Nuclear Romance: Excerpt 2

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Later that morning a plain white van pulled up to Jen’s house. A man got out, opened the back of the vehicle and pulled out a black case. Just inside the van’s double doors hung a pearly white Hazmat suit, replete with head and foot gear. The man grabbed the radon test kit and, as an afterthought, reached for a small Geiger counter. He switched it on low and hung it over his shoulder by a thin strap.

            He knocked on the front door, but no one answered. The car was in the driveway, so he knocked again and waited. Still no one. He walked around looking for a door to a basement, where radon tests are done. He noticed a soft crackle from the Geiger counter and checked the reading: it was just normal, background radiation. He headed toward the backyard, and a boy bounded out of the porch.

“Hi. Are you the Hazmat man?” Ricky was instantly intrigued with the Geiger counter.

“I am. And who are you?”

“I’m Ricky Elery. I live here. You’re here to check the house because of my sister, right? She’s really sick.”

“Yup. That’s right. I’m Jeff Collins. I work down at the firehouse. Want to help me check for radon levels?”

“Cool. Is that a real Geiger counter hanging off your shoulder? We saw one in science class. Does it just measure radiation or other stuff?”

“Just radiation. We use other devices to check for radon and gas leaks.”

The husky man knelt down to meet Ricky eye to eye and smiled. He grabbed the Geiger counter, explained how it worked and handed it to the boy.

“You want to hold on to this?”

“Wow. Can I really?”

“Sure. You hold the Geiger counter. Keep the sensor stick pointed out. We have to check for radon with this test kit. Can you show me to the basement?”

“There’s a door in the ground you have to lift up. Follow me!”

They walked along the side of the house on a small sidewalk lined with a single row of daffodils. At the far end was a clothesline draped with the kids’ clothes, dark and wet, still soaked with river water. As they neared the line, the crackling peaked instantly and then died down. Ricky looked up at the man.

“What made it do that?”

“Don’t know.”

The man stopped to get a fix on the sound. With the Geiger counter still hanging off Ricky’s shoulder, the man nudged the sensor toward the house, the garden, the ground, but the sound stopped.

Then he pointed it toward the clothesline, and the crackling modulated into a dense stream of white noise. He cautiously closed in to the clothes, gently pulling Ricky along.

“What the . . . ?”

            “What does it mean, Mr. Collins? Is it coming from our clothes?”

            Puzzled, the man took the stick from Ricky and sketched imaginary lines around the house, the ground, and the clothesline. The crackling clearly came from the wet clothes.

“Hey Ricky. Did your mom just do the laundry or something?”

“No. No. These clothes are wet from the beach.”

“What beach?”

“The riverfront. We were horsing around in the water. That’s where Kaylee got really sick.”

The man froze. He took a few steps back and protectively put his arm in front of Ricky.

“Don’t touch anything, Ricky.”

With his eyes on the meter, he retraced lines around the pants, shirts, underwear, socks. Then he stopped.

“Why don’t we shut off the Geiger counter for now, Ricky. Know how to do that?”

The boy found the large black knob and clicked it off.

“Thanks,” Jeff said. “Is your mom home?”


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