Monday, 24 December 2007
The Christmas tree was taller than a military cadet and just as green. It had been decorated with old-fashioned wooden ornaments, wrapped in thick tinsel strands, and dotted with real candles in silver holders.
Five boys and two girls sat on the dormitory floor in a ring, ignoring the thin line of smoke seeping under the door. Simon and May-Rose pulled crackers. Barn, Cruikshank, and Diddy Dave swapped presents. Jimmy Hicks and Leslie had their arms around each other, paper hats upon their heads, pretending to be the King and Queen of Christmas.
“We’ve run out of Coca-Cola.” Barn thumped his chest. “I need more Coke if I’m going to do the biggest burp in world history. And I really am,” he added proudly.
“Give it up for my boy.” Diddy Dave draped a clump of discarded ribbons over his friend’s head. “He be a beast!”
“I’ll get the drinks.” Simon pulled himself up, went to the door, and opened it.
The corridor outside was filled with oily smoke, thickest where it rolled across the ceiling in black folds, a churning, suffocating beast. Two dead soldiers in army uniforms lay on the ground, staring sightlessly at each other. Simon put a handkerchief over his mouth, stepped over the bloody corpses, and went to the canteen. He fetched a bottle of Coke from one of the tall, gray fridges and returned to the party. Shutting the door behind him, he handed the bottle to Barn, who took a huge swig and grinned at the others.
Simon looked at his watch and shook his head.
“It’s eight o’clock,” he said sadly.
Jimmy Hicks pulled Leslie close and held her tight. Barn began praying. May-Rose started to cry. Simon screwed his eyes shut and put his hands over his ears.
A high-pitched sound, louder than the whistle of a steam train, rose from below, and vast white light, bright as the promise of life, enveloped the room and ripped it apart.
At 2000 hours on Monday, 24 December 2007, Pinewood Military Installation exploded.
The blast ripped apart acres of forest and devastated the remote highland valley where the base was located. There were no survivors and no official cause was given for the incident.
Inside Pinewood were 185 male and female military personnel—a mix of scientists and soldiers.
There were also 7 children.
This is the story of their last day.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.