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Rules (1973)

Rules (1973)

©1973, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1973). Rules. Unpublished short story.

I wrote this story when I was 22 or 23 years old. Needless to say, the Cold War was on my mind.






By Dallas Denny


Flash of light, brighter than a thousand graduate students. Yes, the one you’ve been expecting all these years. The one you think about once a month, when you see an unexpected brightening near the horizon. Up until now it’s been car headlights, fireworks, any of a dozen commonplace occurrences. This time it’s the real thing, and you know it, because it has to be. Nothing else could be that bright. You’re half—blinded. Reflexively, you move across the seven or eight feet separating you from a culvert, taking Eddie with you by sheer momentum. You both land in a tangle of arms and legs in the bottom of the ditch.

You count. Between ninety-three and ninety-four the shockwave hits, and the sound. Even twenty miles away from ground zero, both are tremendous.

You’re back on your feet, watching the tall black cloud that covers the far horizon and wondering what to do about Eddie. Eddie is getting slowly to his feet, a submissive smile on his face. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but then he never understands much. He stands there in his institutional clothing, his short, thick fingers twitching, his tongue protruding, watching you to see what you’ll do next. By now, you’ve made up your mind. You walk briskly back across the lawn with Eddie, towards his residence hall. You know Eddie can’t come with you. You are close to Eddie, of course; he’s your brother, after all, but you’ve just made the decision to let him sink or swim with his peers. You know he’s no better or worse than the others. You stop beside the locked door, knock on it twice with your fists, tell Eddie to stay put, and walk briskly away.

Now you begin your survival program. You’re flabby and out of shape, but you’ve always considered yourself superior to the majority of other people, both intellectually and physically. You’ve given considerable thought to what things would be like should the situation suddenly change drastically for the worse. You know new rules will be in effect. You know that as the superstructure of society disintegrates people will quickly revert to self—gratification and survival strategies. You will have to be able to defend yourself, because there will be no policemen to arbitrate disputes. You know from now on firearms will be both policeman and judge.

You realize most people will have a period of adjustment, of reality testing. You won’t, because you’re a creature of great plasticity. You’ve only conformed to your society because it has been to your advantage to do so. You’re capable of playing the game with any system of rules, and you already know what the new rules will be.

The first thing you need to do is get a car. Yours is a two-seater sports model and won’t hold much besides yourself. It will be worse than useless in rough country. A truck will be of more use.

In the parking lot are several aides, stunned and bewildered by the blast. You’re in luck there; shifts were just changing. A middle-aged woman with a lacquered hairdo and a sallow complexion is standing next to a black Ford Ranger pick-up. The door is open.

As you approach she starts to say something; you ignore her and look in the cab. The keys are there. You climb in. She is still talking; when she notices what you’re doing, she grabs your arm. Casually, from your position on the seat, you stick a foot in her belly and push her away, hard. As she lands in a bewildered heap, you start the truck and drive away, disregarding the 15-mile—per—hour speed limit of the hospital. Of course.

You turn onto the highway. It leads directly out of town, but you drive the mile to town. You know where a gun shop is. There is no traffic on the streets. Everybody is still stunned with disbelief. That is to your advantage.

The gun shop is standing wide open. Nobody is inside, unless they’re hiding in the back. You load an incredible assortment of rifles, pistols, submachine guns, shotguns and ammunition into the bed of the truck. You allow yourself to think that you may be very wealthy man, post-disaster, if you can cache and hang onto those weapons.

And then you’re speeding out of town, trying to beat the fallout, doing ninety miles an hour down the broad two-lane

highway. The truck could go faster, but you figure ninety miles per hour is an acceptable compromise between recklessness and safe driving.

You get twenty miles from the city with no problem. As you reach the connecting road that leads toward your town, you realize suddenly you’re going to get your wife. Doing so will take you no further from the city, but then it will take you no nearer, either. But first, supplies. You park the truck at a convenience store and stroll inside, a .38 caliber Taurus revolver in the waistband of your jeans. Nobody is inside.

Soon you have loaded the pickup almost to the top with food, salt, flashlights, batteries, can openers, oil, and anything else you think might come in useful. You’re checking to see if there might be something you missed when you hear a car pull up outside. You hide as someone gets out of a car and walks into the store.

It’s a deputy sheriff, and he has his gun out. But you’ve chosen your hiding place well, and when you tell him to drop his gun, he does.

The deputy is a jowly, red—faced good old boy of about fifty. You pick his gun up from the floor, explaining to him that nobody was around the store, so you’re helping yourself. He tells you stealing is against the law, and informs you you are under arrest. You explain about the rules, how the social order has changed, how the old rules are no longer in effect. You do this with considerable patience, and soon the deputy is nodding in agreement. He asks if there is enough for both of you. You say yes and hand him back his pistol. Your hand is still on the barrel when his finger reaches the trigger and he discharges the gun. The bullet explodes through your hand and into your abdomen, and you fall heavily to the floor. The deputy takes your weapon from you and searches through your pockets until he finds the keys to the truck. Then, whistling merrily, he exits. You hear the black truck drive away.

You lay there in pain. You should have shot him in the head, you realize belatedly. You don’t know if your’ll live or die, but you do know that by your stupidity you’ve seriously jeopardized your chances of survival. Your stupidity, your inflexibility, your inability to adapt. You did it to yourself. You’ve been unable to accept, to play by the new rules. Game over. You lose.