real lj idol | week 33, prompt 2 | 791 words
The call that never came. (Note: this is set in the same universe as this story, which it might be best to read first).
Jenny Glass and her husband John had heard the rumors, of course, but there were always rumors. With a two-year-old son and a baby on the way, those weren't the kinds of thing you discussed at the dinner table.
Those things, you whispered in the dark.
What started out as pillow talk became scattered bursts of communication (always outdoors, never in the same place). They tried to make sense of what they'd heard and seen thus far, and (don't panic, it's too early for that) tried to figure out just how bad things would get.
Before long, there were more and more religious groups clamoring for the country to steer away from the distractions of technology and return to simpler times. No one paid much attention at first, thinking the government would surely ignore them. Besides, people who wanted that kind of radical change were always free to choose it for themselves. The Amish had been doing it for centuries.
But everything changed after the satellites went down. All the newspapers reported that the Chinese government had destroyed the satellites, but a lot of people didn't believe that. Over time, it began to seem less and less true.
Nobody really knew what they were supposed to do after that, so they stuck to the same things they'd always done. John drove to the office to work on the same software project as before, an advanced Data Recognition system. His coworkers did the same. They were all certain the satellites would be replaced right away—the whole country had lost the Internet, television, and national radio broadcasting overnight, and people depended on those things. Because John's office had backed-up their code locally and still had an internal LAN, they could make progress while they waited, even if it was on a slower scale.
Some of John's colleagues told him that other companies' projects were being cancelled, that the funding was drying up. He relayed the news to Jenny, and admitted that it all sounded pretty suspicious. All of those companies losing funding, and the government saying nothing about repairing the Internet or even fixing basic television broadcasting? The whole country was cut off from itself and from the rest of the world, and the nation's leaders didn't consider that urgent?
Two days later, John went to work and he didn't come back.
Jenny was beside herself. Part of the local phone system still worked, but when she called John's office, nobody answered. She called his number, one of his friend's numbers, and the main office number, but she couldn't get a hold of anyone—not even an answering service. Finally, she called police dispatch, only to be told that she needed to file a Missing Person's report.
She tried so hard to be calm for Charlie, always offering him the reassurances she wished she believed herself. Still, he clung to her and cried, and all she wanted to do was just cry along with him. She'd never felt so alone and scared in her life, or so trapped. She couldn't even leave the house, always afraid that John might call or that someone else (please, not someone else) might finally have something to tell her.
A person couldn't just disappear, there had to be someone who knew where he was—a friend, or a hospital (or worse). God, why hadn't he come home? It had been three days (a week, two weeks) with no news of him. Why hadn't his friend Ed called anyone, and what about Michael Schroeder's wife? Jenny asked around quietly, messages passed through friends-of-friends. What she learned wasn't promising: none of the local people who'd worked at John's office had been heard from again.
Three weeks later, the baby was born. Jenny would sit in the rocker with him at night, all seven and a half pounds of him, and wonder how on earth her life had come to this. Six months ago, she'd had a good marriage with a wonderful man, and both she and John were safe and healthy and working at ordinary, non-hazardous jobs. Now she was a single mother (or a widow), raising two young children on her own. No matter how she tried, she couldn't find anyone to tell her what had happened—or to explain why it was all getting worse.
Where are you, John?
Rocking the baby in her bedroom-turned-nursery, she sometimes asked herself which was better: hoping that John was still alive, or knowing the truth—even if it turned out to be so awful that it completely destroyed her?
In the meantime, she sat in the dark and waited, watching the road for headlights and any sign that John or the sad story behind his disappearance might someday come.
Voting for all stories for this LJ Idol prompt is here. Only 18 stories, so they're a quick read!