Day 2: The Wait (Paul)
Paul spent a sleepless night on the phone, trying to contact his sister. His parents had passed away some years ago, and she was the only family he had left. He couldn’t reach her, though. No answer from so many people. Stories poured in from all over the globe, and they all said the same thing. Death. Destruction. Murder. Stay inside. The worst came from New York. There had been an afternoon game in Yankee Stadium when the sky tore in two. People turned on their cameras, providing multiple views of the carnage. Eighty thousand people, destroyed in under five minutes by black drones, firing their deadly lasers.
The websites flooded with too much information to process. Millions dead, they said, with one site estimating the death toll in the billions. These things were unstoppable. Bullets bounced off their exteriors. Bombs did nothing. They destroyed anyone out in the open, and their lasers struck with perfect precision. Even now, livestreams flooded the internet from people trapped in apartment buildings, office buildings, everywhere. The things hovered outside the windows, and if anyone stepped foot outside, they’d be killed.
Sharon concerned him the most. After the initial attack, he and John worked to stop the bleeding on that terrible wound on her leg. Thank God for Sharon’s nursing background so she could tell them what to do. Apply pressure. Stuff as much cloth into the wound as possible. Keep the leg elevated. With a quiet heroism he’d never match, she stepped them through the process. By the end, blood covered both him and John before Sharon succumbed to exhaustion, falling into a light doze. They moved her to the spare room upstairs where she could at least be comfortable. She asked him several times about Heather, and he told her all he knew. The kids were safe, at least in the short term. He put her phone beside her bed, so she’d be able to communicate with her family.
The blistering noise of the alarm jerked him upright in bed, and he clapped his hands over his ears. God. Every few hours they went off. They seemed to serve no purpose other than keeping him awake. Between stress and the noise, he had managed perhaps an hour of sleep. The clock read 5:30 a.m. He padded to the bathroom and washed the raw exhaustion from his eyes. The bed he shared with Krista showed in the reflection of the silver-plated mirror that hung over the faucets. One side was untouched. Untouched because Krista was trapped next door with his neighbor, surrounded by robots that would kill them if they left the house.
A barking sob escaped his mouth, and he jammed his fist into it to stop the sound from carrying. He slumped to the cold tile of the bathroom floor and hunched his knees against his chest, trying to keep himself under control.
He needed Krista. The pressure drummed like a thudding in his brain. How could he do what he was supposed to do without her here? It was her job to figure things out, to keep them on the straight and steady, to come up with ideas. This was too big for him to solve by himself. What was he supposed to focus on? Sharon and her bloody leg? The kids? It was too much.
He squeezed his eyes shut and took deep breaths until the panic passed. He needed to be better. He needed to do better. He couldn’t spend the day in his head, crying every ten seconds. It wouldn’t help anyone. Maybe he could make a deal with himself. In this bathroom, he’d let himself crumble. It could be his one safe spot in the house, the place he could collapse and not worry about the consequences. But the moment he left, he’d need to step up and figure shit out. People were counting on him. No crying outside the bathroom.
Weirdly, the rule made him feel better, and it was enough to get him into the shower, where he let the hot water run all over him, washing away the exhaustion. Here, he could float a little and let his mind run free. This whole thing was surreal. These crafts had them pinned down, and even though the kids were fifty feet away, they might as well be on Mars. There had to be a way to get to them.
If the police or army were coming, they would have done it by now. He watched the videos on the web last night, and it wasn’t hard to see what was happening. The things dominated every square inch of the skies, and no one was coming to help. Although it scared him to admit it, they were on their own. And that meant he needed to figure stuff out. But for the moment, it felt good to stand here in the shower, letting the water run over him and wash away the fear from the previous day.
He turned off the shower, his brain humming in overdrive. In moments he dried off enough to throw on clothes, a plain gray button-down that Krista said made his thin shoulders look broad, and a pair of jeans.
They were on their own. That’s what got him thinking. Realistically, it might take weeks before they sorted this mess out. Weeks where garbage would sit, uncollected. Drains would clog up. Power lines would be left alone. He didn’t know how long they’d have electricity. A day, maybe a week. If the electricity blew, they’d be out of water. Food too. There was no way it would last that long. They should ration now.
Trying not to make any noise, he crept downstairs to the basement and rooted around the shelves for anything that could be used as a storage container. He emptied the bins they kept Abby’s dolls in. Tucked in a corner, near the furnace, he found a bunch of old pots they used to cook lobster in last summer. These would all work.
“Anything I can help you with?”
Paul jumped a half-foot in the air, barking out a scream. John stood behind him, rubbing at his thinning white hair that stood up in all directions, eyes red-rimmed and sunken. Apparently, Paul wasn’t the only one who had trouble sleeping last night. How could anyone sleep through that noise?
“You scared me, man.” Paul gave a nervous laugh. “But yeah. Here’s what I’m thinking. We should fill up anything that will hold water. We don’t know how long this will last. With no one able to get outside to do maintenance, any rupture or break in the pipes could ruin the whole system. Anything that can hold water needs to be filled up. Bowls, jugs, anything. The same goes for electricity. There’s supposed to be a storm tomorrow. If the lines go down, that will be it for power. So, we should charge everything. Every phone, every device, all of it. We need to get ready, in case this lasts.”
“Do you think so?” John shook his head. “This might be over today.”
Paul wasn’t in the mood to argue the point, so he talked around it. “And if it’s over today, then we’ll have tons of water we can use on the lawn. No harm, no foul. But it gives us something to work on while we figure this out. Right?”
John rubbed his jaw. “Yes. I suppose that’s right. The police will be here in no time, though, you watch.”
“I hope you’re right, John. In the meantime, let’s also inventory the food. Separate perishable from non-perishable. Anything that’s going bad gets eaten first. And no more throwing food out. We eat everything now, every scrap. Peels, cores, everything. Also, we need to figure out a way to get something to the kids. They have nothing in that treehouse.”
“How would we get food to them though? Throw it?”
“I don’t know yet.” Paul struggled to keep his temper in check. He didn’t have all the answers.
“I can do the food and water,” John said. “What about Sharon?”
Paul sighed. “I’ll check the Internet while it’s still working, see if I can learn anything else. I think the most we can do is keep her comfortable, pack the wound, and cross our fingers.”
“She told me to keep it quiet, her injury.”
John nodded, the raw horror fading from his eyes, now that he was talking. “Said she didn’t want to worry her family, that’s it would be too stressful for them. We’ll be out of this in no time when the police show up.” While Paul didn’t feel like bursting his bubble about the police, he didn’t see it as a viable option. The police were as trapped as anyone else.
Paul rubbed his face. “That doesn’t feel right.”
“It doesn’t,” John agreed, “but it’s what she wants. Doesn’t feel right to go behind her back either.”
Something about that seemed off, but Paul had enough on his mind without adding another burden. He thought Sharon was being naïve but resolved to talk to her about it tomorrow if no help was forthcoming. No sense in worrying about that now, he’d focus on getting through the day. And maybe John was right. Maybe the army would roll in. It was possible. Maybe they were already starting counter-measures against these seemingly indestructible robots.
But deep in his heart, he knew the truth. They were on their own.