“Great job with the play, Keri! You planning on doing one next year too?”
I laughed, packing a garbage bag with dropped costumes, broken props, and my narrator’s script, then climbed down the stage steps. “I don’t know, Susan. These kids…” I mimed pulling my hair out of my head.
Susan smiled with all her “pastor’s wife” grace. “I thought you did very well.”
“Thanks. Where are you going for the countdown tonight?”
“We’re planning on going to the Penners’. They usually have a big group there.”
“Cool. I think I’ll be heading there too, after I finish cleaning up.”
“Do you need any help?”
“Naw, it’s just a few bits and pieces.” I picked up my bag. “And I’ll lock up when I leave, too, so you’re good to go already.”
“I will see you there, then. Zach? Are you finished what you needed to do?”
The broad blond looked up from his phone. “Yup.”
“Oh.” Susan looked up at the stage screen behind me. “You should turn the countdown off, Zach. We’re not staying here.”
He glanced up and frowned. “I didn’t put it on.” He headed back to the sound booth.
I turned to look at the screen. 2:28:01 — 2:28:00 — 2:27:59. The white numbers were ticking down against a black background. “Maybe Abe did,” I suggested, hauling my stuff down the aisle. “Or Tony, or Benji.”
Zach was frowning at the laptop screen. “It won’t turn off. I’ll text them. Maybe they were planning on coming back.”
It was a riot. There were kids screaming as they chased each other down the steps and around the foyer. The parents were attempting intellectual conversation in the living room. My group of friends were piled on the couches— or lack thereof— around the TV, which had remarkably not been turned on yet. They were carrying on a lively argument over genres of music.
“Maybe, just maybe,” I said with as much dramatic flair as I could muster, “We all have different tastes.”
Only Alex and Sara heard me, and they both grinned.
“Maybe my taste is better than your taste,” my brother smirked.
Sara pulled me down beside her. “Come on, Keri. You’re not gonna side with rap and heavy metal, are you?”
“Well, no one’s said anything about classical yet, so you’d better defend it,” she whispered before turning back to the crowd and loudly objecting Caleb’s latest claim.
I just laughed and sat back, watching them fight so hard for something that didn’t matter in the least.
“Snacks!” came a shout from upstairs. Then came the stampede.
“Can you check the router? I think the wifi’s down again.”
“I already unplugged it and plugged it back in.”
Marian struggled out of her comfy spot and made to the steps without tripping over the blankets and pillows scattered on the floor. Mary was leaning over the railing.
“I already unplugged it and plugged it back in,” she repeated. “And nobody’s data is working either. The network’s probably down from so many people streaming.”
The vote had been cast, and we were going to watch Jumanji even though Zach and Caleb protested that they had seen it “millions” of times and it was “so boring”. We had the DVD at our house, so I was driving to go get it. I laughed to myself while taking the corner. We were so reliant on our screens, these were the lengths we would go to for easy entertainment.
My laughter stopped as I caught sight of the church house. The stained glass windows were flashing, sending pink, blue, and green rays glaring at the opposing houses for a spilt second, then darkness, then again. A honk blared. I looked back at the road just in time to swerve away from an approaching car. I waited till it passed, then pulled into the driveway.
What was going on? The countdown hadn’t been this bright. We had turned off all the lights, the doors were locked, these windows didn’t look broken, and there was no way I was walking around the back in the dark to check the windows there. There was only one thing I could do. I pulled my keys out of the ignition and got out of the car. I shot a text to Mom, but of course the “sending failed” message popped up right aways. “Fine,” I muttered. I turned the camera on video instead and stuck it into my front pocket, thanking God for the first time that women’s pants had such ridiculously small pockets. The eye could see nearly everything I could, and would record it all. My hands shook with the keys as I found the right one and inserted it. This was freaking me out, but if someone was desecrating our building, I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.
All four light switches gave no response. I would have turned on my flashlight, but of course I couldn’t video tape then: and I needed proof of whatever was going on more than I needed to see. I started up the stairs. It was good that my childhood had involved running races and playing hide-and-seek around this building, because I knew my way around fairly well. I debated going through the basement and into the sanctuary from the back but decided against it. There were no windows in the door there.
I crept up the stairs, thankful I wasn’t wearing heels. My boots trod softly enough. The same flashing I had seen from outside was coming through the windows from the sanctuary. I walked towards the window and peeked through it. Everything was black. Then it flashed, and in that instant I seen the numbers 1:39:54 in black against a white screen. The surprise sent me backwards to the floor. I grunted and pressed myself to the wall in case anyone had heard me. After my breathing slowed, I looked again. There was nothing to be heard. The stillness was beginning to press on my eardrums. The numbers flashed on. 1:38:11 — 1:38:10 — 1:38:09.
This was freaky. Why was it so bright? I whispered a prayer and pushed the door open, flinching. It kept flashing, only now I realized that the lights in the wall sconces were flicking on and off too, in time with the screen. I stepped in. Nothing ceased my progress. 1:37:38 — 1:37:37 — 1:37:36. I climbed into the sound booth. The screen here was doing the same thing as the big one now. I jiggled the mouse and clicked it, tapped around on the keyboard, but no response. 1:37:21 — 1:37:20 — 1:37:19.
What was on the stage? That— package?— hadn’t been there before. I stepped up the stairs carefully. It was a strange contraption, almost knee high, with wires twining in and out of it. On the top was a clock, and the time it was ticking down was identical to the countdown on the big screen. Something told me that it wasn’t going to shoot confetti.
I ran out of the building and locked the door. My car started up just fine, which somewhat surprised me. I drove back to the Penners’ and went straight to the living room. “There’s a bomb in the church.” I told them what had happened as fast as I could, pulling out my phone to show them the video— but it was dead.
“Sounds like a trick by someone who’s got too much time on their hands,” Dad grumbled. “Are you sure you locked the door before, Keri?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “And there was no one there now. It was really weird.”
“I can go check it out,” Abe said. “Pete, you come with me. If it’s legit, I can text— no, the system’s down.”
“Keegan!” Mary was yelling over the banister again. “Bring your walkie-talkies!”
“Why?” came the response from far below.
“Just bring them!”
When the seven-year-old came up with his bright blue toys, she gave a brief explanation, took them away and handed one to the investigators. “I’ll keep one here. Stay on channel four.”
The other teens had heard the commotion and came up to wait with us in tense silence. Finally the radio crackled.
“I think it’s a real bomb.”
There was a long moment.
Mary picked up the radio. “Copy that.”
“I’m taking the kids,” Mom announced. “Hon, are you coming?”
“No.” Dad looked around at us. “We’ve still got time. We need to warn the neighbours—“ he grabbed Mom and gave her a kiss, short and hard. “You take the kids. As many as will fit in the Armada. Drive fast. You teenagers, always so full of energy, now we’re going to make use of it. We don’t know how big this bomb is. We need to get people out of here.”
“You start here, since Lisa’s taking your vehicle,” John directed. “Zach, Caleb, I can take some of you guys in the van. I’ll drop you off on different streets. Alex, Philip, Josh, come with me too.”
“Marian, can we take your car?” I didn’t wait for a response. I fished my own keys from my pocket and pressed them into Susan’s hands, pushing her towards Mom. “You and Nancy take the rest of the kids. My trunk is really big. Let’s go!”
The guys were already gone. Sara grabbed her backpack on the way out the door. I checked my phone while chasing Marian to her car. It was 10:46.
“Ma’am, a bomb has been discovered in the church across the street.”
“You need to get out of here.”
“Young lady, I’ve heard of this before. You pranksters want me to leave my house so you can take my mother’s china. Not on my watch!”
“Ma’am, you don’t understand—“
She shut the door in my face. I banged again.
“Please, you all could die!”
“Go bother someone else!” She shut the door once more, and I could hear the distinct sound of the bolt sliding in the lock.
“Fine!” I could feel desperate tears escaping, but I dashed them away. There were other lives that could still be saved.
No one answered at the next few houses. They were probably all celebrating elsewhere, and thank God for that.
“What on earth are you knocking on people’s door at this time of night for?!”
“Sir, we found a bomb in the church across the street. It’s going to blow at midnight. You need to get out of here.”
“My wife just got the baby to sleep, and you woke her up again, for this? We’re not leaving.”
“I’m dreadfully sorry, sir, but if you want you wife and baby to live, you need to go!”
“I remember being a teenager. We did stupid stuff too, but I honestly hope it wasn’t this bad. I suggest you find something better to do with your time.”
The door slammed. I ran to the next one. A guy about my age opened it. I— I knew this guy— I almost gagged from the smell and accidentally gave him the first chance to speak.
“Hey, babe, you’re late,” he slurred, leaning forwards. “What took you so long?”
I slapped him, hard, right across the face. “There is a bomb! You need to leave!” He stared at me, startled but not comprehending a word. “Is there anyone here who can drive?” I yelled over his shoulder.
“I can drive… but it’s not midnight yet!” A girl said as she slinked towards the doorway. Her eyes were unfocused too. “We wanted to watch the ball drop. Stupid internet.”
Raucous laughter came from somewhere inside. Someone else shouted, “I can drive too!” A group barrelled past me and got into one of the cars, arguing over which end went forwards.
“Oh, come on, the party just got started. You can’t all leave now,” the guy whined.
The group left, somehow; I wasn’t quite sure how they got onto the road without driving over someone. The guy frowned at me, but I was off to the next house.
There was no one left on the street who would answer the doors. I hoped they were all somewhere far, far away.
Marian and Sara were coming my direction, and they pulled over to pick me up.
“I talked to your dad a minute ago,” Marian said, driving back to the church. “I told him which roads we did, and he said that should be all of them.”
“Did you have any luck?” I asked.
Sara frowned. “Like, one single old guy. Everyone else thought it was a prank.”
“There were two families that left. Everyone else laughed or got mad.”
We got back to the church. The outdoor lights were flashing now too. We ran inside.
24:23 — 24:22 — 24:21.
Zach and Caleb were hunched over the screen.
“Why don’t you just unplug it?” Sara asked them.
“It’s hard wired. And it won’t stop the bomb.”
“The lights aren’t supposed to be connected either,” I pointed out. “It could make a difference.”
“Then it could make the bomb go off right aways!”
I had never seen anyone look so completely frazzled. We were all pale and shiny in the weird lighting. Then a crack hit my ears, and I looked to the front of the sanctuary.
“Dad? What are you doing?”
He didn’t answer as he and Alex ripped the seat off the front pew. Then Philip came running up the aisle with a screwdriver he had found, and John started unfastening the rest of the pew from the floor. They hauled the pieces up to the stage and started to stack them beside the bomb. Zach and Caleb gave up with the computer and came to help.
“Abe, you need to move,” Josh said, dropping a huge pot he must have found in the kitchen.
I got closer to see what was going on.
Abe was on his knees next to the bomb, gingerly picking through the wires. “If only I had a pliers… maybe a wire cutter?”
“I’ve got both!” Sara rummaged in her backpack.
He took them from her and went back to the bomb. “There’s this one wire… aha! It leads down, under the stage, which means it comes out.. here!” He ran to the edge of the stage. “It is connected to the computer. But then we’ve got the same problem as before; if we disconnect it, that could just trigger it anyways.”
Dad turned to me as if he had just noticed I was there. “Keri, you need to take the boys. Drive above the speed limit, for once in your life, and get out of here.”
Alex stepped in front of me. I couldn’t see his face, but I could feel the intensity coursing out of his body. “I’m not going, Dad.”
Philip stood beside him and crossed his arms resolutely. “We’re too close. We’re dead already, so we might as well help contain this thing the best we can to save everyone outside.”
Dad stood there for a few flashes, completely dumbfounded. I didn’t think any of us had ever dared to flat out refuse one of his orders before.
He grabbed all of us in a huge bear hug, then let us go. His eyes were moist. “Abe, do you have the radio?”
He handed it over.
I could feel my throat cinching closed as my vision blurred, but when the radio was passed to me, I forced out the words. “I love you guys. I’ll see you soon, you hear?” I didn’t hear what they said back. The radio went the whole circle, then we laid it aside.
15:43 — 15:42 — 15:41.
“Has everyone been praying?” John asked.
“I haven’t stopped,” Marian said.
“And I don’t suggest you do,” he replied. “Now, we still don’t know if this is a hoax or not, but we can’t take any chances. I suggest we disconnect both wires, but at the last second. Death doesn’t need to be invited early. Guys, we’ll keep building around it. We can contain the explosion as much as possible. Does anyone know where the breaker box is?”
“I do,” Dad answered.
“Once we get to the last minute, go down there and wait for the countdown. Flip the switch once we get to three.”
Dad nodded, then went to help the boys. The girls and I went too. We helped carry boards from the pews and walls up to the stage. Josh put the pot over the bomb first, then we started stacking the wood around it, wrapping the whole thing up with packing tape from the basement and rope from Sara’s backpack.
“Okay, you guys keep going. I’m getting down to the basement. Keri, stand by the door, here. You girls, one of you stand by the stairs and one by the kitchen so I can hear the countdown.”
We dashed to our places as Dad ran out the sanctuary and down the steps. I hadn’t realized that it was already this time.
1:01 — 1:00 — 59.
I started shouting the numbers so the girls could relay them to Dad.
Alex, Philip, Caleb, and John gave up layering the wood and knelt around the package, holding each other by the shoulders. They were creating a human barrier.
Dad was probably checking all the switches.
Zach wrapped the laptop wire around his wrist.
Abe steadied the wire cutter.
5 — 4 — 3 — 2 — 1 —