TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Cell phones all over the county simultaneously shrilled that morning. Residents quickly scanned the emergency alert, and then raced to gather their family members, and prepare. Meanwhile, in the national forest, there was no cell phone access. The small family camping on the peaceful, meandering river had just put out their breakfast campfire and the children were laughing excitedly as they donned their hiking gear…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It could have been any idyllic summer day in Montana, aside from the fact that they were breaking the law.
Kenneth Mahon and his wife, Jeannine, had gotten up that morning feeling completely at ease for the first time in weeks. An evening out with friends, a quick nightcap before bed, and an hour of enthusiastic lovemaking, followed by a long, deep sleep had, for the moment, lifted the dark cloud that had been hovering over them for some time.
The cloud had been gaining size and density for some time. K and J, as they called each other, had been college sweethearts. First introduced at a freshman mixer, they had an instant connection, and became inseparable. The family came quickly: a son, Kenneth Junior, was born a year after they married; their daughter, Ava, came two years later.
The couple began instilling a love of the outdoors into their children almost immediately, which wasn’t hard to do in Montana. Since their jobs could be done via the Internet, they had bought a small (by Montana standards) farm in the town of Anaconda. They had hoped that the remote living would help isolate them from the growing horrors on the evening news. Wars in distant lands had begun to grow long fingers, capable of reaching the U.S. Inner city wars were trickling out into the suburbs like sludge.. The term “homegrown terrorism” was commonplace.
The final straw had been the announcement that several shelters had been built quietly by the government, where people could gather safely in the event of an attack, such as the gas attacks that occurred recently in Syria. The cloud had become an impenetrable black, enveloping them. The good feelings of this morning had been decimated by a smart news notification on their cell phones about a computer hack on some government services. They had gathered their camping gear and the kids, now 9 and 7, and made the drive to the Bitterroot National Forest.
There was an access road in the northernmost part of the forest, only for staff members, as cars were not allowed in the forest. However, it was the quickest way to get to a small, unnamed lake where the Mahons had made a little campground. Their hope was that they could go unnoticed for the day, given that it was Saturday and staffing was at a minimum. A day to recharge the batteries and leave the news flashes behind was going to be goal today. Bitterroot had no cell or Internet access, so there was no way to be jolted with another horror story, especially as these stories came closer to home.
At the precise moment that the Mahons were dousing their breakfast campfire and gathering up their hiking gear, the people of Ravalli County were getting their weekends in motion. Supermarkets and liquor stores were jammed with barbequers and party-goers. Playgrounds and beaches had begun to swell and the traffic on the highways had begun to look like Monday morning rush hour. The sound of thousands of cell phones and their variety of rings sang out at once. Thumbs began punching away at screens, followed by a low rumble of concern. Phone calls were hurriedly made, and people made a beeline for the cars if they weren’t already in them. The Montana Emergency Alert system had been activated.
The Mahons stopped at a narrow overlook, where they had an amazing view of the waterfall that fed their small lake. As the kids took turns attempting the impossible task of reaching the waterfall with small rocks, Ken noticed a tower in the distance that he had never seen before. It rose up out of the pines, maybe a mile or so away, with a small beacon on the top. At the moment, the beacon was rapidly blinking a red light. He had seen other towers around in his travels, but they always had a steady green light. Ken had never really given them much thought, but his pondering was interrupted suddenly by the crunching of leaves behind them.
He spun around, and scanned the woods that surrounded their current vantage point. At first he saw nothing, but the crunching stopped when an older couple broke through the tree line to his right. Ken wasn’t surprised to see other people so much, but the look on their faces immediately raised the hair on the back of his neck. As they approached him, they held out their cell phones.
The emergency alert system was broadcasting that sarin gas had been released in the area west of Helena. High winds were creating an expanded infection area and people were being advised to seek space in one of the new shelters, as they were outfitted with a filtration system and a dedicated oxygen supply. Across the county, people streamed toward the shelters, were greeted by camouflaged men with guns and gas masks, and filled the shelters. Doors clicked shut, and thousands stood in a worried silence over what would happen next. At that moment, a low hiss began to fill all of the shelters…