more common, until soon the sky lit up like a Christmas tree display. The sky literally rippled flame, only faded because of the sunshine washing it out. Not only that, but David observed occasional nearby streaks. He glanced back and saw Alice still staring up at the sky out her side window.
"OK, you'd better move away from the window. Listen carefully, I want you to climb down in the footrest area between your seat and the front seat," he explained.
Just then the answer was made clear, as there was a brief flare and a loud bang as a small meteor slammed into the ground a ways from them. The ground shook as the shockwaves rolled across the ground.
"Wow, it's getting closer than just a pretty display," Alice observed. "Are you afraid we'll be hit?"
"No, I don't think we'll be hit. The chances of us being hit from something falling from the sky are pretty remote, but what I'm afraid of are ricochets. When a meteor hits the ground it's likely to throw remnants into the air. Meteors can be travelling at thousands of miles an hour. The atmosphere actually slows them down, but even small rocks can do a lot of damage traveling at those speeds. The rocks, dirt and fragments they throw off when they hit can travel at hundreds of miles an hour. Again, the pieces are likely to be small, but those pieces can be moving at a high rate of speed, so they'd actually be more dangerous than the original meteor."
"Really?" Alice asked as she struggled to do as her father asked her. "Why would that be?"
"It's trajectory, honey. A meteor is coming more or less straight down, whereas anything it throws up would be more likely to travel out to the sides." Just as he said this, they both heard a loud crack as the back window broke. They both glanced back and saw a small hole in the glass. That was when Alice decided it was probably a good idea to keep her head down as her father had originally suggested.
"I'm going to drive hard now," he explained patiently, stepping heavily on the gas as he did so. "I want to cover as much distance as we can before we're forced to stop. We'll likely have to pull over before long, but if we get hit I don't want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere."
"You're scaring me now, Daddy. I'm gonna call Mom," Alice replied. He knew she was scared when she referred to him as 'Daddy', like she had as a young girl.
"I think that's an excellent idea, honey," David told her.
Normally David hated his daughter's cell phone. Her mother complained she was addicted to it, and he was aware of how much she used it. While she didn't use it much while she spent weekends with him, she'd always talk on it on the way back to the city, calling her mother, her friends and schoolmates. It always drove David crazy listening to her prattle on while he watched their little remaining time drain away.
"Hello, Mom? Yeah, it's me, Alice. Mom, Dad and I are caught in the middle of a meteor storm and..." Here she paused for a bit as she listened to what her mother was saying.
"No, really, there are meteors all over the place. The sky is filled with them."
"Really, I'm not teasing. They're— Mom? Are you there, Mom?" Alice asked as she lost contact with her mother.
"I lost her. Damn phone," she said as she fell into repeating David's oft used phrase accidentally. She tried dialing the line again.
David was concentrating on the road now, not having the luxury of listening to his daughter's conversation. The other cars on the road were either driving slowly as the occupants glanced out the windows at the show unfolding around them, or they were stopped, either by the side of the road or in the middle of the road, so David found himself weaving in and out of traffic as he tried to get as far as he could before he finally had to stop.
"I'm not getting anything," she said after a few minutes. "The phone says there are no bars out here. I've never had that happen before. Usually I get good reception until we get closer to the house."
"That's because the satellite the phone uses is probably down," David told her without glancing back. "If it's this bad here, it's even worse in outer space. Most of what we see are the larger pieces, since the smaller rocks are burned up in the upper atmosphere. That's why the sky is so red. However, all those small rocks must be all over beyond our atmosphere."
"Wait, why would that damage the phone? I thought they used towers?"
"They do, but because of the volume of traffic, and the distances involved, the majority of calls and data are relayed via satellite. So when the satellite does down, most nonlocal calls will be affected," he explained.
"Oh. Well then, what about the Russian Astronauts? If the satellites were damaged, then what about them?" Alice asked. As part of her school she'd been involved in following the latest joint mission between Japan and Russia as they'd just sent a short mission to the International Space Station a few days before.
"The Russians call them Cosmonauts," her father replied, falling back into his teacher mode.
"Fine, what the hell is happening to the Cosmonauts?" Alice replied a bit testily.
"Chances are they're fine," David said, not at all sure even as he said it.
"How can they survive when the sky is on fire?" she asked, not at all unreasonably.
"Remember, space is a big place, sweetie. They could very well be on the other side of the planet right now. Meteor showers don't usually last very long, so chances are it'll be clear when they swing around again. Plus it might only be hitting us at this particular latitude."
"But if they're not..." she said, not wanting to finish the thought.
David sighed. "If they're in the middle of the storm, then they're history," he answered shortly. He really didn't know of any better way of telling her they wouldn't survive such an encounter. She was silent after that.
The traffic was a bit easier now, as most of the cars were either ignoring the light show, or were pulled all the way over. Still, David was paying close attention to everything around him besides the sky.
"I still can't reach her," Alice told him. "Apparently the phone is out. Mom's going to be worried that the phone call ended like that."
"Undoubtedly," David answered, knowing how his ex always liked to panic over things that usually had very simple explanations.
Just then he saw a little cloud of dust kick up as something struck a little distance away, but he also noticed when something almost too small to see streaked across the front of his SUV. He knew it was only getting more dangerous to be driving, and it wasn't looking like a brief storm either. This was looking like it was going to last for some time.
"Alice, listen carefully. OK?"
She stuck her head between the seats to listen, but David didn't correct her. He figured she was safe enough where she was.
"If anything happens to me, don't get up. Don't try to help me. Chances are I'll be beyond help if I'm hit by something. Instead, just stay down there where you are and don't get up or go outside. Understand?"
"Daddy, you're making me really scared," she replied.
"Well, Daddy is pretty scared himself," he told her.
There were strikes hitting the ground around him more and more frequently now. Although he hadn't been in the military, he'd read enough and spoken to enough friends who had to know that when you're in a firefight, that you stay down and run like hell until you find some shelter. They might not be in a war zone, but with projectiles flying by at hundreds of miles an hour it was just as dangerous. What's more, the cheap plastic they used to make cars out of nowadays wouldn't be likely to provide much protection.
Unfortunately, there weren't many places you can hide from meteors. But that wasn't what was worrying him, it was all the little rocks and particles thrown up by the crashing meteors that did. A building might not protect against a direct hit by a meteor, but a concrete or possibly even a heavily built wood structure might provide protection. However this section of highway didn't have a lot of exits along it.
The radio was still playing, but so far there was no mention of any problems being broadcast, and David wasn't about to start searching for any news on the subject. Apparently the storm was localized, which was good news as they might be able to drive out of it.
The ground shook unexpectedly, so David knew there was a nearby strike of some size, but it clearly wasn't a huge strike. Chances were, unless it was a long ways off, it was only something the size of a basketball traveling at a high rate of speed.
As they came around a corner they saw a good sized crater before them with a car stopped in front of it. David knew they couldn't drive over it, at least not at the speed they were currently driving, and he knew that meant they'd have to finally stop.
"Alice, listen carefully."
"Yes, Dad?" she asked nervously.
"I've got to stop," he replied as he was applying the brakes. "When I do, I want you to get out quickly and run as fast as you can to the right. There's an open field over there. Keep running until you're away from the elevated road. Find the lowest spot you can find in a level field and lay down flat. Don't look up or look back for me. It looks like the woman ahead of us might be in trouble. If I call, don't look up. Just call out and I'll find you. OK?"
"Yeah, Daddy," she said, even more scared than she'd been before. But she trusted her father. Whenever they'd gotten into trouble before he always knew what to do, and he always kept his head in an emergency, unlike her mother. So she knew enough to listen to everything he told her. If he said she'd be OK, she likely would be as long as she did exactly what he said.
As David rapidly pulled to a stop beside the stopped car ahead of him overlooking the large crater field, he could see a woman in the car beside them. The car looked intact, but it didn't seem to be moving. Luckily the woman was intelligent enough to stay inside her car, but she wasn't bright enough to stay down.
'Damn, ' he thought to himself, 'now I've got to risk myself trying to rescue someone not bright enough to save themselves.' He didn't really mind helping someone, but he really didn't want to risk leaving Alice alone if something happened to him. Especially if it was to rescue someone who'd only put themselves back in danger again right afterwards.
"All right, honey, run for it. NOW!" David shouted as he also threw his door open and jumped out of the car in the opposite direction than his daughter did.
Alice took off. She took his advice, keeping her head down and her back crouched and she didn't glance back, simply focusing on the open field lying off the side of the road.
Despite its having been maintained and cut frequently, the going was rough as the ground was uneven. However Alice played several sports, and she knew how to run and, more importantly, how to run fast. She also played beach volleyball during the summer, so she also knew how to run on uneven ground without injuring herself.
She reached the side of the embankment where the road dropped off abruptly and she kept running, though she had to slow down. She felt something blow past her, only feeling the wind from whatever had just barely missed her, but it reminded her just how serious this was. This wasn't simply a stroll in a park. This was the closest she'd ever come to a life or death situation.
She couldn't hear her father, nor did she hear any other running feet, but her own labored breathing could easily have masked any others. Her father had said to head for the field beyond, which is what she did, ignoring the stream before her. She leaped over the dividing stream at the bottom of the roadway embankment, only she didn't make it all the way over and she had to scramble up the far side, getting wet in the process. But she remembered her father's words, and considered what might happen if she dawdled, so she continued on as fast as she could.
Once she gained the open field, she ran until all hint of a slope was gone, then she glanced about for the lowest spot she could find. Her breath was getting difficult and her side was hurting. Despite being in shape, and knowing how to run long distances, this had been an all out dash, and she was getting tired so she knew she'd have to stop soon. She couldn't afford to stop simply to catch her breath, exposing herself in the process.
Seeing a nice low depression she angled over and threw herself into it. As soon as she hit she pressed herself flat against the ground and just sucked air for several moments. It was only once she partially regained her breathing that she remembered her father. She started to look up, but remembered his admonition not to. But she did shift around until she was facing the road again. She couldn't see much, but she could see the cars sitting near the road's embankment. She didn't see any motion, and the thought occurred to her that if anything had happened to her father, she likely wouldn't know it until this was all over and she went to find him. That idea didn't make her feel any more secure.
Feeling frustrated, and with nothing else she could do, she rolled over and stared up at the sky, still lit up by the colorful smoky trails of falling meteors. She thought it odd. She hadn't noticed before, but now the sky was clear. Well, aside from all the fireworks. It had been overcast the entire afternoon, but there wasn't a single cloud in the sky to obstruct what was happening in the upper atmosphere. She didn't know if it was an effect of the meteor shower, but it was now a clear and beautiful day. The kind of day her mother had always said you could see forever.
David moved away from his car as quickly as he could. He wanted to be away from a source of hard metal, glass and fiberglass pieces that an unexpected impact might produce. He ran around the front of the car and headed to the car the other driver was still sitting in. She saw him coming, and actually started to roll the window down as if David was paying her a social call at the street corner. However, when he reached her he yanked the door open.
"You can't stay here," he told the woman, a slightly older blonde. "The car, the road and the surrounding wires and trees all make an excellent source of ricocheting missiles. If you stay here you're likely to be badly hurt."
She looked up at him for a moment, but seemed to come to a quick decision to trust him. She reached up to grab her keys when David stopped her.
"What's wrong with the car?" he asked her.
"It just stopped. I think it got hit with something when the road ahead of me blew up," she explained.
"Probably cast off debris. You're lucky it only hit the engine," David said as he observed the various holes poked in the body of her car, each tiny, but each clearly evidence of small fragments tearing straight through the car body. "OK, leave the car on, but turn the radio up loud," he told her, noticing the radio was tuned to a news station. "We need to be able to hear it from out in the field."
She didn't argue, simply doing what he said, but she asked, "The field? Wouldn't it be safer inside the car?"
"No, too many sources of projectiles. Even hiding under the car wouldn't prevent you from being torn up by small dirt fragments."
She got out, helped by his yanking her out of the car, and he grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him as he headed off the road in the direction he'd sent Alice. She tried to keep up, and noticed how he ran hunched over, so she imitated him. She was about to protest how he was treating her, when something flew by her head with enough force to whip her hair across her face. With that as inspiration, she actually started to catch up to David, making it easier for her to follow him.
He pulled her along to the edge of the road. When she stumbled heading down the embankment, David stopped, scooped her up in his arms, tossed her over his shoulders, and took off carrying her in a fireman's carry. He knew it would slow them both down, but he couldn't trust she'd be able to keep up on her own. He had no idea what kind of shoes she had on, or whether she could handle running on the uneven ground, so he simply assumed it would be safer for them both for him to carry her. David didn't like depending on chance when he could just as easily take control, ensuring that things worked out correctly the first time.
As she bounced as he ran down the embankment, David called out for his daughter, looking around anxiously for her. He knew he couldn't stand and wait for her to respond, so if he couldn't find her quickly he'd have to abandon her. Once he picked a safe place to lie low he didn't plan on moving, since that would increase their chances of injury. It would be better if they were together, especially since he was sure this would be a traumatic event for everyone involved, but David wasn't willing to risk getting someone killed just to hold their hands.
Alice answered immediately, however she did as he'd insisted and didn't sit up to signal where she was. Thus he was faced with trying to locate her, even as he was trying to jump over the small drainage ditch while carrying the other driver on his shoulders. Of course he wasn't very successful, stumbling into the small pool of water at the bottom and scrambling up the far side, getting both of them wet. However, it was a warm day, so that wouldn't be a big problem, but it made the trip more difficult, and what's more it took more time, making the trip up the other side even more difficult for David.
Despite how tempting it was to simply stop and hole up in the ditch, David knew it would be a mistake. Since the ditch was formed when the ground surrounding the roadway was dug up and used to elevate the roadway, it was a low spot, but it was too near the road, and any meteors hitting either the road or any nearby cars would shower them with debris.
As he crested the small ditch, he looked around for his daughter again, calling out once more. She answered him immediately, and he zeroed in on the sound. He still wasn't sure where she was, but he was at least closing in on her.
There were still more small explosions as small meteors slammed into the earth around them, but David couldn't afford to pay any attention to them. If he were to stop to consider what he couldn't control, he'd be too afraid to move. So instead he ran on, only paying enough attention to where he was running to avoid tripping over anything in his path. The woman over his shoulders, though, had nothing to do but watch what was happening around her. What's more, she was now aware of why David had had them crouching, and she realized she was forcing David to run at his full height, which made her that much more vulnerable to anything flying through the air, since she was still near the level of the road.
David was panting now. He worked out frequently doing work on his property, but he wasn't used to what he was doing now. While he often carried heavy loads, he didn't often do it at a full run, nor while running over uneven ground. He was ignoring the threats of strikes from above. If a meteor were to strike, there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it, as he'd likely be dead before he even realized there was a threat.
He was about to drop to the ground where he was when he finally saw Alice. She was waving an arm. He would have yelled at her to stop, but he was having too much trouble getting enough breath as it was, and he wasn't about to stop to get his wind back. Instead he changed direction and ran to her, trying to put on a last desperate burst of speed. As he came up on his daughter's supine form he simply fell forward, too weary to lift the woman off of his shoulders. He braced himself as he fell so he wouldn't injure his companion, but he knew she'd be landing hard and he also knew she wouldn't appreciate it, but there wasn't much else he could do. He was exhausted!
And the landing was as hard as he'd imagined. The woman felt him falling and imagined the worst, thinking that he'd been struck. She'd assumed he'd warn her, at the very least, when they reached their destination, so when she didn't receive one she feared the most obvious outcome. So she wasn't caught completely by surprise. But she landed with a hard thump, and she knew she'd feel it in her ass for some time, but right now she was concerned with surviving the encounter, so she wasn't overly concerned with a bruised ass.
When she saw her father fall face first into the grass with the strange woman lying across his shoulders, Alice crawled towards them. She was mindful of his warning, so she didn't get up and kept her head and body low to the ground. When she reached them, the woman was moaning quietly and her father was gasping, unable to regain his breath. Alice scrambled up and shoved the stranger off her father so he could breathe and started to check to see if he'd been injured.
"He may have been hit," the woman said, forgetting her own bruises over her fear for her benefactor. "He went down pretty fast."
"My father doesn't fool around," Alice told her. "Chances are he was taking the path of least resistance. I don't suppose he was overly concerned with politeness at the time, but I'm checking him anyway."
David tried to respond, but was still having too much trouble trying to get his breath back. Alice shoved him, rolling him over onto his back, which actually helped. As he lay there, trying to signal her with his hands, she quickly ran her hands over his body, looking for any sign of an injury. She'd seen how he'd responded to workplace injuries in the past, so she had a good idea of what to look for. She'd been injured often enough working with him or playing on their isolated land, often falling from a tree or two.
When she didn't find anything she shifted over so she could see his face. He was glancing at her, still gasping for breath, but he had a calm relaxed expression. He didn't look panicky, so she assumed he wasn't hurt. She had noticed several cuts to his clothing, and if they'd been made by ricocheting debris like she suspected, she assumed he'd also have some minor cuts as a result. But she assumed they weren't too severe, otherwise she'd have found blood.
"How ... how's..." David struggled to ask.
Alice looked at the stranger her father had rescued, and she recognized the look.
"The name is Ellen Parker," the woman answered. "Thanks for rescuing me. There's no telling what might have happened if I'd stayed there. I'd thought the car was the safest place to stay, but it was being riddled with holes while I was there."
"Dad says it's the ricocheting rocks that are the biggest problem," Alice explained. "He says the danger from the meteors really isn't that bad, although if we were to be hit by one, chances are we'd never know it anyway."
"Well, that's a load off of my mind," Ellen sighed in teasing exasperation. "How does your father look?"
"He seems to be fine, although I'm sure he overexerted himself in trying to rescue you," Alice responded. "His name is David. I'm Alice, by the way. We were traveling to my father's house in the foothills of West Virginia."
"I was heading to my sister's cottage for the weekend," Ellen told her as they both watched David slowly get his breathing under control. He was still breathing hard, but it didn't sound quite so drastic anymore. Ellen felt terrible that she'd forced the one person who'd thought to help her into putting himself in such peril. She wished she could do something for him, but she had no idea of what to do.
Seeing her father was partially recovered, Alice decided she needed to press him concerning what to do.
"What now, Dad? Do we just lay here and wait?"
David struggled to speak for a moment before responding. "Just lay ... low. Nothing we can ... do till ... the storm ... passes," he got out.
Ellen was thinking they were safe way out here in the middle of a field, but she was disabused of that idea when something flew over their heads, causing her to glance up and see the continuing fall of additional meteors.
"Can you make any phone calls?" Ellen asked.
"No, my cell phone died in the middle of the storm," she said, following her father's lead in describing the severe activity around them as if it were a weather phenomenon. "Dad said it was likely the communication satellites in outer space were hit and destroyed."
"Yeah, mine went out as well. When that one meteor hit in front of me and my car stopped, man did it make a loud racket. I tried calling for help but I couldn't get a signal. Your father must be right about the danger of thrown debris, because after the meteor hit there was this horrific crash that sounded like a huge cat scratching its nails down a large blackboard. I knew the car was totaled as soon as I heard that sound."
Both Ellen and Alice were talking in an almost normal everyday manner, ignoring David as he recovered beside them. But there really wasn't much else they could do. It looked like they were going to be here for some time, and you can only be hysterical for so long.
In the background they could hear Ellen's radio playing in the distance. It was soft, but if they stopped they could make out what it was saying. So far they were playing music and prerecorded news programs. They wondered why no one had reported on this yet. You'd think with as much of the sky being filled with meteor trails that someone would have noticed it by now.
"Did you have anything you needed out of your car?" David asked Ellen, even though he had no intention of getting it for her. He was only asking as a way of joining in the conversation, thinking talking about mundane things would give them more of a sense of normalcy in such a strange environment.
"Nothing that I'd risk our lives trying to save. I'm just glad we managed to get out of there in one piece."
"Dad, I noticed several cuts in your jacket and pants, were you injured?" his daughter asked.
"Gee, I didn't think so. If I was, I wasn't aware of it. But then, I was pretty focused on getting away from there. After all, you know how single-minded I can be at times."
"Yeah, do I?" Alice answered before noticing that Ellen was watching them. She and her father finally took in this woman they'd just met. She was blond with fairly light skin and freckles. She was cute, but she wasn't drop dead gorgeous, so she seemed more approachable. Now that they were past the crisis, each was interested in learning what the others were like, and since they couldn't do much else while lying flat against the grass hoping not to be hit by a flying rock, they settled into talking about themselves.
"I only visit my father every other weekend," Alice told Ellen, "but when I stay with him, he lets me work on the house he's built in the side of a mountain. When we finish, he also lets me play in the woods. You know, the typical guy things like scaling the side of the mountain or climbing trees, or even occasionally skinny dipping."
"Hey, as far as your mother and any new people who might disapprove are concerned, I never take you skinny dipping," David corrected her.
"Yeah, but you never stop me. You know I like that pond, and you were the one who first put the idea in my head when you told me those stories of you and Mom."
Ellen didn't think of the comment about their having built a house against a mountain, figuring it was just a small structure, but she could understand Alice's fascination with it.
"Hey, climbing trees and exploring the woods is something that girls do. I used to love doing those things myself, but now that I'm working I never get a chance to get away any more. Every now and then I'll hike short segments of the Appalachian Trail, but that's been about all I've been able to manage lately."
"You're a hiker?" David asked, trying to encourage the girls to talk about pedestrian things.
"Yeah. Years ago I hiked a fair portion of the Trail. I started in Georgia but I only got as far as Virginia. I always meant to go back, but then I got busy trying to build a career. It's hard to hike much when you have a day job."
"Dad took me along a short segment near where he lives," Alice said, adding her own two cents worth. "It was nice, but the woods around his house are so nice it's sort of like travelling from one garden paradise to visit another one. I mean, I loved it, but I'm perfectly happy at his place."
"Hmm, I may have to visit this fabulous house in the woods you keep describing. I could use some place to get away to."
"Oh, you'd love it," Alice assured her. "Dad built this great house. It's set partway into the mountain, so you walk into this little building then walk up some stairs and then there's this big glass wall overlooking the valley. It's got a phenomenal view."
"And you built this place yourself?" Ellen asked David, revising her opinion of his resources.
"Yeah," Alice answered for her father. "He designed it, he built the road leading to it, he cleared the land, and he blasted the side of the mountain and excavated the stone. He's amazing."
"So it was just the two of you?" Ellen asked, trying to find a subtle way of asking an obvious question. "No wife or girlfriend to help you?"
"Oh, no," Alice answered with a grin. "Mom hates it there. She calls it his 'monstrosity in the middle of nowhere'. She won't set foot there. She won't even come up to get me when I stay there. Once I got hurt and Dad had to clear up a small rock slide, and she refused to come for me, telling Dad to call me a cab. As if cabs would ever drive up there," she finished dismissively.
"So I take it Alice's mother isn't in your life anymore?" she asked David, trying not to be too obvious about it.
Even though she hardly knew either of these two, David was handsome and he certainly sounded like he was a capable and hard worker, two things she admired. Plus having just been rescued by a handsome tall stranger, she had a bit of a crush at the moment. She wanted to believe in magic at the moment, and he seemed like an ideal handsome Prince, even if his previous wife didn't think so.
"No, she stormed out over my 'obsession' years ago," David told her, speaking up for himself finally. It wasn't that he was particularly shy, but Alice was quite talkative even in normal times, and now she seemed pretty hyper. But more than that, David was out of practice talking to attractive women. He hadn't dated since Linda had left him, instead submerging himself in his hobbies and in raising his daughter.
Alice, on the other hand, was conscious of how Ellen was trying to subtly flirt with her father, and she was also well aware of how uncomfortable he was with striking up a conversation with a new woman.
Like most kids, Alice wished her parents would get back together after they split up. But it soon became apparent it was never going to happen. Linda had taken up with one man after another, looking for something she never managed to find. But she lectured Alice on everything she had found lacking in her father. Alice repeatedly asked her not to speak badly about him to her, but Linda was hard to dissuade. Alice had given up on the idea of getting her parents back together, but she had instead switched her machinations into trying to get her father to date. If her mother could date anyone and everyone, then her father certainly deserved someone to keep him company for all the time he spent alone. Besides, she reasoned, it was dangerous living alone. If something happened to him, he could die up there by himself. No one would ever know until he didn't show up to pick her up two weeks later.
No, Alice had no problems in encouraging her father to flirt with Ellen. She was attractive, she had a nice smile, and her eyes danced with a mischievous twinkle. They appeared to share interests as well. Her problem was with her father. He'd never even attempted to date after his marriage fell apart.
Alice encouraged him to date. She'd talk up whoever they met, even going so far as to invite attractive strangers they met to dinner during her visits, but David had never gone for it. He was sociable, she had to concede that he knew how to deal with people, but he was uncomfortable with it. He preferred his solitude. Alice was afraid he was becoming too comfortable living on his own. If he didn't find someone soon, he might never be willing to disturb his life by letting someone else into it.