Tuesday, November 24, 2015

14 - Boomtown


              Terri got up early that morning, like most mornings. Breakfasts, lunches, a quick hard run on the treadmill. An hour going over her listings, answering emails, double-checking her tours for the day. The old Kelly place had received 18 offers, with the winning bid $300,000 over asking. The world had gone mad, and for maybe the first time in her life, that seemed to be working out in her favor.

              Her phone reminded her to wake the boys up at 7, but they’d already been up for 15 minutes by then, they had crashed into the kitchen, shoving and screaming and laughing, and she set aside her work and grabbed them both in a group tickle-hug.

              They were so happy. She was happy, too, as long as she was wrapped up in them, it was impossible not to be. They could make happiness out of nothing, out of a garbled word, out of a break in the clouds, out of a song on a commercial. The whole world just seemed to wait in line for a turn to delight them.

              Cooper had it a little less. He was intense, his blood sugar ran on a hair trigger, he needed a snack and whole milk before the sleep was even out of his eyes, or there’d be hell to pay over nothing later, a crooked line in a drawing or a bent piece of paper could send him screaming to the floor. But she knew him, she could feel his equilibrium from a mile away, and it was just one of the things she always had a handle on.

              Spence was three, and usually acted like it, but he had a heart a mile wide, like Scott. She tried to set a good example, and she could have taken credit for it, but she loved the idea that it was all Scott, just that innate character of him shining through in Spence’s face. It kept him with her.

              After the usual blur, the boys were dressed and off to school and preschool, and Terri hurried over to her first house. She had put it first on purpose.

              She took the Front Street bridge over to Southside, then wound her way up Montrose Turnpike. She’d driven it a thousand times. She hadn’t driven it in years.

              A Cape Cod, like most of the homes in the area, but big, two stories with a basement, white. Four acres of undeveloped woods sprawling out behind it. She’d buried a rabbit out there. They’d buried it, held a funeral for it, she’d sung Amazing Grace and felt stupid for it now, now that she had two children, to have been so upset over a pet. But she’d been devastated. They both had been. He probably still was. He probably had a picture of the rabbit in his wallet. It was probably the closest he’d ever felt to a real loss.

              Her hands ached. She’d been squeezing her steering wheel to its death, thinking about those days, and what came after, and if she let herself she’d wander further still; to Scott, to the happiness she’d built with him, and there, in that space, the little twinges of vengeance she’d felt. This is what you could have had. This is what we could have been, and you’ll never have anything close to it.

              Then it was gone. Scott was gone. And some part of her pointed and snarled: “This is what you get for gloating. This is what you get.”

              She knew it wasn’t right. She knew Spence, the boys, the things that had happened, they weren’t some sort of plot device in her life, every element in the universe orbiting her, waiting for their cue to enter and exit her stage. She knew it but she didn’t feel it. This was her payback.

              Stop it.

              She would. She had a job to do, she had to go sell chunks of her home out from under her friends (stop it), she had to betray her town and everyone living in it.

              You have to stop.

              She couldn’t, so she got out of the car, threw herself into what had to be done. Assumed the smile, assumed the posture. She couldn’t stop it, but she could smother it under routine for a while.

              She didn’t know the woman in front of the Kelly home. The woman had requested her specifically but she had no idea why. All she knew was her name, Wendy, and that she was from out of town. How she got here, how she qualified to buy, she had no idea.

              She was tall, rail thin and wiry, pretty but not that pretty, and she had a frown that clearly never left her face. She looked evil, but like she thought she was good at hiding it. And she knew already that she had no interest in the house. She never even glanced at it.

              The woman, Wendy, stepped forward, hand extended, like she was the one trying to sell something. Terri felt an urge to run, the way a rabbit feels the stalking creep of a fox deep in its legs, but she’d spent the morning angry at her self, loathing herself, and her anger, eager for a new nest, sensed a home in this person. Whatever she wanted, Terri was ready to fight her. So when Wendy got close enough to shake hands, Terri, who had been raised to be kind, to be charitable, to be nice, looked at the hand, looked back up, and said: “What do you want?”

              It cracked the air like thunder, and Terri’s mind spun, disbelieving what had just happened. What are you doing?

              “Um, ha ha, hello? That’s a strange way to greet someone. My god.”

              “I’m not greeting you. I’m asking you what you want.”

              Terri could feel her knees shaking, and she didn’t fight it. She was angry. She was beyond angry. She was pissed. She had no proof, no substantial reason to think this woman wasn’t just another customer, but she knew, she could smell it, and she was committed. Even if she was wrong, even if this would cost her a commission, she was committed. There was something vile about this woman. It was seeping out of her.

              And then, the woman shifted. Her innocent act sloughed off of her like a snake skin. The smile was gone. She seemed to get bigger, somehow. This was the real her.

              “So, I’m not sure what you’ve heard, Terri, but we don’t need to be enemies.”

              Terri didn’t say anything. She stared back, up at the taller woman, no idea what to say or do. Her gut had been right, but she had no idea who this woman really was, or what she wanted. She wanted to go back, reset, grab onto that rapidly receding moment before she went on the attack. She had stumbled out of her element, hugely.

              “How about, we reset?” continued Wendy. “I’ll take you to lunch. My treat. No bullshit this time. I mean, I get it now. I do. I thought this would be a good way to get to know you, but it wasn’t genuine. I’m sorry.”

              Another act, an act of contrition, literally. But whatever the hell this woman was, Terri needed to know. She nodded.

              “Great! And again, I’m sorry about this. My fault. Completely my fault. I’ll be in touch.”

              The woman walked away, leaving Terri by herself on the front steps of the house. She waited until Wendy’s car was out of sight before she wobbled to the steps to sit down.  


Monday, November 23, 2015

13 - Boomtown (with caveat)

Note from me:

So, this feels like a weird thing to be posting, given everything that's happened in Paris & Brussels & Mali over the past week. But, this is fiction. This is one of those things that I knew was going to emerge in the story at some point, well before the Paris attacks happened. It just feels weirdly creepy to be writing this stuff now, in light of what's going on in the world. In fact, I sat on this for a few days, and I thought about just stopping the project altogether. But that doesn't seem like the right thing to do. Here's hoping.


              There will be a reckoning.
              You have followed the path of the Lord. You have listened, you have opened your heart, and you will receive your eternal reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But not yet. Not yet.
              There is much left to do in this world, a holy mission that requires the commitment of the most faithful, a commitment of heart, of mind, of soul, and least importantly, of body.
              The pain and tribulation of this life will be left behind you. Your suffering will find its answer, like a broken vessel made whole once more. You will be bathed in the glory of His love and you will be remade. You will be reborn into everlasting joy.
              You have risen above the doubts and limitations that bind others to this moral plane. You have answered His call. Soon, you shall unburden yourself of your worries, your fears, your weaknesses, your mortal concerns.
              You have come to the anointed place, for He has chosen this place, he has set it aside, raised it above all other places, so that it might serve as a message to all those who doubt His will. For His will has been made known to us. He has shown us the path ahead, and we shall walk His path, secure in his everlasting love and girded by his wisdom.
              Your faith has made this possible. Your vulgar worldly belongings, those trappings of a corrupt and contemptable world, those fruits of greed and envy, have been transformed, have been redeemed through your act of sacrifice, have been smelted and poured into a purer form, a form that will in turn purify His world, to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
              Be at peace. Prepare for the glorious days ahead, and give praise to God for your anointment and salvation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

11, 12 - Boomtown


              Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth.


              She sat in the back of St. Patrick’s, the bad organist mangling what should have been an uplifting song, but the voices pushed it along into respectable territory.

              When she was young, St. Pats had been a purer experience, the kind of church she grew up with as a kid, hard wooden pews stretching back to forever, quiet and dark, a place you could be alone with your pain and your God and really grapple.

              Back in the nineties, they’d renovated the church. Turned it on its side, covered it in pastels, made it more “welcoming” and “community” oriented. Padded seats. Carpeted floor. Voices that used to ring out were swallowed in the soft, easy surfaces. God’s temple became God’s living room.

              She was dying. It was happening quickly, but sometimes it felt like it wasn’t quite quick enough. Every morning, she dragged herself out of sleep to find one more little betrayal – a new ache, a numb spot, a little less strength, a little more fumbling. Inch by inch, she was losing ground to her own body.

              Nobody tells you how to prepare for it, how to face the gradual shutting down, how to watch yourself die. People think it can be fought, that it can be accepted with grace, with dignity, but those people have never been forced to lie sobbing on the floor in a pool of their own filth for half a day, to be hauled up, cleaned off, dressed again, to listen to the low murmuring voices while the evidence of your total helplessness is scrubbed out of the carpet. She was never good at asking for help, but the worst part now wasn’t the asking, it was that no amount of asking would ever close the gap. No amount of help could ever give her life back to her. There was no real help. Not anymore.

              But there was an unspoken contract still, with those people, with her children, with the nurses, with the home health aides, with the doctors, that she be grateful for their trying. They tried. She knew they tried, she knew she was a difficult patient, and it’s not that she wasn’t grateful, it’s that she was violently ungrateful. She lived only by the help of others, the constant, slightly resentful, often disapproving help of others, and nothing they did gave her anything more than grim, brutal, grinding survival. She hoped to God that they never had to experience it themselves, but that was the closest thing to gratitude she could muster.

              The old church would have understood that. She believed in the God she’d been taught as a child, a God three parts condemnation and one part grudging forgiveness. A God who had required the long, agonizing death of his own child just to be convinced that the rest of humankind were worth a chance. That was the God she wanted now. That was a God she could relate to. A God who gave it to you straight. A God who would be honest with you. A God who understood pain, the giving and the taking.

              She wouldn’t find Him there. But this was as close as she could get anymore. If she closed her eyes and didn’t listen too hard (though her hearing was still perfect), she could imagine the church’s old bones, she could hear the voices bounding between the plaster roof and the cold hard pews. But only for a moment, and it was always worse when she opened her eyes and saw all that goddamned pastel.

              The service ended. The priest, Father Darrow, told them all to go forth in peace. She sat, waiting.

              “All set, mom?”

              “Yeah,” she said. Amy grabbed the handles of her wheelchair, unlocked the brake, and wheeled her down the ramp, to the side door of the church, and outside, to go forth in peace.


I’m alive.

              That sounds really melodramatic, but seriously, I wasn’t sure I would make it. But I’m here now. I’m back in Owego.

              Okay, more like, outside Owego. There’s a fence now. A serious fence. There are guards, and a gate.

              The bus dropped us off about a mile outside town, and by outside town I mean in the middle of 17C, at a jerry-rigged “bus stop” that looked like a refugee camp.

              I knew there was a fence, but I guess I thought it was around the village of Owego, the downtown part inside the crook of the Susquehanna River, with the shops, and the big courthouse, and all that. But the fence extends around the town, which is like a big indeterminate splotch that bleeds out from the village heart. The fence cuts through woods, through farmland, across streams. Twisty little backroads to nowhere all have giant, armed gates cutting them off at the Owego border.

              People are camped up against the fence. It’s like humanity’s lint screen. You can only get to the other side if you have an invite. But the upper limit on a visit is two weeks. If you don’t live there already, you don’t get to stay.

              There are a couple exceptions – marriage is the big, obvious one that a lot of people try to exploit. It’s like a green card marriage on steroids. The other big one is inheritance: a parent dies, leaves the house to their kid, the kid can move in.

              I know what you’re thinking. That’s not why I’m here. Safest place on earth or not, this isn’t my home. I’m here, I’ll do whatever Mom needs me to do, and I’m back to San Francisco. I might even pay some crazy to fly me back. Anything would be better than that train ride, risky or not.

              I mean, even before the meteors started, Owego was a hell of a lot safer than San Francisco. My parents literally didn’t have a lock on their front door when I was growing up. You could tell an out-of-towner because they’d lock their car when they got out. I once got mugged in San Francisco while I was already being mugged. Safety’s not enough. I gotta have a life.

              But I’m here now, and my name is on the list. I get a “passport”, and a stamp saying when I arrived and when I have to go, and they warn me to have it on me at all times.

              “Even in the shower?”

              “It’s waterproof.”

              I thought I was being funny. I guess some people manage to beat the fence, so they run a lot of patrols in town. Most of the patrollers are locals, and Owego’s not that big a place. They spot new faces.

              And, I’m in. I’m home. Or “home,” anyway.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

9, 10 - Boomtown


              Chicago was a nightmare. Disgusting, filthy. People shitting against walls, squatting in gutters, bundles of cloth piled on the ground and I think they used to be people. I’m on a bus now, heading east, and there are Army Humvees ahead and behind of us, we’re rolling through Ohio like it’s a demilitarized zone. Somehow I feel like things will be better when we cross the border into New York, and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever thought entering Buffalo would be a positive thing, but I was born in New York, and somehow I feel like they’re still my people and they will rally.

              I know New York. I need New York. You know I need unique New York.

              The guy next to me is Steve, and he says that it’s not this bad everywhere. He says the train stations and bus depots are hot spots, people flocked to them, hoping to get somewhere safer, and when they realized there was no such thing as safer, they just… sat down.

              And the 90 is bad because it’s a main artery, it’s where the money is, it’s how the people with money get from A to B, from east to west and back again. People with money. People like me.

              I should feel bad that I’m better off, the Catholic in me knows that, but I don’t. I don’t want to be in those gutters. Maybe that makes me a bad person, maybe it’s just one of the many things that makes me a bad person, and I’ve never been in a fight in my life, not a real one, but if someone tried to take what I’ve got I’d fight for it. Just thinking about it puts a charge in my guts.

              And I’d win that fight, right? Of course I would. I’m special. I can’t throw a punch, I’ve never been hit, everything I know about self-defense I learned with a bucket of popcorn on my lap, but somehow I know that if I had to, if I was pushed to, I’d be some sort of instant badass, That Guy You’d Never Suspect.

              It is a joke and I know it, but it might be the only thing that keeps me from wetting myself right now. I have to feel like there’s some barrier between my life and theirs, like there’s some force somehow keeping me from taking a bad step and falling through a rotten floorboard.

              And I can look back on my life, and I can weigh the good against the bad, and I can twist it so the former outweighs the later. It boils down to those Good Deeds, the ones I’ve done, the ones everyone like me has done, those discrete moments of time when you decide to stop and give a shit, and then walk away a few dollars lighter, patting yourself on the back. Those prove I deserve to be okay. Right?

              But weighed against the rest of it, the mundane, day-in and day-out habit of total indifference, of not even seeing, much less caring, those little bright spots are just punctuation in a page full of inhumanity, just little pauses in an otherwise unchecked sprint to a single conclusion: I am a sucky human being.

              This bus is carting me toward my fate. My comeuppance. My just desserts. I don’t know what I’ll find when I get home, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to destroy me.


              “Please, help yourself.”
              Wendy smiled, politely, at the receptionist. She might as well have offered up a bowl of fabric softener. At least she could use fabric softener. The bowl of brightly colored gobs of sugar, chemical flavorings, and lab-generated colors were an abstraction of food to her, as separate from her biological process as one of those god-awful Chiluly pieces Susan had a thing for. Wendy hadn’t had a carb since the Bush administration, and her last piece of candy? Christ, what, grade school?
              She demurred, shook her head, politely, and said “I’m on a diet.”
              The receptionist, all three-hundred pounds of her, smiled sympathetically. “I know,” she said. “I shouldn’t even have these.” Then she leaned forward conspiratorially and added “I eat most of them myself.”
              No fucking shit. What was she looking for, absolution? Try making different choices, you weak-willed clusterfuck of a cow.
              But she smiled and nodded, woman to woman, the transaction complete. If there was one thing she had learned the hard way, and taught others the brutally hard way in turn, it was that you always pay your dues to the gatekeepers. It didn’t matter if they were an admin at the White House or the hostess at an iHop. The gatekeepers see everything, know everything, and they control access. Wars have been lost because admins were paid to misdirect communiques. Scandals that could have changed the course of history have been buried under the simple act of turning down a phone call. The most powerful person in the land is not the king. It’s the person who controls the king’s calendar.
              Malinda Whateverthefuckherlastnameis was a person to be courted, flattered, endured, humored. Malinda would be useful, would be used, gladly, happily, would skip and cartwheel toward getting used, as long as Wendy laid this groundwork first. Wendy knew she was beautiful, paid dearly to be fashionable, and worked relentlessly to be leaner and tougher than a steel beam. People who looked like her weren’t nice to people who looked like Malinda, but that was because most people who looked like her were fucking idiots. They didn’t know the value of a well-placed stooge.
              So they chatted, and Wendy did grant her that absolution of a sort, she smiled, shook her head, pouted in commiseration. She’d met enough losers, or worse, people with potential who let themselves lose, to know how to playact. Yes, it was tough sticking to a diet (it wasn’t.) Yes, men did have it easier (that one was true, but that advantage made them soft. She had yet to meet a man she couldn’t own after three minutes of quiet observation.) No, she hadn’t seen last night’s Dr. Phil, but she was certain he must have been every bit as insightful as Malinda claimed (seriously, this was how they broke terror suspects. They made them talk to Malinda about Dr. Fucking Phil.)
              The minutes crawled by, they dragged themselves by, agonizingly, the skin on their bellies worn through and their guts trailing out in a bloody tangle behind them.
              But at last, Don had an opening. Oh Don. Poor, poor, pathetic Don. He smiled as he waved her in, and she smiled back. Poor Don.
              She sat in the chair across from his desk and noted the bad springs in the seat. She took in the room in one gulp, the fishing photos, faded with age, back when his hair was still dark and all accounted for. Pictures of his kids, but also old. Certificates and trophies and awards, dusty with age. A man whose best years were behind him. She was almost sorry about how easy this was going to be.
              “So, what can I do for you?” Don asked.
              Wendy leaned forward, smiled. She had already won. The next hour would just be going through the motions. “I was going to ask you the same thing, Don.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

6, 7, 8 - Boomtown

“You had better be fucking kidding me right now, Barry. This had better be your motherfucking entrance exam for fucking clown school.”
Barry didn’t say a goddamn thing, because of course he didn’t, because he was incompetent, he was blessed with incompetence, he was dripping with it, it was woven into him genetically, expressed epigenetically, the words Non Compos Mentis were carved in ornate script above his family crest, incompetence was celebrated at his family reunions, they played games where the goal was to drop the egg as soon as it hit your spoon, and then to fall down in the mess and soil yourself, and everyone always tied for first, and they gave each other incompetence for holidays and birthdays, loose steaming piles of incompetence dripping through gobs of mangled, randomly taped wrapping paper, wrapping paper that had been pulled from dollar store rejects bins because it all said things like “Hapy Birthday” and “Morry Chrostmas”. She could have killed Barry just for the carbon offset.
He said nothing, he stood, looking down, probably because his shoelace patterns were fucking fascinating, or he was just trying real hard not to drool on himself, or he was fantasizing about masturbating with name brand tissues for once, not that scratchy grocery store stuff he usually bought, but something like Puffs or honest-to-god Kleenex. To be fair, he was simultaneously breathing, standing, and not wetting himself, which was like a mental trifecta for him, a triumph, a personal miracle, and her question had probably burned out half the neurons in that Jell-o salad he called his brain, she could practically smell the pineapple and Cool Whip charring. She had a stapler on her desk, a heavy one, metal, and she could have picked it up, hefted it, wound up like a major league pitcher, and hurled it at his face, and it would bounce off, land on the ground, and there were would be no change in Barry. No reaction. None. She ached like hell to prove it out.
“Get Susan in here.”
That he heard. He scurried out, and she imagined him later, sobbing to himself in a stall in the men’s room, and going home early and having angry revenge sex with his own left hand, picturing her tied down on her desk and taking it rough in the ass. Whatever. It was the closest thing he’d ever have to real happiness.
Susan came in, and she hoped like hell she was having a good day. A-game Susan was a force, but catch her on an off day and she was worse than Barry, if that were even possible, because she was useless and needy, at least Barry knew enough not to try to connect with her like a human being, but Susan, when she was down, somehow tripped balls and thought she’d stumbled into the YaYa Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants or whatever the fuck, and she did not need that today. She did not fucking need it.
But no. The glint was there. Susan was on. She’d probably smelled Barry’s blood in the water, and Susan was cut, if not from the same cloth as she was, then from a passably decent designer knock-off. Susan had potential. Susan could Get Shit Done.
“What is this bullshit?” she asked, and she flung Barry’s stack of sweat-gummed incompetence straight at Susan’s feet, and Susan grinned. Fuck yes she did. They were on. Today was going to be a good Susan day.
Susan knelt down and picked up the papers and flung them into the recycling bin. She didn’t need to look at them.
“We’ve got calls out to the members of the town board right now. One we’ve got dead to rights. Hookers. Pictures and everything. The second one we’re working on, but it’ll be money. We’re just trying to feel out how much.”
“Spend it. Who’s the third?”
“A woman.”
Damn it.
“Widowed, two kids.”
Fucking Christ. “Scholarships?”
“We’re trying the usual angles. We’ll get her.”
She could have kissed Susan on the mouth. She could have kissed her on the mouth and let Barry watch. Instead she said “You’re having a good day, Susan. Keep having them.”
Susan nodded, her eyes bright enough to cut.
“Thank you, Wendy.”
She nodded. Susan left. They were going to get this. They were going to get it.
She jabbed into her intercom.
“Ms. Miller?”
“Extend my spin class by an hour. I fucking deserve it.”

              You have sinned.
You have sinned, but you shall be forgiven.
              Redemption is not beyond you. The Holy Father is mercy, He is love, He is compassion. He will welcome you into his flock if you open your heart to Him.
              The days of judgment have begun. The end times are upon us, but the path to heaven is not yet shut to you. Where there is faith, there can be redemption, and where there is redemption, there is everlasting peace, there is the unfathomable reward of God’s unending love and grace.
              The days are not easy. The trials set before us are a mighty test of faith, befitting the burdens placed before the very roots of mankind. Temptation. Destruction. War. Famine. But the Bible is filled with accounts of those who faced these same trials, these very same trials, and who now rejoice among the blessed host in the Kingdom of Heaven.
              The way is not shut to you. Though your heart may be heavy with loss and bewilderment, though your friends and loved ones have been called away ahead of you, though you find yourself alone in the darkest hour of your brief, fleeting time on the mortal plane, you are not alone. He is with you.
              But if you are called, and surely you are called, how can you respond? How can you submit yourself to His will, how can you place yourself firmly among those who will pass through the blessed gates into an eternity of everlasting joy and celebration?
              It begins with an act. A simple act of faith and devotion, a small token of your commitment to the one true path.
              Start with whatever you can afford. We don’t ask that you impoverish yourself, only that you take this first step with us, that you show us that your heart and your material world are committed to spreading His message.
              And, that single step will lead you to that blessed place on Earth, that one holy spot that has been spared from the devastation that has rained down on us these past few years, that has destroyed homes, wiped out cities, rent mother from son and brother from brother.
              Make your way toward this place, this small, humble hamlet in upstate New York, and join us as we prepare to make our way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

               Terri had the dream again that night. She had it most nights.
              They were in an airport in the Dominican Republic, only all of the country was within it. The beaches, the slums, the city, the walled off, pristine little resort where they’d stayed.
              There was one plane, and everyone was trying to get on it. Everyone, with everything. People wrenching on lampposts and park benches, somehow pulling the very fabric of the shore behind them, throwing their useless weight against buildings and buses and homes.
              And she and Scott were swimming through it all, scrambling over people and ocean and statues and fountains, clawing their way toward the plane. And they weren’t going to make it, there was no way to make it, they were losing ground, and they begged and pleaded for help, but that just made everyone claw at them, pull them back harder, drag them down into the chaos.
              And then, they were on. They were on the plane, they were seated, the plane was taxiing, the airport speeding by was dark, it was suddenly night, and Scott squeezed her hand, and she knew what was coming next, they should never have gotten on the plane, they shouldn’t be there, and she wanted to tell him, she wanted to scream for help and get up and pull him up, away from the window, she wanted to drag him into the aisle and keep him there, safe, but she couldn’t, and the window shattered, and Scott shattered with it, and she woke up, already crying.
              She collected herself, quickly. She knew how. She’d had years of practice.
              She got up, and she checked on her boys. Cooper was buried under his blanket, his pillow perched on top of his head. She laid her hand on his back and felt him breathing. Spence was in his own bed, sprawled out like a skiing accident, snoring. She kissed his forehead.
              She stood, her eyes closed, sleep easing its way up her legs, into her back, her neck. Her head drooped. She ached to crawl into bed with them, to pick Spence up, curl up with him next to Cooper, and wake up with them in the morning. To keep them safe, she lied to herself. It wouldn’t have been for them. She stepped away.
              She sat on the edge of Cooper’s bed, leaned down close to him.
              “Yes, sweetie?”
              “Will you sleep with me? I had a dream.”
              She slid into his bed next to him, feeling faintly disloyal to Spence, who was still sleeping, alone, in his own bed.
              “Can you tell me how to not dream?” Cooper asked, yawning.
              “No, sweetie. But I’ll be here if you have another one.”
              He buried his head back under his pillow, and she lay down next to him, and she slept.

Monday, November 9, 2015

5 - Boomtown


              Jesus Christ, I had no idea things were this bad. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

              I thought things were rough in San Francisco, but holy crap. It is bad out here. It is bad. I’m one day into my trip and I’m actually pretty sure that I’m going to die. How the hell did I not know about this? It is like Mad Freaking Max out here.

              The trains have been militarized, which I knew about in theory, but I figured it was just a precautionary thing. Like reassurance. They did the same thing after 9/11 – there were soldiers in the airports, and they mostly just stood around, keeping an eye on things, just being a presence.

              This is not that. This is like you will get shot if you stand in line for the bathroom. This is like, if there’s a crowd of people waiting at the train station, we don’t stop there. This is terrifying. I am terrified.

              When we got on the train, they ran us through the safety drill, and they played an alarm tone for us. They said if we heard this tone, it was a crash warning. We check our seatbelts, wrap our arms under our knees, and prepare for impact. They’ve sounded that alarm fifteen times in the past six hours. At least a couple times, we clearly hit something.

              The tracks are lined with tents, close enough that I don’t know how they don’t get sucked off the ground by the train’s wake. The guy behind me said that the people in the tents wait for the trains to break down, then they scramble in and take what they can grab until the soldiers chase them off. Some of them get on the tracks and try to force the trains to stop, but the trains don’t stop for them anymore. Hence, y’know, all the alarms and soft collisions.

              In Chicago, I get off the train and get onto a bus. The train attendants have walked us through what to expect, that we’ll basically be flanked by an armed escort. They told us that if anyone starts shooting, to run in a zig-zag pattern, either toward the bus (which, like the train, is armored), or back toward the train, whichever is closer. Then they started the beverage service. I asked for their liquor menu and pretty much ordered one of everything.

              I find myself wondering if mom knew. Like, did she know it was this bad out here? Is this like As I Lay Dying or something? I mean, I thought we had a pretty good relationship, but maybe she wants me dead.

              Jesus, maybe she does want me dead. I mean, I left, right? I moved away and I never looked back, I basically abandoned her, abandoned the whole family, I abandoned Terri, and I didn’t even do it sadly, with like, remorse. I just skipped away into my bright blue future on the west coast, and I haven’t even been that great about calling. And I think I missed her last birthday. I did. Holy shit. It was November. That was six months ago.

              Oh my god, what have I done?

              I need to get that drink cart back here.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

4 - Boomtown


              The meteors changed everything.

That might seem like a stupidly obvious thing to say, but most human infrastructure was not built to deal with the scenario that the universe starts hucking a non-stop barrage of rocks at us.

Before the meteors, there were legions of satellites orbiting the planet, enabling our entire data-driven culture. GPS, TV, telecom, weather forecasting, military intelligence, astronomy, cartography, disaster relief – all built on a robust, highly redundant system of orbital machinery that punctured, cracked, and collapsed entirely in a matter of weeks. The airline industry collapsed. The shipping industry collapsed. Solar energy, which had been thisclose to becoming a viable worldwide savior, was suddenly a complete boondoggle, with thousands of flat, brittle acres of solar panel becoming so much high-tech swiss cheese.

There was a rush on oil, a rush on coal, a rush on cash, rushes on food, on water, on medicine. There were riots. Panic. Cults. Mass suicides. Mass murders. Societal and economic collapses and rebounds and recollapses. And this was all in the first three months.

But then, somehow, equilibrium. Starting with, of course, the British.

As the rest of the world panicked, the Brits went to the print shop. They reclaimed a piece of their history from the garbage bin of pop culture.




Those red posters popped up everywhere. Not ironically, not as a meme, not to sell vodka, but as an honest to god bridge back to the past, a reminder that for the Brits, death from above was just another day at the office.

The French could hardly let the British out-poise them. And the Germans couldn’t let the French show more resolve. World War II nostalgia swept the continent, and Europe collectively dusted itself off, stood up, and sneered skyward.

Russia opened a bottle and shrugged forward, cynicism intact. China rallied gloriously, Japan started working the problem. These were the struts that helped prop the rest of the world to its feet.

The Americans took a different approach.

Within days of the first meteor impacts on US soil, Congress called for an immediate and dramatic increase in defense spending. The goal: to create a national umbrella that would detect, intercept, and eliminate all incoming space debris and make America safe again, by God.

NASA was quickly absorbed into the effort, all funding and personnel placed under the discretion of the Department of Defense, and the country’s top minds and biggest guns set to work creating completely insane, unbelievably expensive systems to try to stop a literally unending barrage of rocky debris travelling toward Earth at around seventy times the speed of sound. Most of the plans involved lasers.

While the government assured the American people that a space defense system was just around the corner, the people themselves took matter into their own hands, mostly through prayer and social media. Millions of people changed their Facebook picture to Bruce Willis, specifically to his character from Armageddon, as a sign that they would not be intimidated by a bunch of lousy space boulders. Prayer groups formed nationwide, sincerely requesting that God take a break from hucking rocks at them.

While the rest of the world adjusted, and adapted, America clung firmly to the idea that This Should Not Be Happening.

But it was happening, and it did happen. Dust was the norm; people got up in the morning and cleared the grit from their cars before driving into work. And as the months stretched on, more and more people were claimed by chunks, which were loosely defined as fist-sized rocks. An entire vocabulary was evolving around what had essentially become a new, everyday form of precipitation. Dust stopped meaning dust, and grit stopped meaning grit, in their respective traditional senses. Chunks were chunks (in fact, “Chunks Happen,” became a popular bumper-sticker slogan, as chunks seemed to have an almost supernatural tendency to hit cars). Hunks were bigger than chunks. Smashers would take out a house. Anything above a smasher was usually a major event. Buildings went down. Towns got wiped out. If you heard a newscaster say “There’s been a major event in Des Moises, Iowa, then Des Moines, Iowa was probably not there anymore.”

There were also cataclysmic events. In theory, anyhow. Those were the ones the agency formerly known as NASA were worried about, those were the ones big enough to see coming. Those were the ones that would knock Earth on its collective ass. Earth had dodged the cataclysmic event so far, and maybe it would forever. Or maybe not.

But as the rocks fell, and fell, and fell, the world collected data. It sorted numbers, compiled results, fed vast tracts of facts and figures to its best silicon minds, and a pattern emerged. Or a whole in the pattern, anyway: one town in central New York, a little dot on the map called Owego, had never been hit. By anything. Not a single grain of grit, not a single speck of dust. Ten miles to the east, ten miles to the west – fair game. You could literally walk to the edge of the township, take a single step forward, and immediately feel a pelting of debris. Take a step back, and nothing.

There was nothing else like it on Earth. The impacts petered off a bit at the poles, but even there they were inescapable. No other country, no other continent had a spot like Owego, a spot literally untouched by the cosmic rockfall that had forced its way into everyday reality for the rest of the globe.

America rallied back to life. It might have been just a few square miles, and it might have been just a few thousand people, but the one safe town on Earth was on American soil, and thus followed one indisputable fact: somehow, someway, America itself was exceptional.

 Suddenly, a little town in central New York became the most important spot on Earth. And everybody wanted a piece of it.