Lucy always set the alarm tone on her iPhone to harps because it reminded her of angels. Angels gave the day a spiritual start, though she usually woke up a few minutes before and grabbed the phone to check her texts, email and news. Sometime during this process the harps would play, but not today.
Perfect lines of sunlight painted her walls, projected from the Venetian blind slats. The room was sparse because almost everything that gave Lucy joy was contained in her devices.
On her phone the blue email icon with the quaint drawing of the envelope contained no little numbers in its red bubble. In fact, it had no red bubble. Was it possible that Lucy had gotten no emails overnight? No spam, no newsletters, no notes from her boss sent at one in the morning? She tapped the icon. There were no emails at all, not even old ones. Was she having a nightmare? Was she dead? Why hadn’t the angels played the alarm harps?
She swiped to Facebook. It, too, had no red bubble, and when she opened the app it was blank, just a white screen. In the upper left corner where her profile picture should have been - her profile picture of that perfect hair day, taken slightly overexposed from a high angle to make her skin look smooth – there was a shadow with a question mark. She sat straight up in bed. What the fuck was going on?
She grabbed her laptop, which easily let go from its charger, and took it to the bathroom. Simultaneously, she felt the complete release of her bladder and utter dread at finding that she had no Internet service at all. The signal symbol, which Lucy thought looked like a black and white rainbow, was at full strength, but she couldn't get to any sites. No email, no music, no pictures. Did she even exist?
Feeling sick, she went back to bed. She clutched the phone to her chest, whispered a silent prayer and tried a hard restart. She would text her best friend, Missy. Missy knew everything and would know what was going on and how to fix it. But pulling the phone from her heart, Lucy saw that it was blank, a stark white nothingness. None of her old texts were there. Not the one from Zane, the new guy she’d just met on Bumble. Not the one confirming her upcoming dental appointment. Not even the many from her sister complaining that Lucy wasn't sisterly enough. Not only was there no wi-fi, there was no cellular service either. In full panic mode, she tried dialing 911.
The spinning gear appeared, indicating something like hope. Lucy took a deep breath, in through her nose filling her belly and out through her mouth, just like she had learned to do through the Kalm app. Finally a message appeared: "ERROR PERFORMING REQUEST - UNKNOWN ERROR," and underneath that a white button with black writing that said, "DISMISS." Lucy felt the sting of bile in the back of her throat.
She didn’t have a TV, radio or landline. She checked her phone again. It looked like the Arctic tundra.
Still wearing her UCSB flannels and Nasty Woman t-shirt, she slipped into the cozy Uggs she kept under the bed in case of an earthquake. An earthquake. An earthquake would have been a relief, a disaster Lucy could have understood and coped with. She had an earthquake preparedness kit that she'd bought on Amazon. What if there was no more Amazon? She couldn’t imagine having to buy all her stuff at a mall. Would transactions require sales clerks? Breathe. She took her phone and ventured out of her apartment.
It was still very early, judging from the sun maybe not yet seven o'clock. She walked two blocks south to the biggest street in the neighborhood. The traffic lights were flashing on all sides. The digital clock on the Wells Fargo Bank building was an ominous black rectangle, like a coffin.
She wasn’t used to looking up when she walked. She was used to looking at her phone. The world seemed so 3D, like “Avatar.” She started counting like she did when she was a child before her parents divorced. When she got to 37 she checked her phone. Still nothing, so she started counting again.
When she got to 45 she saw an older woman half a block ahead walking two Shih Tzus dressed in identical striped sweaters. Lucy wasn’t used to talking to non-relatives over the age of forty, but she broke into a little jog to catch up with them.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Lucy asked the woman, setting off the dogs, whose high-pitched yapping only added to Lucy’s apprehension. She pointed to the flashing stop lights, as if they were code everyone else could decipher. The woman shrugged and murmured something about a power outage, then bent down to let the dogs lick her face. The contact seemed to calm them.
Lucy’s heart was pounding hard. She checked her lifeless phone again and pressed the home button in rhythm, as though giving it CPR. She hadn't felt this rattled since her boss sent her to Toastmasters to become a better speaker. She tried to steady herself by focusing on the ground under her feet and the breeze against her skin. That Kalm app was totally worth the $2.99 a month, but what if she had to remember everything it taught her? She should have written a positive review in the app store.
The hospital towered on the horizon. If she were losing her mind, a hospital would be a good place to land. As she got closer there were more people on the sidewalk. Maybe this was typical but Lucy had never noticed. She passed a grimy smelly man weighed down with ripped overstuffed plastic garbage bags, and a woman pulling the arm of a small boy to give the man a wide berth. Another man in scrubs wearing ear-buds was talking on his phone. Lucy tried to flag him, but he was giving complicated medical instructions and despite her frantic waving, he paid her no attention.
She approached the automatic doors and instinctively looked up, softening her face, as was her habit when looking into surveillance cameras. The doors to the emergency room opened. Just like they were supposed to. The ER was up and running. A woman behind an L-shaped desk was talking to a man holding a bloodied handkerchief to his ear. On the television mounted high on the wall, a weather girl dressed for a cocktail party was sending out a special message to her Twitter followers. She threw to the two newscasters, a gray-haired man and a woman who looked young enough to be his granddaughter.
"The hacktivist group Panic has claimed responsibility for the early morning attack on a four-block area of Santa Monica,” the man said. “We’re told that all power, Internet and phone service have just been restored. Several tech giants are said to be working on a patch to restore data that may have been lost through malware that allowed the breach. This patch will help secure the future."
"Secure the future," the woman anchor repeated with a lilt as they cut to a commercial for a new anti-anxiety medication. Lucy felt the weight of her phone in her pocket. She took it out and, with cautious optimism, pressed the "home" button.
There was her background picture of the beach at sunset, along with the time and date. She pressed it again. Everything was there: 194 unread emails, a text that said, "what sup," and all her apps, including Kalm.