(7) The Stupid Kind of Survivor

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My whole floor of the dorm was silent. Eerily so. My hands shook so hard after closing the door, it took me three tries just to open the browser window from last night. It was still on the Geode page. The tide of messages had thinned drastically since six o'clock that morning, when the bulk of the chaos occurred. The top message had been sitting untopped for more than half an hour.

To anyone who sees this: there's a group of us gathered in the cafeteria. DO NOT say your name, or call any of us by ours. Pick a nickname before you come find us. We've got food.

Somehow I knew in that moment that I would not be going to the cafeteria. It wasn't even a conscious thought. It was a feeling, primal and visceral like the one that drove me to lock my door and hide under my covers the night before. Whatever happened with that group, it wouldn't end well.

I ran an inventory of my own food supplies. I had a good stash of granola bars, plus some snacks like crackers, cheese strings, and a can of salmon. I could ration it for two days at most. I weighed my options. The way things were going, there would be fewer people guarding the cafeteria the longer I waited. Expending all my food was a risk, but I didn't know if it would be a risk better spent now, or at some unknown future time.

I opted for the former. Then I crept out of my room in the dead of night to raid a nearby convenience store for more. The streets were empty. Sleepers dotted the sidewalks, but I guessed most of them were in the houses. Those who hadn't simply fled the city, that is. I found the store picked clean. Nobody had broken down the door at the back yet, though, so I broke in myself and stuffed my backpack with supplies from the storage rooms. By the end of three trips, I had enough to last me weeks. I wouldn't have to leave except to sneak out to the bathroom down the hall. At least the plumbing still worked.

The group in the cafeteria sent out semi-regular updates as they discovered things. Like how saying the name of a Sleeper woke them again and brought them after you. Or how writing and texting were both safe, even with names. Updates on our amenities: water, plumbing, electricity, internet, cell service. The rest of the internet was a mire of alien conspiracies and survivor groups trying to find one another. Most of their pages went silent within days.

I texted my sister every day, giving her updates on my life and telling her I loved her. I texted my parents, too. They were already down, but I wanted this to be the first thing they saw if they ever woke up again and checked their phones.

Then, at the end of the first week, the electricity went spotty and took the internet with it. To this day, Calico J and I are convinced the web going belly-up was the Redding's doing.

I still had water—even hot water—and did my laundry in the shower. I only left my room at night to minimize the chances of running into another person. Between sundown and 3:00 AM was the only time I stepped outside. After three, the Red Rain started. I expected to miss the internet more than I did, which was probably the most surprising thing. Without it, the apocalypse was a lot more peaceful. No blaring warnings. No dire stories from around the world weighing me down with dread of things I had no control over. I had no way to know what was going on, and I was kind of okay with that, because it meant I could focus better on actually surviving.

All things considered, I had a pretty comfortable rhythm going, and I'd almost started to believe I could hold it long-term when the fifteenth night after Red Thursday rolled around, and someone knocked on my door.

It was four in the morning. I slowly set down the book I was reading and clicked off my headlamp.

In the silence, I heard ragged breathing outside my door. I had never been more glad of my new habit of locking it. There was someone there, and I had no idea if they were a Sleeper or a real human being. I had no idea if they knew me. I had no idea why they were here. I set my book aside and reached for the hockey stick next to my bed. I'd stolen it from someone's backyard days earlier, and now thanked the whole universe that I'd worked up the guts to leave my room that night and go find myself a weapon.

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