Contest #22 shortlist ⭐️



Harold Spitzer was thrilled to be celebrating New Year’s Eve, 2030 in Times Square. Tonight, he and his family would be in the midst of the crowds at midnight, but none of them minded. They’d watch the ball drop, then take in other New York City sights over the next few days, about as far from Pasadena as they could get.

A nuclear physicist at Cal Tech, Harold had two years ago joined the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as a junior member of the Science and Security Board. His knowledge of foreign countries’ nuclear arms meant he was an important player in where that board set the Doomsday Clock. After years of inching closer to the final midnight minute, the Board had moved the clock back thirty seconds last year. Harold had been outvoted but the environmentalists were optimistic. This year he was going to suggest two minutes towards doomsday. He found out that Putin, in his thirty-seventh year of power was ramping up the arms race. Kim Jong Un of North Korea had again broken a nuclear treaty with the US for the twelfth time. And it was even more worrisome that China was now supporting Jong Un, rather than reprimanding him. Finally, the current satellite images showed the current leader of ISIS, controlled several nukes; these facts pushed Harold’s future vote for ticks toward midnight. The US had to do something now, or Doomsday was coming.

Today, though, Harold wasn’t thinking past the stroke of midnight. Ginny, his ten-year-old daughter, couldn’t take her eyes off the Naked Cowboy, still parading and serenading around in his underwear, boots, cowboy hat, and guitar, despite the freezing temperatures. “I want to take more pictures with him, Dad.” She bounced on her toes and clapped her hands. The Cowboy gladly accommodated the selfies, as long as his wife gleefully poured tips into the cowboy’s guitar case for the privilege.

Brad, Harold’s fifteen-year-old son, vacillated between staring at body painting participants and demanding a snack at McDonald’s. “Don’t you want real, New York food?” Harold urged. “A corned beef sandwich or a slice of New York pizza?” The boy rolled his eyes and shook his head.

His wife, Mary, had let him know of her own plans. How an intelligent woman, a board-certified psychiatrist, could be so passionate about astrology was beyond him. She followed horoscopes in the daily paper and went stargazing on the rare clear Pasadena night. Her New York city goal revolved around getting to see Madame Zulaht, the famous Time Square astrologer and prognosticator. Mary followed the crazy woman on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and whatever was the latest social media. The astrologer’s office, next to McDonald’s had an insanely long line. Of course, Mary had forgotten to make an appointment with the woman, so who knew how long she’d be there. Based on the number of people waiting in line to consult with Madame Zulaht, it appeared that many individuals wanted to see what their 2031 future would bring.

“I can’t believe how many people want to see Madame Zulaht’s,” Mary said as she took her place in a line that snaked around the block. 

“Take your time,” Harold said to Mary. “Aside from crowds and noise, not too much happening here much before midnight.

Nearing six o’clock, the square was filling up with people eager to catch sight of the Ball Drop. Jugulars, hula-a- hoop contestants, mimes, and dancers entertained the hordes. Celebrities took their place on the broadcast stage, not that Harold would recognize any of them. Given the squeals coming from Ginny, she did. Harold kept turning his neck back and forth so often he got a crimp in it. 

“Dad, I want to take more photos with the Naked Cowboy,” Ginny whined.

“Ginny, said her Dad, “three hundred pictures of you and the Naked Cowboy are enough. You’re going to fill up all your memory on your phone and won’t have any space for photos of the ball drop later. Besides its getting so cold, your battery is going to run out. Damn, cheap Apple phone.”

“Dad,” whined his daughter, “you should’ve gotten me an iPhone 17. Ginny ran over to snap another picture with the Cowboy. He didn’t look amused at a ten-year-old monopolizing his time.

“Hey, Pops, can you throw me a fifty or just give me your plastic? I want to get another burger and fries,” Brad said. He held out his hand.

“No, no, and no. We have to stay together,” said Harold. “This crowd is growing by the second and I don’t want to lose anyone. We’ll walk over to Mom and see where she is in line. I don’t know why she had to see her today when there’s likely to be fewer people tomorrow. After that, Brad, we’ll try to fill your bottomless pit of a stomach.”

“What about me?” asked Ginny.

“Maybe we can rent the Cowboy by the hour. Probably cheaper than all the tips.”

They found Mary in line. “Are you sure you have to do this today?” Harold asked. 

“Madame’s blog states that the spirits and stars are so aligned today that the future is even clearer than ever. For only five hundred dollars I can ask one question and she will not only give me an answer, but her crystal ball will print out a picture of her answer.” 

“Sounds like a scam to me,” said Harold. “Hey, ask her if I should vote to move the Doomsday Clock forward or back.”

“You’re so cute, Hank. I want to ask if I should retire early and start teaching astrology classes.” 

“We’ll be broke without your salary,” said Harold. “Aren’t there already a few hundred astrologers in Pasadena?”

“I have to follow my heart. I’ve seen it in the stars.” His wife stood her ground.

Harold and the kids stood with her. At least Mary’s place in line had moved within view of the door. He smirked at the “open” sign. Of course, who wouldn’t be open on this money-making night of the year?

He looked up at the Time Square Clock at the end of the square. Bright lights spelled out December 31, 2030, 11:51 AM. The Ball was still at the top of the tower. Harold smiled and said, “Okay, Mary, the kids and I are going to eat. Call me when you’re done.” He dropped a kiss on her lips.  

As they were passed Madam Zulaht’s door, it flung open and a woman ran out, screaming and crying hysterically. She ran blindly into Harold and both dropped to the ground, her purse flying from her arm. The contents spilled out on the street.

Brad reached out and offered a hand to the woman. She pushed him away, stood still screaming, and then ran down the block. Brad extended his hand to Harold, now sitting up among the scattered contents of the woman’s purse.  

“That,” said Harold “is an example of a rude New Yorker.” He began to gather the dropped items and return them to the purse. He easily picked up her comb, mirror, lipstick, car keys, a Billion Dollar Candy Bar and a home remedy laser tattoo remover. But as he was retrieving her wallet, he picked it up upside down and her credit cards and a picture fell out. The picture floated to the curb.

“Dad, look,” said Ginny. The voices around them were louder, angrier. The sign on the Madame Zulaht’s door now read, “Closed Forever”.

“Huh,” said Harold. “Kids, keep your eyes open for your mom.” He bent down to pick up the wallet. A small wind blew the picture towards him.

Harold, Ginny, and Brad bumped heads as they all reached down for the photo. Laughing, Harold grabbed it and lifted it up. It was a photo of this Times Square New Year's Eve Ball and Clock. The time on the partially destroyed clock was 12:01. The Ball was in pieces, Times Square was in flames, partially incinerated bodies were everywhere and a mushroom cloud as seen in the background.


December 27, 2019 20:05

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Maimuna Lewis
16:01 Jan 08, 2020

Oooooohh! I'm loving the future vibes of this story!


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Gladys Swedak
19:49 Jan 08, 2020

What a fascinating story. Love the excitement as the family gets closer to the Madam's door. It builds up to the final count down of the Time Square ball drop.


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Jean Lagacé
22:33 Jan 08, 2020

A picture of her answer... Let me guess the question Mme Zulaht must have been asked... "What will year 2031 bring me?" maybe. I sure wouldn't have appreciated the answer either. Nice little story that takes care well of the twelve strokes of midnight imposition. What else? This author is a bit pessimistic about the future. $50.00 for an order of fries and hamburger at Mcdonald in just ten years. In those conditions, an atomic bomb isn't that bad an alternative. lol


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Maimuna Lewis
16:01 Jan 08, 2020

Ooooh! I'm loving the future vibes of this story!


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Peter Farmer
04:02 Jan 08, 2020

It's the bomb!


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