Hanley Norris feared it might come back to bite him in the ass, but he never thought it would be in a literal sense.
No matter how many skeletons he stuffed into his closet, a part of him clung to the belief that he’d never get found out. At some point, the house of cards should have collapsed, but it didn’t. So, he stacked the layers, higher and higher. Until the worry that it’d fall abated. And thus grew the ridiculous notion that he might be invincible after all.
Hell, he thought as he swiped the contents of his desk to the floor. You couldn’t even lay all the blame at his feet. He hadn’t been the one to create all that stuff. The buck got passed down and passed down. The guilty little secret of everyone who’d ever been in charge of Tilgreen City.
Until it came to Mayor Norris.
No, he wanted to be the one to fix the issue. One thousand metric tonnes of radioactive waste. From spent fuel from the production of nuclear weapons. Thank you to whoever had been in charge during the Cold War. No way would he pass that mess of crap on to someone else. In a way, what he’d done was noble. At least, Mayor Norris thought so. Even now, as he heaved, grunted, and tipped his oak table on to its side. It clunked to the floor and thudded down hard. Sweat glistened on his brow — tiny beads.
So, he’d gotten rid of it. In a manner of speaking.
His science dorks had written up lists of what to do and precautions to take. Well, Hanley both cared and didn’t care about that. On one hand, he had some pretty dangerous stuff on his doorstep. But, it would take a lot of work — and a lot of money — to make it all go away. It would also take too long. Deep geological disposal remained the widely-agreed best solution. By the time it got sorted, Norris would no longer be in office. Whoever would take his place — or whoever would take that person’s place — would reap the rewards. Would receive the praise.
No. Hell no. If Hanley must do the work, then he sure well better get his moment in the spotlight.
Thus, he did deal with the issue. He also — ever so slightly — sold a mistruth about how he dealt with the issue. He told the upper branches of the government and the people in his constituency the same story. But the truth — the absolute truth — remained a secret between him and his contractor.
The government had promised — and failed to deliver on — a central underground repository. Intended for the material produced from nuclear power plants. A place that they could also use for the mixed liquid waste from the production of nuclear weapons. But with that idea stuck in the pipeline for half a century, it didn’t look as though a remedy would come soon. Norris thought — as the horde thumped the frosted windows — bureaucracy bore the blame.
All the while, steel drums filled with acids and plutonium continued to rust in storage units. Stuffed to the brim with both hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials. A wonderful combination, right? Who wouldn’t want to take a swig of that? Mixed wastes the science dorks called it. The original workers had used the acid to dissolve the plutonium from the spent fuel rods. Genius.
“Absolute genius,” Norris whispered. He groaned, wheezed, and pushed his tipped-over desk up to the office’s entrance. The door shuddered and rattled under the pressure of the would-be invaders. He’d locked it, of course, but how long could such a flimsy bolt last under such a beating?
So, he’d done what any smart man would have done.
He dumped the barrels into Lake Till.
Or, rather, he paid a waste disposal company to do the dirty work for him.
And how had he gotten such a marvellous idea? Why, from his science dorks, of course. His head dork, a bespectacled man by the name of Alfwin Fairbank, gave him a lecture. He explained how they used water-based storage pools for spent uranium fuel bundles. The majority of what he said went in one of Norris’s ears and out the other. But one fact remained seared into his mind. “A layer of water seven centimetres thick reduces the ionising radiation by half.”
Lake Till, according to a geological survey, had an average depth of ten metres.
Well, Norris didn’t know how many centimetres were in ten metres — more than seven? — but he knew there were enough. If seven centimetres could halve the radiation, a billion more would be even better. It might even suck away some of the excess radiation. Or something like that. Mayor Norris had suggested such to Dr Fairbank, but all he got in return was a puff of air and an eye roll.
As far as the people of Tilgreen knew, the government had buried the nuclear waste beneath a mountain. Somewhere far, far away. And, as turned out to be a pleasant surprise, few people asked about it. But when the higher-ups quizzed him, he bluffed and evaded. His speciality. Thus far, he’d succeeded. But sooner or later, someone would cotton on to what he had done.
Never in one million lifetimes had he suspected it would affect the city.
And, most important of all, never had he suspected it would affect him.
But when the first report of a new virus came in, anxiety gnawed at his frayed nerve ends. Had he done this? Had he — somehow — poisoned his people? The science dorks assured him that the upper surface of Lake Till remained safe. To drink, to consume, to bathe in. But the question still bubbled up, at the back of his mind. Time and time again.
When the genomic sequencing arrived, the answer solidified into a malformed tumour.
A mutation of the rabies virus.
For Mayor Norris, mutation and nuclear waste went hand in hand.
By some curse, some of the poison had seeped out. A wild animal — a rat, a bat, or a raccoon — riddled with the virus had subjected itself to an obscene dose of radiation. Something within it had snapped, twisted, and broken. Its DNA strands dissociated like railway tracks in an earthquake. They’d glued themselves back together further on down the road — out of line, out of sync.
But it hadn’t died.
It had gone on to infect another.
Then, one of the cancerous, diseased little creatures had attacked some poor old sap. Out walking his dog, or something as mundane. At first, the doctors scratched their heads and muttered to themselves. The mayor’s appointed dorks, speakers, and publicists covered the mess up. They muted the disconcerted whispers, tied up the loose ends. Or they tried to.
Now, less than two months later, here they were.
In all senses of the phrase.
Here they were, upon the precipice of the great apocalypse of the twenty-first century.
Here they were, at his office door.
HuLa, the science dorks called it. Well, didn’t that sound like a grand old time? Norris thought so, as the first pane of glass shattered beneath the weight of the horde. The last mayor of Tilgreen shrieked and waved his letter opener at the intruders.
Some smart aleck had called those under its spell hula-hoopers. Very funny. Very goddamned funny. Well, who laughed now? Nobody. Because they all now frothed at the mouth, hungry for blood. At some point, Hanley realised, your cannibalistic chickens will come home to roost. Always.
“Oh God, no!” Hanley screamed. “No!”
The horde tore through the broken glass and poured into the mayoral office.
This is part of my project (novella?) for April’s Camp NaNo. The plan is 30 short stories, 30 characters, 30,000 words. Give or take. All set in the same city. All focused on the same event.
This is actually #3 in the project. I also submitted part #1 to the monthly #BlogBattle, if you're curious: https://joshuainsole.com/short-stories/this-place-is-dead-1-daughter/