- Author: John Schneider
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AGE OF MONSTERS
John Lee Schneider
Copyright2019 by John Lee Schneider
“Thou mighty city, in one hour has thy mighty judgment come. And the light of a single lamp shall shine no more.”
Everybody remembered where they were when the world ended.
When you met them, that was always the first thing people told you – where they were – what they were doing. What it was like.
Jonah certainly remembered where he had been – out fishing.
He'd almost missed it.
He had just come in from a day on the river, smelly and wet, stopping by the old general store, with nothing more on his mind than frying up his catch, and maybe stocking up a few supplies for the rustic mountain cabin he kept just north of town. He lived nestled high up in Oregon's Siskiyou Forest, and the market was the last post before open wilderness.
The end of the world had been on TV.
Jonah had been idly checking out the woman standing in-line in front of him – noticeably attractive, despite the deliberately frumpy flannel, heavy jacket, and worker's boots. Her hands were in her pockets, hiding her ring-finger, but the obvious effort to cover it all up suggested a married woman. Jonah was guessing a soldier's wife – a military bride accustomed to being on her own while her husband was deployed. You could tell she was used to fending off approving stares – although the one sideways glance she had spared to Jonah, with a brief, up-and-down appraisal, had also added the unconditional qualifier 'and out of your league'.
The clerk was absent. They had been standing in line for a couple of minutes, and the man waiting at the counter, a big burly guy in a hunting jacket and a beard, was becoming impatient. He rapped his knuckles loudly on the counter.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Anybody here?”
The door to the back suddenly opened, and the elderly gentleman who ran the place on weekends looked out at them wide-eyed. Behind him, a small portable TV was blaring the news.
“Oh Lord, I'm sorry folks,” the clerk said, making no move towards the register. He looked at the three of them blankly.
“Oh my God,” he said. “You don't know what's happening?”
Jonah exchanged glances with the other two standing in line, answering for the three of them with a bewildered shrug.
The clerk pulled the TV cord from the wall, and brought the little set out onto the counter, plugging it in underneath the cash-register. He turned the tube to face them.
The screen blinked to life.
Images of a war-zone.
Jonah's brows furrowed. “What is this?”
The old clerk eyed him grimly.
“This is live,” he said. “This is New York.”
Jonah blinked, uncertain whether to believe the images coming through on the tiny little screen.
On the day of the 911 attacks, Jonah had been a college kid working at a local department store. He'd shown up early, before dawn, driving an old clunker with no radio, and his supervisor – a rather stern, normally-composed older lady – had met him at the door, her eyes wide, vulnerable and frightened.
Jonah still remembered the moment vividly – he had followed her over to the TV & Electronics department – and there it was – on fifty different screens, from sixty-inch to table-top.
He felt a strange doubling back as he stared at the tiny little bulb-tube antique.
911 had been one thing – graphic – horrifying.
But it had been a couple of buildings.
Well..., the New York City skyline was burning.
Beside him, the woman in flannel was checking her phone, shaking her head, muttering under her breath.
“It can't be,” she said. “My husband's in the Navy. He would have called.”
She tapped at a couple of buttons on her phone, apparently getting no response. She looked around. The burly hunter pulled out his own phone, and tapped the screen.
“I've got nothing,” he said, “It's fully charged. There's just no signal.”
The clerk shrugged. “Service is spotty out here,” he said. He nodded at Jonah, who pulled out his own antique, bordering-on-obsolete, flip-phone – which he'd actually got almost twelve years ago because it was done up in the old-style Star Trek 'communicator' design – and he still felt very futuristic with it in his pocket.
A technological caveman, Jonah had sent one text in his life – it had taken him ten minutes.
“Don't look at me,” he said.
The woman was frowning at the TV. “Is this a cable station?”
“Broadcast,” the clerk said. He tapped at the monitor behind his counter. “The Internet's down too.”
For the moment, their only window to the outside world seemed to be the little black and white screen – with its thirty-pound chunk of glass stretching out bizarrely behind it, the thing had probably been in the back break-room for over thirty years – even Jonah had a flat screen.
The images were dark and indistinct. But it was clear that whole buildings were coming down – 911 a hundred times over. The Manhattan skyline was crumbling before their eyes.
“What's happening?” Jonah said, shaking his head. “Is it terrorists?”
The clerk glanced at him. “No. Not terrorists.”
Jonah frowned. A hermit by nature, he had actually been holed-up just recently. He worked most of the season as a guide-pilot, but the recent rains had grounded any prospective charters – his trip out on the river today was his first time out of the cabin in two weeks. He hadn't even been on-line.
The audio feed on the little TV abruptly cut out, leaving only the strobing black and white images.
It was late dusk where they were – with three hours difference, New York was in darkness – a complete black-out.
Except where the city burned.