- They Came in the Day -
The world was already a cesspool of corruption, greed, and scum. Governments sending us overseas to fight in propagandic wars to fill the coffers of the already filthy rich. The freedom of the people systematically stripped in bits and pieces, under the radar when able; masked bills passed in the dead of night. Those who bothered to warn the people or fight for our rights as citizens were drowned out by the horrors taking place around the world. Always fear mongering; the true new epidemic. Though, not new at all. The fine art of controlling the masses with fear has been used by those in power as far back as can be remembered. Advancements in technology and media just made it all the easier.
The majority of the world was continually left in distraught, following commands blindly. The most fucked up part, I always thought, was while people were being forced to kill others that so many of the human race willingly did so of their own merit. Population control. Even now, after everything that occurred; so easily we turn on one another.
As though we weren’t doing a good enough job killing ourselves, Mother Nature took it upon herself to bring her own brand of destruction to the table. Through those final years, the world was plagued by a multitude of natural disasters; earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis.
Who would have thought it could, so easily, get so much worse?
Well, it did, and fast. On a warm, breezy fall day, it happened.
Even better, Winter was coming. I’ve always hated Winter...
* * *
“ton... is everything okay?”
He heard the question, but refused to answer it. For the past hour he had been sitting in the cramped office trying to pitch himself. Attempting to explain why his skill set would be a positive contribution to the company; how they could function exponentially better with his expertise in the field. All of this interlaced with trying to find some common ground with another individual. Telling jokes, and trading anecdotes. Word vomit. At that point, it had gotten close to the verge of begging. That was where he drew the line.
His gaze had shifted out the office window where he could watch traffic crawl by, being constantly hindered by the many stoplights lining Central Avenue. He felt a longing for being stuck in rush hour traffic. Frustrated at his fellow middle class workers who were only trying to reach their destinations, same as himself. It brought an odd sense of being normal; belonging. A sense of being productive, if nothing less.
“Mr. Winterton?” He could see the man vying for his attention turn to look out the same window. The pause was only momentary until, with a touch of annoyance, he was called out to again. “Jack?”
Absently, Jack finally turned back to the man speaking to him and gave a small smile. “Sorry, I was just daydreaming a moment there.”
The interviewer, Robert, gave a laugh. “It happens. It is a beautiful day out there and we should both be enjoying it, and yet here we are cooped up in this place.” The man spread his arms signifying his office and brought one down to rest on his desk; the other he ran through his slicked back, thinning black hair. He was a bulky man, with calloused, ink-stained fingernails. The suit he wore looked a size too small. Jack imagined it couldn’t be comfortable.
“Indeed, it is a beautiful day.” He gave a soft sigh and looked Robert in the eyes. “So you are saying there isn’t anything available at this time?”
Robert’s face drooped into a saddened expression, but it never reached his eyes. “I'm afraid not, my friend. Our local paper is pretty small, as you know. With the internet and all, demand has dropped substantially for almost all newspaper publishers from coast to coast. We have already been forced to let go a handful of our columnists to recoup some loss in profits. Publishing houses have even fallen on hard times, with the introduction of e-readers and other digital products.” The man fidgeted with his tie some, silky blue matching his suit. “I can only imagine, as time goes on, it becoming worse.”
“Unless you adapt.” Jack offered.
“Exactly, unless we adapt. Change with the times. It’s like Dylan said, times they are a-changin’, am I right? All these damn new age hippy types screaming bloody murder about saving the trees and the environment.” The large man raised his voice, along with his arms again. “Save the fucking trees? The environment is shot to shit, there's no repairing that!” Robert’s face was tinted red and he seemed flustered. “There are a few purists out there. Those that like the feel of a newspaper or book in their hands, but they’re a dying breed.”
Jack nodded in feigned agreement. “What can you do? Like you said, the times are changing, right?” His interviewer was nodding with him. “The economy has been in the shitter for some time now. It is improving some, but not at the rate everyone had hoped. The rate I had hoped.”
“Wilcoxen...,” Robert scoffed.
Holding his tongue Jack continued. “I just want to start working again to provide for my family. The wife has been picking up my slack for too long now. It’s beginning to weigh on her, I can tell. Living day to day, paycheck to paycheck, gets old after a while. Cutting back on luxuries comes with the territory, but I would like to at least have some gifts under the tree for Christmas this year for the runts.”
“Yes, your daughter Natasha and... What was your son’s name again?” Robert sifted through Jack’s portfolio some, though the information wasn’t there.
“Right, Jack Jr. after yourself.”
“Jack Jr. III technically speaking, from my great grandfather, but it’s clumsy using that nowadays. I don’t use mine anymore either. Sometimes on a professional level with some of my work in the past. Not much more than that. In general conversation it’s annoying.”
“The Third? That isn’t too common anymore is it? Maybe a Jr. now and again.”
He shook his head. “Nope, not common at all. Our family loves its Jacks it seems. So as I was saying, with times changing you have to adapt. Perhaps expand on your digital presence? I know you already have a site up, naturally, like any business now. Perhaps some blogging?”
Robert, shaking his head, already provided Jack with his answer. “Blogging, sure it’s a great medium for the forthcoming online digital world, but we already have a handful on staff who do that. They create quite a buzz, if you’ve ever bothered checking up on them.”
“Excellent. So as you can tell, we have that corner of the market pretty much secured. We don’t want to over-saturate. I mean, everyone has something to say, right? Can’t afford to pay them all.” The man chuckled at his own half-witted humor. Jack gave another forced smile, playing along.
Everyone has something to say. Robert wasn’t wrong. Everyone seemed to enjoy putting in their two cents. The internet made that as easy as a few clicks of a button; he wasn’t certain his two cents would be worth more than any other. Making a living with blogging, without the backing and support of an already established outlet, was too rare for him to rely on.
He placed Robert to be in his late fifties, his hair was obviously dyed to cover up the white, and his round face sagged some. With how easily he got worked up, Jack was surprised the man hadn’t yet suffered a heart attack. No one likes forced change, I suppose.
With a sigh, Jack resigned. “True, can’t pay them all. Just hoping to find something before the snow flies.”
“I understand,” Robert said, while closing Jack’s portfolio. “I am truly sorry I can’t help you out with that. With Winter coming, perhaps you can find some seasonal work?” Robert seemed lost in thought a moment. “Winterton... You know, come to think of it, I think I’ve heard that name before, elsewhere.”
Both of their attention went back to the window as two squad cars, sirens blaring, rushed by; heading deeper into the city. He suspected he knew where Robert had heard his name from, but he was hoping that it wouldn’t be remembered.
Robert’s brow was wrinkled in concentration. “Do you have family in the military, by chance?”
Fuck me. “It just so happens that I do,” Jack answered. Robert beamed at his triumph, this time it did touch his eyes. “But if it is all the same to you...”
“He was in the press some time ago? War in Afghanistan?” Robert interrupted him.
“That would be correct, he got some air time associated with some of his involvement overseas, but...”
“Hell son, your brother is a goddamn hero!” Jack winced, but noticed how engaged Robert was now becoming and thought he could use it to his advantage. That felt a lot dirtier than begging. “He really messed up some sons-o-bitches over there, didn’t he? Fucked them right up their cave-dwelling asses!” Robert was laughing so hard his face was turning red again, his jowls shaking. He even failed to notice two more squad cars racing by. “What was your brother’s name again?”
Jack stood up and moved to the window. He caught his reflection, mainly his disheveled appearance. His hair was all over the place, a rat’s nest, and his face was unshaven. He was sure if the reflection was more prominent he would find dark rings under his eyes. No wonder he wasn’t getting a job. Fuck this, the last thing I’m going to allow is my brother somehow, unintentionally, landing me a job. Fuck Christmas. More sirens sounded.
“If it is all the same to you I would rather not talk about my brother. We don’t get on all that...”
“But your brother is a her...”
Jack raised a hand, turning some to face Robert. “Yeah, a goddamn war hero, I get it. Breadwinner of the family, like our father and his father before him.” He must have offended Robert some, because he was trying to heft himself out of his sleek, executive leather chair; struggling. He tried not to imagine the imprint that would be left in it. The desk was against the wall next to the window. He imagined it was so Robert could stare out and watch people passing by if he so chose. There wouldn’t be much to see beyond that except concrete, traffic, and storefronts. An office with a view.
“What the blazes is going on out there?” the rotund man inquired. Jack then realized he was coming to join him at the window, just as a firetruck and ambulance sped towards the city; forcing vehicles over to the side of the road. The sirens faded as they made their way farther south.
Before Jack could answer there was a deep rumble off in the distance. At first, he mistook it for thunder, but there was a clear afternoon sky above. The traffic outside was moving again, but the rumbling was louder and constant. Then the glass began to rattle, his reflection no longer clearly visible with the vibrations.
The entire office began to shake and Jack pivoted to keep his balance. He checked on Robert who was bracing himself again his desk. The handful of artwork, plaques of accomplishments, and calendar on the wall pitched themselves onto the floor. Books jostled off their shelving, bringing with them random adornments. The tremor became more violent and the light flickered. The deep rumbling seemed to erupt from below, all around them.
From outside an explosion sounded. Then a second, accompanied by alarm systems of both cars and storefronts triggering. It was too hard to tell just how close they were. The calm serene day was now alive with chaos. He could hear screams from both outside and within the building. The quaking escalated and a third explosion caused the window to explode inward and the florescent lighting in Robert’s office broke free and swung down from its wires, sparks flying. Jack and Robert both shielded themselves with their arms; Robert losing his balance and falling back into his chair.
Jack was flung back and fell to the floor on his back. His head spun as he tried to get his bearings, trying to move over against a wall; rolling over onto his stomach. His hands pressed down and he attempted to pull himself along the littered carpet, but he was assaulted by multiple, sharp pinpricks.
And then, all at once, the tremors ceased; the air now penetrated by only the sounds of alarms, screaming, and an electric spark from above. The office was now only lit from what sunlight came through the window and the randomly timed spark from the lighting. Jack took a moment to gather his senses before attempting to stand back up.
“Are you okay, Robert?” He asked, shouting over the ruckus outside.
“Yeah, I'm okay... I think,” the man answered back, “Jesus Christ, they did it again.”
Sitting up, Jack used his chair to pull himself to his feet. “What are you talking about?”
“Them sons-o-bitches did it again! Another terrorist attack!” Robert was wide eyed, hair disarrayed, staring at Jack. Behind him the bookshelf had completely toppled over, and the light fixture swung just ahead, over the desk. Jack wanted to warn him about stepping back from the light, but the man continued ranting. “Jack, those sons-o-bitches did it again! Can you fucking believe it? After all these years, another attack on our soil?” The fat man spun, looking to where his calendar was once hanging. “What’s the date? Jesus, is it the anniversary?” His hands fumbled for the phone and his pudgy fingers picked up the receiver. “Gotta call the police.”
“Robert,” Jack spoke slowly, he was worried that the bookshelf had hit Robert after all, “I don’t think you'll get through. Think about it.” Standing now, he wanted to look out the window, but felt it more important to focus on the man in front of him. The light coming through the window, accompanied by the electric spark, gave Robert an exceptionally deranged appearance. It was his eyes that solidified that; still wide and wild. “I know things are confusing, but I think we just had an earthquake. As hard as that is to bel...”
“That wasn’t no earthquake, that would be impossible. You know that, Jack!” Robert had the phone up to his ear but he hadn’t yet dialed anyone. He seemed lost and disorientated. “It was the goddamn terrorists!” The man paused a moment and his eyes seemed to grow even wider. “Call your brother! He’ll know what to do!” Robert tilted his head slightly and, for a moment, Jack thought he saw concern cross his face. “Jesus,” with a thick finger, Robert gestured toward him, “they really fucked you up, Jack.”
When Jack looked down, arms spread some, he saw the front of his white, red splattered shirt ripped and torn. He felt light headed as he brought his hand, which he noticed was also embedded with glass and bleeding, to his abdomen; that was where most of the blood was pooling. He was unable to focus, the sight of blood making him feel faint. Shit, I forgot to tuck in my shirt. No wonder I didn’t get the job. He stared at his hands, small pieces of glass dug into his skin from when he was crawling around on the floor, blood dripping.
He looked back up to Robert and said, “I’m a fucken mess!” Then an uncontrollable laughter escaped him and, to his surprise, Robert joined in. Bonding. Maybe there was hope he could still get the job.
As if in answer, Robert was washed in a bright light. Perhaps the power had come back on; a generator possibly. A stroke of good luck. Jack momentarily became aware of the light fixture still swinging back and forth on its wires from the ceiling and cocked his head in confusion. It was still out.
From outside, amongst the chaotic symphony, a mass of light and steel crashed through the office wall, throwing Jack backwards in a spray of chunks and dust. Slumping against the back wall of the office, he closed his eyes and drifted away to the deafening blast of a horn echoing through the room.