First the internet connection went out. They thought it was a temporary. The next day the televisions didn’t work. Her husband called the neighbors, his brother, and his parents. No one’s TV spoke anything but blue silence.
She went to work that day, but nothing got done. Customers, clients, and coworkers huddled around the newspaper like a sacrament. Dusty radios emerged from closets to sing on desks. Useless computers were shut down and pushed aside. The newspapers’ glee over the downfall of the net rubbed off like cheap ink on your hands. Telephones still worked, the buzzing electrons consenting to carry words at languid human paces, but refusing our frantic gigabits. Things were cautiously normal. They still thought it was temporary. But she hid from her coworkers, kneading a tasteless bagel in her teeth and kneading the fear in her stomach. She knew it was over.
When the radio died two days later, her husband came to her with a pensive grimace, his jaw muscles flexing wordlessly. She was reading a paperback that she had put off for months. He sat next to her and put his hand on her knee, his gaze wandering out the window and across the quiet street.
“This could get bad,” he said after a very long pause.
“I know,” she said. She’d been waiting for him to realize.
“If things keep breaking down.” He brushed a hair off her cheek, then looked out the window again, over the peaks of crowded buildings and up to the mountains. “I think we should get out.” They threw tents, clothes, and canned goods into the back of the car. She tried to call her mother, but the cell phones had died with the radio, and the land lines were overloaded. She almost panicked then, but her husband clutched her to his chest and swore they would be fine. They drove with the radio on just to hear the hiss of white noise.
They got into the upper countryside, the valleys of ranches and meadows reclining beneath the teeth of the mountains. There were campers everywhere. They kept on, past half-dead logging towns and abandoned hotels and ancient railroad trestles dripping grease and rust. Tent cities clustered along the road, tiny metropolises of campers and tent poles and blue tarps strung from car to car. They drove through the night and all the next day, stopping only to put gas in the car. The mountains passed behind them, and the eternal, monotonous expanse of the prairie beckoned. She first noticed the billboards looking old or vandalized. The words peeled away from the background: a white K clung precariously to the red behind it, and the wind blew fragments of decayed letters across the road like leaves. She hurried to finish the novel. When she had read the last page, she picked the book up by its spine and shook it gently. Letters tumbled out like spiders, scampering over her legs and arms and dissolving into inky, gossamer wisps. When she opened it again, the pages were virgin white and stainless.
Her husband just nodded. The labels on the fuel gauge had worn away to nothing, and the speedometer was an arrow against numberless lines. They stopped at the next gas station. Translucent plaques hung where the prices had been. A woman sat on an overturned bucket smoking a cigarette. The wind blew strands of kinky gray hair into her face. “Are you the owner?” she asked.
“Was,” the woman said.
She glanced through the window at the stacks of candy bars, chips and chocolates. “Can we buy some stuff from you?”
“What am I going to do with your money? Just take what you need.” She pulled a bill from her wallet. The number and wording were already gone, the mesh of lines in Lincoln’s face unwinding into obscurity. She scattered the bills on the oil-stained cement.
They loaded up what they thought they could use. The woman waved as they drove away. They drove until evening. She felt a warmth in her throat, her muscles relaxing, releasing, and forgetting. She knew then what was happening. She expected to feel terror, like the dread that had coiled in her stomach for days. But it, too, had lost its name and its power.
The sun set behind them, turning the horizon a fiery, lucent orange. Her husband cleared his throat, mouthing reluctant syllables. She put her hand over his on the steering wheel.
“Thanks,” he said.
The engine died at a bridge over a small, swift river. A stand of cottonwoods downstream filled the air with their clean woody smell. They got out. The air was alive with hot summer wind, coaxing the grass into whispering green waves. She slipped her hand into his. They walked towards the trees a little ways, the heat warming their skin and coaxing out trickles of sweat. He stopped and unbuttoned his shirt. The wind carried it away, together with the last of their…
© JS Bangs
JS Bangs’ stories have been published at Everyday Weirdness, Raven Electrick Press, and have a horror novella forthcoming from Lyrical Press. JS Bangs lives and works in the Pacific Northwest with two kids.
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