You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The sardius, topaz, and diamond,
Beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.
The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes
Was prepared for you on the day you were created.
I went home after working thirteen hours, sometime around seven. My evening plans involved watching the news until I fell asleep. I took the last bottle of Johnny Walker Black from behind the bar and poured myself a four finger drink, neat. After kicking off my shoes with drink in hand, I plunked down on the soft leather sectional in our pricey Manhattan brownstone.
My wife Aysa was one of the network’s top foreign correspondents. She already had a dream job, but she wanted more, something along the lines of an ambassador post would do it for her. For now, her job kept her away from home for weeks at a time, all dependent on the news cycle.
I had gotten quite used to her unpredictable hours as she had gotten used to my insurmountable ones. Our time together was always short, but we made the best of it. Life with her was as exciting and romantic as I could ever ask for.
A few days ago, Aysa and her crew flew off to the outskirts of Tehran to cover the current outbreak of missiles raining down into the city. This time the aggressor was Israel. The two countries were fighting again, nothing new, or so I thought. Aysa had been there several times covering skirmishes and had always remained safe. This time was different. She was pregnant with our firstborn. We argued before she left. For the first time in our marriage, I wanted her to sit this one out. No more overseas assignments would be taken until after the child’s birth. She promised me this would be the last assignment.
When we met, both of us did not want children. But after my fortieth birthday, my paternal instincts kicked in. Maybe it was more of my ego. I wanted an heir to my achievements, a mini-me, and someone to proudly call my own. She was two years my junior. Our window of opportunity would soon shut down. We argued. Then I begged and begged and begged. Over a year passed, and I finally beat her down. Aysa worried too much. She was born with a cleft palate. Although she didn’t remember the surgeries, she didn’t want to pass on her bad genes.
I found the best geneticist in Manhattan. He assured Aysa that modern medicine found many ways to avoid abnormalities and disease. I assured her that she would not have to quit her job. We earned plenty of money. Friends within the industry were already recommending their previous au pairs. We would continue to soar up the ladder, raise our child, and live happily ever without sacrifice. Or so we thought. We were selfish and naïve. Both of us lived in our one percent bubble while the rest of the world was ripe for the taking.
I watched Aysa on the TV wearing a crisp white blouse, olive green trench coat, and khakis. Her glossy black hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail and her eye make-up was slightly smeared. The bags under her eyes alarmed me. Although I knew better, the incoming missiles looked to be only feet away. The scene grew more horrifying as a few missiles quickly changed to dozens of missiles within seconds. I watched the missiles’ trails linger within the midnight blue sky as they showered down on the plains of Tehran. Aysa worked several dangerous situations over the years. I never worried. Tonight something was off.
Ten minutes later, the inevitable happened. The inconceivable. The unimaginable. A brilliant, enormous rocket flashed from the ground and zoomed out of Tehran. It looked different, bigger, and deadlier than the ones sent by Israel. My heart fluttered. Aysa’s face lightened up to a shade of ghost white.
“Iran just fired back a missile. Waiting on confirmation…Wait, I’m getting something from the Associated Press. Standby,” Aysa said into the camera, cupping her earpiece as the coverage continued. The screen faded. Television color bars replaced the blank screen. A few minutes passed and I panicked.
Grabbing my cell, I called the station manager. “Gary, it’s me. What the hell happened…Yeah, I realize that. I am watching it right now. My wife…I understand. Just keep me in the immediate loop. She is four months pregnant! Get her out of there!”
Minutes turned to hours. No call back from Gary, no broadcast, and no more Scotch to calm my pulsating nerves. Color bars lit up every channel, except one of the premium movie channels. An old movie, The Last Jedi, was playing. I remembered watching the flick with my grandfather as a kid.
I stayed with the movie, frequently flipping through all of the major network channels. Still nothing. My cell phone rang and I shook as if someone had just zapped me with a live wire.
“Aysa? Are you okay?”
“It’s Gary, Raphael. Listen, I don’t want to worry you, but the truth is I haven’t heard from her or her crew. We sent out a rescue team, all former military, but they are at least an hour away. She’s not the only one we can’t get a hold of. Something is very wrong. There are whispers that Tehran just blew up Tel Aviv. You saw the damned missile. It was as big as a building. I don’t want to say it, but…”
“Then don’t say it!” I yelled. I couldn’t handle the word nuke right now.
“Okay, Raphael. Israel retaliated. This can escalate into a global war by morning. As you know, New York City is a primary target. I’m not saying that we are in danger, but if you know someone, have family, whatever, you might want to visit them as soon as you can. Tomorrow morning at the latest.”
“But what about work? The station?”
“We lost our signal. So has the AP, all networks, and their affiliates. Satellites are jammed. Not sure why, but we’re blind right now. No work tomorrow and maybe none for the week. Have you tried to call Aysa?”
“Yes, of course, Gary. But no answer. Oh my God…She’s four months pregnant…” My voice drifted off and tears filled my eyes. I didn’t want to think the worst.
“Stop it, Raphael. She’s one of the smartest correspondents in the business. She’s got contacts all over the Middle East. She and the crew were miles away from the city. If anyone found a way out, it’s them. Communication is just compromised for the time being. We’re lucky that some of the phones are still working, but who knows how long this will last. The Internet is giving us all kinds of problems. Listen, I got my parents in Philly. After I get off the phone with you, that’s where I am heading. You are welcome to meet me there.”
“Thanks, Gary. But I got my wife’s sister. She’s outside of Boston. If I decide to leave, that’s where I’ll head off to.”
I drank a few bottles of water, ate a yogurt, and tried to sleep which didn’t happen. My buzz was finally gone. No word from anyone. Taking Gary’s advice, I packed my bag, withdrew as much cash as the ATM would allow, and got the hell out of the city. Traffic was mysteriously light, but then it was only three o’clock in the morning. I thought of London, where Aysa’s parents had moved back to years ago. As I drove, I dialed their number. No answer.
My car radio picked up the local news. Still no update about the rocket war between Israel and Iran. Most of the radio hosts speculated that the Middle East no longer existed. The lack of information angered me. If the satellites didn’t work, then why not send some high-tech military drones over the area? We needed confirmation one way or another on what was happening.
I called Aysa again. Nothing. I called Jaxie Nottingham, Aysa’s sister. She picked up. Maybe she had an idea of what was happening. She worked as a director at Fogle International, the leading communications, social media, and search engine corporation of the world.
“Jaxie? Surprised that you…”
“Picked up? I know what you mean. Mom and Dad aren’t picking up right now. I’m beyond worried. But I know something that most of the world doesn’t know. Even you, with your big shot news job and all.” There was a despondency in her voice that almost stopped my heart. “The cities Tehran, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Damascus, Khafa, and Islamabad are decimated. Parts of Russia are gone. Nuked.”
Oh God. I didn’t want to hear that word. This can’t be happening. Maybe I heard her wrong. Maybe she had bad information.
“Are you and Aysa leaving town? New York isn’t the greatest place to be in the middle of World War Three. I hope you are heading my way.”
Jaxie’s voice sounded a million miles away. My head felt dizzy. I was barely out of the city and I pulled onto a side street and stopped. “Whoa, back up. Did you say Tehran? That’s got to be a mistake. They were getting hit with little rockets from Israel just a little bit ago... Jaxie, Aysa was…” I paused and she didn’t respond. Seconds dragged on like minutes.
Finally, Jaxie shouted into the phone, “Shut your mouth! Aysa is with you! She’s pregnant. Why would she be jetting off to some hell hole?” Her voice cracked. I heard a sob. “No! She, she, she…You son-of-a-bitch! You let her go to Iran? What kind of asshole are you?”
“Please, Jaxie, listen! Did you say Tehran is wiped off of the map? Be very clear.”
Her sobs grew into mass hysteria. I waited patiently for her to get it together and hoped she was wrong. Finally, she said, “Tehran nuked Tel Aviv first. It caused quite a reaction. They returned fire with an even bigger nuke.”
“Jaxie, my entire TV network is jammed. They don’t know shit about anything-no Internet, many phones are not working, and satellites are down. How do you know this?”
“Why do you think? We were told to jam them up. The great Maximillian Steele himself ordered us via encrypted email. He even followed up with a video. Supposedly, our president and several of our allies politely asked him to do it. Leaders are afraid of a mass panic. The jam up is meant for our safety.”
“Well, when will they be live again?” I caught my breath and wiped away my tears as I sat in the car.
“When the Middle East stops throwing bombs at each other. That’s when we will remove all of the barriers. I am not supposed to talk about this. I am only telling you because of Aysa. If someone was listening in, or if you plan on reporting this on your news station…”
“My news station is currently screwed. And if someone is listening in, then from me to you, buddy, go fuck yourself! She was four months pregnant!” My tears gushed out of my eyes like waterfalls. This was real. No nightmare. I had no wife, no son, nothing.
“Absolutely! You’re right. Fuck anyone who is listening in if anyone is listening in! Raphael, are you driving to my house?”
“I pulled over,” I said in between hyperventilating sobs.
“Normally, that would be a great idea. But you don’t have the time to crack up right now. You’re not safe. Neither am I, but Brookline isn’t exactly a primary target. I will keep on trying to call Mom and Dad, and you get back on the road now. My third floor was just revamped into a guest bedroom suite complete with kitchenette and living room area. It’s like a hotel. Stay as long as you need to. Need directions?”
“No, I remember. Okay, I’m back on the road. Be there soon.” I hung up and headed towards Brookline, a Boston suburb and the eastern United States headquarters of Fogle. It was a good three, if not four hour drive. The time allowed me to process.
Until there was proof, I refused to accept the worst. Aysa and her crew reported on the outskirts of Tehran, and depending on what side of the city the bomb hit, she might still be alive. Gary was right. She had contacts all over the world. She even spoke Farsi. The secrecy of this outbreak alarmed me the most.
By daybreak, I rolled into Brookline and parked on the street in front of Jaxie’s upscale townhome. Before knocking, she opened the door. She wore sweats and an Irish wool sweater. Her long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The bags and puffy lines underneath her brown eyes made her look much older than her thirty-four years.
We hugged a hug each other in grief. She poured me a coffee and insisted that I force down some toast. Once I unpacked, she entered the guest suite with an armload of fresh towels and toiletries. Her disheveled appearance changed into a professional one.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked.
“I have to go in to work. The house is yours. There still is no TV or Internet. I have a feeling it will be like that for a long time.”
“You are going to work? Aren’t you finished with jamming up more satellites and networks? What about the local radio?” My voice was bitter.
“We aren’t bothering with radio waves, and they are at a dead end right now anyway. Their main sources are jammed. Listen, I don’t like doing this…”
“I know. I’m sorry. At least you get some information out of it.”
“Well, Raph, there’s more. Add seven more cities to that list I told you about. Again, I’m just an engineer.”
“You’re a director of the biggest tech company in the world, maybe the only tech company left. Now’s not the time to play humble.”
“Well, imagine what Steele knows. Religion caused the Middle East conflict. At least that’s what we were told. They are calling it World War III. Southern Turkey just got hit.”
We looked nervously at each other. “That’s part of NATO,” I said. “So Europe will be next? What then? The United States? Are we going to destroy ourselves? This is insane. You got to call this in to the local…”
“Shut up! Don’t you think I haven’t been tempted? One of my engineers made a call to a Boston radio station.”
“And? Did he announce the Middle East is now gone?”
“No, Raphael, he didn’t. Someone shot him in his home before he got through to the show. This isn’t some news story! I’m terrified. The time will come to act, but it isn’t now. Keep your mouth shut or we’re all dead.”
The next few weeks at Jaxie’s home all but destroyed me. She rushed to work every day, sometimes working eighteen hours straight, while I sat alone in fear, wondering if and when I too would cease to exist. My television network was disabled. Many crew members besides Aysa were missing. I was finished fooling myself. Soon she and everyone else would be presumed dead.
The local radio stations were our only life line to the outside world. They spoon fed us bits and pieces of tragedies around the globe, but always after Jaxie told me. Fogle International continued to be the first to know what the hell was going on. This little tidbit only added to my suspicions.
Like we all feared, American cities were pulverized as were European, South American, African, Chinese, Indian, Canadian, and Australian cities. I wondered what country avoided the devastation. Every day I studied the sky, waiting to be burned to ashes.
By week three of nuclear tennis, Russia tossed a warhead smack dab in the center of Manhattan. Poof. My career which was once so important to me was gone. Depression took my mind into oblivion. Madness set in. The only way I knew how to cope was alcohol. If I knew where to buy drugs, I probably would have overdosed.
It was Jaxie who saved me. She came home after a very long day of doing dirty work for Fogle and found me comatosed in her living room. I appeared to be dead, lying in a sea of vomit. I was always a drinker, but my drinking habits escalated to full-blown alcoholism. She somehow revived me. Why? I don’t know, but I secretly resented her.
By the second month of nuclear decimation, one of the major networks magically aired on television and the Internet. Although I had stopped watching television, the local radio channel that I grew dependent on hyped the event throughout the day.
The war was far from over. Throughout the night and early morning, London, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, and Johannesburg were added to the list of cities that were no longer cities. I thought of Aysa’s and Jaxie’s parents. Jaxie and I never did get a hold of them. Did they make it out?
Washington D.C. was next. America lost her capitol. No one knew if she lost her president as well. Tonight the vice president would speak on my once competing network, WBNX, at seven o’clock eastern time. Eastern Time. What a joke. There were only a few cities left that even used that time zone.
Jaxie got home earlier than usual, six o’clock. We had plenty of time before the highly publicized broadcast. I was half in the bag, determined to get all of the way in the bag. She made us each an omelet and took my bottle of brandy that I had stolen earlier from the grocery store and poured it down the drain.
I rushed home from work which had become more of a jail cell. I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. At least that is what Maximillian Steele and his board of directors liked to tell us directors and managers as we did their bidding by jamming satellites, shutting down broadcasts, censoring radio shows, and interfering with all Internet communication.
One of my colleagues, Brian Cross, was shot in the head at the beginning of a secret meeting with a local reporter. The vice president of the Eastern Division was missing. No one knew why, but we all had an idea. She publically questioned Max and the board about pulling the plug on all communications around the world.
Fear kept us in line, and fear kept us working around the clock. I once loved my job. It was my dream. After graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was hired by one of the most exciting tech companies in the world as a software analyst. More training, more work, more promotions, and I became a director with two dozen engineers working under me. My salary was enormous. I had an amazing home, luxury car, and even had access to the corporate jet.
Everything changed. Each day since the first mushroom cloud erupted my job came closer to resembling a work camp. No breaks. Lunch was eaten at one’s desk. The food court, fitness center, and the company spa were indefinitely closed. Today we were tossed a bone. An announcement was made allowing us to leave the building at the end of the regular work day. Eight hours of work felt like part-time. The joyous occasion and random generosity was brought on by the scheduled broadcast of the Vice President of the United States. Tonight he would brief America on what was going on.
When I got home, Raphael looked his usual vagrant self. He was unshaven, in the same clothes he wore for the last five days, and reeked of body odor and booze. An open flame could have set him ablaze. He wanted to die, but I wasn’t ready to lose him.
My sister, my parents, and the few other relatives I had were probably dead. Raphael was it. My brother-in-law moved up to my brother, at least in my mind. Last week, I came home to an almost dead Raphael. He passed out in the middle of the bathroom floor in a puddle of piss and vomit. He was choking.
Damn that mother fucker! I turned his body over so that he could throw up again. Somehow, I lugged all two hundred twenty plus pounds of his six and half foot frame into the shower and blasted cold water on his long, crumpled body. Nothing changed afterward. Going by the smell he emitted throughout the room, he hadn’t taken another shower since.
Raph’s insistence on checking out and getting drunk all day was taking its toll. In desperation I took away his cash, ATM and credit cards. Lack of funds didn’t stop him from getting more alcohol. He later confessed to a first-rate Hard-Knox education passed on from his late grandfather. George King taught him how to steal in order to survive, but Raphael stole so that he could die.
I came home early from work, although Raph didn’t seem to notice. As usual, he was inebriated. Calmly and quietly, I took his drink and his bottle and poured them down the drain. Then I whipped up a half-assed dinner and turned on Channel Four, WBNX, the only station allowed to air.
“Raph, you need to sober up. Tonight’s the night. Steele himself told all of us to go home for this broadcast. Maybe a world truce?”
“Wish I had a drink to hear all of this bullshit. Wonder which heads of state are even alive,” he said. “Notice how the vice president is speaking and not the president? He must be dead as well.”
“Stay tuned, right? Hey, next time you go stealing booze, can you get us some steak and potatoes, maybe some shrimp and lobster? Hell, any kind of food would be good. Aren’t you getting hungry for real food? Man shall not live by booze alone.”
“Ah, the Bible, right? Funny. Speaking of miracles, you haven’t thrown me out on my ass yet.” Raphael wore a guilty look on his face as he sipped the last Diet Coke. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Oh Jax, I’ve been the guest from hell.”
“I guess the end of the world has that effect on some people. Last week you scared the shit out of me. You could have died. Just stop drinking so much. We’ve got to pull ourselves together in case.”
“In case what?”
“In case this is not the end. In case this is just the beginning.”
Raphael sighed and rolled his eyes. “My grandfather, George, you would have loved him, anyway, he warned me about this. We should just kill ourselves now. Get it over with before…”
“Before what?” I asked. He was still very drunk.
“It doesn’t matter. You hear from your folks?” I shook my head. Raphael’s brown eyes teared up. I knew he loved them like his own family. “Okay then. I will steal some good food for you. Booze for me and food for you. And it will be something gourmet and expensive, since you’re such a nice host.”
I just shook my head in disgust. Maybe he would snap out of this road to self-destruction. The colored bars on Channel Four finally went away. A stage with a podium and a United Nations flag hung behind it filled the television screen. A few seconds later, Vice President Al-Basaam walked onto the stage. He looked a decade older than his forty-nine years. His salt and pepper black hair was now full-blown gray. The bags underneath his eyes were a deep purplish-brown. A woman stood on the main floor. As soon as the vice president spoke, her hands signed his words. I turned up the volume.
Ladies, gentlemen, children of the United States of America, ladies, gentlemen, children of the world, it gives me great displeasure to tell you that President Zanotti was in Washington D.C. when the city was destroyed. Although we are not certain what happened, his whereabouts are unknown. So I am here today as your messenger. You have lived in the dark for the last forty-six days. These days have been the darkest days this planet has ever seen. Some of you already know that the world has become much smaller. North America alone has lost sixteen of her cities and tens of millions of her people. Europe has lost fifteen cities. China has lost twenty cities. Russia has lost fourteen cities. South America has lost twenty-one cities. India has lost eleven cities. Numerous islands and parts of Australia are gone. Half, yes half, of what used to be the Middle East and Africa are also gone.
Vice President al-Bassam looked behind him as a white screen was lowered next to the U.N. flag. A few seconds later an updated world map projected onto the screen.
You all know this map. It’s the world forty-seven days ago.
He pointed to the screen. A new photo of the world was up on the screen. Several sections were colored in red.
This is the world as of today. That is, if all of us stop right now. The red sections of the map were annihilated with nuclear warheads. The impact plus the radiation… He paused. Tears streamed down his face. He wiped them away and took a deep breath. Estimates of three billion to three and half billion people are dead. We don’t know how many more will die during the war’s aftermath. There’s thermal radiation and nuclear winter…We just don’t know the after-effects of the devastation, but there will be more, many more. So that totals over one third of the world’s total population and counting. I am not here to lecture.
This war began as a religious war between two different and opposing religions and cultures within the Middle East. Allies of the west and allies of east were quickly sucked in from around the world. Now we don’t have a world. I shouldn’t say that. We still have a world, but it must be a very different one than it is at the moment if it is to survive, if we are to survive.
We have to change. There is no place for intolerance. There is no place for nationalism. And yes, there is no place for religion. We, and I mean those of us who are still alive and unaffected by radiation, must unify as a whole if we are to rebuild.
In the next few days, world leaders such as the French vice president, German chancellor, English prime minister and Prince of England, Columbian president, Prince of Saudi Arabia, Japan’s prime minister, World Trade Organization’s director-general, U.N.’s secretary-general, Russian and Chinese governors of the International Monetary Fund, among other key world, finance, business, communications, and technology leaders of the world will be meeting at a secret location. We, with the help of what is left of the United Nations, will be drafting a new government, a post-war reconstruction plan, and global security for the living.
Together, in the name of peace, we will begin a new civilization, disarm all missiles, and forgive. But these are just words. Our existence is up to you. Are you finished with all of the death and destruction? Are you sick of living in fear?
Most of you have lost loved ones. I lost my wife of twenty-one years. She was in New York City at the wrong time. My eldest son Fadi was in London at the wrong time. At least my two daughters were spared. I am beyond grateful. I know some of you have lost your whole family and all of your friends. Some of you have lost your homes and your wealth. You might be wishing you were one of the ones who were taken. Death might even seem like a gift at this point.
Again, the vice president paused and wiped the tears from his face.
I completely understand. The thought has crossed my mind as well. I beg you to try and get through another day. Tomorrow, I will beg you to get through another day. The magnitude of this war is incomprehensible. We all lost. There are no victors. But remember, you are not the only ones who lost. You are not alone in your darkest hour. We need each other more than ever. Rebuilding the world will take hard, grueling work from everyone. May we lean on each other for strength and treat each other with kindness.
The next few weeks, maybe months will get confusing, chaotic, and hopeless. Perhaps even worse than it is now. The skies are already gray. They will darken to black. True daylight will take weeks, months, maybe even years. And in the darkness, some will prey on others.
Lawlessness will be unacceptable. We must help each other and not hurt each other. I implore all of you to hang in there. Soon we will have rule of law, prosperity, opportunity, and peace. Starting tonight, this station’s twenty-four hour broadcast and a few entertainment channels will be restored. Soon Internet and all phone usage across the world will be available. As your acting president, I swear to make this horrifying transition as quick and easy as possible.
There is some good news in light of this destruction. Agendas and resolutions were drafted decades ago in response to creating a sustainable development. I hope I answered some of your questions. All of you have many more. But this will have to do for now. I don’t have all of the answers. None of us do. I will speak again. Good night.
The last part of the broadcast aired drone footage of some of the major cities that were hit. Nothing was left, just fire, ashes and rubble.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Dina RaeWrite a Review