The explosion blinded me, and I started back in shock as I waited for feeling to return to my face, just ahead of the rumbling wall of debris carried on the shockwave. I began to realize that I had heard a loud sound just as I looked up, out of the window. I should not have long to wait.
I may have dropped the x-acto blade and ruler I was using in paste-up, or I may have carefully placed them on the surface of the layout table, groping in my blindness. Which direction was I facing? Northwest. That’s where I saw the flash. There was a three-story building in that direction. Had I seen the flash through the upper stories of the building?
It must have been an airburst. That should scramble radio; all I would hear would be static. Did an EMP weapon also knock out power? I could still hear my Lou Reed tape crooning “ooooo, new sensations.” It must not have been an EMP burst, then. What was to the northwest?
Crane Naval Weapons Storage Depot was north of the city, I thought. Wasn’t it a county north? That’d be what, fifteen miles?
I had been taught to count seconds from the lightning stroke ripping the spring skies of the Midwest until I heard the thunder roll. One second of silence meant one mile of distance. Count and compare two strikes to determine if the storm is headed toward you or away.
Had it been fifteen seconds since the flash? I had been jolted with terror as my field of vision whited out, and been deep in concentration on the task at hand. Now I became more aware of my body as I began to guess how long had passed. I had received a full dose of adrenaline, and my heart roared and thumped in my ears, my neck.
I was seated, bolt upright, on my draftsman’s stool. My body was rigid, alert, tensed for immediate flight or more information regarding the imminent threat.
I was working in an office on the second floor of one of the oldest buildings on Bloomington’s downtown square, a two-story brick building that dated, as I recall, to the 1850s and which may have had a name that reflected its’ original builders. A cannon ball was lodged in the side of the building, just under the window out of which I was at that moment looking. I had been told that the ball was the result of a Civil War skirmish. It’s not clear how factual that information is.
It is known that during the Civil War, a garrison of union troops was stationed in Bloomington specifically to minimize the impact of any secessionist counties in the southern half of the state, Indiana. The unit was used to quell a rebellion in Brown County, but from Bill Weaver’s accounts of the rebellion for a Brown County newspaper, the rebellion consisted of some meetings that were broken up. No heavy artillery appeared in the retellings.
Since the building dated back so far, I had no great faith in the seismic integrity of the building. In fact, I recalled the spectacular collapse of another elderly brick building down the street when I was a child. The Towne Cinema’s grand slump had been accompanied by a fire which destroyed a print of Ralph Bakshi’s ambitious “American Pop”. I recall this because I was hoping to see the film the next day.
I had just reached the conclusion that it was a good idea to get the hell out of the building before the scientific tsunami reduced it to rubble and trapped me within, blind, burned, and bleeding. I began to grope for my jacket.
I had remained facing the window, and as my hand brushed my jacket, draped on the backrest of my chair, I noticed a slight pinkishness to the undifferentiated field of black that had replaced the unbearable white.
Then, quickly, the pink flushed through the spectrum, resolving, as the darkness cleared, into the view out the window I had expected to see moments before, as I looked up.
Out the window, cars rolled, people walked, and small birds flitted; the streetlights changed, and fall leaves fluttered to the sidewalk. A telephone pole just outside the window rocked violently back and forth, the only object in such motion. Just below a large cylindrical capacitor, an eight-inch bar of metal whipped in the trail of the pole’s oscillations.
Occasionally, the bar would graze a set of clamps, obviously designed to hold one end of the bar in place, and a rosy-white shower of sparks would burst forth for a moment.
After a moment, I realized what had happened. I had glanced directly at the capacitor on the pole just at the moment a power surge, or something, had overloaded the gear. The simple, exposed metal breaker had been thrown as a result, accompanied by a blinding arc.
The crisis passed, I immediately began laughing and shaking uncontrollably. I turned to my half finished layout and was not able to hold the x-acto as my body burned the adrenaline off. I scrawled a half-legible note, and took the afternoon off.
As I recall it, the note read, “Survived nuclear explosion – gone to drink heavily. Will make up time tomorrow.”