Amy’s friend and roommate Barb Johannson was outside their apartment when Alex drove off. “How was your trip?” she asked Amy.

All Amy could think was that nothing looked different. The traffic was typical for a Sunday afternoon, and there was no sign of smoke. There had been no news on the radio or on any of the Web sites she visited on her phone as soon as service was available.

“Earth calling Amy!” Barb said, annoyed.

“Sorry,” Amy said, acknowledging her.

“How was your trip?” Barb asked again.

Amy and Alex had agreed not to tell anyone else what happened until he could get a readout from his commander at the police department. “The colors were beautiful,” she told Barb. “How was your morning?”

“Power’s out,” Barb said, and Amy stopped breathing. “Just our building, if you can believe that!”

Amy resumed breathing. “Did anyone tell you why?”

Barb threw up her hands. “The usual B.S. about people using their air conditioning too much. God, it’s in the eighties, in November. What do they expect?”

A strong gust of air reminded Amy why she still had her windbreaker on. The apartment complex was near the edge of the city, where the wind had plenty of open space to accelerate after passing over the nearby mountains.

Amy turned to face her friend. “How was church?”

“I skipped it, just like you. Unfortunately not for the same reason.”

“Why did you skip it, then?”

“Their sewage system backed up. It would have been a health hazard to hold services.” Barb wrinkled her nose. “Not to mention, the smell.”

Amy’s stomach growled in protest that snacks were a poor substitute for lunch.

“How about we find a fast food place to get some air and some food?” Amy asked.

“My fun fund is running low,” Barb said. “Are you paying?”


They were both on tight budgets, saving for the holidays in case they didn’t get overtime at the store where they both worked, but she had a little extra this week thanks to Alex generously cooking dinner at his house. Amy decided to change into a dress her conservative acquaintances would find more appropriate for a Sunday than the tank/halter top she had worn for Alex.

The apartment was as warm as the outside, but without the breeze it felt hotter. She normally wouldn’t have been surprised by the power outage, but after being told that the country was under attack with things blowing up around her, she was less likely to attribute such a thing to more benign causes.

Like her dress, Amy’s eleven year-old compact car was her favorite color: orange. The car was on the verge of having engine problems, but she refused to ride on Barb’s motorcycle until it was absolutely necessary. It also had air conditioning.

“What’s up with you?” Barb asked when she took too long to get through an intersection on their way to the restaurant with their favorite selection of inexpensive salads.

She had been searching for irregularities and noticed that a traffic light changed faster than usual. “Just being careful.”

“Careful? You?”

“I’m careful!” Amy protested.

Barb crossed her arms. “Right.”

Amy was able to avoid the subject the rest of the way, and found another distraction as soon as they entered the restaurant.

“There’s Ron and Tammy,” Amy whispered, spotting an obnoxious couple from work sitting in a booth across the room. Barb ignored her and stared straight ahead, apparently having already noticed them.

Wearing the orange dress turned out to be a big mistake. It was like a bright sign drawing everyone’s attention to her, including Ron, who waved at her as Barb ordered their food using cash from the fanny pack Amy used as a purse.

She let her eyes wander toward the kitchen, pretending she didn’t see Ron, and felt a jolt of adrenaline. Red lights were flashing around the grill, and a pair of teenagers were acting like they were in a panic. Someone closed the door before she could see more.

“What’s going on back there?” she asked the girl taking their order.

The girl turned to where she was pointing. “What do you mean?”

“The emergency, in the kitchen!” She watched helplessly as Barb started to say something, an alarm screamed one sharp note and stopped, and the kitchen door flew open with a bang. In that last moment she regained control and instinctively tackled Barb to the floor.

She rolled to see flames shooting over the counter. The girl on the other side was screaming, but Amy’s focus shifted to an array of sprinklers on the ceiling that weren’t working, and then to a fire extinguisher mounted on a plaster-covered column forty feet away. She crouched and sprang toward the extinguisher, reciting in her mind the procedure she had learned for using one.

Seconds felt like minutes until she found herself spraying white foam at the fire, hoping that the extinguisher was the right type for the fire’s source. Luckily it was, but she knew there wasn’t enough of it.

“Cover your face!” she shouted at the girl, whose clothes appeared to burning, and sprayed her when she complied. She then kept the flames at bay while Barb helped the girl outside. When the extinguisher stopped working, Amy took a look around to make sure no one was around before bolting for the door. Behind her, the kitchen was an inferno which no one could have escaped.

When she got outside, Amy noticed that three of the restaurant’s employees had herded the others out to the street, and one of them was shouting at her to get as far from the building as possible. She broke into a run, and when she was half-way to them something at the other side of the building exploded.

Amy caught her breath and looked for Barb and the girl. A handful of people clustered around a car while a woman got a duffel bag out of its trunk. A man out of view ordered her to put clothes on the back seat, place the girl gently on top of them.

Someone shouted, “Does anyone have a blanket, something warm?”

Amy recalled her windbreaker on the seat in her car. She sprinted to the car while pulling the keys from her fanny pack. As fast as she could, she returned with the windbreaker and then looked for the man. It was Ron.

“Thanks, Amy,” he said with a grin, and carefully laid the windbreaker on top of the girl in the back seat. From what Amy could see before he did, she had several red spots that looked like superficial burns.

The owner of the clothes was in the driver’s seat, and had the nearest hospital already displayed on her GPS.

“Remember what I said,” Ron told the woman, and to the girl he said, “You’ll be okay, Margaret.”

Margaret saw Amy behind him and smiled at her. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Barb and Tammy had been watching from a respectful distance, obscured by the car until it pulled onto the street.

“That was really something,” Barb told Amy when it was gone, tears in her eyes.

Amy grinned, suddenly feeling tired. She felt, rather than saw, the others walk up behind her. Then they began to clap.

She turned, blushing uncontrollably, and raised her hand for them to stop. “I didn’t do anything any of you wouldn’t have done.” She looked at the restaurant, which was now engulfed in flames. Smoke was billowing up, and sirens in the distance made it clear that the fire department was finally on its way. “We better get our cars out of the way so the professionals can deal with this.”

“Shouldn’t we stick around?” Barb asked as they began walking to her car.

“I’ll tell Alex about it. It’ll be better than a police report.”

“Amy, wait!” Ron called. Tammy was by his side.

“I’ve got to go, Ron,” she said, and paused. “Good job over there.”

“I did the easy part,” he said. “See you at work tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

Barb insisted on driving them straight to the police department. “I’d rather not go there,” Amy said, watching the emergency vehicles pull into the parking lot through the passenger side mirror. Ahead, a TV news van was speeding toward the scene.

“You’ll see Alex sooner,” Barb suggested.

“I’m still hungry,” Amy pointed out.

“Okay…” she said, scanning the road, and then gestured toward a coffee shop whose giant sign dominated Amy’s side of the road within two blocks. “How about that one?”

“No,” Amy said, “but I like the idea of someplace without a kitchen.”

Ten minutes later they were sitting across from each other in a small coffee shop several blocks off of any main road. They had both headed straight to the restroom to clean up. Fortunately there wasn’t much of that to do.
This time Amy ordered a cold sandwich and some pastry, along with a large fruit smoothie. Still wanting a salad, Barb settled for having just a smoothie.

“Okay,” Barb said while Amy dissected her pastry into bite-size chunks, “what gives? I think you were expecting something like that to happen.”

Amy looked up, still tired, and still uncomfortable with sharing what she was thinking. She chose to take a detour.

“Do you remember how Derek used to joke about my obsessing over things other people ignore?”

“Yeah, your brother could be pretty mean, all the way through high school. Then he was just a pain.”

Amy grinned, remembering it fondly as Derek being Derek. She continued, “‘Overdeveloped pattern recognition’ is what he called it, bordering on seeing things that don’t exist. It’s not just what other people ignore, it’s what they see and choose not to question.”

“Got it.” Barb leaned toward her. “You think you’re seeing patterns now?”

“Not just patterns. Events.”

“Wow, so I was right.” Barb sat back. In a quieter voice she said, “You think the fire was one of those events.”

“It’s just a feeling, one that I’ve had all day.”

Barb took a slurp of her smoothie. “Does Alex know about this?”

“He might have a clue or two.”

Barb smiled knowingly and slapped the table, causing Amy to flinch and nearly spilling her smoothie. “And he still loves you! God, you’re lucky.”

Amy blinked, realizing that she was right. “I guess I better call him.”

“Call his private number,” Barb advised. “The fire and police departments wouldn’t answer before, not even nine-one-one.”

“You’re telling me this now?” Amy stared at her accusingly. She wanted to process what that meant, but first she had to make the call.

Alex answered within seconds, as if he’d been expecting her call. “Are you okay?” he asked without preamble.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she said.

“Where are you?”

“A coffee shop. I’m with Barb.”

“Where, exactly? Give me the address.” She told him, and he commanded, “Don’t move!”

“Okay,” she said meekly, and ended the call. To Barb she said, “I think he’s angry,” and smiled sheepishly.

Three minutes later, Alex barreled through the door, his older partner Mark Robinson in tow.

Amy was seated with her back to him, and turned as he strode up to her. “Want to join us?” she asked innocently, and then noticed something that made her feel deeply ashamed.

His stone cold voice belied the hurt in his eyes. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”

Thinking battled with feelings as she considered telling him the connections her racing mind made in the time it took for him to get there. The feelings won, for the moment. “There wasn’t much thinking involved,” she admitted.

She could tell he was fighting a smile. “I’ll bet.”

“I can vouch for that,” Barb said.

“We’ll take you up on that offer to join you,” Robinson said.

Alex slid in beside Amy and Robinson sat next to Barb. “So,” Robinson said to Barb, “just to be clear, you left the scene of a fire.”

“Yes, we did,” she responded. “How did you find out we were there?”

Amy and Barb locked eyes. “Ron,” they said together.

“That would be Mr. Harman?” Robinson asked.

“That’s him,” Barb said.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Alex asked Amy gently.

A young waiter approached Alex and Robinson. “Can I get you anything?” he offered.

“Just water,” Alex said, and Robinson nodded for the same.

Amy decided to be brief. “We were ordering food and a fire broke out in the kitchen. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and kept it from spreading while everyone else got out. Then I left too.”

“That’s it?” Alex asked.

She winced, remembering the scene in the kitchen. “There were at least two teenagers in the kitchen when the door closed.”

“The door closed?” Robinson asked.

She nodded. “And then it blew out. All I saw was fire, and then I got busy when none of the sprinklers went off.”

“That true?” Robinson asked Barb.

“Sure thing,” she replied.

Amy saw something in Alex’s face and tensed up. “You’re not surprised,” she guessed.

“Neither were you,” Barb blurted.

Amy glared at her friend, more out of reflex than anger, while Alex confirmed her guess by shifting in the seat wordlessly.

“Were you expecting that?” There was a tinge of suspicion in Robinson’s question.

“No,” Amy said, turning to him, “not specifically. Just…”

“She had reason to think weird things would start happening,” Alex interrupted. He reached under the table and took her hand.

Barb stared at them both. “Okay, what is going on with you two?” She licked her lips, her eyes wide with recognition. “It was your trip, wasn’t it? Something happened up there!”

Amy and Alex traded glances. “Mark knows,” Alex said.

“So it’s true?” Robinson asked Amy, who nodded.

“What’s true?” Barb demanded.

Amy looked at Alex, who nodded, indicating she could tell Barb about their experience at the campground. She decided to keep it simple. “We saw a helicopter get shot down by a missile from a drone. The Air Force showed up and told us that the country is under attack.”

Barb froze, her expression a mix of fear, disbelief, and anger. “Are you serious? Why didn’t you…?”

Amy cut her off. “They told me not to say anything about it. Alex was going to check…”

“Still nothing official,” Alex interrupted, “but command knows that something’s up, and has put us all on alert for unusual events. Like what just happened to you.”

“What did they say when you told them about the attack?” Amy asked him.

“The same as Mark: skepticism. But it wasn’t total, because I was told not to make it public until it was confirmed by higher-ups.”

“Fake news,” Robinson said. “That’s what they said would be the official position if it got out before then.”

“Maybe even after,” Amy grumbled.

“I’m inclined to agree with them,” Alex said, surprising her.

“Are you crazy?” Barb exploded. “This needs to be all over the Internet. Let people make up their own minds!”

Amy looked seriously at Alex. “I’m surprised it isn’t already. We weren’t the only ones to see it.”

“The Howards and the hiker,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

“Why?” she asked suspiciously, and recalling Harvey’s docility in the store instantly guessed the answer. “They got to them.” Her palms began to sweat, and she pulled her hand out of his. “Did they get to you, too?”

“No one got to me,” Alex said calmly.

“He didn’t say you were wrong about the others,” Barb pointed out to her.

“Ed told me,” Alex said bluntly, “and I believe him.”

“Who’s Ed?” Barb asked.

“The manager of the store,” Amy said, “a creepy guy who held me and the Howard family at gunpoint for a while.”

“You were held at gunpoint?” Robinson asked her and turned to his partner. “Why didn’t you report that?”

“I didn’t know,” Alex said, glaring at Amy.

She blushed. “Okay, I left out that part.”

“We need to report it now,” Robinson said. He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Oh, damn.”

“What?” the others asked at once.

“No signal.”

Amy noted that Alex was genuinely surprised as they checked their own phones and found the same thing.
Alex was on the land line before the dozen others in the coffee shop discovered their cell phones had no service. Amy could tell from his body language that it was dead too.

“No luck,” he said to Robinson when he returned to their table.

Barb stared at her, wide-eyed with fear, and mouthed, “Is this it?” By it, Amy assumed she meant part of the attack, and nodded.

Robinson noticed their exchange. “Let’s keep calm, everybody.” The music which had masked their previous conversation stopped playing just as he said it. A couple four tables away turned to look at him.

The middle-aged barista behind the counter repeated Alex’s attempt with the land line and clearly had the same result. She purposefully walked over to their table and asked him loudly, “Is there something we should know about?”

Amy watched him stare into space for a few seconds, what he would later self-consciously refer to as using his work brain. To the barista he said, “We’re trying to figure it out. Do you have a TV in the back room?”

“Yes, an old one, but it stopped working a couple of hours ago.” She paused, her expression matching Barb’s. “Do you think it’s related?”

Amy felt her adrenaline start to surge, just as it had during the fire. Of course it’s related! she wanted to shout.

“I don’t know,” Alex said instead. “Is it the TV, or is it the cable that’s out?”

The barista shrugged. “What’s the difference?”

“I can go check,” Amy suggested, anxious to do something.

Alex gripped her arm and looked to his partner for guidance. “It’s probably just your TV, ma’am,” Robinson said, smiling at the barista.

Barb turned to the barista. “If the electricity’s on, then why did the music go off?”

“We get that off the radio.”

“The radio,” Barb said to Amy.

Something caught Amy’s attention through the window beside Barb. People in the parking lot and on the sidewalk next to the street were frantically checking their phones. She pulled her arm loose from Alex’s grasp. “Looks like we’re not alone,” she told him, and pointed at the view.

“Don’t worry,” Alex said reassuringly. “I’ve been in situations like this before.”

Amy sensed that he really meant to say “worse than” instead of “like.” She relaxed slightly and then saw a flash of terror cross Robinson’s face.

Alex apparently saw the same thing. “Mark, maybe we can get some information over the car radio.”

“Good thought,” Robinson said. “I’ll go check it out and be right back.”

“What exactly is this situation?” the barista asked Alex when Robinson left.

“Communications go down,” he said easily. “Cell towers…”

“Tell her!” Barb interrupted. Amy could tell that she was ready to say it herself, blowing Alex’s credibility if he didn’t do it first.

“I AM,” he said forcefully, glaring at Barb. Dead quiet punctuated his statement, which bothered Amy like a sudden itch. “This may be intentional.”

Barb’s disgust was palpable, but Amy was focused on her own discomfort. She found the source outside, where a dozen people watched Robinson as he approached the detectives’ unmarked car.

“What do you mean, intentional?” the barista asked Alex.

“He means it could be part of an attack on the country,” Barb interjected. “That’s what his partner is trying to find out.”

Several people spoke up at once, seizing on the word “attack,” while Amy saw Robinson get in the car.

“Hold on!” Alex commanded after standing up. “We do need to get more information. All we have right now is a guess.” Outside, Robinson started the car and started speaking.

“She doesn’t seem to think so,” the barista challenged, nodding toward Barb.

“They were told that we’re under attack,” Barb said. “Right, Amy?”

Amy ignored her, mesmerized by the scene outside.

“AMY MARRENA!” Barb shouted, using the middle name that was sure to get her attention.

It worked, but not the way Barb expected. “I think we have a problem,” Amy said. The number of onlookers had doubled in size and they were moving to encircle the car. Robinson talked rapidly, looking scared.

Alex followed her gaze along with the others. “Oh, come on, Mark,” he said, clearly irritated. Then the car began inching forward. He headed for the door and announced over his shoulder, “I’ll be right back.”

By the time Alex got outside it was too late. Robinson had sped off onto the street.

His face turned as red as his hair, in the first of the handful of times Amy would ever see him angry.
He looked up at Amy, closed his eyes, and peace spread over his face. He then turned and addressed the crowd in the parking lot. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but whatever it was caused the people there to visibly relax.

“Wow,” Barb said softly, expressing Amy’s own reaction as they began walking randomly off as though nothing had happened.

“What did he say?” the barista asked, equally impressed.

“We’re about to find out,” Amy said, watching him head back to the door, and stood up to greet him.

The room was silent when Alex entered. “Well,” he said directly to her but loud enough for everyone to hear, “we know the police radios work.”

“Apparently,” she replied.

He continued, “That means the situation is being assessed by the people who can help the most.”

“Why did your partner leave you behind?” the barista asked.

“I don’t know, but he was apparently told to, so there must be a good reason.”

“He looked scared to me,” the barista said.

“That was probably his ‘I’m in a hurry’ look.”

“So what now?” Amy asked.

“I recommend going home and waiting for authorities to notify you about what’s going on.”

“Could you stick around while I close?” the barista asked.

“Sure,” he said.

“I can drop you off at the station,” Amy offered as they went back to their table.

“Actually, I’d like to make another stop first, if that’s okay with you and Barb.”



© 2018 Bradley Jarvis