Liz Dubelman - Fiction


by Liz Dubelman

Lucy always set her iPhone alarm tone to harps because it reminded her of angels. She thought that gave the day a spiritual start, but she always woke up a few minutes before the angels and grabbed the phone to check her texts, email and news. Sometime during this process the harps would play, but not today.

On her phone the blue email icon had no numbers. Was it possible that Lucy had gotten nothing overnight? No spam, no newsletters, no notes from her boss? There were no emails at all, not even old ones. Was she having a nightmare? Was she dead? Why hadn’t the angels played the alarm harps?

She swiped to Facebook. It had none of the notices she expected, needed. When she opened the app it was a white screen, and in the upper left corner where her profile picture should have been - her profile picture of that perfect hair day – there was a shadow with a question mark. She sat straight up in bed, grabbed her laptop and took it to the bathroom.

Simultaneously, she felt the release of her bladder and utter dread at finding that she had no Internet service at all. The signal symbol that looked like a black and white rainbow was at full strength, but she couldn't get to any sites. No email, no music, no pictures. Did she even exist?

Feeling sick, she went back to bed. Clutching the phone to her chest, she tried a hard restart. She was going to text her friend, Missy. She would know what was going on and how to fix it. But her phone was a white nothingness. None of her old texts were there. Not the one from the new guy she’d just met on Bumble. Not the one confirming her dental appointment. Not even the many from her sister complaining that Lucy wasn't sisterly enough. There was no cellular service either. In full panic mode, she tried dialing 911.

The spinning gear appeared, indicating something like hope. Lucy took a deep breath, in through her nose filling her belly and out through her mouth, just like she had learned to do through the Kalm app. Finally a message appeared: "UNKNOWN ERROR. DISMISS." She checked her phone again. It was like the tundra.

Still in her flannels and Nasty Woman t-shirt, she slipped into the Uggs she kept under the bed in case of an earthquake. An earthquake would have been a relief. She had an earthquake preparedness kit that she'd bought on Amazon. What if there was no more Amazon? She couldn’t image having to go into a mall to buy all her stuff. Would transactions require sales clerks? She left the relative safety of her apartment.

Judging from the sun it was not yet seven o'clock. She walked two blocks south to the next biggest street. The traffic lights were flashing on all sides. The digital clock on the Wells Fargo Bank building was an ominous black rectangle like a coffin. She wasn’t used to looking up when she walked. She didn’t like the feeling so she started counting like she did when she was a child before her parents divorced. When she got to 37 she checked her phone. Nothing, so she started counting again. She saw an older woman half a block ahead walking two Shih Tzus. Lucy wasn’t used to talking to women over the age of forty whom she wasn’t related to.

“Do you know what’s going on?” Lucy asked, startling the woman and setting off the dogs. Lucy pointed to the stoplights flashing, as if it was a code that everyone but she could decipher. The woman murmured something about a possible power outage, then bent down to let the dogs lick her face. Lucy noticed that this kind of contact calmed down the dogs.

Lucy struggled to keep her heart from escaping her chest. She checked her lifeless phone again. She pressed the home button in rhythm like giving it CPR. She tried to steady herself by focusing on the ground supporting her and the breeze on her skin. That Kalm app was worth $2.99 a month. What if she had to remember everything it taught her?

The hospital towered on the horizon. If she was losing her mind, a hospital would be a good place to land. As she got closer there were more people on the street. Maybe there always were but she was so used to focusing on her phone she never noticed. A man in scrubs with ear-buds was talking on the phone. Lucy tried to stop him, but he was in the middle of giving very complicated medical instructions and, despite her frantic waving in front of his face, he paid her no attention. Maybe he was a first-responder.

The doors to the emergency room opened. A woman behind an L-shaped desk was talking to a man holding a bloodied handkerchief to his ear. On the television mounted high on the wall there were two newscasters, a gray-haired man and a woman who looked young enough to be his granddaughter.

"Hacktivist group Panic has claimed responsibility for the early morning attack on a four-block area of Santa Monica. We’re told that all power, Internet and phone service have been restored. Several tech giants are said to be working on a patch to restore data that may have been lost through malware that allowed the breach. This patch will help secure the future."

"Secure the future," the woman anchor repeated. Lucy felt the weight of her phone in her pocket. She took it out and, with cautious optimism, pressed the "home" button.

There was her background picture of the beach at sunset, along with the time and date. She pressed it again. Everything was there: 194 unread emails, a text that said, "what sup" and all her apps, including Kalm.