When the power grids finally collapsed, all I could do was shake my head. I stood up and screamed “I told you so!” at the top of my lungs and tore open my shirt exposing my pale and emaciated chest. But I’d lost my voice years ago. So what came out of my mouth sounded more like the sad musings of a harmonica player without lips — all wheezy and out-of-tune. I started to cry for a moment. It had been so long since Y2K and that final New Year’s Eve party. The Pop Tarts crumbs trapped in my matted beard moistened from the tears. I fell back into my La-Z-Boy, the fabric now an ugly shade of faded maroon, and clicked on my VCR. There was nothing much else to do. My worn-out copy of Time Bandits flickered on the screen. The hum of the gasoline generator lulled me to sleep as always.
For a decade I lived in that bunker, an abandoned records storage facility buried deep in the hills of Appalachia. I moved in under a freezing rain in mid-December 1999. For two weeks before the New Year, every night after work, I filled the bed of my Datsun pick-up truck with batteries, flash lights, canned goods, toilet paper, and every variety of radio I could find. I hauled in computers, books, VHS tapes, a half dozen generators, beds, furniture, kerosene heaters, propane cook stoves, and trash bags filled with clothing. And then I amassed fuel: kerosene, gasoline, and propane — enough combustible liquid to destroy a small town if ignited. It was all stored in metal drums, color-coded and inventoried. I drained my savings account purchasing it all.
The bunker was ready two days before New Year’s. Nobody knew I was leaving. It was better that way. My tendencies for indecision and sentimentality would have ruined the whole plan. I would have backed out, scrapped the idea. Especially if she said not to go.
At the party that night I danced to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and sang karaoke and drank beer and looked at old photo albums with friends. We reminisced about high school and how great the 1990s had been. Everyone talked about how the 2000s were going to be even better. But that’s where we differed. I was no longer high on the spoils and optimism of the Clinton years, I worried how much things were about to change. High school had not been good for me. I fretted adulthood, and the 21st century, would be even worse.
As everyone huddled around the television to watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, I said my goodbyes. Disappointed to see me leave so early, I told everyone I would love to stay if I didn’t have to work in the morning. They just shrugged their shoulders, as if to say, What can you do? I hugged her last, and held her tight. She whispered in my ear, Will I see you tomorrow? Yes, I told her. I would give her a call when I got done with work. She asked me if everything was okay. I told her it was. We kissed goodnight. I walked outside and got into my truck.
It was just before midnight when I arrived at the bunker. I drove up to the chain link fence and unlocked the gate. Once I was through, I got out again and closed and locked the gate behind me. Then I drove along the three-mile dirt road toward the entrance to the underground loading dock. I periodically looked up at the sky. It was an amazingly clear night.
Once inside, I parked my truck and pulled the heavy steel door shut behind me. I secured it with a padlock and a series of large metal braces. I then poured gasoline into the generator outside the main living area before walking in to sit down in my La-Z-Boy. The wall of television sets were all tuned to different news channels — CNN, C-Span, BBC. As the generator’s engine churned, more and more screens lit up. On the end table was a loaded gun and a gas mask. A bottle of cyanide was tucked in the Tazmanian Devil remote control cozy hanging from the side of my seat.
I walked over to the toaster oven and tossed in a Pop Tart. Then I sat back down and waited.