Big Tom has his tool box open along the fence he is repairing. His jeep stands several feet away on solid ground, as cattle tend to walk along fences, creating deep ruts well hidden by the tall grass. Like many ranchers, Big Tom tended to take better care of his equipment than himself. The cattle begin milling about and mooing, groups starting to bolt in this direction or that, then changing their minds and bolting in the other direction. Some groups are even running into each other, like a misdirected stampeded. They are alarmed yet confused, getting some signal that Big Tom can't sense. The earth emits a low moan, barely perceptible at first. However, this low moan keeps up, rising and falling, as though the earth were in agony. Big Tom has turned pale, drops his tools, leaving them where they lay on the ground, stumbles back toward his jeep and drives off crazily, not even shutting the door until well on his way up the dirt road.
Big Tom careens up to the ranch house, screeching his brakes and walking quickly to the house. He barges in the kitchen door and heads for the phone. Martha says,
Won't do no good. I can't get through. Nobody can get through.
Martha is calm, her daughter Tammy leaning into her where she sits in a kitchen chair, having a beer. Martha and Big Tom exchange a long look, no words spoken. Finally, Big Tom breaks the silence, glancing at the beer.
That looks good, think I'll have one.
Red comes into the kitchen and announces he's stocked the storm cellar. He has Billy in tow, his helper, who goes to wash his hands as he has been brushing his
hands together, but glancing at them sees they are dirty. Billy casts a glance at his mother Martha and heads toward the sink, not realizing that something more
serious than getting a reminder is pending.
A loud knock on the front door stops Big Tom from easing into a relaxed posture in the familiar wooden chair he has just dropped into, beer in hand, and he recoils to go answer it, his curious Billy at his heels. Danny is at the door, dust streaked in the sweat running off his face, the others in the foursome (Daisy, Jane, Frank) standing alongside the car in the drive. Danny says,
Do you have any gas to sell, the stations don't seem to be open.
Big Tom, surveying the visitors and sensing they pose no threat, allows himself to be relieved to be getting some news.
Not surprised . . Jed probably took his hounds into the hills already, he's been talking about the end of the world, and probably figures it's come.
Danny doesn't answer for a few minutes, the sounds of insects singing in the sun loud in the silence between the two men. Then he says,
Well, has it?
Big Tom motions to the foursome now all on the porch.
Might as well come in for a spell, the day's getting hot already and it doesn't look like its going to end.
At the mention of time, Danny glances at his watch and gasps.
My God, it's almost midnight!
What seems like days have passed, and the long dawn that doesn't end and the accumulating heat are wearing at the group. Grim and focused on the drama being played out on the world's stage, which they all sense will end at some point soon, the adults are being civil, not wanting to add to their problems. The men are simply quiet, looking out the window as though expecting something to happen. The women peel potatoes and help Martha with her mending, making small talk to keep the youngsters from realizing the seriousness of the situation. Jane says,
Let me see if I can find a matching button. Want to help me, Tammy? I'm looking for a small brown one like this.
Everyone is in shorts, a film of sweat evident, but no one complains about the heat or worry except Daisy who is almost whining, a continuous expression of exasperation on her face. Daisy is going through the motions of being an adult, but makes little noises of frustration when drawers don't open smoothly or something isn't where she expects to find it in the cabinets. Finally she looks pointedly at Danny but he just looks grim and shakes his head. Danny says,
Don't start again! We're not going to drive off and escape this. This is everywhere, Daisy, everywhere, and we've just got to wait until this breaks or we get news. Not going to be better anyplace else.
This has been a long running argument between them, one discussed whenever they retired to one of the bedrooms for a nap together. Daisy is trying to initiate the discussion again, publicly, hoping to win support, and Danny has about had it with her. One of the children in the group is likewise having problems understanding the situation. Tammy leans against her mother, Martha, who is sitting in her place at the kitchen table.
When can my dolls go to the swimming hole for a picnic?
Tammy is obviously asking when she can go again. Martha wraps her free arm around her and gives her a little hug, understanding that the child wants to cool off, and get out of the tension in the kitchen.
Soon honey, soon.
The pumps have stopped, are stopping repeatedly due to the erratic power supply coming off the grid lines, the switches tripping as soon as the reset button is pushed. Big Tom is squatting at the pump by the well, tools on the ground next to him, tinkering with the pump. The pump is starting and then cutting out immediately every time he starts it. He scoops up his tools and rises, muttering softly.
Big Tom is walking back from the spring house with a bucket of water in his hands. Big Tom stops in his tracks, feeling a slight but continuous tremble in the ground. His wife Martha comes running out of the house and into his arms, the buckets now dropped to the ground, sloshing and spilling over. The kids are running up behind her.
Panic is in the air. Danny and Red come around the corner of the house, from the garden, onions and tomatoes for the gumbo Martha was preparing in their hands. Red's pale face accentuates the red tinge in his graying hair.
The moon is on the move!
Suddenly everyone standing is thrown several feet. Big Tom is thrown backwards, skidding on his rear, Martha on top of him. Tammy sits up, holding her scrapped and bleeding elbow, rocking back and forth in pain and crying hard. Billy staggers to his feet, standing pale and shaken, his arms out to either side and slightly crouching. Big Tom, rolling up to a sitting position and easing his wife to the side, frowns. He says,
What the Hell! . .
The barn, laid on a concrete slab, has been lurched off its foundations and moved halfway into the sloping barnyard. The house has crinkled in the middle, the walls folding in on a broken support, but is still glued to its foundation. Daisy emerges from the house, screaming, accompanied by Jane who is holding both hands to her bleeding head. A massive split in the earth begins ripping across the field behind the barn, opening and closing again, yawing open several feet and then quickly closing again. The sky darkens as a hailstorm of what appears to be gravel starts peppering the landscape. The group reacting to their injuries and shock in the yard put their hands over their heads and dash back and forth, needing shelter but leery of going into the broken house. Lighting crackles overhead repeatedly, though there is no rain, and in the distance there is a whooshing sound, as a falling blanket of fire drops on some trees along a stream, setting them afire. The group, led by Red, dashes into the storm cellar. Red says,
Knew this would come in handy.
Daisy is hysterical and keeps screaming at Danny. Everyone is ignoring her.
Make it stop . . Make it stop.
Martha is wrapping her apron around Jane's head, instructing her in a calm voice to press her head to stop the scalp wound from bleeding.
There, right there.
Jane's face is covered with blood. Despite all, Frank is matter-of-fact.
I think my arm is broken.
Frank's arm is seen dangling at an odd angle, the trauma of the moment so great that he didn't notice this until they were safe in the storm cellar. The winds outside are howling louder, and the bolted metal door of the cellar is rattling with the force now and then. The only light in the cellar is a battery operated lantern. Big Tom is setting Frank's dislocated arm, Danny holding Frank from the back, his arm coming around the front and holding Frank's good arm in a grip tight enough to keep him from striking out in pain. Big Tom calls out.
Big Tom pulls as Frank cries out and lurches back, kicking his feet. Red is standing at the ready, a splint made from a chair leg in his hands, with Billy at his elbow, trying to help. Behind them is a drama just as compelling, going unnoticed. Tammy is squeezed back into the corner of the room, hugging one of her dolls, her face a frozen mask and voice silenced.
An hour later the winds have stopped howling. Red throws the bolts holding the storm door tightly shut, and pushes on the door slightly, opening it a crack. Big Tom, hesitant and cautious, sticks his head out, glancing around. All is calm, only the broken landscape attesting to what had occurred only an hour before. Big Tom is closely followed by his Billy, with Red and Martha bobbing up and down behind them, trying to see. Martha blinks and struggles to hold back her tears, seeing the life they built so painstakingly devastated. Every building tossed a kilter, branches torn off any trees left standing, and the windmill a twisted tangle in the corner of the barnyard. Big Tom says,
At least we're still alive.
And then, showing his practical nature.
I'll go see if I can get the pump to work . . we need to store and hold any clean water in the tank before it drains away.
Big Tom walks through the splintered wreckage that was the house and barn. Red remains behind, his hand on Billy's shoulder, as they both stand silent and still. Martha has her hand to her mouth, the family frozen at the sight.
Where cataclysmic forces tear civilized trappings asunder, nature often remains unruffled. Except for an occasional tree limb tossed into the tall weeds, the pasture lands look much the same. A horse and rider emerge from the cow path that wends through the woods, riding hard. Netty, her hair coming apart and looking like it hasn't been combed in days, is on the run. Her cream colored jodhpurs are black in places, soiled beyond hope, attesting to the fact that Netty has been living in them for days. Her face is oily and dusty, and the horse is covered with dust where the sweat is now rolling off its flanks. They are on the run. She slows the horse when she gets to the next clump of trees, turning to look over her shoulder. Netty sees what she fears, coming behind her, and speaks quietly to her horse, setting off again.
The group at the farmhouse has constructed a makeshift tent set up over a rope strung between trees, weighed down by rocks along the edges of blankets hung
over the rope. Bedding of all kinds has been stuffed inside the tent, with some laundry hung on another rope strung nearby. Life goes on. A fire is smoldering
between some stones and a pot is hung on a hook overhead, some metal from the wrecked barn used to rig a metal beam over the fire. A menage of wooden
chairs salvaged from the house is set near a table with three legs, the fourth corner stabilized on a barrel.
In the distance Netty comes into view, ridding hard. At first only a few puffs of dust are visible, but then the figure of a horse and rider. Netty is raised high in the stirrups, English style, leaning forward over the big bay's shoulders, helping the weary horse carry its burden as easily as possible. Martha rises from where she is washing and peeling potatoes and carrots for soup, watching Netty race toward the tent city. Netty dismounts before the horse stops, swinging her legs alongside the horse and under its nose, signaling the horse to stop short. The bay braces its front legs, it's rear haunches splaying outward in a frantic bracing motion. She says,
They're coming . .
Martha, stuttering, her hand to her throat.
Wwwwho, wwho's coming?
Big Tom is rushing up, a rifle in his hands, setting the rifle to the firing position. He has a grim look in his eyes, his jaw set, as he has been braced for intruders and needs no explanation from Netty. She sees an ally in his face, their eyes meeting, and she quickly explains.
I'm Netty Finley, Buck Finley's granddaughter. I was at the Clearwater Resort when it happened.
Among friends at last, Netty allows her face to shows the strain of the past few days. Big Tom glances at the horizon, scanning, impatient for her explanation. Netty is shaken.
They killed them all .. all .. even the baby. .
Netty is having a hard time talking, overcome, but fighting the urge to collapse into weeping, clearly due and coming. Glancing up into Big Tom's eyes, Netty pointedly explains.
I think they're following me.
Big Tom, meeting her eyes, nods at her briefly, his jaw set, a silent understanding between them.
An open top jeep is following puffs of dust in the distance and soil recently pounded with horse hooves, tracks evident, following Netty. Engine revving and the voices of young males, the Groggin brothers, whooping it up as though on the hunt for a prey that can't get away.
Big Tom is leaning against a large tree trunk, his rifle resting on a lower branch. The sound of a jeep is heard in the distance. The open topped jeep is seen bouncing along a dirt road through the field, approaching. Big Tom lowers the rifle, moving his eye close to the sight, bracing himself against the tree trunk. A shot rings out as Big Tom jerks from the recoil.
Red has herded the group into a cistern room, where spring water is drawn and foods stuffs are placed for cool storage - an old fashioned cooler. Red is at the
door, peering out through a crack, his finger to his mouth reminding them all to hush. Red has his rifle resting along his leg, not cocked but there just in case. He is
standing in for Big Tom, second in command.
Martha has her two youngsters close to her, one under each arm and leaning into her. Everyone is silent, scarcely breathing. Danny has his hand over his hysterical girl friend's mouth, her wide eyes looking up steadily and unblinkingly into his. He has taped her wrists and ankles and secured her to a chair, taking no chances. Netty stands behind Red, peering over his shoulder. Frank and Jane are in each other's arms, Frank running the fingers of his good hand lightly up and down Jane's arm as she rests her head against his good shoulder.
Big Tom is in the distance, walking down off the hillock, his purposeful stride showing no tension or hurry. He takes his hat off and waves it in the direction of the cistern room, signaling the OK. The door opens and Red emerges as Big Tom comes within voice shot.
They won't trouble anyone anymore.
Behind what used to be the barn, the ladies are bathing, and a sheet has been hung between the trough and the tent city, for privacy. Martha, dressed in a bathrobe, is toweling off Tammy's head, while Tammy stands with a large bath towel wrapped around her tiny frame. Daisy is complaining that the water isn't warm, shivering and muttering as she quickly washes off with a wet cloth and slips into one of her boyfriend's large wool shirts. Netty is washing with relish, for the first time in days, soaping repeatedly and rinsing as though she thought this day would never come again. Jane has recovered from her scalp wound, but still has a thin strip of white cloth tied around her head. She is being cheerful, or at least trying to be, telling stories to Tammy about pioneer women, how brave they were, and the hardships they bore. The obvious point is that these things can be survived. Jane continues with her monologue.
They washed like this all the time, and in winter, while standing by the stove! Never hurt them a bit. Can be kind of fun if you think about it.
The ladies are walking back in a leisurely manner to the tent city from the horse trough, a laugh now and then heard from the group, tension gone now that the threat
is past. Mark and Brian walking up the dirt road toward the group, relieved to find others still alive and well. Martha breaks from the group and runs toward the
tent city, to warn Big Tom, with Tammy reacting to the sight of two strangers approaching by standing stock still, staring in their direction, so that Netty has to
return, taking her by the hand to lead her along.
Mark and Brian are seen as limping, dusty, Brian almost staggering. Big Tom is striding into view, coming from the direction of the tent city which the woman are now jogging toward. He holds the rifle pointed straight up in a warning fashion, clearly stating that the visitors are to stop and identify themselves. Mark is the larger and more handsome, is almost twice the bulk of the slender Brian, who has a thin face and light fine hair which he wears on the long side. Mark is dark haired and tanned, hair on the short side and a commanding look about him. He's used to being in charge. Mark puts his hand up, signaling to Big Tom that they mean no harm.
We're unarmed . . We mean you no harm . . We're just trying to get to a phone.
At this point he glances past Big Tom and notices for the first time that the farm buildings are devastated, scanning the view in silence. His question is more of a statement than a question.
I don't suppose your lines are up, though.
Not yet at ease, Big Tom is on guard.
Put your hands on your heads. We've had some unwelcome visitors and I'm taking no chances.
Red has come up behind him, hands him the second rifle to hold while he quickly pats the visitors down, nodding at Big Tom when no weapons are found. Big Tom hands the spare rifle back to Red and welcomes the two men.
Come on back and have some soup, you look like you could use some.