2. The Call to Adventure
I groggily felt around for my phone. Discarded Cheetos packaging crinkled gently around me until my hand eventually settled over the familiar rectangular body of my 4-inch first-gen iPhone 5. Its intimate pink glow washed over my face. Big white letters were clearly emblazoned behind the layers of cracks and oily fingerprints caked into the screen: the time, 7:11. Underneath: the date, May 8.
I firmly pressed the home button to reveal the cause of my fitful dreams: r/nosleep. Go figure, I thought, holding back a yawn. I must have drifted off while reading the newest entries. Why couldn't I have put on some brainless fantasy anime instead? I felt myself instinctively drift back to sleep, when―
WoooooooOOOOOOOOOOO!!! WoooooooOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Wee-woo-wee-woo. Beep beep beep.
I cocked my ear to the source of the sound, holding my breath, listening for footsteps. They didn't come, but after that annoyance, I was hardly in the mood to snooze any longer. So I woke up. I yawned, a big one, for real this time. And now I'm at my trusty $199 Chromebook, writing up this long-awaited coronavirus update, for those of you still out there.
Why today? It's a special day. Well, tomorrow is, May 9th. That's my birthday. My New Year's resolutions obviously fell through, but January 1st, that's just an arbitrary date. A birthday though, that's something fixed, immovable. It doesn't matter what calendar you subscribe to. Just stare up at the night sky, and you'll see the same stars you might've seen when you were born 39 years ago. Maybe I'd see them tonight.
How's life? It's boring, and I'd rather it remain boring. What do you expect? I must have devoured years of r/nosleep in a week, if I was so bored to sort by New. After a while, the stories start to lose their individuality, the authors' personal writing style. It's worst at the 50-upvote range: not good enough to reach the Top, not bad enough to mock. They all sound the same, generic, light on detail, blurry, indistinct. I tried a bit of it myself, above. Did you like it? Amateurish work, but I just can't remember my dream anymore. Details fade into blurs and pass into nothingness.
Wee-woo-wee-woo-wee-woo. Woop woop woop woop woop woop woop. Woop woop woop woop woop. Beep beep beep.
Now here's a real r/nosleep for y'all. The more you write, the more your mind gets corrupted, consumed, until eventually, all you can write are generic undifferentiated horror stories on Reddit, totally absorbed into the hivemind. Hidden in those 50-upvote dime novellas are cries of help, lost in the abyss of the antisocial web. For all I know, all this content really is generated by bots nowadays, so what's the difference?
With the car alarm still blaring mindlessly away, I suppose I wanted something else to listen to. So I opened up Discord, dropped into the last remaining server, confirmed I was human, and nodded off into cyberspace. Snippets of the usual conversations flowed in and out of my ears: virus, quarantine, covidiot, Repaci, vaccine. I guess the last one was a given, but sometimes I'd wish they'd talk about more lighthearted topics. Not that there's any left.
Wooo-eee. Woooo-eee. Woooooooo-ee. Wee-woo-wee-woo-wee-woo-wee-woo. Beep beep beep bee―
A crash. And then footsteps. I ripped off my headphones and crawled to the front of my room. I pulled back the curtains by a sliver and staggered back, blinded by the summer sun. The light pierced the darkness of my room like a beam of light, illuminating the rotting mattress covered under a thick layer of cheesy powder. God, the days were getting longer. How long had it been since I'd seen natural light? Clouds of ancient dust swirled lazily in the diffuse light, slowly settling over scattered piles of dirty laundry, untouched in ages. Assorted boxes of dollar delivery pizza littered the floor, and suddenly I could almost see the smell, wafting from the half-eaten anchovies peeking under the lids, from the rancid gutter oil fermenting in open cups of dipping sauce, from the cloying sweetness of Mountain Dew spilled sideways over the moist carpet, from bowls of Campbell soup left as offerings to vermin, from the faded red Safeway labels smiling between the mattress and the wall...
I let the curtains fall back and the familiar dark-gray Discord interface illuminate my room once more. Vaccines... I reconnected and lost myself in cyberspace. The sound of real, living humans took my mind off the smell. And the shadowy figures gradually swarming outside.
I hadn't paid attention, but for once, the discussion wasn't going in circles anymore, like a dog running in circles. A furious debate was erupting, centered around a single word: Repaci. Benedetto Repaci, the infamous freethinker and occasional lurker in our very own server, a true Übermensch that I looked up to since his scathing takedown of Big Pharma almost a year ago. Uncle Ben, we called him. Imagine my surprise when I bumped into him in person, in one of those dark, nondescript Seattle alleyways! We talked late into the early October morning, and of course I had to invite him to join the server.
He wasn't one to talk much, presumably busy with real work. But when he did, boy was there chaos! An inferno of controversy that would rage unabated for days. Half the server would quit and the other half would be banned, a veritable civil war from the meekest lurker to the admins and creators themselves. But this time, it seemed that it wasn't what Repaci said, but what he did, to stir up this latest pot of controversy. Like a lurker who suddenly quits the server, he had written a single message, and deleted his account.
19:13 caper :)
I must have heard it by now, the faint sounds of hammering in the distance. There was a savage, inhuman tempo to it. Well, we all know what's coming next.
I don't really care anymore. It's just another day at this point. Thinking back on this year, what a rollercoaster ride it's been. And what a ride I desperately want to get off! Metaphorically, of course. If you had told me a year ago that the world would plunge into apocalypse, a killer virus scouring the land, swarms of locusts and murder hornets blanketing the sky, with the everpresent spectre of global thermonuclear war lurking in the submarine depths, I'd have snapped at you. To get off those silly Facebook conspiracy sites. To go out and enjoy some fresh air, talk to real people instead of being brainwashed by fake news. Maybe I'd joke about the missing horseman, Death.
The locusts and nukes didn't amount to anything, but obviously, I'm not joking about death anymore. He's already here. Now, I'm a cafeteria Christian if there ever was one, but it's difficult not to think of this as the tribulation. You know, like from that god-awful movie. There's a lot of differences, cause this is real life, but there's a lot of similarities too. Like how the ones left behind never got to say goodbye. Well sure, there used to be video calling and Zoom and all that, but it just didn't feel as conclusive. Plus you never knew whether you would ever see them again. Sometimes, I'd end a call with the usual, "talk to you later". But the later would never come.
I looked back to my screen. Switched to my friends list. Uncle Ben had mysteriously quit the server, but I had him as a friend, you see. And when I'd prodded him for details, all he had to say was:
21:01 caper souvanny's @ 3
The hammering was closer now. It came straight from my neighbour's, reverberating within the decaying drywall. They were really banging on that door, ramming it nearly off its hinges, with a frenzied, animal desperation, like starving people begging for food. Poor Mrs. Hudson, bless her soul. She was long gone now, her and her whole family. Even if they broke in, it'd be breaking and entering an empty apartment.
The water was finally cut off last week. To be honest, I was surprised they lasted that long. Were people still working at the hydro company? The power shut off long ago, but Seattle in the summer ain't Anchorage or Phoenix. I could hardly complain. I'm rambling now, I know. I had just been remembering my birthday, but a year ago, when they came to my door. Back when mom and dad were both here. It's a bit of a... sensitive subject for me. To think of how happy we were then! The quarantine came as a surprise, sure, but I finally had money to my own name, thanks to former President Trump. I bought my very own laptop, this very own Chromebook. I never went outside. Somehow, little old me, always the black sheep of the family, I became the model citizen. But now, one year later?
The hammering stopped for ten blissful seconds of silence. The shuffling of feet. The scraping of flesh on concrete. Then they were at my door.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
For those of you still out there. Here's my coronavirus update for Saturday, May 8th, 2021. It's been half a year since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.