I had drank too much, again. The alarm pierced my ears, shrill beeping growing in volume. Slapping the the clock on to the floor, I slowly sat upright with my head throbbing. I had been celebrating a friends birthday and didn’t leave until the early hours of the morning. At least I didn’t have to work today.
Shuffling down the foyer, ratty slippers with googly eyes glued on by my ex-girlfriend. I shook a toe, looking at the pupil swing around the comical ellipse. I guess they still amused me, or else they would have joined the boxes I stacked out by the dumpster. We had one of those mutual-but-seriously-admit-its-your-fault kind of splits, so I didn’t want anything around to remind me of her.
Except these silly slippers. They made me think of better times, trips to the beach and hiking in the woods. “Get some breakfast, googly-eyes.”, I said to no one, half-expecting her muted laugh from the kitchen. I started coffee, reheated some leftovers. Sitting on the kitchen stool, I waggled a remote at the television.
A Russian news channel was on, a product of my half-hearted attempt to learn the language. I stared at the screen, letting the foreign sounds soak into my mind. One day, I would visit Moscow. It was the polar opposite to anything I’ve done before, which was exactly why I wanted to do it.
“и в местных новостях кремль объявил, что–” the voice cut out, suit and lapel microphone hitting the floor. I blinked. Keying the rewind on my DVR, I stepped through to the last word. At the edges of the perfectly coiffed hair, small cracks formed. Hands shaking, I advanced each frame.
Small black cracks, then tendrils meeting across the face. The surface wasn’t cut, peering closer at the screen it looked like a cheap video effect – parts of the announcers face were missing. Black, perfect void. A few frames later and nothing left but two glowing dots where the eyes had been, outline in relief, then nothing.
I pressed play, and the empty suit fell to the floor again.
This had to be a prank. It couldn’t be real. The chime on the coffee maker sounded, breaking my train of thought. Coffee. Yeah, coffee would be great right about now. I stood up and grabbed a cup, walking slowly with the steaming mug to the couch, left hand gripping the remote.
I glanced at the time, it was around noon. There had to be something on about this. I flicked around some channels, surfing through commercials until I stumbled on an Emergency Alert System announcement. White text scrolled by on a deep blue background, framed in red.
“National Alert .. Emergency Action Notification .. Shelter in place, stay calm. There have been anomalous broadcasts from our partner countries with no clear cause. Emergency officials are analyzing the situation. Stay tuned for further developments. Curfew is in effect. .. Shelter in place, stay calm..”
The message repeated, in a loop. “Anomalous broadcasts”? I changed the channel, punching in the local news station. “.. so what you’re saying is that this could be an orchestrated event.”, the anchor addressed a shorter balding man, video crawl labeling him as an expert in communications.
“Yes Grant, this is obviously the product of some kind of psychological warfare, a scare tactic”, I changed the channel again, trying to find out more. Something wasn’t right. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled with rising fear. I pushed onward, catching fragments from different channels all discussing the event.
“.. global reach, at least in countries that are overseas, we talked to ..”
“.. massive panic as rioters loot the stores behind me, police are trying ..”
“.. we now go to our reporter in Paris. Linda, what is the situation there?”, I paused, sunset painting the Eiffel Tower in orange hues. The blonde reporter had just lifted the microphone to her mouth when the edges of her face began to darken. I hastily hit record, capturing her frightened gasp as she disappeared into nothingness.
I stepped the recording a few frames back, looking at the background. People had been walking behind the shot, and as the edges became tendrils on her surprised face there was an advancing line of clothes falling to the ground – with no one in them. I sat back, staring at the world map on the wall.
It was studded with multicolored pins, places I wanted to visit. I looked at Russia, then France. Two pins defining Moscow and Paris. White-hot realization rocketing up my spine, I stood up and ran to the bedroom. Grabbing a small suitcase, I began packing. Just the essentials. Dragging the wheeled carry-on to the kitchen, filling it with staples like rice and beans. A pot and a cup, a few utensils.
The sun. Whatever was happening was linked to the sun setting. I only had under seven hours of daylight. It might be just enough time. I dashed outside, shoving the luggage into the back of my car. If this had happened close to rush hour, I wouldn’t have made it out of the city.
I revved the engine, weaving in and out of traffic.
I had to get to the airport.
If I was lucky, I could intercept a private jet. There were plenty of them at the VIP terminal, always ready to take their clients to far off places.
I patted the pocket in the luggage, holding all the cash I had on hand. It might be enough. Just enough to convince a pilot to fly towards the north. Land somewhere near the arctic circle. In summer there would be months of daylight. Just long enough to find others.
Long enough to beat the creeping shadows.
I rammed through the VIP gate, startling the snoozing security guard.
Up ahead, sleek aircraft shone brightly under the noon-day sun, white paint on slender wings.