At home there was chaos. The sirens were louder here. One was mounted just beyond the gates of Shady Acres and its high pitched drone echoed across the rooftops with a piercing shriek.
Most of the diggers were gone already. As he pulled his truck up to the curb and exited the cab he could see that they’d left their equipment midway through their work. Backhoes had their shovels still plunged into the ground. Jackhammers were lying next to freshly cracked pavement and rock. The bulldozer was parked in a corner of his own yard, a pile of broken asphalt and twisted rebar still caught up in its scoop.
In the center of the cul-de-sac he spotted the man from the state standing next to a dead body. The cops were gone. There was a clear spot on the ground where the snow had fallen over their parked cars.
“What’s going on?” He called to the man as he approached.
The archeologist jumped back, swiping his hat from his head and holding it against his chest defensively.
“Is that the tower shooter?” The builder asked coming closer. There was a pool of blood seeping into the snow around the bodies head.
“There was a gunshot.” The man said.
“What?” Markoff asked.
“From over there.” He continued pointing in the direction of Thom Grey’s home. “The second floor window I think.”
Markoff looked towards the street. He could see by the cars that his wife was home and with her, probably the kids still enjoying their summer break. Clara’s Saab was parked nearby and Tara’s own mini-van. One of Kinkaid’s gleaming classic muscle cars sat far away from the others, parked as closely and as conscientiously as it could be to the side of the road.
“I don’t see Thom’s car.” He said looking back towards second story of the house. “Are you sure that the gunshot came from up there?”
“I’m not sure of anything.” The man answered. “All I know was that I was out here talking with him and then the sirens started to go off. The police said that there was a meteor headed towards earth. A big one.”
“Everyone just sort of panicked.” The man went on. “The officers left and my students fled into some of the houses or took to the streets.”
“You mean some of them are inside?” The builder asked.
The man blinked his weathered eyes. “Where else were they to go?”
“Home.” Markoff answered. “Underground?”
“Some of them are underground.” He sighed, looking back in the direction of a few of the tents. “Some of them are afraid to go too deep.”
The builder glanced down at the body of the tower shooter. There was a bullet hole directly above his left temple. He appeared to be at peace. “What’s down there?” He asked.
The man from the state looked from the tents to the body and then back to the tents again. “It’s not something that can be easily described.”
“Some bones, yes.” He nodded. “Then there’s something else. Something much bigger.”
“What have you guys been looking for?”
“I don’t know.” The man answered growing visibly frustrated. “It’s difficult to explain.”
The builder shot a glance at the sky. Low clouds. “The worlds ending and we could be shot just standing here.” He said with a shrug. “Try me.”
The man dropped his hat to his side. “When you start digging around at one of these sites you expect to find bones.” He said with resignation. “You expect maybe broken pottery or tools and weapons. That’s the kind of things that you hope to find if you’re lucky. Mostly though you’re just looking for bones. Bones are what we came looking for after you turned in the skull.”
“The Shady Acres Anomaly.” Markoff added.
The man nodded. “Only there’s no trees in Shady Acres.” He said glancing around. “There’s a few saplings but no trees.”
“You’ve dug up all the trees on this block.”
“Sorry about that.” The old man muttered.
“So what was it that you found?” The builder asked giving him a direct look as they stood over the body. “What’s under the tents?”
“Everything.” He answered. “You name it and it’s under these houses.”
“Like everything!” He said balling up his hat in his hand and shoving it in the builder’s face. “This hat is down there right now. So are the things in these houses.”
Markoff regarded the man and his hat skeptically. “All of that? Down there?”
“And more!” The old man said his eyes widening. “There’s shopping malls and hardware stores and places to buy food.”
“Not with people.” He shot back. “The people are gone.”
“Perhaps.” He said now completely ignoring the body of the tower shooter as he got more and more wrapped up in his excitement to tell what had been found. “Still this is what we unearthed. This place was once a consumer mecca. Alive and vibrant. The pre-historic hunters and gatherers who would have come here to shop had a vast array of goods to choose from. There’s televisions and cars and new bedspreads. Everything!”
“If all that stuff is down there then how would you even know if something was stolen?” The builder scoffed. “Remember when that kid was shot? It was all caused by you getting yourself hot and bothered over one missing artifact.”
“It was a box.” The man nodded.
The builder gave him a sobering stare. He thought of Dan Wells and the weapon that he had been hiding in his safe room. He wondered where his wife was. He wondered if either the man from the state or his own self was standing in the snipers sites right now.
“It had a switch.” The archeologist continued screwing up his face and boxing his hands as he tried to describe it. “We didn’t have a chance to research what it was used for. It was just a box with a switch. We discovered it sitting next to a large rock.”
“There ain’t many rocks around here.” Markoff interrupted. It was true. There wasn’t much in the way of a texture to the geology. He knew from his work in construction over the years. The coastal ground was sandy and loose.
“The rock was a meteor.” The old man explained.
The builder grimaced. “A meteor.”
“Yes. We found that out almost immediately. It had pockmarks in the iron and fossilized organic materials contained within it.”
“Not earth destroying.”
“I have no idea.” The old man shrugged. “We didn’t get a chance to flip the switch. It was actually one of the first things that we uncovered. That’s how I knew that it was missing. Afterwards the designer clothing and the high-end consumer electronics started showing up.”
“Just showing up?”
“Buried.” The old man said, raising his eyebrows once again. “In pristine condition but still very old.”
Markoff looked around at all the tents. Their canvass flaps fluttered in the cold breeze that blew across the neighborhood but the sound of their movement was completely eclipsed by the wail of the siren. He was about to turn back to the old man and ask him if he’d seen his wife when he heard another gunshot ring out.
He knew before turning back to the man what he’d see. He knew even before furtively ducking and scanning the row of windows on the second floor of Thom Grey’s house what form the shooter would take. He realized this as he went through the motions playing out the pantomime that his human instinct willed him to go through.
The archeologists head had literally been split in two by the bullet. The old man stood there, holding his cap tightly in his hand with his brains sprayed out across the snow behind him. As he fell over, Markoff ducked down looking in the direction from which the shot had come from.
“There is no guarantee of survival. We have feared this moment since the down of time and now it appears to have come. We are mere hours away from Judgment Day. Please, take care of what needs to be done. Please, hug your families.”
A willowy figure, grey of skin with large eyes cast in the deepest black was withdrawing itself from the frame of the window in his neighbors study. The barrel of the green hunting rifle that Jill had purchased last year tilted up vanishing through the blinds as the creature backed itself into the shadows of the house. Markoff needed to find his wife. He hoped he got to her before the switch was flipped.