FICTION: “Bored With Life” – Chapter 1
Pistons; paint rollers; parachutes; chimneys
This story starts like any other story. It was a normal day. Another day like any other day. I had already hit the snooze button three times. which meant that I was already well on the way to being late for work. My neck hurt. Rubbing it was a comfort but it didn’t help the stiffness. I must have slept wrong. I groped in the covers, found the remote and turned on the TV, switching to the morning news. Even when there’s nothing interesting happening, the uncomfortable tension between the weather man, the traffic guy and the female anchor can be entertaining in its own right. But this, too, was routine.
I got out of bed, stood, stretched and yawned loud and long. Like every morning, a random song cued up in my mind and started playing. That morning it was, “All I Need” by the (tempting) Temptations. “All. All I need. Is just to hear you say you forgive me. Forgive me, baby. All. All I need. To have you touch my hand. Say you understand.”
Like an automaton I went through the routine morning hygiene and then sat at my desk, fired up the computer, started “The Daily Show” on Tivo and checked my email. Seventy percent spam, twenty percent subscription related either to things I’m subscribed to or related to products I’ve bought and registered for, five percent mass mail from friends, one percent calendar reminders mostly re: birthdays, four percent of actual, personal correspondence. That ratio had changed drastically when businesses and corporations got on board the web train. After Internet gentrification.
Twenty minutes later I was on my way out of the door. I stopped Tivo, returning to live TV and more morning news. All of this I did on autopilot. Just like every morning. I tried to remember those times when excitement preceded the day. When I soared through the day on updrafts of purpose and drive. When was the last time you woke with something to look forward to, y’know? Or when was the last time you didn’t? When you wondered what adventure the day was going to hold?
The weather man was going through the numbers one more time. Doppler radar, yesterdays highs and lows, and today’s forecast layed out graphically over a live weather cam picture from a camera overlooking DC.
It was a nice shot. The city in the waning throes of the morning commute but underneath a cloudy sky with broad, bare patches of blue and a pale yellow glow where the sun shone behind the cloud cover. An occasional ray pierced through like a spotlight.
Oh well. Into the breach; into the maw of corporate America. In the picture on the TV the camera panned left to right, the sun rays got brighter it seemed. And brighter. The camera panned back. The weatherman halted his patter, looked at the image and stammered. Three sun rays swept across the landscape in concert. Since when does the sun do that, I thought. And then something happened or at least I thought I saw something happen. I walked closer to the TV in disbelief but just as I got close the newscast cut to a commercial. Damn it. Wait. Tivo. I fumbled with the remote, rewound and played. Not back far enough. It took three attempts to get it to the right spot and then I hit pause. Beams of light pointed at the city from the sky, from behind the clouds. I proceeded frame by frame until …. I wasn’t going crazy. It was right there on the screen. Three beams had swept over the Washington Monument systematically, a bright flash and then it was gone. The monument was gone. It didn’t explode, it didn’t fall, it just disappeared.
Then I felt the apartment building shake. I’ve lived in California so I recognized the sensation of an earthquake. I heard the sound of wind howling violently, swaying the building even more, tree branches scraping the side of the building and then it calmed. I changed to a cable news channel and flipped between a few. Nothing yet. I guess at that time the news media were still trying to make sense out of it, too. Maybe it was a hoax, a stunt, a marketing ploy of some type. I didn’t know whether to be cynical or skeptical. What I was, was anxious, curious, excited. This was new.
I turned off the TV, gathered up my pack, ran out of the apartment, clumsily locked the door behind me and ran to my car. Mine was practically the only one in the lot since I’m a triple-snooze late riser. Turning on the radio, the news flurry began. I don’t know what got a hold of me but I drove towards the city as fast as I could navigate the morning traffic. It began to thicken. Before it turned into gridlock I bailed from the main roads. I’d never make it into the city this way. But my bike was in the back of the car as it had been for weeks. I drove to work, pulled into the underground garage, pulled out my bike, took the elevator to the lobby. The elevator doors slid open on to a scene post modern chaos. The lobby was full of people, some that I worked with, some from other offices. Every one of them was on a cell phone. Even the UPS, DHL and FedEx deliverymen.
I didn’t bother going upstairs or trying to get the attention of the phone talkers. Judging from the collective responses no one knew anything and they were mostly oblivious. One of my colleagues saw me, waved a hand and shouted to me, “Did you hear? The monument…”
“I know,” I yelled back over the conversational background noise. “Tell everyone I’ll be in a little late today.”
Then I pushed my way out of the doors, mounted the bike and pedaled. I headed for the trail. The trail that runs from Mt. Vernon at its southernmost and into DC. I headed for the city as fast I could. Above the tree cover I saw sun rays. They were sweeping back and forth. I couldn’t see where they were coming from or where they were going. One passed directly overhead and I felt every hair on arms and neck stand on end with an electric sensation. Was it just my imagination or did it follow me, matching my bicyclist speed? Then it moved on. I pedaled faster, breathing heavily, legs burning. I passed the airport and wound alongside the Potomac, northbound GW Parkway traffic backed up to my left. I could see where the monument had been. I saw birds flying, flocking.
The ground shook and then the wind blew fiercely. I pedaled on. I could feel my cell phone vibrate and I pulled it out of its holster, still pedaling and steering with one hand. There were three text messages.
The last one from a friend at the office said, “Monument gone. Woodrow Wilson Bridge gone. Where r u?”
A plane came flying past, landing. Very, very low. I felt the hot wind from the thrust of the engines but I did not stop pedaling. Five F-18 jets blasted across the sky in a V formation.
A ray of light swept across the sky from the National Cathedral towards to the airport. Two of the fighter jets vanished with no trace. The automobiles on the ground that the ray shone on vanished as well. In the distance, I could see more rays from the sky pointing in the direction of the Capitol Building, the White House, the memorials along the tidal basin.
I skidded my bike to a halt, took my pack off and pulled out a portable handheld radio and headphones. I turned to the news station and then rode on. Reports of panic throughout the area, gridlock, power outages. Landmarks were disappearing one by one and DC may not have been alone in this phenomenon. Was it an attack, an apocalypse, an end of some sort? Then a ray of light zig zagged its way from the tidal basin, across the potomac and on to the parkway. I skidded to a halt again. I did not like the look of this. I turned the bike around in the opposite direction, rode down the grass embankment, cut through the halted traffic, across the median and on to the road heading away from the city. I hauled ass, the ray of light steadily approaching much faster than I could have legally driven much less how fast I could ride.
Closer. The hairs on my neck stood. It got too bright to see. It got hard to breathe. I began to yell but a sound like rushing wind filled my ears and drowned out any sound. I felt a vibration like every cell, every molecule in my body was shaking loose. The painfully white bright light grew, washing out the world, and then abruptly there was a stillness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. And then a blackness as if someone had turned off the light — all light everywhere, ever. It was only then that I felt my heart pounding and then fading and then nothing but bla….
The sounds of a beach. Seagulls? That was a familiar sound. The sound of my alarm clock. I did not hit the snooze button. I bolted out of bed, confused and disoriented. Was I awake? If that was a dream it was more than a dream. But at least I was here, alive.
I frantically searched for the remote control and turned on the television. A car commercial was playing. I looked for the time. 7:45 AM. Maybe it was all just a wild dream. I looked for the date. I slumped on to my desk chair when the commercial ended and the news came on. An aerial view of downtown DC, the city being barely recognizable. It looked as if it had been plucked bare. Everything intact, but missing some of the most well known structures you expect to see in DC. The anchor man talked but I didn’t hear him. News crawls scrolled but I didn’t read them. I only saw the date.
Two and a half weeks had passed. I was flustered. I didn’t have two and a half weeks worth of memories. The last thing I remembered was being in the path of a ray of light from the sky.
This was not going to be an ordinary day.