The Cold War has reheated with some added players. The Doomsday Clock is ticking. It will reach midnight.
In 2019 many more nations than the superpowers have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them anywhere on earth.
Kirby Yates, 40, has a good job groundskeeping at the new underground Energy House Museum at Hammett’s Mill, North Dakota, population 240. Kirby suspects it’s a bomb shelter. He’s nearly obsessed with that suspicion. When his mother cleaned out his late uncle’s house, then ten-year-old Kirby stumbled onto a collection of nuclear war literature. He didn’t understand what he had but began reading and had many nightmares, but he couldn’t stop reading. He couldn’t repress his new found fascination, which followed him into adulthood. So, yes, the U.S. government is building secret bomb shelters by small towns, the idea being to save entire populations
After his suspicions are confirmed ex-army Kirby gets a second job (defense of the bomb shelter). But he’s unsure of his feelings (hawk or dove?) so he attends a peace meeting, where he meets Lisa, one of the group’s leaders. She leads a protest at a missile silo, involves Kirby, becomes his lover, and becomes curator of the new underground museum/bomb shelter, but isn’t told of its insidious true purpose. Conflict of interest would cost her new job.
WINTER IN JULY is character-driven and based entirely from the viewpoint of the civilian, who would hear booms and see flashes, but would go into limbo (the bomb shelter) not knowing who or why. Unfortunately, when the missiles come, Hammett’s Mill is in the middle of a four-day sesquetennial celebration, something the government couldn’t possibly have planned for. Hundreds of extra people are in town.
His eighth drink was half full. He belted part of it down and ordered another. And still he wanted someone to admit the truth of the construction site. “Say, Elmer, you work out on the edge’a town, too.” For a second the rum hit kind of hard. He felt dizzy.
Vanders faced him, “Yeah, so?”
The dizziness passed. It always did, “What’re they buildin’ out there?”
Vanders took a deep breath, smoothed his handlebar moustache, then faced away, “It’s called an energy house, Kirby. Sort’a like a museum. A demo site. You know that.”
“I know that’s what we’re told, yeah.”
Vanders kept facing away, hunched his shoulders, “Why question it? It’s a job. Something we both need.”
“But don’t you ever wonder?”
“Nope.” Vanders appeared to have sobered, slightly, “Never.”
“Nobody’ll talk about what’s goin’ on out there, Elmer. Why is that?”
“Cause nuthin’s goin’ on.” Vanders faced him, appeared to have sobered even more, “I get paid workin’ there, Kirby, and that’s all I care. If somethin’ else’s goin’ on, fine. But I don’t need to know about it. And I really don’t care.”
“I know what’s bein’ built, Elmer.”
“You don’t know shit.”
Kirby had not actually spoken the words before. Sometimes he had trouble even thinking them, and said, not quite whispering, “It’s a bomb shelter.”
The jukebox music stopped. By chance the song had finished, but abruptly. So did the television. Kirby jerked toward it. Evidently a short pause. The silence throughout the place roared through his ears.
He stared at Vanders, who—eyes bulging—stared back for a second and then looked away. Kirby glanced around the room. Colleen sat absorbed on her TV viewing perch.
Linden, Bradding, Smith, everyone in the tavern just sat, not talking but not indicating they had heard, either.
Kirby licked at his sharp wisdom tooth nubs furiously. His armpits ran again. Then a new song began on the jukebox. The television came back on. Conversations from several directions drifted in. Things returned to normal, with nobody but him knowing they had been kind of abnormal for maybe three seconds. A point in time when everything had simply stopped.
He took a breath, then faced the front of the bar, like everyone else, and belted the rest of his drink, “How’s the family, Elmer?”
Vanders answered without facing him, “Family’s fine.”
The evening passed back into the norm, and the complacent acceptance of what was being built outside of town.