"We're coming to you live, from Times Square in New York City, New York, the traditional home of the New Year Celebration and, well, it looks like this is quite a party here, folks!" Dick Clark smiled congenially at the camera, at America, as he has every year. The years have started to show on him, cracks and crevices lining his face, evidence that age cannot be denied indefinitely. But that didn't prevent him from simply exuding the same type of exuberance we're used to seeing from him on New Year's Eve. "We've had a lot of really incredible music performers, interviews, year-end reviews and stories of heartfelt triumph regarding the tragedies this fantastic city has overcome this last year. And now, as the ball is just a few seconds away from touching down and signalling the beginning of a brand new year..."

His attention flagged, as though distracted. He put his hand to his ear, a tiny earphone lodged within it, in an effort to drown out the ambient noise around and below him. His face blanched and then dread crossed his features. "Oh, dear God."



Almost instantly, the image switched from the white-noise static of a television station gone wrong. There was no party to be seen. No revelers. Not even an errant balloon. All we saw was the face of a stunned reporter, a man I don't recall ever having seen before. He looked just as surprised to be seen on television as we were to see him. Off camera someone snapped at him, forcing him back to reality. He looked disheveled, no make-up or on-air preliminaries. His on-the-spot airing on national TV was clearly not expected by anyone, least of all the impromptu news crew.

"Hello," he said jerkily. "I'm Pritchard Manning, reporting from Albany, New York. We have just gotten confirmation that one, possibly two, ground-based nuclear weapons have been... oh, God. Times Square has been struck by a nuclear blast. We are trying to raise anyone in that area, but all communications in the city of New York appear to be out. We're trying... we're trying to contact anyone there. If you live in New York, are watching this and have a way of doing so, please contact someone to let us know what's happening." Like Dick Clark had done just seconds before, he covered his ear, the miniature earphone still visible as it hung off his left earlobe. "Okay. I'm being told that the President will be making an emergency national address in just a few moments. Please stand by."

Manning disappeared from view and was replaced by the emblem of the White House. Mere seconds later, the view changed again to the interior of the White House press room. Reporters were far, few and in-between, but there were a few heads visible as order was brought to the room. The President hurriedly walked across the stage and took a firm grip on the podium. I happened to notice that confetti was still dangling from his hair and shoulders. He, like most other Americans, had been caught celebrating. He did not look happy.

A dog barked in the distance and I woke up, sweating.

God, I pray it was only a horrible dream.

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