Post-Apocalypse Tour Guide, #1
Now that we’re past the entrance…
Step this way. Please follow in an orderly fashion.
This structure was first opened to the public on February 21, 1885. At the time, and for many years after, it was the tallest stone structure in the world.
Of course, the elevators are no longer an option. We’re going all the way to the top on foot.
More than nine hundred steps. Do you think we can make it?
Single file, please. The footing gets a bit tricky in this stretch.
From the top, tourists could peer through barred, bullet-proof observation windows for the best, panoramic view of Washington, DC. The east windows overlooked the National Mall, stretching all the way to the Capitol Building.
Hmm? Oh, that’s where members of Congress used to meet, back when our government had a legislative branch.
The elevators would have gotten us there in about five minutes, but it will take us a bit longer today. Do any of you need to rest a moment before we continue?
Good. Almost there. I’ll click my stopwatch, then count to make sure everybody’s safe and sound.
All right. Nicely done, people. Looks like 15 minutes and 42 seconds.
Here’s the barred window holes of the observation deck, which you can try to look through. The glass shattered when all 80,000 tons of the monument toppled, unfortunately.
Walking to the top is easier now, if that’s any consolation. We can do it from outside, lengthwise along cracked ground, instead of climbing 900 steep steps to the summit from within.
Author’s Note: If you’re enjoying this or other posts on the Apocalypse-a-Day blog, please consider reading my first novel, Odd Adventures with your Other Father, currently discounted to ONLY $1 at Amazon in the US and Canada.
1971 — Emergency Broadcast System False Alarm
You always said that the best time for an attack would be during a regularly scheduled drill — when people would assume the alert wasn’t real.
After a distinctive, 30-second tone:
“This has been a test and only a test.”
Or, “This is not a test. An attack against our country is imminent. Seek shelter immediately.”
At 9:30 am EST on February 20, 1971, an operator accidently played the wrong tape. The day’s password, ‘HATEFULNESS,” identified the Emergency Broadcast to other national outlets as authentic.
The mistake wasn’t corrected until 40 minutes later.
Since the EBS alert played during the regularly scheduled “test” time, most assumed it was only a drill and a national panic was averted. For a handful of folks, though, that must have been a pretty long 40 minutes.
You hadn’t expected to hear the sound again. The EBS tone was now the stuff of nostalgia, useful in days of three network channels and limited local radio stations.
These days, people spend as much time on their computers and phones as they do listening to radio or glued to their television sets. It would be difficult to reach everyone at the same time.
Your radio and television are turned off. But you’re hearing the signature EBS tone.
It’s 18 minutes past the hour: an odd time for a test.
The tone is coming from next door. It’s coming from a car driving slowly past your house. It’s coming from a loudspeaker at the roof of a nearby office building.
After 30 seconds have elapsed, a distorted voice will float through the air to offer muffled reassurance.
You check your wristwatch. The digital display is flashing.
Just a guess, but you’re certain the tone has continued for at least a full minute.
In your home office, your sleeping computer decides to reboot on its own. Your phone, facedown on the kitchen counter, begins to vibrate.
How long? Three minutes. Four.
The EBS tone continues — a steady beep from outside, assaulting your building from all directions; a teeth-grinding drone broadcast from every electronic device in your home.
It is the sound of a heart monitor, flat-lining.
You hope the sound will end soon.
You hope it won’t.
1847 — A Rescue Group Finally Reaches the Donner Party
“You’re a little late to the party.”
The Center for Disease Control team were greeted by a single representative as they entered the quarantined high rise. The tall man with an unkempt beard stepped down the staircase behind the unattended reception desk.
Where are the others? Ciprian wondered.
Broken glass and empty tear-gas canisters littered the floor of the high-ceilinged lobby. A residue of lachrymatory smoke lingered in the air, but the man seemed unaffected, and the fourteen members of the CDC team were protected by bright yellow Positive Pressure Personnel Suits (PPPS).
In their suits, Ciprian realized, they looked like spacemen visiting an alien world. The irony wasn’t lost on him. The real aliens, the changed ones, were still able to wear street clothes.
“Late to the party,” the man said. “See what I did there?” He reached the bottom step and walked closer to the cluster of CDC staffers. Ciprian got his first in-person close-up look at the man they’d come to know as Renzo. Insane. Strangely charismatic. Fancied himself a bit of a comedian. “That’s what they say when somebody’s behind the trend. When the person learns something important, just a little bit too late.”
He singled out the team leader, held his hand before the protective plastic shield over Ciprian’s face, and pinched his forefinger and thumb together.
“Where are the others?” Ciprian demanded, his voice echoing in the hollow chamber of his helmet.
Renzo shrugged. “Eaten.” Then his mouth opened in a broad, wide smile, revealing teeth that had been filed to sharp points. He hadn’t bothered to floss the dark red gristle out of them.
Behind Ciprian, members of the CDC team raised their weapons. He hoped they’d be more effective than the tear gas.
“Allow me to extend the phrase a bit.” Renzo walked backwards for a few steps, raising his hands over his head in apparent surrender. “You’re a little late to the party, as the Donner survivors said to the first rescue team after they’d eaten half their own group.”
“Half?” Ciprian said.
Renzo smiled again, his arms still lifted. His feet hovered a few inches above the ground, and his body began to rise. “Peel and eat,” he said.
A series of screeches whistled from the lobby’s high ceiling. Waiting forms, dressed in street clothes and smiles of sharpened teeth, appeared overhead. They descended on the suited visitors for a fresh feast.
The Milking of Elm Farm Ollie
“I wish we’d brought a different cow.”
It wasn’t the boy’s place to complain. His family was promised good money for about an hour’s work. And he’d never been up in a plane before, which was pretty exciting.
But he didn’t like how Nellie Jay was acting. Something about the way her tail flicked, as if to ward off non-existent flies. The nervous buckle of her legs with each tilt of the cargo plane; the way her body strained against the improvised leather harness that held her mostly in place. A weird gleam in her bovine eyes.
’Course, Nellie Jay hadn’t been up in a plane before, either.
“We needed this one,” the publicity guy responded. “Your family claimed she was a direct descendent of Elm Farm Ollie — the original Nellie Jay, later dubbed Sky Queen. Are you saying that’s not true?”
“No, no,” the boy said. Never argue with the guy who signs the check, his father taught him. “She’s the real deal.”
“Because we’ve spent a lot of time and money on this stunt. Got Dairy Mart to partner with us. Even the Mayor’s watching below.”
“She’ll be fine,” the boy said, smothering his skepticism. The plane lurched slightly, but he didn’t let the motion bother him.
The adults, like Nellie Jay, wore safety harnesses. The boy hadn’t been given the option. He pulled a small wooden stool next to Nellie Jay and moved himself into position.
The publicity guy aimed his camera for the OnTube video, and the market lady opened a large cardboard box. Empty milk cartons filled the box, with small handkerchiefs attached by strings to each of them: parachutes, like the ones on toy army men, but with the Dairy Mart logo printed on the cloth.
This stunt intended to recreate a moment from this day in 1930, at the St. Louis Air Expo, when the original Nellie Jay became the first cow in an airplane, the first cow to be milked in flight. Samples of her product were parachuted to Expo crowds below.
The boy positioned a metal pail beneath the cow’s udder. Her ancestor was a famously active producer, needing to be milked several times a day. Our new Sky Queen would live up to her legacy, since her glands were swollen particularly full. A gurgle came from the udder, like the growl of a hungry stomach, so loud it could be heard over the plane’s engine.
“Move to the side a little, Huckleberry. I need to get both of you in the shot.”
The boy ignored the mocking nickname, but moved aside as he was told. He reached for a full, hanging teat.
“Now hold on a second. I want a few still shots. Okay. Now go ahead and tug ’em.”
In rhythmic, alternating sprays, he directed squirts of milk into the bucket. The stream hit loud against hollow metal, then shifted to a spongier sound as the bucket began to fill.
He didn’t like the color of the milk. A dark yellow ran through it, like spoiled butter. It seemed thicker, too, almost as if it curdled into the pail; the teats felt wrong in his hands, with lumps repositioning inside as he squeezed.
But he’d learned Money Man didn’t like for him to complain. The guy didn’t work on a farm, so he’d think all fresh milk looked like this. Sadly, the Dairy Mart gal was probably just as ignorant.
He continued his rhythm, leaning his head against the cow’s body to try to calm her. The pail was almost full, but the udder hadn’t decreased in size. Another loud gurgle sounded from the swollen glands.
The plane lurched, and the liquid sloshed over the top of the pail. The boy ceased milking, and once the plane seemed settled, he lifted the bucket by the handle using two hands and walked slowly to the seated adults.
“Help me with this, would you dear?” The woman opened empty cartons and used a measuring cup to pour milk into them. She handed him a cup, and they filled cartons while the man filmed them. It was difficult to get the milk into the opening, with the strings and parachute cloth in the way, and the odd cloggy texture of the substance, like badly mixed cake batter.
Nobody’s going to try to drink this, he told himself.
Across the hold, Nellie Jay swayed back and forth. Her legs tensed, like she wanted to run.
He and the women had filled several dozen containers and stacked them on the bench. There were still a lot of empties in the cardboard box.
“Tug some more out,” Money Man told him, as he adjusted a headset microphone. “Amber, the pilot tells me we’re over the fairgrounds. Let’s drop out these souvenirs.”
A section at the back of the plane opened. Without rising from the benches, Amber and Money Man started tossing filled cartons toward the back. Air currents caught them, chutes puffed out, the souvenirs floated out the back of the plane.
The boy didn’t want to milk the animal again. He held onto the bench, grabbed an empty harness and held tight.
“Keep moving,” the man said. “What am I paying you for?”
A loud series of gurgles. Across the plane, the cow began stamping hooved feet. Instead of a “moo,” she emitted a low, angry growl.
The udder swelled. Streams of dark, gray liquid began to spray from her teats.
A faint smoke rose from where the liquid plashed onto the floor of the plane. The metal hull hissed beneath the animal. Nellie Jay’s legs scrambled like she was trying to walk on ice. They splayed, and her body dropped hard.
The udder burst beneath her.
The boy wanted to look away. He couldn’t believe what had come out with the hard clumps of gray-black liquid.
Money Man screamed into his headset, instructed the pilot to fly over an unpopulated area. At the same time, he pressed the button to close the cargo door.
It didn’t close fast enough. Nellie Jay growled. The parasite scrambled out the back of the plane, falling to meet floating souvenirs of infected milk, the waiting crowds of fairgoers below.
Random Acts of Kindness Day
The brochure says “Make Someone Else’s Day” at the top. It uses the abbreviation RAK throughout, for “Random Acts of Kindness.”
Some of the bulleted suggestions include:
— Let someone else go ahead of you at the bank, or in the grocery store line.
— Send flowers to strangers in the hospital.
— At the drive-thru, pre-pay the food order for the car behind you.
— Leave a note of praise on a co-worker’s desk.
— Make a contribution to charity in another person’s name.
The suggestions no longer apply. If a bank is still standing, there are no lines. The grocery stores have all been emptied. There’s no gasoline to allow cars to pull up to inoperable drive-thru windows.
No fresh flowers, no surviving hospital patients.
The only charity to contribute to, is you.
But, after the world has ended, sometimes the best coping mechanism is to continue as if nothing terrible has happened.
You step through the shattered glass doors of your FECU branch, and head toward the unattended teller window. You hold back, leaving space for an absent customer to finish his or her transaction, then allow gracious time for the person who’s not behind you to take a turn. Finally, you reach through the semi-circular cutout and retrieve some bills and loose change from the counter.
In the darkened grocery store, the refrigerator display for fresh flowers has been unplugged. The flowers are dry and black. Bugs scuttle over spilled potting soil. Fortunately, you find loose plastic flowers in a nearby aisle, and collect a white and yellow bouquet.
You pass a fast-food restaurant, then walk along a white arrow painted into the asphalt. At the order window, you crook your thumb to indicate an absent car behind you, then slide extra money onto the payment tray.
Finally, you reach your goal for the day: your former place of employment. The elevators no longer function, so you walk seven flights of steps to your floor. You feel your way down a corridor, then shift to automatic pilot when you enter a familiar office.
You sleepwalk to your cubicle. The computer is off. Even in the limited light from a far-off window, you notice your in-box is practically overflowing. Such a gloomy, overcast day — like all of them. You remove some pens and pencils from an old coffee mug, and replace them with the plastic flowers. There, that’s brightened the place up a bit.
One more touch. You retrieve a Post-Em pad from the drawer and scribble out a note, which you stick on the dormant monitor.
“Keep going!” it says. “You’re doing a great job!”
You try to recall how it felt to do kind things for others. Later, you hope, the recipient of your random acts of kindness will be pleased.
Author’s Note: A quick shout-out to my friend, Jacqueline Ward, whose superbly-titled crime thriller, Random Acts of Unkindness, reminds me of today’s blog theme — and it’s currently on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents!
1968 — First 9-1-1 Emergency Phone Call, in Haleyville, Alabama
Dispatcher: 911. Please state the nature of your emergency.
Caller: Been trying to get through for almost an hour.
Dispatcher: Ma’am, I apologize. Lines have been busy today. What is your emergency?
Caller: Well, it was an emergency an hour ago. Had to take care of it while I waited. It’s a bit of a mess.
Dispatcher: Do you need an ambulance? fire department? police?
Caller: Guess you’d call it a clean-up situation at the moment. Lot of blood.
Dispatcher: Whose blood? Does the other party need assistance?
Caller: Little late for that, as I said. [Sound of effort, dragging a heavy object]. Kitchen knife, but he followed me into the den. The carpet…
Dispatcher: You’re calling from the Causey residence, is that correct?
Caller: Yes, I’m Mrs. Causey. Am I still ‘Mrs.’? It was a domestic dispute. Domestic. It’s settled now. I’d spent so much time on hold, I didn’t want to hang up. You work at something for so long, you kinda —
Dispatcher: Mrs. Causey, did you do something to your husband?
Mrs. Causey: It was a reaction. He threatened me. Threatened me while you kept me waiting, too. Maybe you got it on some recording there — could use it for evidence. [Sound of dragging resumes.]
Dispatcher: Mrs. Causey, are you moving the body? Step away from the body. Don’t touch any of the fluids.
Mrs. Causey: Well, I could hardly avoid that. It’s everywhere.
Dispatcher: I’m sending someone now. Is your husband breathing?
Mrs. Causey: No more, he isn’t. [Groans.]
Dispatcher: Stay calm, Mrs. Causey. Don’t do anything more until help arrive.
Mrs. Causey: [Groans.] That’s not me. He’s moving. Oh, God, he’s moving.
Dispatcher: Try to keep him still. They’re about five minutes away.
Mrs. Causey: Still? He was already still. [Groans.] Arthur? Stay down! [Drops phone. Banging sound.] Stay the [unintelligible] down!
Dispatcher: [speaking over heavy thumps and crashes in the background] Mrs. Causey? Mrs. Causey? Tell me what’s happening.
Mrs. Causey: [shouting at dropped phone] He rose up. How could that have happened?
Dispatcher: Please try to stay calm. Help is on the way.
Mrs. Causey: If only you’d [unintelligible] my call sooner. You made me do it twice! You made me kill my husband twice!
[9-1-1 Transcript, First recorded call of the Zombie Apocalypse]
World’s First Computer Day
You thought you heard the rumble of a mail-delivery truck outside — a suspicion soon confirmed by a scuff and thump on your porch and the ring of your doorbell.
Funny. You don’t remember having placed an order.
When you check through the fish-eye peephole, you literally can’t see anything.
The driver has left a tall, flat rectangular package, leaning precariously in the entryway. As you carefully open the door, it’s almost like another door starts to fall into your home.
You catch it, maneuver the package inside.
At first you think the delivery must be a mistake, but you read your name and address on the shipping label. The return address lists a company named ENIAC. The initials seem familiar, but you can’t yet place them.
On a whim, you stick your head out the front door and check the street. Several houses down, you see a white delivery van with ENIAC stenciled on the side in blue letters. A driver carries a similar, door-shaped box to that household, balances the package on the porch, rings the bell, then mechanically returns to his vehicle.
On either side of you and across the street, your neighbors have a similar package leaning against their front doors.
Now your curiosity is piqued. You lower the box to the floor. The depth of the door-shaped box is only about four inches. You run your fingers beneath the top flap to break the glued seal, then reach inside to remove a bar of insulating Styrofoam.
As you begin to slide the main item from the box, you remember what the initials stand for. Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. This was the official name for the machine that newspapers in 1946 had dubbed the “Giant Brain.” It was among the first programmable, general-purpose computers — a grouping of panels, circuits, and wires that covered vast stretches of wall space at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering.
Annually, the University celebrates ENIAC Day, or “World’s First Computer Day,” on February 15.
A single panel of ENIAC would be about the size of the item packaged in the box you’re now opening. (But, of course, the functionally of the original machine, in today’s advanced technology, could be reproduced on a microchip — or on a simple cell phone app.)
The item you pull from the box isn’t an ENIAC panel. It’s a flat, smooth rectangle, metallic on the bottom, and glass on top. At first you think it is a door-length mirror, because you see your reflection in it.
You lift the mirror, and position it vertically against the wall.
Your reflection is wearing the same clothes as you, the same black-framed glasses and mussed hair.
But you wonder — how can you actually be looking at it, if your reflection’s eyes are closed?
You play the pantomime mirror game, waving your hands. The reflection also waves its hands, but there’s a strobe effect to the motion. You do an awkward dance, which your reflection copies and does not improve upon. You step out of the frame and back in. The reflection, its eyes still closed, follows suit.
It can’t be a mirror. The only solution is that this is some kind of oversized tablet, programmed to project your life-sized image, to follow your movements.
But how had the device been programmed in advance?
Are there photo-sensors on the bevel? Hidden microphones and speakers?
As you lean closer to inspect the device, the reflection opens its eyes.
The eyes are the correct color, but they appear soulless. The reflection doesn’t blink.
You feel your mouth curling into an ironic smile, then realize your facial muscles haven’t budged. The reflection is smiling.
“Welcome to the Great Brain,” your reflection says, its mouth moving in a close match to the formed syllables. It. He. Sounds exactly like you.
“In celebration of World’s First Computer Day, we announce: The World’s First You Day”
You can practically hear the trademark symbol in the mimicked voice.
“Congratulations.” Your doppelganger’s eyes finally blink; an approximation of soul rushes into them. “You are now obsolete.”
An image of other cardboard boxes fills your fading mind — dominoes tipping over in turn as lives blink out, as digital souls blink open.
Some spiteful magic took away our ability to love.
Cards in red envelopes remain undelivered; long-stemmed roses wilt in flower shop windows. Boxes covered in red foil gather dust on drug store shelves.
Messages fade on hard, chalky candy: the Conversation Hearts, instead of “Kiss Me” or “Be Mine,” might as well say “Let’s Not” and “Go Away.”
As some scientists and philosophers have argued, love is a survival instinct, encouraging us to perpetuate the species. Many people hope that only the symbols have disappeared — the merchandise with simple poetry, rather than the deep emotions they pretend to represent.
Unfortunately, that wish is unfounded. Any cursory look at how we treat each other proves the point.
However, there is a silver lining.
Not all of us look forward to Valentine’s Day. February 14 has been an annually recurring insult to those among us who have never known love. If our days are incomplete, they are not always unpleasant.
We are here to reassure you:
People will continue to share homes, in order to defray costs. They will split chores, gather to share food and drink.
Societies will still create and raise children.
Life will go on.
It’s not the end of the world. It really isn’t.
World Radio Day
You don’t recognize the language coming from your radio speaker, but a frantic lilt in the woman’s voice seems intent on conveying an urgent message.
As with any foreign language, you try to find syllables that might share meanings with English. You hear a word like “neech,” which makes you think of negative or bad, followed by a rhythmic progression that reminds you of counting.
The radio’s set to an all-music station, so the broadcast puzzles you at first. You twist the dial to another of your pre-sets, expecting a morning dose of classic rock.
It’s the same voice on that station, too. And on the third station.
You’re about to get angry, but the “neech” voice fades. Instead of a drumbeat or power chords, another foreign voice repeats an urgent message…or, more likely, the same message in different syllables. A man this time, and he seems fixated on the syllable “bit.”
Switching to pre-sets five and six, you hear the same man: bit! bit! bit!
That broadcast fades, but another foreign broadcast resumes — this time, the voice of a child. The boy or girl sing-songs as if repeating a nursery rhyme, and you listen for references to a Grimm or Aesop animal.
Suddenly, you realize what is going on. Today is designated as “World Radio Day,” and the different stations must be cooperating to convey a positive global message in multiple languages. In 2015 the theme was Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment; 2016 celebrated Youth and Radio.
You hope a familiar language cycles around, so you can decipher this year’s theme.
As if in answer, the child’s voice fades, and a familiar accent resumes the broadcast. The man speaks in Spanish, which you studied for a year in high school. Not enough to comprehend full sentences, but you still remember the basics: food items, days of the week, numbers.
And the tension in the man’s voice is enough to break through any language barrier.
The easiest, rhythmic part for you to translate proves you’d been correct earlier. Some of the broadcast is counting, and the progression of numbers comes through clearly. The one thing you hadn’t realized earlier is that the numbers are being spoken in reverse.
And that’s when you hear the theme of this year’s global broadcast: Apocalipsis
The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2–3 ft) most disgusting, clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. — Somebody calls them “imps of darkness”. — Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary, cited @ darwin-online.org.uk
Louder than the lizard’s footfall is the drag and slither of its clumsy belly.
From blocks away, the Chaser hears the rumble. Pieces of pavement and small trees drag along with the scaled body. Frames of parked cars grind noisily beneath the lazy weight.
And the shouts and screams of people trying to avoid the lizard’s lumbering path.
The Chaser notes the large blip on his dashboard radar, but the locating-equipment is no longer necessary. He can see the trail of destruction ahead: the lizard has followed the path of least resistance, down the two lanes of High Street.
In former days, the Chaser had followed extreme weather events, with an active tornado as the elusive prize. He’d reached the site of two funnel clouds, and had forwarded ground data to weather authorities, but the primary goal was dramatic video footage. And the thrill.
A tornado produced a similar rumble — wind and roar, crash and crunch of surrounding property. Dark clouds compounded the menace, as the atmosphere literally crackled with danger. Hurricanes received a human name; tornados, unpredictable, were often described as if they were living things.
But a Lizard actually was a living thing. To get close to it, look into the actual eye of this giant, lumbering creature, was a more dangerous, fulfilling mission.
The Chaser drove his jeep within sight of the Lizard’s tail.
The tail extended for two city blocks. It was gray, thick as a cement pipeline.
Further ahead, the Lizard’s body expanded into the space between two office buildings.
It was stuck.
No room to drive past on either side, so the Chaser grabbed his camcorder and exited the jeep to continue on foot.
The giant tail lifted into the air and smacked down on the asphalt, jolting the road beneath the Chaser’s feet. Clawed legs scratched aimlessly at the ground and the air, as the huge torso wriggled from side to side.
Pieces of the Mutual Trust Building began to crumble and fall. On the other side of the street, the three top stories of InTact Communications began to shake over the finned, scaled, and warted body.
The Chaser aimed his camera, and the Lizard was crushed beneath the smoke and rubble of falling buildings. The torso ceased expanding and contracting with the Lizard’s breaths.
Good footage, but he’d hoped the Lizard would have stayed alive a bit longer.
A crackle sounded on his Talkie. “Another one downtown.” The Chasers were often in competition for the best sightings and footage, but they still helped each other out by sharing information. “A really big imp. Maybe Category 4.”
They called them imps, after Darwin’s diary reference to “imps of darkness” — even though they’d grown too large for the imp label. The Lizards had evolved, and crawled out of the darkness.
The Chaser headed back to his jeep, entered the coordinates for his next pursuit.