Strolling couples stopped on the sidewalks to make small talk with their neighbors about their plans for the coming summer; packs of children free from the obligations of school aimlessly sped through the neighborhood on their bikes. Backyards swelled with families and friends who congregated around open coolers, grills, and bonfires.
One man stood over the gas-fueled flame of his grill. Watching the four patties, he prepared for his family sizzle over the blue and yellow propane flames and listening to the hissing grease jump from the perfectly rounded beef as they changed color from pink to brown. The rising heat from the flames carried the smell directly to his nose, and his mouth salivated with anticipation.
He took a gulp of the beer he had set to the side and breathed in deep. He picked up his spatula and lifted one side of a pattie ever so slightly off the grate and observed the crisscrossing char patterns forming on the meat. "Perfection," he said to himself with a smile.
As he prepared to check the other patties, he heard his wife call to him from the patio door
"James, get in here now you have to see this!". She disappeared back into the house before he could ask what was going on. He looked down at the patties, shrugged, and took one more sip of beer before closing the lid on the grill.
When he walked into the house, his wife and daughter were sitting in the living room illuminated only by the glow of the flat screen mounted on the wall.
"What is it?" he asked.
His wife didn't answer. She gazed at the screen almost in a trance, her eyes drying out in the hypnotic glow.
"We're having a war, daddy." His daughter answered sweetly.
"what are you talking about?" said James as he sat down on the couch next to his wife. The screen was flashing with a red graphic that read: NUCLEAR STRIKE!
Above the menacing bold lettered words was a montage of missiles being unleashed from the land, sea, and from the air. The screen suddenly split into three parts. On the left, the scenes of ships and planes unleashing their apocalyptic payloads repeated themselves in perpetuity, below that the news crawler repeated redundant information void of any context.
"Nuclear war not the end of the world," says President...Enemies unable to retaliate- Pentagon.....
On the right side of the screen, from the confines of a conference room, A military spokesman attempted to give the global massacre some context and justification.
The middle-aged military man was adorned with the medals and decorations that are the rewards for professional murders stood in front of an American flag while he addressed the press.
"At 8:24 eastern time, the nuclear forces of the United States were deployed against the nations of Russia and China. These strikes are a preemptive defense against the nuclear forces of the Russian Federation and the People's republic of China that were set to strike the mainland united states in the immediate future.
"Shit we're in a nuclear war"! Shouted James. "Laura, start filling up every bottle you can find with water. Addi, you get down to the basement right now and wait for us there."
"What's wrong, Daddy," his oblivious daughter asked.
"Just do what I say,"! Shouted James. Addi jumped from the couch and ran for the basement, but Laura didn't move.
"Laura, snap out of it! James yelled.
"Wait, listen," Laura replied calmly, pointing at the tv.
"The missile shields we've deployed over the last five years are online and perfectly operational. We expect to be able to shoot down any retaliatory response". The Pentagon spokesman said assuringly.
James sat down next to his wife as the left part of the screen began to roll footage of missiles launching from the ground and colliding with the warheads that ripped across the sky.
"Right now, we don't believe evacuation is necessary. If you have a shelter or secure area, by all means, make your way there, but we do not anticipate any enemy missiles penetrating the shield.
James silently sat down next to his wife and watched the repeating footage of the incoming missiles being pulverized in the sky.
"Son of a bitch, they have them on the ropes," James said proudly. He felt his wife's hand grip his.
"Do you think we'll be ok?" She asked.
James smiled. "I think so. We got the best in the world, defending us." He saluted the general on the screen.
She kissed him on the cheek and resumed silently watching the missile shield repulse the enemy counter-attacks. The man in the uniform had sufficiently convinced James his family was safe from the turn-key armageddon they had just launched. They were happy, perfectly insulated from the implications of the worldwide massacre they had undertaken.
James kissed his wife. "We're gonna be ok." He said. "Addi, you can come up here now it's gonna be ok baby!" He called.
He watched the TV mesmerized by the show of overwhelming show of force. A feeling of power surged through him. They were invulnerable. He remembered the patties on the grill.
"Shit, I hope they're not burned, he muttered." He stood up and hurried for the backyard. He slid open the patio door and stepped back out into the serene summer night. He looked up at the clear night sky and breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing James saw was a blinding flash. He didn't live long enough to feel the fires that burned as hot as the sun consume him. In just a millionth of a second, every molecule in James's body returned to the same invisible dusty form they were in when they arrived from the vast unknown so many billions of years ago.