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Nuclear Fireworks

Dan Bornstein is a writer, artist, and translator with experience working in three languages: English, Hebrew, and Japanese. He spent eight years living in Japan, which is the closest he could get to being a character in a bizarre speculative novel. He regularly posts fiction and visual art on his bilingual website: danbornstein.com.

To appreciate a good apocalypse you need a front-row seat. The last thing you want is someone's silly head blocking the view. That's how my friend Phil explained his insistence on buying tickets for the nuclear fireworks festival a full year in advance. And he would settle for nothing less than splurging on the Fissionale--the most impressive night of the event.
The show was about to begin. We were sitting with goggles and earmuffs ready on our laps. There was a glow of city lights over the horizon; ground zero was densely populated, and much of the thrill came from knowing that the mushroom clouds weren't just for decoration.
"What I don't get though," I said, "is how they find new people to kill every time. What kind of sucker wants to live in a place like that?"
"Real estate is dirt cheap over there," Phil said. "Nowadays that's enough to make anywhere attractive."
The siren started wailing. We hastily put on our protective gear and waited in silence. My heart was pounding.
Suddenly the whole sky was lit by a blinding flash. I thought it was the mother of all bombs, the last terrifying moment of human history. But I was wrong. According to the announcer whose upbeat voice bubbled inside my earmuffs, it was just a lowly tactical shell, barely half a Hiroshima.
The rest of the lineup left us trembling with awe. My favorite was the vintage thermonuclear Soviet missile, although Phil, always the pedant, was upset that such weapons were included. "They used the word fission in that title," he waved his finger disapprovingly. "Fusion should have been off limits." To him it was cheating, because the effects of hydrogen bombs were intrinsically gorgeous, whereas ordinary nukes required true creativity to avoid visual cliches.
But that ended up being the least of our problems, because at some point the announcer informed us that the wind had unexpectedly changed direction and a massive cloud of fallout was heading our way. He advised us not to panic, since it was already too late to escape our painful fate.
We were given two choices, which, as it turned out, we had legally consented to by the very act of buying those tickets. We could be conscripted to the cleanup operation, where we would be shoveling radioactive dust until we dropped dead. Or we could be transported to ground zero and live there happily ever after--that is, for a month or two until the spectator area was decontaminated and the festival could resume.
Phil and I discussed it and decided to go for the latter option. It was a no-brainer, really. On top of being eligible for affordable housing, we would also get to see the next show for free. And this time there was no need to be so picky about the seats. Nobody's head was big enough to spoil your view if you had the privilege of sitting right under the bomb.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 27th, 2021


Author Comments

To be a reader is to be fundamentally safe from whatever happens in the story. But real life is a more treacherous matter: today's detached onlooker is never immune from suddenly getting dragged on stage and falling prey to the drama of tomorrow. I think "Nuclear Fireworks" is an attempt to explore a world where entertainment is so powerful that it prevents spectators from realizing they are in the same boat of human precariousness as the victims of the spectacle they are watching.

- Dan Bornstein
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