Silence Pt. 2

Written by Alexander Greco

June 8, 2019

On our way through the suburbs, we started talking about normal things. I think we wanted to temporarily ease our minds about everything going on, so we started talking about kids, husbands, wives, children, jobs and politics. Paul was recently divorced and worked as a software designer. John worked as an EMT and Mary was a professor at a community college. I learned that the older man’s name was Abe, short for Abraham, but that he liked Ahab better than either. Ahab had been an engineer working for several companies over the last three decades. The other woman’s name was Catherine, and she worked as an HR representative for the Wal-Marts throughout the region.

I had begun telling them about my job as a contributor to a magazine, when we heard a gunshot. It wasn’t too close—I’d guess about five or six blocks away—but it stopped us in our tracks as soon as we heard it. There were other people out and about, most of them looked as confused as we were, and they all stopped and turned as well when the gunshot went off. All was quiet for a couple seconds. No cars. No sirens. No talking. I had never been in a city this quiet before in my life.

People began looking at each other. I heard some murmuring. John began to ask, “What do you think that—“

Bang, bang… Bang.

Silence.

Quite a few people began walking the other way. Although there were no more gunshots, the nearby threat of them struck fear in everyone. It certainly struck fear in me. I asked, “Should we go back?”

“No,” said Paul, “the police station is only a couple blocks away, we should be fine.”

“But what about those gunshots?” Mary asked.

“We’ll be alright, that was pretty far away.”

Everyone else seemed to quietly accept this, or at least they didn’t vocalize any argument so, we kept on walking. We turned around the corner at the end of the block. Diagonal from us, at the corner of the next intersection, was the police station. There was a crowd of people gathered around it. I guess everyone had the same idea as us—to find the nearest authority and try to figure out what was going on. This also meant that everyone else around here was having the same problems as us.

When we came up to the crowd—it was maybe only twenty, thirty people—we asked the first few that were closest to us what was going on. They said they didn’t know. “One of the officers came out a while ago saying they’d try to get some answers,” said a man in the crowd, “they’re not letting anyone in right now or anything.”

“Is anyone else’s phone working?” I asked.

“No,” said a woman, “nothing’s working.”

“No cars? No radios? Nothing?”

“Nothing,” the woman repeated.

“Nothing” didn’t make sense to me for a second. How could nothing be working? What did that mean? That… That couldn’t be right. Everything was working just yesterday. “So,” Ahab began to ask, “what are the police doing? What’s anyone doing?”

The woman was about to answer, when some yelling and jostling within the crowd caught all of our attention. We looked to see two people shoving each other, knocking each other into everyone around them. . The people who were smart and quick enough began moving out of the crowd, but others began joining in. It all began happening too fast. Someone began throwing punches. Someone got thrown to the ground.

Luckily we were already on the edge of the crowd, so we started backing away easily, but then someone in the brawl got shoved out toward us and careened right into Ahab, knocking him to the ground. We pulled the man off of Ahab, and the man got up and began running away down the street. Ahab had hit his head on the asphalt and was bleeding. He was still conscious, but he looked like he could barely tell where he was at.

John and Paul dragged him a few yards away to the sidewalk behind us—away from the brawl. “Abe!” John said. “Abe! Can you hear me, can you—”

Bang, bang.

Two gunshots exploded through the air. We all looked up to see the crowd of people breaking up. “Go home!” someone was yelling, “Go home and stay home! Do not leave your houses unless you absolutely have to! Go home before we start arresting people!”

The crowd dispersed enough that we could see a police officer standing in front of the station. John stood up from Ahab’s side. “Officer!” he yelled, “Officer, over here! Please help us!”

The officer heard Paul and looked over at us. For a second, he looked like he was going to ignore us and go back inside, but then he seemed to realize what was going on. He jogged across the street to us and stopped in front of Ahab, who was groaning and looking worse with every second. “What happened?” asked the police officer.

“Someone fell out of the crowd and knocked him over,” Paul answered.

“I’m an EMT,” said John, “I can help him, I just need some first aid supplies. Do you have anything?”

The officer looked between us all, as if sizing us up. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he would help us at all, then he said, “Yea, we’ve got plenty. Come on, we’ll bring him in.”

John and Paul helped Ahab to his feet. However, Ahab could barely walk on his own, so John and Paul essentially carried him across the street, with Ahab’s feet moving in time. At the station, the officer held the door open for us, and we all filed in. “We’re bringing in someone who got wounded,” the officer called inside, “help them find medical supplies.”

The two men carried Ahab inside, and we were led in by the Police Officer. Inside the building, it was dark. There was light coming in through the windows, and they had lit several candles here and there, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that this station—this bastion of law, order and authority—had no electricity in it. The presence of the police officers set my mind at ease somewhat, but they were all bustling around in a frustrated way that unnerved just as much as it comforted me.

“Does anyone know what’s going on?” I asked the officer as he led us inside.

He shook his head as he ushered us quickly through the station, arms over us protectively. This was something else I found both comforting and unnerving. I was glad to feel protected this way by the officer, but it unnerved me that it was at all necessary. “No one knows what happened. At first we thought it was the power grid, but that was a pretty dumb idea.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Cars don’t need a power grid. Cell-phones rely on the grid for signal, but not to turn on. Batteries aren’t working. Nothing electrical is working.” The officer led us into a sort of waiting room with chairs we could sit on. “Someone said something about a solar flare, but no one knows enough about silence here to do much more than bullshit.”

“About silence?”

“Science, I’m sorry, science.”

“So… So what’s going on?” I asked. We were sitting down now.

“I told you, we don’t know—“

“I mean what’s going on aroung the city? What are you guys doing? What’s… What’s the plan? How are you guys going to start fixing it all?”

The officer shrugged. His body language said he had work to do, but he’d indulge me another couple answers. “We got in touch with some electricians and an engineer. They’re checking the lines and the electrical stations around here. The plan right now is to try keeping the city from collapsing onto istelf.”

“How did you get in touch with them if you have no electronics? Or, if none of its working? And what do you mean, ‘collapsing in on itself’?”

“We rode bikes. We’ve been riding bikes all over the city, there’s nothing else we can do right now. And people are starting to go crazy out there. You’re lucky we let you in, this is probably the safest place in the entire city to be.”

“People are going crazy?” I asked.

The officer nodded, then spoke, “I have to go. You two stay here. I won’t be too far if you need anything. You and your friends can stay here at the station for a while.”

The officer left the three of us there in the waiting room, baffled and alone with each other. We sat down together, but didn’t say much. I couldn’t stop thinking that the rest of the city might be falling apart outside. Everything we relied on had all of a sudden collapsed around us. I felt I might start going crazy too. I looked at Catherine and Mary. They looked like they were feeling the same way.

The three of us sat in silence for a little bit, but soon, Mary began talking to us. I was anxious enough that I immediately focused all my attention on a trivial conversation about our lives.. Yesterday, I might have only halfway listened to her, while the other half of my mind kept wandering back to thoughts of a glowing screen. Today, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the contact. I hadn’t known Mary very well before, we had a few, short conversations every few weeks or so, and that was it, but I found that I liked her pretty well, given the circumstances. The same with Catherine. I hadn’t known her at all before this, but I found that I liked her quite a bit.

Mary and Catherine seemed to like me too, and they seemed to like each other. Oddly enough, for three people who had never talked much or at all in real life, we got along pretty well. Maybe we were substituting each other for texts and comments, but it was working. We were slowly but surely filling the holes in our rapidly beating hearts, and forgetting that the world might be coming undone.

A few hours passed by in conversation and a few awkward silences in between. We would have short bursts or long storms of conversation, but nothing more than a half an hour of talk. It was as if none of knew how to keep a conversation going. We managed to pick the conversation back up at least, without too much hesitation in between. Still, the day dragged on and on. The conversations slowed, and grew duller and more fragmented.

Sometime later—past noon, I guessed—Paul and John came back with Ahab. Ahab’s head was wrapped up, and John told us he had a concussion. Ahab could walk on his own now, but it was slow and uncertain. He came into the waiting room and sat down next to Mary. John said they were going to go to a nearby hospital and see if they could get some painkillers for Ahab.

“I want to go with you,” I said, almost without hesitating.

“What?” Paul asked.

“No,” said John, “you should stay here at the station. We talked with the officer who brought us to the medical supplies, and he said there’s already a lot of chaos brewing in the city.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, feigning bravery. The truth was, I had to get out. I had to do something—anything. “How far away is the hospital?”

“It’s about five blocks away,” said Paul.

“No, you shouldn’t go,” said John.

“Who are you to tell me to stay?” I asked. “I’m an adult. If I want to go, I can go.”

“Let her come with us,” said Paul, “it’d probably be safer.”

John didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he relented. “Fine, you can come with us. But,” he said, looking at Mary and Catherine, “I need you two here with Ahab to make sure he’s alright. If anything happens, get one of the officers. They should know at least a little bit about emergency medical care.”

“Alright,” said Catherine, nodding. Mary nodded as well, but didn’t say anything.

Then, Paul, John and I left. We found the officer who let us into the building and told him what we were going to do. He told us that was fine, and that he’d let us back in once we returned. Paul thanked him profusely. Then the three of us were out the building and walking down the street. There wasn’t anyone outside. I assumed that everyone realized this was something of a state of emergency.

We walked past the station and down to the next four-way intersection. Here, we took a right. About halfway down this street, there was an abandoned Pawn shop that had been broken into. This troubled me, but I only thought of it as odd at first. Someone just being opportunistic and looting for whatever random things they could find in there? Rings? Guitars? TVs? Maybe some DVDs or power tools? Then I remembered all the guns, knives, and even swords and other weapons I’d seen in pawn shops. I got even more worried.

We passed up the pawn shop, and, almost instinctively, I reached for my pocket. My hand was in my pocket when I caught myself, and I pulled my hand away. I began to wonder how ingrained my cellphone use was in my brain. Were there withdrawal symptoms? I had heard of people being truly addicted to their phones and tablets. I used my pretty often—I wouldn’t have called myself addicted, however—and I was already missing it.

After about twenty minutes of walking, we took a left, and the hospital was down at the end of the street. Outside, there were dozens of people. Most of them were sitting around, smoking or talking. Some of them looked like doctors. Others looked like patients. Others were just normal-looking people. It was a strange sight.

When we approached the hospital, we saw that the doors were open, and people were rushing about inside—almost as frantically as the police officers. A doctor smoking a cigarette looked up at us as we approached. He looked exhausted, miserable, and not in the least bit excited to see us. “Are you guys out of power here too?” John asked the doctor.

The doctor nodded and took a drag on the cigarette.

“How’ve you guys handled it?” John asked.

The doctor shook his head slowly. “We haven’t. We can’t. There’s no way to handle it.”

It slowly dawned on me what it meant to lose power at a hospital.

“What happened?” John asked.

The doctor took one last drag on the cigarette, then put it out on the metal bench he was sitting on. “We lost power at midnight. We lost over a dozen patients in the first hour. We lost almost thirty by sunrise. Forty-two in total.”

“Forty-two?” John asked, aghast.

The doctor nodded. “And it’s only a matter of time before we lose more. We’ll probably lose someone else in the next half-hour. There’s no life-support, no heart monitors, no computers, nothing. If we had enough people, we could keep tabs on everyone at once—at least check heart rate and blood pressure, and distribute some sort of life-support manually, but there’s not enough people. There’s no way. We can’t reach out to anyone, we can’t transport anyone somewhere else, we can’t do anything except give pills and wrap people in bandages.”

“Holy shit,” John whispered.

The doctor stood up. “I have to go back in,” he said, “what are you three here for?”

“We’re looking for some pain meds. Our friend had a concussion, his head’s gonna be killing him soon.”

The doctor shook his head. “We can’t give anything out right now.” Then he pointed down the street. We all looked to see a Walgreens a block away. “That’s your best bet. It never opened, but the doors weren’t locked, you can force them open. We’ve been sending people there all day.”

John nodded. “Okay, thanks.”

The doctor nodded and turned around to head back into the hospital. “Don’t bring your friend here,” he said without looking back at us.

We walked down the block to the Walgreens. As we approached, we saw that the sliding doors were already open. A man emerged from inside with a white bottle in their hands. He looked at us for a moment, and no one really knew what to do. The man nodded cautiously, then turned and walked off down a street to our left. We entered the Walgreens, and found that it was completely silent inside.

It didn’t take long to make it to the back of the store, where all the pharmaceuticals were. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked. “Isn’t this wrong?”

“We have to do something,” said John, “Abraham’s head is going to be killing him soon, and all that stress is just going to make his condition even worse. We need something to take the edge off, maybe a light sedative if he can’t sleep”

John skipped the aisles of over-the-counter bottles and went straight to the walled-in area where the pharmacists kept the real drugs. We found that the door had already been busted. “John,” I said, “we shouldn’t go in there.”

“Why not?” asked John.

“It’s wrong, and it’s probably very illegal. Let’s just get some ibuprofen or something and go- something harmless and over-the-counter.”

“I know what he needs,” said John, entering the pharmacist’s room, “and this is an emergency—the doctor said it was okay.” Then, John disappeared into the room, and we could only briefly see him moving around through the windows in the room.

It shocked me how quickly John reverted to stealing prescription medicine—it hadn’t even been a full day since this all started. It shocked me how quickly things had slid into chaos, and how quickly everyone seemed to be going crazy. It’s like people had begun to forget who they were yesterday, and that we were all civilized twenty-four hours ago. I looked at Paul, and he looked just as worried. When John emerged carrying several bottles, I asked him what he had gotten, as I thought he only needed two things.

“Well, I got a couple types of painkillers, I got some Xanax, some Ambien, and plenty of anti-biotics. I figured we could use what we needed for Abraham, keep a bottle of anti-biotics for ourselves, take some Xanax, and give the rest to the police. They’re letting us stay there, and I’m sure they might need some of all these. We could just say the hospital gave us—”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, “Some Xanax and… and keep the anti-biotics for our—“

“Angela,” John interrupted, “we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know what might happen. We can’t abide by normal rules right now, and I’m sure anyone would agree with that. This isn’t the same city we lived in yesterday. Things aren’t normal, and we can’t pretend like they’re normal until they are normal again.” John began walking to the entrance of the Walgreens. He walked past Paul and I without looking at us. “Then we can pretend everything is normal.”

He was right. I looked at Paul. He was about to say something, I could tell- something to comfort me. But I could also tell that Paul believed John, and I knew that I had begun to believe John. I shook my head. “He’s right,” I said.

Paul nodded. We both turned and followed John out of the Walgreens. We made it back to the police station without any trouble. We gave Ahab a small cocktail of pharmaceuticals, then everyone but me took a Xanax. When John offered me one, I thanked him and put it in my pocket. I didn’t feel right taking something that was stolen. Then John brought the Xanax, a bottle of painkillers and two bottles of anti-biotics to the police. He kept a bottle of anti-biotics, painkillers, and Ambien for us.

The officer he handed them to seemed uncertain at first. Then John said that they were from the hospital, and that he thought the officers might need some. He also said it was a way of repaying them for their help. The officer seemed to like that. The entire time, the two of them were playing their respective roles—the EMT, the good-guy and the civilian, and the man of authority, the upholder of law and the mediator of justice—but, in the end, they were just two people bullshitting their way through survival.

John came back, saying that the officers would let us stay the night since it was getting late and they didn’t want us having to walk back home in the dark. So, we all ended up going to sleep here in the dark. John, Paul, Mary, Catherine and Ahab all fell asleep pretty quickly—I saw John pull two more footballs from his pocket and disperse them to Mary and Catherine, and they fell asleep minutes later.

I, however, had much difficulty falling asleep, however, and stayed awake for several hours. I frequently thought about the emails that must have been piling up—unless the entire world had shut off, and there was no one on the planet who could send me emails—and I thought about how nice it would have been to check my phone. I distracted myself from these thoughts, and all my other worries, by watching the officers. It was my only form of entertainment. Eventually, around midnight, I began to drift of to sleep. My eyes shut on their own, and I was lulled into a comfortable sleep.

Pillars of Flesh

Jason stared at the corkboard above his desk. One of the flashcards he’d pinned to it was tilted so it leaned down on the right and up on the left. He held the cared against the corkboard, pulled the pin out, then inserted the pin a smidge further to the left. When he let go of the card, the right side swung down even further, and the left side tilted up even higher.

That’s not how that’s supposed to work, he thought to himself.

He repeated the process, holding the card against the corkboard, pulling the pin out and putting the pin back in even further to the left. The right side dropped even further, and the left side moved even higher. Jason stared at the flashcard. What first seemed like an easily-corrected oddity to him now seemed utterly wrong.

Jason sat there staring at the board, almost terrified to try fixing it again, but, eventually he mustered up the resolve. He held down the card, pulled the pin out, then pushed it into the top-left corner of the card. When the right end swung straight down, Jason jumped out of his chair and backed away from the desk.

Something was wrong. Not the normal, fixable sort of wrong. It was as if some rule that governed reality had been broken.

Jason scanned the room. Something about the windows seemed strange. Jason’s bed appeared to be standing on solid ground, but it might fall to the ceiling at any moment. Then Jason turned to look at his bookshelf.

When Jason looked at his bookshelf, a wave of horror overtook him. He couldn’t read any of the titles on the book bindings. They were all just shapes and lines—squiggles and sharp angles that should have been in English, but they could’ve been in any language now. They were titles he should have known, titles he should have been able to remember without reading them, but he couldn’t tell what any of the books were.

There was a knock on the door. Jason whipped around, almost yelping at the sudden sound, but then he was relieved. It was probably one of his parents, and they’d be able to help him. Jason walked to the door and opened it.

Jason looked where a face should be, but there wasn’t a face. Jason didn’t know what was there. He only saw an arrangement of shapes and colors—curves and colors and shapes and patterns—and Jason couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

Then the arrangement of shapes and colors began making sounds, but it was all nonsense. As far as Jason could tell, all the sounds he heard were disjointed scrapes, hums, clicks and hisses—some absurdist symphony of strange mutterings.

Jason’s mind reeled trying to make sense of what was happening. Something Jason couldn’t begin understanding was at his door, making noise at him. Panicked confusion galloped through Jason’s head. He slammed the door, locked it and stepped away from it. The thing on the other side started making even louder noises. Their pitch warped and churned into a tumbling of dissonant emotions.

Jason ran across the room to his desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out small, foam ear-plugs he used when he studied, twisted them, and pushed them into his ears. They expanded, filled his ears, and soon Jason couldn’t hear the sounds coming from the other side of the door. Jason then went to his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. He sat down on the floor and tried to calm himself down. What’s going on? he wondered. What’s happening?

Nothing made sense. Nothing, not a single thing around him. He looked around his bathroom, and only knew what the cabinets, the shower, the toilet and the sink were after he stared at them and pieced together what the shapes and colors meant. That thing is square and brown, with a small, white sphere on one side. It must be a cabinet. And that thing there is… That thing is…

Jason was now looking at the mirror, only the mirror wasn’t a mirror. It was a whole different dimension of the room he was sitting in that had exploded into the wall. It took Jason minutes to understand what he was looking at. Once he finally understood that it was a mirror—though only logically, he had no intuitive grasp of what he saw—he stood up and looked at it.

In the mirror, Jason saw another arrangement of colors and forms—like the one he’d seen on the other side of the door—except this one moved when he moved, blinked when he blinked, stared where he stared. It’s me, he thought. I know I’m looking at my own reflection, but… I can’t see myself. Then, Jason noticed a fork of red streaming down the arrangement. He moved a hand to his face—which also moved in the mirror—and touched the red.

Jason looked down. It took a moment to realize the segmented pink-white-red-tan pillars of flesh emerging from the warped square of similar, wrinkle-carved flesh was his own hand. He noticed there was red on these pillars of flesh now. What was it doing there? It came from his face, hadn’t it? Why was there red streaming down his face?