The protagonist was running… the airplane was coming… it hit the ground… everything went black.
“Wait! Is that how they’re going to end the episode?” I turned to my husband in utter shock. The screen had gone entirely black and was showing no signs of glowing back to life. “They can’t do that. I can’t wait a whole other week to find out what happens next. I just can’t!”
My husband freed his arm from around my shoulders and reached for the controls. He powered them back on, the little button glowing to life in its center. But, that was the only thing that came back on. The console remained completely black and silent, along with the screen.
“What’s going on?” I asked as he got to his feet, shoving me and the blankets aside with a frown. He walked straight over to the light switch on the wall and flipped it.
“Did the power go out?” my voice spiked in disbelief.
“I think so,” he murmured. His eyes drifted over my head as he glanced out the window. I followed his gaze, my ponytail whipping against my neck as I pivoted. The world outside was slightly more illuminated than the small four walls we were encased in, but only slightly. I scrambled to my knees, leaning over the back of the couch, tilting my head backwards as I pressed my face up against the glass. There wasn’t a single street light on. The pale ghostly glow on the yards was coming from the moon and the moon alone.
“It’s the whole street,” I exclaimed. Though my voice came out incredulous, I was pleased to know that it wasn’t an issue with our payments that had caused the inconvenient interruption. “Do you think it’s just our block?”
“I don’t know,” my husband shrugged, his voice still muted. He pulled out his phone, tapping the screen to check the energy app. The blue light lit up his face. He froze.
“What is it?” I scooted closer to him, angling for a look at his screen. “Is there an alert?”
Words were indeed scribbled across the face of his device, but before I could make them out he jerked his hand away, eyes flashing.
“We have to get out of here,” he hissed, pocketing his phone and hauling me up by the arms.
“What, what’s going on?” I demanded, cold shooting through my blood. I hadn’t been worried. It was just a power out, after all. But now, taking in the hard lines of absolute terror on my husband’s face, I was frightened beyond belief.
“Get your shoes,” he commanded, still whispering.
“What?” I whispered, following his lead and his orders. I pulled my battered old sneakers on, the backs getting caught under my heels, as my thoughts got caught in an agonizing loop. What could he have possibly seen on his phone? He was over by the closet in the entryway now. He reached up to the topmost shelf and pulled down a sealed black case.
“Richard?” I was really scared now. Shaking, I tiptoed over to him, carefully dodging the shafts of light from the suddenly threatening windows. He clicked open the case, checked the cartridge and switched the safety off before tucking the ‘just as a safety precaution’ firearm into the waistband of his jeans.
“C’mon,” he waved me forward, keys in hand, hand on the front door knob.
“Shoes!” I reminded him, pointing to his still socked feet. He swore under his breath as he retrieved his work boots. He was just pulling them on, when Frankie let out a high-pitched bark.
“Frankie, ssh, sh,” I shushed the worried spaniel, bending down at the waist to scoop her up into my arms. She immediately began to lick my face and neck, concentrating on the pulsating vein there.
“Alright, c’mon,” Richard waved me over again, wrapping an arm protectively around my shoulders. I held Frankie close to my thundering heart. Richard opened the door, and peered cautiously outside.
“Ok,” he mouthed. His voice was entirely inaudible now. We slipped out into the silent night, moving as quickly and quietly as possible towards the car. We had just reached the doors; hands were on the handles, when a single blood curdling scream pierced the stillness.
All chaos broke loose.
Screams upon screams followed screams upon screams. The only sounds that punctuated the screams were a series of irregular pops and booms.
“Get in!” Richard shouted, ripping his door open and jamming the key into the ignition. I fumbled with the door as Frankie squirmed in my arms, yelping and jumping in fright at the sudden cacophony of sounds. I managed to make it into the car just as Richard started to reverse out of the driveway. Confused faces of several neighbors slowly materialized in the darkened windows and doorways.
“Hank!” Richard stopped the car and called out to the middle aged couple with the young kids. They were standing on their porch, faces full of fright.
“Rich?” Hank frowned, angling his body in front of his wife’s.
“Get in the car!” Richard gestured manically.
“What’s going on?”
“They’re coming,” Richard’s veins bulged out of his neck, “they’re coming for us. For you. For us. We’ve got to get outta here!”
“They’re hesitant,” one of the other neighbors, the nosy-nancy ‘call-the-hoa-on-you’ one, pointed aggressively at the lot of them. “They’re hesitant.”
“They’re hesitant,” several other voices echoed. Their tones were dull and monotonous. The flesh from my ears to my toes puckered.
“Come ON!” Richard yelled. Frankie barked in shock. Hank and his whole family flinched. I was sure that they were going to retreat and bolt themselves inside, when Hank suddenly scooped up his youngest and ran towards us.
Something hard and heavy hit the metal of our car from behind, followed by another…then another. I swiveled in the direction of the attack, biting back a scream. It was rocks. The neighbors from the other side of the street – they were throwing rocks at us. Hank ripped the backseat door open and chucked his kid in, then shoved his wife and other kid in, shouting, “go, go, go!” as he clambered in after them.
I clutched at Frankie in horror as Richard urged the car into motion again. A rock hit the windshield, cracking but not breaking it. I yelped. Our tires screeched against the pavement, harmonizing with the fresh wave of wails. Frankie wiggled out of my arms and jumped all over my lap, yipping and crying.
“Frankie, sshh!” Richard shushed her, turning sharply down a mercifully empty street.
“Mommy, Daddy, what’s going on?” the five year old asked from the back seat.
“Sh, it’s ok, stay low,” her mother whispered, hugging her and her sibling while her dad was busy tapping away on his cellphone. We reached a main road, but Richard was still driving with his lights off.
“Richard,” my trembling voice came out in a scratchy whisper. His knuckles whitened on the wheel, jaw clenching as he glanced uneasily over at me.
Buzz buzz, my phone suddenly vibrated against my leg. I’d forgotten I’d had it. The pockets on these sweatpants were big. I fished it out and fumbled to unlock it. Across the screen was a message. It looked to be the same message that I’d glimpsed briefly on Richards’ phone.
It wasn’t a text, although there were plenty of those from my family. It was an alert.
“Remain in your homes. The Victors will be here soon. The responsible will be rewarded. The hesitant will be cleansed. The world will be made safe. Remain in your homes. The Victors will be here soon.”
I stared without seeing, read without understanding.
Then the phone went dead…and the engine cut out.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for what happened in the following weeks. It didn’t matter how many post-apocalyptic dystopian movies I’d seen. Nothing compared to the real thing. I could only thank God for Richard, and for the fact that we’d chosen to move to a semi-rural neighborhood months prior. I wished that it had been closer to either of our families. I prayed every night that they were ok.
I didn’t know what happened to Hank and his family. We’d parted ways shortly after that first night. They’d had family, some of whom had been hesitant. I prayed every day that they were ok.
So far, so long as we kept our heads down, individuals couldn’t differentiate us from the Responsible. But when there was a crowd, it was harder to blend in, harder to escape the thousand hands clawing to drag you to a Victor. Neither Richard nor I had seen a Victor in person yet. But, they were all over the screens…all over the world…and the Responsible…were all under their claws.