During the Cold War, a man has built a bomb-shelter and stocked it with just enough supplies for his own small family - wife and kids. The whole neighborhood constantly ridicules him for being so paranoid. But then one day the bomb-sirens go off and the man starts to load his family into the shelter. Of course the entire neighborhood wants in and he tells them no -- no-one will survive if they all go in since there is not enough food/water. The whole story is about the interpersonal interactions and continuing discussion as the neighbors try to talk the man into letting them in and eventually trying to force their way in.

As this plays out, people are listening to the radio to get updates on the situation. The radio announcer is providing updates on how much longer until the bombs will arrive here --- as the story goes on the bombs are closer, closer. Then as they are almost out of time, the neighbors attack and the man shoots and kills a neighbor. They all back off except for one woman, begging the man to just let her 2 small children in --- she asks how much difference could they really make in the supply level. The announcer says only minutes left. The man suddenly jumps out of the shelter, grabs the 2 kids, throws them in with his wife and kids and then locks the door --- with himself outside guarding the door with his gun. He is devastated that he has killed a man and doesn’t know if he deserves to live. So he trades his own place for the lives of the two children.

The announcer says the bombs will arrive in less than 60 seconds ---- but maybe we can all take some small comfort in knowing that our bombs have successfully been launched against our evil enemy in retaliation for this unprovoked attack. Within the hour, our counter-strike bombs will make impact in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. THE END. Wait…what….where?

I read this story 30-40 years ago in school and it remains one of the most impactful stories/novels I have ever read. The lessons in assumptions and perspectives were profound to me. I would love to read it again, but I have never been able to find it again. I’m guessing this was written in the 60’s. I read it in the early 80’s. The big twist at the end is very reminiscent of O Henry…but clearly he can’t be the author – given the timing.

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    Unless there's a SciFi or Fantasy aspect I'm missing here, you wasn't too ask this at Literature SE. – FuzzyBoots Mar 9 '19 at 22:43
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    This sounds similar to the "The Shelter," an episode of The Twilight Zone: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shelter_(The_Twilight_Zone) – Buzz Mar 10 '19 at 1:27
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    @Fuzzyboots, Speculative Fiction is one of the terms clustered under S.F. even does not appear in the title of this stack exchange. – Jasen Mar 10 '19 at 7:28
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    @FuzzyBoots If there is anything in the story that indicates the fictional date, and if that fictional date is now in the past, that story happens in an alternate universe and thus is a science fiction story. Furthermore, the situation described in the story is something which has never happened yet, let alone by the time the story was written. Any story about something which could not possibly have happened before the story is written, but which could possibly happen after the story is written, must be science fiction. – M. A. Golding Mar 10 '19 at 17:51
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    The "comfort in knowing that our bombs have successfully been launched against our evil enemy" isn't fiction. The US SIOP policy called for "massive strike with the entire US arsenal of 3,200 warheads, totaling 7,847 megatons, against the USSR, China, and … targets being hit simultaneously" if the country were ever attacked by even a single nuclear weapon. One man, Arkhipov, prevented this reality in1962. – Ray Butterworth Apr 7 '20 at 13:55

This sounds like a Twilight Zone episode (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shelter_(The_Twilight_Zone)) but the details are somewhat different from what I recall (specifically, I don't remember the killing)

I know that Rod Serling did remake TZ episodes as short stories, so if you read it as a short story this might explain the discrepancies.

It's also possible that there's an unrelated story with a similar plot to the TZ episode, but if so I've never come across it

EDIT: reviewing the text of the short story version on Amazon, it looks unlikely that this is the same story. The version published in New Stories From the Twilight Zone follows the plot of the television episode, including the neighbors breaking down the door with a battering ram, and does not have a killing or the man guarding the shelter with a gun.

It's possible that the OP's memory has altered the plot over the last 30-40 years.

  • If you don't think this is the answer is there much point keeping it as one? – TheLethalCarrot Mar 11 '19 at 16:46
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    a) it might be the actual answer, as I noted the OP's memory might be faulty on the details b) if it isn't the answer, it's certainly the most likely suggestion so if it's not correct it's useful to track that fact. – Jon Kiparsky Mar 11 '19 at 16:50

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