My mouse hesitates over the red camera icon. Yesterday I had been mentally prepared for this and while I had drug my feet, it was something that I was ready to do. Now I stare at this screen feeling like a complete jackass. I’m thankful that yesterday is over, it gave me the kick in the pants that I needed. To be honest, I knew getting involved with anyone was a bad idea. After hearing Devon’s words yesterday today feels like I have stepped outside into the cool, fresh air. Nothing else can distract me from what I need to do. The end game is me taking my life before I get to experience the horrors of the future─ but no one will understand. It kept me up for most of the night thinking about the best way to approach it. If I do it here, eventually someone would find me, yes, but it will hurt my family worse knowing that I did it. As much as I know it will cause a lot of pain, I think it will be best to leave it a mystery. The real issue I’m facing right now is finding somewhere that I can both die peacefully and that no one can find me for quite some time. I’m bumming myself out thinking about it. Just last year my head would have been miles from these sort of thoughts, and yet here I am making a choice I never thought I would need to. Christ this is awful.
I press my fingers into my temples, gently massaging them as I try to build up the courage to talk to the entire internet. No pressure. I stand and pace the entirety of my living room, my arms tightly wrapped around me. My thumb strokes my right arm as I try to talk myself into doing this. Ok, yes, will I sound like a nut job? One hundred percent. But doesn’t sounding like one outweigh saving others? Why would it if no one believes you, idiot. I dig my fingers into my arms. But what if you do save them? Even if it’s just a handful? My pacing increases its intensity as a million more thoughts run through my head. I shut them down and try to just simplify it. It’s going to be OK, just don’t think about it. Press that live button and let’s go.
I shoot my reflection an angry glare, why do you have to be so fucking kind? I roll my eyes and plop down into my computer chair like a spoiled teenager. As much as I want to just curl up in bed and not think about anything at all─ I know as long as I’m alive I can’t imagine not helping others. I gulp in a few breaths of air and then click on the live button. A countdown starts and within seconds I am live. Hello world, here I am to offer you a laugh. I falter a bit but after a few awkward seconds my voice comes out. “My name is Katherine Tate. What I’m about to tell you isn’t something that I expect any of you to believe.” I pause and swallow. My throat and mouth feel like I have never taken a sip of water in my life. “I’m telling you not because I want attention, or believe in some sort of god or being or that I’m involved in some doomsday cult. I’m asking you to listen to what I have to say. Just for a moment.”
My view count has gone from zero to two, three, seven and climbing to a few dozen. I swallow again. “I have a reliable source that’s told me about something horrible that’s coming our way. Something catastrophic. It will decimate every major city in the U.S. I can’t speak for other countries because I don’t have information on them. There’s a nuclear war coming like no other.” My hands are visibly shaking as I ball them up in front of me. “I mean it when I say that even if you manage to get out of the city, the fallout will eventually take out more than half of the population. You need to all work together or I promise you from the bottom of my heart, you will die one of the most painfully slow deaths there are.”
I see words popping up and I try my best not to look at them. Just focus on finishing, get out what you have to say and ignore everything else. I know this is the only way that I can force myself to do it. You can do this, I urge.
“We all hear it from time to time, some nut-job claiming it’s the end of the world. Who knows, maybe my source isn’t as reliable as I thought and we may all be fine. But I can’t, in good conscience, stay silent about this. Not after what it would mean for millions or potentially billions of people.” I feel myself on the brink of tears, but I blink them away. I can’t get emotional, I need to be strong.
I draw in a deep breath and release it slowly. “Even if this is a false alarm, I want to help in some way. I don’t care about embarrassing myself─ in fact I welcome the outcome that it ends up being a hoax. I urge you to get out of the city and save yourself and your family. From what I know it will happen three days from now in every major U.S. city. I wish that I knew places that you could go to, some sort of safe space that is underground─ instead all that I can offer is for you to get somewhere far away from the city. Please be safe, please be kind to one another.” I look directly into the camera, “I’m sorry if I scare anyone unnecessarily, that’s not my intention, nor is it to create mass hysteria. I’ll leave you to make your own choices, but I’ve already made mine. Thank you to anyone that’s listening and has heard me out.” I push the ‘end stream’ button and sag into my chair. I feel like I have run back-to-back marathons. What will people think? What will happen to me? Then something else pops into my mind. What if I get into trouble for creating mass confusion or hysteria? I think about that for a moment. Hopefully I won’t go to jail for the next two days. My stomach twists as I think about building up the courage to even end my life. My biggest fear is that I will do all this for nothing─ nothing will happen and I’ll die. For all I know, these creatures cause people to kill themselves and then they have free reign over their souls. There really isn’t a right answer but I do at least know that I’m not insane.
Still, I have gone this far and what would happen if I didn’t take my life? The worst outcome is what my family will have to suffer because of their “crazy” daughter. My poor family. I try and reason with myself that it will be worth it. Even if the world didn’t explode into fire and ash, would these monsters find new and horrible ways to torture me if I did decide to live? That is not a life I want to endure. I would eventually be committed to some psychiatric hospital and then lose my family. To lose all of that and still have to live in constant fear─ dying over and over again for as long as these monsters feel like it─ isn’t going to happen. I will make damn sure of it.
“Katherine Anne Tate, what the hell is wrong with you?”
I wince at my mother’s voice as it blares on the other end. “Do you even know what everyone is saying? Did you join some sort of a cult? What is all of this?” I let her get it out and stay silent on the other end. I have no idea what I am going to say. I had avoided her text messages and calls for most of the day but after the tenth ring I finally answer. “Don’t you dare sit there quietly or I swear I will drive down to Texas myself and beat some sense into you.” My eyebrows raise at her words. She had never made such a threat before. I try my hardest to sound strong but my words trail off, “it’s all─” I swallow thickly. My mouth is suddenly cotton-dry “It’s all what? Some ploy to get attention?” She lets out a frustrated sigh. “Jesus girl, think about your family before you do something this dramatic. It’s gone viral for god’s sake, our phones won’t stop ringing.” I frown at her words. I am not expecting this sort of backlash from my family. From the public, yes, but not from my own mother. There is a rustling noise as my mother moves the phone from one ear to the other, “You don’t expect me to believe all of this to be real, right? You do this sort of thing for a living, don’t act like you didn’t do some sort of special effects or have one of your buddies make it look creepy.” She sighs, “Look, honey, just go back online and tell people it was a prank.”
What the hell is she even talking about? “No,” I spat. I cover my mouth in shock, I’m surprised at the venom in my words. “Excuse me? Yes you will. And I’ll tell you what else, you will do this or you can count on never being a part of this family again.” Her words take the breath out of me. “You can’t mean that,” I whisper. “Oh yes I can young lady. Your poor father is livid, do you know how close both of us are to retirement?” “They can’t fire you for that, it’s illegal” I yell back. Her next words come out through gritted teeth, “they won’t need to, they can make both of our lives miserable until we quit.” She yells back. I snap, “Well excuse me for trying to save hundreds of millions of lives. What the hell do you even mean make it look creepy? The end of the world is way more than just creepy mother. I can’t just sit by and allow─” “Katherine. Stop this right now,” she interrupts, “You are not special, the end of the world is not coming, and frankly I am disappointed in your juvenile attempt at fifteen minutes of fame.” My jaw drops. I can’t believe the words that are coming out of her mouth. This woman raised me─ she promised that she would be at my side no matter what. Tears slide down my face. Where is that person now? Where is she when I need her the most?
My tone comes out even and controlled, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. But I’m not making this up. If that means you choose not to be in my life, that’s on you.” I hang up and turn my phone to silent. That’s all I can bring myself to bear in one day. I stare at the building and then glance around to see if anyone has overheard our conversation. It seems life has spared me this embarrassment and I exhale. I pocket my phone and walk into the building. What was it that she had said? Viral. My video has gone viral. Which means they probably have destroyed me online. I’m still confused as to what she meant about having my buddies make it creepy or me make it look creepy. All I did was talk in front of my webcam. Who knows what is waiting for me if I ever decide to check it. I don’t want to, and I probably never will. Lucky for me it will be forgotten in less than a day anyway. Most online things do. Unless you become a meme.
The elevator can not go slow enough. Each ding makes me wince as I ascend to the most embarrassing moment in my entire life. Yesterday had gone by in a blur and while I really didn’t want to be back up here, I am trying to be as respectful as possible. Even though Devon behaved the way he did toward me I am not about to stoop to his level. It’s so strange to me that I feel compelled to do this. It’s not like it will matter soon. The doors slowly open but thankfully no one is waiting to get on. I make a bee-line for my desk, wanting to hide away as soon as possible. People stop mid conversation and my face grows hot as I start to shove things into my bag. It’s official, they have seen it. There are whispers as I sit down and log into my computer. I need to grab some files that aren’t the company’s property. No one in the office has approached me yet but judging by the hushed voices and people avoiding me I can take a good guess as to what they are talking about. Just as I’m about to get up I notice that I have a few new emails. I skim through them and then close it out. There isn’t much in my desk so I do a once over, open drawers, grab my spare pair of shoes and turn to get out of my chair. I remove my keys and fob when the message pops up on my screen. A lump forms in my throat, it is Devon. If everyone else has seen it he undoubtedly has. My hands tremble as I click on the tab at the bottom.
Please come to my office at your earliest convenience. Thank you.
I rise to my feet and place one foot in front of the other. I catch a few laughs and more whispers as I walk across the room. My head is swimming with possibilities. After the conversation with him and my mother, it makes me realize just how fragile relationships can be. If my own flesh and blood is willing to go this far what would be waiting for me in Devon’s office? I trudge down the long corridor. Rent, job, family─ none of it matters now. At least I can control some aspects of my life. I have already gotten the mask, pure nitrogen, strong mastic tape, and tubing. There is no way that I am going to rip everything off in my sleep. My grim thoughts switch to absolute panic as I approach his frosted glass door. He is sitting at his desk and here I am standing awkwardly outside, unsure of what to do with myself. His head nods on the other side and it takes me a moment to realize that he is on the phone. His voice is so low I can’t make anything out. I wait until he sets his phone down before I lightly tap on the door. You don’t have to do this, my mind screams, you can just walk back to your desk, drop off the office equipment and keys and never look back. I am really hoping that all he wants from me is the keys and make sure that I didn’t take any of my artwork with me. My hands grow cold as I step inside. Devon’s lips are pressed together in a thin line. He’s not just upset, he is borderline furious. He waves me inside and then extends his hand toward the chair in front of his desk. Whatever he is about to say to me isn’t good. Well at least I know that he still hates me, I reason, no surprises there. I am fairly certain that I will need to set the contents of my pocket onto the desk. Please, please just let this go as professionally as possible and let me leave.
I can hear him trying to control his breathing. No doubt he wants to tear me apart for what I may cause to him and his employees. “How can you be so selfish?” he would probably say. I fold my hands in my lap and decide to save him the trouble. “I just want you to know that I understand why you are upset and obviously it’s in our best interest to part ways. You don’t need to say anything that can’t be sent in a text or email, I can just gather my things and head out.” He stays silent and turns his head from me. I can see from the corner of my eye that he is staring outside. Probably focusing on anything other than my face. My stomach feels heavy and a chill runs down my body. This isn’t a surprise, why would it have been? Still, it hurts. I place both my keycard and key on the desk and slide back my chair. My voice comes out in a cool, professional tone “Here are all my keys, I have removed some personal files from the computer and left anything that is copywritten or that you have rights to in a folder on my desktop.” He makes a soft grunt in acknowledgement but says nothing. The room tilts as I stand to leave─ more than anything I want this moment to end. Last night had been horrible enough, today I have been shattered into a million pieces. I know how he feels, I know what was said, but to have that sort of connection with someone felt special. I think that I am hoping even now he will send an uncertain look at me and his eyes will soften─ just like they had when we sat together in perfect silence. I am being childish and I know it. Poor, sweet naïve Kate, my inner bitch coos, finally felt something for someone that now despises her very existence. The tears threaten to spill down my face as I feel my lips tremble. Oh, the voice digs in again, baby going to cry? Well welcome to life honey. I straighten up and walk toward the hall, fuck showing Devon any hint of emotion. He still hasn’t said a single thing. I hesitate a moment at his door, silently praying that Devon will call out to me. But he doesn’t. The room remains silent. I step into the hallway and then softly close the door behind me.
I manage to keep dry eyes as I gather my things. Thankfully there aren’t many people around when I exit the building. I make it just in time to catch the train and in seconds I’m whisked away from this nightmare of a day. The ride home is pleasant, quiet. It is nearly lunchtime so there aren’t many people seated inside. Before I know it, the conductor says my stop and I am passing through the double doors. My shoes make a hollow click as I step onto the platform. In a brief moment of spontaneity I decide to walk the rest of the way home to clear my head. It isn’t until I cross the threshold of my apartment that I allow myself the luxury of tears. They flow freely, dripping onto my shirt with a soft plink. It doesn’t last long, but the relief that it brings me is amazing. I swipe at my face, slip off my shoes, and then take a long, hot shower. I slide into my comfiest sleep pants and t-shirt and then sit on the couch hugging my pillow. After watching several hours of shows and eating some cheap Chinese food, I peel myself from the couch and order even more food. It isn’t like I’m going to gain weight from one day of horrible eating. Besides, I reason, I wouldn’t be around long enough to care. I get myself cheesecake, chips, soda, brownies, candy─ pretty much the worst of the worst processed food you can think of. If tomorrow is the day I may as well make the most of it.
Since all of this began a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It’s liberating knowing when death will come knocking. Granted it isn’t ideal─ what person would want to die in their early twenties? I had just graduated, I was well on my way to a great career in the industry of my dreams. All of this is so unfair. I could have the option to go way outside of the city, possibly somewhere in the boonies out in the middle of America. But what will that do for me, honestly? Buy me a little time and then what? It isn’t as if I will have time to make a bunker, fill it with food and water, and then have some sort of filtration and air flow filters in a day. It just isn’t enough time. I circle back to my thoughts earlier this past week─ there is no getting around it. Running will not work either. Sure, I would avoid the initial blasts from the major cities but then I would die slowly from starvation or radiation poisoning. The bomb may kill me in an instant, or it would drag out like it did in my visions. I sure as hell don’t want to be around to find out. No, I will go out the way that I plan to. Clean, hopefully painless, and easy.
The shopper arrives at my apartment in less than two hours. I make sure to tip them well, telling them they should do something nice for themselves tomorrow. They look at me strange, but smile and nod thanking me for the generous amount. The bags feel heavy in my arms and even though it is a short distance between the front door and the kitchen, I feel exhausted. I place the bags on the counter and then empty their contents. They are arranged into neat little rows and then I categorize them by salty and sweet. I choose a few candy bars, chips, and soda then lay them on the coffee table. I relish every morsel of the sweet and salty delights. It is basically my last few meals and I plan on destroying the entire counter’s contents throughout the night. I look over a few shows and then began more binge-watching. My heart is broken and today is a reminder that love is conditional. At least I have candy.