Authors: Daphne Lamb
Seattle WA 2015
Copyright 2015 Daphne Lamb
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
— You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
— You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
No Derivative Works
— You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.
Inquiries about additional permissions should be directed to:
Cover Design by Greg Simanson
Edited by Briana Lambert
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
Print ISBN 978-1-5137-0118-9
EPUB ISBN 978-1-5137-0139-4
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015912188
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
OF THE APOCALYPSE
was a really bad day. It was the closest thing people in the twenty first century had ever known to real actual hardship. I know it was for me, Verdell Sonobe, born of the Eighties, recipient of absentee parenting but constant loving care from the TV, educated in the philosophy that if I wanted it then I probably deserved it—but with no power, rampant viruses and limited supplies, we were closer probably to the 1800s on a good day. I was a data coordinator for Mitchellwide Industries. It was an inconsequential job at a now inconsequential company. Regardless, it helped fulfill all I wanted in life, which was falling asleep to true crime shows. I was one of the few people achieving their dreams on a regular basis, but a bad shipment of infected black market organs from China spread quickly. Add to that an ill-timed major earthquake in central Los Angeles, which set off other earthquakes, which caused ruptures in several nuclear power plants across country. The world as we knew it was over, and I was left with a dead dream. Goodbye never-ending episodes of
The Incident was on a Wednesday. Just before the sirens rang, I sat in the break room with my friend and coworker, Tatiana, a list of pros and cons in front of me, my boyfriend, Bruce’s, name headlining it.
“So that’s where we’re at,” I said. My annoyance level at him rose just thinking about it.
She frowned at the list. “He has a steady job and a car,” she said, pointing at one of the items. “You can’t value that too much in a recession.”
I made the same face. “True,” I said. “But he’s a little too proud of his community theater. Too many fans over the age of sixty-five.”
Tatiana nodded. “What have been your rules for breaking up with other boyfriends?” she asked. “Assuming of course you’ve had them and you haven’t settled just for this one.”
“Come on,” I said defensively. “Give me a little bit of credit. I’ve had lots of boyfriends. Ask around.”
She folded her arms. “So what you’re saying is, your heart is not open for business.”
“Not true.” I looked up at the ceiling and sighed at the flux of emotional failure. “Jake had a nervous breakdown and cried nonstop, then left town in the middle of the night. Michael had more video games and toys than a Japanese teenager, and Randy just wasn’t going anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Like he wasn’t serious about you?”
“He was a supervisor at Wal-Mart.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Just a guy working an honest wage? You sound hard to please.”
“Lived with his parents.”
She nodded slightly with her head tilted. “Okay,” she said slowly. “He’s loyal. What price could you put on that?”
“Used the letter z for pluralizing words in texts.”
I nodded. “Tell me about it.”
“Hey babe!” Bruce wandered in and grabbed a can of soda sitting in front of me, one I had just opened. He tilted his head back and drank deeply from it.
I squinted and tried to assess his attractiveness again. I studied his stocky frame, dark hair and round face. He sort of reminded me of a clean-cut hobbit in Gap chinos, trying to test the waters of any infatuation that might be there. I tried to imagine him petting a puppy to enhance his appeal, then immediately felt bad for the puppy.
“Hey.” He smacked his lips. “Ready to have lunch? You wouldn’t believe the traffic on the freeway.”
He noticed the piece of paper we’d been huddled over.
“What’s that?” he asked and pointed to it. “Is that my name?”
I quickly crumpled it. “We’re writing a novel.”
“You should write a play,” he said. “And then write a part for me.”
Warning sirens suddenly blared and a fire alarm went off in our building, which was then quickly silenced followed by a moment of no power. We waited powerless in the darkness when the high-pitched echoes came back on again. People in the hall stopped for a moment and then went about their business as if it were just another day. I, on the other hand, sat up, rigid in my chair, a sense of panic exploding in my every fiber.
“What’s that?” I asked, breathing hard. I rose to my feet and looked in every direction.
Tatiana shrugged. “Who knows anymore?” She pulled out a gas mask from her purse and held it up. “Maybe we should have been wearing these like we were supposed to.” She shifted moods and smiled brightly at me. “Want to come to karaoke night tomorrow? It’s totally going to be stupid, but at least we can vent all this frustration.”
I was tense and gripped the table. “Do we have any other safety protection?”
Bruce, on the other hand, grabbed Tatiana’s Cheetos and shook his head, shoving his hand deep into the bag. “You can’t go tomorrow,” he said. “It’s opening night of my play. But thanks for lunch.”
I looked at Tatiana, momentarily calming down. “Is that a pro or a con?” I asked.
“Verdell,” she said slowly, eyeing her Cheetos. “I think you know where that goes.”
Bruce looked out one of the windows and continued to munch. “Maybe I should head back. Traffic looks backed up.”
When I look back on everything that happened, perhaps I could have been more empathetic in the aftermath, but there’s no telling if empathy could have been my cause of death. Maybe had I had gone out to find my family, I would have ended up in some ditch with others with likeminded goals. I cowered inside, watching and hearing the riots outside. The thought of going out in it made me fearful of my inability to fight back or outrun anyone.
I watched my coworkers’ faces as they registered the fact that a real emergency was happening. Their gazes slowly traveled up in the direction of the sound of the alarms as though the world were traveling in slow motion. I felt my phone go off and checked what was incoming. My parents were calling, my roommate was calling, and my cable company was calling, presumably because I hadn’t paid my bill in two months. Instead of picking one or the other to talk to, I pulled out my gas mask issued when the first virus outbreak came out. It seemed a little thin and flimsy as I stared at it in the fluorescent lighting, so I threw it into the trash and then crawled under my desk, and hoped everything would just work itself out.
In some respect, it did. Those of us who survived were locked in the building, effectively cut off from the rest of the world. In the days that followed, we made unfruitful searches on the news, which then turned into rumors that I suspected people were just making up.
“I heard,” my direct supervisor said on the second day into our forced stay at the office. “That pet shelters were selling hospitals infected organs. And that’s what happened.”
I shook my head. “Maybe you should check your sources on that,” I said. “Remember when that got disproven six months ago?”
She thought about it. “Was that where I heard it?”
“That’s where everyone heard it.”
The lack of constant information is hard, especially when you come from a time when it was so easy to get. No media, no Internet, nothing. I even lost all my high scores on Tetris on my phone. Welcome back to the Stone Ages.
We were told by the suits upstairs that this office building was our new home until further notice and that we should continue to work despite the circumstances. I thought about those times I called in sick to binge watch
Third Rock from the Sun
when I could have been doing something useful or how I could have owned a dog or talked to my family more. I checked what traffic was like on Google Maps, forgetting there was no Internet, so I would look outside where our offices overlooked the freeway. The cars there hadn’t moved for days and didn’t look as if there was any chance of that changing.
There was no actual work to be done. We sat quietly at our cubicles, staring at clocks as if we waited this thing out so we could get back to doing what we truly loved—entering numbers in Excel spreadsheets. I, on the other hand, felt the heaviness of what was going on in the world, so I took some sheets of printer paper and started a letter to my family. It was harder than I thought. I threw it away and then started a break up letter to Bruce. I wrote and rewrote that a number of times, but could never quite get the right tone or theme for it. I wished for access to the Internet just to have examples, but now I had to face the question of, how does one write a breakup letter?
On one extremely quiet afternoon, Tatiana aimlessly wandered around the cubicles. I saw her head weave in and out, in and out, until she eventually made it to my desk. She paused and looked down at me and put a finger to her lips, then dropped a folded note onto my desk. Before I could look at it, she kept walking.
I unfolded it quickly.
My side of the floor hates your side of the floor. They feel you’re harboring access to the vending machine. An attack is coming.
Below that, she had written a list of pros and cons.
Pros to Rioting. Everyone gets snacks. Communication between involved parties. Something to do besides sitting at desk.
Cons. Someone might get hurt. We might not be able to hang out anymore.
I refolded the note, slightly confused, then stood and looked around for Tatiana. She was nowhere to be found, but I heard someone yell from the other side of the floor. Everyone got onto their feet as the others—now in matching corporate sweatshirts given at last year’s Christmas party—charged our side of the office, holding up whatever they could get their hands on—staplers, binders, coffee mugs, chair parts brandished as weapons.
“Give us your Cheetos!” they chanted as they violently attacked my coworkers.
A shiver went down my spine and I shook at the hollowed out roar of softened office workers. I dove under my desk as the fighting went on. Feet ran past me, and I listened to the sounds of yelling and crying. I looked out in time to see two of my coworkers trying to bravely protect the door to the break room, but be overcome with the force of four people from the accounting department. They rushed in and immediately went to work rocking the vending machine back and forth until it toppled like some abhorred dictator’s statue.
They cheered and victoriously jumped up and down. I got back up to my feet and looked around, thinking the danger was over.
“What the hell is going on here!” someone shouted.
The floor went quiet. My side of the floor huddled down in fearful fetal positions, but the attacking side had mouths full of unhealthy treats, mid-enjoyment of their plunder.
The voice belonged to the company CEO, Robert Peele, who, despite his stained khakis and sweat-stained button-down shirt, still had enough confidence for us to listen to him. Under his arm he carried a thick textbook with the words
Secrets to Risk Management
written in bold letters across the cover.
“Just because the world is crumbling outside doesn’t mean we all become barbaric hill people!” he said. “Now clean this mess up!”
He spun on his heel and stormed off. At that moment, one of the finance guys got weak in the knees, collapsed to the floor and threw up.
Soon after that my supervisor got sick, then half the office followed suit, which lead Robert to force them off the floor and into the stairwell with specific instructions to go to anywhere else. Sick people were moved to the second and third floor while healthy people moved up to the ninth. Then the fourth floor accounting department got sick. Then the sales communication group. Then floors of people were starting to die out, which was when people got panicky. So we waited out another two days of listening to people fighting death, begging to be allowed on our floor. Who wants to listen to that? We boarded up the stairwell doors with chairs and dry erase boards. Eventually we didn’t hear anything from those fighting to get in and we just assumed that evolution had done its duty. I made up my mind to stay healthy no matter what, and that I wasn’t going anywhere until forcibly removed. The office building we were in had its own generator, a decent amount of food that could be rationed and we were now up on the eleventh floor, high enough of a vantage to see the world crumbling without taking part of it.
After all the death and the fighting over Cheetos and listening to Robert read from his risk management book, our generator eventually gave out and the entire building was without power. No sooner had everything shut down and the stillness of a powerless life sunk in, I really had to use the bathroom. I was going to wait it out for as long as possible, but when my body would allow no more waiting, I removed the bulletin board being used to prevent anyone from entering and ventured into the creepy stairwell where the last working bathroom was located. So I held it there in the dark until I could find a heavy object to prop the door open. On looking around, I found Robert’s risk management book sitting on the table in the break room. I snatched it up and shoved it under the door, then ran for the bathroom.
After five minutes of sweet relief, I came out of the bathroom to a hallway of pure darkness. My stomach tightened as I realized the inevitable. The book was gone, the door was shut and I was locked out of the healthy floor of the building.
“Hello?” I called out. “Anyone?”
Blindly I moved toward the door leading to the office, my arms in front of me like a limp Frankenstein until I hit it. I tried to fight the urge to panic as I banged on it.
“Help!” I called. “Locked out!”
From deep in the hall, I heard moaning from the upper stairwell and I shuddered on the inside. So I kept on banging on the door.
As I made loud noise, I closed my eyes and did something I hadn’t done since I was seven.
“Dear God,” I whispered. “If you get me out of here, I will do whatever you want. I will work on my people skills, I will do more things for others—”
At that moment, the door swung open. Robert stood in the entry way with a confused look on his face.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked. “You could have gotten locked out and died.”
He stood aside to let me through.
“I had the door propped open,” I said simultaneously exasperated and relieved. I put a hand over my heart, which beat quickly. “I propped it open with a book in the break room.”