Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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The Smart Boy

by Ben Revermann

Around eight o'clock in the morning, the garden hose stopped running. Over the next six hours in the hot July sun, the mud that had been created from the constant running water dried up.

Craig sits on the edge of his driveway. His car sits unused behind him. The windows had been rolled down and although it rained last night, the car is again dry because of the heat and sun.

He keeps on pushing his hands into the dry dirt. His neck is severely sunburned from the days spent sitting in the same position playing in the mud. In the back of his mind, he does register his screaming skin but pays it no mind; he wants to play with the mud.

For some reason he doesn't have mud anymore. Last night while it rained he had lots of mud but now the water is gone. He doesn't have any mud; he wants mud.

Craig lives in a trailer court in the bad side of town. When he was younger, his mother had mistakenly told him his IQ was only 79, but he never felt stupid. He knows his wife is smarter than he; at least he did know it, until he started playing with the mud. Now there is no mud.

He tries repeatedly to push the dry dirt around to copy the way it moved when it was mud, but it just wasn't the same. He looks at the hose again hoping it starts giving him water and asks himself, "Why is the hose not giving me water?"

It is this train of thought that helps him remember that he turned on the hose to water his very little, front lawn. He thinks about this for almost an hour; staring at the end of the hose that's no longer running water. He forgets about the mud that had so captivated him for days. He had turned on the hose because he wanted to water the front lawn; then he started playing with the mud. "If I turn on the hose I can have mud again" he thinks to himself. Then he thinks, "I turned on the hose to water the front lawn."

It takes him another half hour to piece this together, "If I turn on the hose the water will run." Deciding that's what he will do he stands up; then he remembers everything and says out loud, "I turned on the hose to water the front lawn; I have to be quick because I'm late for work."

Just like that, his brain reboots. He staggers back from where he first stood and his back feels like it's on fire from being in a bent over position. Stretching he looks at the sky, late afternoon. He's late for work and he's seriously thirsty. He can feel his keys in his pocket but he really needs water. Since the hose isn't running he'll just run into the trailer, real quick like.

His first steps alert him to a problem in his pants. The smell suggests he has crapped himself. Looking down at his jeans, he sees that not only has he crapped his pants but also peed.

Taking a look around the trailer park embarrassed he notices no one else is about. A warm day like today would usually be filled with children running, playing, biking, but the street is empty. On a side note, he doesn't hear any traffic either, no trains passing through the depot, no road construction jack hammering. 'I'll worry about that later' he says to himself as he runs inside.

Stepping inside the door, he sees his wife sitting on the couch facing the T.V. He tells her, "Honey, you're not going to believe this but I crapped my pants." She doesn't acknowledge him, just continues to stare at the T.V. He looks at the cable box to check the time but there's no power. Looking back at his wife he asks, "How long have you been staring at a blank screen?" She doesn't move. Her mouth remains open as she stares.

Looking at her, he can see she's breathing but not hearing him. Grabbing her shoulders he says, "What's wrong with you, you feeling OK?" when he notices the smell on her. She's sitting in her own filth as well. He tips her forward and looks down the back of her shorts and says, "That's gotta be at least five days' worth of crap in your pants, what is this?"

He then remembers their baby.

Since he's now in the safety of his own home he unbuckles his pants and throws them, plus his underwear, in the garbage, then runs to the baby's room. She's still alive, barely.

His rear hurts, 'How long had he sat there in that damn driveway?' 'How long had the baby's cries gone unanswered?' he thinks while picking up his ten-month old baby girl ready to reassure her, but he then realizes there's no need, because she's not crying.

Her skin feels funny, she's starved. He picks her up and runs to the back bedroom grabbing a small canister of baby formula and a large baby bottle. In his closet there's three jugs of water, set aside in case of an emergency; he needed it and most of all, the baby needed it. Plus, since the hose is no longer running, he's guessing the faucets in the house no longer work. Filling up the bottle he puts the nipple into the baby's mouth, she doesn't latch on. Keeping it there, he shakes her ever so slightly hoping she'll feed, she doesn't, instead her eyes roll around, and soft peeps fall out of her mouth.

He flicks the bottom of her feet but that does nothing. Her eyes are glazed over; whatever had affected him and was still affecting his wife, must also be affecting the baby.

Holding the bottle in her mouth and placing her on the bed, he takes off her diaper. Like him and his wife, the baby's butt is coated with crap. Covering his hand with a shirt from the floor, he smacks the baby's rear. Since her butt's already fire-truck red, she explodes in screams which do his heart good. She settles down seconds later and latches on to the bottle. She even helps him by taking the bottle in her own hands, weakly.

He grabs the open jug of water and drinks almost half of it, immediately his pounding head starts to subside. Pouring the rest of the bottle on her butt he tries to clean her, not worrying about the water on the blankets, or what his wife will say; but the skin on her rear-end is dangerously raw and his wife told him repeatedly that an infection could kill the baby.

Checking the bathtub, he confirms there is no running water. He thinks for a minute and remembers that his neighbor always has a kiddie pool for his days off; he likes to sit and relax. His neighbor is a dick and Craig hopes that whatever this is, it's gotten him as well.

Grabbing towels and baby shampoo he walks outside wrapping a towel around his naked waste just in case. Outside he is once again struck by the silence. Birds are chirping but there are no dogs barking, no cars horns honking, and worst of all, no laughter. All summer long, the trailer court is alive with children but not right now, and that can't be good.

Crossing his yard the baby starts to fuss. Her bottle's empty but due to his wife's constant pestering he had thought ahead and brought an extra. She takes it willingly.

Once in his neighbor's yard he sees him, sitting on his riding lawnmower. Holding the baby protectively just in case, he stops walking and yells, "Carl, you OK?" Carl doesn't respond. Walking closer Craig can see what happened.

Carl had been mowing his backyard, whatever happened, happened and he started riding in a circle until the gas on the riding lawnmower ran out. The ground around the tires of the riding lawn mower has worn the grass to dirt. Now he's sitting there looking at the steering wheel. He tells Carl, "I need to use your kiddie pool, I got shampoo and I'm gonna leave it pretty dirty." He waits for Carl to respond but he doesn't. So, he shrugs and sits in the pool.

The baby puts up a fight when he submerges her butt in the water but she can only do so much. Using the washcloth he brought to scrub her almost infected skin, she screams, but once it's over she's fine. Wrapping her in a towel, he cleans himself. She is content to lie in the sun finishing her second bottle. Once that's gone she indicates she's still hungry.

Getting out of the pool which is now disgusting he walks over to Carl. Waving his hand in front of Carl's eyes he yells, "Hey, dummy, I just ruined your kiddie pool." Carl doesn't acknowledge him. Looking around to make sure they're alone, clenching his fist, he punches Carl in the face and yells, "WAKE UP, STUPID!" and for just a moment, Carl's eyes hold a spark, then it disappears.

He picks up the baby and heads back to his house. As he's about to walk in the door he hears a ringing coming from the center of town. Looking in that direction, he sees what looks to be a giant dome that gets larger. Watching it expand he thinks that instead of a stationary dome it looks more like a giant expanding bubble. It takes only seconds for it to reach his trailer and when it does he ducks inside expecting a shock wave, but all it does is pass through the house.

What seems like only seconds stretch out to be ten minutes that he spends staring at the wall. The wallpaper fascinated him, 'just like the mud' he thinks to himself. Whatever that bubble is, that's what made him stupid, and his wife, and everyone else for that matter.

Looking in the cupboard, he remembers there's only one jar of baby food. He was going to buy groceries up on his way home from work. Picking up his cell phone, he checks the date and finds out he had been sitting in his driveway for three days playing with the mud. "Any longer than that and you would have died," he says to the baby who replies, "Gogr."

He pulls the high chair into the living room near his wife who's still sitting on the couch and begins feeding the baby with the last of the baby food. "I'm going to the store to get more food for her. I'm also going to get something to clean you off." He tells her between spooning. Finishing with the baby he faces his wife and yells, "HONEY, WAKE UP!" No response. Grabbing her again by the shoulders, he shakes her, and gets nothing.

He holds his hand out to slap her and hesitates, his wife never takes any crap from anyone, let alone him, but decides to try it anyway, and he slaps her. Her mouth begins to move and she makes a gagging sound. He doesn't think there's anything in her stomach to vomit but then understands that she's trying to speak. "T…t…t…tv." He nods, "Yes, honey, you were watching TV, come back to me please." She almost breaks free but begins staring at the TV again. He grabs the jug of water and messily gets some in her mouth. She coughs the first time, the second time he massages her throat, and she swallows it down. He does this a few more times to make sure she's ok, for now.

Grabbing his wallet, he picks up the baby and tells his wife, "I'll be back soon, and I need to get some food for her and something better to clean you with. Don't go anywhere." His wife continues sitting on the couch.

Placing his daughter in the child seat behind him, he starts his car and turns on the radio but gets only static for every station.

The drive through town reminds him of a zombie movie; except no one chased him or moved around. Men were in the process of getting into their cars, still holding car keys but staring blankly into the sky or at their house. Women sat in their gardens or stood in their front yards, captivated by whatever was in front of them. There were car accidents, he guessed that when it happened they had been driving, unable to focus, the cars crashed into things. He saw bicycles and children in the middle of the street, so many he had to steer around them; they paid him no mind as he passed.

The town he lived in had built its Court House in the exact center of town. Nearing the grocery store, he saw the cause of the problem. A box, an old damn box, alien or something, it looked like it was covered with rust and just looking at it made his head hurt. Looked almost like was broken, or about to be. It hovered above the courthouse a few feet above an American flag that sat on a flagpole, unmoving in the calm air. Instead of continuing on to the grocery store, he pulled his car over.

Getting out of his car and grabbing his daughter he walks near the courthouse to have a better look, taking only a few seconds to observe a police officer standing with his mouth open, face pointed towards the sky. He moves the police officers head away from the sun and backs up startled. The police officers sunburned face looked horrible but even worse were his eyes that had gone a liquid milky white from staring directly into the sun. Letting go of the officers' face the officer simply turns his blind eyes back to the sky and faces the sun. He sees dangling from the officer's right hand a gun, so he takes it and puts it into the back of his pants.

Walking closer to the floating box a woman runs up to him. After seeing no one else moving, he is again startled but calms down instantly. He can see she has Downs Syndrome but even stranger still, she's wearing what must be at least ten layers of tinfoil on her head. Underneath he can see a thick coating of Vaseline to hold it in place. In her hand, she has another tinfoil helmet; running up she holds it out to him.

"Mister, you gotta put this on, it's gonna happen again real soon."

He looks at her and trusts her instantly. "Thank you, do you have another one for me?"

The woman looks confused, "What do you mean for you? That one is for you."

The box starts to hum again and he quickly puts it on his daughter's head. The wave emitted from the box expands equally in all directions like a growing bubble; it hits him, his daughter, and the woman instantly.

He drops his daughter who is caught by the Downs Syndrome woman before the baby could hit the ground.

The woman tells him, "Don't you know anything dummy? Kids snap out of it quicker. That helmet was for you." She checks the baby to make sure she's all right and disappears across the Court House lawn. He falls to his knees and starts running his fingers over the growing grass. 'The grass is so fascinating,' he thinks to himself.

Almost half an hour later, the woman runs up to him again, minus the baby. She puts a piece of paper in his pocket and mashes a new tinfoil helmet on his head saying, "Here's where my momma and me are gonna go. We have to get outta town now cause the radio signals stopped runnin'. They said they're gonna nuclear this whole place cuz they can't get close to it." She points at the box. "Your daughter is safe with us." She grabs his wallet. "I'm gonna try and find your kin for your daughter." She runs across the Court House lawn and disappears. He does hear her speak but pushes her words far into the back of his mind because the grass just feels so smooth. A little later and far off his ears hear a vehicle starting, and then drive away.

Five hours later, just after sunset, his brain starts to reboot again. This time it's because there were no streetlights and no moon. Simply put he couldn't see the grass anymore. Like the snapping of fingers, he stands up and looks for his daughter.

Not finding her, he remembers vaguely a note pushed into his pants pocket. Pulling it out he realizes that he peed in his pants again, "Dammit!" he says as he runs to his car unknowingly brushing past the policeman who still stares off blindly into the black sky. Starting his car, he turns on the interior lights. Checking his helmet he reads the note. He knows where they went. That's when the sirens start going off.

He didn't know how long the sirens would go off before the bombs hit. What he did know, or what he hoped he knew, was that a nuclear blast had a ninety-mile radius. Where his daughter was taken is well out of range. Mentally apologizing to his wife and praying the highways are clear, he picks the fastest road out of town.


2015 Ben Revermann

Bio: Ben Revermann currently lives in Minnesota, as a happily married father of four children and three dogs. He continues to work on his writing daily and continues to shower the world with his stories, large and small. His previous publications credits include Imaginaire Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, Dark Edifice Webzine, and Used Gravitrons. His last appearance in Aphelion was Grandpa's Tale in our February, 2013 issue.

E-mail: Ben Revermann

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