It's been twenty seven days since the signal began. I honestly don't know when it all really started, but I can tell you when I first heard about it. A buddy of mine up in Yonkers was really into shortwave radios and one night, we were chatting online when he brought up this weird interference he was getting. He said that it was rather odd, because whenever he heard it, he felt like he had to physically force himself to turn it off. I thought it was strange, but I told him to get some sleep and let me know if anything happened in the morning. That was the last time I heard from him.
I didn't really think much of it after that. I went to work, I hung out with friends and generally went on with my life. I didn't pay much mind to the news reports. There were incidents of people starving to death in their own homes, just wasting away. The strangest part was that there was almost always food in the home, yet it was never even touched. It was like the people had just sat down and chosen to starve to death. The police never released details of what actually happened. In retrospect, I doubt telling the world would've made much of a difference.
It wasn't until two days later, when I was at work, that it all started to fall apart. I worked as a paralegal for a law firm downtown. It wasn't the most impressive job in the world; I sat in a cubicle all day and occasionally faxed a document. It was menial as all hell, but the pay was decent enough. It started when my computer started slowing down. I was a fairly new model, so I tried restarting it, but it wouldn't respond. I heard someone scream down the hall. When I turned back, the screen had changed to this bizarre Technicolor mess. Lights flashed and danced across the screen, molding with the strange neon colors. I don't really know the best way to describe it, but I'm pretty sure I saw colors that shouldn’t exist.
I broke from the computer just long enough to look around the office. Every single TV, computer, smartphone, radio, and loudspeaker had suddenly started blasting an odd, symphonic noise. It was the most beautiful, mesmerizing thing I'd ever heard. Everyone stood up in their cubicles and just waited there, bleary eyed and confused. We all stood, mouths grinning and eyes glassy as the signal blared from our electronics. I don't know how I managed to do It, but I broke from the trance just long enough to jam my headphones into my ears. It blocked the noise and gave me enough to get out of the building.
It was insanity outside; cars were crashed everywhere, mangled corpses still in the driver's seats. I could've sworn they were smiling. Everyone else was just standing around, either staring off into space or watching the signal. I watched half a dozen people be mowed down by a big-rig as the driver stared at his cellphone. I watched a worker throw himself from a building, Walkman in hand and a smile on his face as his body collapsed on the sidewalk. I crashed into another person as I ran. He was a portly guy, just barely scraping five feet. We both sat on the pavement for a moment, staring at each other, then he jumped up and ran across the road. I watched in horror as he was mangled by the uncontrollable din of crunching metal.
The signal was everywhere, I'm pretty sure I even saw it playing on the screens in Times Square. I ran as fast as I could back to my apartment, slammed the door shut, and broke every electronic I owned. I had to have cried for hours, because by the time I started searching for supplies, it was already dark. Even still, all those mindless husks were still standing outside, watching the signal. Horror gave way to curiosity as I walked outside and tried to talk to one of them, this twenty-something hipster chick with a pixie cut. She never even looked at me. She just stared at her smartphone as the impossible colors of the signal danced about on the screen.
I tried to wrestle her smartphone away from her, but her grip on the thing was tighter than anything I've ever seen. Then, I looked into her eyes. They were completely bloodshot, to the point that I wasn't sure if she could actually see anymore. She was just like the others, eyes locked on the screen and a grin curled across her face. It was so wide, I could actually see the skin around her mouth ripping. Her jaws were clamped shut so tightly that blood was streaming from her gums onto her mustache T-shirt. I stopped trying to talk to them after that.
I spent the next day gathering supplies. It wasn't hard, honestly. Everyone was so preoccupied with that gibbering nonsense that I was able to get enough food to last me a month. I found a cop car too; the officer had blown his (her?) head off with a shotgun. I can't say I don't envy that, but I thanked the corpse for it's contribution. I boarded up the windows in my apartment and soundproofed the walls. It helped, a bit, but I still had to sleep with my headphones on. The signal plays over the loudspeakers constantly, day in, day out.
I thought that feral animals ought to start coming out by the seventh day, but I hadn't seen more than the occasional dog. They always ran off before I could catch them. I wondered, though, why I hadn't seen any cats. I figured out why pretty quickly. I had tried to go down into the subway to forage for scrap metal, since I'd started breaking down cars to build reinforce my barricades. I made it two feet down the stairs before the smell knocked me on my ass. I actually had to leave and come back with a respirator, it was that bad.
Everything reeked of rancid meat; the scent burned my eyes as I scanned the station with a flashlight. There were people down here, all right. They were all laid out on the ground, stupid smiles ironed onto their pallid faces as thousands of rats devoured their still breathing corpses. There were cats too, ducking in and out of the macabre display, snatching up rats and eating them by the bushel. I saw this one guy, chubby gym-teacher type, moan quietly as the rats and maggots ate out his stomach. The smile never left his face; the bright light of his smartphone illuminating it as a huge rat crawled into his eye socket.
Two days ago, I finally finished completely soundproofing the apartment. I took the headphones off and slept for the rest of the day. When I went to make breakfast the next morning, I was caught off guard by the pungent smell of human filth. I searched my whole apartment before it dawned on me. It was coming from next door. I grabbed my headphones and a crowbar and ran out into the hall. I remembered the woman next door now. She was a single mother with a baby; I remembered buying coffee from the Starbucks she worked at.
After about an hour of fighting with the door, I managed to break the hinges and throw it open. The smell was strong in my apartment, but the wafting rancid scent coming from this one was unimaginable. I grabbed my respirator and went inside to find the woman on the couch. She was watching the signal on the TV. That ghoulish smile was scrawled across her face as the dancing Technicolor mess reflected off her glassy eyes. She was completely gaunt. She reminded me of one of those old Holocaust photos I'd seen in history class.
I searched the apartment, but all of the food was either rotten or eaten by roaches. I went into the bedroom, only to find a still-breathing baby in a crib near the closet. It was so, so very tiny. He hadn't eaten in days and I—God, I should have heard the crying. He either hadn't heard the signal or maybe he was immune. I don't know, but he had the saddest eyes I've ever seen. I took him out of there. I brought him to my apartment and I tried to take care of him. I raided every store I could find for baby food, pudding, applesauce, anything. I cradled that kid for twelve hours straight, praying to whoever was listening that he'd live. I'm not a religious man, but I'd like to think someone really was.
It wasn't until a day and a half later that the baby started to recover. He was quiet at first, but he warmed up to me after a while. I started building a crib for him in my bedroom and brought him all the toys I found while scavenging. We'd sit in the living room every night on my dirty, broken couch and read picture books. I'd never had a consistent girlfriend, let alone children, but this kid and I bonded almost instantly. I suppose the end of the world can do that to people. I couldn't figure out what his name was, so I just started calling him "Albert." Not really sure why.
Things went on without incident for a few more days, with the signal continuing to drone on and on. The watchers, as I started calling them, never seemed to die. I couldn't figure it out. Some of them seemed like they were more skeleton than skin, but they just kept on watching. Eventually, it got to the point that I was using them for target practice.
It wasn't until yesterday that things got really bad. I came home and found Albert hunched in a corner. One of his toys was playing that goddamn noise. His eyes were glassy and he had a huge smile on his face. I lost It. I broke every single toy, but he wouldn’t snap out of it. I begged and pleaded with him to come back, but all he did was stare ahead blankly and grin. I should have thought about the toys before. I should have done something. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't let him stay like one of those... things.
I had to do it.
I'm alone now.
Everyone else is either dead or watching the signal.
If everyone's watching, how bad could it be?