Jess, Josh and the Old Lady – Flash Fiction by Julie Clark

Somehow, the sun found its way through the brittle blinds, prying my eyes open. My husband absentmindedly hit the snooze button for the third time, oblivious to the new reality that awaited us both. Quickly scrolling through my Twitter feed, last night’s news had morphed into today’s nightmare.

“What time did you go to bed last night?” he yawned, stretching, finally turning off the alarm.

“Too late,” I replied, struggling to make my way out of our warm bed. “You want to know who won?”

“She did,” he yawned, perplexed by my question. “I mean, it’s no surpr-“

“No,” I interrupted, “no, he did.”

Josh wrinkled his face, trying to decide if this was my latest attempt at sarcasm. But as he looked deeply into my eyes, he stiffened.

“Well, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. I mean, how bad could it be?” So classic of Josh to use self-talk to make the best of difficult moments.

The day went on, and I pondered his words. Terrible presidents-in-waiting have turned terrific, while others full of hope and dynamism have merely fallen flat on the pages of history. Perhaps this one would merely be all wind, no sails. It’s only four years.

November and December flew by and the calendar turned its pages. He was right; our lives weren’t much different than before. Our dog needed going out before the sun crossed the horizon, causing the neighbor’s dog to bark incessantly before I could grab my morning coffee. The kids at the bus stop prayed for snow days, while all I wanted to do was put in a solid day’s work.

January turned even whiter as Inauguration Day came. The sun warmed the earth, making it the warmest January day in DC on record, though our town remained nestled under several inches of snow. We both took the day off, as did most of our friends. Josh warmed up the coffee machine, popped in a few plastic pods while the scent of enviro-guilt mingled with freshly brewed beans. Neither of us welcomed the events of the day, but as they were historic, we tuned in and watched. Josh stuck to his Facebook feed while I followed the trends on Twitter. All too soon, it was time for the swearing in.

“I can’t believe this man is going to be president,” my husband cursed.

Silently, I agreed while soaking the entire scene in. His wife was characteristically stylish and stunning. His family stood proud, although they were a bit hard to see as several orange circles of sunlight appeared to reflect into the cameras covering the event. As the last few words of the oath were taken, the new president gave a subtle nod. The round balls of light that partly blocked the screen disappeared, making it all too easy to see his determined countenance.

“Jess, do you have a signal?” suddenly asked Josh, looking up from his tablet.

“Lemme check – no. Just switch off Wi-Fi,” I replied, still glued to the TV.

“That isn’t working for me, either.”

“Huh. That’s odd. Something must have hit a tower.”

“But we still have cable. I mean, the TV coverage is fine.”

Puzzled, I walked over to brew another cuppa. I really wasn’t in the mood to figure out Internet troubles. All I wanted was some solace and a few moments to let it all soak in. But everything went abruptly quiet.

“Now the power’s out. Man, they said there would be protests and stuff but I don’t see why a few people have to make a statement that affects all of us.”

“Josh, I don’t think it’s everyone. It’s probably just some animal that got into a control box, trying to warm itself up.” I directed him to the window over the kitchen sink that faced our neighbor’s family room. The reflection of their TV was bright and steady. I turned on the faucet to rinse out my mug, but no water came. “You won’t believe this, but it looks like we don’t have any water, either.”

“No, I’m not going to believe that,” quipped Josh, a touch annoyed. “I’ll try the bathroom sink.” Josh headed around the corner to the half bath, letting out another epithet. “What the – ! It’s too soon for pipes to freeze. I’ll turn on the fireplace so we can at least keep things warm while we figure out what’s going on.”

“Good idea,” I replied, trying to stay positive, but something invisible was pressing down on me. I couldn’t shake its inescapable heaviness.

Josh marched to the great room, squatted down to turn the fire on, but the pilot was out and would not light. There was no smell of gas, either. Everything, it seemed, no longer worked.

“We have no heat, no water, no electricity. This makes absolutely no sense,” he muttered, pulling at his bronze beard. “I’m going to go for a quick walk and see if I can figure this out. Maybe it’s just one side of the street or something?”

Josh headed out while I grabbed a few fleece blankets from our bedroom. As I made my way back downstairs, I swear a saw a few dark circles float around me. I must be crazy. It must be stress. A blue orb appeared behind them, causing the others to immediately disappear. I really, really need to get away for a bit.

When my husband returned, he looked absolutely ashen. He insisted we pack and leave immediately. Nothing made any sense. He was determined, driven and shaken to his core.

“Michael, Emily and Brit had the same thing happen, but Tommy, Rachel and their families are ok. You won’t believe this, but it’s like everyone who voted for the guy is fine. Tommy even said his Internet is running faster. But the rest of us? It’s as if we’ve been targeted.”

“How can they do this? It’s not possible. This isn’t a movie, Josh. Be real for a moment. I mean-“

“Smart tech,” he interrupted, pulling our pile of important documents out of the junk drawer. I know it sounds crazy but it looks like they cherry picked some of us to lose power, water, you name it, once the swearing in was done. We must have landed in some sort of database. I mean, it’s no secret we didn’t want this guy to win. But, I mean, it wasn’t like we wished him harm or anything,” he rambled, working at a now feverish pace. “Jess, we have to pack and leave. Grab whatever you can’t live without. And leave your phone and tablet here. We can’t use them anyway and they may track us with them. We’ll go to my dad’s place. I’m pretty sure I can get there without GPS, but I think we need to leave now.”

If I’m honest, I’ll admit my husband’s actions and words alarmed me. He was off the rails. This wasn’t Josh. There was sheer terror in his cool grey eyes. Quickly, we started to throw whatever we thought we needed into our car. But it wouldn’t start.

“I can’t believe this! Auto turnoff. This is beyond nuts,” he quietly screamed, uncharacteristically slamming his fists against the steering wheel.

“We still have gas in the clunker?” I asked, pointing my chin in the direction of our old sedan recently inherited from his great-aunt. The blue orb reappeared, hovering over the hood. I’m losing it.

“We should. I think I have a bit of gas left in the can for the mower. Thank god we didn’t switch to electric yet.”

It was a beater of a thing, but her engine was from another time. A time where, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a daily mantra. As hideous as she was, she still had a lot of life left in her soul. Josh hurried to make sure the Old Lady, as he called it, was as reliable as ever, which she was. With plenty of gas in both the tank and the canister, we switched our belongings over, nestled Chase snuggly in his crate, manually opened the garage door and headed out.

As we turned left out of the subdivision, a few ominous trucks made their way into it. Several more appeared as we left our beloved suburb and city behind.

“Don’t those remind you of-?” I commented, unable to shake the feeling that life as we knew it would never return.

“Yeah, yeah they do, Jess. I’m so glad we never got around to changing my aunt’s plates off this thing, or scraping off that god awful bumper sticker she was so proud of. I think we’ll be ok. Let’s just focus on getting to my dad’s place.”

We drove past homes of several other friends, who were out on their lawns. They, like us, appeared stressed and confused, but there was no time to stop. We couldn’t save everyone. But maybe, just maybe, we could save ourselves.

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