Despare moved as slowly as he could. A misstep now, any miscalculation at all, could mean the end. He had worked much too hard to fail like this. He pressed on, quietly. When he tried the catch again, it gave.
He let out his breath slowly and closed his eyes. He was in.
The light clicked on.
“…Pat?” she asked, the sleep heavy in her voice.
He said nothing.
“What the hell time is it?” she began to rummage around on the bed to look for her phone. She was not coherent yet, barely looking at him. The shock of the light was causing her to stammer throughout this confrontation.
“hey babe,” he said. He walked in to the room.
She stopped rummaging and looked at him. She said nothing. He did not look at her.
He sat down next to where she lay and looked at the wall.
There being nothing to say, he laid down next to her.
She turned out the light. A few minutes later, she turned over.
The next morning, he made sure he was gone early. The setback he had suffered may be enough to derail some folks but not Despare. He would just need to finish the project today. He was not counting on her sleeping in the front room again, but it happens. She wouldn’t be there much longer anyway. His art was his true love, and Vanessa was another mistress. As much as he could get wrapped up in day to day biological needs, he knew where his true fidelity lay and it was about time to come correct.
He had started the troupe several years back because the market in the area for Immersive theatre, or any theatre, was appalling. Most folks are too concerned with passive entertainment and the "news" can sedate those animals. He saw his company as a way to not only provide a previously nonexistent art to his community, but also to flush out other like -minded individuals with similar cultural aspirations. Never one for modesty, and perhaps prone to self grandiosity, he called his band of artists the “Mercury in Retrograde Theatre Experience”.
This, of course, was a tip of the hat to the infamous Orson Welles and his production company, the Mercury Theatre. That same gang of ragamuffins that sent hundreds of America into a frenzy during the 1930’s because of a staging of a science fiction story. They had the brilliant idea to frame it as news broadcasts from the front line, and good ol countrymen and women everywhere thought they were listening to the invasion of their homeland by the ultimate of outsiders. It is a matter of speculation whether or not Mr. Welles understood the zeitgeist well enough to make a metatextual statement, or if he was just trying to jazz up a boring story. Could be both, could be neither.
Regardless of artistic intent, the result was sensational. We are taught that the enemy is everpresent and always coming from somewhere else so it was a good flavor of spin to whip up the people. Several hundred people came to be affected and the incident is known to history as the "Panic Broadcast". Some even go as far to say it was the progenitor of what we know today as “fake news’
It was this nod in name sake that gave Patrick the inspiration to pull off the big one; the A One, the F dash dash dash word spectacle that could alter his life’s trajectory just as the Panic broadcast had lit Mr. Welles’ fuse and exploded him as a global phenomenon. Patrick was right, but as is the case with grand ambition and unwitting hubris, the conclusion would come to pass in a much more tragic shade.
Patrick Despare would close up his performances every night with some psychological persuasion. A little gaslight as byline to bid his audience adieu. It would always be something like this
“Good evening my people. If I can leave you with anything, remember this:. In order to overcome your desire you must get inside it , live it, breathe it, become it. Anything less and you are lying to yourself and to your dreams. There is nothing, nothing, worse than lying to your dreams. You have to stand and be true or you live your life wondering if you could do it again. I say again: expression at all costs should be your life's goal, I know it is mine. Ask yourself: What would you do to get there?”
“AAAAGH!,” he screamed.
It was all he could do now, the rest of his body would not function. The beast had him pinned in between the door and the wall. He hadn’t meant to shield himself this way, but reflexes are spontaneous by nature and here he was. The teeth and slime were so close he could smell the corrosion of the last meal eaten. How the hell this thing was in the building at all was beyond him. If he could just time it right, he would be able to dig out of this mess. He waited, listening to the impatient scratches and tenacious gnashing of the canine. It seemed to be a Doberman, Pitt, velociraptor mix. Whatever breed the animal was, it was monstrous. He raised his hand to throw the key, even though that would make his trip that much more arduous. Then the beacon sounded,
The animal was stunned by the new auditory assault. Patrick utilized the distraction to make his escape. He pushed the door outward just enough to pin the dog and he leapt into the classroom and shut the door. The dog resumed its barrage as soon as the door was shut. Patrick would have to face the animal again on his way out, but that didn’t matter at present. Right now he had to get out the window and get that beacon turned off.
Karl ducked down behind the cinder blocks outside the school. Despare must have not been able to reach the beacon in time.
“fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said.
He didn’t know what the next step was but he didn’t figure he would be able to get out of this one in one piece. He risked a raised peek over the bricks. His eyes widened.
Several of them were outside now approaching the school. Karl could not risk being seen, he would blow the whole thing. His brain spun trying to think of the best course of action. There wasn’t anything he could do in the face of the assault of the siren. it was damn loud, just like they had designed it to be. Despare was just going to have to get it turned off.
“Come on, Pat, Come on,” he said.
Karl hadn’t been part of the company originally, just a delivery driver with Postmates. Apparantly, Patrick had been struck with his look and convinced him to jump aboard. His inexperience, and lack of any talent at all, would add to the piece’s authenticity, he had said. (Surely, it had nothing to do with Despare being short on tip money that day) So instead of waiting for calls to come in for delivery, he spent his time working on the TLA project with MIRTE. It was quite a different world, and he didn’t have anything to lose. As time drew nearer for the big show, he began to get nervous. He thought about putting it all down but considered the experience worth it. He should have listened to the fear, should have gotten the hell away. But here they were.
“Come on you fuck,” he said.
He spat in the dirt, continued fidgeting with his shirt, and waited.
Despare opened the window and looked out cautiously. He only saw a few folks out there but he knew there would be more. The beacon did it’s job remarkably well. It was designed for this but who knew it would still work after everything else had gone to shit. He made the leap through the sill.
He climbed around the top of the building toward where he could get at it. He was careful to creep and dodge whenever possible but in the light of day it was hard. He tried to keep his eyes off the gathering crowd, were they gathering? He didn’t know what was panic and what was wishful thinking. Part of him still wanted to go through with it. With what had happened to the others he knew he shouldn’t, knew that Karl and Jamie would surely be pissed. So he focused on turning off the beacon. He was so close now.
It was a lot easier to have this installed then it was to get to now. Had they used a damn cherry picker? It looks like he was going to have to climb a little higher. He risked a peek below. It looked like those milling about couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. He breathed out and shut his eyes. He then jumped at the ledge and grabbed at it. He had to do it a couple of times. Each time he figured he would slip and fall off the roof. Finally he grasped it. The Frequency emitter was in his hands and he could shut the damn thing off. Which he did.
It squawked slightly as it shutdown. Despare started bundling up the cables connected to the speakers. He yanked and tugged, There was no way those were coming down. He cursed and shook his head, dejected. Then he had a thought. Maybe this wasn’t the worst news. Maybe the show could still go on. The gleam was back in his eyes as he pulled out his walky and tuned to the correct channel.
Karl breathed out a huge sigh when the siren stopped. Finally, they could try and salvage some of this. So many had been hurt already. But then his hopes died as he heard Despare’s voice over the loud speaker.
Oh shit, No
“Attention, your attention please,” Despare said through the static.
Do Not do it man, DO NOT admit fault
“ you all have been subject to a rather large…” he began
There was a whistling sound and the sound of a baseball hitting a window. Then the school exploded.
“Holy shit!,” said Anne.
She stopped running and stared at the fireball.
Dewayne almost ran into her because he was staring too and couldn’t quite quit his momentum.
They both let this new horror wash over them. they looked at each other,
“ Was that the school?,” he asked.
“I have no idea, why?” she said.
“ They aren’t following protocol is why,” he said and spat.
She looked at him intensely.
“The boys. We are putting this mess right. But the school was definitely not going to be the first target. Must have been where that damn siren was coming from though. Come on,” He said
He grabbed her hand and pulled her down behind the closest set of bushes.
He crouched low and brought her down to his level.
“Look, for weeks we had been tracking some bizarre behavior. two nights ago we started seeing some strange shit.” He explained.
“wha?..” she tried to pull away.
“No,no just listen to me. There were busses taking people late at night.” He said.
“Listen to me, they did this to us,” Dewayne continued
“the government bastards.”
She put her hands to her face.
“oh damn, the end of the world and im stuck with a member of the great awakening. FML”
“now lady, you can’t afford to be naïve no more,” he was careful to keep his voice pitched low but it was tough. She was testing his temper again.
“fuck this,” she said and turned to leave.
“ Look it doesn’t matter who did it ok? I need you to stick with me so we can get through this. I’m just as freaked about this as you.”
“So you blew up a school?” she asked
“ Im assuming it was the team, I don’t know of any other’s that were left. my buddy and I had lit out to check houses for… supplies before we turned the tables on what’s really going on.” He said.
She only looked at him.
“Ha, you know I never asked you your name?” he said
After a moment she answered.
“Ok Anne, I promise ya I’m not a nut. You just met me at a really strange time in my life.”
She rolled her eyes.
“ The world ends and I get stuck with a meta movie quoting redneck member of the great awakening,” she said.
He looked at her.
“um, that’s from a movie?,” he asked.
“Oh it’s so ingrained he doesn’t know...”she began
There was small crack and then the sky lit up again with another explosion, this time from the opposite side of town.
“Oh Christ!” she said.
They stood in stunned silence for a moment.
She looked at him to discern responsibility.
He looked back at her with terrified eyes and shook his head.
Then they ran.
When the timing is right, the teacher would present themselves.
This is what he had learned during his many years in the chaos of the private sector. He had aspirations of following his father’s footprints. Right into the Marines like him and Mom. The kid from the perfect military union. But then he had to go and reinforce the stereotype of turning out nothing like either.
Alan couldn’t see himself ever doing the right thing by them. He just saw the world differently. They thought they could trust the powers that be, and how laughable was that? Ridiculous, absolute horseshit.
If they would have listened to him and his weariness to fight for a cause, maybe they would have avoided dying for one.
He sighed, and powered on his phone. The last of the circuitry on the grid had switched with only a mild latency. This was one of his smoother shifts at the plant. Some days were a straight shit show. And those times made it harder for him to hold his horses. Patience was not his strongest attribute anyway, but he had to be able to make a statement or else it would be all for nothing. Well not nothing, but not serving in the bigger scheme.
So he would just kill some time instead and check the Feed.
His eyes widened
He had 86 new messages, 15 missed calls, forty notifications from various social media platforms.
This was highly unusual.
His mind began to reel, tottering like a train going too fast around a bend. It would hold but it would be missing pieces. He could only think one thing:
Attack. Its gotta be an attack, it’s the only thing.
He checked the missed calls first to see if it was an emergency from a family member. His sister was still around in the south and would sometimes call.
Oh god, please, please.
Thank god, It wasn’t from anyone in his immediate family. In fact, a lot of them were from a blocked number… what was going on.
He pulled up his messages and they ALL said bad things
Many were links to articles.
Some were just straight up exclamations.
All were from the casual acquaintances he had on his phone. He didn’t have anybody he considered a friend since things had ended so badly with Marcus.
Had Marcus messaged him?
He scanned through the texts looking:
Where are you?
Are you seeing this shit???
SOS SOS SOS
Answer your phone!!
No he didn’t see anything from his ex. Nothing like a little wishful thinking In the middle of an emergency.
He clicked on INfluxx
And then he started to get really scared.
Terror strike at home
The end is nigh
Mysterious sickness linked to blasts and outages in…
At the end of the world, how is your EPK?
Oh God, maybe it was time, he thought.
His phone buzzed again, and he looked down.
It was a text from Marcus.
He did matter after all.
It was three words.
“Do it now,” Marcus had written.
The teacher had presented himself.
“Thank you, “ whispered Allen.
He reached in his pocket and pushed the detonator. The power plant blew up in two cacophonous explosions and collapsed in on itself. Right before Allen dissolved into white light, it occurred to him that he had died for a cause after all.
The explosion caused the entire grid for the three state area to go dark. Total blackout conditions for miles and miles. The terror that unfolded over the next three days was not the direct effect of this situation, but the lack of power certainly exacerbated a serious situation. It was utter, poetic, pandemonium.
As cyclic as culture runs, Jenny should not have been surprised. Just twenty years or so
shy of 100 for this anniversary. She may have been inclined to give a smartass retort on a normal day. But today her priorities were different. Today Jennifer Phillips, art student and aspiring actress at Haddonfield Tech, was dying.
Her breath was coming in ragged tears and as much as she hated to admit it, they were slowing down. She didn’t have long. They had held her down for so long she had blacked out. apparently, because she came to and sucked in water instead of breath. She pushed herself backward and out of the bathtub they had been using. It was hers of course, they were waiting for her when she had gotten home.
She had been out with the last of the team tying up the last of the field production. The last part of the story had risen organically, through an actor’s own affliction with allergies. She absolutely loved when the art gets manipulated mid piece like that, it gave her such a fucking rush. As powerful as creating life, giving birth to the imagined dreams of fellow creatives.
So with the last detail in place, they had finished their assignment and had come home to rest up before the big day. But on her way home she found that the power seemed to be out EVERYWHERE. There was not a light on anywhere and when she opened her door, they had grabbed her.
They roped her head with a hefty bag and dragged her straight into her bathroom where they already had the bath filled up with Ice cold water. As it rushed down into her throat she noticed that it had a bitter flavor like old greasy fast food.
She had time to think:
Fucking salt water?
Before they pushed her back down into the abyss.
As she hadn’t even taken a breath prior to going under, she gagged on the absence of any thing on her mouth and aspirated more of the filthy water into her lungs. She was pulled back up and punched in the face. Then she crumpled to the floor as much as she could with them still holding her.
“Where were the buses going, Jennifer?” asked a voice from far away
“um, “ she said
“ Where the fuck were they going? “ the voice asked again
She actually thought it made sense for a moment, was about to answer and put an end to this terrible ordeal, but then she was right back under. She was able to hold her breath this time but still had liquid pouring into her mouth. As she held her breath she noticed that this water, while salty was quite warm.
They hauled her up again.
“Where. Did . They. Go?” the voice asked.
She blinked, gasped, and said:
“ Well why didn’t you follow them instead of coming here, asshole? Big fucking bus and you lost it?”
The voice did not laugh.
He hit her again this time with the butt of something. In she fell, back into the water.
When she awoke, she was alone with her thoughts. And whatever was alive in her throat.
It was bitter but welcome. She didn’t always feel much anymore.
So here she was, dying in her shitty apartment on Nyygard street. She should have moved when she had the chance. Goddamn Desparre. He could be so damn convincing. Just like any truly great con artist, he sprinkled his lies with enough truth to get buy in from his audience.
He always got the best buy in.
She seemed docile and contemplative, a little extra introspective if anything.
Perhaps this is what happened when you died; you became extra aware and philosophical, and then pffft…
Wait a minute. That is not what is happening here. She is alive and alone.
Her tormentors were not around. She breathed and closed her eyes.
Then she was up on her feet, ready to fuck some shit up.
She grabbed her keys and knocked something else on the ground.
As the bomb ignited, she had one time for one more thought.