I decided it was time to share another tidbit from my dream journal. Please note that these “stories” (I use that word loosely, because I’m not that kind of writer) are often highly embellished for my own entertainment. And possibly yours if I’m lucky. The one I’m sharing with you today isn’t entirely finished. Where I stopped writing isn’t where the dream ended, but I got a little carried away with embellishing and filling in the dream gaps. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t have a 20 page paper I’m supposed to be working on…Oops.
The apocalypse didn’t happen like everyone thought it would. I mean, sure, it happened exactly like every movie, book, or television show ever depicted. Fiery destruction and people losing their damn minds. Except it didn’t start like anyone expected it to. There were no alien invaders. No vaporizing solar flares. No zombie sicknesses. No devastating natural disasters (Yeah, okay, there was some flooding in the South going on but it was completely unrelated to the world ending. Mother Nature didn’t stop her routine to say, “wait a minute, the humans are being more destructive than normal”). My point is, there weren’t any of the things people expected. There was only us. Not a damn person alive on this planet doesn’t know that to be true (although I suspect there are a few dead ones who never quite figured it out). The apocalypse started because, well, I guess they thought it was a good idea. Who knows? I mean someone knows. Obviously. My money’s on the people who started it. Unfortunately for you, the person telling you this story doesn’t happen to be one of them. Honestly, I’m just hoping that whoever finds this will be able to answer the questions I leave unanswered (because I’m pretty sure I won’t be living until the end of this…provided there is an end). Guys, this could literally be the last book ever written by humans. And if that doesn’t get you going…well then…I’m not entirely sure we would’ve been friends before all this. I’m going to tell you what happened. I’m going to tell you what I know, what I saw, what I heard. I’m not going to tell you why. There won’t be a reason that the world ended. At least not one that I’m satisfied with. Maybe they just wanted to watch everything burn. Maybe they pictured themselves ruling the planet. Or maybe they really did just do it for the noise.
“Someday, I hope someone looks at me the way veep Poynter looks at President Brighton,” I giggled.
“That’s what love looks like,” my best friend Oaklee agreed.
We were crammed onto our two-person sofa, surrounded by pizza boxes, with our trusty wine glasses in hand. Watching President Brighton’s final State of the Union address. It’s ridiculous that we watch it, actually, given our lack of political consumption…or general concern for that matter. But we both agreed that there was something goosebump-inspiring about listening to the leader of your nation being all majestic and shit. Plus we loved getting just a teensy bit drunk and admiring the faces Vice President Poynter makes at the back of Brighton’s head.
“Evie,” Oaklee continued, “Now isn’t that exactly the way Luca DeRosa looks at you?”
Spoilers, the look Oaklee is talking about in no way resembles the one I’m giving to her right now. It’s funny how alcohol can lead even the best of friends to bring up unattainable romantic crushes. Naturally, I do what any person would do when backed into this kind of corner: I snatch her wine glass and down the rest of its contents.
“EVELYN! I was going to drink that!”
“Duh. Which is why I did it for you. Who knows, that could’ve been the glass that is all the difference between a hangover tomorrow. Maybe you should be thanking me.”
By now we’re both in a fit of tipsy giggles, the kind that totally aren’t embarrassing for a couple of 23-year-old women to be consumed by. Just let Luca DeRosa see me now.
Oaklee gets serious again. “Evie, we’re missing Brighton’s entire speech. You know this will be all anyone talks about tomorrow!”
That last part wasn’t a joke either. President William Brighton is up for his final election term next year. And let’s just say the country (and a lot of other countries for that matter) aren’t exactly thrilled with him. Of course, that goes for every national leader ever at the moment. It just doesn’t help that Brighton happens to be that guy for America and people always seem to be staring at us. Sometimes I almost feel bad for him but then I remember that’s right buddy, you signed up for this job.
“Sorry Oak, you’re right. I’m all ears.”
“But you know,” Oak piped up in her I’m-totally-going-to-talk-about-Luca-again voice. “I still think you should just ask him out. It’s not going to be that weird if he says no.”
Gee, thanks Oak. Always so supportive. I tell my snarky inner voice that she is supportive and she’s only repeating back an argument I’ve made to myself a hundred or so times. The thing is, me and Luca work together. Which isn’t per se banned by our place of employment…but if he did say no or it ends terribly in 2 to 3 months, things could get a little uncomfortable (ethically and emotionally). But still. I can’t picture Professional Evelyn walking up to Corrections Officer Luca and asking him on a date. My luck, we’d become the gossip of the whole damn correctional facility. And trust me, you do not want to give anyone in prison something to talk about. Once, I got called to a pod because an inmate had overheard a C.O. telling another C.O. that he was afraid he was going to have to put Frank (who just so happened to be his beloved Labradoodle) down. Unfortunately, Inmate Frank was unaware of Labradoodle Frank. You really haven’t seen something until you’ve seen a man serving a 12-year prison sentence on aggravated battery charges lose his shit. I’ve digressed a bit (or a lot) but I guess now you have a nice snapshot of what my life looked like before it happened, not that you said you cared to know. I work at a prison (with Luca, the corrections officer) as a mental health clinician. I know, glamorous right?
“I know,” I tell Oaklee. “I’m just worried about how it will look professionally.”
“You’re always worried about how things will look professionally,” she rolls her eyes. “Personally, I think you should worry more about how Officer Luca looks out of that uniform.”
“Hmm, I hardly doubt I need to worry,” I wink playfully at her.
Which obviously sends us into another non-embarrassing laughing episode. I’m starting to think it doesn’t matter how old you get. You can always find the will to giggle about an attractive human.
That’s when we realized it. President Brighton’s dulcet tones were no longer the background soundtrack to our wine-induced euphoria We both stare at the television screen. Not really comprehending what we’re seeing at first. I estimate that it takes us until about the third loop of the repeating video to wrap our heads around it. There is no sound. No words. No commentary. There is only Vice President Poynter, rising calmly from his chair. Drawing a thin, shining blade from his jacket pocket. And sending it spiraling end-over-end into the back of President Brighton’s head. I’m not sure how much time passes before she speaks.
“Shut it off,” Oaklee says with zero emotion behind her words. As if she’s just watching the most boring documentary ever made. Not the obvious assassination of our president by our vice president. My hand picks up the remote, in the back of my head I register that it’s shaking. But I don’t turn the TV off. That’s not something you do in a situation like this. Or so I’m assuming, having never actually been in a situation like this. I stop on the first news channel I find (which happens to be CNN). I figure this will satisfy Oak’s “shut it off” request. We come into the broadcast just in time to hear the anchor explaining to the viewers that no one is entirely sure what’s going on (shocker). She implores us to stay tuned as the situation unfolds.
“Did we just….” Oaklee’s words trail off. So I finish them for her.
“Watch Poynter kill Brighton? On national television? On a repeating loop? Apparently.” In the back of my head I vaguely register that we’re both (and most likely a shit ton of the nation) is going to need some serious psychological debriefing.
It’s not a question when she asks it. Mostly because neither of us would have any idea how to answer it anyways. So we do the only thing we can do, we keep watching CNN.
It’s around 1:00AM when the first real breakthrough is made. The same weary-eyed anchor who’s been speaking to us for the last four hours informs us that they have received a letter. Apparently, everyone has received the letter. Now I’m going to be up front with you. I have no idea how hackers or anything to do with hacking works. So if you’re expecting this to be a really thorough and scientific (is that the right word?) explanation, then find the other last-writer-alive and read their book. Okay, back to the point. This letter, sent viral over the web, explains how this was only the first. It never defines what “this” is exactly, and it doesn’t need to. The message is clear: We’re going to kill more world leaders. Who are we? Sonitus. The sleep-deprived anchor explains that “sonitus” means “noise” in Latin. I don’t say out loud that this seems pretty ironic considering they made us watch our president’s murder on a soundless loop.
“Sonitus,” Oaklee whispers beside me, as if testing to see whether the word tastes as bad as it feels.
I can tell that it does. But still, I give it a go for myself. “Sonitus,” I repeat.
The anchor, I think her name is Pamela Prescott, continues telling us a horrible story.
“Sonitus is considered a highly skilled, highly dangerous underground hacker organization. How they have managed to stay off the grid, remains a mystery to our correspondents at the White House. In their viral letter, Sonitus has taken full responsibility for the assassination of President William Brighton. Stating that Vice President Poynter was ‘merely a pawn in our game.’ Authorities are still unable to determine how Sonitus was able to gain control of the network in order to broadcast the assassination on a continuous loop. It is unclear what the hackers ultimately wish to achieve, but an emergency meeting of world leaders will be held at the earliest and safest time possible to discuss this threat. ”
Pamela’s face suddenly gets even wearier than before (because apparently that was possible). Her shoulders slump further down. She has the look of a woman about to inform someone that they have stage four cancer as they sit at the funeral of a loved one. Clearly someone else (important) is dead.
“I regret to have to inform you,” and she truly does regret it, you can tell, “that Vice President Harold Poynter died shortly after the assassination of President Brighton. At this time, his cause of death remains unknown. Our chief correspondent at the White House, Richard Smith (wow, now that sounds like a chief correspondent’s name), phoned in briefly to provide us with a statement. According to Smith, Poynter simply fell down after the fatal stabbing and was unable to be revived. We must wait for a full autopsy for further details.”
“So Poynter kills Brighton for these Sonitus people and then offs himself with some Assassin’s Delight before anyone can question him too thoroughly?”
“Evie! There could totally be another horrible explanation for it.” It’s clear Oak is already on board the Denial Train.
“Or it could be the current and obvious horrible explanation.”
“I swear, working in a prison has seriously jaded you.”
“Thank you,” I quickly reply. She just rolls her eyes at me again. It happens to be one of our favorite methods of communication.
We both fall asleep on the couch that night. Somewhere around 3:00AM, when Pamela is replaced by Perry Moore, and they’re well into their fifth cycle of repeating the same information we already know. When I wake up the next morning the TV is off and we’re both covered in blankets, which I cross my fingers is the work of Oaklee at some point last night. My president was just assassinated on national television, I can’t also deal with a ghost haunting my apartment. In all fairness though, a ghost who puts blankets on you in the middle of the night would probably rank pretty low on the list of Worst Hauntings in America. Provided Casper wasn’t just working up to smothering you. Unrelated to the blanket over me, that’s exactly how I wake up feeling: like I’m being smothered. I get up from the couch, stretch my stiff limbs and head to the kitchen to make us some coffee. When I return with two steaming mugs, Oaklee is awake. I knew she would be. She never was a very sound sleeper. I always joke that if there ever was a zombie apocalypse no one would even need to stay up to keep watch at night. Oak would wake up as soon as any uninvited guests got within a mile of us.
“I don’t want to,” she says as she takes the proffered mug. I already know she’s talking about work because I don’t want to either. Oaklee works as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. I don’t have to imagine the heap of information she’s going to have to sift through when she gets there.
“We could call in sick,” I recommend. Knowing neither of us are going to call in sick. Oaklee might complain about my concern with professionalism, but she’s just as bad as I am. “Be careful downtown today.” I’ve seen Chicago get pretty crazy over far less than a presidential assassination. Even when we’re celebrating something, things in the city can take a turn for the worst in the blink of an eye. And Oaklee works in the heart of the city.
“You’re the one who has to go to a prison today,” she counters. She has a point. If things get crazy on the outside, you can bet the inmates will have nothing else on their minds.
Two hours later, I’m at the security checkpoint for Stateville Correctional Center. There’s Luca DeRosa. With his gorgeous jet black hair and piercing blue eyes and broad shoulders and you need to stop right there Evie, because, well, you’re kind of staring.
“Hey, Evie. How are you?” Luca’s the kind of person that when he asks how you’re doing, he genuinely wants to know. I figured this out after the first few times he asked me how I was and I would always reply “fine.” Until one day when he said, “No, Evie, angel hair pasta is fine. I’m asking how you are.”
“Well I slept on the couch, so let’s hope there’s not a lot of running involved with work today, and I watched a lot of CNN between last night and this morning.”
“It’s horrible.” Luca states it simply. And when Luca states something simply, it never comes off as being one of those filler-lines people use in an attempt bulk up conversations when they don’t have anything else to say. He says the simple things because the simple things are, quite frequently, just the way it is.
“I mean, Poynter,” he continues, “he had to have been some kind of sleeper cell, right? Just waiting for Sonitus to give the kill order. Well, the double kill order. I don’t think Poynter dying was a convenient coincidence.”
“Neither do I. And their promise, ‘this was only the first.’ I doubt Sonitus is the kind of group that makes idle threats.”
“Seems unlikely,” Luca agrees. “Considering they got the vice president to kill the president and then kill himself.”
We part ways, me to the psych offices, Luca to the segregated housing unit. At lunchtime I watch the news with everyone else in the break room. There’s coverage of the protests currently going on in Chicago. Tell me something I don’t know, I challenge the reporter. I’m struck by the odd thought that I miss Pamela Prescott. This news anchor, Charles, seems just a little too excited about these latest developments in American history. Like the president being assassinated is the best thing that’s happened in his new anchoring career. It’s unsettling. But I realize not uncommon. People often distance themselves from their reality. It’s human nature. It’s funny how a lot of things became human nature after it all happened. After reassuring myself that the demonstrations are mostly peaceful for the moment, I leave the room. I don’t think I can listen to the sound of Cheery Charles for one more minute.
The next two days pass. It’s pretty uneventful, considering the whole president-and-vice-president-being-dead thing. People protest, slipping into the occasional riot. But without another word from Sonitus, I think people are pretty happy to just ignore everything.
It happens on a Friday. Stateville goes into lockdown around 2:00PM. It just so happens that I’m on the segregated housing unit (S.H.U. for all of you acronym lovers) responding to an inmate who is suicidal (and obviously delusional since he’s claiming to have had dinner with the president the night before he was killed). The C.O.s do their thing and I do the things the C.O.s tell me to do. Luca’s the one who comes to me with a briefing.
“Evie. There’s been another assassination. Sonitus, they sent another message.”
“Okay, so what do I want to know first? Who they killed or what they said?” I laugh nervously. I’m always laughing nervously. Often it’s just so damned inappropriate. This is one of those times.
“The British Prime Minister.”
“Shit. Someone on his security detail is so fired.” There I go again, being inappropriate. I make a note that Luca never seems to mind.
“It was one of his guards,” Luca informs me. Shit, I think again. Someone close to him, just like with Brighton. Seriously, who the hell are these people.
“Sonitus? But how? What did they say?”
“The Prime Minister was in his office when it happened. The rogue guard took out the other two in the room before the Minister. Then he wrote a note, signed it Sonitus. It just said, Silence is the Loudest Noise of All.”
“Well that’s not ominous.”
Luca shakes his head, smiling slightly. “These guys have a flare for the theatrics, huh?”
“Luca, what’s happening? All of this,” I gesture to nothing in particular, “they have to have some kind of goal. Right? I have this feeling…whatever they’re trying to do, if they aren’t stopped soon, it’s going to get a lot worse.”
“I know.” There it is, that Luca Simplicity.
“They can hack media networks, plant assassins next to key political figures…what else can they do? And an organization with that kind of power…why has no one ever heard of them?”
“Silence is the Loudest Noise of All.” As Luca repeats the words, I realize their truth.
They’ve operated in the shadows for a reason. The destruction is far worse when you don’t hear the storm approaching.