A gun blasted and the living room window shattered, glass showering Hassan. He ran to the couch. Auntie Fatima grabbed him and held him close with the other two children. Someone screamed in the parking lot outside. Tires screeched and a car roared away, followed an instant later by a wrenching crash in the street beyond.
Hassan trembled and tried burying himself in Auntie’s bosom. The camps had been like this, people yelling, screaming, smashing things. The memory filled Hassan with grief. All those people.
More screaming erupted outside. Hassan pulled himself away from Auntie Fatima’s comforting embrace and rubbed the tears away from his eyes.
He had been watching the asteroid mission on TV when everything stopped working, the TV, cell phones, even Tanika’s old laptop.
“We need to do something,” he said. Auntie shook her head, still clutching Tanika and Little Mohammed tight against her red dress, rocking back and forth. Her head scarf was crooked.
“But if the world’s going to end I want to know. I want to know if they stopped Loki or not.”
“No,” she said.
“People are panicking because everything is broken, no electricity, nobody knows what is going on, they think it doesn’t matter, just like back in Somalia.”
Aunt Fatima raised her head and stared at him like she saw a stranger. “How do you see these things?” she said. “You’re so young.”
“How can we find out what is going on?” Hassan asked Little Mohammed. Little Mohammed was very smart for a ten-year-old. He loved computers, and was a wizard in school. He didn’t remember Othman and the others they left behind.
“Mister Russo.” Little Mohammed said. “He has a ham radio, and a generator. I’ve heard it.”
“You stay away from that devil.” Auntie spit out the words in Somali.
Hassan took a deep breath. “He has a radio.”
“He’ll shoot you himself.”
“I have to try.”
Maybe, if people had known what was going on, they would not have come with guns and machetes. Hassan went to the patio and slipped out, Auntie screaming at him to come back, Tanika and Little Mohammed crying. Mister Russo’s house was across the back field, behind a hedge eight feet high, roof poking above it like a castle he’d seen in a library book. The Ham radio’s aerial loomed skyward, offering silent hope.
Pillars of smoke rose all around the city, police sirens wailing, more gunshots in the distance. Hassan’s legs felt like they would turn to rubber. It felt like he was back in the camp outside Nairobi, the summer hot around him, hearing the children scream as men fought with knives.
If they were going to die, he wanted to know. He didn’t want to die like his father had in Mogadishu, never knowing.
Mister Russo hated kids. Hassan didn’t know if he hated black kids more then any other kids — he hated everyone. Russo kept dogs, he had guns, kids said he was crazy. Some kids said Russo had been in the Vietnam War, others said he’d been in World War II, but that would make him too old.
Hassan took a shaky step, then another and began running toward the house.
The hedge was too thick to crawl through. Hassan ran around to the front of the yard to the steel gate. The dogs snarled at him, jaws snapping as they lunged behind the gate, making him jump back and his heart race.
Iron screens covered the house’s windows, the curtains drawn. He hefted a rock, hurled it at the door, the rock missing and skittering along the grass. He picked up another and threw it at the door. It hit with a loud bang. He threw two more at the door. The sirens, the screams, the gunshots faded as he waited. Nothing. He threw a rock at the iron screen; somehow it missed the mesh, breaking glass.
The door flung open. Mister Russo appeared, a short stocky bald man holding a shotgun.
“What the hell are you doing?” Russo yelled, pointing the shotgun at Hassan.
“Please,” Hassan said, “I need to know.”
“I need to know what happened. People are scared. They are fighting, they think the world is going to end.”
Russo swore. “Idiots,” he said. “Well, it isn’t.”
“You heard it on your radio?”
Russo stared at him. “How the hell… yeah, I did.”
“Please, we need to tell the others.”
“You tell them.”
“They won’t hear me.”
“That’s your problem.”
“You have those stereo speakers,” Hassan said. Those speakers were legend at Sylvan Hollow — marching music had blared on them first thing in the morning for a week after the big party some of the older teens and grownups had one Saturday night a few months ago.
“I told you we’re going to live. The asteroid was deflected. Damn idiots hit it again at the last minute with more nukes. That’s where the EMP came from.”
Russo’s eyes narrowed. “You’re bleeding.”
Hassan reached up and felt glass from the shattered window in his scalp, his fingertips wet with blood.
“I can’t leave people behind again.” Hassan swallowed heavily, fighting back tears at the memory. “I can’t. I left Othman and his family behind in the refugee camp.”
Russo looked away.
“I told the UN about the terrorists,” Hassan said. “They let me, my auntie and cousin go, but not Othman and his family. I still dream about Othman in that bad place.” Blood trickled down into his eyes.
Russo’s face twitched. “I was in a bad place in ’Nam.” He met Hassan’s gaze. “I know about leaving people behind.” He sighed. “Okay, let’s tell the idiots.”
He called his dogs, tied them up, and then let Hassan inside to help set up the speakers, and play the message from the Australian Ham operator on full volume. Then Hassan ran back to the apartment to tell the others to listen.
Dale Ivan Smith grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and works for the largest public library in Oregon, where he has the privilege to work with patrons from a wide variety of backgrounds, including many many immigrants from many different countries, including Somalia. He recently sold his first story which appeared in the January 2010 issue of 10Flash magazine.