Johnny America




We were count­ing down to Christ­mas, just wait­ing for the last set of doors to be opened.

The field out­side the house was qui­et save for the soft hum of win­ter, which seemed to come from be­neath the frozen ground. Tech­ni­cal­ly, it wasn’t a field any­more—at least not since this sub­di­vi­sion was built as a hous­ing an­nex for the de­com­mis­sioned mil­i­tary base near­by. So, more ac­cu­rate­ly, it was qui­et in the un­de­vel­oped lot out­side the house, ex­cept for that con­stant hum.

My whole fam­i­ly was here: Mom, Dad, John with his wife and ba­by, Kel­ly with her boyfriend, a few peo­ple I re­mem­ber see­ing every now and then in town, and a cou­ple of lo­cal kids whose par­ents hadn’t yet re­turned from fran­tic, last-minute shop­ping trips to tide us for the sea­son. We were ex­pect­ing some of my aunts and un­cles to show up, but they were com­ing from out of state and we hadn’t heard any­thing since our phone and elec­tric­i­ty ser­vices had giv­en out.

Most of the neigh­bors had been in a re­al hur­ry to leave with their friends and loved ones this sea­son – some hadn’t even both­ered to lock up their hous­es or even close their doors be­fore they’d left. But the rest of us felt a pull to come home. Our roots held strong around here, no mat­ter what was ris­ing to the surface.

All month, the an­tic­i­pa­tion grew. A per­son could keep a cal­en­dar by it. The first day of the count­down was a big to do. Sure, we all knew it was com­ing — as sen­sa­tion­al as they are, the news just can’t get enough about those kind of sto­ries — but it didn’t re­al­ly sink in un­til those first doors opened up. We were still reg­is­ter­ing it days lat­er as doors two through five fol­lowed suit. Doors con­tin­ued to open af­ter that, and, sur­round­ed by the warm glow of the fires climb­ing sky­ward, we al­most for­got what was be­ing count­ed down to.

Days passed. It got qui­eter and qui­eter out­side the house, like even the an­i­mals knew what was com­ing. The air grew heav­ier and even­tu­al­ly, it start­ed to look like snow. We stay hud­dled to­geth­er un­der blan­kets. Mom and Dad said a few words and every­body grabbed one an­oth­er a lit­tle bit tighter. There was on­ly one more door to open be­fore count­down reached zero.

Sud­den­ly, from some­where out­side there was a clat­ter, but we didn’t need to un­duck from cov­er to see what was the mat­ter. From out of the ground an or­ange light ap­peared. It was fiery ex­haust from the ICBM head­ing in­to the at­mos­phere. As the rock­et flew over­head, head­ing to a tar­get be­yond site, we re­mained still and wait­ed for re­tal­ia­to­ry flights. 

The doors to the fi­nal com­part­ment, hav­ing giv­en up their sur­prise con­tents, slow­ly closed, and the count­down was com­plete. Streaks like tin­sel ran through the star­ry, win­try night, reach­ing ever clos­er to our lo­ca­tion. Sirens and klax­ons sound­ed off in the des­o­late town near­by, sig­nal­ing an im­mi­nent ar­rival this Christ­mas Eve. We gath­ered to­geth­er and cel­e­brat­ed the hol­i­days one last time.

Filed under Fiction on December 6th, 2019

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