A little late with the second edition this week, I was climbing the South Sister Mountain.  Here is chapter nine.


 “If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”

Buddhist Zen Master Sent-ts’an

 “Jean, that was an incredible dinner,” Gary said.

“It sure was,” chimed in Barb.

“She saves the good meals for company.” Cliffson winked.

The Langs and Wests had developed quite a close relationship over the years as each couple had come to realize how few people shared their traditional values of individual initiative, integrity, and self-reliance.

The Wests lived outside of town on 20 acres just a mile away from the Lang’s single acre on the west edge of town.  Both couples raised large gardens, kept bees, and shared many of the same hobbies.

Prior to the housing boom in the early 2000’s the Lang’s property was just outside of town.  Now the hay fields and poplar trees stretching out behind them were the only things left of the fields that once surrounded them.  Sub-division housing bordered them on the other three sides.

“I hate to ruin such a great meal with politics guys, but would you mind if I turned on the President’s speech?” asked Cliffson.

“The Liar in Chief?  The man’s delusional.  What would you want to watch him for?” Gary frowned.

“Agh”, you know what I think of him Gary, but considering the bankrupt state of our nation I want to know just what they plan on doing.  The government’s still printing more than a hundred billion dollars a month, even after defaulting on payments to Japan and some of the old European nations.  If they can’t get things worked out and default on the loans with China, it could mean war.  Even if we don’t default, China wants our payment in gold and you know we don’t have it.”

“You don’t really expect any answers from the fools in Washington do you?”  Gary asked rhetorically.  “They’re the same people who got us into this mess.  Besides, most folks don’t understand what’s happening to our country anyway. Others outright hate our nation—they look only at what our nation is today and not at the principles our country founded on.  The concepts of liberty and all men created equal have been buried under the rush for entitlements.”

Cliffson was thoughtfully chewing on a toothpick. “Sadly, that’s the bloody truth.  Economic growth is tied to freedom and our nation’s people have been willing to give up their freedom for a little so-called security.  Consequently, we don’t prosper.  It’s a pretty basic concept.  You can’t have one without the other.”

Gary laughed.  “So you don’t think the president suddenly had an epiphany and saw the light do you?”

“No, but he’s been meeting with Chinese diplomats all week and there’s a lot on the line.  Maybe the Chinese have enlightened him a bit.  There’s a lot of empty space in that man’s head.” Cliffson grinned and clicked on the TV.

“Speaking to you tonight from Kansas City, the President is just now coming to the podium,” the newsman announced.

“Good evening my fellow Americans.  I’ve come to the heartland of our great nation to speak to you tonight about the serious matters concerning all of us.  Congress is gathered back in Washington watching on the two new big screens we just had installed and I am told you can see both them and myself on your own screens at home.”

“Unfortunately,” Gary quipped.

“Now, I’m sure you’re aware of the nation’s struggles to pay its ever increasing debts. We’ve been meeting non-stop with diplomats from China for the last few weeks to discuss our loans and how to…….”

“Hey, what happened, the screen showing Congress just went blank?”  Cliffson changed channels.  “It’s like that on all of them, and now the President’s leaving the podium.”

“Well stink, some drunken boob probably knocked the camera over,” Gary chuckled.  “Is Ted Kennedy back among us?”

Cliffson looked surprised.  “Ooh, that’s kinda low even for you Gary”.

“I guess so but….”

“Folks, this is your local KBXF correspondent, and we have an unconfirmed report that,” the reporter stumbled over his words, “I can’t seem to…………I, ahhhh, folks I’m sorry, I can’t believe this is happening, but I repeat, an unconfirmed report that a nuclear device has been detonated in the nation’s capital.”

Cliffson leapt from his chair, “What!  Gary there could be more on the way.”

“Now hang on Cliffson, he said it was unconfirmed.”

In tears now, the news correspondent struggled to compose himself before explaining they would be back on the air with a statement from the President as soon as possible.

Barb’s voice rose in a shrill cry, “What do we do now?”

For a moment everyone remained frozen in the stunned silence, waiting for the next bomb to fall.  Abruptly the shriek of the tea pot on the stove jolted them back to reality.  That’s when Cliffson and Gary began rushing about and speaking so fast no one could understand what they were saying until Jean and Barb got them to slow down.

“We need to call our kids,” yelled Gary.

“And we should go to the store for food and fill our cars with gas,” Cliffson countered.

“Hold on fellas, let’s see if the President comes back on TV before we get too excited.”  Jean seemed almost calm and Cliffson thought again how thankful he was for the wisdom his wife possessed.

While the two couples waited for more news they cried, hugged, prayed together, shared their concerns, and discussed “what if” plans.  Late in the evening the worst was officially confirmed.  The damage was extensive.  The White House, Library of Congress and Supreme Court had been vaporized.  The Vice President and members of Congress were lost.  Washington D.C. was gone and there was still no word from the President.

The military was keeping everyone far from the edge of the blast zone and a steady stream of updates kept the public informed about the direction of the radiation cloud.  People were told to stay inside, but fortunately, most of the radiation was drifting out over the Atlantic.

Eventually it became clear the President would not be speaking and the Wests decided to head home.  Barb clung to Gary on their way to the car and Cliffson pulled Jean a little closer.  The couples were standing in the driveway saying goodbye when Monk approached from next door, his boots tapping out a familiar rhythm in the night air.

“Hello, Monk.” Cliffson noticed he was not wearing his hat and saw the bald spot on the top of his head gleaming in the moonlight.  It was why they called him Monk.

“Howdy, folks. We all doin’ all right?”

“Ok, I guess.  You hear anything over your ham radio that’s not being reported on the news?” Cliffson asked.

“Well, there’s a lot of talk about the Chinese being involved but nothing for sure.”

“What?  That makes no sense Monk.   Their diplomats have been here most the week working on a resolution to things,” Cliffson challenged.

“You mean just like the Japanese diplomats were doing right up until the time they attacked Pearl Harbor,” responded Monk.  “It’s a perfect cover.”

Shoving his hands deep into his pockets Cliffson sighed.  “Monk this just bends my mind.  I’m glad there weren’t any more bombs but I’m still feeling pretty vulnerable.  You’d think we’d have heard from the President by now.”

“Yes, you would, but like I said, there’s some strange rumors circulating among the ham operators.”

“What kind of rumors?” Gary asked.

“Let’s wait until morning, right now it’s all just talk.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll have some answers and a better picture of things.  Besides, we’ve all got plenty on our minds for one night.  I was just checking in to see how you all were doin’.”

“Monk’s right.  We should get some sleep tonight before we do anything,”  Gary said.  “Thanks for looking in on us Monk.  Good night.”

“Good night, folks.”

Walking back to the house Cliffson wasn’t sure if it was the cool spring air or the night’s events that gave him a chill.  He paused for a moment to gaze into the clear evening sky.  A silver slivered moon was faintly visible behind a supple white cloud and the stars sparkled against black velvet, just as they always had, as if nothing had happened.  How he wished it was so.

The Jeffersons were at home watching a game show called “Hold on to Your Seat” when the program was interrupted with news of the bombing.

“It’s a hoax,” Thomas blustered.  “No way has this happened.  Someone’s pulling a stunt.  People are pretty wound up over the condition of our country and it’d be very easy to take advantage and create a nationwide panic, then later poke fun at the people who were duped.  Remember the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938 by Orson Wells?  Well I’m not falling for it.”

“But honey, this was on national news,”  Mary pleaded.

Then Davis, who was home on spring break, exploded through the front door.  “I was just leaving Jason’s house when the news came on – D.C. has been nuked!  What are we going to do?”

“Now hold on there son.  We were just discussing how this is likely a hoax.”

Mary interrupted, “Your father was saying he thinks it is a hoax, but I don’t agree.”

Thomas defended his position.  “Look, we haven’t heard anything from the president.  If this were a national emergency surely he’d be speaking to us.”

“Or out playing golf.”

“That’s uncalled for, Davis,”  Thomas countered.  “Our president has given all of us hope in troubled times and single-handedly saved this nation from a second depression.”

Davis threw up his hands.  “Yeah, it’s just like the roaring 20’s out there isn’t it Dad.”

“Just what has gotten into you son?  Is this the kind of thing you’re learning at college?”

“Dad, it’s just that…” Mary cut him off.  “Listen to you two!  Now is not the time for this and I don’t want to hear any more.  For all we know we really have been attacked.”

Thomas put his arms around Mary and spoke softly.  “All right, all right, you make a good point and we’ll shelve this for now.  Surely tomorrow there will be some more news from the president.”  His steely look towards Davis assured there would be no snide remarks.


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