Here is a science fiction book that I published for a while on this site. I took it down because a publishing company is interested in putting it out. It needs some editing but it has won several small literary prizes. I wrote it back in 1999. It took a few years of editing and rebuilding the middle section to make it work the way I wanted it to. However the vision I had of New York being hit by a hurricane is in it. In actuality the entire novel came from visions I had of the future. I have taken an excerpt from the novel and am publishing it here. In the book the only two cities still left (in terms of major cities functioning as such) are New York and Washington, D.C. The main character Psyche and her boyfriend Ira live in Washington D.C. she is unknowingly working on a secret black op project for the government through a private company. Her discovery of this comes after this part of the book. It takes place approximately 30 years in the future:
I scooped Chi up and sat next to Ira to watch the news.
“New York City has been devastated by this unforeseen monster. Shouldn’t the NWFS have warned of this killer hurricane?” the anchorman and actor, Bill Surnow, queried. Shaky video footage from surveillance cameras around the city ran behind him. Buildings swayed from high winds and water suddenly crashed through the streets, the camera went blue. “More after we take a break,” a disembodied voice said.
I grabbed the cordless phone and dialed my mother, simultaneously asking Ira, “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t anyone tell you?”
I shook my head. “There’s a busy signal.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying all day. They say the lines are down from North Carolina to Maine.”
I dialed my mother’s cell and waited as it endlessly rang.
Ira’s voice cracked. “I’ve already tried that number, too.”
The heroic New York, having survived terrorist attacks, plagues, and earthquakes, was now being washed to sea. The images were gruesome and horrifying. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother’s short white hair. Her hunched feeble body and the familiar smell of her sandalwood oil, drowning.
The fear mom had to have experienced, seeing the ocean pitched like a tray of water – the sound of breaking bricks and mortar splintering, and glass shattering – people screaming.
Mom alone. Trapped in the brownstone.
Warren Street bursting with salt water, busting down the cobbled street, exploding two hundred year old row houses into broken brick walls with rocking chairs and baby’s cribs, sofas and teddy bears pouring out of holes – everything taken by the water — people struggling to grab anything floating by to keep themselves steady in the raging flood. The water infested with rats and trash, the tide crashing hard against each new building it sought to destroy.
I was outside myself.
It wasn’t like me to cry even now the hot tightening in the deep of my throat felt like a far away tunnel. I was frozen. Emotionally paralyzed. “I spoke to her yesterday. She’s all right. Right? She’s okay, isn’t she?”
Ira moved gently across the sparse room and caught my hand in his. Its warmth momentarily penetrating my numbness.
The commercial break ended. A grim Bill Surnow stood at the anchor desk to announce, “Early estimates for Hurricane Xavier are thought to include hundreds of thousands dead and many more missing. One source reported most of Brooklyn and Long Island shore entirely decimated. There is little hope the area will ever recover.”
Bill Surnow cut to a local reporter who was standing in the middle of an ER in Queens. “The hospitals are inundated with the injured. In Manhattan F5 winds cracked and shattered windows, glass chards sharp as daggers hurtled in every direction. The scene more gruesome than words could describe.”
I dialed my mother, Miriam’s home again. Again, no use – Mom’s cell phone message in a feminine dulcet voice, sang “All circuits are busy.”
The University where she worked, recited in an ancient automated voice, “You’re call can not go through. Please hang up and dial again.” I went through lists of friends and relatives, but to no avail.
I bottled up the urge to throw the phone across the room and instead demanded of Ira, “When?”
“Around noon the Weather Service started to see signs of a hurricane gathering…”
“But how?” I asked him.
“The conditions were just right off the coast of North Carolina…”
“But why? Nothing…” I stopped myself because my voice was starting to quiver. It was as if my cranium had cracked like a polar ice cap and it was melting so fast the water was drowning me. I raised my voice at Ira, “It’s impossible.”
Ira, who had arrived at my side to give comfort, retreated. “Take it easy, Psyche everything is going to be OK.” He said this with all the skill and assurance of a man who had never had to utter such words.
“Don’t tell me to take it easy. And it’s not going to be OK. My mother is missing. She’s probably dead and you have no answers. No one has answers.” I grabbed my coat and headed toward the front door. Ira followed me.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to think.”
“You can’t go out, it’s dark and late.”
But I darted past him and left. The storm that had hit New York was coming into town and it was cool and misty out. Ira busted out the front door and ran after me. “It’s dangerous.”
“I need to be by myself.” He tried to grab me, but I shook him off. “Please. Just leave me alone.”
“When will you be back?” He pleaded. He looked concerned and confounded. In eight years I had never raised my voice or shed the smallest tear in front of him.
It was starting to drizzle and I wiped a gathered tear of rain from his cheek and said, “As soon as I can.” A moment later I broke into a run and headed into a dark alley.
I felt a drop of water run down my face and I wasn’t sure if it was me, or the rain. But it didn’t matter. I roamed the streets dotted with city lanterns and sickly trees. The cold moon followed as if mocking my pain with a twisted snarl on her face. The rain halos around the street lamps tainted with memories of Brooklyn – things I tried to hold back but couldn’t – waving good-bye to my mom from the car as she stood on the stoop, never thinking it would be the last time I saw her.
That image I couldn’t shake no matter how long or far I walked.
I hadn’t noticed time slipping by or the pound of my footsteps or the chill or the rain soaking through me until I hit the Potomac and I stared at the obstacle it posed on my quest to loose myself. I had walked at least five miles and I knew I had to get back before Ira started a vain attempt to find me. It felt like the edge of the earth and the edge of time, I was crashing and splintering like a fine piece of porcelain hitting concrete.
And then I saw them. A woman about my age, in her early thirties, holding a small limp girl in her arms and struggling to walk the rain slicked stairs.
Logic told me not to, they could have been afflicted with a plague or a crime may have been taking place, but I ran toward them. Something compelled me. And for the first time I can remember, I discarded logic and apathy.
By the time I got to them the mother was struggling to put her dying child in the car. She was about to lay the girl on the sidewalk to open the door when I took her from the woman’s hands. She looked at me as if I had always been there like some sort of guardian angel. We said nothing. She opened the door and I slid the girl into the backseat. Seconds later the woman was backing out of the driveway, barely getting the driver’s side door fully closed as she sped down the street.
On the way home I wondered about them, whether the mother had gotten the girl to a hospital in time, if the girl would survive. Helping them had for a moment made me feel a little less helpless. And through my personal darkness I treasured that feeling like an heirloom.
Ira was fully dressed and ready to start his search when I let myself in. It looked like he had been crying. The flat screen was a cacophony of devastation behind him.
“If I wasn’t so happy to see you I’d strangle you right now,” he said grabbing me.
“I’m not a child.”
“And what? You didn’t think I’d be worried? Why are you punishing me like this?”
“This isn’t about you, Ira.”
“Yes it is. It’s about you not letting me in. I want to help you, but you make it impossible.”
I nodded. He put his arms around me and held me until I couldn’t be held any longer without breaking down again. “I’m sorry,” I said.
There was a repeat of an earlier news broadcast. It was a press conference with none other then my boss Paul Lamont. I sat down to watch it.
Lamont looked too put together, in a suit that would have cost an average person a year’s wages. He was unnaturally relaxed for the circumstances. “There has been a rush to judgment by the scientific community about the Atlantic’s rise in temperature and global warming. For years I’ve poured over countless studies, reviewed thousands of reports and culled through all the supposed proof. I’ve never found a correlation. The evidence is overwhelming for a natural shift in the Earth’s climate. This has occurred many times before human history. It’s unfortunate that we happen to be living during one of these intense global changes.”
I yelled at the screen, “Fucking asshole! Those studies were done by oil companies – they have no credibility. They’ve been discredited by every independent survey done by the scientific community.”
Paul then took a question from Bill Surnow. “What about the ozone hole?”
Paul responded, “Another natural phenomena caused by radiation emitted during solar storms. We’ve seen evidence of holes before in layers of igneous rock. And it’s been repairing itself over the past forty years.”
“Bullshit,” I said.
Ira cautioned me, “Just hold on a minute,”
Bill Surnow asked his follow up, “Are you suggesting all the horrible tragedies that have occurred over the past forty years, are simply a result of natural earth changes?”
“Absolutely,” Lamont said. He waived away any further questions and left the podium.
Ira sat down beside me. “I saw it this afternoon, but I don’t get why they’re still trying to cover up the global warming thing when it’s been proven countless times.”
I hit the rewind button and replayed Lamont’s speech, freezing a medium shot of him and examining it carefully. “There’s something strange about this. I was taken in to see him this morning at work.”
A curious Ira walked back in. He asked, “You were?”
“Strauch was there, too.”
“The President was at Digibio?”
I continued to stare at the screen trying to determine what exactly was different about Paul Lamont. Was his hair a little longer? I went through the catalogue of images fresh in my mind from the boardroom meeting. Yes. But without a physical picture, I couldn’t be sure. His clothes were obviously different. The suit most patently not something he would wear to work. Of course he must have changed. Then I noted something that confirmed my suspicion.
“This was prerecorded,” I said.
“What makes you think that?”
“When I saw him this morning he had a cut on chin.” I paused the image and zoomed closer, pointing to his chin. “There’s nothing there.”
Ira squinted. “They knew this would happen.”
“Yeah, and they didn’t give us any warning.”
“But why?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I can’t think about it right now.”
Think about this when you decide how to vote. Is this the world you want for your children? One in which science is disregarded and we have slick politicians ready to lie to you in order to save only themselves?
Best wishes and good luck,
Chapter 2 – Sleepless Night
(2044, January through June)
Gale force winds and thunder, garbage cans crashing over, objects slamming into walls and fences, and Ira slept through all of it like a kitten cuddling at his mother’s breast – but not me. My mind and heart were on fire.
Chi followed me, meowing for treats. It was cold downstairs. The angry wind forced its way between door and window cracks. I grabbed Ira’s ratty old sweater. The first present I had given him. It was the only thing left from that period of his life, perhaps a small reminder of how far he’d come since the penitentiary. I barely knew him then. We had dated about a year. He told me he worked for an Internet research corporation, a consumer watchdog group that kept an eye on the defense department – it had some crazy name I forcibly forgot.
There was never any question. I was instantly in love and hopelessly naive about human nature. Turned out he was part of a watchdog group of hackers who stole classified information and sold it to reporters for a premium. To him it was noble, the people had a right to know and he had a right to make a living. Really, it was closest to intellectual prostitution although he saw himself as a twenty first century Robyn Hood. He could have been building something great instead of hunting down and exploiting government weakness. But who was I to judge? I knew his heart was good and his intentions were pure. And I loved him. He loved me. So I waited.
We avoided talking about it. And if we had to refer to that period there was a code – words that lessened the pain or importance for both of us. Anything to make it less real than it was. Usually if I referred to it, I said, “When you lived in the country.” He usually said, “During that time.”
When I was hired at Digibio, they ran a background check. Nothing came up in the preliminary. A month later they revoked access to anything but the chlorophyll research lab and the cafeteria. But it didn’t really bother me.
The teakettle was singing. Only one bag of Chamomile left, hopefully it would help put me in a coma. And I could wake tomorrow discovering it had all been just a horrible nightmare.
The lights browned. The drawer had only three emergency candles left from the previous storm, which had ended two weeks prior. It had lasted thirty-five days straight and the power had consistently gone out during peak hours. According to the weatherman another hurricane was due to hit North Carolina. But other than historic value there was nothing left there. Both Carolinas were dead states. Neither state had money for scrims and except for folklore about people surviving off the land in the forest – there wasn’t a soul within a hundred miles of New York or D.C. And now all that was left was D.C. There were reports of a smattering of survivors in Seattle but the numbers were low.
I walked to the sofa and stared out the window, drinking tea. Chi sat on my lap. The rain was fierce and reminded me of New York, in my mother’s old brownstone. There had been a very bad storm when I was ten. We had both woken for different reasons. The thunder and lightening had cast shadows of monsters on the wall scaring me out of the room – while Mom contended with a real beast. She was setting out buckets all over the living room to catch the water oozing out of the fissures and cracks in the ceiling. Later I found out she had been afraid the whole damn roof was going to cave in on us, but at the time she pretended it was a game – a fun thing to do together. She had me searching for bowls, buckets, and hats – until each little fissure was represented by a counterpart on the worn hardwood floor – and when a bucket would fill, she would grab one of the mongrel cups or bowls from my loot while pouring the buckets contents into the kitchen sink and then dutifully replace them.
But even though she presented a calm rational exterior I knew something was very wrong. And I remember admiring her. She was fearless, capable and godlike. Nothing could harm me with her protection. She was able to keep the world away with her brilliant mind and convert anyone in her circle of influence to her point of view.
But that night I saw panic when she didn’t know I was watching. It was complicated seeing it and not wanting to see it. So I chose to believe the buckets were a game, knowing it was a protective lie – a lie affirming her love for me.
The streetlights flickered in the rain. Some UV scrims down the block looked as if a colossal box cutter had sliced them – they flapped in the wind like serpent shaped kites.
D.C. was tolerable. It was cleaner than New York and had a much more reliable and quick acting body pick up service unlike the Corner Hut Drop Off Centers of New York, which were always teeming with mutant flies and reeked of decaying flesh no matter how often the workers cleaned them out. It was an ineffectual system and a health hazard. But you hardly ever saw the dead on the streets like you did here in D.C., even if they didn’t stay long on the walkways you were still confronted with them daily.
Maybe it was a bit healthier here but I preferred New York. It felt more like an old city, with people doing all different sorts of things besides just working for the government or on some government related project. More than anything it was my connection to a personal history I missed – even if New York barely resembled the one of my youth and even if it never snowed anymore and the winters felt like warm fall days from childhood. I knew it. Somewhere under its fading, wilting petals the stem was the same.
And despite the elaborate scrim maze providing the best UV protection in the world (or so we were told by our government) I had preferred shabby New York. If only I could have gotten my mother to move. But that was like asking lead to turn into gold. And even though it got tiresome always wearing a protection suit or carry a UV umbrella or coating my skin with titanium dioxide which made me and my mom break out like hormonal teenagers if we so much as looked at the stuff, she would hear nothing of the virtues of my new city. She desperately loved all that was left of New York.
On the steps of the apartment building across the street a black shape moved. It was big enough to be a person but could have been a box or a piece of furniture left out for trash pick-up which had caught in the gale force wind, but most likely it was one of the infected. A crack of lightening lit the street clearly and I saw the woman. Skeleton Plague. Aptly named for the visual state it left its victims in – their skin and fat tissues were literally cannibalized by their bodies immune system and the results were a horrifying sight – skin turned paper white, taught and veiny, held up by the jagged tent poles of their bones.
The government said Skeleton Plague was communicable, but it was an autoimmune disease. The scientific community was still debating its genesis and treat-ability, but that was it. We knew something was turning white blood cells into cannibalistic machines, whether it was UV-B, UV-A rays or some other solar radiation mixed with pollution we weren’t certain. There was always a new outbreak during solar flares and there had never been any evidence of it being contagious, but people were afraid and the CDC had decided early on it was best to treat it like all the other plagues that had come down the pike and keep its victims quarantined. Those that got it generally spent a lot of time outside and didn’t alter their behavior during solar flare warnings or relied only on the city scrims to protect them. The woman had probably escaped from quarantine in a vein attempt to see her family one last time, but they wouldn’t open the door for her.
In the next crack of lightening I saw her convulsing. She was in the last throws of life. I called the health department and a few minutes later I saw a Hazmat team take her body away. No fanfare, no ceremony. Life reduced to inconvenient garbage. It hadn’t always been like that. I could almost remember a different time. Mom told me crazy stories about her childhood and what seemed like an Edenic period at the turn of the century. I never really believed her until I was in college and studied history.
Blessings to all – our thoughts and prayers are with all of you on the east coast,