Exercising the craft–July 7, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Internet is gone–Something happened overnight. The Internet has been destroyed. Your favorite Web sites are gone. You can’t check Email. You can’t blog. Finish the story.

http://www.fictionaddiction.net/Writing-Prompts/free-writing-prompts-1.html

 

Casey heard the alarm and groaned. Her deadline pounded inside her head, sharing space with what felt like would become a massive headache. But staying up late to finish the piece would pay off later that day. All she had to do was proofread it once, email it to her editor, and then she’d have the rest of the afternoon to herself.

She reached for her phone, turned off the alarm, and stifled a yawn. Stretching, she sat up in bed and swiped through the menus on her phone until she found the shortcut for her office email. Casey tapped on it and waited.

“Error 6624. Program not found.”

She frowned. Why does this have to start acting up now?

She closed the window, waited a minute, and then tapped it again. Once again the error message popped up. Clucking her tongue in annoyance, she got out of bed and headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

Casey came back to her nightstand a few minutes later, swiping on her phone with a little more force. She stabbed the screen, but it did no good. Her email refused to load. She threw the phone on the unmade bed and grabbed her computer.

I can’t deal with tech issues today! Ryan’ll have my head if he doesn’t get that email before nine!

She looked at the clock and willed her laptop to boot up as fast as possible. As soon as the home screen appeared, Casey swiped the mouse pad toward her web browser. She double tapped the mouse and waited.

“Error 6624. Program not found.”

“Argh! What the—”

With another check on the clock, Casey jogged into her closet. She left her pajamas in a heap on the closet floor and pulled on the first pair of jeans and t-shirt she found. The hangers swung wildly, one flying off the bar and landing on top of her pajamas. Casey dropped her USB into her purse and left her apartment building as fast as she could without breaking a leg as she ran down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor.

She pulled out of the complex and hesitated at the light where she normally turned to go to the office.

I can’t go in looking like this. And if I can’t give Ryan any more reasons to pull me from the front page of Features.

Changing her intended direction, she drove to the library. She got out of the car and speed walked to the entrance. An elderly gentleman eyed her curiously, and suddenly Casey realized what she must look like to other people.

Come on, Case, you’ve gotta stop freaking out. Ryan doesn’t know anything yet, and you’ve got an awesome story. Just get it to him, and the rest’ll take care of itself.

“Ma’am!”

Casey ignored the librarian at the front desk. She jogged up the stairs to the second floor of the library where she knew she’d find computers for public use. As she came to the top of the staircase, she saw a few librarians crowded around two or three desktops. They were all frowning and discussing something.

Her heart began to drum. Something had gone terribly wrong. She just knew it. That antenna that always went up when she had reached the heart of her stories had just gone up.

Still, she decided to fight her instincts. She inhaled slowly, let it out slowly, and attempted a smile. It didn’t feel like one, but she kept trying.

“Good morning,” she said as she approached the group. “I just needed to use a computer to send an email. My boss is waiting for an article I wrote, and I’m kind of on a deadline. Can I just pick one?”

One of the librarians, an older woman with a small swath of gray in her brown hair, stepped forward.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but the internet isn’t working on any of the computers. We’re just getting error messages.”

Her breathing became shallow. That jerk said he’d do something. Could he really—

Casey turned on her heel and flew down the stairs. She streaked through the parking lot and put as much speed in her car as he could while trying to avoid hitting anyone. When a light turned red just as she approached the intersection, Casey floored the gas pedal.

She’d driven to the address so many times in the last few months, but she never thought she’d go there with such a strong hunch. She wanted to be wrong—God, please let me be wrong, otherwise we’re all screwed—but the closer she got to her destination, the more she knew there could only be one explanation for what had happened.

Few knew about the internet servers. People thought of the Midwest as a collection of small towns, large farms, and simple folk. No one thought of it as the location of the servers controlling the internet in all of North America. And why would they? Farmers actually used most of the warehouses around the server buildings as warehouses for their crops and sometimes livestock. People never got past the smell of animals, manure, and freshly cut grass.

But Casey knew better. She’d spent months patiently nursing her sources and the story in her USB would have blown the entire situation wide open. Casey had met with her sources in the middle of the night or 100 miles away from town or even shipped them prepaid cell phones that they would throw out later.

She’d spent time finding out more about James Roland, the man who had a major grudge against the creators of the world’s largest internet service provider. They had wronged him, stolen all his ideas, given him no credit, convinced his wife to leave him, and made sure he had no friends.

So Roland claimed. His friends and wife had reassured Casey that Roland had lost his mind many years ago. Unfortunately the programming and engineering part of his brain had stayed; those parts hadn’t gone anywhere. And had he actually fulfilled his aspirations to work for the internet service provider that eventually became his biggest nemesis, maybe he would have taken the World Wide Web to another level.

Casey parked her car as close to the front of the main server warehouse as she could get, but even from her distance she felt the heat from the flames and dread spread throughout her limbs. Her knees felt weak, and she started trembling. When Roland had received a guilty verdict in court for tampering with and attempting to disable the ISP’s mainframe, he’d hurled threats into the courtroom at the prosecutor’s table. The psychiatrist had already done a nice job of establishing his mental state, so who could take a crazy person seriously?

But now, Casey realized as she watched the flames reach the sky, they would take him seriously. Everyone would. And he would finally achieve his dream of taking the internet to a whole new level. Nonexistent.

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