The convoy made its way through the tunnel, the sound of trudging feet echoing against the moist walls, shadows projected by the torches’ flames. There were only thirty or so of us now, the rest had either disappeared, lost in the havoc and chaos, or had mentally checked out and simply wandered away. I guess both fates are the same, if you do not know where you are or you cannot conceive why you are where you are, life seems hopeless either way. A few had not been given the chance to choose and had their lives ended for them. Some days I wonder which one is luckier. The few of us that are left gave up on the explanations and conspiracy theories and late night notions of the early days after the incident, and now choose to live each day without the hope of eventually having our lives reinstated. We choose to live as if things will never be the same again – and they haven’t been, and they never will.
The mouth of the tunnel was up ahead, the bright light slowly saturated the darkness, forcing me to squint my eyes as we neared the opening. The light illuminated the walls, once witnesses to the hustle and bustle of the American workforce, now witnesses to its downfall. I chuckled a bit as I passed a worn advertisement on the wall for a cell phone provider that read, “We’ll never stop working for you”, recognizing a sense of irony that the slogan was never meant to conjure. I remembered buying in to those sorts of guarantees in the days before the incident. Then it hit me – when did this all start? What was the cumulating point in history where we knew that something had gone horribly wrong? It had started out slowly, a small city here and there without television reception, a neighbor or two experiencing problems with their phone lines, the gradual weakening of local Internet connections. We had just continued on with our lives, knowing that the problems would be fixed for us, directing our frustration at our lap tops, blackberries and satellites, a frustration that would ultimately turn into panic, then to utter chaos. Within a week the problem had spread to entire time zones that experienced difficulties calling loved ones or watching the daily news. Then a few of the major service providers “temporarily closed” in order to “assess the problem” and “analyze the options”, followed by the news channels who “took a leave of absence” until the “inconveniences were mended”. I was the last broadcast journalist to report on the situation, my station one of the last to shut down. Our producer told us to go home until the crisis had blown over
, following the example of most of the employers in the nation. I remember how some of the employees still showed up everyday, sitting silently in their desks for days afterwards, not having anywhere else to go. I’ll admit, even I was reluctant to sit at home and wait for the powers that be to makes things right. I would rather stay at work with remedial tasks to keep me occupied than sit at home with nothing to do but to wait – wait and worry.
The papers were the last things to go, faithfully reporting the
most recent “dead zones” and our government’s assurance that it was “only a glitch”. And we believed them. Why wouldn’t we? We had no reason to believe that our government had no idea why all forms of mass communication were slowly disappearing, why lines and signals were dying, connections failing, satellites stalling. We had no reason to believe that our country had lost all contact with the outside world. We had no reason to believe that our government had lost all contact with itself. And then one day, the world went dead. The panic didn’t set in until a few hours afterwards, all of us believing that it was only our electricity that had gone out, only our wives we couldn’t get into contact with, only our offices whose phones wouldn’t ring. The attack had been well planned, lurking in our computer systems and telephone lines, weakening our defenses, until the pinnacle of its power became evident. We were completely ambushed by an unknown assailant, and only in those few early hours after the incident had accomplished it’s mission did we truly grasp what had happened and how nothing would ever be the same again. Freezers warmed up, boilers cooled down, traffic lights stopped blinking, hospitals lost power, security systems failed, prisons went unguarded, 911 calls unanswered. in a world that had gone completely and utterly dark.
The convoy finally reached thetunnel;we all paused, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the light, a ritual we had all grown accustomed to after our time spent underground. Our group, and many like us, had first turned to the abandoned subway stations for shelter once the Liberty Party had gained momentum after the Incident. The Party consisted of everyday men and women, friendly neighbors and family members, government officials and sanitary workers, all turned rogue, maddened with fear. Their reign of terror began with small robberies of local stores, stealing television sets, computers, shiny cars, forgetting the futility of it all. I suppose that their fear had blinded them from the realities that our new lives demanded we face. Despite that, their forces grew in number, and their “supply-checks” escalated from the occupation of individual houses, or “bases”, to the conquest of complete neighborhoods. Their reputation grew as their followers did – they were intoxicated by the promise of food, shelter, and protection, and they were willing to fight to insure that they got it. They grew insurmountably stronger when they took an interest in the local ammunitions stores, and, once they had guns, they were unstoppable.
A month after the Incident, members of the Party had come into my neighborhood to look for supplies. Before, we had remained untouched, our little outdated neighborhood paled in comparison to the gated communities that had been the first targeted. They came under the cover of night, with no street lamps or house lights to disclose their presence. My wife and I were in bed when we first heard the screams. Peering out the window of our bedroom, we spotted a horde of dark figures running rampant in the streets. We heard a window break and then watched as flames engulfed the house across the street. I told my wife to start packing, that we were leaving tonight. Where were we going to go? I hadn’t a clue; I simply knew that we had to get out. My wife left the bedroom and went to the kitchen to gather as much food as we could carry. When she left, I hurried to the closet to find clothes, shoes, and jackets – whatever we would need to survive on our own – and I shoved it into an old duffel bag. Then, I heard my front door burst open, I heard my wife scream, and I heard a gun go off. Suddenly, I felt as if my body had just been placed on autopilot and I watched from afar as my body continued to move through the house, duffel in hand. I remember seeing my wife’s lifeless body on the kitchen floor a bag of food next to her. The rebels must have already moved to another part of the house. I knelt down next to her body. In her limp hand were our wedding rings; she must have grabbed them from the bathroom on her way to the kitchen. They glimmered there against her skin, catching the moonlight from the window above the sink. I snatched them from her hand, gave her a gentle kiss goodbye, and fled. All I can recall after that moment of horror was that I had forgotten to pack socks.