Most of the kids called it Oldtimber, but it was just the old part of town that had lost appeal thirty years before. The only businesses that survived were a couple of bars and a drugstore. Abandoned buildings lined both sides of the street, boarded windows covered with graffiti and peeling wood. Nothing new had come to Oldtimber for half a century until the new Concert Hall had refurbished one of the old buildings in the hopes that it would bring business back to the historical district. It was strange that such a place could exist, surrounded by homes, with Main Street only three blocks away—like having a leper colony in the middle of town.
Auntie Chieko raced the car around the corner, tires jolting over the curb as she swung into the parking lot. She climbed out, opened the back door, and grabbed her violin case. I got out reluctantly and slammed the door behind me, three inch heels making my feet hurt already, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice for vanity. Auntie shoved a ticket into my hand. “Go, go,” she said, making sweeping motions with her hand. “Curtains go up in twenty minutes. I have to warm up. You go around the front and I’ll meet you here after.”
Aunti Chieko almost ran to the back entrance door, her heels click-clicking in a quick tap across the pavement. She grabbed the handle and pulled, but the door didn’t budge. I couldn’t believe it when I heard her swear. Auntie pounded on the door, then kicked it when nobody answered. Grumbling she walked quickly toward the front of the theater.
My mouth took over again at that point. “Maybe they grew a brain and decided Oldtimber isn’t the best place for a concert hall after all.”
Auntie stopped and turned as we reached the sidewalk. “Look, I know this isn’t what you want to be doing tonight, but I need the support, especially with Tony gone. You could at least pretend to appreciate what I’m trying to do.” She looked like she was about to cry.
I took a step back, hands up in defense. Why couldn’t I have a filter to my mouth like everyone else? “Whoa, whoa, I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just joking.”
“Of course I’m upset! You mock and taunt who I am and what I love and . . . and . . . you destroyed my dress!” Her arms flew out, her violin case swinging toward the sidewalk just as a gray haired man stepped in its path.
“Oof,” he said, the breath knocked from him. Auntie Chieko spun, her hand going to her mouth in shock, the violin swinging around with her. She pulled the case to her chest, embracing it like an injured child.
“Principal Robertson! I am so, so sorry. I didn’t see you,” she started, but he waved a hand, cutting her off.
“No harm done, Mrs. Shimizu. It’s not the first time I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.” Then he turned toward me, his eyes much colder. “Miss Kondō, I hope you’ll find the evening a refreshing change.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes. This coming from the guy who called me a degenerate? Who was he kidding? I didn’t bother to answer. Nothing I could say would make one bit of difference in his eyes. He’d already made his mind up about me and I wasn’t going to bother trying to change it.
My eyes settled on the sunset over Principal Robertson’s shoulder. The brilliant orange and pink sat on the mountain peaks, purples streaming up into blue. It was a gorgeous sunset and just the thing for calming my nerves when in the presence of Principal Robertson.
A black worm-like figure streaked through the orange sky. If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn it was a dragon, but dragons weren’t real. It couldn’t’ be, but as it veered from the sun and headed toward bald mountain it came into sharp view. Wings pounded against the sky, its long snake-like body curled forward for a moment, just like the images I’d seen on T-shirts around the state. “What the . . .” I muttered just as a large something fell from its grasp and hit the side of the mountain with a thunderous explosion. My eyes grew wide with horror as a huge mushroom cloud grew slowly upward and a wave of dust rolled in slow motion toward Newtimber.
The line heading into the theater stopped and turned at the sound. A skater flipped his board up with his foot, wheels still spinning as he caught it and came to a running halt to stare at the wave heading our way. “What’s everyone staring at?” Principal Robertson turned around a little late. The man had to be half deaf to not hear the bomb.
Bomb. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that we were facing fallout from some kind of explosion. My mind raced through the images I’d seen in science class and on TV of what happened when people had to deal with fallout and radiation poisoning. My heart leapt into my throat as I glanced around at the people just standing there like stupid deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming train. Nobody was moving. We were all going to die.
I didn’t even think then. A lifetime of dealing with an alcoholic and addict for parents had left me prepared to deal with whatever came my way. Not a lot surprised me anymore. “It’s a bomb!” I screamed, “Everybody get inside! Get below ground! Come on, come on!” I grabbed Auntie Chieko by the hand and raced down the street to the old waterworks. The red brick was crumbly and sealed, but I knew how to get in. I shoved past one of the boarded doors that hung on a loose nail, then pushed people in, one after the other. There weren’t many. Not nearly enough. The skinhead and his skateboard nearly dove through the opening, then a blond secretary type. The wave rolled over the far end of the street and the people . . . oh, man, the people changed. I know it sounds crazy, really I do, but as the green wave hit a tall old man, suddenly a tree sprouted roots right in the middle of Main Street. His face opened into a scream as his feet rooted first, then his body leaned forward and his arms reached out, the bark racing across his skin like a wave of superfreak ants. His face changed last of all, his mouth still open in the scream as the bark rippled and tore his skin, his eyes and nose fading into knotted wood with a gaping hole left for his open mouth.
Shocked, my eyes turned away from the tree-man toward a lady with her three children. They ran screaming down the street, she herding them in front of her like a hen and her chicks. All of a sudden it was like they tripped and spun, their bodies exploding into strings that sprouted leaves, and when they rolled to a stop, the family was a line of gnarled sage.
My heart pounded so hard in my chest I couldn’t swallow, could hardly breathe. I glanced back toward the mountain. The wave rolled ever closer and all I could do was stand there pushing people through the half-boarded doorway as fast as they would go, getting as many as possible to some kind of shelter. I waited as long as I could, but there wasn’t enough time to get everybody in. When the slow cloud was half a block away, I dropped the board back into place, a group of people surging toward me at the last moment but still too far away. The wave licked at their heels as I tied off the rope to lock the door and raced down the stairs as fast as my three inch heels would carry me.