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Thriller Speculative Adventure

The TV wasn’t on mute but I couldn’t hear it beyond the wall of lo-fi hip-hop on my headphones. I didn’t know why Maureen still had a TV — it wasn’t even a smart TV and she never watched it — but, whatever the reason was, she was watching it now.

I was on the table by the bed, with my back to the TV, working on a drawing. The project was due next week. She was sitting on the bed in a strange position, her chin resting on her knee, her bare leg crossed on top of the other one, which was dangling on the side of the bed. She was wearing only an old sweater and pink panties, her orange hair in a bun. When we had first gotten together I found her style cool and sexy. I didn’t know why, but lately, it was becoming just annoying.

I was wearing a black t-shirt and a long skirt. You know, fully clothed — like a normal person.

The music cut off in the middle of a song and the sound from the TV invaded my mental space. It was the news. The voice was monotonous, the audio quality terrible. I checked my phone to see why the music had stopped. The internet was down.

Maureen put her cold hand over mine, eyes fixed on the TV across the small room. I felt an instinctive urge to move my hand away, but I didn’t.

“The internet is down, right?” she asked without looking at me.

“How do you know?”

“It’s on the news,” she said. “Satellites are off.”

“Wow, good old TV,” I said. “So their top story is about the internet being down?” I asked, taking off the headphones and looking at the TV. The signal was weak, the reception was worse than it would’ve been if we were watching TV fifty years ago. The image was leaving the screen through the top and coming back from the bottom. I didn’t recognize the channel.

“It’s not just internet satellites,” Maureen said. “It’s like, all of them.”

“How come?”

“Solar storm or some biz.”

The man kept speaking on the TV. His face was discolored and dancing up and down on the distorted image, his voice almost unintelligible.

“Why is the image so bad?” I asked.

“Cable is out but the antenna still works. We’re lucky to have this old TV.”

I laughed and she shushed me. The man was speaking.

“... so far we’ve contacted seventeen states over landline and the reports are all the same: all modern means of communication are down due to the massive outage from satellite services. This seems to be…”

The TV lost the signal and the image disappeared for a second, black and white dots peppering the screen, flickering frantically. Maureen squeezed my hand. The TV came back to life.

“... all around the globe, as it seems. There are countless reports of emergency landings and many deaths, as planes lost GPS signal. GPS has also left delivery drivers lost, and ships, planes, and engineering activities that depend on weather forecast are having setbacks, while time-dependent systems can’t agree on the simplest thing: what exact time it is.

“Banks and stock markets have been affected as well and have closed earlier as they were unable to continue operating. Banks seem to have mismatching data about transactions, which have caused billions of dollars to be lost in this computer failure. Some stores are still open but most owners decided to close earlier and wait for services to return as all credit card transactions are unavailable. These reports started yesterday, late at night, and the backup systems have been trying to keep things running, but it seems the outage has reached a critical level and has been slowly cascading down to …” The TV lost the signal again.

I got up, leaving Maureen’s hand.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To the window,” I said. “It’s fine.”

“Jane,” she said in a low voice, “is it really?”

“Yeah,” I told her. “Put on some pants, Molly.”

She snorted. “Fuck off!” She disentangled her long legs. “I don’t complain when you walk around in your panties.”

“That’s because I don’t,” I said, approaching the window. People seemed to be in a hurry down there, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Maureen’s apartment was in the busiest part of the city, which meant getting in and out was hell, but for that same reason it was cheap — it was also cheap because it was about the size of an airplane bathroom.

From up here, I could see most of the city and a good stretch of the highway up north, beyond rows and rows of gray buildings and before the infinite ocean of green suburbs. The main ramp to leave the city was starting to get busy.

“I’m gonna call mom,” Maureen said, getting up from the bed and dropping the blankets on the floor. She searched for her phone on the table, moving my pencils and my drawings around and dropping some of my stuff on the floor. Those drawings were important, but she didn’t care.

“It’s not gonna work,” I said weakly, my voice swallowed by the white noise from the TV without signal.

I looked down the street and found my car — a yellow Corolla from the 90s called Blondie — parked in the spot which had taken me almost an hour to find. Some people were banging on the doors of a closed store.

“Molly,” I turned from the window, “do we have any cash?”

She didn’t listen. She had her phone already glued to her ear and was pacing around in the room, biting her nails. The TV still screamed white noise from the top of the counter, sharing its space with the leftover pizza Maureen was supposed to have cleaned up. The counter served as the only wall separating the bedroom from the kitchen — which was used for anything but preparing food. I turned off the TV.

“Molly!”

She looked.

“Do we have any cash?”

She pointed to the drawers in the counter and went back to pacing. She took her phone from her ear, tapped on the screen, swiped, and back to the ear it went.

“My phone still has some signal,” she said, “but the call doesn’t connect.”

“Molly, baby,” I said, going through the messy drawers, looking for cash, “it won’t connect.”

I found about fifty bucks and a handful of coins. I grabbed all of it and stuffed it in my pockets.

“Well, it might work,” Maureen said, “the TV was still worki- hey! That’s my money!”

I went to her, took her phone from her hand, and put it on the counter by the pizza. I grabbed her small hands and looked into her deep, blue eyes.

“Maureen,” I said. “You know the country we live in. Things might get a bit crazy until everything comes back to normal.” She looked at me with worried eyes and nodded slowly. “We’ll go down to your mom’s house and stay with her for a while. Credit cards are not working so we might need cash. Grab some stuff and let’s just go, okay?”

She swallowed. “Are you sure it’s gonna be okay?”

I smiled. “You know me,” I said. “I’m never sure. But yeah, sure.”

She smiled. “Okay.”

I kissed her tender lips and she hugged me. The kiss was dry. The hug was stiff.

I looked for my keys under the pillows. Then, I went through the bundle of blankets on the floor, until I finally heard the noise. I unwrapped the keys and threw the blankets back on the bed. I grabbed my drawings and threw my backpack over my shoulder.

I had moved in a couple of months ago, but I still kept my stuff in my backpack. Having your entire life packed to go would prove useful once again.

I walked to the door and looked back, hand on the knob. Maureen was standing right behind me, her purse hanging on her shoulder and a duffle bag in her hand.

I just stared.

“What you lookin at?” she said. “Come on, bitch, let’s go!”

“Maureen, for fuck’s sake! Put on some pants!”


#


“Maureen, what the fuck are you doing?” I yelled from the store’s door. There were at least five people involved in a fight behind me.

For the last couple of weeks, we had been staying at Molly’s mom’s. There was no one home when we got there — she probably was in the Caribbean with her boyfriend, who was about Maureen’s age — but we hadn’t had any trouble finding the key under the pot of dead English ivy. We ran out of food, so we came to the largest store in the area. It was closed but full of people.

I was hugging bags of canned food, and my backpack — which I had emptied in the car — was now full of whatever items I thought could be useful: rope, a lighter, a flashlight, batteries, walkie-talkies, and, of course, more canned food. Maureen was trying to open a refrigerator that was blocked by thrown-over shelves. It was full of soda bottles and she was squeezing an arm inside.

I walked to her and almost got hit by a woman who was leaving the store on a bike at full speed.

“Oh, man, look,” a guy said to his friend on one of the aisles, “they got bikes in here!”

“Shut up, dude,” his friend said. “We gotta find the guns.”

I got to Maureen and, when I called her name again, she turned, raising a baseball bat over her head, ready to smash my face.

“It’s me!” I yelled, covering my head and dropping the bags. “Jesus!”

She lowered the bat. “I’m sorry, babe.”

“What the fuck are you doing?” I said, grabbing the bags from the floor. “I asked you to help me get canned food!”

“Jane,” she smiled and pointed to the refrigerator. “It’s free soda.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Maureen,” I pushed the bags against her, “take these to the car. I’ll see if I can find a gun.” I grabbed the baseball bat and left while she stuttered.


#


The back of the store was empty, a different world from the madness in the front of the store. I walked slowly, holding the baseball bat over my head, being careful not to let it show over the shelves. The narrow aisles contained fishing equipment, hunting boots, hunting hats, and I even passed a mannequin wearing a full hunting outfit. But so far, no guns.

I kept walking with slow steps. This part of the store was so silent I missed the fights and the yelling. The overhead lamps were failing, some off, broken, some blinking. Some of the products had been taken from the shelves, and some of the shelves were broken. There had been fights here too.

I approached the corner at the end of the aisle, slow and silent steps. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest, the smell of my own sweat stinging my nostrils. I held the bat over my head with trembling hands, asking myself why the hell I came here. I didn’t know how to use a gun and I was more than certain Maureen didn’t know either. I wanted to turn back and walk away. The narrow aisles were getting me claustrophobic. 

Then, I froze. A man jumped from beyond the corner at the end of the aisle and came running, his body banged against the shelves on the right. His eyes were wide, desperate, his face pale, his mouth open. He fumbled through the shelves, trying to run away, dropping a dozen metal fishing boxes in the process.

The sound was so loud my heart stopped. I dropped the bat and threw my hands up. He ran to me, staring deep into my soul. For a second, I was exposed, defenseless. I tried to speak but I didn’t find any voice.

Then, he went past me, as if he had gone right through me. He just raced away from the corner. He tripped and fell over the mannequin, then he got to his feet and ran away.

I tried to catch my breath again. I put my hand to my chest and felt my heart banging around in there. Then, something touched my foot and, had I any voice in me, I would have screamed. It was the baseball bat.

The silence that followed was deafening. I took a deep breath, trying not to make any sound. I lowered myself to grab the bat. The lights were blinking on and off above my head.

As I touched the handle of the bat, I heard a loud bang. It was a shot, right at the other side of the shelves, in the aisle to my left, as loud and clear as I had ever heard. My left ear was ringing. I got so scared I stepped away, tripping on the bat and falling to the floor.

After that, the store was silent again. The only sound was the buzz of the lights turning on and off above me and the thumping of my heart. I didn’t move. Then, from below the shelves, I saw a puddle of a dark liquid slowly forming, coming from the other aisle. The lamp blinked on and the dark color became a shade of red, a dark red of desperation. The color of fear. The color of death. The color of the end of the world.

I just got up. I don’t know how, but I ran. I couldn't feel my legs, but I ran. I didn’t see anything on any of the shelves.

I just ran.


#


When I got to the front of the store, it was empty. I raced outside, and I saw Maureen leaning against Blondie, talking to a massive guy who was leaning against a Land Rover parked by my car. They were laughing.

“Oh, hey babe,” Maureen said when she saw me.

I ignored her and went to the driver’s seat.

“Someone... They're shooting people,” I puttered. “I just saw someone die! We have to go.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes but, please, Molly. Just get in the car. Let's go home.”

“Wait, babe, look,” she said. “This is Billie!”

I looked through the glass and Billie waved with huge muscles and a small smile.

“Maureen,” I said between my teeth, “who the fuck is Billie?”

She lowered herself and spoke in a low voice. “Billie is a big guy. We could take him back to my mom’s and he could protect us or something.”

I was befuddled. “What?”

“Babe, listen,” she said. “He has a gun and he doesn’t have anywhere to stay. I figure I could invite him over. Everyone wins!”

“Are you out of your mind?” I yelled. “We don’t know this guy! It’s the fucking apocalypse for all we know, and you’re simply ‘inviting him over’? Do you want to get raped?”

She looked at me as if I was embarrassing her in front of her new friend, which probably was how she saw the situation.

“Jane,” she said, “what’s the matter with you?”

“Wha- what’s the matter with me? I just saw a person fucking die! I mean, I didn’t see it but I heard it. And then… the blood… you have no idea what it was like! I thought I was gonna die!” The tears were coming but I kept them inside. “It was a traumatic fucking experience. You should be worried about me! You should be inside the car, by my side right now.” I couldn’t hold them inside anymore, but these were not tears of sadness. They were tears of anger, distress, anguish. “The world has gone crazy and you only care about yourself! We have to loot stores for food and instead of helping me all you can think to grab is soda. Now you want to invite Billie over? Fuck Billie! Just get in the car, please.”

Maureen crossed her arms and squeezed her eyes. “You’re being a real bitch right now.”

“I’m…?”

I looked at her blue eyes. Her beautiful, deep, blue eyes. Her innocent, ignorant eyes. I used to be in love with them. Now I couldn’t stand them. This had been coming for a long time now, and I knew it, I saw it, I felt it, but I didn’t want it to be true. Looking at her eyes now all I could think was how did it take this long?

“Maureen,” I said, “I’m sorry.”

“Well, you should be!” she said.

“No, I mean… this… it’s not working.” I looked beyond the windshield into the far horizon. It was waiting for me to go there and live something new. My backpack was on the back seat. Everything I owned was in the car. I started the engine.

“What do you mean?” Maureen asked.

“Take Billie back home.” The house key was on the passenger’s seat and I threw it to her chest. “It’s fine, really.”

She stepped back. “Fuck you, Jane! What do you want with all this?”

“It’s over.”

I floored Blondie and her tires screeched against the parking lot’s pavement. I drove to the highway and headed to the horizon. 

Human civilization was entering a new phase of its existence. It seemed appropriate that I did the same.


February 11, 2021 23:24

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26 comments

The Manticore
22:59 Feb 12, 2021

Read your winning one and every one thereafter but didn't like or comment or follow. Until now! Love this one, like all your others. It's vivid and tense, like a post apocalyptic story should be, so great there. Jane's and Molly's relationship could be explored further, especially the past and why jane leaves exactly. You only hint at tension until the end, and then she leaves, so it's abrupt. But well done on doing a romance on top of a thriller on top of a sci fi! We wrote a story this week for once, titled "The Box." It's about museums a...

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Fjc Montenegro
02:53 Feb 13, 2021

Hey, thanks for all the love! :) And thanks for pointing out about the characters' relationship. I guess I was seeing something I wasn't showing. I did a quick rewrite and hopefully it has more depth now. I'll check your stories as soon as possible. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

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Zilla Babbitt
22:28 Feb 12, 2021

My first question was going to be something like: Why in the world do they have cable service but no internet? Or all satellites out? But I think you explain that pretty decently, and the images are blurry, so there's that. The part in the store is close to thrilling if not all the way there. I would highlight the silence, the mc's heart beating loudly, the smell of sweat on skin, the way the bat trembles in the mc's hands... As to their relationship, setting aside the fact I thought they were sisters at first, I think you do that well. I...

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Fjc Montenegro
02:18 Feb 13, 2021

Oh wow, Zilla. Damn, these are all great suggestions! I'm doing a last-minute rewrite and adding a lot more depth to their relationship. And your tips about the scene in the store, geesh! I had basically forgotten human beings have five senses. I'm adding all of your suggestions! Thanks a lot for taking the time to read and leave this comment! You're always very kind and your critiques spot on. Very helpful. Thanks!

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Zilla Babbitt
19:19 Feb 16, 2021

Yeah, of course! Glad to help :)

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The Manticore
01:28 Feb 17, 2021

Hey Splinter! We're looking for a new member for the Manticore. We'd like four or more, down to three right now. No worries, it wouldn't be writing a novel every week. Lots of plagiarism and bantering involved haha. If you're interested, let us know and I'll link a Google doc to talk about logistics and things like that. If not, no prob!

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Fjc Montenegro
02:21 Feb 17, 2021

Oh boy (and/or girl), and a dilemma is presented! Well, I'm honored! And after writing hundreds of words about my reasoning and realizing it's irrelevant, it comes down to this: I'm interested but I'm not sure how (and if) it would work, so let's talk about it! If you need you can talk to me on discord (it might take me some time to answer). I'm SplinterFM#6322.

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Fjc Montenegro
02:23 Feb 17, 2021

Oh, and mostly, I would keep me as a second option :P

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The Manticore
03:52 Feb 17, 2021

We don't have a discord account right now, unfortunately, but we'll definitely be putting a form out later in our bio for people who are interested or even just curious! We think that it'll be an easy way to make a waiting list and like you even mentioned, have you as a second option, though we think you're pretty cool as first option too! Before this turns into one hundred words of irrelevance, the Manticore will head out and hope to hear from you again soon. We think Brazil is awesome, by the way!

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Fjc Montenegro
14:07 Feb 17, 2021

Great! :)

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A.Dot Ram
17:25 Feb 16, 2021

I like this! I'm getting the benefit of a polished read informed by some savvy editors, but it all came together well. I'm glad you went with an apocalyptic headline. I briefly considered it myself for this prompt. I explored this kind of scenario (an electromagnetic pulse plus a strained relationship) in an old reedsy story, Schroedinger's Parakeet. It's so interesting to see how someone else imagined it going. Yes, public disasters provide such an interesting context to explore personal disasters.

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Fjc Montenegro
23:36 Feb 16, 2021

I'm glad you enjoyed! The lovely reedsitors (Reedsy editors? Am I going too far? I feel I'm going too far) helped me edit it. But on my last reread I still found a typo. 😭 I always miss something! Pesky little typos and plotholes, ugh. And now I can't edit it. Forever. :) Oh, well. I'll definitely check your story. I like stories that reveal the animal within us. Postapocalyptic and survival stories are great at doing that. I didn't really went that far with this story, but one of these days... Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment...

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A.Dot Ram
23:57 Feb 16, 2021

You started to go there. Jane may not be the most savage animal, but she’s the fox who chews her leg off to escape a trap.

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Amany Sayed
15:55 Feb 16, 2021

After reading the first sentence, I absolutely had to read because I'm always listening to lo-fi :) It was an interesting story for sure. One thing I don't get is how lost internet just suddenly led to an apocalypse? Other than that, there's a little telling not showing, but other than THAT, it was a good read and I enjoyed it :D

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Fjc Montenegro
16:59 Feb 16, 2021

I actually tried to create a scenario where all satellites are down and, it turns out, a lot of our way of life depends on them. Like, all systems that depend on GPS would fail so no planes and deliveries, and synchronous, timestamped data which influences bank transactions would break our modern capitalism. After that there's weather which highly influences engineering, agriculture, and, again, planes. I don't know how ready our hyper connected society is to suddenly be denied of this hyper connectivity. In this story, we're not. :P Oh and...

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Amany Sayed
18:02 Feb 16, 2021

Oh, wow, thanks for taking the time to explain! I suppose you're right, our society would probably fall apart if that were to happen. No prob! And congrats for your previous win I don't think I commented on!

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Fjc Montenegro
22:44 Feb 16, 2021

Thank you :3

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Fjc Montenegro
23:38 Feb 16, 2021

I love Reedsy's font but it ruined my cute 2005 emoji.

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Amany Sayed
22:30 Feb 17, 2021

Ha, it's okay, I can imagine it ;)

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Kate Le Roux
07:21 Feb 15, 2021

Great ending line. I like the way the situation is so tense anyway (terrifying thought what would happen if suddenly banks didn't work etc) but there's another layer of relationship tension too.

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Fjc Montenegro
15:41 Feb 15, 2021

Thanks for taking the time to leave your impressions, Kate. I'm glad the tension worked for you. I find realistic apocalypse scenarios where humanity simply breaks facinating (and terrifying).

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Slothy Penguin
06:52 Feb 13, 2021

Hello splinter, the story was great. Your stories were the main reason I made this account and felt motivated to write. In my opinion their relationship was well shown, developed and written, from the very beginning of the story it felt like they were slowly drifting apart from each other but Jane tried her best not to until she saw there was no use. It felt realistic and just right. The part in the store did make me eager to know whats gonna happen next, the emotions of how fear struck her when someone was shot, was well described. Also fo...

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Fjc Montenegro
15:57 Feb 13, 2021

Hey penguin (I used to have an online friend with that nickname but I lost contact with him. He wanted to be an astronaut but he couldn't. Just like a penguin can't fly). Wow, my stories motivated you to create this account? I'm honored! Your comment was very helpful, yes! It points out what works for you and why, so it's really helpful. Thanks a lot! :) I read in your bio that you easily lose interest in stuff. I have the exact same problem. I myself have ephemeral interests and it's frustrating. I make promises I'm unable to keep. One ...

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Slothy Penguin
19:16 Feb 13, 2021

Wow thank you for taking out the time to reply, I'm glad that someone else shares the same problem as mine, it's so hard for me to stick to something for a long time. So I sincerely thank you for encouraging me to continue, I will try my best to post regularly. It's just funny how last month I was searching for short stories to read and I ended up reading your first story 'silence' and just like that I ended up reading all of your stories, I wanted to like them so I made an account then got curious about the whole contests thing. people aro...

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Fjc Montenegro
23:47 Feb 11, 2021

I'm back, yo! I haven't been on Reedsy for a few weeks, but I couldn't keep myself away from this prompt, and I couldn't make it non-postapocalyptic. I have a thing for apocalypse scenarios. Now you know. I want to ask some questions to you: Was the part in the store... thrilling? I've been reading lots of thrillers lately and I wanted to reproduce some of the techniques. Did it work for you? And Jane's and Molly's relationship, was it intriguing? Let me know your thoughts. And, as always, let me know about any weird-sounding sentences. ...

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Arwen Dove
01:18 Apr 26, 2021

Great story! I love it!

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