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.)


I wake up cold and needing to pee. I glance to my right, and see Mom’s head peeking out from the double sleeping bag she’s sharing with Dad. I can’t see my brother, but know he’s on the other side of Dad. Six years old and he snores louder than five grown men.

I turn over, and try to will myself back to sleep. I so do not want to extricate myself from my bag, and trek to the restroom three campsites down.

Five minutes later, my bladder is screaming at me. I can’t ignore it. I grab my cell phone from beneath my pillow, and unzip my sleeping bag as quietly as I can.

Amazingly, I manage to clamber out of the tent without waking anyone. It’s so quiet, I can hear the gentle surging of the river. I stare at the star-filled sky for a moment before turning on my phone’s flashlight, and heading to the restroom.

When I return, my brother is sitting by the fire pit, his Spiderman backpack in his lap, but there’s no fire.

“Henry! What are you doing?” I whisper as loudly as I dare. He looks at me, but doesn’t answer. Not that I expect him to. My brother hasn’t spoken one word his entire life. The docs say he’s autistic–or at least somewhere on the spectrum–but there are “other things going on” which, apparently, they can’t identify.

Whenever Henry does something totally weird and unexplainable, my parents laugh and shrug. “Other things going on,” they say. I gotta admit, I love the kid, and sometimes he’s a hoot. Actually, he’s the reason we’re camping this weekend.

It started last week. Henry often gets these obsessions with collecting things. Matchbox cars (okay, not so weird), rulers (I kid you not), red pencils–whatever. He roams around the house collecting them in his backpack. After a while, he’ll dump them out and fill the pack up with whatever else catches his attention. This week, it’s cell phones–which is particularly annoying because anytime I lay down my phone, he snatches it. At least I always know where to find it.

It’s amazing how many phones my parents have collected over the years. Big ones, little ones, skinny, ones, fat ones. Henry even found Great-granddad’s first phone–a walkie-talkie sized monster.

Then on Wednesday, Henry started piling camping gear in the foyer–sleeping bags, lantern, even our camping stove. Dad had looked at Mom. “Why not?” They’re easy like that. So, Friday, after Dad got home from work, we packed up the car, and took off.

I grab Henry’s hand. “Let’s go back to bed.” Henry shakes his head, and pulls his hand back. I look at my phone. “It’s only 4:00.”

He ignores me, then opens his backpack, pulls out the cell phones, and arranges them in a circle around the pit. I can see he’s starting to get agitated, and I let him continue his self-soothing.

I sit down, yawning. I make a wish when I see a shooting star. And, then I see another one. Henry touches my arm, and I realize I’m trembling. There is an electricity in the air I can’t explain. My brother frowns, and strokes my hair, then climbs into my lap. His teeth are chattering. I hug him close.

Suddenly, he jumps from my lap, frantically collects the cell phones, and throws them in his backpack. He grabs my hand, and attempts to pull me out of my chair. “Henry, what’s wrong?” He’s breathing hard, and yanks my hand as hard as he can. I stand up, thinking I need to wake Mom and Dad, when I realize they’re standing behind us. They’re still half asleep but they, too, are trembling.

Henry takes off, dragging the backpack behind him. He’s heading toward the Rim of the World trail we’ve hiked many times before. My parents and I exchange silent looks. Dawn is approaching but it’s not quite here. I turn on my phone’s flashlight, and hurry after my brother, my parents by my side.

Half an hour later, we are standing at Lookout Point. We can see for miles; streetlights and the headlights of early morning commuters decorate the city below. It’s a beautiful scene but a feeling of unease engulfs me. I start to worry I might have whatever wacko genes my brother has.

Henry opens his backpack, and once again lines up his cell phones. When he’s done, he sits down in front of them. We sit down beside him, holding each other close.

Strangely, I’m not surprised when the cell phones flicker, then turn on. Despite the fact there’s no cell service here–and of course, these old phones aren’t activated–they begin to ring.

Henry points to the sky, and says his first word, ever. “Look.”

We look up, and see dozens of huge, flaming fireballs … meteors? Space junk? Whatever they are, they’re hurtling toward the streets below.

We sit mute, while flames consume the city.

My little brother has saved us all.