Pop-Pop — A Short Story
The alarm ebbed and flowed as the horn circled around the pole which it was mounted; the sirens retreated and advanced like ocean waves assaulting a shoreline. The old man bolted upright in bed before his arthritic hips could object. He picked up the robe crumpled at the foot of the bed and wrapped himself in it. His 1937 M1 Garand hung upon the bedroom wall and he grabbed that too.
Outside, he surveyed every direction of the sky. It was a nice, clear day, and he neither saw nor heard approaching aircraft. He knew that could be a deceptive assurance, the military technology the younger generation toyed around with could fool advance radar much more capable than the human senses. The new wars were different from the old. Back when the old man wore his country’s uniform, the fighting was amongst men. Nowadays, it’s a race to the best technology. War was cold enough before you could press a couple buttons and kill a thousand people a thousand miles away; there’s no honor in that. It’s been said that war was always decided by those who had the best tech, the most advanced weaponry, but Pop-Pop knew that a squad of motivated marines with only sidearms and bayonets could overwhelm an entire platoon of SS Nazis jacked up on the methamphetamine Pervitin and armed with the latest and greatest gadgets. Pop-Pop knew from experience.
Pop-Pop and his late brothers—hardened warriors as they were—wouldn’t have stood a chance against a silent, invisible, and unmanned aircraft that intended to kill them. Speaking of chicken-shit warfare, it was an attack from one of those drones, armed with a nuclear warhead, that had him concerned once the emergency sirens began wailing. Year after year countries shift their game pieces like the world is a gigantic board game called Master of Resources, until, Pop-Pop was certain, one of the players became frustrated enough to flip the board over and scatter the pieces into chaos.
He heard the planes moments before he saw their formation roar over his home. He was too far from his shelter when they circled back, their piercing cry suppressing that of the emergency sirens as, one by one, they broke formation and descended at impossible angles towards the earth. It was that same scream of divebombing Luftwaffe that had haunted him for so many years. No time for retreat, Pop-Pop hit the deck. Face to the dirt, he covered his ears, but his hands couldn’t impede the shriek that penetrated deep into his mind. Machine gun strafes preceded the bombs, and the ground quaked after each explosion. There were times during the war he laid prone and helpless against a death that seemed inescapable, but his brothers were at his side back then. As he lay alone in his backyard, he wished for those moments back. It was a wish the scared young man fighting Nazis in the Ardennes Forest could never have guessed he would make in a future that wasn’t certain in those diabolical times.
Suddenly, it was over.
All was quiet now save for the emergency sirens that tore him out of bed. Slowly, he lifted his head. There were no planes. No dust clouds. No debris. No death. None of the evidence the Luftwaffe always left in their wake.
Of course there aren’t German fighters from 1945 strafing your backyard, you old codger.
Pop-Pop headed to the blast shelter with a purpose, because whatever prompted the emergency sirens would be a hell of a lot worse than a squadron of Luftwaffe.
Inside the dimly lit shelter he thought of his children and his grandchildren who bequeathed him the nickname “Pop-Pop”, and he made another wish—that they hadn’t moved all the way to Florida. Maybe they’d all make it through this, and he’d see them again. If they were so fortunate, he told himself that he’d put away his stubbornness and leave his home to be closer to his family. It gave him solace knowing that they had each other. He was alone, but he’d rather suffer whatever fate lie ahead alone than to have Caroline endure it with him. His wife left him five years ago in her sleep, never returning from a dream.
An explosion outside rattled the cans of food on the shelves.
Thank God Caroline isn’t here.
Pop-Pop gripped the butt of his rifle and prayed.
* * *
“What the hell are you two doing?”
“Don’t you hear the sirens? It’s the first Wednesday of the month…they’re testing the outdoor emergency system.”
“Oh, let me look.”
“Find your own hole.”
The knotholes in the fence were taken by Brandon and Jody; Ryder found a gap between the planks just in time to see Pop-Pop McNeely, in his underwear and robe, swing open his bomb bunker, climb inside, and slam it shut.