The nurses’ office was bathed in a florescent glow when I woke up. The brightness made my violent headache worse. I tried squinting, but that didn’t help my vision, or do anything about the amount of light coming in. My head was throbbing, and I moved my hand up to touch it. Big bump, and it hurt like hell. I didn’t notice a scab or bandage though, so hopefully it wasn’t bleeding. I wondered where the nurse was. It seemed irresponsible to leave someone with a concussion unconscious on a bed. What if I had woken up and flailed around and hurt my head again and died? Not likely, granted, but still. My throat was also dry and mouth hard move. I turned my head to the side to avoid the direct glare of the lights before attempting to open my eyes again. This time it wasn’t so bad. There was a glass of water on the table, thankfully, and I reached over for it. Now, how to drink without pouring water all over myself?
In the end I settled for propping myself up on my side with my eyes closed, then blinked quickly to get a bearing of where the glass was and grabbed it, before shutting my eyes tightly again. The light really was awful, and just aggravated the pounding behind and above my eyes. I could barely get my mouth open, but the water soothed all the pain. Maybe it was laced with morphine or something, though I doubted the school had enough money to get that for students. After what happened though, there could be a big emergency and it was being used everywhere. That was another thing annoying about the nurses’ absence; I had no idea what was going on. Fuck, the world could be ending, and I was stuck in this bed. Just my luck. I considered trying to get up, but it didn’t seem worth it. Holy fuck, my head hurt. Better just to go back to sleep…
This time when I woke up, my eyes didn’t hurt as much, and I saw the nurse standing over me, just staring. That was a bit weird. I tried speaking, but all that came out was a croak. God damn that sucked, why was my body going through water so fast? Even after a full sleep I can usually talk. She noticed my predicament and handed me the water, and I moved so I was sitting up a little and took a drink. Again, it made me feel much better.
This attempt, I managed to get words out, and somewhat blearily asked, “What happened?”
The nurse looked at me with concern, and said, “You hit your head dear, don’t you remember?” That was a dumb answer. Of course I remembered what happened to me. I wanted to know about the rest of the city. It’s not like there weren’t a ton of freaky vibrations or anything that might, just might, have had an effect beyond my head injury.
“Of course I remember. I meant what happened in general,” I said tersely. Hopefully she could comprehend that, after misunderstanding so badly the first time.
Her frown grew deeper. “No one knows what’s going on, but everyone at school got sent home. That awful siren from before got turned off, so nothing’s shaking anymore.” Then she became more businesslike as she said, “Now, how are you feeling?”
“How do you think? My head hurts.” She looked disappointed when I said that. I don’t know why, it’s not like she did anything to help me.
She pressed for more information. “But did you wake up before? Are you feeling better since then?” Her voice rose slightly in volume as it became more insistent, which was annoying. It blasted my ears and did almost as much for harm to my head as the light had before. I just wanted her to go away now. Maybe she could let me go too. She wasn’t being helpful, pestering me instead of giving me medicine or telling me to get rest.
“Yes, I’m better, I think I can leave now.”
“Are you sure? Are you fine getting home by yourself?” So now she cared about whether I was okay. I guess she might have had other people to look after, the first time I woke up, but still. It’s nice to have someone there when you wake up from being knocked out. Not like I had any past experience with that.
I hadn’t tried standing yet so I wasn’t actually sure whether I could move, but I really wanted to know what happened. She obviously didn’t know anything more, but the internet would. I said, “Yes, I can walk. Where’s my backpack?”
She handed it to me. Now that I had reassured her, she looked relieved. Maybe she did actually care. I felt honest when telling her thank you, a pretty rare occurrence. She left the room after that, saying she needed to go check on other people. That made me feel even worse about my thoughts earlier. Regret was useless though, and I repressed it before it could do too much damage. Unless you can time travel, there’s no use dwelling on the past like that.
Now to get out of the bed without my head exploding. It was harder than it sounds. My legs had to be swung down, after which I was sitting on the edge, feeling dizzy with the added height. I could feel just how thin the mattress was when gripping the edge, but it still urged me to lie back down. I shoved myself to my feet before I could give in to the temptation. I almost fell over, stumbling a few steps, but managed to catch my balance and rest my hands on my knees. This wasn’t so bad. I could still think pretty clearly, and the dizziness was starting to fade.
When it cleared completely, or at least as much as it could a few hours after having a concussion, I tried taking some steps. This wasn’t a complete failure, but it was still good the wall ended up within arms’ reach. The white brick walls were curiously rough, poking into my hands. I didn’t stop leaning until I felt I could make it out the door fine. Once I started walking, putting one foot in front of the other was easier. There was a certain pattern, a rhythm. I didn’t know where to go. Home was a bit far away, while I was in this state. I also wanted a computer to get a more complete perspective on whatever happened. Ava’s house was the closest, and her parents were nice, so I set off for there.
The walk took longer than it normally would have. Her house was only five blocks from school, while mine was more like fifteen. It was in a reasonably good neighborhood, as her parents were both lawyers. They weren’t around much, so it was a good place to hang out normally. That’s why when I knocked on the door I was so surprised to see her mom answer. I wondered for a second whether I was at the wrong house, but then saw Ava in the background.
Her mom looked relieved to see me, and exclaimed, “Thank goodness you’re okay! Ava didn’t have any idea why you weren’t outside at the end of school, and I can’t get in contact with your mom.” I guess the school didn’t see fit to tell my friends what happened to me, but I hoped they at least called my parents, otherwise they would be frantic. That would be hell to go home to, especially since I came here first, before checking in with them. I could blame the concussion for making me not think straight if it was really necessary.
I said to her, “Oh. I guess I’ll can call her then so she’s not worried.” Hopefully that would keep her from mentioning to my parents that I came here before I talked to them.
As I entered the foyer, she asked, “So what happened? Why were you late?”
“Mom! Stop bothering her, she just got here,” Ava interjected.
I smiled at her. “It’s fine. Don’t you want to know about my big adventure?” It was a pretty good story, with me being the only sane one. I took my shoes off and placed them neatly on the mat, then moved farther in the house. Ava and her mom followed me expectantly.
I sat down at the dining room table and started to mentally spin a tale of bravery and desperation, courage and futility. Then I remembered that I actually liked the people I was talking to, and had no reason to brag to them. Extra sympathy couldn’t hurt though. They pulled up chairs, and I started.
“So, we went upstairs to play dodgeball like normal. Everyone split up into teams, and no one wanted to be on my side, but we still won. I ran sideways across the gym, did a flying leap, then ended up taking out Janine as she was making a desperate run forward. So that was awesome. But then when the balls were all put back in the middle, and we were back on our sides, the balls wouldn’t stop moving. That was when we first noticed the vibrations. I-“
“We felt it too, in history,” Ava broke in. “It was freaky, No one knew what was happening, not even the teacher. She hid under her desk, and left us without any idea what to do. But, -“
I cut back in at this point. I loved Ava, but I wanted to get my story out. Especially since I did realize what it was when it was happening. “So I looked up, and some other people had noticed the vibrations too. I think everyone’s first thought was an earthquake, but I looked up, and the windows were vibrating too. I knew it wasn’t an earthquake then. It was exactly what would happen with the air raid siren. I tried to tell everyone that, but they were already too panicked. I was worried someone would get trampled on the stairs, so I ran forward, but they were already stampeding. I got knocked against the wall, and blacked out.” I tried to look as pitiful as I could near the end. I had done everything I could to stop the people from hurting themselves with their own stupidity, but failed, and got hurt myself in the process.
Ava’s mom looked like her heart wanted to break. I felt a little bad for the embellishments, but backtracking would be worse. She said, “I hope you aren’t too badly hurt. That was a great thing you did. How exactly could you tell the difference between those awful sirens and an earthquake?”
That was a tough one. I don’t think there were any actual differences, but my mind just ruled out earthquake, and I ended up right. And I still had no idea why the siren had been set off. It clearly wasn’t anything too bad, or someone would have known and told me. “I could feel the difference in the… vibrations.” That was a semi-plausible explanation. Better than just saying I wasn’t going along with the dominant theory, and had been playing devil’s advocate in my own mind.
“That’s pretty amazing that you could tell that! Do you have extra sensitive feet or something?” Ava was trying not to look too annoyed by this point. She seemed to know I was stretching the truth.
“Maybe I do. Maybe I have extra fine-tuned senses, like Spiderman!” We all cracked up at that. And I had gotten out of another tough situation, another win for me.
“Okay, well I’m glad you aren’t too badly hurt. Make sure to tell me if you need anything. I don’t want you to have any aftereffects or whatever they’re called of the concussion. And make sure you don’t do anything dangerous, repeat concussions are really bad!” Ava’s mom left after the warning.
I reached up to touch my head, but stopped before actually feeling the bruise. That wouldn’t do any good. I still had a headache, just had been distracted by the conversation. I looked at Ava. “So do you have any idea of what happened? Why the siren went off? Was there a bomb or something?”
“I don’t think there was a big explosion. No one has any idea what happened.” She sounded surprised I would even ask such a question. I guess things become common knowledge ridiculously fast in Stockton, and you don’t learn those things if you are unconscious. What a shock.
I was getting impatient. How hard could it be to know why everyone was sent home from school and work, and all the air raid sirens and related devices had gone off? “Then could I get on your computer? It’s like everyone’s forgotten the internet exists. Giant database of information and news at your fingertips…” I looked at her expectantly, eyebrows raised. Jesus, I knew this place was backwards, but they couldn’t have forgotten to check the internet, could they?
She huffed, and crossed her arms. Clearly exasperated, she smiled and said, “No, no one’s that stupid. The internet is down, I mean you can use the computer, but it won’t do any good.”
Well that was an issue. How could the internet be down; It came from phone lines. Maybe there was an problem with those, like a tree fell or something. “Have you called Claire to see if her internet is working?” I was getting more and more worked up by the minute. Fucking idiotic that I couldn’t find out what was happening.
Ava sighed. It seemed like her patience was wearing thin, but if she would just tell me the full story, I wouldn’t have to keep asking. “The phones are down too. You know I’m not stupid, the internet could have been just affecting an area, but if the phones are down, landline and cell phones, that means something bad happened. No one that I talked to on the way home heard an explosion, and there were a ton of people outside, so I don’t have any ideas. My mom’s trying to not panic, but every time a buzzer goes off she jumps.”
Shit. I felt even worse about not going to see my parents. And how the hell could everything be down, except for electricity? That really didn’t make any sense, since the power wires and phone ones were strung on the same poles. I guess either of them could be underground at some point. But then the cell phone towers, which only needed electricity, were also not working. This was really fucking weird.
“Do you want to go meet up with Claire and Jacoby? Maybe one of them knows what happened.” This was an instance where I wished I had more friends. It’s hard only have two sources of information in a confusing situation. Maybe Emma would tell me something… but no. Fuck, how could I even think of that? If I never saw her again it’d be too soon.
Ava jumped off the seat from where she had been sitting stiffly. “Yeah! At least then we’ll be doing something, but what about my mom? I don’t want to leave her alone.”
That seemed like an unnecessary worry. If she couldn’t keep it together, we were all screwed. “I’m sure she’ll be fine. And anyway your dad’s coming home soon.” Her dad worked outside the city, so he wasn’t home yet.
She smiled in response, and said, “Okay.” Then she yelled up to her mom, “We’re going to ride bikes over to Claire’s, is that fine?”
“Can you come up here and talk to me for a minute?” Her mom yelled back down. All the loud noises were making my head hurt again, and I sat down on the couch, my forehead wrinkled, frowning towards Ava. She looked at me apologetically, and shrugged, before going upstairs.
When she came back down, she flashed me a thumbs up, and headed out to the garage. “What did your mom want?”
“Oh she was just worried. I told her that whatever happened was over now, and there was no reason to stay cooped up. She said we could go after that, but didn’t seem like she really wanted us to.”
“You think we should stay here?” I asked. I really wanted to go to Claire’s but felt like I should give her the option. Ava seemed a bit pissed at me from before, and this would hopefully fix that.
She flashed me a smile, and got on her bike. “I think its fine. Dad’ll be home soon.”
When we got to Claire’s, Jacoby was there as well, having come home from school with her. After greeting her parents, I told everyone what happened to me, making sure to keep it entirely truthful this time. Then we all went up to her room to talk. I started, “So does anyone know what happened?”
“No idea.” That was Claire.
“I don’t know anything either,” Jacoby said.
Well that’s great, we were all clueless. I had no idea what to do now. I had seen Claire’s mom trying her phone for what looked like the fiftieth time when we walked through, so the problem with the phones wasn’t isolated.
Claire said, “My mom’s been watching the news since she got home, so that’s something. It said that communications are down with Stockton, but nothing besides that. There doesn’t seem to be any contact with us from the outside. It’s weird that the TV’s still working though.”
I got up from where I had been sitting on the corner of Claire’s bed, and started pacing. I felt trapped, and helpless to change that, even more than I had for the past few years. Before I had access to the rest of the world through the internet and phones, but now that was gone. Fuck. I blurted out, exasperated, “Well that’s just great! So we can get a glimpse of the rest of the world, but we can’t talk to them. This better be gone soon, because fucking shit it’s ridiculous. We’re in a fucking bubble.”
Ava, ever the voice of reason, broke in, “It’s probably not that bad. There’s probably just a temporary issue with everything, like an EMP or something.” Okay, that made sense, except that the electricity was still on. Land phones were out in addition cell phones, so it wasn’t just a radio wave thing.
“I don’t think an EMP would do it, but there might be something else that’ll be fixed soon. There better be…” I trailed off, staring at each one of them in turn. They all nodded in agreement. No one crossed me when I was in a mood. Also, no one could possibly think that being more isolated and stuck in Stockton was a good thing.
A knock on the door broke the moment of solemn silence. Claire’s mom entered, and said in a rush, “You guys have to come see this!” We all jumped up and ran down the stairs. My head was spinning from the sprint, related to the concussion I suppose. Once down the stairs, Claire and her mom led the way into the living room, and we sat down on the couch. What could this be?