Those of you who expect fact filled writeups from me might want to turn away from this one. This is a piece of original fiction, written from the pieces of a night full of dreams and nightmares. Enjoy.
"The huge success of their most recent album, Somebody Set Us Up, has the music world eagerly anticipating the upcoming world tour of politically twinged boy band the bOmb, set to kick off tomorrow night at The Mall of America outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tickets for the show are free from Ticketmaster on a first come, first serve basis, and some are still available, so get yours now." came the all-too-chipper voice of the perfectly-buffed MTV music industry shill from the television.
Nick White flipped off the TV and slowly stretched himself upward from his position on the dilapidated brown couch. His bare toes rested on the stained yellow carpet as he stretched and yawned. He slowly walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, grabbed another beer, and sauntered back over to the couch. Nick already had a good buzz on at ten in the morning, and he celebrated this by popping the top off of another bottle and tossing the cap onto the table in front of him.
The next day was going to be long and hard.
Nick stopped his Blazer next to a small sign that said "Wee Care Daycare." With downcast eyes hidden behind sunglasses, Nick stepped out of the vehicle and walked slowly towards the mass of playing children in the lawn before him.
Before he could get there, a small rosy-cheeked girl clad in a green t-shirt adorned with a logo of the b0mb began to shout and quickly ran into Nick's arms. The two embraced, and when the girl pulled away, she looked at her father and said, "Are we really going to the concert tonight, daddy?"
"I wouldn't miss taking you to it for the world, darlin'," Nick said as he spun her around in his arms and without catching himself, he began to hum the tune of the b0mb's nearly inescapable hit, "Somebody Set Us Up". She giggled and pulled him closer to her for another hug.
As the two of them walked back to the Blazer, Nick felt a twinge of worry in his stomach about taking his daughter along with him to the concert. The place was going to be filled with security, from the mobs of prepubescent girls to the protesting twentysomethings upset with the militaristic nature of the b0mb's music and image. Add in the hordes of news media covering the group's public debut, and the knot in Nick's stomach grew larger and larger.
Nick stood along the balcony, donned in his security guard outfit as he watched a small group of protesters on the floor below him. The crowd below was a mix of shouting teenage girls and twentysomething protesters, each trying desperately hard to get the attention of a number of video cameras lining the floor below. The throbbing mass of humanity pressed toward the stage, each shouting in ever-louder voices as the lights in the entire building began to dim.
the b0mb slowly walked out on the stage, decked in their usual military style outfits. They lined up together, with outstretched arms to the crowd as the people on the floor whipped themselves into a frenzy. A number of protesters pushed toward the stage urgently and Nick's hand unconsciously dropped to his sidearm. He had been nervous all day about this concert; packing an unsafe number of people into a building not designed to be a concert hall screamed of trouble to Nick.
And his daughter. Chelsea was sitting right above him in a secure location, where the daughters of a fair number of other mall employees were situated. The fact that the girl was not down in the mess below him gave Nick a small sense of comfort, but still the uneasiness remained.
And the band itself was unsettling as well. The synchronized robot-like movements and monotonous bubblegum pop with somewhat militant lyrics created an uneasy mixture in Nick's stomach as his hand began to tightly grip his sidearm, even as the security people below managed to regain control of the situation in the crowd. Nick's eyes darted to the stage where one member of the group was about to speak into a mic.
"Hello everyone! Thanks for coming!" He pauses as the crowd cheers loudly. "Before we start tonight, the band has a surprise for everyone here, sort of a token of our gratitude, I suppose."
With that, the band turns around and heads toward the back edge of the stage as the crowd continues to cheer and shout. The cameras all hone in on the band as the four of them kneel together near the back of the stage, apparently talking to someone just out of sight. Nick didn't know of any surprise, so he watched the activity, like everyone else in the building, with keen interest.
When the group stood up and turned around, Nick's stomach took a jump. The band was clad in gas masks, and just as suddenly, all hell broke loose. A bright flash of light from just in front of the stage appeared, followed by a loud explosion that shook the building, and instantaneously, the cheers became screams of terror.
Nick, in disbelief of what was happening, watched agape as the band proceeded to cross their arms together in the well-known hand sign of the b0mb. The mass of people backing away from the stage, running in fear and terror from the explosion near the front, were nearly trampling over one another. Nick quickly began to head for the stairwell to try to direct the onslaught of traffic that he knew would be heading for it, when just as suddenly a voice boomed over the speaker in the building.
"Attention, attention, please remain calm. This is Major Gerald Anderson of the Freedom for America Army. You are all witness to the beginning of the end of the falsehood that America has stood for in the past. America is about to be cleansed, to be made pure once again. Thank you."
The coldness of the voice made Nick's heart race even more as he changed direction, attempting to move past the mass of people trying to escape the building in the congested stairwells. Nick pressed upwards, trying to reach his daughter in the rafters, still far above him. Nick passed a cameraman being jostled about, and then he realized: this was being broadcast live to the nation on several television networks. "My god, the nation must be in a panic," Nick thought as he raced towards Chelsea.
The two met near the top of the mall, outside of a brightly neon-colored Disney store. Chelsea's blond hair was strewn about, her eyes read with tears, as she buried her face into Nick's chest. Nick held her close and sat down on the floor with her, holding her close to him.
Nick took Chelsea with him that night back to his apartment, even though he knew that her mother would be very upset. He entered the apartment to an array of beeps from his answering machine, bearing frightened messages from Chelsea's mother and his own mother. As he got Chelsea a blanket and a bottle of Dr. Pepper from the fridge, he flipped on the television set to see the results of the chaos.
The first station had the grim face of Dan Rather, delivering solemnly the tale of the tragic events of the evening: "Several simultaneous explosions rocked the Mall of America, killing a number of civilians. A number more were killed in the ensuing madness, as people ran for the exits." The screen began to show film from when the bomb near the stage went off and people were madly rushing toward the building exits. "The group claiming responsibility, the Freedom of America Army, is a militia group headquartered in northern Minnesota. The fathers of three of the members of the appropriately named pop group are already known to have been members of this militia group, and all members of the pop group were raised under the militia's care. This is what we know at the moment." Nick turned off the TV as the faces of terrified young girls fleeing for their lives filled the screen, reducing Chelsea to tears again.
Nick held the girl until she fell asleep, and he fell asleep there, too, huddled with his daughter on the couch.
Nick woke up to the sound of his doorbell ringing. He opened the door as Chelsea's mother, Andrea, entered the apartment in a tearful frenzy, sweeping a half-asleep Chelsea into her arms. "Are you sick, honey? Do you feel like you have a cough?" Andrea urgently asked the girl as she emerged from her dreamy state.
Andrea looked at her mother and sneezed heavily. Andrea's face filled with shock and horror, and she turned around slowly to stare at Nick, who stood there.
"Don't you know?" she asked him, her eyes full of fear. Nick looked at her blankly as she picked up the television remote, powering on the television again showing the pale face of Dan Rather as he discussed the FAA with a military-clad figure seated across from him. Across the bottom of the screen scrolled a ticker that Andrea read aloud: "Thirty four dead ... in Mall of America tragedy... Freedom of America Army ... claims responsibility ... traces of mutant version ... of influenza virus ... found in rubble ... samples being ... analyzed by CDC."
She turned to Nick, her eyes starting to well with tears of anger and frustration. "Can't you see, Nick? They put something in the bomb. They put something in the bomb and it made our daughter sick!" She started to cry as Nick tried to process what was happening before him.
The television showed large burning piles of the distinctively blue cover of the bOmb's album, and people running by, tossing more and more copies upon the flames. Minneapolis area hospitals were shown, where people in the tragedy were already being taken in due to "flu like symptoms" after the tragedy.
And Nick watched as his daughter coughed.
The last few days of sanity for Nick were filled with sadness. His mother came to his apartment that afternoon, and the four of them stayed there as Chelsea began to get sicker and sicker. As the evening came, the four of them took the sick girl to Nick's doctor. On the way there, Andrea began to cough.
The hospital was in absolute bedlam, with people standing around coughing and sneezing. A large television was broadcasting the news that the virus appeared to be "very communicable" and that people should "stay indoors." Nick took his daughter to the front desk of the emergency room, where she was taken from him. His last sight of his daughter was in the arms of a doctor as she was carried away, wheezing and coughing. Nick turned around to look at his ex, when for the second time in twenty four hours, chaos descended into Nick's world.
A small batallion of troopers gathered around the doors of the hospital, all wearing gas masks. One member of the batallion lifted a loudspeaker to his mask and shouted in a raspy, muted way: "Attention! This hospital is now under quarantine by orders of the CDC. No one is permitted to enter and no one is permitted to leave. No communication in or out of the hospital will be allowed until further notice."
Andrea, for the first time in a long time, put her arms around Nick for support, and he put her arms around her as well. Even after all these years, it still felt absolutely natural to both of them. Nick's mother looked up at her son with a frightened look on her face... and she sneezed as well.
The three of them began to wander away from the rest of the crowds, down a semi-deserted hall in the hospital. Nick had his arms around both of the women as they walked. Finally, his mother spoke up. "Nick," she said in a wavering voice, "I don't think we're going to get out of here alive."
The three of them sat down as Andrea began again to cough, a deeper rasp this time. His mother leaned over very close to Nick, and looked right into his dark eyes. "Nick, you're not sick yet, are you?"
"Then you should go. Leave. *cough* All there is going to be here is sickness and dying."
Nick looked at his mother and realized that she, as almost always, was absolutely right. He looked at Andrea, with her deep, dark, eternally beautiful eyes, which were as wide as ever. She looked at Nick and as a tear formed on her eyelid, she slipped off her wedding ring and put it into the pocket of his jacket. "I still love you," she whispered, and the two of them held each other close, one final time.
The last time Nick saw his mother and the only woman he ever loved, they were huddled together on the ground floor of Mercy Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Nick left them behind as he began to look for a way to escape the building. He climbed the stairwells, reaching the second floor; when he peeked out, he saw a military man in a gas mask with a gun of some sort, so he returned to the stairwell and kept climbing.
Nick entered the third floor of the hospital and began to look for a path that led to the immediately adjacent parking ramp. As he strolled along, Nick noticed that the ceiling panels were quite loose, so he looked around to see no one was coming, positioned himself on a chair in the hall, and pulled himself up above the panels.
Nick climbed around for a while, trying to get the feel of the landscape by peeking out of panels occasionally to see what was below. Nurses and doctors ran about frantically, with an occasional military man marching along. After an hour of this, Nick hit upon some luck; he noticed an "Exit" sign hung near a door. Again waiting until the coast was clear, Nick dropped to the floor and peeked through the glass panel on the door. Nothing on the other side but a walled walkway. Nick held his breath and pushed open the door.
The coast was still clear, but Nick walked slowly and quietly along the walkway. He reached the far door and peeked through: the parking ramp at last, and no sign of any military personnel. Nick slowly opened the door and inched out.
He could hear the footfalls of men and the chitchat of muffled voices through gas masks as he entered the ramp, so Nick crouched to the ground, letting the door shut quietly around him. He crawled to the nearest car and crumpled himself into a tight ball as the men passed by. When they marched onward, Nick hesitated, then glanced up to figure out where his car was located. With an incredible amount of luck, the car was about 100 feet away. Caught up in his escape plan, Nick got into a crouching position and headed for the car.
But then he heard the sound of metal bouncing on cement, and he looked over to see Andrea's ring bounce off the floor. And it was all over. He heard the shouts of the militia men and didn't even bother to run; he merely raised his hands.
The men took Nick up to the fifth floor, ordering the nurse to open a large door. She did, and the men tossed Nick inside with a sneer. "This should keep you," one of them shouted as the deadbolt slammed home behind Nick.
Nick looked around at the room, filled with chairs and tables. It was entirely empty, with the exception of two doors, both of which looked as sturdy as anything you might find at Fort Knox. Nick sighed and flopped into a chair, letting sleep take him.
Nick was awakened by the sound of a large group of voices, and another demanding some quiet. He opened his eyes to see a number of individuals in bed clothes standing around him, and a doctor addressing the crowd.
"As some of you might know, there are a lot of people around here that are sick today. For the rest of the day, and perhaps tomorrow, you will all be in the social room together." The doctor coughed onto his hand. "We hope to resume a normal schedule tomorrow."
The doctor left the room as someone opened the door for him, and again the exit slammed shut and the bolt went home.
Nick looked around and realized that he had been put in the psychatric ward. Many of the individuals in the room were muttering to themselves; others were rocking back in forth in place. Nick scanned the room for a way of escape, but he couldn't see one; he was trapped in here, a shell inside a world filled with craziness.
A thin, short black man strolled over toward Nick and smiled broadly. "I don't believe I have seen you before, sir. What is your name?" addressed the fellow.
Nick looked back at him and nervously answered, "Nick White.... what's yours?"
"Frances D. Santangelo. Everyone around here calls me Frankie, though, and I kind of like that." Frankie smiled again, leaving Nick to wonder why Frankie was here.
The two began to talk, and Nick soon discovered that Frankie had been put in here as the result of a mental breakdown that he had largely recovered from. In fact, after the last few days, Nick was sure that Frankie was more psychologically sound than he was.
Evening came, and several people in the room began to cough loudly. A voice over the intercom came on, the last voice from the outside world that Nick heard, and stated that medicine for the flu bug would be there the next day and that everyone was to sleep in the communal room that night. The last meal they would receive came in through the food slot late that evening, but better than half the room was too ill to eat.
Over the next three days, everyone in the ward besides Nick and Frankie began to get sicker and sicker. Frankie and Nick built a fast friendship, trying to comfort the other people in the room who largely didn't know that the two of them existed. On Nick's third day there, two of the people passed away, and seven more didn't wake up on the fourth morning, leaving only Frankie, Nick, and two more very sick people. The other two rasped to themselves throughout the fourth day, and Frankie and Nick tried to make things easier for them by fanning their sweat-drenched faces. By the evening, both had taken their last breath.
As Nick lay down on the floor that night, he closed his eyes tight, trying to keep out the visions of the bodies around him; he wasn't quite able to do it, so his night was filled with bad dreams.
Nick woke up the fifth morning in the ward to the sounds of coughing. His heart sagged in his chest; he knew who it had to be.
As he wandered around the empty room, stepping over bodies and wondering to himself what exactly had happened to this world in such a short amount of time. Soon, he saw Frankie, leaning against a wall with tears on his grave cheeks.
Nick looked down at his new friend, already close to his heart, knowing that the inevitable end was just a day or two around the corner. He sat down next to Frankie and put his arm around him, a sign of camaraderie that might have bothered Nick a few days before. But not now.
Frankie coughed into his hand and looked up at Nick. "What are you going to do when you're all alone, friend?"
When Frankie passed away, Nick wandered about the asylum alone. It was littered with bodies that would soon begin to decompose and bloat, bringing unknown diseases with them, so Nick knew he didn't have a long time. He wandered around the asylum, looking for something, anything that might help.
Hours later, he found instead a single slightly loose ceiling panel. He would not have noticed the panel at all had he not laid down on the floor, stretching himself out and staring upwards in frustration at the fruitless search. He pulled a table over, climbed on the table, and began to fiddle with the panel. After an hour of pushing and adjusting, he was able to finally begin to turn one of the screws, and after another short while, he was able to loosen and remove all of them.
Nick entered the area above the panels, strewn with pipes and structural materials. He climbed around until he was able to leave the asylum area; outside, all of the panels were very loose. Nick was able to quickly lift one up, and he dropped down into the hallway of the fifth floor of the hospital.
Nick walked down the stairs, seeing nothing but what he expected: dead bodies strewn about everywhere. He made his way to the first floor and tried to find Andrea and his mother, but they had moved from where he had left them about a week before. Distraught and lost in this brave new world, Nick walked toward the glass door of the hospital, breaking it open because of the lack of electricity to power it automatically.
Nick walked through the empty city, seeing nothing but thousands of people lying dead on the streets. The daylight provided the only light among the skyscrapers, and Nick's very footsteps echoed in a way that he had never heard before. He shouted several times, with no response. He picked up a newspaper, showing an ailing president sitting in the Oval Office, with an article that said, "Scientists Say Vaccine Impossible."
And at that moment, Nick realized he was the only person left.