About Four Minute Warning:
Caught in a supermarket, when the alarm goes off, Luke and David admit some unspoken truths to each other before the bombs fall.
Four Minute Warning
Tracy and Jimmy know you can’t survive a nuclear war, even if civil defence leaflets and radio broadcasts claim otherwise.
These are two short apocalyptic tales of 5700 words or approximately 20 print pages altogether.
Warning: These stories are very dark and contain quite a bit of swearing.
Luke Stanton and David White, friends since childhood and now seniors at Bayshore College, were at the supermarket, buying burgers and steaks and sausages and beer for the annual Fourth of July neighbourhood barbecue. They were standing in the check-out line with a fully loaded shopping cart, moving towards the cashier at a glacial pace, when the sirens began to wail.
For the first twenty seconds or so, no one responded except for old Mrs. Zippowitz, who’d survived the firestorms of World War II in Europe and reacted badly to sirens ever since. But to everybody else, it was just a fire alarm or a tornado warning at worst.
Sure, there had been international tensions of late, in Europe, in the Persian Gulf, in the South China Sea. But there were always international tensions, always crises. And things always calmed down again eventually. No crisis would ever escalate to the point of nuclear war. No one would ever be so stupid, neither the Americans nor the Soviets.
Only that someone had been that stupid. No one would ever know who exactly it was that pressed the button or what it was that made him do it, cause there was no one left to tell. Not that it mattered much now. The deed was done.
Luke and David realised that something was seriously wrong at around the same time everybody else did. The sound of the sirens was wrong, for starters, not the steady sound of the tornado warning or the three blasts of the fire siren. No, this was a continuous wail, steadily rising and falling in pitch. And it didn’t stop, it just went on and on and on.
Luke and David exchanged a glance.
“Fuck, that’s a nuke attack warning,” Luke exclaimed.
At that exact same moment, the supermarket around them erupted in pandemonium. People screamed and ran, stumbling over abandoned shopping carts and each other. Some particularly obstinate or hopeful individuals threw anything that might conceivably come in useful into their carts and headed towards the exits. Outside in the parking lot, cars were starting, engines roaring, horns beeping, people crying and screaming. And above it all, the steadily rising and falling wail of the civil defence siren.
Luke and David stood rooted in place, as the chaos surged around them.
“You think this is the real thing?” David wanted to know.
“If not, it’s one hell of a sick joke,” Luke remarked, watching as an elderly man and an overweight woman tried to get through the turnstiles simultaneously and both got stuck.
The exits were jammed as well with a mob of screaming, panicked people. A few had already gotten trampled underfoot. No one seemed to care.
Luke and David still stood rooted in place, in the now empty check-out line.
“Why the fuck are they running away?” Luke wondered, as he watched the cashier make off towards the exit, the cash drawer pressed to her ample bosom, “We’ve got a fucking nuke incoming. You can’t run away from that.”
“We don’t know for sure it’s a nuke,” David pointed out.
“What else could it be? People don’t freak out like that over a tornado. And besides, the alarm is all wrong.”
Luke looked around the mess of overturned shopping carts and toppled shelves that had once been the Buy More supermarket. His gaze locked on a specific direction, like a dog that had caught a scent.
“Let’s find out,” he said and headed off deeper into the supermarket.