An interesting writing challenge is to incorporate Random Words into a short story. In this case the words were Porridge, Nuclear and pickaxe.
Even though it had been brewing for years, when the nuclear attack happened it was not as expected. Social media was rife with rumours but there was little on the TV news. Most of the items were weather warnings, or about which pop star had split with her latest boyfriend.
Gradually the minor irritations built up; the supermarket had run out of both my usual brand of porridge and my favourite breakfast cereal. Glancing at the fuel gauge on my car I pulled into the garage, only to find the pumps locked and a notice advising a temporary shortage.
I had enough to get home but would need to fill up before the end of the week. Feeling grumpy, I unpacked the shopping and opened my laptop to catch up with some friends. For a while it was fine, then it crashed and all I could get was a notice on the screen apologising for the temporary loss of connection.
After spending half a frustrating hour trying to re-boot the computer I gave up. My tablet and even the ancient PC all showed the same message. I had promised to contact a friend to arrange our get-together for the following evening. Picking up my mobile and getting no signal I tried to use the land line. That too was dead.
Giving up in disgust I started preparing dinner. When everything was bubbling away I turned on the evening news to see if it was just local or a widespread problem. Halfway through a programme the television suddenly switched to an emergency broadcast, cutting off the action of the latest saga. The broadcaster looked nervous, even when he was trying to reassure the audience that although the problem covered the whole of the UK, everything was under control and there was no need to panic.
What better way to make everyone think of stock-piling? Suddenly the sound became distorted, lights flashed across the picture, and then it too went dead. I sat there for a while looking at a blank screen, expecting it to come back on at any moment.
When nothing happened I got up to check the dinner, only to find the gas had gone out on the burners. As it was duel fuel I turned on the electric oven, but was not rewarded with a red glow to show it was working. No electricity, no gas, no power but at least the lights were still on. Even as I had the thought the lights flickered, and I dashed to the cupboard to dig out my emergency torch and batteries. I found some scented candles someone had bought me years before, and put them where I could easily find them.
Parting the curtains I looked out the window at the neighbourhood. There were plenty of street lamps in my road, and normally it was lit up like a Christmas tree, but tonight all was in darkness. Only the dim glow from surrounding houses stopped it being pitch black, and for a suburban area it felt odd and eerie.
I noticed a few faces peering from neighbouring houses, obviously as concerned as me. A shiver went up my spine. At first I assumed it was nerves, then I realised that with no gas for the boiler, or electricity for the timer, I would be without heating.
Although it was nearly Spring, I hadn’t realised how much difference it made until the house started getting chilly very quickly. I remembered my battery operated radio, and went to dig it out from the other accumulated junk I had always intended to throw away someday.
Dusting it off I turned it on, heard a squeak and then it died. So much for that idea. Then I remembered it had been hanging around for so long the batteries were probably dead. Luckily I had a large stock of batteries, and after cleaning off the contacts and inserting new ones, I managed to get a news channel.
What I heard made me realise the problems weren’t restricted to the U.K; the whole of Europe was affected. The governments were getting together to discuss the crisis and once again urging people not to panic.
The next day I determined to hit the supermarkets to stock up with some supplies, even if it made me late for work. Although the store had only just opened I couldn’t believe the sight that greeted me. The queue at the petrol pumps was unbelievable; the cars were spilling over to the parking area and blocking right back to the entrance road. As more and more cars arrived I gave up looking for a space, and parked on a double yellow line outside.
Inside it was pandemonium. People were grabbing things and piling their trolleys high with items I’m sure they would never usually buy. I fought my way to the household area, intent on getting more candles, matches and maybe another torch. Already the shelves were nearly empty, but I managed to grab some batteries, the last two large boxes of matches, 5 cigarette lighters and a tin of gas to refill them.
I noticed the freezers were nearly empty of frozen goods, but without electricity for the fridge they would be useless. Instead I joined the battle for the tinned goods. Two and a half hours later I finally emerged from the supermarket.
Much of the hold-up had been caused by people trying to pay with their usual plastic or bank cards, which the cashiers couldn’t accept as there was no electricity for the computerised tills. Luckily I had drawn out extra cash for my proposed night out, and had enough in my purse to pay for the few things I had managed to seize.
Over the following weeks things went from bad to worse. There was no power and the lights weren’t functioning. I had given up trying to get to work. The last time I tried I found everything locked up; all the garages had run out of petrol with little hope of restocking, and even the local stores were now boarded up.
My little radio now told of looting, riots and farm animals being slaughtered for food. Gangs were rampaging and people were being advised to barricade themselves in and stay indoors. Apart from the odd conversation with my neighbours I had no human contact, and not even social media to be able to chat to friends online. It had become everyone for themselves and I was truly on my own.
That’s not to say it was quiet. From behind closed doors I heard people roaming the streets, screaming and swearing, even in the early hours of the morning. It was only when I heard a voice outside shout ‘Hey, that bitch has got a radio’ that I realised I was one of the few with at least some form of communication.
The banging on the door made me jump even though I was expecting it. Grabbing the pickaxe the council workmen had left behind, I braced myself to face the onslaught to come.
It was not a nuclear war destroying civilisation as we knew it. All it had taken was a few minor inconveniences for the thin veneer of civilisation to be shattered.
© Voinks February 2017