Christmas 1999

The neighbors had gathered at Joe Bowen’s home for the annual holiday party. Joe was glad the party was at his house. At least there would be enough to drink this year.

Everyone was there. Mr. and Mrs. Constantine (who left their young children home this time); Mr. and Mrs. Carver, the newlyweds; the Potters; the Marianos; and Mr. and Mrs. Harbour, the elderly couple at the end of the cul-de-sac.

The talk turned to Y2K and whether each family was sufficiently prepared for the unknown of Jan. 1, 2000. The Potters had put away some canned goods and 10 gallons of water. In addition to nonperishables, the Mariano and Constantine families had sleeping bags and extra propane for their camp stoves. The Carvers had about the same. Joe asked the Harbours about their readiness. They had canned lots of vegetables from their garden. They had extra water.

Joe Bowen, hearing all this, became uneasy. The time had slipped away from him. He had planned to stock up. He had planned to get prepared. But something had always come up. He started to fear he might not be ready enough. The talk continued among the group about what life would be like when they opened their eyes on New Year’s Day. Would it be the same as this day or would there be chaos?


It got late and the party started to die down. The elderly couple went home first, then the Marianos and the Potters. Joe encouraged the remaining partygoers to help him finish off the liquor. The conversation turned back to the millennium. Joe became more and more worried about his lack of preparation.

“What about the Harbours?” he asked. “I’ve seen that huge garden of theirs. They must have a ton of food. I went over and asked Walt Harbour to borrow a rake. You should see his garage! One whole wall has built-in shelves filled with toilet paper, lightbulbs and canned goods. I said, ‘Whoa, Walt. You ready for a war?’ He just smiled and said there was a good sale at the discount house.”

“I saw that too,” said Mr. Carver, sipping his drink. “Harbour was working on his car one day and I went over. I saw gas lanterns and about three cords of wood. I wondered what he needed all that for.”

Mrs. Constantine added, “I saw Mr. Harbour bring in five bushel baskets of apples and potatoes one day. His wife said that a friend of theirs had a lot of extra.”


The room got quiet. Everyone started to think about why an old couple would need all that food and all that wood. They all started to think that maybe they didn’t have enough. Time had run out. In just a few more days, the prepared might make it. The unprepared might not.

Joe was the first to say what they all were thinking. “Why should Harbour have all the goodies? What about us? We have a right to survive.”

Joe got his baseball bat. The rest got grocery sacks from the kitchen. The five neighbors went over to the Harbours’ house and broke in the front door. Joe finished off Mr. and Mrs. Harbour with the baseball bat. They never woke up. Joe and the neighbors opened the garage door and turned on the light. What they saw made their hearts stop. Mrs. Constantine began to cry. There, in the garage, were neat piles tagged with each neighbor’s name. Each pile included a lantern and the same amount of toilet paper, lightbulbs, food, wood and water.