Normal

“The disturbing trend that has developed over the last few days has been confirmed globally…” droned the news.

Marty just sat there in his tiny living room, watching the world disintegrate. The old wooden floor holding up his old recliner, his body situated into its familiar grove amongst the golden and red flower pattern upholstery.  There was something fascinating and terrifying happening outside. He made the decision to only watch it on T.V.  It was must see programming.

“… and now let’s check in with sports and that sack of shit Tom Michelle.  Hey Tom, is there anything worthwhile going on in sports or should I just tell our viewers to go fuck themselves?”

It was hard not to laugh at the insanity.  Everywhere in the world chaos was in bloom.  People no longer cared about the social mores that held humanity together.  It was like a switch was flipped and everyone spoke their minds without a filter. Many acted out their impulsive and sometimes horrible thoughts. You could be standing in line at the store and have the guy behind you suddenly decide he needed to throw an egg at the cashier just to see what would happen.  Anger, violence, retaliation; all these things were crawling all over the planet like a swarm of ants finally feasting on a crumb for which they had been desperately searching.

The T.V. had erupted into a ruckus as a fist fight broke out. Marty decided to turn it off; he couldn’t watch anymore.

Sometimes he would mumble to himself something about how it all wasn’t fair. He didn’t understand how it was possible that something he had struggled with his whole life was now normal. He didn’t “play nice” with others, he never had, he was just born unfiltered.  He had been in trouble many times simply for the fact that he preferred to not shut his mouth.  Now everyone was doing it. The problem for Marty was that he couldn’t relate to watching other people act like maniacs.  His hope was that somewhere out in what was happening he could find something he had never had: connection.

He stood and stretched, scratched, sighed and hung his head as he strolled to the window.  His white shirt and boxers were stained but clean.  His hair wild like his beard, unkempt but unsoiled.  He hadn’t gotten out of his chair for about a day; it was time to get up and look outside.

The curtains felt rough in his hands.  He sat there feeling the fabric between his fingers as he worked through the apprehension of what might be out there.  Three days ago the world was a perfectly average place.  Each day after things got a bit worse.  The first day there were screams and sirens, the second only the screams remained.

He looked up and swallowed hard as he pulled the curtain aside.  It was evening, there was no one outside, but it was obvious that there had been, and a great many at that.  Cars left in the middle of intersections, windows smashed.  Deep ruts cut by car tires had destroyed a row of lawns on one side of his street, houses painted with mud and dirt.  Trash lay everywhere as their cans had been tipped, thrown, run over. It looked like someone tried to unsuccessfully burn the house across the street, black soot streaked the garage door and siding.

Marty closed the curtain and walked back to his chair.  He looked at his phone to see if someone, anyone, had reached out to him, but he had no messages. He collapsed into its well-worn cushions and closed his eyes.  All he had ever wanted was to be normal, to have normal relationships and share in the happiness he saw in others.  If the world stayed this way he feared he would get his wish, but not in a way he ever wanted.

He began to doze into a vivid dream. He stood on a city street. The sky was ablaze with the light of many fires, huge fires. He was looking up at something in the sky above him, but couldn’t focus his vision on it.  The breeze was warm on his skin.  Weight in his hand made him look down and he saw he was carrying an oversized briefcase in his right hand and an axe in the other.  He could smell the smoke in the air.

“Marty, come on, we need to go.”

Marty’s eyes shot open.  He knew that voice, the voice in his dream, the one that shocked him into waking up, but it was quickly fading.  His shirt was damp with sweat and his muscles felt tense as he leaned forward.

“Piss in my mouth… what was that?” he whispered to himself.

Looking at his watch he saw it was now six-thirty in the morning, Monday morning.  He wondered for a moment if he even needed to go to work with the chaos going on. If nothing else he needed to go and see if his office was still there, get his things, and see what downtown was like after the weekend.

Heading into the mast bath he started the shower. In the bedroom that he rarely used he got a suit from the closet and laid it out on the bed.  Every morning something his father said ran through his head, ‘Martin, in the morning you get your clothes ready then you shit, shower, and shave. Triple S Martin, triple S…”

“Stupid old man…” he said as he stepped into the shower.

Marty liked his showers hot, very hot.  He would stand there just letting the water run down, streaking his skin with lines of red as his body reacted to the intense heat.  He felt like he was paying a silent penance in the shower for not conforming to the world.  It was his private place, the only place he felt he could have any sort of privacy to think about what was happening in his life.

A pounding on the front door broke his calm.  At first he ignored it, but when it just became a constant thudding and his teeth began to clench at every sound he sighed and got out of the water.  He clad himself in a robe, still dripping wet, and walked to the door. Through the peep hole he could see one man, face looking down, knocking over and over.

He curled his fingers around the baseball bat he kept by the door and shouted, “What! What do you want?”

“Mr. Klein I want to talk to you about something,” the man replied. He didn’t stop knocking.

He wasn’t an idiot. He knew that given the state of the world right now this person probably didn’t just want to chat.  Tightening the robe’s belt he gripped the bat and flung the door open.

“What!?” he shouted at the person, still mid knock.

The man stepped back startled and Marty could see it was he neighbor, an overweight accountant named Dennis. They had what Marty called a tolerant relationship, though it was clear that neither of them much cared for each other.

“Dennis, what could you possibly want to talk to me about?”

The men locked eyes and stared at one another for a few uncomfortable moments.  A smirk emerged on Dennis’ face.

“Oh, you know, I was just thinking about something… wanted to tell you something… It’s about your cat, the one that was constantly shitting in my flower beds. Last night I caught it, mid-crap, in my back yard.  I hit it with my shovel and burned it in my fireplace.”

“Dennis, I don’t own a cat.  Never have.  Good job. You probably killed some sweet neighborhood kids pet.  Be sure to tell that story to them when you find them. Now fuck off!” Marty shouted as he slammed the door on his neighbor.

As Marty went to go finish his shower he was struck at how a man like Dennis had made the decisions that he had.  He was a non-confrontational, quiet man.  That he had become not only brazen enough to come and try to confront his neighbor, but to kill an animal as well. This made Marty worry about what he would encounter on his way into downtown.

Clean and dressed Marty took the precaution to get his little Smith and Wesson revolver from his safe.  He checked it over; it was clean and properly maintained.  He grabbed a few of his loaded moon clips as well, just in case.  He hadn’t carried a firearm in years, not since he moved behind the scenes in his business, no longer dealing with street criminals. It felt familiar and a bit disturbing stowing the weapon away in his holster.

Marty took a look at his chair on his way out the door.  His dream hit him again.  It was so short, so vivid, and the voice that woke him was familiar in a way that he couldn’t explain.

A charred cat carcass greeted him on his front porch.  Insanity was apparently coming in multiple flavors. People were not acting anywhere close to what his experience had been with them previously.  As he considered this he could hear his father’s voice again, ‘Martin, you need to be genuine. That you mean’s you act and treat everyone exactly the same regardless of who they are.  People will respect you more that way.’

“Let’s hope I don’t end up like that cat,” he said as he stepped over the burnt carrion and headed to his car.

The big tires of his SUV crunched through intersections, over broken glass, around abandoned vehicles.  As the morning came upon the work week he wasn’t the only one that decided to head to their office.  Cars began to creep down the streets through the calm suburbia that he called home. Not many, not nearly as many as usual, but a few.

A few blocks from the freeway on ramp he saw two such commuters having a stand-off of sorts.  Two men had pulled over into a gas station parking lot and were standing toe-to-toe with one another, gesturing violently.  A gas station attendant, acting under the same unknown motivation that was consuming people everywhere, decided to intervene. He was uncoiling a hose and wheeling pressure washer used to clean the parking lot towards the two men.  As Marty drove past the scene a blast of water sent the men running, the attendant laughing manically as he chased them out of the parking lot.

Marty drove down the freeway and turned on the radio.  He liked to listen to news radio as he started his day.  He was about to hit the programmed button for the public broadcasting station when he heard the DJ on the rock station speaking.

“You know, I’ve always hated my job, no one is listening.  I could be sitting here telling you all about how I’m only wearing boxers, dick hanging out the flap, masturbating to pictures on the computer from a tranny website and no one would care.  I love she-males…”

With that he hit the button and tuned in the BBC World News.  The reporter seemed as though he was really maintaining composure as he reported on the situation.

“…attempting to determine the exact extent of the damage caused over the weekend.  TSA officials could not be reached for comment, but local law enforcement confirms the crash of at least 4 passenger airliners over the weekend.  All crashes are believed to be caused by the phenomena.  BBC confirms that many airports are in chaos as flights are being canceled to prevent further deaths.

“Scientists still have no explanation for the spontaneous degeneration of society that started Friday evening. Reports from all corners of the globe confirm that this is a mass pandemic.  Victims report that the feel no symptoms but medical experts confirm that hormone levels and endocrine function fluctuate wildly among all those tested over the weekend.”

Marty turned off the radio.  Nothing was known about how the whole of humanity simply went crazy and stayed that way. If something is known then governments are keeping the information under wraps.  He considered heading to his doctor and requesting a blood test.  He needed to know if he was being affected or not.

The sound of a revving engine and horn from behind him broke his train of thought.  In his rear view mirror he saw a silver Cadillac swerving back and forth, flashing it’s headlights at him.  Marty looked down and saw he was clipping along at 80 down the mostly empty freeway.  He was actively passing other vehicles but chose to merge over to let the Cadillac pass.  It didn’t, it merely changed lanes to get behind him and continued to blare its horn.

Marty pulled off the freeway at his typical exit and slowed.  The car stayed with him, now close enough that it would be dangerous for Marty to slow suddenly.  He could feel adrenaline surge in him, the way it used to when he worked in the field.  It always told him when shit was about to hit the fan.

Flooring it his SUV easily put distance between him and the Cadillac.  He made a quick right off the ramp and drove a half block into a large supermarket parking lot.  He sped through, watching the Cadillac as it continued to pursue him, and move away from the buildings out into the emptiest part of the lot.  He parked, passenger side of the vehicle facing the direction of the Caddy. He knew better than to get out right away.

The Cadillac screeched to a halt and the drivers and passengers doors opened.  Two very large gentlemen stepped out, both in business wear.  One clutched a metal baton in his hand, fully extended.  They stood at the front of the Cadillac and stared into Marty’s SUV’s tinted windows. They were shouting something but Marty didn’t hear them, he was already riding his fight or flight response and grabbed his pistol, setting on the passenger seat.

Rolling down the passenger window Marty shouted, “Can I help you guys?”

The driver, an older and stocky man, responded, “You bet mother fucker, you better get out, you need a driving lesson.”

He could feel his eyes roll back in his head, “Really, cause I wasn’t the one swerving all over and looking like an ass on the freeway.”

“You son-of-a-bitch! You didn’t signal when you changed lanes. You need a lesson in manners,” the second man interjected.

Marty grabbed his pistol, got out, and slowly walked around the back of his vehicle.  Both men he could see were out of shape; sweat beading on their brows.  They didn’t intimidate him, but he wasn’t in the mood to play games.  He needed to get to his office and figure out what was happening.  As he walked into the open he made the gun visible, hoping that it would frighten the men off.

“Will you look at that? Can you believe this idiot? He thinks he’s going to shoot us,” said the driver.

“Big mistake,” replied the other.

Both men began to move toward Marty. He lifted his gun and shouted, “Don’t move, Federal Agent. I will shoot.”

They didn’t stop.  Marty hadn’t shot his weapon in years and didn’t want to intentionally injure these men.  They appeared to be afflicted with the same malady as the rest of society.  He let the driver come and swing on him once with the baton. He easily dodged; the man had no sense of how to fight. He was simply enraged.  Marty took aim at the vehicle and fired two shots.

There was a stillness and silence after the crack of the discharge.  The first bullet punctured the driver side door. The second punched a hole in the windshield.  The two men didn’t move as Marty moved to aim at the driver. They simply froze and stared at the vehicle.

“I don’t have time to play gentlemen.  You aren’t equipped to be a threat, and I’d hate for either of you to be in need of medical attention. More than that though, if you don’t leave right now I don’t see you surviving.  Now be good and piss off.”

The two men ran back to the car and got in.  Marty didn’t move the gun off of the vehicle until it was clear of the parking lot.  He immediately regretted discharging his weapon but was glad things hadn’t gone worse. He also regretted saying he was law enforcement.  He hadn’t been with the Bureau for just about seven years.  This was the first time he had been in danger like he was back then; everything sort of went into autopilot.

Marty lowered his weapon and looked down.  His hand tingled from the discharge.  The adrenaline was wearing off and he could feel the rush in his blood cool.  He looked out across the parking lot towards the store.  No one seemed to care that two shots had just rang out.  He watched two homeless men throwing beer cans at each other, fighting over who got to use the deposit machine next.

His office was located in the center of Downtown on the third floor of a modern work of architecture that housed mostly law offices.  Things were quiet as he pulled into the parking garage.  A fraction of the cars that usually filled the spaces were present, but still, some people had come into work.

Maybe he was hoping for something that wasn’t going to be possible.  Maybe other people were hoping for it also, and that’s why he came in as well.  He wanted it to be normal again, even more after his encounter with the Cadillac. His hope was that things were just going to fade away when he got to work.  Perhaps these other people who came hoped that as well.  He didn’t believe it was going to happen, but he wanted it to be.

The elevator doors opened and the lights on the third floor were out. Engineering hadn’t come in that morning, or if they had, they were behind schedule.  Marty took a right and walked down to the corner office.  On the glass double doors the words Klein and Mattox: Security Solutions.

Marty hadn’t even thought about David, his partner in their security business.  David Mattox was the technology end of things; Marty was the logistics and implementation. David usually lived at the office but had just left on vacation Friday, in the morning, before everything went to shit.

He unlocked the door and went inside.  There wasn’t a receptionist right now.  They relied heavily on temp agencies because of the inconsistent hours they kept in the office.  Most of their clients were law firms in the building and each firm had a point of contact that had Marty’s direct line.  Clients outside the building were well established contracts that also called him directly.  If they ever did need someone in the office, say, to impress a new client, they would use a temp for a few days.  It was only for window dressing.

Marty punched in the key code for his office door.  Both his and David’s offices had too much private data to not have advanced security features.  When they started their business they knew that they wanted to set an example with their offices. During the renovation they had three inch steel plating installed on every wall, the floor, and ceiling of their offices.  The doors were bullet proof and like a safe with magnetic locks controlled by a nine digit code that was changed once a month.  They wanted to set the standard high for the types of clients that they were going for and their gambit had paid off.  Celebrities, the Federal Prosecutors Office, Fortune 500 companies, they all came requesting the services that Marty and David could provide.

Marty plugged in his phone, still uncomfortably silent given the state of things.  Either his clients all had such confidence in him and his abilities that they didn’t feel the need to check in or they were all totally insane and couldn’t tell which way was up right now.  He logged into his computer and brought up his email and security services software.  He could login to any camera that David had installed in any client location and usually spent Monday reviewing the video feeds from over the weekend.

David had coded the video software, and it was a work of absolute genius. The system would monitor the video to recognize programmable red flags; people that were on exclusion lists, stalkers, suspicious movement or activity.  It would then catalog all those clips and rank them based on level of severity.  When Marty logged in he wasn’t really surprised at the number of flagged clips given all of the clients and the state of things.  That the list contained several items of a maximum security level was what was most concerning.  In the time since they opened they had only had a handful of maximum level videos, but today there were over 100 flagged entries.

Marty began reviewing the security videos.  Video review was something that he enjoyed.  He was so cynical that seeing his clients act like idiots or addressing security issues through the videos was not as emotionally taxing on him as it was on David.  Marty poked fun at David sometimes over how he handled a video once.  David was watching a video outside of a wealthy client’s home that had been flagged by the software.  In the video their 16 year old daughter had managed to back over the family dog and she just kept going.  The vehicle clearly lurched, twice, as the wheels crushed the pet.  She had to have noticed but just chose to drive away without a care in the world.  David called the client in a panic and the daughter answered.  He swore that her exact words were ‘Yeah, I was in a hurry. Why don’t you review the videos and tell me which one of my friends stole my stash rather than try to get me in trouble for killing that stupid animal?’  He broke down and started crying at his desk.  From then on Marty called them Speedbump Films.

Today the videos were different.  Friday night the flagged videos showed people trying to gain access to places that they shouldn’t go, but nothing major.  Saturday the videos quickly degraded into total anarchy.  At one client site two cleaning personnel got into a fight over what looked like a rag they both had reached for at the same time.  In another a man passes a woman in a hallway, turns to her, says something and she turns and leaps at him, dragging him to the floor while beating and clawing at him.  Surveillance video outside of a Federal investigation site they have been working on showed the target going out to the surveillance van with a fire extinguisher, smashing out a window, and filling the van with fire retardant causing the agents inside to flee the van. They opened fire on the target as he approached them to continue to hose them down with the extinguisher.

Video after video showed just total anarchy and it kept getting worse and worse.  Marty could see the progression.  It might have started with people just saying rude or unfiltered things to one another, but the longer the situation remained without a resolution the worse it got.  People were dying.  He didn’t know where to begin or if it was even going to be worthwhile for him to start investigating the events.

Marty pushed back against the desk and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t know what the hell was happening but he knew that he didn’t feel different. He kept his calm, or what was calm for him, with the two road rage guys earlier.  He needed a plan, and the first step was going to be to determine if he was still himself.

As a former government agent he had a great network of contacts.  He grabbed his phone and began scrolling through his contacts.  But who should he call?  He thought about calling his normal doctor, he was a reasonable man, but with everything that was happening he didn’t think that reasonable was what he needed.  If he felt normal he needed someone that shared his temperament.

Hoping that perhaps like-minded people might be as normal as could be possible he scrolled through to an old FBI forensic scientist he had worked with in the past.  This man still worked for the Bureau and had all the testing equipment that would be needed.  Once more, this man might be privy to information not normally available to the media and the public at large.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

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