Outside was desolate night, Mom checked the wind-up clock; the fires had died down hours ago, but smoke and ash still drifted. Some of it even making it into the basement.

What was once the Iron City was now burnt slag.

The police scanner was turning up nothing; only a dry hiss came through.

Normal channels, the tactical channels, the countywide emergency frequencies.

All dead air.

Those fucking assholes, those motherfucking asshole BASTARDS! They did nothing to prepare us.

She turned to the shortwave radio and scanned through the stations.

The first thing she found was some guy out of Washington, PA screaming and crying.

“Oh God! Oh fucking God! They’re all dead, they’re all dead. My mom, my dad, my sister, her husband, my niece, my nephew.” A thick wad of grief choked him wet and hard. “John and Marie Ascioti, married on May 25th, 1978. Mom, Dad, I love you. Oh merciful Jesus, mother Mary, why? WHY? Little Danielle was six years old, Johnny was only twelve, they had a sweet Jack Russell dog, Buster, they loved to play in the backyard with him, they played in the park—”

Mom clenched her teeth, choked down her feelings, and searched for more informative channels.

A man with a thick hillbilly accent quoted the Bible, “Men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the Lord. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises. And the moon will not shed its light.”

On another, an old man croaked, “Son, I—I know I wasn’t the best father. I meant to call you, to get your number from your bitch of a mother; I hope she is dead, but I never. I don’t know. I want you to know your daddy loves you. Remember when I taught you how to ride a bike when you were seven years old? Down there in the park by the river, it was such a nice day. It was spring and everything was so green. I’m looking at the picture now. I was no good. I still drink, liver and kidneys are no good, my heart is no good. I didn’t think I was going to outlive you. I’m sorry, son; Daddy loves you.”

Finally, she found a BBC World News broadcast. A young woman read from lists in a flat affectless voice, “…in Germany, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Breman, Dresden, Hanover, Weisbaden, Kiel, Magdeburg, Erfurt…” and on it droned. List after list, major cities, military installations, reports of ongoing exchanges.

She listened as long as she could before finding a station in Minnesota that was broadcasting a chapel praying the rosary.

Mom’s shoulders slumped before she took a deep breath, noting the acrid tang to the filtered air.

“Jimmy, we need to change filters.”


I don’t know what is happening, Dolby thought as he curled up tighter in his carrier. The humans fucked something up big this time.

He sneezed and tucked his head under his paw.

I sleep again, but when I wake up, I better get out. I better.

In dreams Dolby ran through gigantic palisades of riotous green leaves. The blue jay and woodpecker alighted at his fiery fearsome form glimpsed below. He sought the wily chipmunk in the vast dimness.

Imma get ya’! Imma get ya’!


Jimmy dozed uncomfortable as the morning sun should’ve been rising. The firestorm was mostly burnt out; no more gas masks. Mom got used to the smokehouse smell. The rosary kept playing over the shortwave on a loop.

No birds sang to greet the dawn.

No rumble of rush hour commuters.

Only the purring of Dolby, released from his cage on her lap, and the occasional whimper from Jimmy.

A few times, the gunshot crack of an incinerated tree or house collapsing broke the silence beyond the basement walls.

And once, only once, the rumble of a truck engine sounded in the distance.

She imagined the Grim Reaper tooling around in an F-150, eyeballs of charcoal seeking souls hiding.


Mom, looking wan and haggard, scanned the CB radio.

She selected channel 9 used for emergencies.

She hoped enough of the external antenna was still intact to get full range.

Jimmy jumped awake at the sudden crack and hiss.

The smoke smell made the air pungent and his head ached from the hours of wearing the gas mask.

“This is Joan Doolan, Pittsburgh, hailing anyone, over.”

He wondered if his friend Alex would be home today so they could play vidya.

He rubbed the grit and gum from his eyes.

Then it closed in on him.

The bare concrete sheathed in blue phosphorescence.

The plastic sheeting sealing all the doors and windows.

The cots.

The shelves stocked with dry goods.

The five gallon water carriers.

In the moment, Jimmy had forgotten.

A moan escaped Jimmy’s lips.

Mom turned to him, “Oh sweetie,” and gave him a hug and a squeeze and mussed up his hair, “does my big fella want to eat?”

“Sure,” he croaked.

Mom busied herself preparing some MREs, which consisted of opening the packages and eating straight from the bags while mixing an orange drink.

As luck would have it, they pulled chili and macaroni, lemon pound cake, teriyaki beef sticks, and jalapeño cheese spread on crackers.

“This orange stuff isn’t half bad.” Mom said.

“Hooomans! Hooooooomans!” Dolby bitched.

Mom looked at the cat bounding along. “Oops, looks like we forgot someone.”

Face blank, Jimmy sat in silence nibbling his food.

Mom opened the carrier. Dolby poked his nose out, wary.

She opened a can, saying, “And we didn’t forget the pretty boy.”

Dolby cooed and purred in appreciation, rubbing Mom’s legs. “Oooh, is that tuna and white fish I smell? Yep. Yep.”

“See, Jimmy? Dolby is happy.”

Jimmy munched on in silence.


Mom put the shortwave on the station playing oldies.

Peter and Gordon sang on the radio about being locked away with their loneliness in a world without love when they heard it.

Jimmy, still closed mouth, was lining up a capture in Hasami shogi on Mom.

Dolby alternately curled up next to Mom or Jimmy in between sniffing at the game pieces.

Serious hoomans, what is this? Can you eat it?

Jimmy absentmindedly stroked the orange cat before the cat hopped down.

I got to do my business. No looking, weirdos.

Dolby perched and pinched off a loaf.

Another blast, far away, but so loud.

Dolby hopped and skittered back under a cot.

Fucking fuck hell! he squeaked out.

“Johnstown must have been hit.” Mom said

Jimmy raised his head, eyes dead and leaden.

He froze for a beat, then launched into a wracking wailing cacophony of screeches, moans, and sobs.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, you need to stop,” Mom said to no avail.

Jimmy swept the food off the table; the lamp clattered to the floor and broke.

“STOP NOW!” she shouted.


Jimmy shut up, shocked still.

Dolby ran under the stairs.

Orange eyes popped open.

Jimmy’s mouth hung open.

Mom put her hands on her hips, leaned into his face, and ordered, “Now clean up the mess you made.”

Dolby, nervous, pranced to his cat box and made of show of pissing, shitting, and covering his leavings.

See, I’m a good cat, clean, no troubles here.

Jimmy cleaned up his mess.


In the distance from above, the sound came.

The rumble of turbo fans, dispersed formation, multiple aircraft.

The rumble turned into one boom, then another, and another as they passed.

Then the hard drone of more following.

“Nap-of-the-earth,” Mom said to herself and snatched up the CB, “this is Joan Doolan, Captain retired, Air Force, Pittsburgh, calling anyone listening. We are alive here. Is there any relief or evacuation plans in place yet?”

She waited a minute, the planes coming and going in waves, and repeated the message until she got a response.

Her radio crackled to life, “Captain Doolan, this is Major Stewart, USAF. Emergency relief plans are coalescing. As of now, I can only direct you to keep an ear on AM band 680, emergency plans and directions. Over and out.”


Jimmy leaned forward in interest, “It’s not over, is it?”

“Not by a long shot, son; you heard them. F-16s, B-52s, B-2s, F-22s, F-35s, and everything else on the move.”

Mom turned a radio to 680 AM, and a pre-recorded voice squawked, “…remain inside, as far as possible from an external doors or windows for a minimum of four weeks. If you need to go outside for any reason, keep exposure as short as possible. Gamma radiation levels are extremely high in areas surrounding Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Youngstown, Cleveland, Eire, and Morgantown. Out laying areas have a higher margin of safety, but keep outside exposure to a minimum; do not attempt any rescue of the mentioned areas. Relief efforts are being organized and will be on their way as soon as it is safe to do so.”

A mechanical voice interrupted, “the time is now 6:42 pm Eastern Standard Time. This is the FEMA update system AM radio 680.” Before the recorded voice returned for another loop, “Now for health and safety tips. Contain all waste material in a bag or covered bucket with a minimum of four ounces of disinfectant for each bowel movement…”


In the darkness, they waited: Mom, Kid, and Cat. Sometimes playing board games, sometimes reading or exercising, sometimes listening to shortwave radio music or for any updates. They enjoyed the MREs and Dolby found a perch on a box of ramen, curled up like the Sphinx eyes squinting in cat pleasure as the days and nights went by.

In the sheltered darkness, they waited.

Waited and dared to hope with fear and trembling.

And Dolby dreamed his cat dreams.

In the moonlit woods, he moved, his orange fire streak muted in lambent silver rays. He stalked for the night-crawling wood mouse. In dreams, the world is nothing but a vast wilderness, and this knowledge makes him happy.


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

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1