We became so dependent on it, so used to it being there, like the oxygen we breathe.
Our jobs. Our entertainment. Hell, our entire way of life… Gone.
Cell phones went first. Then the cable and electrical lines. Funny, but there's more structure left in society than one might believe during a crisis so large, possibly global. We're not sure on that. No one wants to say the word 'apocalypse, ' but it's in everyone's mind. It didn’t come with a bang, but with a slow fizzle. One light went out. Then two. Then another, and more and more until all the electricity drained away. The only hope given to us before the radios went silent was to head north.
'There's hope in the North,' they said. 'In the cold.'
So we walk among the thousands heading north, and we pray for salvation. In the end, we're still people struggling to continue our lives in this fallen world. We still have compassion. We still have the need to love and be loved. We help those weaker than us because our societal nature demands it. We'll survive because our humanity holds us together.
It's the buzzing in my head that disturbs me the most. It comes as a warning right before they do.
The little black spiders that are eating our world.
Chapter One - Natural Disaster
"You can't be serious," John said. "How could you miss it? It's the top headline."
Edy rolled her eyes and didn't respond as she leaned back from her computer. The high wall of the cubical she sat in hid her exasperation from John, who sat in the cube behind her. She tilted her head to the side and waited for the response from two cubicles down, knowing Rachel would answer for her.
"I don't know why you keep asking. You know she doesn't read the news," Rachel said in her soft, almost petulant voice.
Edy gave a nod no one could see and didn't bother to hide the smirk on her face. She wiped it clean when John's chair protested as it rolled across his mat, and a second later his hair shook loosely across his forehead as his head popped over the cubical wall.
"Just load the damn website," he said from excitement. There was a light in his eyes that rarely faded, and for a moment, Edy was jealous of his youth.
"Fine," she huffed, over exaggerating her irritation for his benefit and spun her chair around to face her monitor. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she typed in the URL and waited to see the headline that had John so excited.
DEATH TOLL RISES AS EARTHQUAKE SETTLES
"Oh, no," Edy gasped as pictures of destruction began to load. "Where did this happen?"
"Oh my god," Rachel echoed Edy's shock from her cubical, probably after loading the same webpage herself.
"Wait. What?" John muttered as he abandoned his cube to rush behind Edy to see her screen. "This wasn't what I was talking about."
Edy clicked on the link that took her to the article and scanned the words as they loaded. An earthquake had just shaken Mexico less than an hour ago, killing hundreds, possibly thousands.
"It just happened," John muttered, still standing over Edy. His cologne was a little thick—one of the body spray varieties--and she was ready for her personal space back.
"Which headline were you talking about?" Edy asked, trying to pull his attention away from the unfolding disaster. She could only hold her breath for so long.
"Oh," he mumbled, and Edy glanced up to see his eyes shift to the sidebar. After a moment he reached out to point at one of the listed articles. "This one."
ANNUAL PERSEID METEOR SHOWER PRODUCES SEVERAL…
The rest of the text was cut off, but Edy clicked the link to solve the mystery. It was meteorites. Her knowledge of comets and meteors was slim, so she wasn't sure if this was noteworthy. She glanced at John and took her cue from his beaming smile.
"Cool," she said, smiling back. "This story I'll read."
"Can you imagine…" he started, excitement peaked in his voice but stolen as Rachel interrupted him.
"John," she said, and he looked in Rachel's direction even though the cubical walls hid her from view. "That earthquake exposed ancient tunnel systems and at least two sealed tombs."
"What?" The word came out in an exhalation of air, and John couldn't get back to his computer fast enough. "What kind of tombs? Inca?"
Rachel scoffed. "Like I know."
Seconds later a message popped up on Edy's company messenger. Edy grinned as she replied.
Rachel.Williams: Saved you. You owe me
Edith.Dawson: Thank you! I'll buy you a Coke at lunch.
Edy wouldn't call Rachel a close friend, but she certainly appreciated what she had done. Sometimes John's Discovery Channel excitement could blind him to his audiences boredom. Most people didn't share his enthusiasm for the topic, and although Edy hadn't lied when she said she would read the article, she could only wish she felt as much passion about something so distant and intangible.
Edy's eyes shifted to a picture next to her monitor. Two young girls sat in front of a fountain and smiled up at her. Alyssa's blonde bangs dangled in front of her eyes, her two bottom teeth were missing. Elsie was offering a half-grin as she wrapped her arm around Alyssa's shoulders, a rare event Edy was grateful she was able to capture. Although Alyssa had her father's coloring, no one could deny they were Edy's daughters, especially Elsie with her long, dark hair and brown eyes. She was an echo of Edy when she was a young tomboy herself.
Edy reached out to let her fingertips brush against the gaudy, jeweled frame; a mother's day gift she cherished in all its ostentatious glory. The words "Dawson Girls" were scribbled along the bottom, written in messy glitter-glue. It shed its annoying little sparkles constantly, but Edy loved it. Her daughters were her passion, and she had no time for anything else.
John continued to ramble on behind her about the ancient tunnels the natural disaster had uncovered. That reminded her of the article she promised she would read. Meteor shower? Meteorites? What was the difference? Edy rubbed her temple and sighed, deciding to hit the breakroom for a steaming cup of ambition before embarking on that journey.
As she slipped away from her desk, she never considered checking the time to see that it was straight up nine o'clock; the time she always avoided the breakroom.
Chapter Two - Emergency Alert
Edy stood in the staff restroom, staring at the smudge of foundation lodged in a thin crevice under one eye.
"Edith," she said to her reflection as she rubbed at the uncooperative make-up. "You're a mess."
Edy's mother had gone through an old-fashioned phase when she was born, lasting long enough for the ink to dry on her birth certificate and branding her with an ‘old lady’ name for life. She had gone by Edy ever since she could remember and had grown fond of it later in life. In a strange cosmic coincidence, she traded her maiden name of Calderwood for Dawson when she married David, and her nickname also became her initials. Edy told herself she kept David's last name after the divorce because of their two daughters, but in truth, she simply preferred Dawson.
Edy leaned forward, pushing the hair back from her ears, searching for any pesky grays that might have popped up overnight. She had resolved to pluck the few strands that showed up every few months, praying no one would catch them but her and hoping the hair dye routine was still years away.
Edy's eyes drifted back to her face. “At least there’s no crow’s feet,” she mumbled, satisfied with her cover-up. She washed her hands and smoothed her floral shirt over her pudgy stomach, frowning at the bulge around her midsection. She wrapped her sweater jacket closed to hide it from sight. The make-up she could fix, but all her shrinking clothes were a bigger problem, and one she couldn't hide. She would have to do something about that. Tomorrow.
That’ll do for this place, Edy thought to herself as she nodded at her reflection. She counted in her mind how many people she had spoken with today—those who might have spotted the awkward orange highlight—and came up with three. Her co-worker John, her boss Stephen Greydon, and her closest friend Cassy. Cassy for sure would have said something had she seen it, and the likelihood of the other two noticing were slim. Greydon was absorbed in his own world most of the time, and unless there was a planet on her face, John wouldn't have noticed.
Edy muttered at herself as she finally made her way to the breakroom for her coffee. The mental badgering she was giving herself died as soon as she opened the door. Sparkling green eyes met hers as the warehouse manager flashed a bright smile.
"Good morning," Westley said as he stirred his cup of coffee.
Edy's eyes went wide as she nearly missed a step. Her response came out strangled and breathless, and a second too late. "Morning."
"Catch you off guard?" he asked as he stepped back from the coffee pot to give her room.
By that time, Edy had recovered enough to offer a smile and self-consciously pull her sweater tighter around her. "A little. It's normally quiet in here." She cleared her throat and tried not to look at him as she beelined for a fresh cup. "How are you?"
"Every day is always an adventure. Sales are up, so we've been swamped the past week."
Westley continued with the work chatter, but Edy couldn't concentrate. For the second time that morning, she caught a whiff of aftershave. However, the woody, almost sweet scent coming off Westley was a stark contrast to the harsh, sharp scent John had doused himself with. Also unlike John's, the sweet smell was quick to fade, overpowered by the coffee Edy poured.
"How's life in the annex?" Westley asked.
"Quiet as usual, but nothing to complain about," she answered as she dumped powered creamer into her cup. She fixated on the colors blending into a smooth tan and hoped she hadn't made an ass out of herself.
"Any plans to fill the rest of the cubes?"
"What?" Edy glanced up, catching a glimpse of his eyes again before she realized what he was talking about. The annex she worked in had been tacked on to the breakroom years ago in preparation for a growing sales team that had since been relocated to Austin. That left her small data team alone in a sea of empty cubicles that had never been used. She managed a grin as she answered this time. "I hope not. I kind of like the quiet."
"Fair enough," Westley returned the smile and lifted his cup as if in toast. "I'll let you get back to it."
"Oh," Edy stammered. "I didn't mean to run you off."
The chuckle Westley returned was disarming, but his words put a twist in her gut. "No worries, Ms. Dawson. I've got a full plate out here I need to get back to. Have a good day."
This time she didn't try to stop him. As soon as the warehouse door closed behind him, her lips twisted in aggravation.
Ms. Dawson. Edy scoffed as she glanced at the clock, something she should have done before she left her desk. Westley was always in the breakroom at nine o'clock sharp for his coffee, but her conversation with John had thrown off her timing.
As Edy left the breakroom, she was once again berating herself. She wasn't avoiding Westley because she disliked him, rather the opposite. She found him charming and attractive, and because of that, always managed to turn into a bumbling idiot in front of him. Although she had no interest in dating anyone, she couldn't control her nerves when he was around.
Once she was safely back in her cubicle, Edy opened her desk drawer and produced a hard caramel to pop in her mouth. She crunched the candy between her teeth and opened her daily spreadsheet.
Two hours later, she was deep into her data extraction when her phone screeched. It was the loud, buzzing alarm all smartphones came equipped with and was turned on by default. At least the cell companies used the function sparingly, reserving it for amber alerts and severe weather emergencies they deemed dire enough to notify their entire customer base.
As Edy scrambled for her purse where her phone was buried, the other cells phones in the office went off. Moments later, John and Rachel joined her in a mad dash to shut them up.
“The hell?” John said from the cubical behind Edy as she finally located her phone. The blaring died as she picked it up, and she stared open-mouthed at the text on her screen.
FLASH FLOOD WARxING THIS AREA TIL 153:00X PPM EDT.
AVOID FxOOD AREAS. CHExK LOCAL MxDIA. -NWS
“What?” Edy said, standing to see over the walls of her cubical. John did the same as they both looked toward the small front windows. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no rain in the forecast for weeks. It had been a dry fall, and winter was still well over a month away.
John turned to her. “Does 153 o’clock come before or after lunch?”
Edy’s lips were just curving into a smile when a rough voice interrupted the exchange.
Edy’s head whipped around to see her boss standing in the doorway to his office, glaring down at his phone. “I can’t believe they’d interrupt the whole city with this mess.”
Stephen Greydon spun on his heel and stalked back to his desk, burying his nose in a stack of reports. Edy flicked her eyes at John, betraying her annoyance with their boss, and sank back into her chair.
"Making sure they don’t disturb Stephen Greydon is their top priority," John whispered loud enough for her to hear. "I'm sure they're already sending out the PR team to smooth things over with him."
Edy stifled a giggle.
As she was popping another caramel into her mouth, her instant messenger flashed an alert. She moused over it, seeing it was from Cassy. The messenger program was extremely limited—company only—but Cassy worked on the other side of the building.
Edy opened the window.
Cassandra.Shale: Did you get that weird message too?
Edy grinned and typed her response, sending it through right away.
Edith.Dawson: We all did. It got Greydon steamed for some reason.
Cassandra.Shale: I don’t think he needs a reason.
Cassandra.Shale: Where are we eating for lunch today?
Edith.Dawson: I don’t care. No more burgers, though. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m tired of them. LOL
Cassandra.Shale: You’ve had them three times this week. It’s no wonder.
Edith.Dawson: I know. I’m so bad.
Cassandra.Shale: How about that Italian place off 23rd?
Edith.Dawson: Sounds good. I could always go for some Alfredo.
Cassandra.Shale: That’s what you said about the burgers.
Edy grinned at the screen and began to type her reply when her company phone rang. She glanced at the I.D. and her smile fled. It was Greydon.
“Yes, sir?” Edy answered.
“Come see me when you can.”
The 'when you can' was only a facade of politeness. Greydon meant right then. Edy was already on her feet before she answered, “Yes, sir.”
She dropped the phone in the cradle and heard John humming the Imperial March as she walked away. She crinkled her nose in apprehension and had to pause outside Greydon's door to take a deep breath and mentally steel herself.
“Yes, sir?” Edy said as she stepped inside. Greydon didn’t bother to look up. His thinning, silver hair was the only thing meeting her eyes.
“I need you to compile the W.A.R. from last week. I need to step out for a bit.”
Edy frowned. Normally, the W.A.R.—short for Weekly Analysis Report—was compiled and sent to the CEO by close of business on Monday. It was Wednesday. Edy wanted to ask why it hadn’t been done, but she knew better. Instead, she went the safer route.
“Not a problem. Is there anything wrong?”
Edy knew that would get his attention. Greydon never passed up a chance to talk about himself, and his problems were just as worthy to talk about as his accomplishments. Both were equally annoying to anyone who had to listen to him.
Greydon leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his stout torso. His hazel eyes locked onto hers, and he exhaled dramatically. “Hannah isn’t answering her phone. I need to run by the school and make sure she’s okay. If that teacher of hers made her turn it off again, I'm going to the school board this time.”
Edy tried to force her features into something that resembled concern, but it was difficult. Greydon always over-inflated his problems, and they were tiresome to listen to. Hannah was his thirteen-year-old daughter, and the man kept the poor girl on a very short leash. It was almost disturbing.
“Well, I hope everything is okay…” Edy attempted to back out of the conversation, assuming her mock interest quota had been fulfilled, but Greydon blustered on.
“I’ve gone round and round with that teacher before. If you ask me, that woman has no business watching over young children.”
Edy stifled the shocked groan that wanted to rise in her throat. Greydon talked like his daughter was still in kindergarten. With two girls of her own, both younger than Hannah, Edy didn't consider thirteen to be a young child anymore. The fact that Edy could picture Greydon treating the poor girl like she was still years away from being a teenager sent a shudder of distaste down her spine.
“Good luck.” Edy did her best to make her voice sound sincere. Greydon was so self-absorbed, she didn’t think he would notice if she didn’t. “Don’t worry about the W.A.R. I’ll get it emailed over this afternoon.”
“Thank you, Edith,” Greydon said, always calling her by her full name. He was the only one that did that. “I’m always so busy. It’s hard to get to.”
“I understand,” Edy said and escaped back to her cube. She had the feeling Greydon would have said more, but her tolerance for his bullshit was coming to an end. This wasn’t the first time he’d pushed his managerial duties off on the peons with the excuse he was overworked. So far, no one could figure out what he did all day. She was sure the impromptu—and unneeded—trips to check on his teenage daughter wasn’t helping.
She shook her head in disbelief as she plopped back down in her chair and unwrapped another caramel.