[Author's note: this story is set in December 2020.]
I hop the train before texting, sure of the outcome already. Kevin will see the text, will debate himself, will lose, and we'll have a fun night in. It's that simple. I know the exact train, so this is a photo finish as I'm the last one aboard.
In the train, I find a seat behind a yuppie couple. They are heading back from their "First Time in the Big City", it's written on their faces. They smile those idiot grins, but only for the first couple of days, then they pick up the "local look", and panhandlers know to avoid them.
I set the sting on them, leave it running in my backpack. On my phone I watch their internet traffic and wonder who these two are.
Kevin texts, finally. He's still studying, working on his "magnum opus". In other words, his fucking final project. I can't wait for him to have a life again.
We flirt a bit with eggplant and rain emojis. I'm zoning out, the train ride is enough for me.
Sally, my sister, texts me: "where are you? off to fucktard's"
I think she added that name to her dictionary, she never misspells it.
"Yeah, going to see SOB." I type as the train heads west, into the suburbia and its particular sort of hell. She knows how I feel.
"Fuck. Hope his mom dies soon."
"I know. Me too. grin"
I hesitate, then quickly type it out: "I'm leaving him." I hit send and watch the little "eyes" icon.
She's read it.
"Dump his ass. You carried him through her fucking cancer."
Kevin texts me some rambling shit about one of his projects. He wired up his vape-pen to turn lights on and off. Big fucking whoop. I send back a random nerd emoji and he seems happy.
I keep an eye on the yuppies' internet, spot the ride-share messages, change the destination to an earlier station along the route. The ride-share responds in the affirmative.
I hop off four stations before the yuppies and pretend to be the man, Bryan, to the ride-share driver. During the ride - and before Bryan realizes anything is the matter - I train the sting on the driver's phone and block off all internet. He curses the cell coverage as he drops me off two blocks away from Kevin's place. I walk the rest.
"Mike! Come on in." The pitch of his voice is telling me everything I should know. There's an erection waiting for me. Lovely.
We fuck, and fuck again. I'm in a good place and find myself in a creative mood. I forget about my earlier intentions to leave Kevin.
We drank wine, my glass of white still on the table. I prop up a cloth behind it, adjust a light on the side, then pick up Kevin's vape.
It's got one of the Blueberry cartridges I got him for Christmas. He bites on the tip, I can tell that he's used these already a lot, even though he's had them for little more than a day.
I inhale a cloud and exhale it into the wine glass. It forms a rough cloud layer and I snap three photos, my fingers on autopilot. I push the vape button once, twice, thrice, then twice, then three times. I play with the timings, inhale on odd counts, that sort of thing. Exhale into the wine glass and blow into the glass with a straw, try to build up a strange and peculiar layer of fog. Click click click.
The vape buzzes in my hand. That's never happened before. Hasn't Kevin been messing with this thing? It plugs into a computer...
My phone begins to buzz.
My phone is buzzing, as is Kevin's. It's still on the kitchen table. We moved to the bedroom rather quickly last night, left behind everything, it seems.
I pick up my phone from our communal electronics pile, and apparently push the smart-TV remote, as the iPad on the wall comes alive and starts showing the streaming broadcast news. An ancient CRT TV bolted into corner of the kitchen comes on and in faded tones starts showing 4k drone footage of the explosion and its aftermath.
I'm getting a call from my mother and a constant barrage of incoming messages, from my sister, work friends, friends of Kevin's. I look up in the direction of the bedroom. Terror grips me and I need someone by my side. But I know it's not Kevin. He's my fuck-buddy, not...
I look back on the news.
The White House has been bombed.
"Hello, mom? Where are you?" They live in Georgetown. My heart is trying to leap out of my chest.
"Mikey, I don't understand, I just don't understand. What's going on? Why did they do this? Is it the Russians?"
She's rambling her usual litany, even now, at this terrible and momentous occasion. There are sounds of gunshots in the background, but my mother doesn't notice, she goes on and on about everything else, the wallpaper instead of the elephant.
The connection is mercifully cut by a disruption to the hardline, an automated voice says.
I hang up and navigate to CNN.com.
The building, alternatively engulfed in flames or black smoke, is the center-piece of the site. I hold back animalistic howls that rise up from deep within me. Someone just blew up the White House. How can this not be an attack on our country?
The front page has an auto-playing video, so the view of the White House lawn changes and now it's a drone flying from outside the fence, toward the building, catching the ruins from multiple angles.
Then the screen shows bright flashes around the building and the drone veers off, pulls away in a failed maneuver, some part of it gets hit by a bullet and the camera falls down in the lawn, amid a row of flowers, facing toward the burning White House. Agents swarm around, semi-automatics on full display.
The video cuts to a newsroom. The host looks into the camera, seemingly out of the phone and into my soul, and proclaims apocalypse.
"Simultaneous nuclear launches in seven- eight countries. We are now tracking missiles that will vaporize millions of humans. I repeat-"
The view switches to a different newsroom, a different fake background of city-appropriate skyline features, and a nervous young man in a suit, an assistant combing his hair at the last minute.
"Are we live?" He murmurs and seems to mean it, unsure even if the cameras are rolling. First day. First minute. "This is..." he blanks on his name and the company that signs his paychecks, but eventually stutters something out and starts a rambling delivery of by-the-minute info dump of the White House attack.
Graphics appear to the host's side, they are first an emoji of a mushroom cloud, then of a pair of hands clasped in prayer.
I open Instagram and prepare for the worst. But it's even worse than I thought.
Photos of the ruined White House are front-center. My usual cat-and-dog pairings and brunch photos are replaced with terrorism and death. Photographers were at the event. I see paraplegics missing limbs, wondering around in gala attire, the shaky cameras of shocked and traumatized millennials on the scene.
It was a New Year's Eve charity dinner. New senators, representatives, the incoming president. Perfect target.
The images show fences pulled apart, split and torn open to allow hundreds of uniformed militia through, weapons up and at the ready, running in formations. The pictures come from inside, document the violence, then show cowering office workers and tuxedo-wearing old-farts.
Slowly the images from the other side filter through. Journalists in battle uniform, seemingly embedded within the ranks of the storming militia. They show the successes from the viewpoint of the invaders.
Smoke and bullet holes share the screen with the white faces of the militia, they celebrate both themselves and their violence.
The photographers deliver images of armed men storming through the walled-off streets of the capital, show to the world the heroics as soldiers bomb the fences and climb through the smoky craters. The camera follows a white-haired man in his sixties, the perfect cheerleader for the cause, a decorated man of action, a colonel in the Army.
I know his name and rank. He is my father. The Instagram feeds come in quick succession as the embedded reporter captures shots around the developing battlefield.
The photographers, the Instagram journalists, follow and document this in a live feed and I get to watch in glorious 1080p as my father climbs over the White House rubble. He is inside the building now. The first soldier of the glorious army-
A barrage of bullets takes him down and my father is pinned behind the Resolution Desk. He made it to the distant shores of promise and freedom, and for his trouble he was gunned down.
I can't hold my phone and it drops from my fingers, clatters onto the floor as I sob and wail at the images.
Kevin bursts out of the bedroom, naked, livid: "STOP!" He grabs his phone from the table, unlocks it, taps furiously...
And just like that the Instagram feeds change, the CNN webpage reverts to holiday news, the CRT TV goes blue and shows a blinking number 3. The mirrors shattered, the smoke dissipated, and all that was left were two men.
"Kevin, what the fuck?" I ask. I yell. I rage.
Kevin stands in front of me, naked as a Roman statue, and just as imposing. It is a perspective I've never held before. He is a god.
He reaches over to the bookcase and takes a frame off it. It's a colorful frame of flowers around a piece of paper. On the paper is technical jargon, but in it are highlighted texts between myself and my sister. Where we discussed Kevin's mother. There is dust on the frame, it's been there on that shelf a long time, and I never saw it.
"Mike, I know you've been planning on dumping me right after my mother dies. Don't try to deny it, it's true." He looks at me with pity in his eyes. I want to scratch them out. Kevin looks around and stretches his hands wide to encompass his apartment, "This was supposed to go off next week, New Year's Eve. Your favorite day of the year."
I look down. Of course he is right, I spoke of him in disparaging terms, and with my sister we plotted out the breakup to maximize the hurt we would inflict on Kevin. I had began to so loathe the bastard, these past few months. But to engineer such a deception. To put me through this literal hell!
"I know my sins," I reply slowly. "But this, this is what you do to someone you love?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Mike. I never loved you, let alone trusted you." Kevin picks up my phone from the floor and hands it to me. "Oh. This personalized 'War of the Worlds' broadcast was brought to you as my final group project. You wouldn't believe how many of my classmates wanted to participate. Even got your dad, told the bastard that he's acting in sci-fi-themed propaganda for Special Ed kids, and he ate it up. Now, get the fuck out of my life. I think you know which train to take."