Book excerpt

Footprints of Thunder

James F. David

Tor/Forge

1
Residence Hall
…and there shall come a time when the present shall be joined together with the past…
--Zorastrus, Prophet of Babylon
 
 
Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls, Oregon PreQuilt: Saturday, 2:00 A.M. PST
 
Kenny Randall looked doubtfully at the pile of belongings on his bed. They would never fit into his pack. Pulling out his essentials, he finished stuffing his yellow backpack. The gun was last; he wanted it accessible. But its outline showed clearly through the thin yellow nylon. When he wedged the gun on the inside it rubbed against his spine through the pack. Finally he wrapped the weapon loosely in a towel to help hide the deadly shape.
Kenny checked his watch and then sat down at his computer and ran the simulation again. He tried feeding in more of the Zorastrus data, but the outcome was the same. After a dozen runs he gave up. Kenny envied the long dead prophet. He had only predicated what Kenny would have to live through.
He took one last look around his littered dorm room. Textbooks, mostly dealing with industrial management, papers notebooks, pens and pencils, were in apparent disarray, but Kenny had his own system of organization. One pile was for his computer programming class, the one next to it was for his systems management class, and the pile sticking out from under the bed contained last year's work. There was another year's worth of work deeper under the bed. More books and papers were piled on the closet floor. With a seldom-used typewriter.
The computer on Kenny's desk was surrounded by its own peculiar debris--boxes of discs, disc holders, a mouse and mouse pad, a printer, and stacks of computer paper. Next to the computer was a pile of newspaper clippings. On the shelf above the computer was a rack of books with titles like Stranger Than fiction, Strange Facts, and The Unexplainable. At the end of the shelf was a jar of dried corn.
There wasn't anything Kenny particularly valued in the room, but he felt a sense of loss anyway, knowing he would not see any of it again. He checked his pack one more time, to make sure the gun didn't show, and then he closed and locked the door.
The dorm hall was quiet, and all the doors were shut. The last of the late-nighters had drifted off to bed about half an hour ago. On this Saturday morning no one was likely to stir until nine or ten. It was better this way, Kenny knew. He was weary of talking to people who were deaf to what he had to say, though it was unlikely anyone would talk to him now anyway. He had become genuinely unpopular in the last few months. Ever since his discovery he had tried to tell them, to show them, but they treated him as a joke. For their sake he hoped they were right, but for his sake he was going to do something about it.
An empty elevator was waiting for him, and he left the building without looking back--even though the dorm had been his home for the last three years he had always disliked it. Even the name of the dorm was ridiculous: Residence Hall. One night after a few too many beers, he, jack, and Robbie had printed out official-looking signs on Kenny's computer and posted them around the building. residence hall floor, one said, residence hall hall, another said. even residence hall wall, and residence hall toilet. It was the kind of thing that was funny when you're drunk but seemed dumb the next morning. Still, none of the other residents tore the signs down for months.
He found his dark blue Toyota in the parking lot. The odometer had twenty-eight thousand miles on it, but it had rolled over two years ago. The upholstery was shot, and the passenger window was stuck closed, but the car would not quit. He was briefly apprehensive--in all his careful planning he had never considered the possibility that his ten-year-old Toyota might be the weak link, trapping him with the unbelievers. Now he pumped it twice, relieved when as usual it started the second time.
As he was pulling out of the parking slot, he noticed a yellow bumper sticker on the Escort parked next to him. Written in calligraphy, it read simply Shit Happens. Kenny forced a nervous laugh. "You got that right," he said out loud. "You sure got that right." Then Kenny left the parking lot for the last time.
When he reached Dr. Piltcher's house, Phat, Colter, and Petra were already there, packing the RV and the van for their trip. Kenny found Dr. Piltcher and Dr. Coombs staring at a computer screen. Kenny could see the simulation he and Phat had developed running on the screen. A well-worn copy of an ancient manuscript lay open next to the computer. It made an odd sight, the ancient and the modern sitting side by side. The two scientists looked up when Kenny came into the study. There were dark bags under their eyes.
"Have you been running the simulation all night?" he asked.
"Yes," Dr. Piltcher said. "Dr. Coombs and I fed in more of the Zorastrus data. It didn't make any difference. It's going to happen."
"I know," Kenny said.
There was nothing more to say, so Kenny left the scientists to help the others. While they were packing, Mrs. Wayne arrived with Ernie Powell in Ernie's pickup truck, its bed loaded with more supplies. Dr. Piltcher had advised them all to prepare for the worst.
When everything was packed it came time for good-byes. Dr. Coombs shook Kenny's hand without a word, but Kenny knew Dr. Piltcher would have something to say.
"Won't you change your mind, Kenny?" Dr. Piltcher asked "Come with us. We should be together when it happens. I think you need to be with the group."
Kenny knew Dr. Piltcher's concern was genuine. Kenny had become introspective as the summer wore on. By the season's end he rarely participated in the group discussions, and even Phat couldn't draw him out. Kenny had tried to say engaged but wasn't like the others. He couldn't compartmentalize his life, set aside his fears and live normally. In fact, now his fears were his life. He needed family, not friends. He didn't understand why, so he said simply, "I need to be with my family."
"So you're going to go through with it?" Dr. Piltcher asked, not expecting an answer. "Take this with you. I copied some of the Apocrypha of Zorastrus for you. It might help."
Kenny took the sheaf of papers from his friend and mentor and placed them next to his backpack.
"Be careful, Kenny. We'll look for you after it happens…if we can."
"Thanks. The group meant a lot to me." Kenny's voice cracked, so he immediately lowered his head, holding back the rest of what he had planned to say. Instead he and Dr. Piltcher stared at their shoes for a full minute and then Kenny managed to steady his voice long enough to tell them, "I'm going now."
Dr. Piltcher nodded and then shook Kenny's hand, as did everyone in the group except Mrs. Wayne, who knocked his hand away and wrapped her arms around him. When she finally released him he saw tears in her eyes. Turning away quickly to hide the moisture in his own, he climbed into his battered Toyota. He backed slowly down the driveway, knowing he probably wouldn't see any of them again. They were all still waving good-bye when he turned onto the main road and drove out of sight.
 
Copyright © 1995 by James F. David James F. David has a Ph.D. from Ohio State University and is currently a professor of Psychology as George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. He is the author of the thrillers Footprints of Thunder, Ship of the Damned and Before the Cradle Falls. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Tigard, Oregon.