To a Sudden Halt
by Tessa Bennett
Gary Harris had never left the state of Kansas. He had been born in the small town of Cassidy, a town of less than 200 people, and except for a few trips to Wichita had never traveled far from his home. While this seemed completely incredible in a time when a person could traverse thousands of miles in a single day, Gary had never had an occasion to wander or been affected by a particular desire to do so.
He ran the Harris Family Garage, originally opened by his father who worked as the mechanic while his mother operated the small convenience store out front. The only other family Gary had ever known was his Uncle Eddy who had joined the army right out of high school.
While his father had been content to stay in Cassidy, his brother Eddy wanted to see the world outside of the small rural town. Gary couldn’t have been more than five when Eddy shipped out, but he still remembered Eddy smiling in his new uniform, running his hand across his crew cut, and promising to bring back a few bloody souvenirs for his only nephew.
A few months later, Gary’s father received a telegram. Eddy had been killed in a far-away place called Vietnam. In the months and years that followed, they began to hear more and more about this far-away place and all the other Eddys being killed there.
His father never recovered from the death of his only brother. After dinner, he would listen to the radio about a war that was not a war being fought in Vietnam. He would sit in his chair as the newscaster told him why this was a very important war that was not a war, muttering to himself occasionally as he stared out the window with unfocused eyes.
After Eddy’s death, Gary came to the conclusion that only bad things happened outside of Cassidy. While this decision was made with the brash logic of a child, he had never quite outgrown it. Now in his sixties, Gary still believed that Cassidy was the only true safe place in the world.
* * *
Having stifled the invasion with a swift and crushing blow, Kim Jung Un and his leading military advisors sat at a table and discussed the next course of action. They had been attacked and retaliated successfully, but they knew that South Korea wasn’t their only enemy. No, it was one of many nations who could use this opportunity to advance their own ambitions. It was quickly decided that preemptive action must be taken to hold their position.
A list was drafted identifying the nations who were most likely to attack in response to North Korea’s suppression of the invasion. Primary targets were selected, those nations who had been the strongest allies of South Korea and the most dangerous enemies of Kim Jung Il. They had to be struck down as soon as possible, before they had an opportunity to respond. At the top of the list was the United States of America.
* * *
Gary had been working in the Harris Family Garage when he heard the warning on the radio. He had spent his entire life in that garage. When he was a child he had watched his father hunched over engines, occasionally helped by holding a light or passing a wrench. As he grew older, his father took him on as a sort of apprentice.
After school, Gary would walk down the road to the garage where he would find his father waiting for him with a new lesson. Stepping out of the bright afternoon into the dim shop, he would take comfort in the familiar smells of oil, sweat, and unfiltered cigarettes. His father only ever smoked while working because his mother would never permit him to bring the habit home.
Then his father would set him to work, rebuilding a carburetor or changing oil. They were quiet as they worked, the only sounds in the garage were the radio, tools straining against metal, and the occasional grunts from his father to let Gary know when he had made a mistake.
At five o’clock, Gary’s father would wash the grease from his hands and lock the door while Gary would put away his projects. His father could grab a beer from the refrigerator in the office, sit down on the workbench and light his last cigarette of the day.
Gary would sit beside him, occasionally allowed to sip from his father’s can. Sometimes, his father would talk and tell him stories about growing up in Cassidy or what his Uncle Eddy had been like as a kid. Other times they would just sit quietly and listen to the radio together before going home for dinner.
After high school, Gary went to work at the garage full time and had remained there ever since. When his parents died, he took over the business. He lived alone in his childhood home, never having married or even gotten a dog.
He liked solitariness but he also loved the continuity. His home had always been his home. His business had always been his business. And now every day at five o’clock, he would wash the grease from his hands and lock the door. He would sit on the workbench listening to the radio, drinking a beer from the refrigerator in the office, and smoke his last cigarette of the day before going home for dinner.
* * *
At 10:22 a.m. Central Standard Time, a warning went out over the Emergency Broadcast System: “This is an emergency alert. North Korea has just launched an electromagnetic pulse weapon of mass destruction against South Korea. Be advised, this weapon causes the permanent failure of electronic systems. At this time, we do not know if North Korea has targeted any other nations. This is an emergency alert...”
* * *
Gary didn’t think much of the warning at first, but he never put much stock in the radio news. Even when the newscaster’s voice was interrupted by the hiss of static, he just kept working. It was only when the radio went silent that he thought there might be something to it.
He set down his wrench and walked over to the workbench, crouching down to stare at the radio. He fiddled with the knobs for a moment, trying the power then the volume and finally just spinning the station dial. Nothing. Not even a flicker of static.
Standing up, Gary scanned over the contents of the garage. Mrs. Mitchell’s car was there, just for an oil change, and Jimmy Connor’s truck was there for body repairs after he had crashed it into a tree on Friday night. He climbed behind the wheel of the car and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing, although he was sure it had worked fine when she brought it in an hour ago.
Next he tried Jimmy’s truck, but the result was the same. Gary knew these cars, knew them inside and out. There was no reason for this any more than there was a reason for the radio to suddenly die. It was then he started to take the emergency warning very, very seriously.
* * *
When North Korea initially launched the EMP weapon, the primary concern had been keeping the effects within the boundaries of South Korea so as not to affect their own resources. Too big an impact would undermine North Korea’s ability to defend itself if South Korea continued its invasion or another nation attempted retaliation. But the United States presented a different challenge. There were over three and a half million square miles to cover and nothing could be left to chance. All it would take was a single live circuit to allow the United States to respond with quick and brutal force. No, if the United States were to be struck down then it would have to stay down.
Beginning at 10:23 a.m. Central Standard Time, North Korea carried out a series of coordinated strikes across the nation. They left no inch of the United States untouched, from the farthest reaches of the Alaskan tundra to the southern Samoan territory. There was some collateral damage to the neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico, but Kim Jung Un had insisted upon a complete and thorough decimation without regard for the niceties of international borders. If nothing else, it would provide those nations with a distraction before rushing to aid the superpower that was now fumbling in the dark.
* * *
Gary jumped out of the truck and ran to the door of the shop. If Cassidy wasn'’t safe from the far-away places and wars that weren’t wars, then the garage would have to be. He locked and bolted the front door to the office. Next, he pulled down the garage door and affixed the padlock. He had no illusion that the little bits of metal would provide any real protection; at most they would only stall an intruder. But the stall was all he needed.
Under the desk in the office, Gary’s father had kept a safe. It only ever held three things — the weekly receipts, a snub-nosed revolver, and a box of ammunition. Since Gary had taken over the garage, the contents of the safe had grown in number but had not varied in type. The inventory now included a Glock-17, a FN Herstal FNP-9, a Beretta 92 with assorted ammunition and a Bowie knife. He had never used the weapons in self-defense, but often practiced with them. He would set up bowling pins along the fence rail behind the house, because bowling pins simulate the anatomy of a human target, and rehearse.
In the scenarios he played out, Gary was prepared and levelheaded, taking only defensive action and avoiding violence whenever possible. But inevitably, he fired his weapon aiming first for the body of the pin and ending with a shot to the head for a certain kill. Now the enemy had made its move — the far-away place had brought bad things to Cassidy. Gary had a duty to defend himself and his home.
* * *
It was not just cars stopped on turnpikes or silent radios in rural Kansas. It was subway trains trapped in New York City tunnels and elevators in Chicago skyscrapers and trolleys careening down steep San Francisco streets. It was the power grid, life support machines, train switchboards, and airplane navigation. All around the country, people were screaming and dying as electronics failed and modern life collapsed into a pile of burnt-out circuits and twisted metal.
At 10:24 a.m. Central Standard Time, the United States of America came to a sudden halt.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Tessa Bennett