They were on the road, heading out of Euteris, Pennsylvania, on their way toward the Starvation Mountains along with thousands of others driving west, away from the anticipated point of impact, with no one knowing exactly where the planetoid would hit. Most were trying to make it out of the hills, feeling it would be safer on the flatlands—less chance of falling rocks. The landscape was lit like noonday, yet it was the middle of the night.
“Once again, there is no reason for panic,” said the voice on the radio.
“What are you talking about?” the big man yelled at the dashboard.
“Remain calm and seek shelter,” continued the radio. “Christos is expected to touch down somewhere in the mid-Atlantic Ocean—”
“‘Touch down?’” he repeated in disbelief.
“—heaviest damage is expected along continental coastlines. You are advised to move inland at least twenty miles, and please—once again—do not panic. Motorists should remain courteous and helpful..”
“That’s a good point,” said a second voice on the radio. “If there were ever a time for Good Samaritans, this would be it.”
Larry Munna’s normally lavender face had grown deep purple as he bent his large frame closer to the car radio. “If I run into any goddamn good Samaritans they’ll be splattered across my windshield!”
His young wife stared out the window, praying that traffic would start moving again.
“Very special night in Earth’s history, Allen,” said the radio. “Impact is expected at three fifty-five a.m., Eastern, approximately two hours and twenty-five minutes from now. And since the earth has never before been hit by an object of this size—not, at least, in recorded history—it’s impossible to predict exactly what it will bring in terms of destruction. However, we do remind you once again that damage, especially inland, is expected to be mild...”
“Mild?” screamed Munna at the radio. “Here we’ve got a couple of weathermen talking about the end of the world like it’s some kind of thunderstorm!”
“As we mentioned earlier, most civil defense shelters are already full, so your best bet at this point is to simply head for the basement or anywhere else immediately available underground, if possible. Otherwise, try to find a safe place under doorways and thresholds to buildings, a small closet—”
“Oh, yeah! Hide in the closet, that’s a great idea!” Larry Munna laid on the horn. The woman fidgeted on the seat next to him, wishing he wouldn’t honk anymore. “Goddamn it!” he shouted, banging on the steering wheel.
He slammed it into park and got out.
“Larry? Where are you going, honey?” pleaded the woman, whose name was Lynette.
Larry Munna squinted into the sky. It was two in the morning. Brighter than day. Christos was larger than the noonday sun—and it was bearing down quickly. He could actually see it getting bigger. They were saying it was the size of Connecticut. Calling it a “planetoid.” As of three hours ago they had still been insisting it would miss the earth by many hundreds of thousands of miles. The human race had been slow to catch on, but it was sinking in fast.
It was nothing like the movies said it would be. It wasn't fast-paced. There was no action at all. They were all in a traffic jam, condemned to sit in their cars, along with their thoughts, awaiting the end of their lives. Listening to it on the radio.
Munna got back into the car. Lynette was squinting upward through the windshield. “The sun shouldn't oughta be shining at two in the morning, Larry.”
“Shut up,” said Munna. He was thinking. There was no place to run. They were all going to die. Everybody seemed to know this deep down, but nobody seemed to believe it.
“Excuse me, honey?” said Lynette, regretting it instantly. It was always a mistake to ask questions when Larry was in a mood. She pretended to be searching for something in her purse. Finding her compact, she snapped it open and studied her face.
She was still pretty—no lines. Her neck was still smooth—not baggy like Larry’s second wife’s used to be. She kept her hair blond for him, in tight curls the way he liked it. Her eyes were deep blue, not that yucky brown anymore. Larry knew how she looked best. She had three more years before she hit thirty, three more years before she would have to worry about all the surgeries that her friend Madeline kept having. She didn’t like the idea of knives doing the work of exercise, but she understood the inevitability of it and had secretly saved nearly nine thousand dollars of her Mary Kay money to pay the doctor’s bills someday.
Except there would be no doctor bill; there would be no doctor; there would be no Lynette. She dug for a Kleenex and held her breath to keep from crying.
Munna squeezed his eyes shut in concentration and annoyance. This whole thing was an interruption, and it was intolerable. He heard the sniffling on the seat next to him. If she was stupid enough to start gushing on him while he was thinking, then she would just have to pay the price, that’s all—as if he had the time right now to be doling out discipline. As if he didn’t have more important things to do.
“Don’t even think about it,” he muttered. Munna rubbed the large purple mole on his cheekbone, his finger gently circling it like a good luck charm. He judged the line of cars parked on the highway. They were probably less than three miles outside the state park and they hadn’t moved for eight minutes. He knew what was happening. The caves were full. They had closed the gates. He and Lynette had loaded up her Cutlass with all the essentials they could throw in the trunk. They had hit the road almost twelve hours ago, heading for the caverns. In that time they had traveled only thirty miles. They could have walked faster. Now they had an hour and a half before...
Munna dropped the transmission into drive, swung the wheel and squealed off the road. They rumbled across the meadow toward the hills in the park. Lynette held on, and held her tongue, knowing it wouldn’t be wise to scream.
The Cutlass shook violently as it bounded across the field. Munna dug between the seats and found his sunglasses. The sky was getting brighter.
“I used to go spelunking here in my college days,” he said, almost conversationally. “I remember a cave in those hills. All we gotta do is find the entrance.”
Streams of cars were following him. It was quickly becoming a stampede, with Munna at the lead. “Fucking sheep!” he yelled at the rear-view mirror. The Cutlass struck a rock and the car went on two wheels.
“Watch out!” shrieked Lynette.
Munna whacked her across the jaw with the back of his hand. He cranked the radio. “Dr. Berger,” it said, “is there any possibility the planetoid will strike land, and, if so, what would happen?”
“Absolutely not. We absolutely do not believe that Christos will strike land.”
“Absolutely my ass!” squawked Munna.
“Christos will strike somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, and we do expect the ocean to absorb more than 90 percent of the shock to the earth. So, while the event will certainly be catastrophic, it will by no means result in anything like a mass extinction or anything of that nature. It will, however, create a tsunami of sizable proportion.”
“And a tsunami is also known as a tidal wave, is that correct?” said the radio. Munna swerved to avoid a ditch and narrowly missed a boulder.
“—sometimes referred to as ‘tidal waves’ erroneously, when in fact they have nothing to do with the tides. Tsunamis are generally the result of undersea seismic activity—”
“An undersea earthquake, in other words?”
“Correct, although in this case, obviously, the cause would be extraterrestrial in origin—”
“Change the fucking channel!” he commanded. Lynette complied. The same two guys were everywhere on the dial. “A tsunami,” continued the astrophysicist, “may be only one foot high over deep water, but it can reach speeds of greater than five hundred miles per hour. Upon entering shallow coastal waters, however, these waves can quickly grow to fifty feet or more—in this case they could be as tall as one hundred feet—we just don’t know.
“We do, however, know that these towering walls of water can strike with enough force to wipe out entire coastal cities. Obviously, this is why we have advised citizens to retreat from all ocean coasts—from the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and even the Pacific coasts. Authorities worldwide are advising populations to evacuate all coastal areas.”
Munna got the Cutlass onto some relatively flat land and was able to get his speed up to fifty mph, occasionally hitting a large rock.
“On that subject,” interjected the moderator, “let me ask you this. When Christos was first identified by the amateur Greek astronomer Gnossos Christos only fifty-one days ago, it was originally called an asteroid with a diameter of about ten miles. As it came closer, it was upgraded to a planetoid with a diameter of twenty to thirty miles, which compares roughly to the size of metropolitan New York City. Now we have reports that the object could be as large as sixty miles across or even larger. Why do the numbers keep rising?”
“We’ve never dealt with a situation like this before. Obviously, all we can do is speculate.”
“Dr. Berger, there has been considerable speculation over the last hour that Christos could strike the eastern seaboard of the United States. If this were to happen, what would the likely outcome be?”
“Well, that is pure speculation—and it does no good whatsoever in this particular situation to speculate on such a speculation... which can really do nothing but foment panic among the public. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Christos will touch down on dry land. There is simply no evidence for this.”
“Liars!” screamed Munna as the car rumbled over the meadow, sailed over ditches, plowed up ridges—followed by hundreds of other vehicles.
“Larry, be careful!” shouted Lynette as he plunged through a barbed wire fence.
“What, you’re afraid I’m gonna scratch your precious car?” he yelled, gunning the engine up a steep incline. His wheels hit mud and the car began to slide. A Jeep Cherokee passed them, honking. “Fuck you!” shouted Munna as he gained traction and clambered up the hill.
“Larry, slow down!” pleaded Lynette. He was inches from the bumper of the Cherokee. “This is not a race!”
“The hell it isn’t!” he screamed. He reached under the seat and grabbed his Berretta. “Move your head back!” He had pulled alongside the Cherokee and was now pointing the gun out the passenger window when the other driver looked over—and swerved, losing control of his vehicle. The Cherokee careened to the right and rumbled into a ravine, turning over twice before disappearing.
“Ha HAAA!” Munna was pounding the steering wheel with joy. Lynette was stuck to her seat. “Not a single shot fired!” he announced. He tucked the gun under his left leg, scanned the competition in the rear-view mirror, surveyed the oncoming terrain—and saw it.
The pine forest, dead ahead. He’d found it. He knew this ground. He beat on the steering wheel. “Who’s got the power now?” he shouted. Lynette held on as they zoomed between the pines. “Who’s got the power?” he demanded once again. Lynette moved her jaw, mouthing the word you. He stepped on the gas. He was leaving the other vehicles behind. He turned to his wife one more time. “Who’s the one?”
“It’s you, Larry!” she pleaded. “It’s you, honey!” She was trying not to cry. “It’s always been you!”
He smiled widely. He was beaming. He had found something—found it! He looked at his wife. His face dropped. “Watch me work.”
Dodging the trees, he raced the Cutlass up the hill, slowing down only at the top. He spun the car, wheeled around an embankment, and stopped just short of a steep ravine. “Yes, it will continue to get brighter,” said the radio. “It’s already brighter than the sun, and I predict it will be twice as bright—”
He turned off the car.
Larry Munna turned to his young wife and smiled, showing his huge, gray teeth. “So,” he said, “only God can choose who lives and who dies?” She was terrified. He smacked his lips. The woods were florescent green. “Well, sweetie pie,” he said, cocking his ear, “Two can play.” He smiled wider. “One survives.”
They heard the first car going over the top of the hill, heard the engine race as its wheels left the earth, watched it sail into the deep ravine, heard it rustle and snap through the leafy, deciduous wall, heard the screams of its passengers. The second car was right behind, followed by dozens and dozens of other vehicles which blindly followed the others into premature oblivion. Wave after wave went over the edge—and it was clear they would keep on doing so until the flames would lick over the hilltop and the newcomers would gradually begin to catch on.
Munna opened the trunk as Lynette got out of the car, watching in wonder as the traffic spilled into the ravine. He threw on his hunting vest and threw one to his wife, then checked the extended clips of his 9-mm Berretta and Colt 45, and stuffed them into his pants. He strapped a knapsack filled with ammo over his back and handed his wife a second backpack. “Batteries and flashlights,” he shouted over the exploding cars.
“What about food?” she cried.
He yanked out a third backpack and threw it at her. It was loaded, but it weighed almost nothing. “It’s so light,” she shouted over the din.
“Dehydrated,” he shouted back. On his left shoulder he strapped a Weatherby rifle; on his right shoulder, a Winchester Model 12 shotgun. He would carry the Mini-14.
“Come on,” he said, moving quickly into the woods. She followed, tears spilling over her cheeks. They plunged through the underbrush on a narrow ridge near the top of the ravine, leaving the explosions behind. “Isn’t it great to be alive?” he said.
“You’re killing them, Larry!” she stammered, scared and out of breath. “You’re killing those people!”
He suddenly stopped, held her by the shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. Very slowly, so she wouldn’t miss a word, he explained: “They were going to die anyway.”
Cautiously, she studied his face. He smiled like a father and explained further. “I am relieving them of a far greater horror. They don’t have to watch this movie anymore. I showed them the way out. I fooled death into surprising them. I gave them a great gift, wife.”
Lynette had always known Larry had a mean streak, but this was new. His eyelids had always folded deeply into his sockets, but she had never beheld such a look of zealous passion on his lavender face before. She decided his eyes were even more frightening than the planetoid which was bearing down on them from above.
“I’d like you to try to keep,” he continued in a slow, deliberate voice, “a positive mental attitude.” His face snapped into a taut smile. “Okay?”
“Okay,” she said, happy to strike a deal with which they could both live. “I’ll try to be more upbeat, Larry.”
He turned and dragged her along an animal path near the top of the ravine. “First we cross a stream,” he said, “that comes from underground.” He stopped. “Listen for the sound of falling water.” He heard it ahead; they advanced. He was looking for something. Searching for something. Looking. Looking.
“It’s a granite mantle,” he said. “A granite mantle...” And soon, he found it. “Turn around,” he said. His wife hesitated—afraid, perhaps, of what he might do. He spun her around and dug in one of her packs for a flashlight.
“Larry, you know I hate—”
His hand grabbed her face, contorting her mouth, but she was somehow able to enunciate: “Sorry.”
“See that hole?” He pointed under the mantle. She squinted, and he pulled away a bush. “Now do you see it?” Of course she did. There it was. “This is how you and I will live to tell our grandchildren how the world ended.”
She looked at her hands. He could be so cruel sometimes. He smiled maliciously and handed her the Mini-14.
He unstrapped the shotgun and pumped it once.
Then he snapped on the flashlight and ducked inside.
The beam of light was tiny and faint compared to the light outside, but he knew their eyes would adjust to the darkness within a few minutes. He turned off the light and leaned against the wall of the cave, listening.
Lynette had never been in a cave before—at least not one that didn’t have colored lights. Normally she would have been more frightened, but she was grateful for the darkness. It felt safer in here than out there. Maybe Larry was right. Still, she couldn’t understand why they were just standing there in the pitch blackness. She heard drips. She wondered what time it was. Christos was supposed to strike at three forty. She wondered why they had to leave Rufus; she wondered if he had to go out. She wondered about her mom and dad—and felt her throat catch. She couldn’t cry—it wasn’t allowed. As time passed she seemed to hear more and more drips of different pitches and intensities, like echoing marimbas—as if her ears were adjusting along with her eyes. Some light was spilling into the cave from the mouth, but she still couldn’t see Larry, even though he was right in front of her.
Or had he crept away?
She wanted to ask, but couldn’t seem to move. She had the good sense to know that any move she might make would be a mistake—then she heard him breathing. He had moved; he had moved away somewhere. She strained to hear. He was sniffing. Smelling something. Panting?
Her voice ricocheted off the cavern walls. In reply, she heard a low, rasping growl.
Two flat, dull disks of light were approaching her. She screamed. A beam of light seized a wolf in mid-step, eight feet away. The flashlight exploded. In sync with the boom, the wolf spun full-circle, minus its hindquarters. Munna pumped the Winchester again and swept the flashlight across the cavern, finding another wolf and five pups creeping away. He fired, wounding all six. Stepping forward, he pumped and fired again... pumped, and fired again.
He swept the room with the flashlight and found it clean. The beam returned to the mother and pups, now just mounds of fur and guts. Still the shotgun boomed, its echo now returning, several frequencies lower, tired from a long journey through the limestone maze. The beam checked out the father. Miraculously, he was still alive, snapping reflexively, though he was missing his other half. The beam swept up to Lynette; she clutched her body and squinted into the light defensively. She was in the spotlight and didn’t know what to do. Was the flashlight going to explode at her now? Was she supposed to dance? Should she say something, like, “Thanks, honey?” The wolf was trying to say something. She couldn’t believe it could still be alive.
“Aren’t you gonna kill it?” she volunteered.
The words had just come out. And they sounded so ungrateful. She realized suddenly the full impact of what she had done. She had said something, taken a risk, tried his patience one last time, blown it completely. She was in some trouble now.
Munna was deciding. She was barren—a truly worthless cunt, but he enjoyed the measure of control she offered. Of course, times had changed. There was no law anymore. No cops to come to the door; no more monthly nut to crack wearing down newlyweds and signing ‘em up for whole life—he was done with all that and it was all done with him. He had the guns, he had the power, he had the space—he owned the whole fucking place and everything in it, including this bitch. He could blow her away right now and never have to deal with her stupid questions again. Or he could keep her around for later.
Father wolf was still alive, mumbling some incomprehensible protest. What the wolf seemed to be saying were two things: number one, Lynette was fun to play with sometimes; and number two, only one option allowed him to change his mind. He held the flashlight under his chin and smiled.
“Don’t you want to see your new house?”
She couldn’t help it; she started crying. She didn’t care if he shot her; she preferred it to being killed by Christos. But she preferred being killed by Christos to surviving it. So, she surrendered, confused. Tears began streaming from her eyes. “Larry,” she whimpered, “I’m scared.” She held her breath, but the dam broke. “I don’t want to die, Larry!” she gasped, her voice contorted in a high-pitched whine. “I don’t want to die!”
Larry placed the flashlight on the floor and bounced the beam against the wall. A soothing glow filled the room. He hung the shotgun back on his shoulder and stepped forward to his wife. She embraced him; he hugged her back. Lynette sobbed in her husband’s arms, grieving for the whole world—for all the other twenty-seven-year-old Mary Kay representatives and all the moms and dads and dogs and cats and little babies—even for the ones she would never have—she grieved for them all with each heaving gasp. Her husband gave her one last squeeze and reached into his waistband for the Colt .45, which he cocked and held to her head.
“Don’t cry, honey.”
She held her breath. He reached into her backpack and got out a second flashlight, which he turned on and handed to her. Then he got his own flashlight off the floor.
Taking her arm, he led her around a corner and down a corridor of stone. His light illuminated a doorway. She stepped inside. Their flashlights searched the room.
“My God...” she whispered. “It’s like... a cathedral. Or a gym.”
It was, in fact, enormous—auditorium-sized. The ceiling was a frieze of bats.
They heard voices.
Voices that seemed to be coming from the mouth.
He turned off his flashlight and muffled hers; she snapped hers off as well.
“Stay here,” said Munna. “Don’t move. Don’t make a sound. Keep the light off.” She heard him feeling his way along the wall in the dark, then heard him call in a friendly voice: “Hello! Anybody in here?”
“Yes!” came a relieved response. “We are! It’s us! Bill and Kitty!”
“Oh!” Munna echoed back cheerfully.
“Is that you, Ralph?” said the woman, Kitty, tentatively, searching for the source of the voice with her flashlight.
“No, it’s not Ralph,” said Larry Munna, regretfully, before stepping out from behind a boulder and shining his flashlight in their eyes. Bill and Kitty shined their flashlight at him, and it was a draw. Munna had all his weapons, and his gun in hand; Bill and Kitty didn’t. In a curious, amiable tone, Munna said, “You folks mind telling me what y’all are doing out here in this particular neck of the woods at this hour?”
There was an appropriate pause as Bill weighed his answer to the obvious. “Uh, well, sir, the planetoid’s about to hit, and we were kind of hopin’ to find some protection in here. Ralph and the rest of ‘em is s’posed to meet us in here.”
Bill’s wife Kitty elaborated. “There’s about a thousand people’ll be here in a few shakes of a—ooh, honey—look.” Kitty had discovered the convulsing wolf.
“Oh, my God,” said Bill.
Munna weighed the new information. Others might be bad, or might be good. If they were bad, he and Lynette would be quickly outnumbered. He couldn’t kill thousands of people—didn’t have the time or ammunition—and anyway, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. This was another one of those things he could decide later. He lowered his gun and pointed his flashlight at the ceiling of the cave.
“Well, folks,” he said, “allow me to introduce myself. I’m the one who has all power in here. This here is my cave. My house. And you’re in it. And Bill, Kitty, I want you to know, and my wife wants you to know, that the two of you are more than welcome to share it with us, long as you both do exactly as I say.”
“Oh, yes, certainly,” Bill said quickly.
“Of course,” said Kitty.
“Honey bunch?” called Munna, his voice tumbling through the cavern.
“Yes?” said Lynette weakly.
“Got comp’ny! Come on out here!” he shouted gaily. Then he lowered his voice and addressed the older couple in comforting, professional tones. “Lynette will show you around.”
Lynette had appeared, holding the Mini-14 and the flashlight. Her hands were shaking and the light proved it.
“Oh, honey, don’t point that thing at Bill and Kitty!” he admonished her. “Why don’t you show Kitty the great room, while I have a chat with Bill?”
“Sure,” she spoke.
Munna led Bill toward the mouth of the cave, his brain working quickly. He could hear voices outside the cave. He looked at his watch. “We’ve got forty-seven minutes,” he said. “How many people have you got?”
“Hard to say. There’s thousands of people out there looking for holes to crawl in. I was supposed to meet Ralph here—”
“Enough about him. You and I are going to smoothly and efficiently direct these people into this room.” He pointed his flashlight at the corridor where Lynette had just been standing. “First we’ve got to find a few responsible looking people and sign ‘em up to direct people. Do you have a gun?”
“No!” said Bill.
“Do you know how to use one?”
“I don’t care for guns.”
Munna shined the light on his face and sized him up. If he only had the time, he would kill him right here, but he was all he had, and he would have time later—he was more and more sure of it. “You stand at the mouth, directing the people toward your wife, who stands at the hallway, directing people toward Lynette, who directs the people against the walls in the great room. Bring back flashlights. Go.”
Munna ducked under the ledge and stepped into the whiteness outside the cave, his eyes stinging from the light. He fumbled for his shades and put them on. He could make out figures moving among the pale underbrush in the ravine. Hiding behind the bush, he reloaded the Winchester with four more cartridges. His eyes would not be able to adjust to this amount of light. No one’s could. He called to the nearest human form which fumbled through the light.
“Do not be afraid,” he spoke in a clear voice. “For you are saved,” he said kindly. “You are chosen.”
“Who is it?” asked the human.
“I am the one,” said Munna. “I am the light of the world and you are entering my house.”
The figure stumbled toward him, followed by many other human forms. Munna placed his weapons beneath the bush. He removed his vest and covered the guns.
“Where are you, Lord?”
“I am here among you,” he said.
And they came. And they believed. For Larry had the knack. He knew how to talk to people. He knew how to change his tone for every person he addressed. He even knew how to talk like God. He had talent.
Munna surveyed the populace. All ages. All scared. A short, hairy man came running like a dog. “I’m a cop,” he said. “I’ll help.”
“Go into the big room. There’s a natural stage at one end. Direct the people with firearms to the stage and have them line up with their weapons.”
“That’s gonna be a lot of people,” said the cop.
“Are you afraid, my son?” asked Larry.
“What? No,” said the cop. “Got a job to do.”
“You’re my child,” said Larry Munna, smiling widely.
Skank looked at the large middle-aged man in the camouflage vest. “What are you, like God?”
“I walk amongst you,” said Munna.
The cop looked at him curiously. “Nice to know,” said the cop. He turned to go into the cavern, and stopped to talk to a man with a semi-automatic rifle.
Larry smiled at the people waiting in line to get in. “You are all my children,” he said.
“We what?” said a man.
“All children of the new God who stands before you, who welcomes you to my sanctuary.”
People looked at their shoes. The man was calling himself God.
“What’s your name?” Larry asked a woman.
“If you’re God, you know it already,” said the woman.
“I shall call you Surly,” said Munna. “For you are oppositional and unfriendly.”
“You’re naming me?” asked the woman.
“I name all my children,” he said.
The cop took Larry aside. He had an angry man with several rifles. “Man won’t get on the stage,” said Skank. “Pointing his guns at people. Cut in line.”
“Constitutional right!” said the man.
“And a brave man you are, sir,” replied Munna, dismissing the cop and leading the man aside. “We haven’t much time, I’m afraid, my son. But we will survive, to be sure. And to be absolutely sure, I need your help. Will you be a watchman for us? Keep the people in line? Not sayin’ shoot anybody! Just saying watch.”
“‘Course I will,” replied the man. “Where you want me?”
Larry directed him to the stone stage that rose above the room full of people. He was soon joined by four other men—two of them heavily armed, all of them willing partners in power. Their presence had a calming effect on the people on the floor. The people didn’t want to die from the impact. They didn’t want to get shot either.
Munna checked his watch: three twenty-five. They had about twenty minutes, if you believed those guys on the radio—which he didn’t. He fingered the purple mole on his cheekbone. He checked the room. There were lots of beautiful, young women. He counted ten people and studied the amount of floor space they consumed; then he multiplied that space in his mind by ten—and conceptualized the space required for a hundred people. He mentally paced off the room and determined there were roughly fourteen hundred people in attendance. In statistical terms, this was his universe. “Half will die in twenty minutes,” he said to himself, fingering his mole, “which leaves seven hundred, of which half will die within the first year, leaving three hundred fifty.” He racked his brain trying to remember how to do an actuarial to manage risk and uncertainty. He gave up when he thought about birth rates. Too complicated. Not enough time. The place was getting crowded. He still had work to do.
Munna faced the crowd, arms above his head. “Listen to me,” he shouted. “People, listen!” The crowd quieted and regarded the now shirtless man on the stage, the gigantic mole on his cheekbone seeming to stand out even further by the underlighting of the candles and flashlights. “Listen, my children! For I have chosen you to live!” he pronounced. “Do exactly as I say and you will survive. Ignore me, and die!”
The room became very quiet. “This is my house,” he continued. “I invited you here. I guided you here to safety. You are here, not as my guests, but as my children.”
He paused and surveyed their faces which gazed at him with profound hope, something akin to reverence. He liked it.
“For I am your savior,” he said softly. He couldn’t help himself.
A murmur rumbled through the crowd, but it was quickly squelched by shushes. They had no one better to believe in at the moment.
“Listen!” he commanded, and the crowd fell quiet enough to hear old echoes. “These men,” he continued, gesturing to the appointed watchmen, “are all armed—and dangerous—as you can see.” The men puffed out their chests, set their jaws and subtly showed off their weapons. “These men,” he went on, “have all the guns. And, in the world as we have always known it, that means they have all the power.”
He walked over to the half-wall and chose two weapons—his trusty old Winchester Model 12, and a bump-stock rifle—from the pile. He put the bump-stock onto his back and cradled the Winchester, then he walked back to the front of the stage and stood next to the watchmen, who nodded to him with stern military deference. “In the New World, as we are about to meet it,” he said, “must it remain fundamentally true that those who have all the weapons must have all the power? The answer is no.”