Service

The second person that showed up was carrying a shotgun. He had two Labs with him and looked like he’d been hunting. He made eye contact from the far side of the smoking crater and we both looked down at the cooling metallic teardrop embedded below us.

The first person returned from taking a leak behind the mound of black soil that ringed the crater. She smiled and waved to the hunter.

“Weird, huh?” she said to him.

“Yep,” the hunter said.

“Now, about that coffee,” she said to me and smiled as if we’d know each other for years, instead of about 12 minutes. I handed her the steaming thermos-top, full of my morning ritual. She blew on it and sipped. I don’t generally share with strangers, but this was, I had to admit, an unusual circumstance.

The hunter moved our way along the mounded rim. His boots sank deep into the freshly turned black soil. “Satellite, you reckon?”

“Probably so,” I said.

“It’s not all broken up though,” the woman said. She blew on my coffee and drank some more.

“That’s true,” I said, “and I didn’t see anything on my newsfeeds about it.”

I flipped out my cell again. Still no service. Even though we were in the middle of one of my plowed-under cotton fields, I usually got great service out here. The people who owned the field down by the highway had made a small fortune putting up a cell tower for one of the telecoms. It was an eyesore, but it made things easier for me out here, away from the world. I put it away, reluctantly.

“We can’t have been the only people to see it,” the woman said and passed me the cup.

“Got any more of that?” the hunter said as he trudged alongside.

I reached down and picked up the thermos I had planted in the loose dirt. I topped off the cup and then handed him the rest in the steaming thermos. I took a big sip from the cup and handed it back to the woman.

“Excuse my germs.”

She laughed and cupped her hands around the warm metal.

“I wish I had service,” I said and flipped out my cell again. Same result.

“Coffee’s good. Thanks,” the hunter said. His dogs wagged their way between us and sniffed at the basket on his hip. It probably held ducks from the river.

I nodded to him and frowned at my phone. “Must be interference from the satellite.”

His dogs began to whimper and ease down towards the cooling metallic teardrop.

“Come girls,” he commanded, startling the woman, who sloshed a little coffee.

The dogs reluctantly eased back up out of the crater.

“I think I’d like to take a closer look too,” the woman said and smiled at us. She handed me the cup and sucked the coffee off her thumb. She wiped her hands on her hips and began to ease down the crater.

“You think that’s a good idea?” the hunter asked, his voice telling us what he thought of it.

“Might be a bad idea,” I said, looking at my phone again with no success.

“Oh come on guys. Two men, dogs, and a shotgun. I’ll be okay.” She began to slide down the side of the crater. I made eye contact with the hunter. He screwed up his face and shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m going to try and get some service,” I said. “Don’t touch it, obviously.” I’d probably insulted her intelligence and I did find her curiosity fun. But at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, with fields to be disked and a satellite in the middle of one of them, I was about out of patience. I walked towards the highway, towards the tower. About fifty yards away I passed through the single file line of trees that separated their fields from mine. I began to see a bar blink. After another fifty yards and I got my wish. Service.

My newsfeed boxes were stacked up. Big media and small were cranking out stories so fast my inbox numbers rolled like a gas pump. I hesitated with so many choices. Then out of habit, I chose my favorite muckraker.

The headlines made no sense. Random violence and riots in cities across the country, and apparently, across the world. People were swarming through stores, cleaning out all the food. I searched “satellite” and got nothing useful. The newsfeeds slowed to a trickle.

I found a video from a sketchy website. The guy claimed that spacepods had fallen to the ground all over the planet and that the people who touched them became irrationally violent and hungry and that the people they attacked became infected too. Order was breaking down.

I heard the shotgun boom across the fields. Once. Twice.

I started running.

Ω

M.E. Ray  M.E. Ray's website lives in the Tennessee Valley. You can hear the highway and smell the river from the house where he and his wife live with more animals than you could count.  He teaches advanced classes in history and economics when he has to, and writes when he can.