While sitting with a few other survivors in a dimly lit, dank cave, eating Brontosaurus meat, I’m forced to consider the experts and their predictions about how the world would end. The options were endless and boy, did we ever commit with every fiber of our being to those possibilities. What a waste of energy.
The prevailing theory among the academic elite focused entirely on climate change. Earth, on the brink of a man-made ecological collapse, in painful protest, would swirl up an angry horde of tornadoes, cover us in a blanket of tidal waves and boil the ocean. Wildfires would sweep through the west, while droughts decimated crops in the central plains, and the east would be left to eat table scraps. Hogwash.
Another theory that rose in popularity kept the machinations of the military industrial complex running smoothly. Without a well-equipped cadre of fighters, tanks, planes and boats, we were destined for nuclear war. Mutually assured destruction preserved the peace. Outdated warheads would give the enemy the encouragement they needed to press the big red button. Fall behind and deal with the fallout. Nonsense.
Of course, there were third, fourth and fifth theories, involving aliens, asteroids or pandemics. Never let a catastrophe, or even the notion of a catastrophe, go to waste. While theorists fought for the right to say, ‘I told you so’, nobody considered Aaron, the eight-year-old younger brother of my best friend Shane. Yet, crazy as it may sound, here I am, twelve years later, eating Brontosaurus meat and telling you how Aaron brought about Armageddon.
Both aliens and asteroids did come into play at some point, but it wasn’t through natural happenstance, so I’m not sure it counts. They were willed into existence among a great many other things, explaining the reappearance of dinosaurs, the uprising of killer clowns, tentacled creatures from the deep and unexplainable calamities that were fascinating and terrifying.
Our first exposure to Aaron’s abilities came unexpectedly. It wasn’t until much later that he realized he truly had the capacity to make metaphysical changes in the universe and use those powers to his advantage. It started with a simple game he called ‘What Would You Do?’, and it required the invention of increasingly ridiculous scenarios, to which we needed to devise crafty escapes.
What would you do if a herd of rhino showed up at your front door? What would you do if a swarm of killer bees attacked you? What would you do if that man, yes, the one in the red baseball cap and sunglasses, kidnapped you at gunpoint? After weeks of playing the game, we grew tired of it and bullied him into quitting. He had one left in the imagination tank as we sat in a car, parked in front of Santini’s Bakery.
The bakery’s large sign — a cupcake with the words ‘Life is Sweet’ written in glowing neon tubes, hung over the front of the building. Shane’s mother walked inside to pick up a cake for Aaron’s birthday. He leaned forward from the back seat and asked over Shane’s shoulder, “What would you do if that sign fell on top of the car?”
Shane turned around, at the ready with a snark reply, when the sign exploded in a shower of sparks and fell headlong into the hood, crushing the front of the vehicle, shattering the windshield and blowing out the front tires.
Mr. Santini ran out the door with their mom and apologized profusely, relieved that none of us were seriously hurt. He blamed the builder, promising his insurance would cover the cost. We never said a word.
Aaron dared not play the game again until a few weeks later when he couldn’t resist out of sheer boredom. We were fishing for perch in my dad's new boat, when Aaron blurted out, “What would you do if a sea creature attacked us?”
Shane and I looked at one another wide eyed, and before Aaron realized what he’d done, my father had the throttle pegged. At 45 mph, the boat’s top speed barely kept us out of reach, and I believe the demise of the distracted jet skier saved us. Dad didn’t know what to make of the situation and he had a long talk with Aaron after we explained, a mistake that tipped the scales in the wrong direction. When an adult confirms to a child that his wild fantasies are indeed realities, the worst possible outcome is guaranteed.
The singular rule, set by whatever entity had granted Aaron the powers, was that he could not directly terminate life of any variety. Once it existed, only another life form could bring it out of existence. If you’ve ever read the story There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, then you can understand where this is headed. Aaron’s predilection for violent video games, YA horror novels and the supernatural did not help. The fact that I’ve lived in this mess another twelve years at all is a miracle.
I can’t remember what happened to Shane and Aaron after we moved away. The madness swirled together like smoke rising up from the ashes of our former reality, blurring my memories. Those of us left are living as best we know how, fearful that the demi-god of our now defunct planet will show up at the entrance to the cave and have a little fun. We dare not ask the question aloud, but we’re forced to reckon with it every waking second of the day if that happens… what would you do?
Excellent story! It reminds me of one my favorite episodes of the original The Twilight Zone series -- the one with the boy who can send people to "the cornfield" at will, never to return.
I would gather a team together and we’d Assemble to save humanity!