“Happy New Year!” Everyone called and hugged everyone else. They were gathered together on the steps which lead up to the Biggs’ home. Champagne was poured and kisses exchanged. Even Thom Grey smiled as he stood next to his wife out in the cold.
At midnight, it was a long standing tradition for Markoff and Kinkaid to set off a strand of fireworks in the center of the cul-de-sac. This year, that had been forgone, in light of the older man’s recent trouble with the law. Everyone figured that it was best if they didn’t test the system by breaking city ordinance. They were instead content to listen to the snaps and pops of other’s in their neighborhood. The mood was celebratory and light hearted. Fortune was smiling on them all.
Clara Wells extended her arms. “Come give me a hug and a kiss, Kinkaid!” She called out to the older man. “I know that you’ve been wanting to!”
She had recently landed a slew of new advertizing accounts. The scare from the rouge field of meteorites had prompted almost everyone in the consumables market to pull the theme off of their brands. Ubiquitous images of shooting stars were being replaced with pictures of the sun and the earth. Blazing asteroids had been changed to flowers and animals.
Kinkaid bashfully ducked his head under her arm and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” She hollered into the night. “Happy New Year!”
Clara stayed busy twenty-four hours a day matching up the appropriate non-threatening image with whatever product that was being sold. She drew smiling women in long dresses on bags of scouring pads. She pasted cut outs of hands, ears, mouths, eyes, noses, legs, arms and tongues next to food. She put cute little dogs everywhere.
“I’m single tonight.” She said, slapping the older man on the rear as he retreated back to his date.
Her husband Dan was still absent but that didn’t seem to affect her mood. Over the weeks since his arrival back home; gravely injured and severely incapacitated even the men in the neighborhood had become accustomed to him not being there. The rumor was that he spent all of his time in their house’s safe room. He was said to be in a state of shock and wearing a colostomy bag.
Nothing was ever disclosed by Clara about how he’d come to be in such a condition. Over time, every ones interest and speculation in the matter waned. She was happy to park herself in the men’s kitchen’s drawing dogs on boxes and talking with their wives about all the money that she was making. To Markoff and the rest of them, Dan simply didn’t exist at all anymore.
The builder smiled and gave his wife a peck on the lips.
He was profiting off of the recent announcement from NASA as well. Biggs’ hole had given Markoff the idea to start building bomb shelters in order to protect people from the meteors impending doom. It was an avenue of construction that hadn’t been explored much since the time of the Red Threat and he was excited to find new ways to capitalize off of it.
“I love you.” He told his wife.
The day after he’d picked up Kinkaid from outside of the jailhouse he’d set his architects to work designing three different themes of underground bunker. There was the Elves Hideaway with polymer stones, rubber moss and molded cubby holes for sleeping in. The Space Ship with white paneled hibernation beds and futuristic lighting along its walls and the Forrest Floor, which was designed to look like it was built into the fake plastic roots of a mystical tree.
“I love you too.” Myrah smiled.
Markoff had already secured an article in the paper where he’d talked at length with one of their reporters about the project. Calls from frightened husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles starting pouring in almost immediately after it had run. Everyone was afraid and everyone wanted to live. They liked his designs. They valued the fact that they could pretend that they were somewhere magical and mysterious as the world above them burned.
Gary Biggs began to pass out cigars. These were real Cuban’s that he’d been given in Miami by a rap-star named Money Lyte. The man had paid for the cellular coupon system that he sold to be installed at the supermarket in his old neighborhood. Since late November it had become trendy to save with his company’s SAVEMATRIX software.
“Smoke up!” He smiled.
Like Markoff, the programmer had also profited from a news article. His cellular interface was finally starting to be used in the manner that it was intended to be used in. Orders were going up and more and more corporations were signing on for the supermarket hardware that was required to make it all work. Biggs’ company was suddenly on the verge of clawing its way back into the black.
Pulling a Zippo from his pocket, he held the flame out for everyone to get a light.
Kinkaid leaned in. “Real Cuban’s.” He moaned orgasmically.
The spike in demand for SAVEMATRIX had come after a celebrity quintuplet mom was photographed buying diapers and mineral water with coupons from off of her phone. She’d been wearing a black tank top and sweat pants. When an interviewer had later asked her how it worked she’d told the man that she didn’t know. It was her husband, a star soccer player form Argentina who had shown it to her. Then she said: “It’s the only way that we ever like to shop.” They were both very attractive people.
“No more overseas travel for me!” Biggs said beaming.
He was currently using the extra money that this endorsement had given him to build a safe room for his wife and child. In fact, everyone in the neighborhood had either signed up for or hired out a contractor to build similar rooms for themselves. If they couldn’t dig in their yards they reasoned, then they might as well use the extra square footage beneath their theaters to barricade themselves against the looming threat of planetary devastation. It was a wasted space in all of their floor plans anyway.
“I’ve got more so please guys, don’t hold back!” The programmer said in the most earnest voice they’d ever heard.
Kinkaid pulled off of the flame puffing violently. “I never hold back.” He laughed.
The older man was presently talking with a lawyer. He’d been forced to hire the man after his wedgie related arrest and he was now considering a counter suit against the state in order to get the excavation stopped. They’d even filed some papers with the courts.
His date for the night, a tall blond who was shaped like Jill but harder in the face grimaced. “You don’t ever hold back.” She said knowingly.
There had yet to be any official hearing in court about his assault against the professor but everyone figured that so long as he kept his nose clean it would be thrown out anyway. The beak nosed academic had recently given up on a restraining order that he’d lodged against Kinkaid. These days he was rarely seen away from his map in the back corner of Biggs yard.
Myrah snorted. “Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself in for?” She asked the girl, giving her a friendly nudge on the shoulder.
“I think.” The woman sighed.
A drunk driver had plowed into the marble sign outside of their subdivision on Christmas night. The crash had killed both him and the twenty-one year old woman that he was with. When the residents of Shady Acres had driven out of the gates on the following morning, they were greeted by the fallen marquee and bright yellow police tape. It had dampened the mood of everyone as they visited their families and hunted through the shops for post-holiday bargains.
Myrah wasn’t sad however. She’d immediately lobbied the HOA to be put in charge of commissioning a new sign. The drunks date with destiny had given her the opportunity to right what she considered to be a great aesthetic wrong.
“Happy New Year.” She said, raising her plastic champagne glass up above her head. “We’re all crazy for hanging out with one another.”
Markoff had offered her the use of one of his architects to help out with the task but Myrah had staunchly refused. Instead, in the few days that she’d been thinking about the project she’d drawn up one design after another.
A round of fireworks went off from somewhere out in the distance. They all watched as a brilliant starburst of red erupted over their heads. Some one yelled “Happy New Year!” from some distant point in the neighborhood.
She’d entertained many ideas about what she’d like to see erected outside of Shady Acre’s gates. Sketches of the name over mountain tops, inside of an outline of the state of Texas, beneath a pattern of waves, being carried by birds, with flowers, with a train pushing them along, long ways, up and down, and peaking out from behind clouds were made at her kitchen table as Clara rattled on about advertising. As a joke she had even drawn one with the skull that Biggs’ had found. Everyone laughed when she’d held it up and showed it to them. Her favorite was a little Scotty dog jumping over the words.
“I’m just glad I’ve got such good friends.” She said to the girl, shaking her head and taking a drink. “How’d you meet?”
The woman smiled. “Online.”
“Online?” Myrah scoffed turning to Tara. “I had no idea that Kinkaid even owned a computer much less knew how to work one.”
Tara was better at generating digital images than Myrah so she’d been in charge of rendering most of the woman’s designs for her. It didn’t matter to her what her role was in this game, she just happy to be on her winter’s vacation and away from school. She loved her job teaching the little ones on how to use computers responsibly but the truth of the matter was that she was starting to feel left behind. Every time that she blinked there was a new child-friendly interface that needed to be reviewed.
“Everyone has surprises.” She answered.
Kids as young as six had recently figured out how to hack the system and get on blocked pages from the schools internet. She’d gotten into trouble the week before break after the principle had noticed a group of children playing a game through the door of her classroom. In the game, a monkey threw feces at zoo patrons. You got more bananas for every person that you hit with the poo that the monkey pulled at will from his anus. She should have heard them laughing over the whole thing as she sat at her desk but the kids took the game too seriously for laughter. The only thing that was important to them was getting more and more bananas.
Kinkaid smiled a Cheshire grin as he puffed his cigar. “I’m a man of mystery!” He said knowingly. “I’m online and I’m always causing trouble.”
“Don’t be so cocky.” She warned the man. “You’ve got plenty of time for that in the New Year.”
His date gave them all a sideways glance.
Everything was changing so fast that some days Tara actually wished that the snot nosed little brats in her class had never been born into a digital world. Their adaptability to the networks and the systems that surrounded everything related to the modern world her presence in the classroom superfluous.
“I’m tired.” Kinkaid’s date said.
For now Tara was just glad to be free of having to feel outmoded during the holiday break and happy to help Myrah with her sign designs.
Clara laughed. “Kinkaid!” She said like a bullhorn. “You need to give all of us women a kiss for creativity. We’re a powerhouse right now!”
Jill nodded along. Clara was replacing asteroids with dogs and Myrah was designing signs with the school teacher. For her part she still wore her same sleepy smile and still favored blues and pastels with her wardrobe. These days however, she was even more distracted than usual. She had taken up astronomy.
For Christmas she’d bought Thom a new 100 gallon aquarium, a kit for building your own radio, a class on digital photography, a guitar, foreign language lessons and a telescope. Out of all of them, the telescope had stuck with her. She’d stayed up every night looking at the stars since the Holiday. Sometimes, Thom even came out and hugged her.
Tonight, he whispered in her ear. “Saturn.” He said pointing up to a pulsating spot in the sky.
She leaned back into his arms.
Jill now wore her hair in pigtails. She peered into a telescope after the sun went down over and over again with the braids draped behind her back. She stayed up all hours of the night watching for meteor showers in the driveway. One time, she counted over two hundred shooting stars and claimed that she’d made a separate wish on each one of them. Thom had been there to see the tail end of it.
“Meteor.” He said, drawing his arm across a trace of light in the sky. There were more and more of them each day.
“Make a wish.” She whispered back at him.
Thom was silent.
If anyone had a reason to be excited about the New Year it was Thom. PBS had recently done an investigative documentary on his father and they’d determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wasn’t the shooter who’d gunned down twenty-five people on that infamous day. They’d enhanced the video and taken finger print evidence from the rifle’s stock that was never before considered in a court of law. They’d even interviewed witnesses and FBI agents.
The program was set to run during the first week of January. Already, hundreds of lawyers that had been tipped off to its content were lodging papers for the man’s release. With any luck, his dad would be free by the spring. Thom had never thought that he’d see the day. He hadn’t told anyone about the show. Some things were better off kept private.
“Thom!” Myrah called across the porch to him. “I’ve never seen you so passionate.”
Thom looked around at his neighbors.
Just a few weeks ago he’d been thinking of killing them all. He’d found the rifle that his wife had bought for him and he’d seriously considered climbing up on the roof of his house to gun each and every one of them down. More if possible! Fate is such a shifting circumstance.
Everyone was happy. Everyone was doing well.