The mushroom cloud that started it all

The mushroom cloud that started it all

Colin Sumpterfeld breathed deeply of the fresh, scented mountain air. He’d always loved the way the Rocky Mountains smelled in the late spring, when the snows had finally receded. He sat upon the stump, looking southeast toward the city. Secretly, he was happy he couldn’t actually see the city, though in the distance, the swath cut through the fir forest for the power lines was visible and he wondered idly how long it would take nature to reclaim the scarred land, if left to its own devices.

It would happen if it could happen, Colin knew. Already, signs of the old equipment bunker were overgrown and invisible to anyone who didn’t know where it was. Decades earlier, the army had built the bunker into the side of the mountain, ostensibly to hold emergency supplies in case of a natural disaster, such as the ever present threat of the super volcano many miles to the southwest, erupting. Colin knew where the bunker was, but he didn’t know how far the army had gotten in stocking it. He’d never been inside and the hatch that led down into the bunker was padlocked. The hatch and warning signs were now overgrown, but Colin didn’t particularly care anyway.

He took another deep breath and allowed his eyes to fall to the ground near the stump. He was, after all, here to look for wild mushrooms. That was only an excuse, but it would be nice if he could find a morel or two to take back home with him.

Colin jumped when he heard a voice say, “Hello!”

He whirled, nearly dropping his rifle, his eyes fixing on the woman who stood a dozen feet away. He took her in with little more than a glance; athletically slender, shoulder length brown hair, pretty face, dressed in khaki shorts and a short sleeved shirt, with a knapsack on her back and a walking stick in her hand.

“Ma’am, it isn’t wise to walk up on someone like that,” Colin grumbled, half angry at himself because he’d not heard her.

“Sorry,” she said cheerfully, giving him a bright smile. She glanced distastefully at the rifle Colin laid back across his lap. “So were you going to shoot me, or is that reserved for defenseless animals?”

Her tone was mild, but her words irritated Colin.

“Ma’am, the rifle is just in case. There are hungry grizzlies in these mountains that would love to munch on tender flesh,” Colin said.

He felt a moment of satisfaction, quickly followed by a twinge of guilt, as the woman looked around nervously. Bears rarely attacked people without reason, and not to have a quick snack.

“Is there something I can help you with, ma’am?” he said calmly, hoping to remove some of the fear his last comment had created.

The woman blushed and said, “My name isn’t ma’am, it is Julie. I…um…got turned around somehow. I was hiking with a group from college and we sort of got separated.”

“Well, I’ve not seen anyone out here, except for defenseless animals,” Colin said, immediately sorry for the needless barb. He sighed, adding, “Maybe you can backtrack to where they were. I’ll come with you if you’d like.”

Julie blushed again, deeper red than before.

“I don’t know if that will help. I got separated from them yesterday evening and I’ve been looking for them most of last night. I think that I may have made matters worse because none of this looks remotely familiar,” she said, waving an arm to include the whole area.

Colin opened his mouth to chastise her for leaving a place the moment she knew that she was lost. The words never left his mouth, as a brilliant flash occurred in the southeast and the rumble of thunder could be heard as a tell-tale mushroom shaped cloud rose up over where the city had been.

He knew that there was only one thing that could cause such a flash, rumble and enormous cloud, and he knew what the results would be if they remained exposed on a southward facing slope.

“Come on!” he yelled, jumping to his feet and running. He noticed that there was no hesitation in Julie as she fell into stride with him, a half pace behind. It impressed him that she followed, though she was clearly bewildered, and also that she was able to match his stride.

“What happened?” Julie yelled without breaking stride.

“Atomics!” Colin yelled back. As the implication struck her, Julies pace quickened and she passed him though she clearly had no idea where they were going.

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