Sunday, December 11, 2011


When the sirens went off in the neighborhood, blaring from the loudspeakers in the school parking lot, but loud enough to reach a 7 block radius at least, enough to overlap with the next school's territories, all the schools sitting in their low beige ranch squats like stoic and old watchdogs ( had indeed been watching over us since childhood and now as adults we hovered around them unable to separate from the cord, bought our houses around them, searched them out as signs of a "good neighborhood"), when the sirens went off, it was at first more of an inconvenience. Having to get up out of bed and put clothes on with that noise in your ears, not knowing what was happening or being awake enough to have the adrenalin of panic, that was just such a pain. Then there was the matter of heading out into the cold and being surrounded by your neighbors who you took such care to not get to know every day. Now  we had to interact with them, were being made to by necessity. It sucked.

Everyone met up in Gerard's backyard, because we just instinctively guessed that probably he would be the one in charge. His natural reticence and demeanor of perpetual annoyance, the way his lips only barely moved when he talked, and how he insisted on eye contact, glared at you when you checked your phone in front of him, which is frankly ridiculous in this day and age.  It must have reminded all of us of a natural childhood source of authority, like a teacher or priest or parent. So we turned our tired bare faces towards him, and let him take charge. If he minded at all, he never let on.

It did however take him a minute to understand the reason we were all on our phones was not that we were being rude, but that we were desperately checking the nets and the boards for information on why the sirens might be going off. That part didn't seem to concern him, he took it as a matter of fact that the sirens would be going off for a while, and that the reason didn't matter, but the action did. He insisted on head counts, and sent off people to go door to door looking for stragglers. It was generally agreed upon that we should head as a group to the school, where Gerard presumed there would be some sort of military or at least police presence waiting. Several of the rest of us thought this seemed doubtful, but we were not in charge, and we accepted this, like we accepted waiting for cable companies or overdraft fees, two year cell phones contracts. So after rounding up everyone, we started en masse for the school, which was only a few blocks away, but, as Gerard argued, there might be dangers on the way, we should stay together.

There was no one at the school. We could hear faintly in the distance the sirens going off from another school, so we knew it wasn't a mistake, but they must have been on an automatic system. Nobody had a key to get into the school, so we stood there exposed in the parking lot, waiting for Gerard to make a decision. Several of us, the phone people were now a separate party from the other older people, we stood off by ourselves and discussed what his decision might be. We thought probably the best thing to do might be to get back inside somewhere, sheltered and hidden, stock up on water and food in one place. Whatever was happening, it wasn't as immediate as bombs, we hadn't seen or heard anything to suggest bombs. If it was poisoned gas or something biochemical, then we were all fucked anyway, but maybe less fucked if we were inside and sealed up, but probably fucked cause if you seal up all the windows then eventually you lose air but also how would you know it was a biochemical agent until you all started dying? What we needed was news, and one by one we were losing reception on our phone carriers. The thing to do was assume this was a danger that was far away and wouldn't touch us for a while, and take advantage of this time to prepare and gather up supplies.

Gerard disagreed. Very quietly, very stoically, with that emotionless presence of eyebrows, he stated we should stay put and wait for someone. So we did.

We waited for hours. Someone went home and got lanterns and some blankets, against Gerard's wishes, but it was Claire who had her kids with her and she wasn't about to listen to anyone tell her that her kids had to freeze in the cold for no discernible reason. But then, she came right back, because Claire was a responsible person who believed in the inherent rightness of authority. Which was starting to seem weird to me, but then again, sometimes the swirls in my caramel latte seem weird to me, so its best to not say much until I've really thought something through completely. We sat against the brick walls of the building in the shadows as the sun started to come up over the tops of our vinyl sided bungalows, and glint off the peaks of our black glittering fake slate roofs. The neighborhood seemed so peaceful and calm, and I remembered how I used to run in the morning sometimes in college, before Pete and I had bought this house because he got the IT job a suburb over. I used to live in the city then, not a large city but more asphalt and brick stories than you ever saw out here in the middle of suburbia. When I lived with two other girls in a third floor walkup, and I would sometimes wake up really early on a Saturday, take a very hot shower and tie my hair back without drying it, dress warmly in yoga pants I never used for yoga and large heavy sweaters, lace up my favorite pair of blue and white Pumas I had bought on a trip with my mom to the outlet mall, and then run leisurely, without purpose, around the deserted city streets. Even the pigeons still seemed asleep, and I would count the number of bikes still chained up from the night before around the only college bar in town, and speculate about who had ended up where. I wanted very much to take off running now. I was only wearing regular sneakers now, and I hadn't done any action that even approximated running in years and years. But I could feel all the old muscles itching for it.

It was around 8am, sun up almost all the way now, that the first grumblings of mutiny towards our fearless leader could be heard. I was surprised it hadn't started in our group, but instead in the parents group, led by Claire's husband, whose kids were the loudest and most persistent in their complaints about no Saturday morning cartoons and no waffles and no warmth. If I had been that kind of kid, my mother would have insisted in the status quo even harder, and I wonder when that exact shift takes place in our heads, when I learned how to get what I wanted by not asking for it. For me I think it may have been in my late 20s, but I'm sure my sister learned it when she was 6. The two of them, Gerard and Mr. Claire, could be seen arguing in the corner of the yard, or rather Mr. Claire could be seen getting very heated and Gerard's expression never changed, only he stood square on both his legs, as if subconsciously bracing for an oncoming wind. Eventually Mr. Claire saw he was getting nowhere, and walked back to his family, then without a word to the rest of us, just left.

It was if a tiny hole had been poked in a balloon, and we all started leaking out one by one. The ones with kids went back first. Then Karl and his girlfriend left. One by one all the non family people - old people last, but following their younger neighbors, till it was just me and Pete and Gerard left, standing in the bright mid morning parking lot, the sky sunny and dotted with happy clouds, the temperature rising up to the 60s. The sirens were still blaring, though at this point I had to focus my ears to pick them out, our brains had naturally muted them over the exposure of going on 8 hours we had been standing out here. Or, more likely, we had damaged our eardrums permanently. The weather was so nice, it conflicted with the tension and sense of failure sitting in our chests, which I squarely blamed on the government. We had done exactly as they had told us to, during so many school assemblies and town meetings. When you hear the sirens, gather up your community and head for the safe space. But here we were, we had been here half frozen and brains scrambled by noise for the whole night, and we still knew nothing more and no one had come to help, and now the only sensible thing left to do was to go home surely even Gerard could see that now Pete argued. But no, he was determined. He would do exactly what he had been told to. So Pete and I we left. We went home. Everything was the way we had left it, lights on and water running. Claire waved at us from across the street where she was taking advantage of the sunny day to rake leaves. We didn't speak about what had happened. The tv and news and internet all seemed to suggest nothing at all in fact had happened.

The sirens continued for another two days. We wore earplugs and treated it like a vacation, no one went to work, Ms. Hunter had a potluck and I made my oatmeal raisin cookies that I always made for the bake sales. It was sort of a treat to make them just to enjoy and eat. The mood in the whole neighborhood seemed happier and more united, as if we had survived some sort of obstacle together. The thorn in this was obstinate Gerard who refused to leave the school parking lot. We brought him our tent from the Yellowstone trip, and food. We started to laugh about how stupid he was being.

On the third day the swarm came. It darkened the skies like a thunderstorm, and then like never ending night. We were all stuck inside our houses, frantically taping up our windows and vents, while the creatures devoured everything everything everything outside. When they had eaten all the plants, they went after the wildlife. I saw a possum being chased into a corner, and then eaten alive, until all that was left were bones, broken and white against the garage door. The phone lines worked for a little bit, but it turned out we didn't have any of our neighbor's numbers, and eventually those went out as well. I saw someone, I think Mr. Claire, try to drive out, their cars were kept in a garage adjacent to the house. But the creatures got into the engine almost immediately, flew up through the air vents, and devoured him trapped in the car. They were at once the smallest and the biggest things I had ever seen. They were not locusts, it was impossible to trap one long enough to examine it, they immediately starting eating themselves if there was nothing else organic to chew on, it was soul less, automatic, and terrifying to watch. The street outside, which had been so pretty and treelined, was now dust and asphalt. And now that almost everything was gone, I thought it would only be a day or two before they learned to chew through the window frames. If we didn't run out of air before that. We weren't scientists, we had no idea when that would happen, after the second day we became vaguely aware that it would for sure happen, and without discussing it, both started watching our breathing, trying to keep it short and shallow and economical. One day we did nothing but fuck for hours, in a grip of fear and panic and anger. Afterwards we lay there, guiltily aware we had traded that action for probably hours of one of our lives. I secretly hoped Pete would go first, so I would have a few minutes longer to live.

Pete remembered that you could put lime in water, and it would absorb CO2 from the air, which was the thing that really got you, the CO2 you produced in breathing out building up until the concentration killed you. But we didn't have any lime, and I hated him for it.

Day 6, they left. We waited to be sure. Then Claire sent out their dog, to test it out. Nothing happened, nothing chased it. It seemed clear. We walked outside, and even though it was gutted and filled with the dust of everything dead, it seemed wonderful to breathe fresh air. We checked on everyone. Ms. Hunter was gone, they had gotten in somehow. But she seemed to be the only casualty, she and Mr. Claire. Until we remembered Gerard. Three, we said to ourselves, as we walked to the school yard to look for his bones.

He was dehydrated, but fine. Apparently the point of gathering at the schoolyard was a force field around the whole thing. No one had told us. Pete immediately knocked him out, which everyone was fine with, cause frankly, he was going to be insufferable from now on. We didn't kill him, but it took a while before we could convince Claire to let him out of her basement.

1 comment:

Who wants to fuck the Editors?