Dangerous Ground

Tommy didn’t like to hear his parents fight. It scared him a little, but it mostly confused him. He had been taught that fighting was bad, what with all the wars and everything going on. They didn’t let him watch much TV anymore; too much about the war. He could hear them now, arguing in the kitchen. He crept to the hallway to listen.

“But the government said the fighting was under control. When we drove them back to the Canadian border things were supposed to settle down!” This was his Mom. Her name was Maggie and she believed everything the TV told her.

Tommy didn’t think that was smart, but she was his mother, after all. His Dad, John, was a different story all together.

“Damn it Maggie, how can you be so blind! The Soviets stopped coming because they know they can roll over us anytime they want. They’re getting ready for the big push. The government wants to keep everybody calm. That means keeping them in the dark about the truth.”

Tommy was only eight, but what his Dad said seemed to make sense. He remembered something he saw on TV a few days ago. He managed to catch a few minutes of a news show while his Mom was doing the laundry. He saw pictures and videos of lots of tanks, planes and soldiers. The guy talking said that our troops had managed to hold back the Soviet Canadians. But he didn’t sound like he believed it. He sounded scared. Tommy thought back to the air raid drills at his school. They were happening at least once a week now, and came at anytime. He hated it when the alarm bells went off during lunch or recess; he liked his free time. They would ring and everybody would grab their coats and go to the basement. The teachers would make everybody sit against the wall, pull up their knees and cover themselves with their coat. They said it would protect you from broken glass and fallout. Tommy knew that wasn’t true. All the comics he read told him what would happen if an atomic bomb fell. Lots of heat and blasting and fire. The school wouldn’t stand up to that. And if anybody lived after the blast, the radiation would kill them. They always showed movies in History class about the bombs they dropped onJapan. People with melted skins, burned out eyes and mutations that belonged in comics. Tommy hoped the bombs wouldn’t fall. He didn’t want to die. His Mom was crying, now.

“How can you say that? The government promised us everything would be fine. The peace talks inPeipinghave been going on for months. Everybody say we’re only weeks away from a treaty with the Soviets.America’s such a strong country. How can we lose?”

“When Joe Kennedy got elected, he kept us out of the War in Europe. The Russians and the British were on their own and almost lost. In the end, they beat the Nazi’s.”

Tommy remembered learning about that. The Nazi’s tried to beat up the British and Russians at the same time. They lost, big time! Then the Russians, British and all of Europe became one big country, the USSR. They called themselves Soviets for short. His father went on.

“We beat the Japs in the Pacific and stayed out of everybody’s way. But the Soviets don’t trust us. We both have the bomb and our ideologies are in such opposition that war was inevitable.”

Tommy didn’t know all of the words his dad used, but he knew opposition meant opposite. And he knew the Soviets believed nobody should own anything. That was really opposite of the American Way that school always taught; that Americans Should Keep the Fruits of  Their Labor. It always made him think of a big basket of apples. That made him hungry. Now Mom stopped crying, but she still sounded scared.

“Do you think they’ll use the bomb to stop the Soviets?”

“God, I hope not! Once they start throwing atom bombs around, we’re all dead!”

Tommy heard his Mom start crying again.

“Listen, honey, I have to get to work. We’ll talk more tonight.”

“All right.” she sniffled, “What time will you be home?”

“Probably after eleven; we have to test the big generator this afternoon.”

“Isn’t that dangerous? You once told me it would destroy the university if blew up.”

Tommy’s Mom sounded worried even more.

“We’ve gotten around those issues. It’s perfectly safe. Just remember not to speak to anybody about it. You never know who is spying for the Soviets.”  Tommy’s Dad kissed his Mom and then went to find Tommy.

Tommy dashed back into the living room and pretended to be reading a comic book when his dad came in.

“Tommy, I’ve got to go to work. Come give your old dad a hug!”

Tommy stood up and hugged his dad tightly, very tightly.

“Hmmm… you’ve been eavesdropping on me and mom again, haven’t you?”

Tommy said. “Yeah. It’s getting real scary. What are we going to do?”

“Just stay calm. Everything will work out in the end. Will you trust me on this?”

Tommy thought for a second, and then said “Ok, Dad. I’ll trust you. I promise.”

“That’s my boy! Now give me a good night hug, since I’ll be home after you’re asleep.”

Tommy gave his father an even tighter hug than before. He tussled his hair and left for work. He was an engineer working on power stuff. Tommy had been to the university lab a few times and had really liked all the big machines and noise and sparks. He didn’t really understand what it all meant, but it was fun.

The rest of the day, Tommy played with his toys and read comics. It had started raining, and he didn’t feel like getting all dressed up in his rain stuff to go out and play. At some point, he pulled out his toy soldiers and tanks. Thinking back to what he heard earlier, he decided he didn’t want to play war anymore so he put them away.

A big banging noise woke Tommy up. He got out of bed and looked out his door. His Dad and a friend were wrestling a big box up the stairs. Tommy’s Mom was yelling something at them, but Tommy couldn’t understand what she was saying. Tommy looked at the clock and saw it was after midnight. He watched quietly as the two men got the box up the staircase and into Dad’s office. It must have been really heavy; both men were huffing and puffing. Tommy’s Dad carefully locked his office door. He’d never done that before. Then both men went downstairs. Mom stopped yelling when Tommy’s Dad told her to be quiet or she’d wake Tommy. Kind of late for that, Tommy thought, as he crept to the top of the staircase to listen. Tommy’s Mom was upset that was for sure!

“How can you bring that thing into our house? It’s too dangerous! I want it out now!”

Tommy’s Dad tried to calm her down. “Maggie, we need to store these spare cubes offsite. Something’s going on at the lab and this is the only way to keep them safe. The High Command has been sniffing around. We’re all afraid they’ll shut us down or worse, take over the project.”

“But what about Tommy? Won’t he be in danger?”

Tommy heard Dad’s friend, a man named Bill, speak next.

“No, Maggie, the cube is totally inert. The only way anything can happen is if a power coupler is attached, and they’re at my house.”

Mom asked “But won’t they know you’ve taken these things?”

“No.” said Dad, “That’s why we waited until late tonight. The staff leaves early on Saturday. We managed to convince everybody that some of the cubes were defective and we were getting rid of them.”

Mom said “I still don’t like it. What kinds of trouble will we be in if the university or the High Command find out about this?”

Dad said, “The worst kind. We’ll be arrested as traitors and locked up or shot.”

That scared Tommy. It scared his Mom too!

“Damn you, John! Get this thing out of my house right now, or I’ll call the police.”

“It’s too late for that, Maggie. No matter what you say to the authorities, our whole family, along with Bill’s and several others, will be sent to the internment camps at the very least. And you know how they treat those people.”

“But we’re not traitors or spies! We’re American citizens!”

“The government is running scared. They don’t care about civil rights or personal freedoms. The Constitution will be suspended next week, and martial law is being declared.”

“What? How do you know about this? You’re just an engineer working at the University! Tell me what’s going on, John. I need to know!”

I heard Dad hesitate and clear his throat.

“Bill thanks for helping me. Maybe you’d better get home to your family.”

Tommy didn’t hear the other man say anything; he just heard the front door open and close. His Dad started speaking again.

“Maggie, I never told you about what I’m really doing. You have to know I didn’t want it that way, but the High Command didn’t give me any choice.”

“What are you talking about? How are you involved with the High Command?”

“Our experiments aren’t just about generating power; they’re about sending matter across great distances.”

“You mean like on television? Beaming stuff around planets and space ships?”

“Something like that. The government has been funding us for the past couple of years, knowing war was coming. They want a way to send troops to anywhere instantly. The main generator we’ve been working on supplies power to these cubes; the cubes do the actual transporting. We’ve managed to make it work, but not quite the way we thought it would.”

“What do you mean not quite the way you thought? If it works, that’s a good thing, right? We can beat the Soviets with this and have peace finally.”

“Maybe, but sometimes when we send things, they don’t arrive where we expect them to. Some of the cubes send things much further away than we ever imagined.”

“Where do they go?”

“We’re not sure, exactly, but we were able to get a video camera sent and retrieved. We found… Well, let’s just say that there may be a way out of the coming war.”

“What do you mean a way out? Go to another country?”

“No, not another country; but I can’t tell you any more. Look, we’ll talk more in the morning. I’m tired and I need to sleep.”

Tommy rushed back into his bedroom and closed the door. He had a lot to think about, that was for sure!

A week later, Tommy’s Dad turned on the TV and called him and his Mom into the living room.

“Come on in the news is starting. I want us all to hear this.”

Tommy and his Mom settled down on the couch, while Tommy’s Dad stayed standing. The announcer came on and said that the President of the United Stateswas going to speak. After a few seconds, Tommy saw the President sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. The President said exactly what his Dad had said last week. The Constitution was suspended and martial law was declared. Tommy was learning about the Constitution in school. The Soviets didn’t have one, so it must be really important to the US. The president also said that more internment camps were being opened and that any traitors would feel the full weight of the American Justice System on their backs. Tommy didn’t understand everything the President said, but it made him feel funny, like he’d lost something he didn’t know he’d had.

Tommy’s Dad turned to them and said “See? And it’s only going to get worse. These border skirmishes we’ve been having are just tests. We’ve been talking at work. We think full-scale war is only a few months away.”

Tommy’s Mom said “But what about your project? Won’t that help?”

Tommy’s Dad said “Not in front of Tommy. We’ll talk about it later.”

Tommy didn’t feel like listening in this time. He was starting to get worried. He left his parents alone that night.

A few weeks later, Tommy’s Dad and his friend Bill brought another package home. It was late at night again, and the groaning of the men woke Tommy. He cracked open his bedroom door just enough to see the two men wrestle a flat package up the stairs and again into his Dad’s office. It seemed even heavier than the big box they brought last time. They stayed in the office for a long time, and Tommy went back to sleep before they finished.

The next morning, Tommy came down to breakfast to find his Mom and Dad not speaking to each other. That didn’t happen often. His Mom served him his breakfast and told him to clean up after himself. His Dad just ate and went to work. Tommy went to school and learned more about the bad things happening in the world. He didn’t like it at all. When he got home, he found his mother in the kitchen crying at the table. He asked “Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

She turned to him and said “There’s been an accident at the University. Your father is…” and burst into tears again.

Tommy sat right down on a chair near his Mom. “Is he ok, Mom?” he asked.

Between sobs she said “No, he’s missing. They think he’s, he’s… dead. But I don’t believe it. They can’t find his body. The lab was a shambles; his friend Bill was hurt. But they just can’t find your father.” She broke down completely.

All Tommy could do was sit there numbly. Then he had a thought. He asked his Mom “Maybe he went away with that thing they built. Maybe he was testing it.”

“How did you know about that? Were you sneaking around and listening to us again?”

Tommy said sheepishly, “Yeah. There so much going on and you guys never tell me anything. So, maybe this thing of his worked and he went somewhere?”

“I have no idea, Tommy, and I’m not sure how to find out.”

Tommy thought again. “Why don’t we go look in Dad’s office? Maybe that cube will tell us something.”

Tommy’s Mom looked at him real funny and asked “Is there anything you don’t know about your Dad and Me?” She seemed to shake off her tears. “Ok, let’s go look. But I want you to know I’m really scared doing this.”

Tommy told her “That’s ok, Mom. I’m scared too. But let’s look anyway.”

Tommy’s Mom got up from the table, got a tissue to dry her eyes and got the spare key for the upstairs office. They went up the stair case quietly, like they might disturb something. When they got to the office door, they thought they heard a humming sound, very soft and low. Tommy’s Mom put her ear to the door and said “I hear something. I’m not sure we should go in there!”

Tommy said “Mom, if it’s working, it could tell us about Dad. Let’s go in.”

“Ok.”, his Mom said. She put the key in and turned it to open the lock. She pushed the door open; inside the office was dimly lit by a little light filtering through the blinds and curtains.

The big cube was sitting in the middle of the floor, with little sparks flying around inside it. The cube was making the humming noise; it got louder when more sparks appeared in the cube. It was pretty, but also scary, Tommy thought. He walked over to it and put his hand on it; it felt warm and was vibrating.

“Tommy!” his Mom cried out, “Don’t touch it! Get away from it!”

Tommy turned to her and said “Its ok, Mom. It feels safe.”

“Safe?” She asked, “What do you mean safe?”

Tommy told her “I don’t know. It just does.” Tommy started thinking about his Dad, how much he missed him. The cube started to vibrate more and the humming got louder. Beams of different colored light started to come out of the cube; they spun around the room. Tommy started to hear someone whisper to him. It almost sounded like his Dad.

Tommy’s Mom screamed and grabbed his arm, dragging him out of the room. She slammed the door shut and locked it. She turned to Tommy and said “I don’t know what’s going on, but you are never to try to go into that room ever again. DO you understand me? When Bill gets out of the hospital, I’m going to have him get rid of that thing.” Tommy’s Mom turned away and went back downstairs.

Tommy turned back to the door and pressed his cheek against it. “I miss you, Dad.” He said.

The next couple of months passed in a blur for Tommy. Dad’s friend Bill came to the house a few times, but every time he came over Mom would fight with him. He seemed to keep telling her that Dad wanted her to do something, but she wouldn’t listen. She kept yelling that Dad was dead and Bill was crazy. He stopped coming over after a while.

The news was worse everyday. The peace talks kept breaking down and there were little battles all over the world. At school, Tommy was told the Soviets were trying to conquer the world. Tommy was frightened most of the time, along with everybody else. The bomb drills were now once a day, and nobody was learning much in school other than about the war. His Mom was crying most of the time, too.

One bright spot for Tommy was that his birthday was in a couple of weeks. He was looking forward to the party. Lots of his friends from school were coming. And becoming nine years old was something, wasn’t it? He hoped the war would hold off until then.

On the morning of his birthday, Saturday, Tommy woke up early and got dressed. When he went down for breakfast, he found his Mom was baking his birthday cake. He loved it when his Mom baked. The house smelled so good, and everything she made was great! Tommy noticed that the TV and radio were both off. He asked his Mom why, and she told him it was nicer without all of the war talk and other terrible news. Tommy couldn’t agree more. He ate his breakfast and set about his chores, anxious for his party. Everybody was coming over at one o’clock and he couldn’t wait!

One o’clock came and went; only one person showed up. Tommy’s Mom got a few phone calls from his friends’ parents saying that with the war seeming to come any day now, nobody wanted their kids to leave home. The only person who came was Suzy Mulligan from next door. She wasn’t in Tommy’s class; she was a year ahead of him. But she was a nice person, and at least she came to Tommy’s party and brought a present. Tommy’s Mom and Suzy sang Happy Birthday and made him blow out the candles. The cake was good, and Tommy’s Mom had gotten him a few more gifts than he normally got. She was really trying to be nice.

After Suzy went home, Tommy helped his Mom clean up and make dinner. They ate quietly and quickly. Mom chased Tommy out of the kitchen, saying he should go play with his new stuff while she cleaned up the kitchen. As he went to his room, Tommy heard his mother turn the radio on and start sobbing quietly.

Up in his room, Tommy looked at all of his toys, both old and new. Nothing interested him. He had made it to nine years of age, but he wasn’t sure if he’d make it to ten. He went to his desk drawer and pulled out a picture of his Dad, taken about three years before. He was all smiles and happy-looking. Tommy missed him terribly. He stared at the picture for several minutes. He started getting a creepy feeling his Dad was looking back at him. He put the picture back in the drawer and got ready for bed.

There was a tremendous noise and flash of light that woke Tommy up. It wasn’t very late, only around ten o’clock. He looked out the windows and saw more lights in the sky coming from the direction where his Dad had worked, a few miles away. The lights looked a lot like what the cube had showed Tommy and his Mom. Tommy felt the house shake. He also heard someone banging on the front door. He was going to go and see who it was, but he saw someone in the backyard. He couldn’t get a good look at him, but he did see the man gesture for Tommy to come down. Tommy got his slippers on and went down to the back door. On his way, he heard his Mom arguing with Bill again. He stopped to listen. Bill was telling his Mom that the war would be starting very soon, and she needed to get herself and Tommy out of there.

“No!” she yelled. “Not that crazy scheme of his! He wouldn’t tell me where we would go, just someplace different. I won’t leave my home and everything I own. The Government promised we’d be safe and I believe them!”

“Forget the Government, Maggie. They’ve already retreated to the bomb shelters in Colorado. They know what’s coming. The Soviets will be crossing the border any hour now, and our only response will be atomic. The ones who die will be the lucky ones. If you won’t come, please let me take Tommy over. His father will take care of him.”

Tommy’s Mom shrieked. “My husband is dead, damn you! Let him rest in peace. And you are not taking my son anywhere. Get out of my house now, I never want to see you again!” She grabbed Bill by his arm and shoved him out the door, slamming it shut after him. She collapsed to the floor, crying. “Oh John, what’s happening? Why aren’t you here to help us?”

Tommy crept past and made it to the back door with out being seen. He opened the door and a strange man was standing there, smiling at him.

“Hello, Tommy. You don’t know me but I’m a friend of your fathers. He asked me to give you this.”

Tommy looked down at the man’s hand and found a key that looked like it would open his Dad’s office door.

The man smiled again at Tommy and said “You’ll know when to use it, don’t worry.”

Tommy took the key and the man turned and walked away into the darkness. He went back up to bed without his Mom seeing him. He put the key under his pillow and tried to go back so sleep, but he was too excited, so he lay there for quite a while.

He finally got up, took the key from under his pillow, put it in his pajama pocket and went to his usual spot at the top of the stair case to listen to the TV. He heard it say that fighting had broken out with the Soviet Canadians coming across the border. Tommy got really scared and went down to his Mom. She was sitting on the couch watching TV. He sat quietly next to her, like he had so many times before. But this felt different; like it could be the last time. Tommy felt his Mom take his hand and clasp it tightly. He asked her “Mom, will we be ok? I mean with the war and all?”

Tommy’s Mom told him not to worry, everything would be fine. She turned off the TV and sent him back to bed. He watched her go back into the kitchen.

Tommy saw the lights in the sky get brighter and move faster as he went past the front window and up the stairs. He took the key out of his pocket and looked at it as he climbed. When he got to the top, he saw the lights coming out of his Dad’s office. There was that humming again, but it was much louder now. He walked to the door, put the key in the lock and turned it. Tommy pushed the door in and saw the cube glowing a bright white. There was a cone of colored lights coming out of the top of the cube. In the cone was a very fuzzy image, like bad reception on a TV. Tommy walked over to the cube and looked closely at the image. It got clearer with each passing second. Tommy started to recognize who it was. It was his Dad! He could see his Dad’s head and shoulders. The image smiled at him. Then it spoke.

“Hello, Tommy. I hope this message reaches you. I’m sorry I’ve been away, but I’ve been finding a better place for us. I need you to do something for me, can you?”

Tommy said “Sure Dad, anything. I’ve missed you so much! Are you ok?”

“I’m fine, Tommy. I’m here with lots of my friends from work. We’re waiting for you and Mom to come over to us. Now, I need you to look at the bottom of the cube. There a little knob there on the case the cube is sitting in. Can you turn it all the way to the right?”

“Sure Dad, anything else?” Tommy replied.

“Once you do that, go and get your Mom and bring her in here. That way you’ll both come over.”

Tommy asked “Where will we be? Will we be safe?”

“Very safe, Tommy, very safe indeed. Now, turn the knob and go get your Mom”

Tommy turned the knob as far as it could go. He jumped back because the light from the cube got even brighter. His Dad’s image became really sharp.

“Ok, Tommy, now go get your Mom. We only have a few minutes to do this.”

Tommy turned to the door only to find his Mom already there. She was screaming his name out telling him to get away from the cube. Tommy’s father spoke to her.

“Maggie, this is our only chance to get you out! The High Command is using our device to transport troops and bombs to enemy cities. When the Soviets retaliate, nothing will be left!”

Tommy’s Mom was screaming. “No, you’re dead, this can’t be happening! Tommy, please come away! Tommy!”

Tommy told his Mom as he walked behind the cube “I’m going with Dad. He said we’ll be safe. Please come, Mom, I don’t want to lose you, now that I just found Dad! We can be a family again!”

Tommy’s Mom just kept screaming his name out. “Tommy! Tommy! Tommy!

The light from the cube suddenly became blinding. It was as if Tommy was in a white room with the Sun in the center. His father was standing in front of him, whole.

“Take my hand, Tommy.” He said. “We have a bit of a walk ahead of us.”

Tommy took his hand and they walked away from the central light. It got dimmer and dimmer until Tommy was able to make out where they were. They were walking down a country road toward a group of people. He recognized some of them from his Dad’s work and their families. They all came to him and hugged him, welcoming him. All of sudden, the light behind Tommy went out.

He turned to his Dad and asked “What happened?”

His Dad shook his head sadly. “That means the Soviets dropped an atomic bomb on the University and destroyed the equipment.”

Tommy felt his heart grow cold. But what about Mom? Where is she? Is she ok?”

Tommy’s Dad started crying a little. “I’m afraid Mom was too scared to come. She’s gone along with our whole world.”

Tommy joined his Dad in crying. “What about us? Are we safe? Is this a good place?”

Tommy’s Dad said around his tears “It’s a very good place. There are plenty of problems here, but not like we had back home. At least here we have a chance. Now, let’s go meet the new world together, shall we?”

Tommy wiped his nose on his sleeve and said “Ok, Dad, let’s go.”

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