“The Attack” is a short story I started writing in 2016 as part of the annual #NaNoWriMo thing that happens every November. I hadn’t done much creative writing in a long time, so I eventually got a little discouraged and quit about halfway through.
This story has now resurfaced for me, because, well, it’s weirdly about the world we are all living in now, and it actually takes place now, three years after I started writing it! So, I am sharing the first chapter here. I hope you enjoy it!
Brooklyn, New York – November 1st, 2019
Coffee. There was always coffee. Somehow, through all of it, coffee had survived. Somehow, coffee makers figured out how to continue production, how to deal with distribution, and how to scale up deliveries. As long as you were able to boil water, you could make coffee. For a few moments, Jake stared at the ceiling above his bed, wondering how things would have unfolded differently if the coffee hadn’t made it. He had set up the coffee to brew the night before. It was now 6:29am, and he could already smell it coming from the kitchen. This was all part of his elaborate strategy to get out of bed, and get to work on time.
Oddly, his morning routine had changed very little since the attack, almost three years ago. He didn’t commute anymore. Nobody did. He woke up every morning, had his coffee, showered and dressed and headed into the living room to start the day. He thought it was kind of nice, in a certain way. He didn’t have to spend two hours of his day traveling back and forth to work, didn’t have to cram in with the millions each day, didn’t have to worry if he’d be late all the time. On the other hand, those two hours that used to be spent driving or taking the train were considered “reclaimed time” by companies. So, Jake usually got started around 7:30am. He didn’t know if it really bothered him much. It just seemed to be what everyone else was doing.
It’s not like he didn’t do this before the attack. Everyone already worked from home, but it had become frowned upon. Only the desperate, lean, startups were doing it in any serious capacity. Back then he’d work from home maybe once a month. Maybe when waiting on a delivery, or if he just wasn’t feeling well, he’d set up camp in the living room and try and be present.
By 7:00am he was caffeinated, showered and ready to spend a few minutes reading the news before getting to actual work. The news was never very exciting. Updates on “the situation” were frequent. Another rash of looting broke out in some small city in the south, lack of supplies continued to cripple businesses around the world, there wouldn’t be any broccoli for a few more months. It went on and on like this for about twenty minutes each morning before he logged in to his work portal.
Living in the apartment was a challenge for Jake. He tried to do his best to keep things together, keep in shape, stay on the normal side of normalcy. Little things like his ability to take out the trash on a regular basis were easy enough to deal with. Exercise was another story. He eventually decided that he was in desperate need of exercise, so he started trying to figure out inventive ways to stay in shape. Keeping his muscles strong was pretty simple. He found numerous ways to lift heavy things. The hard part though was cardiovascular exercise. He tried a wide variety of techniques. Running in place, jogging up and down the hallway, there just wasn’t much room. Eventually he realized that jumping jacks were his best bet, so he did a few hundred each morning and each night. The neighbors eventually figured this out, and started to do the same routine, at the same time. Jake thought, any way to feel like you were part of something was probably a good thing.
His apartment on the other hand had suffered. Lacking the prospect of any real visitors had led Jake to become somewhat of a slob. Before the attack he was pretty good at keeping up with the chores. Laundry, taking out the trash, vacuuming, picking up after himself had been a regular list of activities, and now he was essentially just keeping things in a state that he thought would not be totally embarrassing if someone were to discover his dead body.
So about once every two weeks or so, he’d spend a few hours cleaning. Laundry was the biggest challenge, so he tried to not wear too many different clothes throughout the week. He had to wash everything by hand in the tub, which took up quite a lot of time and required all of his energy. To combat the laundry issue he wore the same pants every day of the week, along with two t-shirts and the same old gray sweatshirt. It wasn’t the most attractive outfit, but he rarely had to show his face at work, so it was more about comfort and ease of cleaning. He changed his socks and underwear each day to keep healthy.
For Jake it seemed as if life wasn’t too different after the attack than it was before. He hadn’t left his apartment once since everyone was told to stay inside. It simply wasn’t possible. Not many were able to venture out. Only authorized delivery people came to the door, and a few police and service officials would visit from time to time. The visits always made Jake incredibly nervous. Like he was doing something wrong and they’d surely notice it.
Everyone tried to do things in bulk when they could. They talked about all the different strategies for this online. It was all very boring to Jake, and unsettling, but for some reason many found it reassuring to talk through the logistics of waste removal and clever ways to cook chicken, if you were lucky enough to get a chicken.
Online life post attack was not much different either. The subject had changed a bit, but it was still online life, filled with positivity and ego stroking. He remembered thinking it would become this revolutionary new world where communities of like minded individuals would band together and create a place of comfort and hope, but everyone was still updating their status and current mood, liking photos of the new baby or the recent breakthrough in home cooking. All the filters and subterfuge that existed prior had remained, they had just changed topics, just slightly. People were still posting, still hoping for a comment or a like, or a heart–still filtering.
Jake closed the tab in his browser that was playing the news and opened his work portal. The work portal was pretty simple and hadn’t changed much over the past three years. Everyone in the company had access to an area for private files, a shared repository of public files, a chat window where one could connect with a co-worker or the entire company, and this archaic version of an intranet that nobody seemed to use. He spent a good portion of the morning sorting through emails and scheduling meetings. Every now and again the team would get together for a virtual session in which they were all wearing headsets and sitting in a room together in a private virtual space. Most thought it was incredibly awkward and prefered not to do it, but for some reason the boss thought it was crucial to their development as a team within the organization. So, they suffered through it about once a week.
Every Monday morning around 11am they’d gather for an online text based chat to go over the week ahead. This was dramatically more comfortable than the virtual room since they didn’t have avatars or anything, they’d just all type at each-other. They’d typically start off with the boss introducing the week, recapping his weekend, asking everyone how things were. Everyone on the team had slightly different lives. Some of them had families, or partners, or roommates, some of them, Jake included, lived alone. Most of the team were on the east coast of the United States, except Rami, who lived somewhere underground in India. Jake could barely imagine what India looked like.
Of the three of them who lived alone, Jake thought of himself as being the one who was in the best shape. He still had his own apartment, still was able to manage most things on his own, with the aid of a few periodic deliveries and inspections. At least he had all his things. It was comforting to him, having all his stuff at hand. At times he thought it would be upsetting, looking over all the artifacts of a past life, but in practice, they kept him company, despite being largely useless.
His snowboard was his favorite example of a useless object in his home. Jake and the team laughed about this in the group chat pretty much every chance they got. Jake couldn’t remember the last time he had been on a snowboard–college maybe?
They kept to the morning routine like clockwork. It was rare for someone to miss it. Even when someone was ill, they could still get their laptop out and be present. It wasn’t much for the boss to ask an employee to continue working at some capacity even if they were going to be in bed all day with a fever.
This morning Rami had some interesting news to share with the group. Over the weekend his wife Shruthi, had given birth to a baby boy. Most of the team hadn’t even known Rami was expecting, so it was a great surprise for everyone to hear the news. The team all thought the same thing of course, and the back channels began to happen, but on the surface, in the main group chat, they all congratulated Rami on a job well done, and the boss even told Rami he should take a few days off to be with his wife and their new child. Jake thought that was pretty nice, if a little odd.
Once the excitement over Rami settled down, Martin, who actually lived only a couple miles away from Jake started to go on about some big adventure he’d been involved in over the weekend with his online game, Meteor Five. Meteor Five, was a massive, multiplayer, online game that popped up about a year after the attack. The premise was that a large contingent of humans had left Earth to colonize a giant meteor that was, just out of luck, passing by at the right time. The pioneers of M5, hopped on one of the last remaining rockets that was still in operation after the attack, and set a course for the giant rock, which was hurtling through space at about the same velocity as the Moon orbiting the Earth.
Through a series of lucky moments, the crew aboard the rocket managed to land safely on M5, and the rest of the game had to do with their daily survival and adventures. It was hugely popular, and Martin had been playing the game and telling the team all about it since its inception. Jake had tried a few online games himself but every time he did, he found them to be either too complex or too mundane to keep his attention.
The group chat ended with the boss telling everyone to get started on the week and check in each morning, which was one of those redundant things the boss was always reminding them of.
Jake sat back in his chair, and began to think about Rami and Shruthi and their new baby. He imagined the little family living at the bottom of some fallout shelter, breathing filtered air, and making food out of a can over a hot plate. Of course, this picture in his mind was based on almost nothing at all. Rami had for some reason never really told anyone much about his home life, or his own situation aside from the name of his wife and this news today. Jake guessed he just assumed all of India had taken to the bunkers. Despite this dim picture, Jake wondered how lovely it would be for Rami and Shruthi. He thought of them raising their baby, against the odds, against the grain and the recommendations of the inspectors. He thought about the little child, growing up in the new world, growing up without human contact, aside from the warm embrace of his parents. He thought of how lucky the child would be to have them, to live with a family, with two people who loved him unconditionally.
By noon Jake had finished most of his emailing and calendar manipulating and had set up a pretty easy week ahead of him. He decided to take his first break, closed his laptop and poured another cup of coffee while scanning the contents of the fridge for a possible lunch. Lunches typically consisted of some kind of canned meat, a canned vegetable like green beans or carrots, and some fruit juice. Jake made quick work of the lunch and spent the rest of his break scanning the web for news. It was hard to find out anything of real interest. He had to read between the lines and follow his instincts in order to put together some kind of picture of the outside world. Ever since the attack, the news was seemingly on infinite repeat, so he looked to the forums, the blogs, the chatter on Twitter and other networks where people continued to attempt some type of connectivity. As it was most days, Jake’s scans were non-productive.
As he was settling back into his work portal, the doorbell rang.