I spent a number of my formative years hoping that when the end came, it would be over quickly.
I'd run, trying frantically to find a place to hide, while it implacably followed me, laughing.
I was a voracious reader of science fiction from a young age. My local branch library had a large collection of SF anthologies published after WWII that I devoured. Post-apocalyptic stories and novels figured large in the SF genre. Sometimes it was alien invasion, occasionally environmental collapse or a sweeping plague. Nuclear annihilation was a tried and true favorite.
For a long time, I thought of The Big One as simply an entree into a new world of giant bugs, ruined ancient cities and scantily-clad women needing my protection. I am not sure when it became real to me, something that might happen, then probably would happen, and then something that was only a matter of time. I do know that by the summer I turned thirteen, it had become a major obsession in my mind. I became all too aware that my house was precisely ten miles from the Empire State Building.
In my town, in the 60s, some of the factories still used a loud siren to announce lunch and quitting time. Your classic “Five O’clock Whistle.” I used to carry a small transistor radio, not just for listening to Cousin Brucie, but to check for Conelrad broadcasts, to assure myself that it was only the Best Foods plant letting out. I grew to hate thunderstorms; being awakened late at night by loud booms and dazzling white light coming around the drawn shades of my bedroom was terrifying. One night, upon seeing a distant flash, while counting the seconds to figure out how far away it was, I anxiously turned on the radio only to hear a new song, “Bad Moon Rising” for the first time. The fact that they were playing music was reassuring, but I thought the song just too damned ominous.
For years I suffered a recurring nightmare, where a pillar of red fire would rise over the rooftops and look at me with burning yellow eyes. I’d run, trying frantically to find a place to hide, while it implacably followed me, laughing with delight. That lasted into high school.
Eventually the obsession faded, as obsessions often do. Maybe I just got tired of waiting for the inevitable. These days I don’t think of it much, although sometimes, when “tensions rise” again in some bloodily contested corner of the planet, from deep within the rabbit warren of old memories and night terrors, I hear John Fogarty’s voice again.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.