This piece is set in a post-McCain era (speculating what might have happened if McCain had wont he election) but only a couple years in the future, when everyone is at war and diplomacy is nonexistent.
Standing, looking out the plate glass window, it seems so very strange that that very glass could provide me with so much protection. That glass separated me from a war, waging in my own backyard.
I don’t mean “my own backyard” in a metaphorical sense. The war was literally 50 yards away.
But it couldn’t touch me. Legally, it couldn’t.
I watched, from my perch at the window, all the other houses on my street. What made me so different than them? What granted me the absolute right to live, while they were only given a chance?
Sheer, dumb luck. That was it. Just luck.
I mentally groaned. She was right outside the door. Apparently my hiding spot wasn’t good enough.
I twisted my way around the filing cabinet, knocking my head on the desk, and gracelessly clawed my way out from behind the fax machine, wondering if it were possible to pick a less conspicuous place to hide. She must have super powers. That was the only explanation.
“Jenna!” Man, did she sound irritated.
Finally free of my contortions, I fell back onto the carpet. “Coming, mother.”
This was ridiculous. I was twenty years old. Twenty one next week. I shouldn’t still be ordered around by my mother.
But, of course, it was my upcoming birthday that had my mother’s panties in such a snit.
Around me, everything was in boxes. I had selected this particular room to hide in due to it’s gross amount of cardboard, thinking it would offer some protection. Boy, was I wrong.
Protection. As if I needed more of that.
I sighed and pushed myself up. I raked my fingers through my hair and slowly stepped down the stairs. My parents were seated at the dinning room table, across from each other and both smiling at me.
This smile unnerved me for two reasons: one, being that it was a complete contradiction to my mother’s tone; and two, my parents never smiled at me. Never.
My eyes narrowed suspiciously as I took a small step toward them. As I lifted my foot off the ground, the house jilted and the window panes shook.
When I was younger, my mother used to tell me that these were earthquakes. Living in northern California, I believed her. And sometimes, I suppose she was probably right.
But as I got older I started to begin to tell the different between Mother Nature’s motions and.......the other kind.
I pinched my eyes closed and took a deep breath through my nose. The sound proof windows and walls would keep out any noise. There was nothing they could do about the tremors, however.
I made it to the table. I sat down at the head, on the end opposite my parents.
“Jennifer — ” my father never called me Jenna “— I talked to Mack Angle today.”
Mack was a friend of my dad’s from college. He worked for the Department of Homeland Security.
“He has a job for you.”
Mack. Mack had a job for me.
I knew what was happening, and in all honesty, I should have been expecting it. My eyes flitted back up the stairs to the boxes hanging out over the railings.
So that’s was this was about.
In 2013, as President John McCain was finishing up his first term, he was attending at meeting with the Russian Ambassador. The Russians were irate about God knows what — the Russians are always irate about something — and McCain had a heart attack. Three hours later, he was declared dead at the hospital. Two minutes after that, Vice President Sarah Palin was sworn in as president.
And it only took her three weeks to send everything straight to hell.
In a series of mystifying, incomprehensible, but absolutely avoidable mistakes, America’s first woman president managed to aggravate the entire world. Russia was bombing America within four weeks of the new presidency. France was invading South America and Australia was staking claim in Asia.
And thus was the beginning of World War III.
It only took a few days for diplomatic relations to cease to exist. The murders of three American diplomats caused Congress to bring them all home. America, and every country on the planet, clammed up. There was no international communication, expect warfare. And that’s not exactly “communication”.
After seven weeks of isolation, the United Nations got it’s pulse back. The delegate from Iceland, Ragnheiðr Pétursson called for a meeting. Out of 598 United Nations delegates, only 242 arrived. And they sat in the longest United Nations meeting in history.
And what resulted was safehouses.
In a little under 1000 hours of warfare, the world population plummeted from 6 billion to under 4 billion.
Canadian president Howard Mason responded with infamous words, “This is what we get when we play with fire. Warfare engineers found a way to split the atom. Chemical warfare “medical” teams infected the world. This is what we get when we play with fire. The atom was never meant to be split to inflict harm. Diseases aren’t something we unleash. This is exactly what we should get when we play with fire.”
This quote was played endlessly, in the background photos of mass graves in Pakistan, orphans in Japan, explosions in Austria.
Of course, the message was a bit tarnished when President Mason was assassinated the following day.
I remember seeing his face on the television screen and the newscaster tearing up as she announced that he had been found, dead, in his apartment.
I was seven years old then.
Two days later, we moved.
Safehouses were the United Nations end-all, be- all. They were supposed to be a Holy Grail of sorts, a kingdom come. A solution.
The rising death toll had everyone panicked. When the shattered government unveiled this new plan, everyone jumped at it.
So restrictions were placed.
A down payment.
A health screening.
An age limit.
A child limit.
In the land of 3.5 kids, an only child was rare thing to find, and a child limit was, by far, the best idea the government had that month.
A cruel idea, yes, but effective. Nothing weeded out families more than a only-child restriction.
I had never considered myself lucky for being alone until then.
The day we moved in, my mother tried to explain to me that this house was different than the old one. Looking around, it was difficult to see the differences, but not impossible.
There were no creaks. Anywhere. No squeaky stairs, no crackling walls. My mother told me it was because the house was new. Later I learned none of the steps creaked because they were reenforced by titanium steel, and that the walls were silent because they were filled with cushions, to keep the screaming out.
There was only one place in the house that wasn’t sound proof, and that was sun-porch. And it was on that sun-porch that I was playing the one and only time I was outside during an attack.
I was eight then, and didn’t know yet that a whistling in the air meant “go inside”. There was another sound, higher pitched, and then a deafening boom.
It was the sounds that came after that that I can still hear.
At the time, my mother thought the boom had scared me and she just kept saying, “It’s just a bomb.” Like that was comforting.
The boom didn’t scare me. After all, no matter what it entails, a boom is just a boom. Screams, however, can be a myriad of things.
And a scream, sure as hell, isn't just a scream.
Sitting at the dinning room table, everything is silent.
A job, I ask.
A job, he repeats.
With the government, I clarify.
He nods, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
I nod too. He takes this as an agreement, even though it’s not. I don’t want the job. I don’t want this college buddy’s help.
It would have been easier to swallow, though, if I had thought they were honestly trying to protect me. Government jobs did come with government protection. And government protection meant a safehouse.
And that’s what they wanted.
I was going to be twenty one. They were losing this safehouse. They needed another one and this was their way to get it.
I’d live there too, of course. But that wasn’t their ultimate motive.
And me, too.