Truth is Somewhere Between Chicago and Milwaukee

Welcome to the End

We don’t realize what’s happening in the world today—at least not in America. It’s uncomfortable to learn about—worse to deal with every day. No one wants to hear about the starving baby in Yemen, malnourished due to a man-made humanitarian crisis. No one wants to hear how an Ebola-ridden patient was left in a room with two corpses for hours due to fear and a lack of supplies. No one wants to hear how a drone strike killed a little girl’s grandmother during her birthday in Pakistan. No one is concerned that the EPA, which protects Americans from poison and pollution, has been frozen by the President—and is not allowed to talk about the situation with the press. These are the things we don’t talk about.

The press has declined over the years, moving over to multimedia and television as a way to try to attract more viewers. Blogs are free, and the public expects free news—so they get it. We follow tweets and Facebook feeds while trying to build up a wall of positivity in between us and the rest of the world. And so the news follows what the public wants; feel-good pieces litter our local news stations, saturating us with fluff pieces that make us hope—believe—that the rest of the world is just fine. We learn about how Mrs. Johnson has turned 101 years old today as the military in Zimbabwe take control of the country and as soldiers torture and slaughter women and the mentally disabled in South Sudan.

Perhaps this is why we didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. We were too caught up in ourselves and our own world. We didn’t want to see what was going on outside. We shuttered our doors and windows against the cold and the truth, hoping to ride it out—hoping it would all be okay.

The virus spread rapidly. It was reported as a minor outbreak—something like Salmonella or even Ebola. It was dangerous, but far away. It didn’t affect our day-to-day lives. Most news stations went on, business as usual: A morning welcome. Fluff Piece. Weather and traffic report. Some local news. Fluff piece. Weather and traffic again. More local news. Fluff piece.  College students still attended school with the direction to use more Purell, and local restaurants made sure to use a bit more bleach when cleaning.

When more reports were leaked about how bad things were getting, we still didn’t believe. A few of us went to our relatives’ houses in the country, but most stayed in the city of Chicago. After all, there were already reports floating about a vaccine in the works—and it wasn’t spreading fast. It was down south—or out east. It didn’t mean that we were going to experience it. That small town was thousands of miles away from us. Sure, it was bad over there; but it would never come to our city.

And then it all ended.

The Day Before the End

Claire woke up early, shuffling out of her apartment as she slung her bag over her shoulder. She stopped at Common Grounds for her morning coffee, just down the street from where she worked at John Wiley & Sons. She went into the publishing office and booted up her computer, opening up a document that she’d been working on the day before. As she sipped her coffee, she waited for her email to load, noting that it was being extra slow today. Her eyes flicked downward to the right hand corner of her screen, and she noticed that she had no Internet connection. With a sigh, she picked up the office phone, intending to call the IT department.

___

In the meantime, Eric Johnson was taking a break in CBS Chicago’s local newsroom. He had just finished up with helping out on the morning news segment for the early commuters, and had a few moments before swinging into the mid-morning segment. He wisely used the time to drink the rest of his coffee while checking a few of his work emails from the comfort of his smartphone. He muttered when the emails wouldn’t load. Stupid phone.

“Eric.”

The voice jolted him from his reverie and he glanced over. The senior correspondent, Rick Jones, was looking at him—grey hair brushed back from a face that had been made up for television.

“Yeah?”

“We got an emergency report that needs to go out. Can you pull up a few pictures of the virus for the segment?”

He nodded, slipping his smartphone into his pocket, “Sure thing, boss.”

___

Amanda watched from her dorm window at Northwestern University as tanks rolled down the street. Her friends crowded in her small apartment with her, chatting as normal. The school President had told them to shelter in place. There was an outbreak in the city—a bad one, apparently. In the back of her mind, she wondered if Theresa’s cold had been something more extreme—and wondered if she had come back from the hospital.

The safest thing to do now was to stay indoors and wait for the officials to deal with the issue. She shook her head, turning the bad thoughts from her mind. She had enough to worry about without thinking about things that made her anxious. It was best to think about happier things. She turned back to her friends, intending to join in a game of Super Smash Bros.—since online gaming was currently out.

That’s when they heard the first gunshots.

 

The End

It was easy to cordon off the city. Emergency broadcasts told men and women to shelter in place as streets were blockaded and as cars were ordered to turn back. The military came in, wearing protective suits and keeping the city under order. Cell towers were downed, and the Internet was shut off. Power was kept on for the time being.

When the first people were shot, it didn’t seem real. This was something that happened in other countries—other places. These things didn’t happen in America. These things didn’t happen in major cities where students and parents and children worked and lived and thrived. At first, no one acted; they just watched it happen. And then the panic set in.

Men and women screamed as they attempted to evacuate from an already doomed city. Hospitals were gassed as the sick were exterminated. Those who tried to take major roads out of the city found them blocked—and were detained for execution.

But a few people made it out in time—before the roads were blockaded. They packed what they could and left the city on car or on bike. They left before the news reports and before the military arrived. They left because they had been given a phone call, an email, a text—something that told them that things in Chicago were about to get bad, and they believed it.

Chicago was bad, but the country around it wasn’t much better. Rotten corpses lined the roads, clouds of flies buzzing around fetid meat. Crops wilted in fields, suffering from some kind of affliction as animals sickened and fell. Many areas were overtaken by policing forces or the military, but far enough in the country there was still one safe haven.

Now, some of the last of the resistance have gathered together in a small farm in the middle of a corn field, dying from rust fungus. Here is where the last vestiges of humanity make their stand—or accept their fates.

Welcome to the end.