Consider My Next Plan of Attack
Excerpted from personal correspondence, P. Langley
Area 4, Borough 94; formerly designated as Austin, TX
January 1, 0000
I don’t know what to call the mess out there. People have been throwing around words like apocalypse and End Times and Rapture – big, scary words, even without the kooky religious connotations. I don’t like any of those ideas, though. Things have been catastrophic, sure, but it’s not like the world has literally ended. Lots of people are dead or missing or changed forever, but I’m still here.
Me and the cockroaches, I guess.
You asked me last time we talked what I think happened, and this is what I’ve got. Some bad things went down, and everyone, I mean everyone, lost their collective shit. This went from being some sort of overblown swine flu pandemic sort of scenario one minute to being full-scale global warfare the next. I think I blame Twitter. Just because, you know? It didn’t have to happen, but everyone went nuts, governments collapsed, the worldwide infrastructure basically got fucked, like in one swift move, we were blown back to the seventies or something. No, not the seventies. Earlier. Between the Cold War Everyone’s Out to Get Us Constant Vigilance feeling and the vaguely World War II-esque propaganda that the government started putting out a few years ago, we’re way past the seventies. Besides, seventies equals hippies for most people, and I think a lot of the latter day hippies jumped ship or were culled in the last big series of attacks.
Anyway, everything fell apart quickly enough that I swear the whole world just descended into anarchy, and that’s where I think we fell square into oh god we’re all going to die. I mean, listen, it’s not like our government was super effective in the first place, but it was better than the total lack of one we had for a while. It was every man for himself, and that was rough. Everyone’s coming up with escape plans, people who hadn’t stockpiled weapons were doing it now, figuring out how to fortify this or that, how to stay alive one more day. A buddy of mine, he was telling me that when his neighborhood started going to hell, he was walking around his house, boarding up windows, screwing bars to the walls, blasting Wagner while he’s checking his ammo. Hey, never said my friends were normal people.
I keep holding out hope that it’s going to get better. I guess shit looks pretty bleak right now, but it’s got to get worse before it gets better, right? The whole world needs to hit rock bottom, which is sort of frightening, really, because I would have thought that rock bottom would have been two, three years ago. But there’s a provisional government now, after so long where we were on our own, and things are slowly starting over again. Things are starting to feel at least a little bit familiar; hell, even getting reset with a real calendar system again has been a huge help, and this is just day one.
My friend’s still humming along to Ride of the Valkyries as he’s loading his rifle, and I’ve still got the whole place wired with security cameras and tripwires, but maybe now people can all start thinking that we’ll be able to make it through.
Interview with R.
Area 8, Borough 28; formerly designated as Richmond, VA
September 21, 0002
Some things never change, let me tell you, and End Times or no, one thing that’s always a constant is that people just need to get laid. Especially now. I mean, half of the earth just up and disappeared or turned into zombies or got the plague or whatever bullshit explanation it is that you want to buy. Not many of us civilians left out here are in positions of power, so fucking’s one of the only things we’ve got left that makes us feel like we’re still in control of anything. Besides, chances are, your wife or your girlfriend, she’s just gone, either for good, or maybe-not-for-good, depending on whether or not her battalion ever gets called back from the front lines. (And even if they get to come home, there’s no saying she’s going to be the same.)
And that’s where I come in. I didn’t get called up in the draft, but I still feel compelled to serve my country, and my particular talents lie in the arena of Making People Forget.
I’m not some hooker or anything, though, don’t you be getting the wrong idea. Nothing wrong with it, and I know plenty of girls who keep themselves fed that way. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, these days. I’m not doing this for money or gifts or to keep a roof over my head. Hell, it’s mostly talk, anyway. I’m not out there sleeping my way through the rest of Polite Society. Really, I’m doing this because it’s been a good way to get a feel to see who exactly is left out there.
It’s a little hard to meet people these days, though. There aren’t many bars or nightclubs or even book clubs left, you know, and most of my friends are too busy saving their own asses to have time to introduce me to their single friends. We’ve all got to look after ourselves, yeah, I know. And no one’s bothered to re-build the infrastructure to get the internet back up, not really, so it’s not like I can go trolling around on Craigslist or whatever. So I’ve reverted back to the old days: newspapers. The classifieds. Singles ads, yeah? Right up next to “FOR SALE: ONE DOZEN BASEBALL BATS, FAIR CONDITION, BUT DISINFECT BEFORE USING” and “MISSING: HUSBAND, 5’10”, 195, GREY HAIR, GLASSES. ANSWERS TO SETH. MAY BE INFECTED, APPROACH WITH CAUTION”. Crazy times we’re living in.
I put mine up a couple of weeks ago, just for shits and giggles, really, not expecting much to come of it: “SINGLE LADY, 32, RED HAIR, LIKES LONG WALKS, SCI-FI MOVIES, FASHION, AND EXPERIMENTING (IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN). CASUAL FUN, FRIENDSHIP, OR ???” I didn’t expect anything to come of it; when all the other ads are all “SWF, 21, 5’2”, 100 LBS, LEGGY BLONDE WILL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT”, it’s a little hard to get noticed.
I got a couple of responses, most of which did little to assure me that I wasn’t going to be murdered and fed to the teeming masses on the other side of the Bridge, but there was one… well, let’s just say that this guy might be the sole hope for humanity. Six feet tall, New Englander originally, brown hair, brown eyes, drop dead gorgeous, not carrying any infectious diseases or about to be shipped off to the front to Keep Our Nation Safe or anything. He’s great at keeping up conversation, and seems to both worship and fear me the way he should: “Jesus! Don’t you know that you could’ve died?” he told me, the first time we went out. “Should’ve died?” He was a little awe struck, just the way I like it. I was telling him about the Insurrection six months ago, where the military left us high and dry and it was up to our little militia to keep this side of the city. Those monsters walking the earth weren’t going to get past us, and they didn’t, not that the rest of the world took any notice. He’s right, I should’ve died, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, namely my own personal armory and years of practice of shooting those bastards right between the eyes.
Anyhow, me and this guy, we’re going on a date tonight. A real, bona fide date. Only one restaurant left on this side of the Bridge, and I’m not sure what he bartered them to pay for the meal, but I’m not going to ask. I’ve got my secrets; he can have his. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I like this guy as more than just a random hook-up, and I’m not too proud to admit that. “Maybe some lonely night, we can get together,” I told him a little while ago, “just you and me. Have a little fun, let loose, somewhere safe, somewhere we don’t have to worry.” Oh, I’ll still be carrying, don’t get me wrong, but maybe I’ll leave the semi-automatic at home this time.
So that’s tonight. Dinner, then a little fun. Maybe more fun than he’s bargained for; I can’t tell yet. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go touch up my makeup and make sure my handbag’s in order.
Silence is Knowledge and Knowledge is Power
Excerpted from the Reformed Washington Post, by reporter Christina Edison
Area 8, Borough 1; formerly designated as Washington, D.C.
January 2, 0004
The Coalition of North American States hasn’t had a democratically elected president in over ten years, but a new era dawns with the impending inauguration of President Elect Clyde Kearney. For those in the Coalition who are old enough to remember the way the political landscape used to be formed, Mr. Kearney has proven to be quite the unconventional candidate. Contrary to past Presidents, Mr. Kearney has no background in law or even business, and has never previously held elected office. During a campaign speech in Area 2, Mr. Kearney disclosed that his only prior “political” experience has been a two-year stint as president of the Greendale Community College’s World of Warcraft club, seven years pre-Culling, as well as a “propensity to make lots of phone calls to my elected representatives, back when we still had them.” Competing candidates in this election have similar anti-establishment pasts, with runner-up and now Vice President Elect Joanne Ozaki having led an anarchist stronghold in Area 3, and third place finisher Kristof Antonin serving as a prominent leader in the New Coalition Communist Party in Areas 1 and 2.
Mr. Kearney seemingly skyrocketed out of nowhere to win the election. Ms. Ozaki had been heavily favored to win, given her strong ties to the Coalition-wide private militias, which poured a reported $17 billion Coalition dollars (or $5 million USD, pre-Culling) into her campaign. Mr. Kearney proved to be widely popular in the western Areas, and won nearly 100% of the votes in Area 2’s Boroughs 19 through 265, which includes his hometown, Borough 52, containing the area formerly designated as Greendale, Colorado. His last minute speaking tour through the more heavily populated Boroughs of the western Areas did a great deal to improve his standings in the polls. “I campaigned on the promise to represent the underdog,” Mr. Kearney stated shortly after the election results were certified, “and the people of the Coalition are just that. Large parts of the world are rooting for us to fail, and I wasn’t going to just sit back and let that happen. All because I've never been a politician before doesn't mean that I can't step up and do my best to keep the Coalition together. We've been through too much to let some partisan a------- swoop in and tear us all apart again. I'm not advocating for some kind of utopia, that’s pretty stupid, but I do think we need to work together to make this country a better, safer place for all of us."
With so many former government officials worldwide either hospitalized or deceased, there have been few qualified individuals available to help ease the transition, a task that some pundits have declared to be of utmost importance. “Given Mr. Kearney’s complete lack of governmental experience, and Ms. Ozaki’s utter disdain for organized government, having an experienced team of transitional leaders is a must have,” said political analyst Keith Stefanic on his nightly radio show on Area 2’s WNUP. Since the certification of the election results last month, Mr. Kearney and Ms. Ozaki have been holding meetings with the remaining leaders of the provisional government, which is slated to be dissolved once the incoming Administration assembles its own team of Cabinet officials and advisors. Additionally, the few remaining members of the former United States government have been available to advise Mr. Kearney and Ms. Ozaki on the process of governing and nation building.
There is no word yet as to how well Mr. Kearney and Ms. Ozaki have been working together, given the heavily adversarial tone of the campaign. Progressive advocates applaud the confirmation of Ms. Ozaki as Vice President Elect, despite her anti-government stance. "[Ms. Ozaki] proved to be wildly popular with the large factions of the Coalition who would like to dissolve said Coalition," said Lionel Miller, chair of Government By the People, a grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the principles of the Constitution of the former United States. "Although we at Government By the People and other similar organizations do not agree with a majority of Ms. Ozaki's platform, we recognize that in order for President Elect Kearney and the newly formed Coalition Administration to be successful, that he needs to reach across the aisle and engage that portion of the population."
Indeed, anarchist factions have reacted to Mr. Kearney's election rather favorably, despite the fact that he only received 3% of the vote from self-identified anarchists. Contessa Pilar, spokesperson for Area 3’s Militia for Justice and Self-Reliance, provided a written statement, saying, "We have encouraged our members and contacts in Area 3 to support Mr. Kearney's Administration, despite the fact that it flies in the face of our principles and previously published manifesto. We are heartened by the inclusion of Leader Ozaki and hope that she can instruct Mr. Kearney in our principles so that he will eventually join us, dissolving the Administration and moving the Coalition back towards natural self-government."
The Leaves and Earth Were Damp
Eulogy for Coalition Army Cpl. Jason “Jay” Templeton; delivered by Richard Templeton
The Resurrected Basilica of St. Mary, Area 3, Borough 17; formerly designated as Minneapolis, MN
November 21, 0006
Thank you all for coming out on this chilly autumn day to honor my brother. I speak for the rest of the family when I say that this means so much to us.
It seems like a horrible cliché to say this, especially these days, but my brother was a hero. He lived like a hero – an unsung one – and he died like a hero. When other people were trying their damnedest to get out of the Borough and avoid the draft, Jay quit his job and signed up, instead. He trained, and he fought, and he went to the front lines and died, in the name of serving our country – or what’s left of it, at least.
Everyone’s paying attention to his last moments and how he died. I want to talk about how he lived instead.
Jay was almost seven years older than me, a fact that he won’t ever – wouldn’t ever – let me forget. I remember growing up in absolute awe of my big brother, who always knew what to do in every situation. Of course, when we were little, his suggestions of what to do somehow always wound up with me getting in trouble. I was bitter about that, until I had a little brother of my own to, uh, “guide” through life.
But I always had the utmost respect for Jay, who knew what to say, how to impress adults, who had the grit and determination and the courage to do the right thing, no matter what. I remember once, I must have been nine or ten, standing outside on the front lawn, watching a parade, and Jay just stood there, ramrod straight as a group of uniformed vets passed on by. He just watched, his face was totally blank, serious as they all marched on past. I was more fascinated by Jay’s reaction – utterly serious, nothing could distract him from watching those men and women in uniform – than I was by the soldiers. I’d seen that stuff before, but what I hadn’t ever noticed was my brother blocking out the rest of the world in favor of something I didn’t understand.
See, I grew up watching Jay, watching Jay turn into a man, people would say. Sometimes, especially when I was a teenager and angry at everything, I hated my brother, hated how cool he was. I don’t mean that in the better-than-you sense, but cool in the way that nothing bothered him. Even in moments of stress, he was just perfectly collected. It drove me nuts, and I spent lots of time trying to get a rise out of him when we were kids. Pranks, tricks, throwing things, nothing seemed to work. A lot of people got on him for being aloof, stuck up, and people would actually ask him why he wasn’t more fun, more like me. But Jay was fun, he just – he just had different priorities.
When Jay was a senior in high school, he was the guy that everyone wanted to know, aloofness aside. I think by then, it made him cooler, that he had this attitude of being above all the other crap that goes on in high school.
Can I say crap in a church? I probably shouldn’t have. Sorry.
Anyway. Jay was the quarterback, star of the team. I didn’t care about football, but I showed up for every game, because Jay was my brother, and also because our parents wouldn’t let me stay at home by myself. We were leading, but Jay wasn’t going to just let the rest of the game slide by all because it looked like we were going to win. On one of the last plays, he faked a throw and ran for the end zone himself, when he was intentionally tripped by one of the guys on the other team and just slammed face first into the ground. It was so unexpected, because Jay was almost supernaturally good at evading those sorts of things. It took him a while to get up, and when he did, he was spitting blood all over the place. Mom was freaking out because it looked like Jay was hurt, but I was freaking out because for the first time I could remember, it looked like Jay was losing his cool. He was standing there on the field, helmet in one hand, wiping at the blood on his face with the other, just screaming at the ref. I couldn’t follow any of the football talk, that’s never been my thing, but I just remember watching and thinking this is the proof that you bleed. It was like a revelation, finally seeing Jay as human and not just some life-sized paper doll without emotion, without feeling, invincible.
I wasn’t surprised when Jay joined the Coalition Army. Some people were, but not me. That was my brother. Strong, principled, courageous, willing to step up and do what no one else would do. Sure, I learned at that football game that Jay’s veins bled red just like the rest of us, that he could get pissed off just like the rest of us, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
Jay wasn’t invincible, though, and he died down in Area 6, fending off attack. People keep saying that Jay was heroic, that Jay saved his whole battalion, that he gave his life so that they could fall back to higher ground and regroup. Jay wouldn’t want to be remembered as a hero, though. He’d want to be remembered as Corporal Jason Templeton, son of Marcus and Mary Beth Templeton, born and raised in what we still call Minneapolis, regardless of the official re-designations. Not a hero, just an ordinary man who did what he thought was right.
He’s still going to be my hero, though.
Thank you all for being here. God bless you, and god bless the Coalition.
We Were So Tired of Being Mild
Interview with Rachael and Alina
Area 1, Borough 34; formerly designated as Portland, OR
April 4, 0010
Question: Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me. Could you tell me a little about yourselves, to start?
Alina: No problem. My name's Alina, I'm 35. I'm not originally from the Coalition. I immigrated here about seven years ago. My home was just ... unlivable. I had to get out, and I knew that the Coalition had its borders open to qualified workers. I was in law enforcement, figured that counted as qualified. Knew how to bash some heads in, aim between the eyes. There's not much more to it than that. I've been working in the police district for Boroughs 30 through 39 since shortly after I arrived.
Rachael: And I'm Rachael. Alina and I have been married for four years now. Give or take.
A: Seems longer.
R: Thanks. At any rate, I'm 32 years old, and I've lived here in Portland all of my life.
A: Borough 34. Not Portland anymore.
R: It's always going to be Portland.
A: [Alina rolls her eyes, shakes her head.] It hasn't been Portland in 10 years and you know it. Just be glad they don't enforce the naming conventions here. [Alina turns to look at the interviewer.] You heard about that, right? How some places overseas that have done the redesignations, that they're actually making it criminal to call it by the old name.
R: Alina, you're not going to go off on one of your political tangents, are you? We've got to answer this nice woman's questions for her project. [Rachael turns back to the interviewer.] She never says much, unless you get her talking about that sort of stuff. Sorry, where were we?
Q: Just a little background on yourselves?
R: Right. Whatever. Look, I've lived here forever, before the Cullings, before the redistricting, before the sham governments and the plagues and all that. This is home, no matter what someone wants me to call it. Whatever. I work with one of the militias here -- I'm not some gun-toting crazy, don't get the wrong idea. I just help them keep track of personnel, supplies, that sort of stuff. An office manager or something like that. I'm sure there's a real military name for it, but I never bothered with that. I've never really worked anywhere else. I graduated college right when all of this shit started getting real, and my degree in photography wasn't really going to save my ass. My dad was pretty involved with the militias, and got me hooked up there. More for safety than anything else, but it helps that they've been able to keep me working, even when the economy was imploding.
Q: Photography, then -- you've taken a couple of pretty noteworthy photos, though, haven't you? From one of the big conflicts on the northern border?
R: Yeah, I did. About five years ago, our militia headed north. The Coalition forces, they weren't doing much to help us.
A: They were a little busy, remember? That was the same time that swarms started coming down the Mississippi. The forces got a little sidetracked trying to keep that from getting worse.
R: Are you going to defend them, or are you going to let me tell the story? [Alina gestures at Rachael and the interviewer, then sits back in her chair.] As I was saying. The Coalition forces were too busy to get to us, so we had to head north on our own. There was an invasion heading down towards the northern border, and someone had to go stop it. We joined up with the neighboring militias and headed north. I didn't think that I was going to get to go, because who needs an office manager in a battle, right? Turns out, they do need someone to go along who can keep track of stuff like supplies, so I got to ship out with everyone else, too. I was armed, and trained, and I'd seen battles before, so it's not like they were sending some scared little girl out there. This was just another battle; only thing was, it was a little further from home than we were used to.
Q: This battle was a little different, though, wasn't it? It's one of those ones that new historians keep naming when they talk about turning points.
R: Yeah, this was much bigger than anyone had expected it to be. Once we surveyed the situation, it turned out that the swarm numbered in the hundreds of thousands, at the very least. It was like all of what used to be known as Western Canada had gotten caught up in this and was coming for us. I don't want to say that we were unprepared, but our advance intelligence definitely misjudged this one.
Q: Tell me about the photo you took. [The interviewer opens a folder, pulling out a scrap of newspaper; the iconic photo that Rachael took is on the front page.]
R: Things were looking pretty grim. We were holed up in this old bank. Place had been out of business for probably eight years by then, but it looked like all of the other shuttered businesses: everything inside had been left just the way it was on the last day of business, like everyone expected that they'd just be returning to work. Well, bank failed, town died, no one came back. Squatters, over the years, but other than that, no one. Not like a bank would've had supplies that would've been worth stealing, after all, especially once our currency died. Anyhow, it was like one of those scenes out of old horror movies. Part of the combined militia was stuck inside this bank, doors barricaded, with the swarm on the outside, trying to get in. If it weren't so serious, it would have been hilarious, because it was just so... Hollywood. The squad leaders were in one of the back offices, trying to work out a strategy, leaving the rest of us out front, ducked behind the teller stands and desks and whatnot. I was behind a banker's desk, tried to get as far away from the doors and the windows as I could. All because they taught me how to shoot a gun didn't mean that I wanted to actually have to do it. I actually had my camera with me, as it was. The squad leader had a thing for old timey war photojournalism, so as soon as he found out what I did before all this, he made sure I had a camera. To capture any glorious moments.
A: I think he just wanted some grand picture of him shooting one of those fuckers between the eyes.
Q: But that's not what he got, was it?
A: [laughs] Not exactly.
R: No, not exactly. I'm hiding behind this desk, right, not paying a whole lot of attention. The more you listen to the moans and the screams and that, the quicker you go crazy, I always thought. So I'm a little zoned out, just taking pictures here and there of the people inside. No one's doing much interesting, but there's -- alright, it's one of those artsy things to say -- don't laugh, Alina -- but there's just something I saw that projected fear. These are strong, strong men and women, and some of them are thinking for the first time that they're going to die, and you can see that in the tiniest movements, the tiniest deviations from normal.
A: Of course they think they're going to die. Give me the strongest Coalition Special Ops person; I'll put them in a room that's surrounded by swarms and you'll see a person who's just one broken window away from blowing their own brains out before any of those things could get to 'em.
R: She's not just former law enforcement. She's former military. She just doesn't like to talk about it. [Alina frowns, but doesn't interject.] Anyhow, so we’re all there, minding our own business when there’s a huge explosion in the back of the building. Turns out, the swarm wasn’t quite as braindead as we’d thought, and some of ‘em figured out how to make pipe bombs or something. Best we figure, one of them was probably a hard core pyro, you know, before, and somehow managed to retain that knowledge. Wish we would’ve known which one it was. I know folks who would’ve loved to get that creep into a lab.
Q: Apparently, over the past couple of years, some scientists down in Area 8 have been doing just that. Some of the Coalition Army troops have profilers embedded with them, who can pick out the ones with their human faculties intact.
R: Would’ve been nice to have then, for sure.
A: You wouldn’t have gotten your award-winning photo, though.
R: [Rachael shrugs.] Small price to pay, I guess.
Q: Sorry, I interrupted. You were saying, about the explosion…?
R: Chaos. Complete chaos. We weren’t expecting an attack from the rear. We were expecting them to knock in the doors, pry the bars off the windows. Not, you know, blow shit up. People start jumping into action, the commanders are ordering troops this way and that, but before we can get a real strong line formed, the swarm starts pouring into the building from the hole they blasted into it. Like someone forgot to turn off the faucet, they just kept coming and coming. It was unreal.
Q: Were you scared?
R: Yes and no. Yes, because, goddamn, those swarms are hideous. Ever seen them up close? [The interviewer nods her head, yes.] Hideous, putrid, nasty things. Scared because you think, well, this is it, we’re going to be overwhelmed in no time, I’m done for, I’m going to die with a cheap handgun in one hand and a battered DSLR in the other. But then you’re not scared, because you’re with one of the toughest, meanest militias in the Coalition. If anyone’s going to beat back this wave, it’s going to be those men and women.
Q: Tell me about the picture.
R: Look, they taught me how to shoot, and I got a couple of shots off, but really, I was doing more harm than good. I was too scared that I’d hit one of our own, I was just getting in the way. So I retreated pretty quick, I’m not ashamed to say that I let the better shots – you know, the people who were actually trained for battle, not trained for counting boxes of ammo – not ashamed to say that I let them do all the hard work. I started taking pictures, instead. There are a lot of really great photos that I snapped that day – I mean, if gruesome battle photos are your thing. Some of them, I can’t really even think about without tearing up. We lost a lot of great men and women that day. But the picture that got all the attention, I took right at the turning point of the battle.
Q: Can you describe it? In case I can’t get the rights to run the photo in the book.
R: Sure, no problem. It’s – those monsters are all around, creeping up on one lone soldier. She hardly even notices them, though. She’s got her game face on. She’s covered in soot and blood and, you know, pieces of whatever she’s been shooting at, and she’s just standing in the middle of the fray with a goddamn machete, I’m – I mean, the picture’s right there, you can see for yourself. [Rachael taps the copy of the photo that the interviewer provided.] The picture, I took right at the moment where she’s swinging the machete down with one hand, reaching for her gun with the other. There’s just – an intense fury, you could say. I would’ve been terrified to be up against her.
Q: And the battle – you guys obviously won. How’d the photo get out to the press?
R: Yeah. It was touch and go for a little while, but eventually we managed to beat back the swarm. She had a lot to do with it. [Rachael indicates the woman in her photograph.] A lot of the top brass got taken out early, a lot of them got hit in the explosion, and there weren’t too many people who had the know-how to get things in order, to come up with a strategy on the fly. A couple of weeks later, I found the camera in my bag. I’d honestly forgotten that I’d taken photos, really, I’d tried so hard to put it all out of my mind. I had a couple of contacts left in the press, people I’d gone to school with, things like that, and I just printed out a couple of my favorites and sent them out. Well, it’s not long after that that I’m sitting at work and one of the commanders comes in, waving a pamphlet. You know, one of those independent press sorts of things. He tosses it down on my desk, he’s all Rachael, what is this shit, who told you that you could blah blah blah. And it’s my photo – that one – on the cover. One of my friends who I sent it to loved it so much that she used it for her next issue. She said that she wrote me to tell me, but. [Rachael shrugs.] Didn’t matter. I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a thing, next thing I know, I’m getting letters in the mail, job offers, whatnot, to come embed with these troops, to cover this event.
Q: But you still work for the militia? You didn’t take anyone up on the offer?
R: Nope, not other than some local stuff. I’ve got too much going on here to leave.
Q: And the woman in the photo? She made it out of the battle?
R: [Rachael smiles slowly, like she’s got a secret.] Oh, yes, she made it out just fine. Mad as hell when she found out that she’d accidentally become the poster girl for the militia effort out west. [Her smile grows wider.] Didn’t stop her from asking me to marry her about a year later, though.
A: That’s her favorite part of the story.
Do the Dishes, Feed the Fishes
Author’s personal observations
Area 5, Borough 83; formerly designated as Ann Arbor, MI
May 13, 0013
This project hasn't taken me thirteen years to write, lest any reader get that idea. For the longest time, I had just been collecting data. In a former life, I was a writer and a researcher, so data gathering is just what I do. I'd save a letter here, record a conversation there, save some newspaper clippings when something struck my eye. I didn't have any idea what I was going to do with the data; all I knew was that so much of our written history had been lost due to the Cullings that I couldn't bear to part with potentially historic data. With libraries and universities destroyed and with the internet all but non-existent, all I could do was assemble the data on my own for safekeeping. And now, here I am thirteen years later with a book. I don't intend this to be a history text or any sort of instructional guide. I intend it simply to be a look back at this new way of life and how we got here.
There are plenty of Old United States scholars around who have compared the recent years of governmental foundations and nation building as akin to the impact of the Revolutionary War and the colonial times. I'm not an Old United States scholar, and I certainly don't ever intend to become one. Most of that information exists solely in the minds of said scholars, anyhow. I have nothing to compare these formative years to; all I know is that the changes have been breathtaking, radical, and quite frequently painful, but we've come out intact on the other side, with an increasingly close-knit Coalition of Areas. (Don't call them states. People get angry if you refer to states, these days.)
I still remember where I was when all of this started. I was at the kitchen sink, washing up after breakfast, while the television droned on in the background from the living room. My daughter called me into the room, away from my thoughts. Something on the television was scaring her, she said, and she wanted mommy to come take a look. I didn't know what was scary about her Saturday morning cartoons, but Lula had an overactive imagination sometimes, and it wasn't unusual for her to be scared over nothing.
The cartoons had gone away, though, the reliable, child-friendly footage replaced with a newscast that I later learned had been patched through to every channel. News footage showed downtown's commerce district in flames. People were rioting, the newscaster told us, but no one had any idea why. Not only that, but it seemed like the rioters couldn't die. Men were emerging from burning buildings, their bodies licked with flames, and they just kept going, stumbling wildly down the streets, destination unknown. It was horrifying to watch, and it was all I could do to simply turn Lula's face away and cover her ears as I watched my city burn.
Things seemed so inconsequential back then, before that first newscast. Unexplained illness, illogical weather patterns, global financial catastrophe... everyone could name a thousand different conspiracy theories as to why things were going wrong, but no one actually thought that things were going to end in anarchy and global ruin.
We all know now that those fires, those invincible rioters, weren't limited to what we used to call Ann Arbor. They were happening simultaneously all across the United States, in New York and Birmingham and St. Louis and Reno and Portland, big cities and small cities and everything in between. It was the beginning of the end, I suppose you could say, the first time that anyone thought that something terrible really, truly was happening to our world.
I turned the television off, eventually, for Lula's sake as much as mine. We needed to get on with our day, even if all of our plans -- the library, a walk in the park, then to my sister's house -- were dashed immediately.
After all, it was Lula's birthday. My little girl turned four on the day that the world came to a screeching halt.
Instead of the library, we stayed in. Lula picked a book and we snuggled up under the blankets in my bedroom and read together, blinds drawn. We were transported far away from the burning streets and the burning half-men, to the world of Dr. Seuss, Paddington Bear, Curious George, childhood favorites which probably comforted me more than they comforted my daughter. We played silly games in the basement, where we couldn't hear the blast of the emergency sirens urging everyone to stay inside. We carried on as best we could. After a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I pulled out the birthday cake I'd made the night before for Lula. The power had been cut a couple of hours earlier, so the candles were our only light source.
In the eerie, flickering light, I sang happy birthday to my little girl. I tried not to let my voice crack, but I was singing like it was her last day here on earth.