by Peter J. Manos

Though land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are sitting ducks on hair-trigger alert, they have their supporters: the air force, the aero-space industry, and people whose jobs may depend on them.

So who will campaign against a new, unnecessary, and dangerous silo-based missile?

Why a seventy-eight-year-old red-headed widow, of course, who sometimes wears a witch’s hat.


Chapter One



A blinding white light. No sound. No mushroom cloud.
Just a searing, unearthly, excruciating light.


Edna O’Hare’s first nuclear war dream occurred on October 22, 1962, during the first semester of her sophomore year in college where she’d met her future husband, James. President Kennedy had ordered a blockade of Cuba because the Russians had brought missiles to the island. The world was on the verge of nuclear war. Such dreams began again after James’s death, almost a year ago.

* * *

Before the pandemic had ended, both she and James had been vaccinated, but he got sick none the less. They’d spoken on the phone until he was intubated and then he became delirious. A nurse had sent her videos, but they were terribly disturbing.

Adding to her torment, she’d been to the gravesite only once, on the day he was buried. She couldn’t face him, so to speak, because she’d failed to take up his campaign as she’d promised him she would.

She stared at the moon as she did after each awakening from one of her nightmares. A lunatic, she thought, that’s what she would become if she continued awakening in a panic to stare at the moon. What was the purpose of these dreams, she asked finally. To overcome her inertia? Must she pick up James’s banner and do something bold to prove to herself that she could face angry people?

Faced with a patient with crippling acrophobia, what would a therapist do? Take that person to the top of a skyscraper and make them look down until the dread of high places burned itself out. She knew where her skyscraper was, though it was underground.



Chapter Two


Edna O’Hare in a black short-sleeve blouse, black jeans, and black boots, her mourning outfit, had also brought her wooden cane in the event she felt unsteady.

She drove her small black pick-up truck on U.S. 52, through Velva, onto 46th Street North, then south on 12th Avenue North, parking near the entrance to the B-02 missile silo access road. The expansive flat countryside seemed forlorn. Distant swatches of smeared out clouds hovered motionless, all color washed out of them as the morning sun had risen.

Skyscraper, here I come, she thought, trying to joke with herself to ease the tension. And now that she thought about it, it was indeed a skyscraper in its own right.

No sign of Amy Haugen, Minot Daily reporter, who’d promised to be there to take pictures of what might happen, though Amy herself was not in sympathy with Edna’s protest. After all, Amy’s husband worked on the base. On the other hand, Edna was no stranger, having been a friend of Amy’s mother and quite solicitous of the family after she had died.

Though there was nothing of particular interest to see, she scanned the land for ten minutes before recognizing procrastination. How much easier it would be to give up this half-baked idea and go home. Yes, she wanted attention, but suddenly she was frightened. Once she started down that access road the situation would be out of her control and there was no guarantee that she’d get the kind of attention she’d envisioned. But there was nothing for it but to do it, not if she wished to maintain any self-respect, put an end to the dreams, and complete the work of mourning.

She climbed out of the truck. With her crook-necked cane she walked to the access road. Fifty or sixty yards ahead, the installation waited for her. She began toward it, glad she’d brought the reassuring cane, which felt like a companion. Why was she scared? Because she was being bad? And if you were bad, you were punished?

She forced herself to keep walking until she reached the imposing chain-link fence surrounding an area a little larger than a basketball court. The assemblage of hardware in a corner—metal boxes, antennas, access hatches and the cap over the silo—was the size of a small gas station. A sign on the fence read:




The response to this sort of incursion was supposed to be quick, but Edna paced back and forth for forty-five minutes before the gray vehicle, an oversized rhinoceros, grumbled its way up the gravel access road toward her. She faced it, paralyzed. When it was twenty feet away, the raspy grumbling ceased. A woman with a megaphone and man with an assault rifle stepped out.

“Drop your weapon,” boomed the woman. Uncomprehending and scared, Edna, still gripping the cane, raised her hands overhead, the “weapon” now inclined toward the airmen.

Kak. Kak. Kak. Ka. Kak. A burst of rifle fire. Petrified, Edna only stood more stiffly.

“Drop it,” said the woman.

A man jumped from the vehicle and addressed the airman with the rifle.

“Goddamn it, Forster, are you completely nuts. That’s an old lady with a cane. What the fuck you thinking, you trigger-happy idiot. Get back in the truck.”

Sergeant Caulfield walked up to O’Hare, who by now had dropped her “weapon.”

“You can put your hands down. What do you think you’re doing here?

“Protesting,” she said weakly.

“Hernandez,” called Caulfield to the woman. “Pat her down.”

In searching Edna for weapons, Hernandez also removed from a back pocket Edna’s small, red leather wallet. Together Airman Rita Hernandez and Sergeant Caulfield examined her driver’s license.

Hernandez picked up the cane, hesitated, then gave it back to its owner. They walked Edna to the vehicle, not even bothering to hold her by the wrist. She was so obviously harmless.

She sat in back, Sergeant Caulfield on her left, Hernandez on her right. Charlie Forster drove. As the Humvee turned left onto 12th Avenue North, Edna peered out the window. There on the side of the road, leaning against her white sedan, Amy Haugen, took pictures. So she’d come after all.

“What are you protesting? Nuclear weapons?” asked Caulfield.

“No, sir,” said Edna. “Land-based missiles.”

“And why’s that?”

Prudently, Edna made her presentation brief, then added, “I respect and admire you all for serving our country and I want to offer an invitation to you and your fellow airmen on the base to come to my house for coffee and cake any time. Well, anytime between two and four in the afternoon. But will they let you?”

Airman Forster turned for a second to Caulfield. Without a hint of irony he said, “You’re fraternizing with the enemy.”

“Eyes on the road,” said Caulfield.

For the next mile or so, no one spoke. Edna sensed the tension between Caulfield and Forster, who, after all, had unnecessarily fired his rifle, scaring the bejeezus out of a harmless old woman.

His beef was with anyone who was anti-nuclear, anti-air force, even anti-war. He lumped these all together as treason and, in some indefinable way, as personally insulting to him as a spit in the face.

To break the silence and reduce her anxiety, Edna talked about growing up on the farm, how hard-working her father and mother had been, and how loving.

“My father was always warning me about the danger of agricultural machinery. He’d let me ride with him on the tractor but wouldn’t let me shift gears or anything. So one day when I was about nine or ten I climbed out the window and took the tractor for a little drive.”

“You were a bad girl even then,” said Forster, again without irony.

“I suppose so. Anyway he was waiting in front of the shed when I returned. He looked like he’d hit his thumb with a hammer. We sat down in the living room. I folded my hands on my lap and waited for it. He was making me stew. I dared not say a word. I pictured being whipped, but he’d never hit me. I thought I might be house bound until I was eighteen. I pictured all sorts of things but didn’t want to cry. All of a sudden laughter came pouring out of him like Niagara Falls. He laughed so hard he buckled over. That’s when I cried. From that day on he showed me how to operate everything. Even the jolly green combine when we rented it. Nothing bad ever happened.”

They drove to the Ward County Sheriff’s Department in Minot, and handed her over to Sheriff Bjorn Andresen, a short, heavy set man in his fifties, with a pink, moon-shaped face, a man everyone in town knew, including Edna. Caulfield summarized the situation and left.

Andresen, in his turn, took her to a booking office where she sat on a hard, cold steel chair, the memory of her once fulsome buttocks flashing through her mind. The booking officer, Shirley Johansen, a middle-aged blonde, looked like a power lifter. No buttock shrinkage there, thought Edna.

“What were you doing there?” asked Johansen.

“Just standing.”

Johansen shook her head.

“What was the purpose of your trespass?”

“I was there because I want to educate the public about the expensive, useless, unnecessary and dangerous new missiles that are supposed to replace the expensive, useless, unnecessary and dangerous old missiles.”

Johansen, needing to hear no more, efficiently photographed and finger-printed her charge, before asking if she wished to make a phone call before going to her cell.

“My cell? What do you mean ‘my cell?’” asked Edna alarmed. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t take anything. I didn’t hurt anyone.”

Johansen shook her head in disbelief.

“You trespassed on a Minuteman missile site. Do you want to make that call or not?”

The only one she could think to call was Amy Haugen.

“They’re arresting me.”

“Oh,” said Amy. “I’ll come on over.” She seemed uncertain.

“Please do. Talk with Sheriff Andresen. Thank you.”

As efficiently as she’d been booked, she was escorted to a changing room where, Johansen looking on, she took off her clothes and changed into an orange jumpsuit, her personal belongings put into a large plastic bag.

The windowless, dank concrete, twelve-by-fourteen foot holding cell housed a bunk with a blue-plastic-covered mattress against a wall and a toilet and a small sink opposite.

A pretty but weary-looking young woman also wearing an orange jumpsuit, sat in the middle of the bunk. Her shoelaces had also been removed.

“What are you in for, grandma?” she asked sneering.

Standing with her back against the bars, Edna felt like having a conversation about as much as she felt like dancing. But she didn’t want to be rude, and the woman frightened her.


“Trespassing on what?”

“A missile site.”


“Oh, it’s not important.”

She wanted to sit, but the woman occupied the middle of the bunk. Raising her hands to cover her face, Edna began to cry.

It seemed like quite a while before the woman moved to one end of the bunk and said, “Sit down.”

Wiping her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her jump suit, she sat on the opposite end of the bunk. The woman, surprising her, scooted over and put her arm around Edna’s shoulders, which released a fresh outburst of crying. Minutes went by before Edna’s crying diminished to sniffling. When it stopped the woman asked, “What’s a missile site?”

Edna brought her sniffling under control, wiped her nose on her sleeve again, and forced herself to look at her cell mate. The woman removed her arm from Edna’s shoulders and moved away slightly.

“It’s a deep underground silo holding a Minuteman missile.”

The woman looked puzzled.

“What’s a Minuteman missile?”

“It’s a rocket that can travel six thousand miles with an atomic bomb on the top.”

“Oh, like for the air force.”

“Yes, it’s an air force rocket.”

“And it’s underground and you walked over it?”

“There’s a fence around it. I walked next to it.”

“It’s against the law?”


“So why’d you do it?”

From the looks of this woman and her situation, it was unlikely that she was about to take up the cause and she seemed woefully ignorant. Nevertheless, she was interested. And how many people over the years had ever been interested?

Still she hesitated. How much background should she give?

“Are you from around here?” asked Edna.

“Uh huh.”

“But you haven’t heard much about the missiles.”


“Well, there are one hundred fifty of these monsters in a giant horseshoe around Minot. They were put there over sixty years ago to scare the Russians from attacking us, but we don’t need them anymore because we have rockets on submarines and bombs in airplanes. And besides they’re sitting ducks.

“I was standing there to bring attention to all this. And one more thing. They want to replace them all with new rockets costing about a hundred billion dollars. A lot of people don’t know anything about them.”

“Like me.”

Edna nodded. Talking had helped her settle down. She was less frightened.

“My name’s Edna. What’s yours?”


“Nice to meet you Dahlia.”


They shook hands.

“They probably won’t keep you long,” said Dahlia. “You don’t seem too dangerous.”

“Neither do you.”

“I’m more dangerous than I look. I pulled a knife on a guy, but he had it coming, the son-of-a-bitch. He hit me.”

“Oh,” was all Edna could think of to say.

“But they won’t keep me for long.”

“You’ve been here before?”

Dahlia frowned.

“A couple of times.”

“I’m sorry.”

“They don’t do this in Amsterdam.”

"Shadows" by Peter J. Manos


Amazon Kindle
Google Play



? Heat Level: 1