Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chapter XVII: Smithsonian goes Prehistoric (Rough Draft )

Written and owned by Greg Miller 2011
Full version up to date can be found at:

Chapter XVII:  Smithsonian goes Prehistoric 

Fred looks in amazement as he enters the Smithsonian.  A large marble rotunda greets him with a life size elephant on top of a fake brown pedestal shaped like a rock with bushes.  The elephant’s snout reaches for the heavens.

Fred thinks to himself, it’s either saying hello or maybe it’s trying to reach a leave or whatever elephants eat.  

The rotunda is not destroyed but various balconies on the second floor are caving in.   Security check points near the entrance have been abandoned.  A dozen people are milling inside, dazed and confused.  Kyle does not seem to recognize any of them.  There doesn’t appear to be any casualties in the lobby.  

Fred sees an Easter Island Head on the southeast wall among various totem poles and stone disks that are shattered in glass cases.

Kyle excitedly informs his father, “Most people don’t know, but the Smithsonian is a made up of a whole bunch of museums, nineteen to be exact.  We also have a zoo and about a dozen research centers.”  Fred notes in displeasure that Kyle was still not caring what was happening and was talking like it’s a normal day.

“It’s sad that no one back home wants to know what I’m doing.  I was looking forward to seeing you so much.  I work as a Human Resource Specialist or the OHR.”  Without pausing he continues, “We need to go to the West Wing on the first floor, follow me.”  

Fred is relieved they don’t have to go the second floor as he follows his son.  They find the way is blocked with rubble and have to take a side route in a corridor called Early Life.  A whole bunch of broken fossils are scattered on the ground.  A sign says one of them is supposed to be over 35 million years old.  Many rocks simply look like normal rocks with moss on them.  Fred would never have known it was so old for he would have expected nothing less from rocks he sat on while trout fishing.

The next room is dubbed Dinosaur Hall.  A fashionably designed billboard states they are entering a corridor called Blast from the Past.  He stops dead in his tracks when he encounters a 40 foot Tyrannosaurus rex staring down at him.  He almost pisses his pants as an aftershock jolts the dinosaur closer to where he is stands.  For a moment he thinks it’s coming to life and is going to eat him.  His son tells him the dinosaur is called "King of the Tyrant Lizards".  In the middle of this room is a shattered pterosaur.  A plate that is still standing firmly in place says it a Quetzalcoatlus.   Its eggs are broken and scattered among the debris.  Other dinosaur bones are around but he doesn’t know what they are and really doesn’t care. 

A television monitor is still playing something near the back.  Fred can’t feel but chilled as he watches a meteoroid collide into earth on the screen.  It’s digital and reminds Fred of a high tech cartoon. 

Is that what happened to us?  Oh no, I don’t remember seeing an asteroid. It’s too bad they didn’t make a cartoon with Bugs Bunny and a Asteroid.  

Kyle interrupts his thoughts, “Dad, can you stay right here for a minute?  I will be right back.”

Before Fred responds Kyle bounces off while repeating himself, “Stay right here or in this wing.  Give me five minutes.  I don’t want security to bother you and I will be right back.”

Kyle is gone and Fred is alone.  He takes out his cigarette and continues to walk down the corridor.   It scared him that Kyle just left.

Jesus, why did he leave?  What security is he talking about?  No one is here.

Fred can’t handle the television monitor telling him the earth was destroyed 65 million years ago when it seems to be happening right now.  He takes a few long drags on his cigarette and tells himself that he needs to get another pack before he runs out.  

A nice cold beer would be nice too.   Fred decides to continue walking down the corridor not knowing what else to do.  He saw a few gift stores but doubted they would have cigarettes.  He was also very much uncomfortable in stealing so that wasn’t an option.

Dinosaur Hall becomes Fossil Lab.  A lost child stumbles to him while crying for his mommy.  Fred thinks it’s a caveman attacking him through the dust but quickly realized it’s a normal child who is just scared.  The child screams and runs the other direction towards a section called Ancient Sea’s.  No security guards come to the child’s rescue.  There’s ample light to see and the walls are still intact, Fred goes towards the opposite direction the child ran.  He didn’t want to be accused of molesting a crazy kid when all he wished to do was help.  It’s really hard for his to fathom that this was really happening.  He kept hoping this was some elaborate trick. 

A sign directs him to his left, the Fossil Mammals and a small snack shop.

Was that smoke in the air?  

Fred stops dead as he swears he smells something wrong coming from the direction of the cafeteria.  He wonders if it’s wise to be in the building.

Where is my son?

He is about to double back when he hears someone cry out to his right.  An elderly woman’s voice can be heard coming from the direction of the bathrooms.

“Someone please save us!  The door won’t open and we are scared!  Some help us!  I have my grand children with me!  What’s happening?  Can someone hear me?”

No one is around but Fred.  Fred was never a hero but it didn’t take him long to realize he needs to do something.

Fred runs towards the bathrooms while yelling, “I’m here.  I’m going to rescue you and your family!  Stay calm!” His voice is soon lost as smoke detectors finally catch what he smells. The still air grates the sound of fire alarm sirens as the sprinkler system finally activates.

He passes through an exhibit called Ice Age but doesn’t take the time to see what’s on show.  Human beings are more important to Fred then history and artifacts.

The elderly woman’s voice gratefully responds, “Oh thank you so much.  We are so scared.”  There are two bathrooms side by side.  The women’s bathroom is to the left.

Fred responds, “Hold still, I will have you out in a jip.”  

He first tries to open the door but it’s stuck.  For some reason it doesn’t want to budge.

Maybe the earthquake shifted it a few inches?  It’s possible it’s catching on the floor.

The door did not look like it had a lock mechanism.  He slams his body into it a few times but it doesn’t budge.  He hears children cry in the bathroom as the woman tries to cajole them in soothing tones.

Fred pauses as he realizes it’s not going to open.  He doesn’t want to break his shoulder but he isn’t about to give up.  

“I will be right back.  I need to find something to break the door down with.  Maybe I can find an axe or something.”  The elderly woman cries but says she understands.  She tells him to hurry back.

Fred looks around but can’t find where they keep the fire extinguisher and axes.  He runs back to the cafeteria while looking for anyone who can help.  He runs into a couple who stumble out of the cafeteria and is about to ask them for help.

The guy interrupts him, “You need to get out here.  A gas leak started a fire in the grill area in the restaurant.  This place is going to burn!”  They run past him and are out of his sight before he can say something.  He goes into the cafeteria.  He needed to know how bad it was.

A fire is raging near the far side where the food is prepared.  A maintenance worker appears to have gotten hit over the head by falling debris lies on the ground near the entrance.  He sees a utility belt with some really nice looking tools.  

Please Jesus, let it be alright for me to take these tools to safe the trapped people.

He reaches down and unbuckles the utility belt.  He tries to not look at the dead body and quickly gets the belt off the still corpse.  It’s a natural fit as he slides it around his waist.  It’s better to have it securely on him for he could have his hands free.  

Fred feels comfortable as he fondly rubs a Phillip screwdriver.   He loves his tools.  He looks down and sees the workers name was ironically Phillip and says, “Thanks Phillip.  You won’t need these anymore.”

He quickly returns to the bathroom.  While scanning the door he tells them he is back and to be patient.  

There are 16 screws facing my direction.  I can have the door off the frame within minutes.

Fred expertly unscrews the first screw.  He squints as smoke builds around him in a alarming rate.  He was beginning to get a little nervous that he didn’t have the time to get them out of the bathroom.  He doesn’t want them to panic so he asks, “What’s your name?  How many people are with you?”

She sounds old, maybe in her sixties or seventies, “I am Emily and I’m here with my three grandchildren.  Two are here with me.  The third I left with the dinosaurs.  Did you see him?  What’s happening out there?”

Fred started unscrewing the second screw.  He decided to start at the bottom of the door.  Within seconds it was out. 
There are 14 more.  At least I’m not the only one having a bad day.

He hears something that sounds like a snap and boom.  He looks back and sees that the fire has completely engulfed the cafeteria.  Various chemical bottles were exploding.  He looks back at the door and decides to ask about her grandchildren.  

He tried keeping fear out of his voice, “What are your grandchildren names?  I think I might have seen your other grandson earlier.  He is fine but is scared.” 

There are only six screws left.  I can do this.

It wasn’t much different then fixing machines that get clogged from aluminum cans during his work shifts.  The factory paid him big bucks to keep things working nicely so he wasn’t a stranger to unscrewing screws.

The older woman talks about why she came to the Smithsonian with her grandchildren.  Kyle pauses and looks over his shoulder.  The fire was now in the fossil exhibit near the cafeteria.  

Shit, in a few minutes it’s going to reach us.

He was down to three screws.  Sweat pours from his brow and he needs to stop for a second to catch his breath.  While catching his breath he sees a side panel tucked near an exhibit on Africa a few feet away.  In the panel are a fire extinguisher and a water valve and hose.  But more importantly was a blanket that protects people from fire the children could use if he got them out in time.  

If I don’t get them out they will die.

Fred focuses on the task on hand and within 30 seconds gets the remaining screws out.

“I need you guys to step away from the door.”  They agree and Fred puts all his weight into slamming into the door with his left shoulder.  It falls backwards without any effort.  The elderly woman and two children burst happily out.  They thank him as they beg him to tell them what happened.  He tells them he doesn’t know.

“We need to get out of here now.  Here take this blanket and drape it over the children’s heads.”  Kyle takes the fire extinguisher as he gives the blanket to the children.  The water hose does not work.  Kyle knows the earthquakes must have destroyed the water lines.  The sprinklers were not working either. 

Minutes later they are back in the rotunda.  He sees Kyle coming down from the second floor as the woman and children thank him.  The elderly woman is on a mission to find the third missing grandson and leaves Kyle and Fred.

Didn’t Kyle say his office was on the first floor?  Why is he coming from the second floor?

Kyle looks very flushed while he keeps looking over to where he came from.

“Dad, who were they?  Where did you get the tool belt from?”  Kyle didn’t seem to care about his Dad’s answer.  He appeared to be looking towards the second floor.  “We need to get out of here.  I got what I needed.”  He doesn’t make eye contact with Fred.

Shit, what did he do?  Maybe he got his drugs or something.  Now isn’t the time to ask.  

A new aftershock rocks the building.  Smoke is coming out from the area Fred just left.  Fred asks Kyle if it’s time to get his baby.
Kyle quickly points to where the iron ore rock from Ishpeming Michigan went.  Fred looks to where Kyle is pointing.  The iron ore rock exited the other side of the building leaving a second entrance.  Fred shrugs as they walk out the opposite direction they entered.  He sees Kyle is carrying a large back pack but doesn’t question what’s inside.


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