The following is a work of fiction
. The events and characters, while taking inspiration from the real world, are products of the author's imagination
. The ideas expressed throughout, regardless of the characters from whose mouths or minds they sprout, are the author's and in no way represent anyone else's opinion. The story you are about to read is not true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The author acknowledges her friends at the Hotchkiss
School, especially the two who live on her floor and indulged her in very late night brainstorming sessions in which they endured the scaring off of their pants. She also wishes to acknowledge Douglas Coupland
and his novel Girlfriend in a Coma for some of the elements of the premise.
It's snowing out, cold in the hallways, especially the quad. It is a Sunday afternoon, and all the school seems asleep, hibernating, maybe. To Linda, it seems as though nothing is real, as though she lives unwittingly under some other mind's control, she and everyone she knows and every event she has witnessed. In the last week, she has counted more coincidences than ever before, themes that simultaneously occur in unrelated courses, phrases that echo as she walks through the hours, sensations of coming smaller and smaller full concentric circles that are not just tangent to but overlap other concentric circles. This is probably due to her lack of sleep, but she prefers to indulge her illusions. One day, she thinks, she will put off sleep altogether in favor of the clarity of vision-not of thought processes, of course…those decay as her body degenerates, along with her ability to remember smaller details of the now, to reason convincingly, to distill appropriate words out of the ether-that allows her to see beneath the position curve. The only catch will be that she will be unable to share her enlightenment with others, but then again, who would ever want to hear her rantings, and who could actually benefit by the listening?
It's cold in the quad and the hallways, snowing out. The friends have decided on an exodus from the quad to a warmer place, some heated nook in which they can play Monopoly. The Mary-Poppins banker, the trashy real estate agent second only to the used car salesman, the hotelliers and venture capitalists and their husbands, wives, mothers, and children, and the disgruntled blue-collar and angst-ridden white-collar workers are all represented, a Gilligan's Island hidden away in the ocean of the boarding and day college preparatory school, a world even more improbably than any that Linda and her imaginative friends can dream up.
Linda looks on while Gordon takes his character of rich investor to the fiscal top, bankrupting his friends. According to him, he has won the game.
"Well, then," Linda says. "What to do now?" She glances down at her watch. 4:40. Funny. Judging by her hunger, she expected it to be much later. "How about dinner?" she asks.
"Let's order in," Gordon says, always his first suggestion.
There is a chorus of "Chinese!"s and "pizza!"s in unresolved antiphony until Cameron says "both." Stretching, yawning, or rubbing their eyes, the friends stand and head for the door, picking up the Monopoly pieces as they go. They return to the quad; Cameron goes to the phone booth, picks up the receiver. Silence.
"This phone's broken again," she announces pointedly to Gordon and Linda. She tries the pay phone. Again, the line is dead.
"Maybe the storm knocked out the cables," Gordon says.
"I'm going to go try the other phone anyway," Cameron replies. "What does everybody want again?" They make her a list, and she takes it down the hall of the mail room to the other phone. Moments later, she's running back, breathing hard, eyes wide, but making a great effort to control herself. She tries to speak, but all she can do is wave the list about and point. When Lois heads over to the door, Cameron stops her, and Lois, concerned, puts her arm around her while Emony and James venture down for a look.
There is a dead body in the chair under the phone. Another fallen on the spiral stairs in the distance. Keeping their hysteria in check, they sidestep the bodies to go upstairs and find someone, anyone of authority, a grown-up who will know what to do. They are confronted by nothing but dead bodies, students and teachers both collapsed (apparently peacefully) in mid-step, familiar faces all lifeless, albeit wearing familiar smiles.
Somehow, hysteria has begun to express itself in quiet, and Emony and James make it all the way back down to quad before they begin babbling. The others are incredulous, but they know that Cameron, James, and Emony would not joke about such things. They know from the expressions on their friends' faces, the way James has gone ashen and Emony is trembling, that this is no joke. Fear seeps onto the tongue like a salty aftertaste. Ruth begins to hyperventilate.
Wordlessly, Steven strides off to the theater lobby, to the outside doors. What he is hoping to do is unclear. Doug follows him, but hangs back, not sure whether Steven is being admirably level-headed enough to go look for help or being panicky, bolting away into the innavigably thick snow. Steven pushes forcefully on the bar handle of the door, the strength of adrenaline unchecked, but the door doesn't budge.
"Shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck," he mutters as he pushes on the next door over, and the next, then each of the doors on the other side. They are all stubbornly staunch. Steven frowns, not refusing to believe this relatively small setback. He walks back through the quad, through the mail room, ignoring the two bodies, Doug still following him. The doors to the loading dock are also locked tight.
"What's going on?" Doug asks, voicing Steven's puzzlement.
They bring this other piece of news to the quad.
"We're locked in," Steven says grimly. "And everyone is dead. The phones don't work. We're stuck here." Everyone who can is sitting on the quad chairs or the round coffee table or the floor. Linda, to her own surprise, is neither the one huddled in the corner nor the one buried in her significant other's arms. In fact, she is standing quite alone, almost apart from her friends. Her one connection to the web of touching flesh which is inconspicuously building up in the quad is her right hand, which Gordon is gripping reassuringly tightly, knuckles a painful white. She wonders when someone will ask the question and who it will be.
It is James. "Why are we still alive?" he asks with what sounds like scientific curiosity-and detachment. Everyone shoots him glances, some shocked, some thoughtful.
"Well…" Kim begins. "Just because we aren't dead yet doesn't mean we won't die if…if everyone else did."
"Actually, if they're all already dead, and we aren't, we probably won't," Cameron says.
Lois speaks up in a little voice. "Can we not talk about this?"
Linda wonders how the subject can be avoided when it is staring them directly in the face out of five hundred pairs of vacant eyes. Are they really all dead? Luckily, it is Sunday. Maybe only those in Main Building are dead. Maybe only a small part of the student body is in the Main Building.
The friends sit in silence for a while after Lois' request, digesting the situation and holding each other. Linda walks into Gordon's arms. Although the quad is noticeably warmer than it was when they left to play Monopoly, she is profoundly cold inside, like liquid nitrogen. None of them can seem to do anything but stare off blankly at the white walls around them. Linda imagines she sees streaks of blood running down them so that they resemble the butcher's apron. She tries to shake off the image. James had reported that there was no blood, only still, unblemished forms, the indications of death only discernable from up close, the lack of breath, the gray skin, the motionless pulse.
Mary, without comment, screams, a piercing wail like a banshee's, almost more bloodcurdling than the idea of dead bodies. She stops.
The friends continue to contemplate in silence. Linda wishes she could calm Gordon's violent shaking, but she knows that in this situation there is nothing any of them can do for one another. Somehow, Linda feels to blame, though rationally she knows she cannot have caused this. She recalls the dreams she has had every year, the dreams in which everyone dies in a disastrous cataclysm. But they were only dreams, she tells herself. Dreams I've told people, told them of my fear that they were warnings, though in half-joking tones. I'm not Cassandra. I'm not clairvoyant.
More to come...