Before you start reading this, I have, as an experiment pulled together a soundtrack using Spotify for this episode of the novella. If this works for people, I will continue to include it in the upcoming parts. Below the link is a quick guide to what tracks should be playing on what section. If you are too far ahead/too far behind just select the track for the relevant section. This is particularly important as a couple of bits line up and are written to the music. Let me know if this works for you. I hope it does.
|Kandahar One||The Mockingjay, The colony, Cosmology|
|NY One||The Piano Drop|
|Kandahar Two||Placebo, Thunderstorm|
|NY Two||A Meaningful Moment Through A Meaning, In The Fog 1-3|
|Kandahar Three||Tropical Rain, The Journey|
|NY Three||Atomos X1, Panoramic, Den of vice|
|End||The Day is my Enemy|
A Bright Red Sun
“It was not well to drive men into final corners; at those moments they could all develop teeth and claws.”
― Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
2017/08/12-11.32am, six minutes before cataclysm event.
Able Squad, 75th Airborne Rangers
Kandahar province, Afghanistan
The midday sun winked off of the pale blue dome and minarets of the Mosque. From a distance it looked like a kid’s school project made with lollipop stick minarets, pencil spires, and bolstered by dusty coloured walls that could have been cardboard layered with paint. From a distance they couldn’t see the intricate gold detailing on the inner roof, nor the beautiful paintings on the ancient stones inside. On the burning wind they could smell the melting flesh, sloughing from the bones of their fallen brothers. They could hear the chanting of their enemy; snatches of a language none of them could or would ever understand, but they all understood the meaning behind the words.
The three remaining members of the six strong squad of Rangers were moving upwards over the rocky ground. Slowly and methodically they ascended the foot of a high rocky hill. Their spare magazines bounced in their vests as they jogged at a controlled pace across the brown dusty earth; the area around them was barren, all scorched earth and dry thorny bushes that loved to get snagged on camo netting or pockets.
One of the three had been hit by a 7.62cal round fired from a rusted Kalashnikov rifle, whose owner had fired the same rifle at the Russians in 1989. The bullet had glanced across his Interceptor chest armour and embedded itself into the meat of his shoulder. Through the rip in his uniform, a sheet of blood slowly flows down his muscular arms and drops from his fingertips onto the parched ground. His thick fingers hang down at his side. The soldier exercises his tenacity, his will to survive by ignoring the burning pain and the vibration that is running through his chalky bones right down to the very tips of his fingers. He knows that they will eventually stop and when they do he will get patched up.
Thirty five minutes before, two M1161 Growler jeeps enter the town which is the gateway to the city. There are three Rangers per jeep; a driver, a navigator and a gunner who stands exposed from the circular opening in the roof. A freshly oiled .50cal M240 SAW machine gun is mounted with a box-fed belt of pointed rounds flowing from the huge magazine into it at his fingertips. Each large round, a little death for anyone dumb enough to point a gun at them. It is a standard patrol through the streets, a minor show of force given that things were winding down in the area; there had been no action this side of the city for two weeks.
However a large contingent of Taliban forces had mustered the previous evening in anticipation of these lightly armoured patrols. Whispers spread in the dark to every fighter hunkered down in the homes of peaceful families was that they were to make their enemy pay in blood and send a message that the fighting was not done and that it would never be done.
The jeeps weave slowly through narrow uneven streets, the gunners training heavy calibre barrels at any quick movement. A battered and burning Chevy rolls out and blocks their progress ahead forming a chokepoint or “meat grinder”. As the front jeep slows, there is a war cry and the clatter of enemy machine gun fire suddenly fills the air. The occupants of the front vehicle are dead before they can fire a shot in return. The second jeep fires back at the barking flares of light in the dark windows above. The SAW gunner screams into the thunderous roar of.50cal machinegun fire that seems only to rake the ancient walls sending puffs of brick dust and shards of stone into the air. The driver starts to reverse the jeep to escape, kicking up the loose road, but before he can clear enough distance an RPG explodes near them, flipping the vehicle over. The rear gunner is thrown from the mounting but is quickly on his feet again with his sidearm out. He races to the passenger seat and pulls the deafened navigator from vehicle. The driver crawls out of his side clutching his M4.
Hateful, angry faces are everywhere. He sees a child leering at them from a tatty balcony; a moth eaten and pale red rug flaps in the wind underneath him. Gunfire kicks dirt and dust up around them. The SAW gunner doesn’t fire back because there are simply too many targets and no hope of killing them all. The 7.62cal round thuds in to him, fired from the gun of a young man he recognises from somewhere that escapes him. The pain hasn’t even started yet. It’s all adrenaline and muted noises and screaming and a dull roar ringing in his ears. The navigator and driver are on their feet now and the three of them take off through the alleys and side streets. Behind them, a mob fuelled by victory and bloodlust are pulling the corpses of the Ranger’s dead comrades from the riddled vehicle. The rest are following, firing their Kalashnikovs into the clear sky and at their fleeing foes.
The navigator is screaming into his radio between ragged breaths that they have been engaged by multiple hostile contacts as coughing bursts of M4 assault rifle fire obscure any response he might hear. Garbled words come back so he abandons his attempt to get help and concentrates on getting out alive. They form a line as they move, the driver is out front and the gunner brings up the rear. Bullets snap the air every time they dart out into a main street. Another RPG hisses past them, but misses its mark and destroys a home. The driver’s M4 barks a reply and he releases the dry mag and slams in another one as he runs.
They reach the outer perimeter of the town marked by a low jumbled stone wall. Ten miles to the southeast along a wide flat road littered with burnt vehicles and spent rounds is the friendly checkpoint, a mile further to the south is their forward base. To the southwest a jagged rising dusty hill and beyond that the dirty brown crenulations of mountains.
And here they are, the three of them advance at a timed pace across the rutted ground and up along the sharp slope of the hill. Dust rises upwards and small white stones roll down behind them. They crest it and stop; hunkered down on the ridge with weapons trained on the town they one by one check their equipment and sound off, stating what they have on them. 180 rounds, two clips each. They each have a SOPMOD M4 and their M9 Beretta sidearm. The SAW gunner’s M4 is equipped with an underslung grenade launcher with three rounds secured in his webbing and one in the tube. Two fragmentation grenades. MRE’s enough for a three days each. Water enough for a day in this heat, but they don’t expect to be out here longer than a day. From the hill the navigator can see the duck egg dome of the Mosque and to the southwest, the remains of a river, fed by a faraway dam which in turn feeds a huge square of garden land where crops and trees and death bloom.
They remain in this elevated position of fire, on their bellies feeling the warmth of the sun drenched rocks underneath them. They have their fire selectors dialled to single shot as they scan any signs of movement from the walls. They wait for the crack of rifle fire, the terrifying scream of mortars or the sounds of people, but nothing happens. Sweat rolls down the driver’s face, mixing with the cut on his cheek and running down into his uniform. He exhales slowly looking for winking metal and listening to the sound of his slowing heart. A fly settles on his rifle and then drunkenly takes off again. They all wonder why no one has followed them and they all silently thank God or luck or whatever is out there calling the shots for their narrow escape. Beneath that relief flickers a spark of guilt for their fallen. The ones that were savagely torn up by enemy fire, but revenge would come and the price extracted would be high.
The SAW gunner is swearing as he is patched up. From the north, a friendly Apache attack helicopter angrily buzzes overhead with its nose angled down, heading towards the forward operating base; their home away from home and the only safe place they know. The navigator lifts the radio up to his mouth and makes a call.
2017/08/12- 2.28 am, one hour before cataclysm event.
New York. 3rd Avenue
A half crescent moon slid soundlessly behind one of the myriad skyscrapers clawing up into the smoggy night. Downtown, the neon lights and sizzling streets lamps carved up the indigo darkness into crude shapes. A 757 descended lazily towards LaGuardia airport, its lights giving the impression of a slowly falling star across the jagged silhouette of the cityscape.
Alice was passed out on the 26th floor of her 3rd Avenue apartment when all of the lights went out. A few hours before she had drunk a bottle and a half of reasonably priced red wine, written a badly worded status about it on Facebook and had fallen into an uneasy drunken sleep filled with unarticulated doubt and worry.
She woke up an hour later thirsty and with the makings of brutal wine headache beginning to take root in the back of her head. It was pitch dark when the vibrations that had travelled along the sea floor of the North Atlantic Ocean across and up from Bermuda like spindly searching fingers and plotted their way quickly to the gridded streets of New York, where their effect was felt as a tiny ripple up the steel beams which formed the lattice of support inside her building. If the power had still been on at Columbia University their seismology equipment would have spiked and spiked again as two hundred miles off the coast of Bermuda, the North Atlantic suddenly got a few hundred metres deeper.
Her inner ear registered it subconsciously and she felt it as a slight dizziness and paid no attention, dismissing it erroneously as drunkenness. None of the sounds from below passed through the double glazed windows and found their way to her ears.
She pulled back the sheets and made her way to the bathroom where she drank loudly from the tap and sat down sleepily to pee. In her drunken stupor she didn’t notice how dark it was, nor how the annoying ticking of the bathroom light had stopped. She went back to bed and checked her phone for the time; the damn thing was dead. She glanced over at the picture of her husband and she wondered what he was doing right now. She rolled over, hugged the pillow and fell asleep again.
2017/08/12- 11.37am 10 seconds until cataclysm event.
Able Squad, 75th Airborne Rangers
Kandahar province, Afghanistan,
The navigator lowered the radio and reached behind him, grasping at his comrades’ jackets without taking his eyes off the distant western horizon. They all seemed to turn slowly and a few seconds later all three of them were staring, slack jawed as giant waves of black and grey and bruised clouds raced feverishly across the sky with the dizzying speed of a violent chemical reaction.
The shadow of the clouds swept across the dead earth, turning browns and yellows into blacks and greys. They saw vast curtains of rain start to touch down and race towards them until suddenly they were hit by the deluge themselves.
It quickly turned the dusty ground to sludge with its violence; the desert floor greedily absorbing the water. The three of them shielded their faces from the velocity of it as it hammered down at them, soaking them and their equipment almost instantly. It fell as the tumultuous landscape of cloud obscured the bright red sun and the sky fell dark. After a few moments thunder began to growl angrily and strobes of light flashed in the clouds. No lightning struck the ground, but the air smelt heavily of cordite, petrichor and ozone.
The three of them moved off gingerly down the south-western slope of the hill, sliding carefully down the slick rocks in the direction of the forward operating base. The navigator took point and tried to use the radio to call in their positions relative to the town, but there was no reply, nor was there any static.
“Fuckin thing’s busted.” He said shaking the black plastic radio, flicking off fat beads of water. “What’s the plan now Sergeant?” His dirty face was streaked from where the rain had washed the dust through his hair and down onto his skin. He looks young, his blue eyes alight in the premature dark. His name Is Glen Mitchell.
The driver is Sergeant Nathan Farrell, he is a tall man, with blonde hair and blonde eyelashes. Raised in a backwater mid-western town. Mother was the only family he knew, or cherished. Seemed about the best cliché he could hang on to, trying to forget all of the abusive men she had known and he had met the backhands of. He joined the army at eighteen and now at thirty five, with his mother five years dead from cancer he found himself in a desert in a deluge. Farrell was not easily shaken, nor was he religious, but what he was experiencing was something close to existential terror. He used to fear looking up at the night sky when he was a boy, because he felt like he wasn’t looking up; he was looking down into the infinite dark. It was the same feeling that swept over him now as the clouds raced over head a few moments before. He stared out at the rolling dark and he felt a fear that gripped him by the spine and shook his bones.
“We get back to the F.O.B.” Farrell said.
“Sarge, that’s ten miles along open road in Haji country.” The gunner said.
His name is James Crow, people call him “Bear” because of his size. He is close to six foot six and heavily muscled. Bear joined the army at twenty, he was newly redundant from his last job, newly broken up from his girlfriend and his parents were expressing their disappointment at all of the things that were out of his control. He had what he believed to be an epiphany. He was sat at home nursing a beer in his hand, it was three in the morning and he was feeling it. The warm malaise of alcohol had stripped back his thoughts from “what the hell am I going to do?” to “I don’t give a fuck anymore.” Several news stories showed clips from the war on terror, the progress in Afghanistan. Brave people doing braver things for the greater good. He signed up the next day and six months later was being shipped to the hottest place he had ever been to shoot at people he didn’t know that hated him so much just for his being there.
“Let me break this down for you, Barney style.” Farrell said shouting over the roar of the downpour, “We are across the oh fuck line in hostile territory and our radio doesn’t work. The closer we get to our people the safer we get. It’s just ten miles.”
The dry mud is fizzing away and Mitchell sees the white dome of a human skull slowly being revealed by the downpour.
“Sarge is right, Bear. We need to get our asses back to camp. We need to find out what the fuck is going on right now. This shit ain’t normal” he says pointing a finger to the sky.
Farrell looks at his watch and then shakes it, “That’s right soldier, Rangers lead the way. What time do you two got?” he asks both men who in turn look at their watches and return confused looks at eachother.
“They’ve stopped.” Mitchell said
“EMP maybe?” Bear said, offering some kind of an explanation
2017/08/12- 6 Hours after cataclysm event.
New York, 3rd Avenue.
She wakes again at 09.10am, it should be a bright Saturday morning outside, but the view from the windows on the 26th floor is obscured by dark clouds. She is shaken from her sleep by thunder, deep bellowing, rumbling cracks that sound like the earth is being rent apart.
She sat up with a jolt and listened as the noise passed. Rain, the heaviest she had ever seen splashed and streaked the window. She was terrified that it was an earthquake. Ever since she was a little girl she had been scared of falling into the earth; of being swallowed up by the molten dark never to be found. The glass in the windows rattled, but the building remained in place so she sighed with relief. Sweat had beaded on her back and she pulled her T-shirt off and went into the shower. She tried the bathroom light, but the light didn’t come on. She guessed that the bulb had gone in the night, so she left the door open to let in the muted daylight.
She took off her wedding ring and placed it in the empty soap dish.
She turned the water temperature to cold; she always had a freezing cold shower after a night of heavy drinking. She could almost feel the alcohol rolling out of her skin in sickly waves, which in turn made her feel better.
When she was done, she dried herself off and got dressed into a pair of comfortable jeans and an old grey T-shirt. Feeling adequately detoxed, she padded across the wooden floor to the living area where the offending bottles of wine sat accusingly on her glass coffee table. She flicked the light switch, but nothing happened. She noticed the display on the microwave was no longer flashing, eagerly waiting to be set by someone who was much more technologically competent than she was.
“Oh great.” She said to herself. She tried the TV, nothing but a dead screen, her phone too.
She went to the fuse box and looked in; all of the fuses were in the right position, but she flipped them up and down anyway to see if it made a difference. It didn’t.
“This gets better, another fucking power cut.” She said out loud.
There had been a ton of power cuts in the last year, so it was a rational conclusion to come to regardless of how wrong it was.
She went to the window and looked down, but could see nothing, just the thick mouldy cotton of clouds and the slashes of rain. It was one of the only things she didn’t like about the apartment; whenever it was stormy, all she could see was the soupy clouds. The building creaked; it made her nervous, but she was fine, she told herself it was just a power cut in a storm.
She returned to her bedroom and pulled a tatty looking novel from her rucksack; it was some crime thriller that she’d picked up in an airport. The story was pretty cheesy, but she was really enjoying it, so she lay in bed and began to read.
A few hours later and the rain hadn’t ceased nor had the power come back on. Alice sighed loudly and got up. She lit some lavender scented candles and cleared out her freezer in anticipation of it leaking all over the wooden floor, then she went back to the bedroom. After an hour or so of more reading and when she could no longer deal with the shockingly bad plot of the novel she threw it down on her bed and began to build up the motivation to travel down the stairs. She resolved to eat something first, and in the absence of power she decided on cereal. She sat in kitchen and ate loudly, staring out of the window into the churning grey. Thunder rolled again rattling the windows and in the gloom lightning flashed. She gripped the edge of the table with her and closed her eyes until it passed. Nothing at this point seemed like it was the end of anything yet, and in the months ahead Alice wondered whether she had spent those blissfully unaware moments correctly. Did she enjoy them or were they wasted preparation time?
She pulled on her comfortable leather boots and a parka. By the apartment door she grabbed her bag, her keys and an umbrella.
The lights were out in the hallway and the windows set at either ends of the long corridors didn’t throw much light this far down the hall. She pressed the lift button and waited a few moments vainly hoping that some kind of emergency back up generator would allow them to operate, even though the panel above the two stainless steel doors was dead.
She sighed and pulled open the door to the stairs, then carefully made her way down them in the dark. She met no-one on the way down. No-one coming up, no-one leaving. The only sound was her breathing, the rustle of her clothes and her muted steps down the stone stairs.
The lobby, where Sam, the guy who worked the front desk of the building normally sat, was empty. His chair was over turned and his computer was dead. Alice looked out of the heavy glass door and saw the water.
Outside, the streets had been transformed into a filthy brown river flowing angrily towards the downtown area. It flowed around the wheels of the deserted cars parked here and there. She noticed that a taxi had been abandoned with the doors still open. It had climbed the stairs to the front of the apartment building and was leaking under the door.
“Oh my god. What the fuck is going on.” she said pushing the door open and stepping down into it. The cold water rushed over the tops of her boots and she let out an involuntary squeal.
She pushed out into the street. The rain fell thick and fast, buckets of it blasted into the road exploding showers of wet shrapnel. She pulled her hood up and opened the umbrella which was immediately battered into useless black tatters.
She headed north past a Food Emporium and an empty Verizon store. The normally bustling city seemed surprisingly empty; had she missed the message to stay indoors? She saw a few dozen people, some of them carrying children on their shoulders wading north, probably trying to get off the island. The Lincoln tunnel would be flooded for sure, along with the entire subway system. It felt a lot like the superstorm that had happened a few years before. There wasn’t yet the air of something far more disastrous. There was still the strange feeling of shared connectedness that occurs in the early stages of a mass event. There was still hope. A young bearded man wearing a white t-shirt navigated a bright yellow kayak up the wide road in the direction of Central Park as wooden scaffold boards drifted past in the opposite direction; one of the children perched on his father’s shoulders pointed at the man and laughed as he waved at them. They all stopped and watched him go for a minute, before resuming their laborious struggle uptown.
She spotted a cop pulling a tatty looking man from the front of a broken shop window.
“What do you care?” He shouted at the cop, who stopped and stood there, knee deep in water, soaked through with a veil of drops falling from his hat. He shrugged his shoulders.
“There’s nothing else.” The cop said letting the guy go.
Alice looked up at the city of faces staring down on her from their windows and she realised that she had made a mistake coming outside. She turned to leave and the cop shouted at her back.
“You better leave Miss. You better go home.”
Alice turned, “What’s happened, what’s going on?” She shouted back
“I don’t know. None of us do. There’s been no news for hours, not that there was any in the first place. Could be a hurricane, another Katrina maybe. Probably best to go home and wait it out.”
“Okay thanks.” She said.
“Take care Miss.” He said as she began to walk away back in the direction of home.
She was at the door of her apartment building when the ground began to shake.
2017/08/12- 19.12pm, three hours after cataclysm event.
Able Squad, 75th Airborne Rangers
Kandahar province, Afghanistan
They were roughly five miles out from the forward operating base, slowly moving through the thick bed of wet, boot sucking mud when the earth began to rumble. There came a sound loud enough to feel like the splitting of the world, a long rising cracking noise and the ground started to shake violently.
Bear had felt a few strong earthquakes in his life before the Rangers but nothing of this magnitude. Right then as it happened he was thrown back to a holiday he had once taken in China, where at just past midnight he lay in bed, his eyes shining in the moonlight as he watched the light in his room sway back and forth. He hadn’t moved, he had just watched with held breath until it passed.
This time he slung his weapon over his shoulder and placed his hands down into the wet earth to stop himself from falling over. Farrell held Mitchells arm and they both swayed drunkenly.
“What the fuck was that.” Mitchell muttered.
“Earthquake?” answered Farrell
“That’s got to be a ten on the Richter scale or something.” Bear said standing up again, wiping the dark mud from his giant hands and holding them out so that the rain could finish the job.
They walked as slowly and as quietly as they could towards the base. Farrell thought at the time that the weather might have been a blessing. There would be less chance of contact on the roads. Later he would wish that contact would have been made sooner.
It was getting late when they found the base. It had been raining for nearly eight hours and dark was falling. If instruments had been working then they would have recorded that, that day the most amount of rain had fallen since the birth of records and a long time before that.
The three Rangers stood at the twisted metal fence with steam rising from their bodies. The forward operating base was gone. Where huge square blocks of cement intended to take the impact of errant shells and chance bullets should have stood, was nothing. Row upon row of barracks buildings lined up against eachother, the gym, warehouses full of food and water and munitions, the neatly parked lines of dusty Humvees and attack helicopters and Abrams tanks, all gone, along with any signs of the soldiers who would have been there. In its place was a hole; a vast crater as wide as the base by double on almost all sides. The communications tower of the airport had gone too, along with some of the passenger planes that had sat idly on the tarmac. Farrell stood at the jagged edge and looked down into the abyss, He couldn’t see the bottom of the trench; just the silver slashes of the rain disappearing down into the thick dark. Another shiver rode up his spine uncontrollably and he took a few urgent steps back towards the remains of Able Squad.
“It definitely wasn’t a bomb, there’s no scorch marks. Looks like an earthquake.” He said to the two men as he tugged at his rigging.
“What the fuck are we going to do now man, it’s all gone. There’s nothing left sarge, we are completely fucked, this whole situation is fucked. I don’t want to fucking die out here in this shit.” Bear shouted, stamping in the mud, his eyes wide and white with fear.
Farrell pulled in close to him and held up a hand, “Stow that shit private. There has to be some of our people left who made it out, we need to find them so we can evac. You need to pull your shit together, else we ain’t leaving at all.”
Bear’s expression escalated to include incredulity with the fear.
“How man? Ain’t no way there are any tracks to follow thanks to all this shit and this whole fucking region is crawling with Haji’s just waiting to finish the job they started earlier. It’s like they knew.” He said.
Mitchell spat down into the hole and then looked to Bear, “So, we find somewhere to wait and figure this shit out. There’s gotta be some friendlies somewhere near by.” He said hopefully
“I feel that you Americans may have gotten the message now? If this is not the clearest message from Allah, then I am not sure how much clearer it needs to be.” said a voice in the dark with a thick Afghani accent.
Bear’s M4 snapped up at the figure reflexively; the man who stood a few feet from them was wearing drenched white robes and sandals that disappeared into the wet ground. His hands were raised in supplication and he had a grim smile on his face as if what he said had brought him no pleasure.
“Oh yeah, and what message is that old man?” Mitchell asked.
“That you are not welcome here anymore American.” The man replied.
“Well no fucking shit.” Bear spat
2017/08/12- 13 Hours after cataclysm event.
New York, 3rd Avenue.
The city lost about twelve square miles in a jagged circle encompassing most of downtown; it looked as if someone had taken a hole-punch and pressed it into the map of New York. The Brooklyn bridge collapsed into the east river in a shower of glittering water, taking with it hundreds of stranded cars and people trying to get out of the city. It was the first of all of the bridges to let go, the bright spokes of cable lancing down into the rushing deep. The rising river rushed in to fill the cataclysmic hole as buildings topple over eachother in a rush to fall down into the dark like so many rotten teeth, needing only the slightest impetus to crash into rubble. It felt like the end of the world for the people who survived and for many thousands it truly was.
A small empty wooden boat drifted down Pine Street; it banged absently against the glass front of a brown brick office building.
Alice held on to a lamppost as the earth swayed under her feet. She glimpsed up as the buildings all around her seemed to sway, it absurdly reminded her of the magic trick with the pencil that you waggle between your thumb and forefinger making it wobble.
Glass caught the ragged light as it began to fall. She saw it soon enough to live but a flat rectangle of it sliced a deep gash in upper arm, before it exploded into the water sending a smaller piece of shrapnel into her shin bone where it lodged itself. She screamed and dove inside the apartment building as more of the deadly rain began to fall splashing into the street.
She hobbled around to Sam’s chair, up righted it and seated herself down. The glass had cut clean through her parka, freeing the white fluff inside and some of it stuck to her wound. She breathed in sharply as she inspected it. “I look like a fucking wounded duck.” She said and laughed desperately.
The shard in her shin hurt way worse. It had just missed her boot, which would have stopped it or at the very least slowed its brutal trajectory, and had pierced her jeans, (one hundred and twenty dollar jeans at that) a few inches below the knee where the skin was paper thin. She instinctively reached down and plucked the foreign object from her and let out an, “Ow ow ow ow, fuck you, you piece of shit glass” from between her gritted teeth. She let the bloody shard go and it splashed on the sodden carpet.
After a few minutes the pain in her leg wasn’t so bad and she could walk, but she needed to get back to her apartment and see to the arm wound. She pressed the lift button out of habit and hope and waited as sheets of brown water continued to fill up the reception area.
She gritted her teeth and made the arduous journey up the stairs; each step bringing with it a throb that matched the pumping feeling in her arm. She tried to press down on the wound, but her arm got tired so she quit. Near the 12th floor she shed her coat and discarded it in the stairwell. She inspected the cut and tentatively tried to hold it together with her right hand as blood flowed between her fingers. She had to stop a few times because she felt sick and a few times she had called out for help from her neighbours but nobody answered; they were either fled or ignoring her. She wanted Glen, he would know what to do, he always did. She noticed then that she hadn’t put her wedding ring back on when she showered.
It took twenty six minutes to climb the stairs to her floor and behind her she had left red smudges along the walls that looked black in dark. She finally arrived at her apartment door and fumbled with bloody hands to work the key into the lock leaving blood on the metal around keyhole and on the wood.
She slammed the door shut and went to the kitchen. On the way she saw her pale reflection in the mirror by the door. Funny what a couple of pints of missing blood can do to you, she thought to herself. She pulled the first aid box from the cupboard above the fridge and opened it. Inside was superglue, bandages, antiseptic, pain killers and some band aids. She ran some water and used it to clean the wound, then she superglued it shut and after swearing healthily for a short time, she rubbed a healthy amount of the antiseptic cream over it. She sat there are her kitchen counter for a while breathing slowly, trying to still her shaking bloody fingers as the electric pain subsided slowly. She painstakingly peeled her sweat and blood drenched t-shirt off and then finally wrapped her arm in the bandage. As a final thought, she bent and covered the circle of red on her shin with a band aid.
She slowly and with lots more swearing, put on a fresh t-shirt and pulled her pale and wrinkled feet out of the boots and peeled the socks and jeans off. She towelled herself dry before putting fresh socks on.
When she was done, she went into the bathroom and took her wedding ring from the soap dish and slid it down over the joints of her thin pale finger. She suddenly felt dizzy and a sticky wave of nausea rolled over her spinning the walls around her. She limped drunkenly into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed. Her head was spinning and despite knowing that sleep was probably not the right thing to do, she crawled under the covers and passed out.
Twenty six floors down, the mass exodus of the city was now well underway. There were around seven and three quarters of a million people left in the city after the first collapses occurred and they found themselves suddenly cut off with limited supplies. Years before they had watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. On the news they had watched the looting, the murders, and they were not waiting now for the same thing to happen. The cops, cut off and outnumbered by several hundred thousand to one had shut up shop and barricaded themselves into their respective precincts, the ones that stayed behind had only one directive, “make sure that police guns do not get into the hands of the criminals and looters.” The noise was like a terrible sea of voices, frothing and thrashing and breaking against the walls of the rapidly emptying buildings like rocks on a beach. Gunshots frequently punctuated the roar as they fought over food and clothes in the ruined guts of stores. People were now under the control of their most primitive selfish needs, food, shelter and warmth. The city was rapidly cut up into divisions, as gangs used their sudden freedom to operate with impunity in this new world to settle once and for all, disputes with other gangs and further expand their operational territories. They quickly came to the shrewd realisation that almost all of the country’s operating armed forces including the National Guard were overseas and wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon.
Hoboken, all the way up to Pallisade Avenue slipped into the new depths of the Hudson almost without warning, taking with it all of the residents sheltering in their homes.
Alice jumped awake.
Someone banged on her apartment door; she lay there stock still trying to control her rapid breathing and feeling adrenaline crest her nervous system in a tidal wave of narcotic terror. Her heart pounded in her chest, behind her eyes and in her wounded arm.
“Hello?” The stranger asked and still she remained silent. She thought about the gun in the drawer only a few feet away. Humanity wasn’t supposed to have fled so fast from her, leaving the cold mathematical silence of survival. She didn’t even know what this person wanted, but her primal lizard brain slithered up and told her something was wrong. Something terrible.
“We need help, can you let us in?” They said and she sensed something disingenuous in their tone, there was no desperation, no need, it sounded wrong. Again they thudded at the door.
She slid across the bed sheet quietly and went to the drawer on tip toes like a cartoon villain, she carefully pulled open the second drawer down. At the back of it under a few pairs of her husband’s underwear was a green plastic case which contained an olive coloured Glock 23 pistol and three empty magazines, and behind that was a small box of 9mm ammunition. She pulled all of these out and rested them on bed. She quickly pulled a magazine out and thumbed in five rounds, slid the magazine home into the gun and pulled the slide back before disengaging the safety.
She waited with the pistol trained on the open bedroom door until her arm felt numb and the daylight had begun to wane. The adrenaline had passed now, leaving her feeling leaden. There came no further noises from outside the apartment.
She was then extremely grateful to her father who had taught and retaught her basic first aid throughout her childhood on fishing trips or whenever she hurt herself. She was even more grateful to her husband who insisted on having a gun in the apartment and for teaching her how to use it.
She collected up all of the tins of food in the apartment and put them on the counter next to the gun and began filling the plastic bottles she left out for recycling with water from the taps.
When she was done she did a count; there was enough water for about week if the taps ran out straight away, enough food for two weeks if she could find a way to heat it, and enough ammunition to kill fifty people if she didn’t miss.
Alice moved to the window and pulled back the blinds so she could see out at the darkened city. She could see the fires in a lot of the buildings, at the rubble where tenements were and at the rivers where the streets once were. She could see the absence of the Brooklyn Bridge, she had heard its strange animal song as it had wined and cried before it fell. She wondered what had killed the electricity and absently she pressed the power button on her phone but there was nothing. It was scary and the worst disaster she had ever seen, and she hoped foolishly that it wouldn’t be long until everything was back to normal again.
She was undecided as to whether to try and make it out of the city or whether to stay put, hidden behind her door and hope that help would come soon. Her sister, Claire lived in St Chalco Nebraska, who would be able to put her up until things were fixed and back to normal. Both choices were risky and potentially fatal. Eventually, she decided that she would wait four days and if after that time no-one came, then she would leave for Nebraska.
Below her, already bloated corpses bobbed down the fast flowing river and oddly channelled rivers towards the area that had once been downtown. They collected together where cars had been pushed together to form dams, and they rolled over one another in the moiling water as it rushed between broken windows and over the dented hoods. An empty yellow kayak was stuck floating between a lamppost and an overturned truck; its owner was facedown, dead in the grimy water that filled a broken shop front twenty blocks north.
In the last of the daylight, she lit a single candle and went about collecting and assessing anything that might be useful. She ended up with a pile of stuff she would need to condense down if she was going to leave. She pulled out a large army style rucksack from the wardrobe and began packing clothes and food into it in case she had to leave prematurely. Even half full the thing was really heavy, so she pulled everything out and re-assessed. She would have to do without extra clothes.
Four days she would give it.