The world has gone to shit. And we are all responsible.
It happened so fast. One day we were all minding our own business. Going to school. Going to work. Going to church. Staying at home watching television. Sleeping in. Smoking pot. Begging for spare change. Climbing mountains. Working out. Making business deals. Doing whatever it is that we do.
Then one day, it all came to an end.
For most of us, that is.
When The Singularity began, it happened so quickly we couldn’t keep up. Cities shut down. Militaries were derailed. Police forces were left impotent. World leaders were kept in the dark. Electrical power grids everywhere failed. And the rest of us were left confused, scared, and ill prepared for the fallout.
To this day, I still do not know what caused The Singularity. Was it an ingenious computer hacker? A virus? A techno-terror attack? A vast conspiracy? The work of a doomsday cult? An act of God? Or really, really, really, really, really bad luck?
And we’ll probably never find out.
The Singularity destroyed 86 percent of the world’s population. Some died by diseases. Most died by starvation or a lack of access to clean drinking water. The rest died by civil wars that tore countries apart. Many of these wars are still going on, despite the fact any rational person should know that fighting each other is a useless and counterproductive endeavor at this point. The survivors are scattered throughout the planet, scavenging for food and making ad hoc alliances whenever it’s mutually advantageous.
It’s been fourteen months since The Singularity struck our planet. Or is it fifteen months? I lose track of these things. Time doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s funny. Not too long ago I was a hot shot attorney at one of the most powerful law firms in America. I used to dine on happy hour steak tartare and champagne after work. Today, I have to resort to eating dandelions and the carcasses of stray cats in order to survive. The fine line between prosperity and depravity is miniscule. Life is a tragedy and William Shakespeare is spinning around in his grave. Or pointing at us and laughing his ass off.
I still live in America. Well, I think the country I reside in is still called that. Traditional political structures cease to exist. There is no government. There is no United Nations to bail us out. There are no institutions that will save us. We are alone.
Today, I’m trudging through a wasteland that used to be called New York City. It’s taken me about four weeks to get here. It’s weird. Most of the buildings are still standing. A few have been destroyed by arsonists. Looters have stolen most of the things that are of real value. I think I’m in Brooklyn. I visited NYC once when I was in college. But that was many years ago. Back then life was carefree. We thought we were living in Golden Times. Hell, compared to right now those were Golden Times. Damn. I should have appreciated it when I had the chance.
I think I’m close to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. I just saw a sign that said something about Pier 12. Right in front of me is a beaten down brick house. The front door is wide open. I figured there isn’t a scrap of food left in there. So far I’ve seen a small handful of people meandering around. Maybe eight or nine total. They’re all like me. Emaciated, aimless, and emotionally numb. How can you feel anything anymore? It doesn’t make sense.
Next to the brick house is a small building that looks to have been a daycare center at one point. I can guarantee you no one is in here. Very few people are having babies anymore. All the hospitals have shut down. I’m tired and need a nap. I’m sure this place has spare blankets I can snag for the time being.
The door is locked. I lean against it to see if my bodyweight can nudge it open. It doesn’t. Across the street I spot an aluminum baseball bat sitting on an overgrown lawn. Perfect! Some little leaguer must’ve left it there. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I borrowed it momentarily. Heck, he and his family are probably either dead or hundreds of miles away from here.
On the side of the building is a window that is cracked but still intact. I approach it and eyeball its structure. It appears to be an old window that should shatter pretty easily. I take a cautious step back, breathe deeply, raise the bat above my head, and swing as hard as I can.
One swing is all it takes. Indeed, this is one really old window. A newer weatherproofed window with glass an inch thick would take several attempts to even crack it, never mind shatter it. Carefully, I climb into the building and try to avoid getting cut. Once inside, I look at my hands and see my left thumb and right index finger are bleeding slightly.
I see out of the corner of my eye a first-aid kit sitting on a shelf. This is a daycare center, after all! I open it and find bandages, disinfectant wipes, strips of gauze, and a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. Jackpot! I should keep these things. You never know when you’ll need it.
In the toy room there’s an empty SpongeBob SquarePants backpack lying on the floor. Embarrassed, I place the first-aid kit inside it and sling it across my shoulder. I mean, who cares that I’m walking around with a kiddie backpack? It’s not like I’m eating my own shit, which I just saw a bunch of old guys do about an hour ago. That made me sick to my stomach.
Now I need to find some blankets. Winter is coming. It’s early November, I think. We’re only a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, an American holiday that we don’t really celebrate anymore. At least, nobody I know still celebrates it. Soon, the days and (especially) nights will get cold. Blisteringly cold. So cold one could almost freeze to death. The first winter after The Singularity struck was brutal. Many people died from that alone. Including my sister, her husband, and my three nephews. They had the misfortune of living in a suburb of Chicago. Last winter was unforgiving. It was harsh. Fucking cold weather.
“If I were a blanket, where would I be hiding?” Nobody will answer my question of course, but it’s worth asking anyway.
Down the hallway I see a door that appears to lead to a storage closet. Bingo! That’s what I’m looking for. Still carrying the aluminum bat, I’m guessing I can simply twist the doorknob and it’ll open right up. Unless this too is locked. Which I hope is not the case.
Thankfully, the door cooperates and is not locked. It is in fact a storage closet. I’m surprised this hasn’t been raided yet. I guess today is my lucky day. Inside are sleeping mats, pillows, rolls of toilet paper, large bottles of water, a fire extinguisher, and…
They’re all small, which is not a bad thing. It’s not like I’m going to share it with anyone. My girlfriend and I got separated after The Singularity hit. I haven’t seen her since then. I wonder if she’s still alive. I somehow doubt it. She was never the “survivor” type, even though she loved the show.
I gather three baby blue blankets, blow off the dust that has accumulated around it, and stuff them into my SpongeBob backpack. I also grab a bottle of water for good measure. Always stay hydrated, even in a post-apocalyptic nightmarish landscape such as where we are.
Exiting the building is a lot easier than entering it. I unlock the front door and simply stroll out like I own the place. No new cuts on my hands. Thank God. Once outside, I see the sun drifting lazily over the horizon. It’ll be dark soon. Probably in an hour and a half from now. Or less. It’s time to get to shelter. I found a place in Queens near JFK Airport that used to be a 5-star hotel. A larger-than-normal band of survivors have made it into a makeshift shelter. It’s pretty sweet. The food and water supply are surprisingly abundant – relatively speaking. There are a few beds left unoccupied. It’s fairly peaceful. We’ve reached the point where fighting is no longer a problem. We need each other more than we can allow petty differences to tear us apart. It’s kind of cool how in the face of extreme circumstances human beings finally learn how to co-exist peacefully. Too bad it has to be under extreme circumstances, though.
I think I know where I’m going. Just walk along the water until I hit the Howard Beach neighborhood. Then I head north on Cross Bay Boulevard until I hit Pitkin Avenue. Then I…
“Hey! You there!”
I stop dead in my tracks. The SpongeBob backpack still slung over my shoulder, I turn toward the source of the voice. It’s female. But deep enough that it could possibly be a guy. At first, I don’t see anybody. The road is desolate, but that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t be lurking in the shadows.
“Who is it? Am I trespassing? What’s the problem?” I call back.
“Seriously. I mean no harm! I’m just a guy trying to survive, like the rest of us. Where are you? Show yourself, please!”
Still, no response. Just silence. This is eerie. And uncomfortable.
Suddenly, I see the figure of a person standing next to a telephone pole. As I turn toward him or her to say something, I feel a cold blade touch my throat. That makes me freeze. My heart is pounding. A strong hand grips my left forearm and twists it behind my back. I gasp. My knees buckle and I fall helplessly to the ground.
“Wha…what’s going on?” I’m desperate for an answer. Whoever it is, it must be a guy because they have me in the strongest grapple I’ve ever been in since my high school wrestling days.
“Are you one of them?” No doubt, the voice sounds female. But how the hell can a woman be so fucking strong?
“No, I’m not. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who’s this “them” you’re referring to?”
My attacker lets go of my arm and walks in front of me so I can see them. They still have the knife pointed straight at my throat. One false move and they can slit it and make me bleed to death. I am at her mercy.
“I didn’t think so, but I can never be too careful,” my attacker replies. Indeed, it is a woman! She’s wearing a dark brown leather jacket that looks as worn as a leather jacket like that should be. Along with ripped jeans, black boots, a gray skull cap, and a utility belt – she’s dressed like how a Hollywood producer would think a post-apocalyptic gangster should dress. She’s husky, which could mean either she’s fat but hides it well or her clothes are too big for her.
“Who the fuck are you? And what’s your name?”
Still on my knees, I look up and try to answer her questions in a calm and rational manner. “My name is Preston. I’m from Washington D.C. but now I don’t live anywhere. I’m a scavenger just like everybody else.” She seems like she’s buying my story, which is 100 percent true, by the way. “I just arrived in New York earlier this morning. I was walking around looking for blankets and stuff. I found some in an abandoned daycare center a block away from here.”
I point in the direction of the daycare center. Smartly, she doesn’t look away from me and continues to threateningly point the knife near my carotid artery.
“Maybe that’s true, or maybe not. I don’t know for sure. My name is Kathya. Have you ever heard of me?” I nod my head “no.” She seems to believe it. “Okay, have you ever heard of the Daughters of Athena?”
“No. Never heard of it, Kathya.”
Upon hearing me say her name, Kathya’s head turns slightly to her side. She doesn’t blink and stares directly into my weary eyes. I sense a small smile crack her militant façade. Then, she grabs my hand and pulls me up to my feet. She notices blood dripping from my right index finger.
“We have to get out of here. Now. The Daughters of Athena isn’t popular in these parts. My very presence here could spark an all-out gang war. Hurry!” And with that, Kathya takes my hand and sprints toward an abandoned pub. I struggle to keep up. Not only is she strong, but she’s also fast! She opens the door with a small key she takes out from her utility belt. Before I can catch my breath, Kathya pulls me into the building and slams the door shut. She locks it. I look around and see an empty bar that’s clearly been robbed of all its booze. Not even a spare chair can be seen.
“Follow me, Preston.”
Damn. Hearing her say my name brings shivers down my spine. It’s been a long time since I’ve engaged in such a lengthy conversation with a woman. Kathya isn’t very pretty, but she’s sturdy and confident – which can make someone appear more physically beautiful than the really are. Kathya leads me down a dark hall. At the end, we go into the bathroom. The toilet is gone, but that doesn’t matter since it doesn’t appear we’re here to take a joint piss. Kathya opens the bathroom cabinet hanging over the space where the toilet used to be, revealing a 10-digit security keypad.
“What the fuck?”
“Don’t tell anybody that this is here, got it?” She enters several digits. A “ding” sound comes from the ceiling. Then, Kathya walks over to the south-facing wall and pushes against it. A mysterious door opens. My jaw drops to the floor, metaphorically speaking. It leads down a long flight of stairs. But I’m still standing here, frozen and totally in shock.
“Yes, I know this is a lot for you to take in right now. But follow me, please.” I take a small step toward the door but stop. What the fuck is going on right now –
“Uh, yes ma’am! I’m coming…” I follow her meekly down the staircase. It’s dimly lit, but thankfully there’s railing on both sides. I grab onto both rails and slowly descend. The door closes behind us without any of us doing anything to close it. What the hell is this place?
“This building used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition times,” Kathya explains. “The upstairs room used to be a diner that served meatloaf and cold potato salad. But downstairs is where flapper girls and rich Wall Street bankers used to party all night, get drunk, and have wild orgies till dawn. Even before The Singularity fucked up all of humanity, this speakeasy was a haven for radicals, extremists, and social outcasts. People like me.”
We stop at the bottom of the staircase. Up ahead is another short hallway. At the end is a large, imposing stone door.
“A speakeasy, you say? That’s neat. I’ve read about them but never actually visited one.” My head is indeed swimming with a lot of new information. Not only is there some kind of radical underground street gang living here, they appear to be in some kind of turf war with another rival gang. How cool is that?
“Is there a secret password to get in through that door? Or do we need to enter another pass code?” I point to the stone door ahead of us.
“Unfortunately Preston, you aren’t going through that door.” Kathya has a look of regret on her face. I cannot figure out why and am about to ask her about it, until I feel a powerful blow against the back of my head.
I fall to the floor and immediately pass out, knocked out cold.
To be continued