Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I don’t know how to start things.
Partly, I think, that’s because I don’t know where this all…started. Began?
I’ll start with me. I’m 25, working from home for a call center. It’s an alright gig. I have a client on my computer that works kind of like Skype, it catches hundreds of calls and funnels them to available employees, keeps them on hold if the lines are busy, we even have a panic button to send complaint calls to supervisors. Most of MY job is to call out, debt collection, legal harassment pretty much. It’s pretty foolproof and I make do.
This is harder than I thought it would be.
So, I work nights mostly, from 4pm to around 11pm. I’m not paid per call or anything, but since not a lot of people want to work a depressing call-center job during the best part of the day, I feel like I’m less likely to suddenly get canned as “unneccessary”. I got used to staying in, and it’s not like it was hard. I could have my groceries delivered, basic essentials? No problem. And I may not have been rich but a little shipping and handling wouldn’t drive me out on the street.
I keep writing these paragraphs. And deleting them. And writing them again. I’m half tempted to just write “I’m so scared” a million times and post it on every page that loads but I don’t want this to look like I’m some idiot troll. Hell, maybe I’m just a basketcase. I don’t know which is worse. I don’t know even know if this is worth it, but.
Here I am.
These things always start small, don’t they? I live in a cul-de-sac of apartments, pretty cheap, I’ve got a studio near the, uh, sac? I don’t actually know what that’s called and I can’t exactly look it up now, can I? Well that means my bedroom faces the street and I’m on the second floor so I can see pretty much everything. Usually that’s just cars, kids, people getting their mail, an errant bird. Lately there have been less cars, and I know that’s a dumb thing to notice but I live next to an elementary school, like it’s across the street. Everyday, starting at about 2pm the parents start to line up, jockeying for the closest spot to snatch their kids up and run the hell home. But lately it’s been less and less cars, and when they leave, there are less still parked on the street.
I should have been nosy. I should have imposed, should have gone out and asked someone, WHY? I used to feel lonely, sure. Isolated, maybe. But never like I was trapped. Not like this.
So, cars! Less of them. I mean that’s where it starts but I don’t know, maybe the school is awful, or this is another one of those “the teachers are boning students again” stories. We can rationalize anything when we really want to. Until more things change.
I have a TV in my room, mostly for white noise, though it has a ps3 hooked up to it. I have these rabbit ear antennae though and they work, I get all my basic channels; ABC, FOX, PBS, The CW, CBS, generic stuff, you know? But I get weird channels too, the ones that constantly rerun old 60’s and 70’s sitcoms. I mean every night it’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and “H.R. Pufnstuf” for gods sake. Well that went next.
Yeah, I know, TV antenna in the age of cable and everything. I mean, it’s to be expected but it’s…How do I even explain this. The news went first. The news blocks; 4pm, 5am, etc, they would just be dead air, while the reruns would just cycle endlessly to themselves. Google didn’t have any insight for me, so I figured my rabbit ears had finally gone the way of the Dodo, it sucked but what are you gonna do?
It was just so gradual. Subtle. I don’t know if I was supposed to do something, was I supposed to leave when everyone else did? I never saw moving trucks, did they just grab the dog, pick up the kids and hightail it? I’m too…I can’t. I try to crane my neck to see out my window, I try to open my door out into the hall, but I can’t. I need to know if anyone’s even in my building but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to scream. I can’t do anything.
God. You know, I’d think we’d been invaded, but then at least there’d be something. Or at least, you know, signs. Right?
All of our phones have FM radio receivers built into them, and that’s where it got weird for me. I was getting radio, loud and clear but it was just songs. JUST songs. Songs and commercials cycling for hours. A song would end and the silence would go on a little longer, and I’d think “this is it, the DJ is finally going to appear.” And then another song would play. Or another bog-standard commercial. “Go to target, buy some toothpaste.” I should have mentioned it. To someone. This had been going on for about a week when something gave out.
4pm came about. Tuesday. I sat down at my computer desk with my ice water, put on the headset, and clocked in through the client. I usually have about 20 seconds before I hear the beep that says I have a call, or that I need to make one. It just never came. Never. Four in the afternoon until after eleven. Just silence. I made it until 5pm rolled around before I clicked the line to one of my supervisors lines. The client beeped at me saying it was connected. It was RINGING, I know it was, but no one picked up.
You ever go in to work, or even school, before they open for the first time or long after they close. When you’re alone in a building that usually feels crowded and sweltering, but is suddenly cavernous. The light streams in through the wrong windows. Or not at all. It’s not…right.
I sent off some emails. This wasn’t exactly a great job but I didn’t want to risk a job search right now. Maybe my client was messed up? Was my computer? I mean the emails were sending. I could open websites; Youtube, Reddit, Pornhub, don’t judge me. I don’t exactly have the werewithal to date.
Not even the internet was safe. I think the more I saw, the less there was. By now the streets were barren. A single car near the mouth of the street, I don’t drive so I had nothing to break up the desolation. I don’t even know if school is still in. My tv is. Every channel is just a still image and silence. On Channel 8 a commercial is frozen, a women points a box of cough medicine at a child as though it’s a gun. Channel 10, an episode of Arthur but the center of the screen is ruptured by static, so the cartoon anteaters head is a foot away from his body. ABC is just the peacock logo on a black background, no words, no sound. On another channel Lucille Ball sits in a window in black and white. I don’t know what she’s looking at, the camera is facing her and she looks almost sad. Behind her Desi Arnaz looms, he looks like he is in midstep, half-way out of a doorway, his eyes locked on Lucy.
I’ve been taking notes. I check these channels every day and they never change. A scene of a soccer match (yes, soccer, sue me.), but it’s not frozen mid-action. The camera is positioned so I can only see the field but every single player is just…standing there. As if they’re all waiting for something, the glaring sodium lights leaving each player surrounded by their own shadows.
Billy Mays frozen mid-shout, both hands in a tub of roiling water. I’m assuming it’s oxyclean but there’s nothing else on screen. Just the bellicose salesman, brow slightly furrowed, driving something into the frothy water? Holding something there? I’m paranoid, I know I am but just because I assume the worst doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
This is longer than I thought it would be but I need you, You, whoever you are reading this, I need you to know I’m not insane. I haven’t lost my grip on reality. And that terrifies me because I don’t know what reality is doing right now.
I said the internet wasn’t safe, right?
By now I had my radio alarm clock going at all times, even just playing low. The DJ’s never came back. Just loops of music, the occassional commercial. Go somewhere. Buy something.
You ever google something and just for shits and giggles, start looking past that first page? There are always like a million, right? Just going on forever until it turns into gibberish, not even loosely connected with your original search. Like being in school alone. There was no second page. Hell, most of the links on the first would just dead end. I was so sure I had a virus or something, I even bought a years subscription to that Avast Premier thing, the expensive one. A system restore from several months ago, a boot scan. Everything I could think to do or could find, I did. It got worse.
Dead images hogged channels on my TV, the radio sang to itself and entropy swallowed the internet.
I never liked to be alone in a big empty room. You ever find a dead subreddit? I’m sorry, I don’t know how to get all this down. I don’t know if any of this is just in my head.
I’m not crazy.
Youtube is as bad as the TV; the rare videos that load are just a still image, silent, with a scrolling seek bar. Thumbnails aren’t showing properly and the more I click around channels, looking for SOMETHING…sometimes the channel will just die. I’ll refresh, back up, anything and it’s just more of the same. “An Error Has Occured.” Hulu started doing it, start an episode and the rest would vanish. The streetlights still come on outside. I thought I heard a dog barking, it was a Purina ad. The Purina website doesn’t load. It just puts up a picture of a dog and the font freaks out, climbing off the screen to the right.
I’m rambling, but I haven’t slept much. I’m afraid to leave my lights on at night, no other windows are lit at night, no one else has a light over their door. The hallway, through my peephole, is pitch black. Did you ever see that…I think it was Twilight Zone, they showed us in school, fucking Christ. The power goes out in a neighborhood, except for one house with a new family. Soon everyone becomes suspicious, until finally the neighbors band together and burn down the single, powered house, figuring they must be communist sympathizers or something. But it was all just a misunderstanding. I’ve taken to hanging up a sheet, trying to block my window.
According to Outlook I’ve sent 938 emails. No one has replied. I made posts on Reddit. I even dug up my account to the Bethesda forum. Made 8 goddamn topics. No views, didn’t get locked or banned. The forum just stopped opening in a viewable fashion yesterday. Or the day before. I just want
I’m not crazy.
I tried ordering, you know, Amazon, groceries, even tried ordering a damn book for the kindle app, for a bit it would take my money but nothing ever came of it. I would wait. Hope. But no one ever comes. I waited too long, after that first week. My phone doesn’t dial out. 911 just says they’re busy, “Please try again, or use the non-emergency line.”
The non-emergency line picks up. But there’s no one there. I can only imagine it’s automated to start recording in case no one is there to answer. I’ve talked so much I barely recognize the sound of my own voice.
I’m out of food. The taps still run, so I’ve got that going for me. The radio stopped playing today. Man in the Box by Alice in Chains was followed by…that was 6 hours ago.
Have you ever called someone and, awkwardly, they answered but didn’t speak. You know someone’s there, listening, even if you’re not sure how you know? I had to unplug the radio. The sunlight makes my room feel too big, as though i’ve never truly seen it empty.
But it’s better than night. There are no cars and the apartments are silent and dead. Not, unoccupied. They sit there like dead things, festering with…things. Like rats living in a hollowed out ribcage.
I tried to go out today, I’m not entirely sure of the time, it’s cloudy, but just touching the door knob I thought I was going to vomit up my empty stomach. I make no sound and desperately strain to hear any noise and I thought I was alone. And now I know something out there is just doing the same, waiting to hear a noise. Waiting for someone to break the silence and speak into the phone. I know it was an hour ago.
But I saw someone.
Bile in the back of my throat, head pounding, I know I’m not seeing things. Through my peephole, I can see the door across from me and there’s someone there. Standing. Facing my neighbors door. I can’t make much out in the dimness.
I’ve uploaded this where I could. I hear it out there though it doesn’t make a sound. I hear it listening. In a moment, I’m going to turn off my computer.
Sick or no, I have no food. I haven’t slept.
I’m going to go out there.
I don’t know how to finish things.