INITIAL STATIC

writer’s note: i’m turning this story in for critique in a few short days, please feel free to leave your thought in the comments. thanks~

Jonathan Parker was trying to sleep. Three days of hard partying had caught up with him about nine o’ clock the previous night and he’d dropped like a stone into his bed, not intending to get up for a week. His thesis was finally finished. Written, turned in, questioned, answered, examined, approved, sealed, stamped, finished. All he wanted now was sleep. Something pounding at his door, however, seemed to have other ideas. Something yelling at him through his door.

“Mate! Wake up in there!”

Andrew. His best friend, who came from some place up north, some place where they said “Mate!” a lot. Jonathan had at first assumed it to be an affectation, something said to annoy the new Yankee, but his other friends assured him that nothing with Andrew was an affectation, that Andrew was not clever enough for affectations.

“Mate, are you alright in there?”

Jonathan groaned. “No,” he said to himself. To Andrew, he said, “Hold on already. I’m coming.”

He untangled himself from his sheets and swung his feet over the edge of his bed. His head didn’t seem to notice when the rest of him stopped moving, and instead attempted to continue the circular motion on its own. He groaned again. The clock on his bed stand flashed on and off. 1:02. The power must have gone out at some point. Hadn’t he read somewhere that Oxford had it’s own power grid?

Jonathan greeted his friend at the door. “What do you want? Is it even a proper time of day?”

“Not really,” Andrew answered. “But you should call your parents, mate. And turn on your tele.”

Jonathan blinked. Everything looked fuzzy. His tongue felt like it was covered in shag carpeting. He was certain he didn’t want the noise of the television in his world. But Andrew looked very worried.

“Mkay.” Jonathan gestured towards a puny black-and-white screen on the floor opposite his desk.

Andrew pushed past him into the room and flicked it on. Initial static reformed into a map of the United States, dotted with little explosion marks. A reporter’s voice came on. “…in what officials are describing as a highly coordinated terrorist attack.”

The map was replaced with the reporter herself. She looked harried, as if she had needed just five more minutes in that hair and make-up room.

“If you’re just joining us, we have shocking word out of the United States this morning. At least a dozen cities have been struck by terrorist bombs, including New York, Boston, and Chicago. No one has yet claimed responsibility, and Washington is of course still reeling from the attacks…”

The woman kept talking, but Jonathan was no longer paying attention. He had yanked his cell phone from his bag at the mention of Boston, and he now had it pressed against his ear. There was silence for longer than there should have been, and then a computerized voice came on. “The number you have dialed is currently unavailable. Please try again. Thank you.”

“No luck, mate?”

Jonathan shook his head.

The reporter continued. “Communications are, at this point, obviously, a bit sketchy as the American government struggles to cope with the loss of so many of its population centers. The only known picture of the damage is a satellite photo of downtown Boston we found circulating on the web. From half an hour ago, did you say? Yes?”

The screen filled with a grainy shot of what looked like a Hollywood special effect. Where there should have been downtown Boston, there was only rubble. Where there might once have been foundations, there wasn’t even enough left to tell which part of downtown this had been.

Two hours passed with Jonathan and Andrew glued to the television. Every hour, on the hour, Jonathan would make another attempt at his parents’s number, but each time it was unavailable. The reporter went on as pictures began to trickle in, each one worse than the last. New York, Chicago, LA, the Nevada desert. Every picture showed blank slate where once there had been civilization.

By the time Jonathan’s clock proclaimed it to be 3 AM, he had a stream of well-wishers at his door. Without the energy or the will to get up himself, he let Andrew handle them. As his clock ticked past 6:15, and with yet another attempt to contact his parents ending in failure, Jonathan flipped open his laptop. A quick search got him the number of the American Embassy in London, but upon dialing it, he was told that the embassy didn’t open until eight. At eight hours and one minute past midnight, he dialed the embassy again, and after nearly half an hour on hold, he reached one Mr. McQuillen.

“My parents live in Boston,” Jonathan told him. “I desperately need to contact them.”

Mr. McQuillen sighed. This was not a new problem for his morning. “Unfortunately, sir, we have no way of contacting any of the stricken cities,” he recited. “I don’t think anyone has. We have a list of names we can put your parents on, with a contact number. Then if they call, or if anyone finds news of them, we can call you, but that’s really all we can do at this point.”

Jonathan sighed too. He told himself he shouldn’t be surprised at how difficult it was to call a city that had just been wiped off the face of the planet.

“Sir?”

“Yeah.” Jonathan gave his information and hung up. Andrew raised his eyebrows. “They had a list of names,” Jonathan said. “The guy didn’t sound real hopeful.”

“Probably a bit frazzled. A couple million people living in Boston.”

“Yeah.” Jonathan blinked. He sighed. He tried to think straight. “I think I’m going to go downstairs.”

Downstairs, in the dorm’s lobby, was a large flat-screen television. Most of the dorm’s residents were now camped out in front of it, many of them still in their night clothes. Being the only American in the dorm, Jonathan was well-known, and his affable nature made him well-liked. As he rounded the corner from the elevators into the main room, several students stood up and walked him over to the couch, where they set him up with a fleece throw and some pillows. Andrew sat down next to him and fended off questions like a mother hen protecting her chicks.

About 10, the news anchor interrupted one of her own reporters. “Sorry, sorry, Mitch. It look like we’ve received a piece of amateur video of the attack on Boston. We’re told it was shot by a young man surveying the area by helicopter on behalf of a film company.”

The screen filled with a grainy shot of the Boston skyline. The camera panned down to show some trees and grass, with the film-maker’s voice describing how well he thought the location would work in the film. Suddenly, he interrupted himself with a foul word and the scene shot back up to the Boston skyline, to the mushroom cloud now forming above it.

Silence reigned for a moment before the reporter came back on, visibly shaken. “Oh my God. That was… That /was/ Boston, Massachusetts, approximately six-twenty local time. Right in the middle of rush hour. My God.”

With all eyes on him, Jonathan stood up. Without a word, he headed for the elevator.

Andrew jumped up after him. “Where you going, mate?”

“I need to get dressed,” Jonathan answered, his voice measured, monotone. The elevator came and they stepped in. “Probably shouldn’t go in my pajamas.”

“Go where, exactly?”

“Boston, of course.” Jonathan stayed very still, very tense, as if he were standing inside an iron maiden. They stepped off the elevator, and Andrew followed him to his room.

“You think they’ll let you in? You heard they’ve grounded all the air traffic?”

“I live there,” Jonathan answered, stepping into his room.

Andrew leaned against the closed door. “It was a nuke, mate. I don’t think they’re letting anybody in.”

There was no answer for a couple of minutes, and then Jonathan re-emerged from his room, his favorite coat on and his bag over his shoulder. “I live there,” he said. “They have to let me in. They can’t keep me out of my own damned country. Now, I need a plane ticket. Can I borrow some money?”

Andrew stared at him. “How rich do you think I am?”

“Can I borrow some money or not?”

Andrew managed to keep his gaze up for a few more seconds before he sighed in defeat. “Yeah, alright. Just promise me you’ll be careful, mate, eh?”

“I’m a librarian, Andrew. What kind of trouble could I get into?”

~*~

A flight attendant’s voice woke Jonathan from a light sleep. “…Gracias. We will be landing at Gonzales International Airport in Cuidad Juarez in approximately fifteen minutes. Please return your trays to their upright and locked position and…”

All flights to America had been canceled, so Jonathan was forced to take the next best thing: a flight to northern Mexico. Once there, he figured it would be a simple matter of showing his papers to the border guards and getting on his way. Stretching, he sat up and fastened his seat belt.

“Pardon me,” said the woman next to him, “but you don’t look Mexican.” She didn’t look Mexican either, and in fact had an American accent.

“Boston,” Jonathan answered.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve seen the pictures.”

“Me, too.”

They shook hands. “Actually, that’s what I’m here for,” the woman said. “Name’s Rebecca Jennings. I’m a photo-journalist.”

“Jonathan Parker. Newly minted librarian.” He considered things for a moment. “And erstwhile Bostonian,” he added.

“Newly minted?”

“I just finished my masters thesis at Oxford. About three days ago. I was supposed to come home next week.”

Rebecca didn’t answer. The plane landed, and they headed their seperate ways. Jonathan was just stepping into a cab when he heard his name.

“Jonathan! Mr. Parker!” It was Rebecca, running to catch him.

“Jonathan’s fine. Mr. Parker’s my father. What can I do for you?”

“I assume you’re headed for Boston?”

“That’s right.”

“I just got word they’ve closed the border, and I don’t think–“

“They what?” Jonathan shouted. “I’m US citizen, for Christ’s sake. I have my passport, I have my papers, I have–“

Rebecca lifted her hand. “I have connections,” she said. “I’m headed to Boston myself, but I’ve never been there before, and I could use someone familiar with the city’s layout. I’ll get you in if you show me around.”

Jonathan looked her up and down. She looked ready for business in jeans, a t-shirt, and a tailored leather jacket. From her shoulder dangled an overnight bag, a laptop bag, and a sizable camera bag.

“Alright,” he said. “Fine. Let’s go.” Anything to get him closer to home.

As they got in the cab, Rebecca pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed. “Hey, Marty, it’s me. … Yeah, I finally made it. Met a nice young gentleman from Boston, too. … What? Can they even do that? … Well, I suppose so, but still … Sure! Meet you there. Bye.”

“Well?” Jonathan said.

“They’ve declared martial law in El Paso. We’re going to have to take an alternate route.” To the taxi driver she said, “As close as you can get us to Ft. Hancock, please, as fast as this car can go.”

The driver turned to her with raised eyebrows. “Ma’am?”

She pulled a wad of bills from her pocket. “I give As for effort.”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

The taxi took off, disobeying all kinds of laws of traffic, and probably a few of physics as well. Jonathan tried to calm down, but the jostling motion of the cab was the least of his worries. Martial law? In El Paso, Texas?

Rebecca leaned over to whisper to him. “Looks like an Iranian-funded anti-Israel group has taken responsibility for the initial round of nukes. Washington’s sealing both borders. Rumor has it we’re going to nuke back.”

Jonathan turned to her, his face paling. “This is it,” he said. “This is the end of the world.”

She nodded. “Seems that way.”

Jonathan sat in consternation. How was this happening? He’d just finished his thesis, the world wasn’t supposed to end. How was he going to enjoy his life now? He frowned. What the hell kind of question was that? The world was about to end, no one was going to enjoy their life now. Struck by a sudden thought, he pulled his cell phone out and scrolled through his contacts list. He put the phone to his ear, but got nothing.

“Family?” Rebecca asked.

“My friend Andrew, at Oxford. But I got nothing, not even an error message. Just some clicks.”

The two of them looked at each other and shrugged. Jonathan tried to put it out of his mind.

The taxi continued on at its frantic pace, occasionally driving on the shoulder and cutting across fields in an effort to shorten the journey. At the Ft. Hancock border crossing, Rebecca made the driver quite rich before she and Jonathan set off towards the crowd that had gathered around the gate.

“Rebecca! Hey!”

A short Mexican man waved them over and they found as quiet a spot as possible, just beyond the crowds. “Good to see you made it, girl,” he said.

Rebecca smiled. “Good to see you, too. This is Jonathan Parker. Jonathan, Jesus Martinez. Marty.” They shook hands. “So,” Rebecca said. “What’s the dish?”

Marty pointed to the mob behind him. “Take a look. As of about six hours ago, it’s nobody in or out. Course that’s not stopping too many people. Kind of ironic to see it going the other way, but I guess after San Francisco…”

“San Francisco?” Jonathan said.

“Marty, we’ve been on a plane for twelve hours,” Rebecca said.

“Another round of bombings,” Marty answered. “San Francisco, a couple of places in Nebraska, some in Ohio. People are getting out of the country as fast as they can.”

Jonathan’s forehead creased in puzzlement. “Ohio?”

“Lot of military bases in Ohio,” Rebecca said.

“Ahmadinejad’s a little late if he wanted to prevent a second strike, though,” Marty said. “Word came through about ten minutes ago. The Americans dropped a nuke of there own on Tehran.”

“You seem kind of happy about it,” Jonathan accused him.

Marty shrugged. “Always knew I’d be here for the end of the world. Nice to be so right for once.” To Rebecca, he said, “You’ll be running towards danger, as usual?”

“Of course!”

“Right this way then, Miss.” He led them to a heavily forested area about fifteen minute’s walk from the border station. “The Americans don’t know about this place yet. I’m sure it won’t be long, though, so hurry up.”

“Thank you Marty.”

“Just be careful, girl. You owe me a lot of money.”

“You know me!” Rebecca shouted back as she and Jonathan took off into the trees.

~*~

The city of Ft. Hancock, Texas was a mess. Word of martial law being declared in cities along both the Mexican and Canadian borders had sent citizens across the country into a panic, and Fort Hancock was no exception. As Rebecca and Jonathan walked through streets littered with trash, they passed armed looters in nearly every shop. Jonathan heard a faint clicking sound at his side and looked over to find Rebecca taking pictures on the sly.

They had gone only a couple of miles into the city when a massive rumble sounded above their heads. People around them began to scream as they realized it was the sound of an airplane. Rebecca yanked Jonathan over to a pair of motor scooters parked absurdly in front of what had once been a small grocery store. A massive boom sounded from above them as she lifted up the seat of one of them and stuffed in her bags.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jonathan asked her.

She looked up, all business. “You were planning on walking to Boston?”

“Well I certainly wasn’t planning on going grand theft Vespa. And what about the plane?”

“Super sonic. If it was aiming for us, we’d never have heard it. Now get on.” She pulled a screwdriver out of her bag and took the front panel off of her new scooter. Jonathan watched, fascinated despite himself, as she deftly hot wired first the one, and then the other, Vespa with ease. She revved her throttle and turned to him. “Let’s go.”

Jonathan sighed. He couldn’t agree with the principle, but she was right, it was a long way to walk.

~*~

The two of them stuck to the highways and bypasses as much as possible, avoiding all but the smallest towns on their way to Boston. They stole gas and food when they needed it, and slept under the stars in a tent, also stolen. Jonathan was beginning to feel uncomfortable with Rebecca’s lack of morals, but held his tongue.

Three days after leaving Ft. Hancock, they stopped in the newly deserted town of Rumble Creek, Kentucky. They parked their bikes outside the town’s only store and left them running while they went inside for supplies. Thankfully, the people of Rumble Creek seemed not to have bothered looting their town before fleeing from it.

“Where is everyone?” Jonathan asked as they wandered up and down the aisles, collecting goods.

“Probably headed for Mexico,” Rebecca answered. “Here, take this.” She thrust a bunch of cans on top of the growing pile in Jonathan’s arms.

“You’re equal opportunity, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, a little,” she said, guiltily. “Look, it’s not like anybody here is going to be using it, and we need it.”

“I’m familiar with the rationale, if only because you’ve repeated it during every one of our shopping trips on this little cross-country excursion. Let’s trying sticking to what we actually /need/ though, shall we? I’m a bit short of pack mules at the moment.”

Rebecca shrugged. “Alright.” Her eyes rested on the glass counter at the front of the store. “We’ll take one of these radios, though.” She grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall and smashed her way into the case.

Jonathan lost his cool. “Can we please refrain from vandalizing public property?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have a key handy.”

“Did you even look?”

She scowled at him and threw the radio on top of the pile. “I’m going to go get a bag.”

As she disappeared into the back of the store, Jonathan set the pile down on the unbroken sections of the counter, found some batteries, and went to work on the radio.

“… reporting for CNN Atlanta, with the situation as of this hour. Iranian president Ahmadinejad has released a statement once again denouncing the United States as a country of infidels and supporters of Israeli terrorists. President Williams shot back with a statement of his own, saying that the US is prepared to defend itself and its allies from any and all enemies, noting that these enemies included countries found to be supporting terrorists.

“The list of targeted cities is growing steadily. In addition to Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno, Houston, Dallas.” The reporter sighed. “And countless others, we’ve received word that Philadelphia has been hit within the past hour, and that another attempt has been made on Washington, D. C. As with the other attempts, this one appears to have been deflected by a squadron of Air Force fighter jets charged with protecting our Capitol.

“In other news, meteorologists are warning people to stay indoors. The jet stream is apparently carrying radioactively-charged particles from the west coast across the middle of the country. It appears most people are following this advice, and daily life across this nation has come to a stunning halt.”

Rebecca returned with two large duffel bags and began stuffing them full.

“FEMA director Michael Dickerson today announced a new sunset curfew in addition to the air raid blackouts.”

A man’s voice came on. “Not only will this help conserve our valuable energy resources, it will aid in keeping our cities hidden from enemy bombers. Please keep all lights off after sunset. This includes car headlights, lights in your home, and any other light source which may be visible from the sky.”

“Director Dickerson also continued to urge fuel conservation,” the reporter continued, “saying that while America’s domestic oil supplies were not in danger, Americans would need to ‘significantly reduce their fuel consumption for the long term.'”

There was a long silence before the reporter came on again. “I’m sorry. We’ve just received word that the UK has suffered its first nuclear attack. It seems several cities were hit just within the past couple of hours, including London, Manchester, Oxford, possibly others. As we get more information on the situation there, we will pass it on–” There was a muffled crash and some screams. The reporter whispered, “Oh my God,” and then … nothing. Static filled the small store, echoed off the bare shelves and the cracked glass. Jonathan adjusted the antenna and tried a few different frequencies, but with no luck. Everywhere was static.

“We just lost Atlanta,” Rebecca said, her voice almost a whisper. She sounded as though she didn’t quite belive her own statement.

Jonathan stuffed the radio in one of the bags, a deep scowl on his face. “Let’s go.”

~*~

It was another three days to Boston. Jonathan had never been especially chatty, but now he was morose in his silence. Rebecca’s attempts at conversation were met with one word answers and grunts. He didn’t even say good night before climbing into his sleeping bag. He took to sleeping with the radio, although he didn’t turn it on.

About twenty miles southwest of Boston, they set up camp for the night and ate their canned meal in silence. Rebecca set about her nightly routine of downloading pictures from her camera to her laptop. “I’m running out of hard drive space on this thing,” she said, a forced lightness in her voice.

Jonathan didn’t answer. He had already gotten into his sleeping bag.

“Too bad I didn’t pack extra hard drives in with all those extra batteries, huh?”

Still no answer, but there was movement. There was a click, static. Jonathan had turned on the radio. The static changed pitch a bit as he moved the dials, but he didn’t find any active stations.

“The whole coast’s probably been evacuated,” Rebecca said. “You’re not going to get anything on there.”

Jonathan flipped the radio from the FM to the AM band and kept searching. Rebecca sighed and turned back to her computer, but was interrupted by a man’s voice on the radio.

“If anyone out there can hear me anyway.”

Rebecca slammed her computer shut and raced over to sit beside Jonathan, who had jerked bolt upright in his sleeping bag.

“… very odd,” the voice continued. “Think about all that radiation. I was right there! I should be dead, but I’m not even ill. And they were spraying something. From the air. The feds. I’m not sure … … …”

Rebecca and Jonathan exchanged looks as a blast of static muffled the airwaves.

“It’s getting colder, too. Although, I guess that’s to be expected. A week later, and everything’s still in flames. I can only pray that what the feds were dropping was fire suppressant.” The voice sighed. “Anyway, for anyone else out there, get the hell out of town. By any means possible. Boston’s not safe anymore.”

~*~

The next morning, they ate another silent meal and headed out. As they neared the city, a white wall came into view. It was glaringly reflective and apparently surrounded the entire city. They couldn’t see many buildings over it – the wall was at least fifty feet high. Heavily armed guards strode back and forth in front of it looking self important and silly. Jonathan and Rebecca were still five miles from city limits when they decided to park their scooters and walk the rest of the way. They got as close as they dared and inspected as best they could before heading back.

“Nice,” Rebecca said.

“That’s I-95.” Jonathan sounded far away. “It used to be I-95.”

“They look real friendly, too, don’t they? Like a porcupine militia.”

“And what the hell was it made out of? It didn’t look like cloth, but it didn’t feel like concrete.” A note in Rebecca’s voice caught Jonathan’s attention. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “What did you have in mind?”

“Why, whatever do you mean?” Rebecca asked, a mock innocent look on her face.

Jonathan frowned.

“Alright. Come on.”

They started up the Vespas again and he followed her around the southeastern corner of the city. Careful to avoid sight of I-95, they ended up just south of the perimeter, in Dorchester Bay.

Rebecca hopped off the scooter and began wrapping her bag in a rain slicker, one of a pair they had stolen a couple towns back. “You swim?” she asked.

Jonathan parked his scooter next to Rebecca’s and left his bag on the ground next to it. “Good enough. You do know what kind of junk is in this bay, though, right?”

Rebecca shrugged. “A friend of mine snuck in this way once. Whatever else it is, it’s survivable.”

Jonathan paused, uncertain of what to question first. “Survivable? That’s your check line?”

“Yeah. Come on.”

“Can I ask? Why your friend was sneaking in?”

“She pissed off a few authorities,” Rebecca said, smiling. “Thought it best if she stuck to the underground on subsequent visits. Not bringing your bag?”

He shook his head. “I’m ready.”

The two of them jumped into the cold water. There weren’t any patrols around, so they made fairly good time heading the four of five miles north into Boston Harbor, following the coastline up and around. Rebecca led them down a canal into the city, an airport on their left and a park on their right. When they reached the highway bridge just beyond the canal opening, Jonathan stopped following and took of on his own along the bridge.

“Hey!” Rebecca after him, as loudly as she dared. “Where’re you going?” When he didn’t answer, she started off after him. She followed him all the way around the airport, and around a small peninsula on the other side, still without an answer. The airport turned out to have heavily armed patrols, but the two of them managed to avoid detection and come ashore on the other side of the peninsula, protected from view by piles of rubble. They climbed out of the bay, soaked and exhausted, just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon.

“Ok,” Rebecca started in on him. “I followed you all around that damned airport, all around this damned peninsula, and now here we are on the world’s smallest beach. What the hell?”

But Jonathan wasn’t listening. He had already started walking, following the remnants of the road north. Rebecca hurriedly unwrapped her bag and gave its contents a cursory inspection. Finding nothing damaged beyond repair, she took off after Jonathan.

“It looks to me like the blast site is on the other side of that airport,” she said, pointing. “What the hell’s over here?”

“Logan,” Jonathan whispered.

“Who?”

“‘That damned airport.’ It’s Logan International. Beyond that?” He gave a short laught. “Probably Cambridge Crater.”

The two of them continued north for a couple of blocks, Rebecca snapping photos all along the way. As they neared a certain cross-street, Jonathan ran the last few feet and stopped in front of the building on the corner. His shoulders dropped and a short moan leaked from between his lips.

“This is…” Rebecca started.

Jonathan didn’t answer. After a few minutes, he lifted his head and pointed. “Cambridge is that way. Follow this road around the curve to the next major intersection and head west. You’ll see the highway soon enough.” His voice was flat, dead. “What’s left of it, anyway.”

“Jonathan…”

“Thank you for your help.”

Rebecca sighed. “Alright. You’ll be here for a while if I have questions?”

A moment passed before Jonathan answered. “Yeah.”

“See you later, then.” She took one last snapshot of Jonathan and headed off in the direction he had pointed.

Jonathan walked up to where his front door had been and went through the motions of opening it. He closed his eyes and stepped into his foyer, hung up his coat, climbed the stairs to the second floor. He made his way to his bedroom, picturing it exactly as it had been on his last visit home. His desk, a roll-top oak secretary, underneath a large window. His bed, the scrolled oak head- and foot-boards sandwiching a deep purple silk comforter, a gift from his mother. He opened his eyes and saw dirt. The bed and desk had disappeared right along with the rest of the house and all it’s inhabitants. His mind a muddy pool, Jonathan bent down and drew an outline where his bed used to be. As he stood at the head of it, he heard a snap behind him. Rebecca hadn’t left after all. He didn’t care. He laid down, imagining the warmth of his comforter, the softness of his mattress and closed his eyes. All he wanted now was sleep.

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