What is This?

About six months ago, the tunnel courier delivered to me a series of "comedies" written by Ephraim P. Noble from 1968-1974. Maybe there is an older meaning to the word "comedies" that I'm not familiar with, because they seem nothing like comedies to me. In any case, I have scanned the covers of each of these very short stories, and hope to post them here on a regular basis.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Bomb in the Basement

The Bomb in the Basement

I never believed there was one. This was back in 1969, the same month they put a man on the moon. The underground hippy group Radiant Union had just purged several “informers” and its Secretary General (a woman with freckles whom we all dreamed about kissing) had been reprimanded harshly for associating with a known agent of capital, a student loan officer.

God, I hated them. In those days, I secretly admired Spiro Agnew and sympathized with his doomy, under-siege mentality; of course I had to very cautious about that. But back to the bomb. The leader of Radiant Union, a con artist if there ever was one who happened to have a sort of Roman Polanski, movie-star quality about him that magnetized the force of his personality, persuaded the group of the existence of an enormous bomb, constructed in a secret lab beneath the Penn State campus during the last days of World War II. He revealed that it was hidden in a concrete chamber accessible through the basement of my apartment building, and that he was working on a complicated, slow-burning fuse that would ignite the bomb when the right moment came.

One night the Secretary General came over to try to recruit me to the group. She had a habit of wearing Native American garb, and I found it difficult not to think about making love to her in a field of maize. She wore moccasins and a very short skirt and a war-paint on her forehead.

After two bottles of wine, I said, “let’s go find that bomb.” I took her hand and we ventured down the back stairs, in the dark, to the basement.

“I can see in the dark. Let me lead,” she said. We followed twisting metal stairs, deeper and deeper, eventually coming to a metal door that pushed open into the basement, dimly lit by a few bare bulbs. Old machinery, some of it running. Boilers, an enormous furnace, black cobwebs everywhere. The floor hot and vibrating.

We walked through a narrow corridor with rusted pipes overhead. The corridor opened up to a small bare room with a lower ceiling and a single door at the end with a crooked metal sign that read DO NOT OPEN.

“It’s in there,” she said, “I bet.”

“Let’s find out,” I said.

The door had no handle. We pushed on it but it would not budge. The door was tightly fit into the wall. There were no cracks, no hinges.

Suddenly, she put her finger to my lips. I listened. After a moment, there came a noise from behind the door. It sounded like pushing.

It sounded like someone was trying to push the door open from the other side. Then, for a reason that wouldn't become clear to me until many years later, she gently leaned forward and rubbed her forehead on mine, smearing it with her war paint.

The lights flickered. The sound behind the door grew louder.

To be continued . . .

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