First Monday Free Fiction: Thirteen Minutes

Welcome to the March 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

These are dark times, so after some deliberation I decided to post a dark story today. Because dark stories serve as warnings. I doubt that the people who really need to hear that warning will read this story. But let’s not forget that it was stories – two TV movies in particular – who terrified the right people and thus helped to prevent what you’re about to read from becoming reality.

Today’s story is one of two short stories collected in Four Minute Warning. When I wrote both stories back in 2015, they were a period pieces, set in an alternate timeline where the world as we know it ended in 1984.  Recent events have made both stories a lot more timely than they used to be. So let’s hope that these stories remain period pieces, a stark reminder of a timeline that might have been, but thankfully never came to pass.

So follow college students Luke and David as they spend their last…

Thirteen Minutes

It was the long hot summer of 1984 and it was about to get even hotter.

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.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Four Minute Warning. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

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