Author: Matt Poll
“Don’t point at the bird, Larry honey,” Jared hissed, half-slapping his daughter’s finger out of the horizontal. She flashed him a comical tilt-headed glare of hurt, which he responded to with a comical arched-eyebrow glare of fatherly disapproval.
“Yeah yeah, Dr. McCann’s magic, sacred rules of birding, I know. Got it. No pointing.”
“Larry, he knew his stuff, okay? I’m serious, he’d look up at flock, wayyy high up, just dots, and say—“ Jared stood up taller, and put on a gruff English accent “—there are twenty-eight, no, twenty-nine Larks up there, moving south-southwest, and—“
Lara delivered the punch-line to her father’s well-worn parable with a mimed rim-shot.
“And one of them has a headache. Ba-dum-tiss. I know.”
Rob, cleared his throat, mildly annoyed.
“Meanwhile, your Mockingbird has cleared off while you two crack little jokes, hmm?” he whispered, his slightly-too-big eyes opened wider than normal. He shouldered his spotting scope, and with a nod of the head, led his birding companions back down the trail that skirted the quiet reservoir. The early noon sun was starting to burn off the mist that had settled on the muddy track, weeds on both sides clawing at ankles, hope you wore your tick socks.
Jared followed, no longer whispering. “Yep, let’s get back, the birds are havin’ their siestas, we can still—“
Lara abruptly held out both arms, signaling both hush and halt. Her head swiveled around to a low tree where a mid-sized bird was hopping between branches, silhouetted against the fresh blue skyline.
“Saw the flyby shadow on the reeds,” she said, with a pleased smirk that made the two men exchange smiles – they were impressed. The trio hunched behind a tuft of reeds.
“Blue Jay?” Rob proposed.
“That’s what I—what the hell?” Jared flinched back from his eyepieces as if burned by what he saw through them.
In response to the sounds of a large animal crashing through the underbrush nearby, a striking bird, larger than a Blue Jay, burst from the tree with a trill, glided awkwardly towards the birders and flopped to a landing. Sooty grey with wings and long legs pied a silvery blue, Lara took the bird in with her binoculars. She watched the bird’s stout orange bill clatter open and closed, and her mind almost shut down when she saw the bird’s set of fine teeth.
Jared stood up straight and rolled his eyes. “Wow, okay. Rob, I thought you—“
“Sorry, I’m sorry you guys. I thought I’d cleared out this sector of the sim. You can program out most of it.”
The large animal finally pushed its way through the low trees nearby, revealing itself. The three watched as the moss-colored beast, clearly a Triceratops, lumbered onto the path and inspected them cautiously. Sitting astride the dinosaur was a long-haired and bearded man. He was olive-skinned in the style of the Mediterranean and wore a simple brown robe. He smiled and gave them a serene nod.
“But not all of it, eh? Smile and wave at Jesus Christ on a dinosaur everyone, wave at Jesus.” Jared did just that, then turned on his heel and headed for the closest exit of the sim, which was marked with a discreet blue light. The other two followed him down the stairs and out into the lobby of the “After the Ark Simulation Experience”, the main attraction at the Museum of Creation, where Rob worked as a programmer. Lara folded her arms over her chest and watched the two men argue.
“Look, Jared, it’s the only birding we can do anymore, right? It’s hard enough finding BS maintenance excuses to get the exhibit running before hours as it is, y’know? Like I said, I can’t get rid of all of it. I know it kind of breaks the illusion, to have an Archaeopteryx flying through.”
Rob rubbed his head anxiously.
“Sorry. Anyhow, was good to see you again after all this time, Jared.”
A wall-mounted screen flickered to life in the corner, and red words scrolled across.
“This is a fallout warning for all Northern Bannon Colonies…heavy radiation levels expected for the next 48 hours, all patriots must wear their rad-counters at all times and must report to their county checkpoint before curfew to have them logged…”
Jared sighed, put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder, and walked towards the back exit.
“Man, poor buggers,” Lara mumbled.
“Yeah, guess we won’t be getting any more spring overshoots from Europe,” offered her father, looking at his shoes.
“Or Texas. Or Florida. Or Cali—“
“Shhhh, Lara, that’s enough. You’re can’t say those names anymore, we talked about this,” Rob hissed, looking around.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t wanna get us all in deep doo-doo with the Red-hats, eh?” Lara put her hands on her hips and did her most offensive southern accent: “Wouldn’t wanna git us all shipped down to Atlanta for re-ejumication or nuthin’,”
All three froze as a metal door banged open in the next room.
“Shhhhh, Larry—“ Jared held up an urgent finger.
Four men wearing what looked like baseball catchers’ get-ups, complete with red caps, clattered into the room and leveled their weapons.
“Don’t move! Show me your ID disks, now,” screamed the Red-hat in charge. Rob stepped back and gestured towards the other two with his chin, then turned away.
The Red-hats surged forward and grabbed Jared and Lara roughly.
“Sir, are you Jared Logan? This is him. He’s a leader in the alt-science resistance, it’s him, get them in the truck.”
“Thirty-five years you’ve known me, Rob! This is why you brought us here? To sell us out to these anti-science thugs? Thirty-five years! I’m gonna kill you!” Jared bucked and thrashed as the Red-hats dragged him out.
Lara went calmly to the pick-up truck and looked up before being bundled into the back. No birds flew in the sickly orange skies and hadn’t for some years.