The Day the South Changed

Nobody knows what caused it. Maybe it had something to do with a depleted ozone layer or an unexpected increase in cosmic radiation. Whatever the cause, the result was dramatic and just a little bit uncomfortable for everyone.

All the white people south of the Mason-Dixon Line tanned darker than normal that August afternoon. Much darker. Let’s call the shade “African-American brown.”

Weirdly, at first they pretended not to notice. In fact, people of both races played along. Even the two Chesters.

White Chester and Black Chester passed each other along Main Street—on opposite sides—as they had for the last seven years, each giving the other a wary sidelong glance. Both were partly hidden, protected from the blazing Alabama sun by wide-brimmed straw hats. But both could still see the change.

Neither said a word.

By the next day, somebody had broken the silence and everybody was talking about it. What had happened? And more to the point, what was everyone to do about it?

Ignoring it only lasted a day, and discussing it was just a passing stage. Something needed to be done.

The two Chesters sat on a bench near the town square, on opposite sides, as far apart as the bench would allow. They stared at each other for a few minutes. Uncomfortably.

Black Chester spoke first.

“What the hell happened to you? Honky.”

White Chester curled a lip and sputtered a response.

“Damned if I know. Boy.”

Up North things were uncomfortable too. The darkening was not as pronounced as in the South, but it had clearly happened. All the kids at “the best schools” appeared black. I can’t even begin to describe the “exclusive” clubs. Suffice it to say that many of them were “temporarily” closed pending future notice.

Meanwhile the two Chesters struggled with the situation.

“Chester, what are we gonna do about this?” said white Chester.

“I dunno, Chester,” said black Chester. “I was hoping you’d have an idea.”

“Nope.” said white Chester.

They sat glumly together, silent, lost.

“I got an idea,” said black Chester. “Until we be this thing figured out, let’s go fishing.”

And so they did. Past the lake, they could see flames and smoke, a nation burning. What of it? Together they caught a fish THIS big!

That night, the two Chesters returned to their homes on opposite sides of the train track. They slept soundly.

The next day, everybody woke up bleached white.