It’s been a while since I had anything like human contact, so I’ll attempt to be as brief as I can. At least the sound of typing is noise, and the echoes it produces are the nearest thing to a reply I’ve had in months.
I lost my job back in August. The dollar’s dropping, the economy’s poor, and son, you just aren’t a competitive investment anymore.
I’m young and I don’t have bills, so I took it in stride. The days of day zero closure notices and no parachutes were stories I’d only heard from my bitterest relatives, and besides, it’s hard to feel betrayed when you grow up learning these things really are only business. I collected my generous severance and decided to take a week off or so. A few years of being on call made me appreciate the value of a vacation, whatever form it was in, and my girlfriend and I had our savings.
Like any self respecting nerd, the week quickly became a blur of pizza orders every two days, progressing day by day into a schedule defined by creeping nocturnalness. The girl complained, but she often did. To be perfectly honest, her sleeping form in the bedroom soon became far more familiar to me than her waking self, a persona I now only encountered during the blurry hours just before I slept and just after I woke.
A week became two weeks, then a month. Slowly, the creaks and groans and occasionally startling shuffles of the old apartment building we lived in lost their frightening nature. I’d always been the horror junky, and I suppose my jaded nature made such assimilation much more graceful. In time, even the intermittently flickering streetlights and faint chatter or the distant televisions, conversations, apparitions, or whatever existed in the building became more reassuring than unsettling. I even began to fancy the old stain in the bathroom linoleum, which the landlord swore was wine and I believed was blood, had begun to fade.
Like you’d expect from any nocturnal, unemployed gamer, my relationship with my girlfriend quickly went downhill. Our infrequent conversations grew more heated and then more frigid, an affair of pauses and token acknowledgements. She started going out more. After a while, she stopped coming home more. After that, she stopped coming home at all. I barely noticed. I don’t think I noticed much of anything at that point. The days blurred more, and I could rarely remember if I had eaten, when I had woken, or how long I had been like this. I began to forget what the daytime really seemed like, even the struggling blue-grey of dawn and dust receded as the winter set in. Days became measured in a succession of the flickering street light’s sick yellow sodium arc.
After a while I began to notice a distinct absence in the air. The times I did come to enough to remember to shower or eat, I was drowned in the smell of the building collection of garbage bags in the kitchen, and the sullen stillness of the white courtyard beneath my windows. I often wondered how it could have so little snow, barely six inches, at any time, yet never display a single footstep to or from the darkened windows. At least, I’d think, the neighbors were quiet. Even the nocturnal whispers from the ducting had seemed to grow muted and fade until I no longer could distinguish them from the gentle hum of the building’s innards.
After maybe the fourth or fifth time I experienced these moments of clarity I resolved to remove the trash. The small had faded from sharp to mute, a sweet and musty reminder of life amidst the sharp winter air leaking in through the ill-maintained windows. It repulsed me.
With some effort, I gathered as many bags as I could and struggled through door after door. I winced at every bang and crash at the door, with no leaking sounds of televisions left I had nothing to gauge my racket, and every moment seemed to tear at the brittle air of the building. Around then I noticed I could see my breath, though I did not feel any colder than normal.
After an eternity pushing through the empty hallways, I pushed through the front door of the building into the cutting air outside. A low, constant hum echoed off the snow as the wind pushed over the undisturbed snowcover all about me, forming an inch high mist of blowing grains, tumbling and twisting over the dunes which had formed on the adjacent parking lot, piling on the doors of the various stores which lined the streets. I briefly wondered how bad the weather had been lately, to push the life out of city so thoroughly, then pushed my way down what memory served was the sidewalk, keeping to the edge of the building like it was a life tether.
By half-forgotten habit, and perhaps a morbid curiosity of what other humans looked like, I strained to see through each mirror like window for signs of movement or habitation. What blinds were drawn displayed vacant apartments, tinfoil to block the sun, the occasional poorly-placed shelf or couch. Not a single shuffle or rustle escaped into the vacuumous winter atmosphere.
I rounded the corner to the back alley to find the hulking form of a garbage truck in the alley, laden with snow and ice until it seemed more an ancient monument to the cold than a sign of civilization. It should have seemed unsettling to me, but by then I was so eager to abandon the icy landscape to the relative warming tones of my monitor’s glow my only thought was to drop the garbage off and set back inside my apartment. I rushed down its length and in front of it, ready to throw the bags overhand into the dumpster, when I was stopped by the only light to emanate from the cab of the truck, the rapidly scrawling digits of a radio scanner, visible through the open door of the cab, pushing its tenuous glow on a clipboard and pen.
Abandoning my garbage, I lifted myself into the cab and attempted to read from the frost-bound paragraphs tightly wound over the paper. Near the bottom, ink blurred by its inability to set in what must have been well frozen paper at the time, was scrawl “Four weeks now. Even the radios have gone quiet. -67c last time a station got through. Gas froze last night. Need to find someone”.
I looked back up, down the alley, across the snowscape of parking lots and buildings being swallowed by snow, and listened hard to the howl of ice over ice. I tried to imagine wolves, or mocking voices, or anything from the hellscapes of the stories I had studied so thoroughly, but the tone never changed, never let up or grew louder.
It’s a lonely place, missing the end of the world.