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2012 by Heidi K Frost

The third place winner of the Abu Dhabi Book Fair and The National's 2012 Short Story Competition.

For Anna, it had started with her husband. He called her at work one warm February morning, asking if she had any hard copies of the baby photos.

"I doubt it, why?" She shifted her cell phone to one shoulder to keep typing on the changelog. "Is your mother bothering you again?"

"Well, just in case. Chris says CDs aren't safe but they're a different method of data storage, right?"

She sighed and saved the log again. "Is this about that solar storm?"

"Coronal mass ejection, yeah. Chris says it's been upgraded."

Weren't upgrades usually a good thing? That was what she was working on, after all, the changelogs for the upgraded file management software. "I don't know, look it up I guess. I mean Facebook has the photos, if we loose them off our hard drives they're stored there."

"Well, are CDs different? You'd know, right?"

"It's not like you to care about pictures." It was like him to have a plan in case of a zombie attack, but not what mementos to bring. She was the one that had taken most of the photos, and had posted them on Facebook for their families.

"This is serious." The sound of Moosa pushing his chair back scraped in the background. "Didn't you see that link I sent you?"

"You send me a lot of links." She clicked on her mailbox in the other window, but didn't read any of the subject lines. "I thought this was just going to mess up all the GPS stuff, aren't you worrying too much, sweetie?"

"You never take me seriously. Nothing electronic will work for weeks. Weeks, Anna."

She rubbed her face and switched the phone to her hand again, since she wasn't able to focus on the changelog anyway. "I'm at work, honey, so are you, we can talk about it tonight."

"No we can't. Solar winds only take a few hours to reach here from that detector in orbit or wherever."

Well, good thing you're up on your specifics. But she couldn't say that. At least in this country he couldn't buy a shotgun like he talked about. "Burn everything you can to CDs then, I think it's safe enough. I don't think you have time to print it all out, sweetie." Was that appeasing enough? Or would he say she was talking down to him?

"Fine. Make sure you print out our current bank balance, will you?" He hung up.

The few hours passed, but no disaster befell. That evening driving home, she turned off the GPS display. Something about Moosa asking for photos bothered her more than any of his other doomsday preparations. Usually, it was all about potable water, how much food they'd need for three months without power, where the government centres were. She was the sentimental one, the one who wrote emails to relatives, who had to keep mementos from every football game Ian played, who took videos with her cell phone of every new word her son learnt to say.

Moosa was still in a whirlwind of preparations when she opened the door on their flat. Nine-year-old Ian was so excited at getting to help that he only came to hug her briefly.

"World didn't end yet," she said, getting dinner started, but she couldn't be annoyed at Moosa like she usually would.

"Momma! Momma! We're going to light all the candles! All of them Momma! Can we have a fireplace? A real one? Dad says we can have a real one!" Ian clung to her pants, leaving jam finger prints, but bounced back out before getting an answer.

The world didn't end that month, either. Anna found that none of Moosa's worrying touched her the way he wanted it to. Instead, she had her own. What if Facebook's servers couldn't be as hardened as they needed to? That bothered her more than where food would come from if refrigeration ceased to have power. What if she lost all those videos off her cell phone? The idea of water plants shutting down just seemed like something out of an asteroid movie.

She found herself reading more of Moosa's emails. Doing her own research about where Facebook kept its servers. Finding out if CDs were safe. Moosa insisted she print out their bank balance with a date every night, but more often than not, it was a disc full of albums that came home with her. He wanted her to buy more and more canned chickpeas, but usually it was pens and notebooks that made their way into her grocery cart.

Ian celebrated his 10th birthday that summer. She took pictures of everything with their phones like usual, but had found an old-style Polaroid for a few extra ones. Ian was thrilled to get his first cell phone, a cheap one, but something he could have on him for emergencies, Anna had said. Moosa thought the only emergency would be when the phone didn't work. Ian later whined he couldn't play Angry Birds on it like his friends, but in the moment, it had been the present of 2012.

Weeks came and went, another phone call at work, this time it was really real, he swore.

"No, I'm sure this time," Moosa said. "It's a G5. They're putting out advisories on the weather channel. Probably the radio, too, but radio waves won't bounce off the atmosphere for much longer."

She leaned over to look out the window, down the 36 flights to the car park below. She was in good shape, she could walk down those stairs if she had to. "I'm at work, sweetie. You're not going to tell me to leave early, are you?"

"Well if you do, do not get in the elevator."

She put a hand over her eyes. She was starting to think like Moosa. Never a good sign. "Uh huh. Should I put on my tin foil hat too? Or will that spark like in a microwave and set my hair on fire?"

"It's not funny. Don't get in any elevators."

"It's less than an hour to sunset, we'll be fine." Now that she thought about it, she wasn't even sure if it worked that way. "Besides, if work isn't worried about losing all its data, why should we be?"

"Anna. No elevators."

"Do you want me not to drive, too? The car could shut down right there on the highway." Or could it? She felt like she was back in college, having an argument with the rapture readies.

A pause. "Take the back way. Don't go over 45."

"I wish you were kidding." She leaned on her desk, watching the sunset paint the neighbouring buildings orange. Why did sunlight never change if the sun was more active?

"Please honey? For me?"

"You're going to run out of uses of that. You only get five a year, you know."

"We never had that rule."

She cracked a smile. "Sure we do."

Work had electricity for the entire two hours she remained. With the sun long down, she took the elevator. It opened politely for her at the parking level. Despite Moosa, she took the highway home. Her stomach only niggled when she turned on the radio and remembered the broadcasting wasn't working.

She switched the static back off. Didn't look at the GPS display.

The parking garage's barrier lifted for her with no hesitation when she pulled in at home. Again, she took the elevator upstairs.

"So how much water do we have then?" she asked as she closed the door behind her.

Ian bounded over to grasp her knees. "Guess what, guess what, I got a dinosaur Band-Aid! Look Momma! It was gushing blood, Momma!" He lifted his elbow to show her the big bandage over it. "That's what Mrs Patel said, gushing!"

Moosa was across the apartment by the window, trying to suction cup an old thermometer to it.

"Hey honey, the world didn't end," she said, walking with Ian standing on her feet into the kitchen.

"Did you get a bank printout?"

She knelt to kiss Ian's Band-Aid before starting in on dinner. "How did you hurt your elbow?"

"It was gushing everywhere, Momma. Did you see? It's got a T-rex, dad says it's a T-rex, is it a T-rex? Moooom, is it?"

They went to bed that night with only the computers and cell phones still on. She set the alarm on hers and left it on the dresser.

She rolled over sleepily when Moosa got into bed, laid her arm across him. "You think the CDs will still be OK if that storm hits?"

He grunted and flopped his leg over hers. "Quiet you."

She smiled a little, and fell asleep to dream of sunsets.

It was the sun streaming in the windows the next morning, hours after their alarms should have gone off, that woke them.

Heidi K. Frost is the third runner up of the 2012 Short Story Competition organised by The National and the Abu Dhabi Book Fair

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