“AFTER”

FROM THE FILES OF DR. ETHAN BROOME

14 September. It was the money, of course.  In the end, it was the money.  No virus, no war,  no tsunami or terrorist… it was the money.  It stopped working.  At first, no one knew what this meant, but people who were paying attention seemed REALLY worried.   By the time it registered that this time it was different, the first days had already began. Communication went out first… mass, then personal… at least here.  Other people say it happened different everywhere… cable first, then phone… power last, wait no… before the phone.  Confusion was the first wave that crested.

Then came delusion… for at least a day and a night when the trucks and planes and ships stopped moving.  Everyone not building up the courage to smash a store window was huddled behind locked doors attached to high-rise apartment buildings and vast stretches of the suburbs.  In some places, the belief that someone was gonna come save everyone lasted all the way to the end… The moment everyone ran out of food.

I still remember the highways…  Clogged with traffic already straining on a lack of fuel, eventually turning into mass waves of refugees roaming over and between mile after mile of abandoned vehicle….

I remember people surviving in the cities… the shockwave that went through as every political and religious group with the balls to arm itself started muscling out the ones without.  The alliances, the adaptation… The rise of the Factions… fighting each other with whatever fuel they could find in the corpse of the old society… burning out against each other until it was gone, most of it… all the gas, all the bullets… food, medicine… everything… the warehouses were empty, only the meagrest scavengings remained.  And the survivors… all of us shell-shocked and wide-eyed and just too petrified to even fight anymore.

Years ago now, all of it, but I remember… I remember being like so many others… wandering into the stretches of land between the cities, learning to trade with a few, live some off the land, whatever we had to do…  Small patches of us, cobbling together what we can here and there.  It’s a different world now, and as time goes by there are fewer and fewer of us who remember what it was like before.  But we all remember the lesson of watching the Old Society crumble around us… The future isn’t promised.”

– Diary fragment found in ashes of unknown settlement, 3 mls. East of Statesville, I-40 corridor, preserved in ARC Catalogue, NC Local.  Dated Year 12 AFTER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

E.B.:    Okay, that’s got it.  I think.  Testing, one two.  Okay, lemme run it back…

M.R.:    Is that a tape reco…

<BREAK IN TAPE>

E.B.:    Okay, that’s better, it’s rolling now for certain.

M.R.:   Want me to go on?

E.B.:    Sure, pick up from last.  Tell me about the rumors, right after communication went out.

M.R.:   They were everywhere.  I mean, everyone was talking about something, rumors coming in about other cities.  I remember hearing about a huge fire in Atlanta, um… everyone thought DC had been nuked or gassed or whatever, depending on who you talked to.  The New York stories were the worst, there’s no way they could have all been true.  Seemed like everyone had heard a rumor from someplace, but it was weird at first… you couldn’t tell what was true or not since the TV stopped working.

E.B.:    And you were in… Charlotte, North Carolina, correct?

M.R.:   Yes.  That’s correct.

E.B.:   Kind of a mid-sized city Before, right?

M.R.:    Yeah, pretty much.  I guess it was sort of isolated when the Collapse happened… I mean, Before it was big enough to be rolling on it’s own steam… but During it seemed to be isolated enough to hold it together for much longer than other places.

E.B.:      How much longer?

M.R.:    [SUBDUED LAUGHTER] I guess days, a week at most.  I’m sure it seemed longer than it was… the days started stretching out right at first.  Kinda weird, I mean… Before, with clocks running and television on and all that… seems like the days just flew.  When the Collapse was happening everything just kind of started dragging.  No one was used to it.  But Charlotte… it kind of held itself together, right up till the Big Blink.

E.B.:    What do you mean, exactly… “Held itself together?”

M.R.:    I mean, people kept going to work and shit… I dunno, it was like everyone just took it for granted things were gonna get better at first.  Plastic stopped working… I remember seeing every store front with ‘Cash Only’ signs getting put up in the windows.

E.B.:    They were still taking paper?

M.R.:    Yeah, at first… My company did for the first day or two, before I quit going in and started trying to find a way out of the city.  Which was weird, cause customers were still coming in those first few days… We couldn’t even talk to corporate.  It was like everyone was in denial, I guess… like getting up and going to work was the only thing that kept them sane.

E.B.:    That’s pretty sad.

M.R.:    [LAUGHTER] Yeah, no shit.  Especially looking back on it now.

E.B.:    So what about the Big Blink?

M.R.:    You tell me.  I mean, you’re the scholar… do you know what caused it?

E.B.:    No, I mean… Well, I do, actually… But we’ll get into that later.  What was it like in Charlotte? You said the city was still running a little when it happened.

M.R.:    Trying to, anyway.  There were still trucks trickling in, I think, but gas and food were in REAL short supply… Hell, by that time I was trying to get out with my girlfriend.  I could pretty much read the writing on the wall.  Gassed up the truck, had some full cans stashed away, as much herb as I could carry, and hit the shoulder of the nearest interstate [LAUGHTER].  I didn’t make it far.

E.B.:    The traffic was already jammed at that point?

M.R.:    Oh yeah, that was a constant thing from the first few days.  Ironic, really… All I ever did in that city was fight traffic… then at the end, the Big Blink… Everything cut out… every running electronic… Everything from cars to music players to gas pumps… Whatever was still running just stopped… And there sat Charlotte… Entombed in cars.

E.B.:    You know, that might have been the last traffic jam in the Western Hemisphere.  Nice legacy.

M.R.:    Yeah, really.  I met a man who’d come through there not to long ago… he said the whole city was still like that… useless cars clogging every street, all rusted through now, most of them…

E.B.:    Hang on… Tape’s going again… Dammit…

M.R.:    Oh yeah, no pro…

[TAPE CUTS OFF, NO FURTHER MATERIAL]

Transcript of interview fragment.  Dr. Ethan Broome, interviewing.  Preserved in ARC Catalogue, NC Local.  Dated Year 14 AFTER.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“It’s not what you stand for in the heat of the moment,

It’s what you leave behind when the moment is over.

It’s a truth that’s as real as reality gets,

That’s as real as the blood, and the flesh that it wets.

That’s as real as the breath, that escapes from the chest.

That’s as real as the love, between two homies yes.

It’s as real as it gets,

when nothing real at all’s left.

Between claps from the shells, sixteen out of nines,

there’s a knowledge that takes you, in heart and in mind.

The truth of the Eye, all-seeing and wise.

The eternal connection, of all space and time.

It’s the sight of the line, between all life and death,

it’s the roar of the Lamb, and the Dragon’s great breath.

Between the glow of the flames, and the din of the storm,

The matter and shape of the Great Truth is formed.

And within what you know, turned out from inside,

these words will appear to a watchful mind’s eye:

It’s not what you stand for in the heat of the moment,

It’s what you leave behind when the moment is over.”

-Repeated hip-hop lyrics heard amongst the various Tribal Gangs in the Eastern North Carolina region. Dr. Ethan Broome, recording. Preserved in ARC Catalogue, NC Local. Dated Year 11 AFTER.

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