Derek sat with his brother in basement of their house. It was dark, only a few dim light bulbs casting a faint glow in the room, making shadows loom and more frightening that usual. Derek was scared. Compared to his kid brother, however, his fear was nothing. Kyle was terrified. Too young to understand what was going on outside, he didn't know why their father had come out of the house earlier and screamed at them to get inside the basement. He didn't understand why they'd had to leave their baseball bat, baseball, and mitt on the grass, or why their mother had started to cry when she'd seen the fireworks.
Derek didn't even fully understand. Sure, he knew what the 'fireworks' were – nuclear missiles, creating the proverbial mushroom cloud. He had no idea what was going on outside of that, however. He didn't understand who would do this, who would want to; surely they knew how many people were dying at this very moment? His troubled mind tried to process what he had witnessed and what was happening.
Explosions were heard in the distance. Kyle began to cry.
"Don't cry," Derek said. "We'll be okay." The lie rolled so easily off his tongue. What was he saying? The world was ending, and there wasn't a thing anybody could do about it.
Kyle shook his head. "Where're Mom and Dad?" he asked, his voice shaking pitifully.
Derek ruffled his kid brother's hair, trying to hide his own fear. "They're getting supplies. We're gonna be down here for a while, 'til everything blows over."
"Is this because of the fireworks?"
Derek sucked in his breath. How did he answer? Only one thought came to mind: lie. "I dunno, Buddy."
Kyle sniffed. "I'm scared." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
"I know, Kyle," Derek said. I'm scared, too. "We'll be okay. I promise. I won't let anything happen to us. Neither will Mom and Dad." As he said it, though, he wasn't sure. What was going to happen? Who had sent those missiles? They were nuclear, weren't they?
Before Kyle could say anything else, or Derek could lose more courage, their parents' footsteps came from the steps. Their mother appeared, carrying plastic bags full of food and books, blankets and batteries. Her eyes were red. Their father was behind her, one hand holding onto a bag similar to those of their mother. In his other hand was duct tape, and plastic garbage bags.
Their mother was crying. When she entered the basement and saw the boys huddled against the wall, the terror evident on both their faces, she struggled to stop and, with false cheeriness, said, "Well, boys, looks like we'll be down here for a while. This'd be a good time to catch up on your reading."
Kyle and Derek just stared at her. She noticed their disbelief, and after a moment of them watching each other, she broke down, slumping into a chair, dropping the bags onto the floor next to her. As their father locked the basement door and started taping it shut, sealing the cracks, Kyle stood up and went to his mother.
"Don't cry, Mom," he told her. He had stopped crying. He saw that if his parents couldn't keep from being scared, then he had to be brave, because things were going to get bad.
Their mother just cried harder. "We'll be okay, boys. I promise." As she said this lie, Derek saw what she was thinking on her face – I don't know what we're going to do. We could die down here. This could be the end. Nothing will ever be the same. How can I tell you not to worry when I'm scared out of my mind?
Their father finished sealing the door, and moved onto the small, single pane window at the top of the far wall. Through it, Derek couldn't see anything – assuring or otherwise.
Derek looked at his father as he quickly finished that job. He slumped on the steps, staring ahead of him. His expression was blank with horror. His supplies were on the floor in front of him.
"Dad?" Kyle asked, turning his attention to his father. "Are you okay?"
Their father swallowed hard and turned to his youngest son. "Yeah, Champ, I'm fine. Don't worry about it."
"What's going on?" Another loaded question.
Derek saw the inner turmoil that his father faced, and was glad that he didn't have to decide: how do you tell an eight-year-old child that the world as they know it is ending?