Fantasy or Reality? A Short Story

John awoke with a start. He had that vague sense he was late, that the alarm hadn’t gone off. As he fought away the brain fog, he was sure he remembered setting it. He looked at the nightstand. The alarm clock was blinking. “Damn! We must have had a storm last night. ‘knocked out the power.” Grabbing his watch he confirmed that indeed he was late for work.

He snatched up his cell for a quick apology to his boss. “What’s this? No service?” Same with the landline so he raced into the bathroom. As he grabbed the electric shaver, he realized he’d be going to work unshaved. No electricity, no shaver. Maybe it would work in the car.  Jumping into the shower he was met with a trickle of cold water spitting and sputtering out of the shower head. “Of course,” he muttered to no one, in particular, adding a few of the Navy’s best explicatives, “no pressure.” What he didn’t realize was that he wouldn’t be going to work that day, or for many yet to come.

“Helene, he called. “Get up!” “Get up!”

She would have a fit. He could hear her now. “But it’s not hurricane season. This isn’t fair!” And she was right. Getting the three kids ready for school and out the door was not an easy task. One in elementary school, one in middle school, one in high school. “Oh brother! No hairdryer. No flushing toilets. It would be insane.” She opened an eye and said, “What?” When she heard the answer she said, “What? This is no fair. It isn’t even hurricane season!” Is there still gas in the generator?

I didn’t know. Add it to the list growing in my mind.

Once dressed, John grabbed a protein bar (“Better not open the frig until I get home. Hopefully we’ll have power by then.”) and headed for the car feeling guilty he was leaving Helene with a household human tropical storm. But was he?  He hit the garage button and then in an instant the brakes just before he plowed through the door, which of course wouldn’t open either. A smart young man, John had installed a Dade-County Ordinance complying door. That meant it was hurricane resistant. It also meant it weighed about 90 lbs. Sweat was dripping down his back by the time he saw daylight. That daylight revealed his neighbors in varying states of dress, with garage doors in varying states of usefulness, huddling in the middle of the street.

“No sense trying to get out of the development, John,” called one. “All the street lights are out and cars are lined up for miles. There are accidents everywhere. You got any cell service?” He checked again.


What they didn’t realize was they were an isolated island of American humanity replicated around the neighborhood, around the county, around the state and around the nation. The United State’s’ infrastructure had been hacked. Nothing that used electricity, nothing attached to wi-fi and a computer worked. That meant basically nothing worked–anywhere. If you couldn’t see it, touch it, or hear it, you couldn’t communicate with it.

At this moment of realization, above them, the skies were full of airplanes trying to find places to land while avoiding nerve-wracking close calls at 35,000 ft. There was no power generation–atomic, gas, or oil. There was plenty of sun, but the country hadn’t embraced solar in a big enough way to do much more than run hot water heaters. As soon as the gas in the generators ran out, they too would stop.

The Pentagon knew the attack was coming. “Just a matter of time” they warned, but the huge numbers of private enterprise components of our infrastructure meant the warnings that had gone out might not have been heeded; might have been heeded, but not quickly enough; might have been heeded, but not effectively enough. No one knew yet what if anything besides certain aspects of “.gov” and “.mil” was working or could be gotten to work in a reasonable amount of time. The Emperor, the mightiest democracy on earth, had no clothes.

The brass knew it was Russia; what they didn’t know was what was coming next. A slick, friendly phone call on the red phone to a President who had studiously avoided any seriousness about the warnings? Putin would be sorry for our troubles and offer to help.  ‘be like letting the fox into the coop, or further into it since he was already in. Or would Putin be less sly and more direct?

“There were some matters on my  mind, Mr. President, about the US nuclear arsenal, about crippling trade sanctions, about constant blaming of the Russian Republic for things as you have said that are “hard to imagine they are so foolish.” Wouldn’t this be a good time for both of us to meet? Come to the Kremlin. All the lights are on. You’ll be comfortable. We’ll talk.”

Meanwhile, the US Postal Service was rounding up retired employees who were old enough to remember how mail was sorted and sent before the age of computers and there was a mad scramble in government basements to find typewriters and carbon paper. “Someone mused, “At least this stuff can’t be hacked!”

Or would it start raining missiles? “Holy crap!” a general said to no one in particular. “Do the Russians really have that stuff Putin was bragging about? That undetectable shit? Probably doesn’t matter until we figure out which satellites are working and which radar stations are up and running.” Meanwhile, just before screaming it as an order, he realized the U.S. better get everything it had that carries guns and bombs up in the air ASAP.  A feeling of FUBAR (F***ed Up Beyond Repair) began to creep up his spine.

None of this did John or his neighbors know was going on, though as upper-middle-class folk, they were putting the pieces together from their rabid following of the news up to the point, of course, until no one could still follow the news. In other neighborhoods, in urban America, crowds were sweeping into the streets, windows were beginning to break, looting and rioting started and, it appeared that for a long while this would be an extended fire sale in the inner cities.

In rural America, the questions were, “Do we still have those old wheat cutters and enough time to get the crop in?” And, “My God Mary, do we still have the touch to milk the cows by hand? They’ve gotten so comfortable with the milking machines who knows if they’ll stand still for our hands any more.”

Not only didn’t John know any of this because all he knew was what he could see, hear, and surmise, he didn’t know if his country could protect itself–or him. He decided there was no quick way to find out, so he did what he did in college. His dorm was two blocks from the White House. Kennedy and Khrushchev were playing chicken with ships 90 miles from Miami. If missiles began to fly he was about a half a mile from ground zero. He walked over to the fraternity house and sat on the steps with some friends. It gave him another block and a half of clearance, what was hardly comforting but was something to do. So he called to Helen that no one was going anywhere that day and that he was going around the corner to Larry’s house where he would sit down on the steps and he waited.

We know how that Cuba deal turned out, dear reader. But do we know how the next one will turn out? Me thinks for our sake and the sake of our children, we ought to make sure we know the answer.


Unlike past weeks, this week Bill Gralnick has scared himself with his weekly blog that can be found at

Less scary, but very enjoyable other writings of his that can read: “Mirth, Wind, and Ire–Contemporary Essays on the Social and Political Scene” and…

“More Mirth, Wind, and Ire”

Read–its good for both of us.

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