7. The last day
This post is the last episode of an interactive serial fiction experiment called “A March Story.” Reader contributions are marked as links. To learn more, read the Introduction. To tell me what you think, Tweet me.
I wake up on a sofa in an oft-forgotten corner of the newsroom. The first thing I’m aware of is the ache in my neck. The next thing is the warmth of the sun, baking me inside of the sweater I’d wrapped myself in to sleep. I blink hard and remember why I am on a couch at work. In a sudden panic I leap to my feet and run to the window. The sun’s light shines through, but it is filtered by the Dome above. The Dome is still there. The Dome is still there, and I am still at work.
I check Twitter as I shuffle over to the Keurig. The storm we ignited yesterday continues to swirl there. The mayor’s insistence that the city keep calm and carry on is being widely repeated. Our story shared perhaps as much. The media set that I follow is sharing images of their work-from-home locations. The hashtag #domefall is trending worldwide. When I click through to it, I see hundreds of Tweets to the tune of “Do I go 2 work today or not? Will someone plz tell me??” I also notice that I’ve gained a considerable number of followers overnight.
My coffee hisses and spurts into a bio-polymer cup and I grab it for a sip, despite the heat. This cup will be the first of many today.
Walking back into the newsroom I see the office is filling up quickly. Or guessing from the sleepy eyes I see hovering behind computer monitors, I wasn’t the only one who found a couch last night. The Dispatch all-staff email alias was alive all night with admonitions against commuting into work. Our reporters will be out and about in the city today, though; it’s their job. How many other people will be risking their lives walking beneath a piece of infrastructure marked for destruction?
I wander back to the window. The sidewalk below seems less busy than usual, but there are still people walking. They move unhurriedly — like the mayor told them it would be fine to walk to work today. That guy with the hat. Those two cops leaning on the hood of their cruiser. That woman pushing the stroller. Seriously, a stroller?
What can I do? Do I shout and wave from the fifth floor through sound-proofed double glass? Do I bang on the windows and yell for the city to seek shelter? How long do I hit this glass before I risk defenestration?
My desk is littered with yesterday’s drafts. I shuffle papers aside to unearth my keyboard. I can’t shout from the windows, but I can shout from this computer. I tap out: “ALERT: Stay inside today! It is unsafe below the Manhattan Dome.” Let’s see how useful all these new Twitter followers are.
I walk laps around the newsroom for a half hour to burn off nervous energy. My phone has buzzed and beeped in my hand as I walked, responses to my Tweet keeping me company in my ambulations. Turns out, having the byline on the biggest story of the day is a great way to attract attention to your Tweets. That’s a Twitter best practice.
It’s not until I see Harold arrive at his desk that I break my circuit.
“Did you go home?” I ask him as I walk in.
He shakes his head and grins. “There are some plush couches in the executive suite upstairs. But keep that to yourself.” He yawns, stretches. “I spent a great many hours last night with some very scrupulous fact-checkers. They are indefatigable. I, on the other hand, work on cultivating a lugubrious patina. As the editor I like to adumbrate an article, let the writers deal with the details, however they come by them. I don’t care if it’s a palm reading on 8th Avenue or if they’re going down to Murray’s Cheese to try their hands at tyromancy, just bring me the results.”
“You’re quite the wordsmith today, aren’t you?”
“I’m a thought-leading editor at a institution of stoic tradition. I also — thanks to you — published the biggest scoop of the year yesterday. One is wary of hubris in this business — there is always the risk of schadenfreude — so this is a small celebration I allow myself. If I want to pontificate with a little polysyllabic flair, it’s my prerogative. It helps ameliorate the fact that we just have to do it again today.” He unwraps a blueberry muffin and takes a bite. “Now were you able to get some sleep? I wouldn’t want your first major scoop to be a Pyrrhic victory. As your avuncular elder and editor I want you to be awake and ready to work today.”
I nod. “Have you seen all the people outside? All I want to be doing is running around the streets yelling at people to go inside. Like maybe the best use of my day is to sit there on Twitter and put a good, solid couple of hours into trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.”
Harold chuckles. “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.” I raise an eyebrow. “My daughter loves that Mean Girls movie. It’s hilarious.” Harold stands and walks to his office door and calls out for an all-hands meeting. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” he says to me as reporters around the newsroom gather their notepads and coffee cups. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to report the hell out of this thing. I want you to try to get in touch with that Josiah kid. You still have his number?”
“He called me from a burner last night.”
“Well try that one. Who knows? He may not answer this morning, but if he pulls this thing off he’s going to want to talk.”
Harold stands behind his desk with his hands on the back of the chair. “All of you — and you too, Monica — I want you on the streets. Find me people holed up in their homes. Find me people out running errands. Find me city workers forced to go out today against their wishes. Find me tourists, hot dog vendors, joggers, Times Square Elmos, you name it, I want it quoted.” He looks across all of our faces like a high school coach at halftime. “But most important, be safe. If and when this thing happens, you’ll be exposed. Keep your eye on the closest shelter wherever you are today.” He claps his hands together. “All right, who wants what? Let’s start with Monica.”
I smile. “I’ll take Times Square.”
I have called Josiah no fewer than 25 times and listened to the ring with no answer. While I’ve called, I’ve walked, approaching Times Square and passing no small number of disreputable establishments. My personal favorite was the video store that offered both advice from a sexpert (a sex expert) and a cheap rate on hot pizzones (pizza and calzone); it was as if this particular video store’s theme was the unholy portmanteau. I wonder if they specialize in porn mockumentaries or erotic dramedies.
There is an apprehension in the recycled air today. People seem to walk even faster on the sidewalks. I catch pedestrians at crosswalks looking upward anxiously as they wait for the light to change. I catch snippets of conversation like “I don’t want to stay out too late” or “I’m just trying to get home as quick as I can.” An elderly man in a pristine navy suit leans down to drop some change in a homeless man’s paper cup and asks, “Do you have somewhere to go if the Dome starts to fall?” The homeless man points at the doorway behind him.
I look up to the Dome from time to time, but it just hangs there, motionless in the air. It’s the same glass bubble that’s separated this city from the sky for the last forty years. It shows no ominous sign of impending failure.
I’m in Times Square when I get the call.
“What are all these people doing on the streets?” Josiah hisses through the phone.
“Where are you?” I respond.
He doesn’t answer me. “There isn’t supposed to be anyone out today!” He’s whispering, so it’s hard to hear him over the honk of traffic in the background. “What happened?”
“Your friend the mayor fucked it up,” I tell him. “Call it off. Cancel the explosives.”
“The Dome will still collapse without us.”
“Questions are being asked now. They’ll fix it. Don’t do this. Call it off.” I realize I’m pleading with him. I’m looking at these hundreds of tourists and street performers who are completely exposed to the glass above, and I am pleading with Josiah to spare their lives.
“I can’t call it off,” he says after a long silence. “The timers on the charges are set and they’re all across the city. You were supposed to get the people off the streets.”
“I tried!” I did try. And yet here they all are. “How long do we have?”
Josiah sighs. “A minute maybe.”
I drop the phone from my ear and look at all of the people around me. Four teenagers wearing splatter-paint “New York City” hoodies; three blonde women taking turns photographing each other in front of the billboards; two children being led by the hand past a grubby red Elmo vamping for their attention.
“RUN!” I yell at the top of my lungs. “RUN!”
I sprint out into the center of Broadway, screaming at the top of my lungs: “It’s going to fall down! The Dome is going to fall down!” I’m pointing up emphatically, gesturing at the peril overhead. “GET OUT OF HERE! SEEK SHELTER!”
A few tourists scatter. Most look askance at the screaming girl on Broadway. Then I try the magic word: “There’s a BOMB!” That gets them moving. “Find shelter! Get in the buildings!”
I’m running again but the normal discordant jostle of Times Square is now complete chaos; mob dynamics are beginning to take hold. I’m still yelling when I’m painfully struck on the hip by a swinging camera that makes my warning sound like, “GET INSIDEOWWWW!” Then I stumble.
I don’t fall to the ground. Instead I’m engulfed in red fur and the smell of mildew. I’ve been caught by an Elmo.
“GET OUT OF HERE!” I shout into the cartoonish mouth that I know conceals an entire face.
“Shhhhh,” says Elmo. “You are freaking out.”
“THE DOME!” I yell.
He grips me tight in a furry hug. I struggle to get away and shout again, but Elmo shushes me again. “Wait for it,” he says, somewhere deep in that costume. “We’re gonna be just fine.”
There’s a rumble. I feel it first, in my sternum. Then I start to hear it, rising above the chaos around me. The city is giving a mighty, terrifying groan.
I look up. Beyond Elmo’s plastic white eyes I see cracks spreading across the sky. What was moments ago unpunctuated gray cloud cover seen through a film of dew and bird shit is now the shell of egg that’s about to get scrambled. The lines and fissures spread from all directions toward a center point over our heads. Around me, others are staring upwards. We’re transfixed. We’re about to be crushed by falling glass.
I shut my eyes as the rumble becomes a roar. I grip the Elmo’s fur and wish I had something to pray to. Then the Dome explodes.
It’s quiet in Times Square. The screaming has stopped; no horns are honked. My face is still pressed into the soft, damp hug of this stinky puppet. Elmo says, “See, look up now.”
I raise my head to the sky and see... snow. Millions of perfect snowflakes falling down out of the sky. Pieces of the Dome to the west are still disintegrating, and as they do, they become showers of white dust drifting harmlessly onto the city below. They’re drifting down onto us in Times Square, onto the tourists who still live and the hot dog vendors who live as well. They’re drifting down onto me and this Elmo, who still grips me in the warmest embrace I’ve had since the last time I saw my father.
“We’re... fine,” I manage.
“See, I told you there was nothing to worry about,” Elmo says, patting me on the back with his fuzzy mitt. “Old Bucky Fuller knew just what he was doing.”
In the sky above us, the tiny particulate bits of the Manhattan Dome begin to swirl into circles and arcs in the sky, caught by the breeze. The very first breeze to touch Manhattan in a very long time.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed A March Story. A very special thank you goes out all of the various people who contributed via Twitter. Also, special thanks to Robin Sloan, Kate Lee, Chloe Sladden, and Jill Stephenson.
If you’re a writer who likes to experiment, I encourage you to try something like this. Set challenges, involve your readers, play with different platforms. I learned a lot through this process! As always, find me on Twitter at @magicandrew.