Three days after the world went silent, Tommy Farber decided it might be safe to come out of the cellar. He didn’t want to see what was up there, not after everything he’d heard. But in a way, the complete quiet was worse.
He thought it was still March, but he wasn’t sure. There were no windows in the cellar. The only light available was from flashlights and lanterns taken from his dad’s many shelves of camping gear. Judging by how he’d slept, he thought he’d been down here for eight days total, but it could have been ten. There had been no heat, so he’d buried himself in piles of blankets and sleeping bags, coming out only to find more Pop Tarts, canned fruit, and bottled water. After a while, Tommy always kept a couple bottles of water in his blankets to keep them from freezing. He’d grown used to the smell of the bucket in the far corner in which he peed and pooped. It wasn’t bad because it was all frozen, too.
Wriggling out of his Coleman cocoon for the last time, Tommy couldn’t help thinking of the tale of Rabbi Onias and his waking from a hundred-year sleep. It was one of the many tales he’d learned in his online Judaic studies. Rabbi Onias had been riding for days through the burned-out countryside, and he was on the edge of passing out from hunger when he finally topped a hill and beheld what remained of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple. In his exhaustion and grief, the rabbi lay down and slept for one hundred years, finally awaking as an ancient man to find that Jerusalem had been rebuilt into splendor while he slept.
That’s what Tommy wanted: a miracle. He had turned 13 while down in the cellar, making him a Bar Mitzvah, a man. He didn’t feel any different, but he knew he should. He wanted to walk out of the cellar as a man and behold some miracle. The horrors he’d listened to for days could stay down here and vanish along with his childhood.
Slowly, he crept up the stairs and used a crowbar to pry away the boards his father had instructed him to nail into place between the cellar door and the wall. Tommy was only supposed to come out when his father called for him. The look in his father’s eyes was still fresh in Tommy’s memory. He had seen them squinted with laughter countless times. He’d occasionally seen them hard with discipline. But Tommy had never seen those eyes wide and white with fear…until then. That was why Tommy had stayed in the cellar so long. The longer he stayed, the longer he could hide from whatever had made Bud Jenkins blast a .25-06 Remington round right through harmless Old Mrs. Cartwright’s head. Tommy was in no hurry to find out what had put that crazy, frantic look on his father’s face and made him tell his only child to seal himself into a cellar using a hammer and a dozen sixteen-penny nails.