Mom calls. I am bored anyways. Spent all day stalking squirrels and chipmunks. And I am tired. Hungry, too.

Buuuuut I don’t know if I want to come in. Maybe just hide and watch a little.

Yes, I find it funny.

“Dolby! Come in, big guy.”

The middle-aged red-haired woman went back inside to do those things humans do.

A flash of orange flame in a sea of greens, Dolby slipped from the hillside’s underbrush and pranced up to the back door.

Then he sat calm and quiet on his hunches at the edge of the brush listening to the wind brushing through the leaves of oaks, hickories, and maples behind the row houses.

Until the small and lithe the woman went back inside.

Far off in the distance, a couple of kids yelled and hollered in play. A glasspack rumbled down on the street.

Okay, I’ll go in now.

“MEEEOOOW!” Dolby let out a keening cry.

The door opened.

“There you are, you little stinker.”

And Dobly invited himself in, chirping meows in greeting.

I heard you calling, and I came. Where’s the food? Thank you.

“… today in Azerbaijan, Russian and Iranian armed forces closed in on Baku. In other news, Houthi rebels stuck Aramco facilities in…” it droned on, in the background, on all the time these days.

“Meow! Meow!”

The woman opened a can, dumped it into a bowl, and set it down for the orange tabby.

I come here for the grub; I’ve been out for ten hours, you know. Hell! You have that TV thing on all the time now.

A slight twelve-year-old blond boy approached from the living room, yelled “Dolby!” and gave the cat a hug.

Dolby grunted, paused, and narrowed his eyes at the boy, then kept wolfing down his food.

I’m eating here. I’ll get to you later, small human.

“…U.S. Sixth Fleet moved into position…a B2 bomber was reported shot down over the Sea of Japan triggering…”

“Jimmy, let Dolby eat in peace. You don’t like it when he bugs you when you’re eating.”

Jimmy looked at up his mom. “Alright.”

“Besides, you need to help me put away the groceries. Do Mom a favor and take these bags down to the   basement and put them with the other stock.” Her green eyes gave Jimmy a serious look.

He hauled the two bags to his sides trying to be a big strong buff guy.

“Looks like those Taekwondo lessons are paying off,” his mom said.

Jimmy put on a strict form when he flipped the light switch bag in hand. “I guess doing ten pumsae in a row made me strong,” he said as he went down the stairs.

In the cool, half-lit darkness, Jimmy set the bags down in front of a shelf that held the stock.

Opening the bags, he looked to see what Mom wanted added to stock.

Two twelve packs of ramen, chicken and beef flavor, and two bags of organic super food protein meal replacement powder.

Dolby crept down the stairs after Jimmy.

In the grim, subdued light of the downstairs, Dolby stood out and watched in curiosity at Jimmy work.

What is so great down here? Since the warm weather has arrived, the woman has been doing more stuff in here. Foods, oh what are they…cots. Are they going to move in here? I guess that means I get the upstairs to myself.

Dolby squinted his eyes when Jimmy asked, “Are you going to help me, kitty?”

Would if I could, small human. He purred and yipped.

Dolby poked about the perimeter of the basement, nosing this and that.

Jimmy took his time putting away the food, selecting the right space on the packed shelving.


“Mom, can I watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? You watch the news all the time,” Jimmy whined.

“Sssssh James, this is very important. You need to learn to pay attention, too,” Mom answered.

“…today in Poland…due to Russian provocation…”

Dolby, eyes heavily lidded, sat on the couch behind Jimmy.

“But all the news makes me,” Jimmy put his nose further into his shark book, “sad and scared.”

She fixed her eyes on him, “The world has always been scary, you can’t give in, but yeah, I’ll put on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Dolby turned his ears and opened his eyes when heard the familiar “heroes in a half-shell, turtle power” theme.

Well, this is nice; the little human seems more pleasant now.

Dolby hopped down and rubbed against Jimmy cooing.

The boy and cat watched the brightly-colored cartoon characters leap across the screen and fight the Foot clan.

Mom stole glances at the TV in between fiddling with her phone, remembering her own girlhood watching the same show.

She checked Facebook to see what others were noticing.

She checked her RSS feed from alt news sites.

She texted a couple of friends still in the service.

She checked her email for anything from work.

WHY BOTHER!? she screamed in her head.

Hmmm, human female is being all serious with her phone. I think I will cuddle on her lap.

Dolby shifted into a crouching position and bounded to the floor before sauntering over to the woman in the chair.

Dolby landed in her lap and brushed against her chest, letting out “Mwow!” to get her full attention.

Mom looked up. “Alright, boy, I’ll give you attention,” she said and stroked the feline.

She watched Leonardo and Splinter on screen fight some sort of robots that had broken into the Turtle headquarters.

Then her phone began to vibrate, steady and insistent.

She could ignore it no longer.

Turning it over, she saw seven texts from her friend Maryann.

“Holy shit, Joan! WTF?”

“What is going on?”

“It sounds like every fucking plane at the base is taking off!”

Maryann lived outside the city, in Moon Township near the Pittsburgh International Airport, home of the 911th Airlift Wing.

Mom took a deep breath, saying to Jimmy, “Jimmy, son, get your special bag, the one I had you pack, and don’t forget to put on your good shoes.”

Mom hit the video “call” button; it rang once or twice before Maryann picked up. “Joan, what is going on? Why are you calling?”

“We don’t have time. Get outside and show me what is going on.”

“What is this about?”

“Do it now, Maryann, now!”

The sounds of hurried fumbling rattled on Mom’s end.

“Okay. Okay.”

Mom put the phone’s volume all the way up.

She could see in the distance clear as a summer’s day.

“Hold the phone up, steady now Maryann.”

And in seeing, her blood turned to ice.

A C-17, at full throttle, turbofans screaming for 15 seconds, then another, then another, followed by the screech of a C-130’s turboprops grinding at full tilt before disappearing into sky.

Near vertical combat takeoffs, all birds deploying.

Jimmy and Dolby jumped when Mom yelled into the phone, “Maryann, grab whatever supplies you have and get to your basement now and stay there.”

“Wha—! I don’t understand.”

“Don’t argue, just do it!”

“Okay! I’m going, whatever, if it makes you feel better. How long should I stay?”

Mom paused and swallowed a lump in her throat.

“Stay there for as long as possible. In an hour, two at the most, you will know.”

“Know what, Joan? How long?”

Mom’s face tightened. “Two weeks. Maryann, you are a good friend. I’ve got to go. I love you.”

“Oh God! You don’t think it’s…? But Brad is still at work. What about my mom and dad?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, I have to go. God bless and keep you. Goodbye.”

Mom zipped up her duty boots and grabbed a duffle bag from the front entrance closet.

“Jimmy, you have your special bag?”

Jimmy stood in the hallway swaying, looking pale, “What about Dolby?”

“Dolby is coming with us, you know that,” and as if in answer to the questioning look on the boy’s face, “We’ve got his stuff downstairs already. Now let’s go.”


“Holy shit! Mom and the kid have gone crazy!” Dolby darted off. “Fuck is this shit about?”

Dolby ran under the table, peering out at Mom.

In a flash, her hand shot under the table and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.

“Get the basement door. We’re going now!”

“C’mon, bitch!” Dolby yowled.

Jimmy led the way as Mom followed behind, managing a sulking pissed-off cat in one hand and an overloaded duffel in the other.

As soon as they hit the basement landing, Mom threw Dolby on a cot and seized the rolls of plastic sheeting and duct tape.

She tossed one of each to Jimmy. “Son, seal up the door to the garage and get kitty in his carrier.”

Dolby hissed at the boy and ran to a hidey hole under the stairs. “Rooowwwwrrr. fuck off, assholes!”

“Mom, Dolby won’t come.”

“Leave him for now; after you tape up that door, find the box labeled ‘candles/lights’ and get to your cot,” she huffed as she lined the top of a long sheet of plastic with tape and hung it snug against the top basement door.

Mom finished sealing the larger gaps and cuddled Jimmy. Stroking his head, she said, “It will be okay. Why don’t you coax Dolby into his carrier, then calm down and read your books.”

Jimmy pursed his lips, holding back tears of fear. Working through, he called, “Here, kitty kitty.”

Mom went to work shutting off the gas and water mains, double-checking all radios and flashlights to see that they weren’t connected to any power source, placing phones in a Faraday bag, and lighting candles.


What is wrong with them? All this bullshit panicking. We were chilling and enjoying some cartoons for a change. Now this! It is cold and uncomfortable down here. What are we doing down here?! And the way I was manhandled and tossed!

Jimmy crouched down and called Dolby, “C’mon out, Dolby, it’s okay.”

No it’s not, you whackos. Dolby hissed and backed further in a corner between the stairs and wall.

Jimmy held out a cat jerky treat. “C’mon, big guy, don’t be afraid.”

Dolby’s ears pricked up and his eyes widened.

His pink nose thrust forward in interest.

Well, okay, I like jerky, but if I have to put with being jerked around like a dog again, I will be mad. He meowed.

Dolby crept out, each foot set with deliberation, and took the treat.

I’m not mad anymore. This could be fun. Hang out in the basement, eat treats.

He followed Jimmy back to the cots and hopped into Mom’s lap.

“Are we friends again, cat?”

Dolby meowed and curled up, Yep.

Jimmy took up his book, B-29 Superfortress Units of the Korean War.

Mom typed away in a rush on her tablet, messaging her friends, spying whatever latest developing news she could.

She watched the jaded and deadened responses pour in:

“Two more weeks!”

“Nukes aren’t real.”

“It’s another psyop.”

“I wonder if my boss will want me to come in tomorrow lol!”

“You’re going to feel stupid when nothing happens.”

Feminists railed in sobbing hysterics for the world to see, “It’s all white men’s fault, the patriarchy.”

Some impromptu shitty memes tried to blame Trump or Biden.

One burnt out libertarian GenXer went on a two-minute tirade about how “it’s all George W. Bush’s fault!”

Some nigger chimped about how he was “going to kill all these white people” if he survived.

A Desi in a suit explained, “It’s more complex than you can understand, but a nuclear war won’t happen, and if it does, it won’t be like the right-wing paranoia of the Cold War shows.”

Mom stopped watching after 20 seconds and made one last Facebook post outlining some very basic steps.

Hitting “Post,” she sighed and hoped moderation wouldn’t take it down before sending a few last “I love you” messages to her parents and brother.

She hugged Jimmy and stroked Dolby’s head.

Candles sputtered in the moist chill, an occasional rumble of a truck going by penetrated from above, but all was quiet.

Until the phone and tablet buzzed and shrieked.


At 7:24:53 pm Eastern Standard Time, twin suns rose over the greater Pittsburgh area.

Two РТ-2ПМ2 warheads streaked through the atmosphere going 10,000 miles per hour.

They detonated at a height of 3,000 feet, creating a fireball 5,500 feet in diameter and 100 million degrees Fahrenheit.

The Golden Triangle and the Pittsburgh International Airport were vaporized in a millionth of a second.

For the whole of southwestern Pennsylvania, the northern West Virginia panhandle, and Youngstown, Ohio, the evening sky lit up like noon.

Ground zero was over the Omni William Penn Hotel, where Bob Hope proposed to his wife and JFK once stayed.

It didn’t even burn.

The heat turned the Omni Hotel into plasma.

The Pittsburgh Plate and Glass building was melted down to a puddle.

The U.S. Steel tower turned into slag.

Our Lady, standing in her grotto at Duquesne University, overlooking the Mononaghela, watched as the Liberty Bridge warped in the intense heat, then blew off its moorings.

She could see across the river at East Carson Street, where the packed bars and their patrons went up like tinderboxes before being smashed into rubble.

She watched the Monongahela and Duquesne inclines turn to ash and blow off into the sky, their debris mixing with millions of tons of ash fluttering on the shock wave like burnt paper.

Close at her left, the County Jail, massive and solid, superheated, its inmates and guards atomized.

All this she saw as she was vitrified.

From as far away as Greensburg and Washington, Pennsylvania, people looked into the distance to see the twelve-mile high mushroom clouds rising over what was once the Iron City.


Dolby’s eyes shot open and his head turned to the shrill alert sounding from the devices; it shot in the direction of the wails of the township’s emergency sirens at the fire station.

What is this? Should I be worried? It’s really cutting into my nap.


“Jimmy, get under your cot and curl up with Dolby,” Mom said, voice even and taut. “We have about ten minutes.”

Dolby, ensconced in Jimmy’s arms, snapped to at something only he could hear.

The cat’s sensitive ears picked it up.

Something loud, far above in the sky, very high, far away. But loud, so loud.

Dolby thrashed and hissed. Claws sheathed, he batted at Jimmy, yowling in fear.

“Mom, why is Dol—”

In a split second, the basement’s air grew hot.

Not a building wave of humidity.

But as if dropping out of a cold Pennsylvania winter into an Arizona summer.

Mom screamed, the reverberations echoing off the cinder block walls, “Cover your head with your arms! Don’t move!”

The blast hit.

A bang that snapped and pressed down from the ceiling.

It traveled. A force, more than just sound, an impacting jolt punching through bone.

So loud not even the snapping of tree trunks and the shattering of all the windows on the block were heard following the freight train rush of ten of millions of cubic feet of air pounding over the hills.

Dobly was stunned into a preternatural stillness clutched in Jimmy’s embrace.

Then all seemed quiet.

Mom, in a low clam voice, said, “Stay, don’t move yet.”

Holy hell. What was THAT? Will it happen again? Dolby stayed stock still and wondered.

“Jimmy, let’s move. Get the battery box out.”

As soon as Jimmy came out from under his cot, Dolby stayed crouched under the cot.

Hey! Hey! What is happening? Huh! He meowed, unsure and terrified.

“Dolby, shut the fuck UP!” Mom shouted.

Well, okay then. And Dolby sat on his hunches, suddenly a good cat.

Something is burning. Dolby let out a moaning growl.

From various directions, they could hear it all.

The crackling sounds of kindling alight.

Dolby’s nose plucked at the air.

“Yeowlllllll!” What the hell is this? Hooomans! Hooomans! Bad smell!

Dolby acted up, running from corner to corner of the basement, pawing at the corners where the basement walls met the floor.

Dolby skittered under cots and boxes looking, frenetically searching, searching for freshness, clean air.

Mere minutes later, wisps of smoke played in the harsh light.

“Jimmy, put on your gas mask!”

“Okay, cat, back in the carrier.” She yanked the orange asshole and dumped him inside, covering it with a towel.

Chagrined, he recoiled when the covering was soaked.

The minutes ticked by and the haze grew worse for the three hunkered down.

Mom doled out the gas masks and filters.

“Be a brave boy, put it on and keep it on; we’ll get through this, we’ll get through this,” she said as she hugged and squeezed Jimmy.

Soon, the haze hung still and thick.

The light was more diffuse.

The crackle and rush of blazing updrafts were the only sounds that penetrated to the basement.

No sirens.

No screams.

No yells.

No noisy neighbors on a summer afternoon.

Of the 1.24 million people in Allegheny County, half of them were now dead.

Of those who haven’t died, most would be dead within the next two weeks, even more in the coming month and year.

Mom wanted to give in, to bawl her eyes out.

The gas mask reminded her not now, there is too much to do.

She gave Jimmy a final squeeze.

She opened a tactical bag.

She placed batteries in two lanterns and two radios and snuffed out the candles.

Mom powered up the lights and radios.

Brilliant light flooded over them.

Dolby sneezed and let out a wary meow.

Jimmy rocked back and forth his head pressed against his knees.

The world still burned.

She eyed the fire extinguishers in the corner.

She checked the final thing in the bag, a Beretta M9A3.

Its weight grounded her in reality, the rough checkering stimulating to the hand.

Loaded and ready to go in condition three.


For all installments of “Here, Kitty Kitty!,” click here.