He told me it was only temporary, this crushing loneliness. Yet here I stand in amongst the rubble of my former life wondering if he knew he was lying or if things genuinely did change.
I wasn't always this. This negative, soulless shell of a human being. I guess the decline of humankind really does do that to a person though, sucks the life out of you little by little until one day you wake up and feel empty. It happens so quick yet so gradually that you don't see it coming until you look in the mirror and see three day old Cheetos stuck in your hair, empty eyes staring back at you. What happened to me?
I guess I should rewind a little bit. Toby ran into me one day on a grocery store run. I don't mean that in a meet cute way where our eyes locked across the room and felt the electric sparks of love at first sight. No, I mean he ran into me full pelt trying to get to the last bottle of milk. It was such a scene, he bowled me over, gave me a really impressive shiner all the while smashing the milk on the ground.
"You idiot!" I screamed. "I'm sorry" Toby mumbled "But you know how it is now, you either run for what you need or you go home empty handed".
He wasn't wrong. The world had really declined since the president rolled out some new chip that was meant to be the new and improved phone that isn't a phone. Like we all needed something to disconnect us more from humanity and reality as it was. The buzz was huge, this was revolutionary. Not to mention something that would get the president re-elected for another full term, no one had ever successfully achieved this before, and with good reason.
The chips were embedded at the base of the neck and things went according to plan. The rich got them first, they allowed people to call and text with a simple thought. Social media was now in your face, literally. Everyone wanted these chips but the roll out took time. A year in when they became more readily available is when things started to go wrong. A glitch in the mass production made the chips effect peoples brains in a terrifying way, making them almost zombie-like and violent. We called these people glitches due to the glitch in the system making them this way.
This really was the beginning of the end.
After our literal run in at the grocery store, Toby became like sand stuck to the bottom of wet jeans. He was annoying and clingy in that wet sand kind of way where no matter what you do its just never quite gone. But eventually his goofy tenacity tore down my 'don't talk to me' persona and we became friends, and a friend was a nice thing to have once people started losing themselves to technology.
Cities and towns were being looted and torn down, the 'glitches' were everywhere and would lash out and attack anyone they found that didn't have a chip, something to do with the programming to connect the chips in a social media way made them partial to each other. Nowhere was safe. Toby and I took shelter in a small place just to the right of the road out of town. The one that goes up the hill and then around that bend near that weird tree that looks like it could fall on you with the slightest gust of wind. We hid and lived there while the world collapsed around us. We had everything we needed, until one day resources ran out and we were in trouble.
"I'll go" Toby said. "Um excuse me idiot, if you go what am I going to do? Just sit here and wait for you wondering whether you made it or not?" Toby looked at me with a grin, that stupid adorable grin. You see I really did love him. But it's not that head over heels dizzy all consuming love you'd assume I had been winding up to tell you about. No it was a steady love, a solid one. A love that grew from us solely relying on each other in such a dark and desperate time. But it was love nonetheless.
"Well yeah that's exactly what I'm going to do. Why should we both put ourselves in danger when I'm way more capable of going to get supplies anyway?". I stared at him. He truly was stupid, and really annoyingly handsome in this light. Stop it Chloe. "Fine. Go" I sulked "But remember how we met. I don't think you are the most capable. I think you'll find the last bag of Cheetos and just like, squash them or something".
I was stalling. The truth was I didn't want him to go at all. It actually was so dangerous out there. People weren't people anymore, if Toby wasn't smart about his movements he could be torn apart. That day I was telling you about? When Toby and I met? Well we were in a mad rush all because we were trying to avoid the glitches. We collided trying to grab supplies, he wouldn't let me continue alone and hence this friendship, love, co-existence, began.
He looked at me straight in the eyes. "Chloe, I'm going to be fine. I know how to navigate safely, I'm not going to get caught". He could tell I wasn't buying it. "Here" He said as he handed me honestly the most tacky heart shaped locket I've ever seen. "What is this?" I asked, trying to hide my feelings toward the obvious parting gift he was trying to give me. "It's a locket obviously. I found it when we were trying to find somewhere to hide from the glitches that day we met. It was just on the ground near a store, I can't remember which one". He took my hand and pushed the tacky locket into it, my fingers curling around it. He had turned to leave before my eyes broke away from the hideous thing that I was holding in my hand.
So that was a week ago and now I'm sitting here dwelling on the worst. Dark thoughts are swirling around my head. Did he really leave me here to be safe? Or did he know he had a better chance, and more resources, if he went by himself to find a new safe haven? I look down at the locket I hate but also have not let go of since he gave it to me, I run my fingers over the shiny brass ridges and have a crazy idea to find him. He wouldn't leave me for this long, something was wrong.
I packed the little amount of food I had left and I set down the bend to search for Toby. It wasn't long before I started seeing the glitches. They were scary, they looked so normal just like you or I walking down the street on an average day. The tell tale sign was their eyes, glazed over with a slight blue sheen. Their eyes pulsed blue when they came across another glitch. If they pulsed red, you ran.
My first stop was going to be the super store, that's where Toby would have gone to get us supplies. The trip there took me roughly two days with having to be cautious not to be seen. I was nearing the store when three glitches came out from around the opposite corner, they hadn't seen me but it was close. I crouched down behind a car and looked up, willing anyone or anything to make them leave, my heart was thudding hard and fast, sweat dripped down my back. 'BEEP'. No. I turned around, somehow one had appeared behind me, I was too busy watching the three outside the door I was headed for. I rolled to it's left and tried to get up. Too fast, I tripped. The glitch grabbed me by the ankle and started dragging me out from behind the car, its eyes glowing red, much further and the others will see, I'll be done for.
Out of nowhere I heard a grunt, I spun to see Toby tackling the glitch, I tried to move, to help but I was frozen and terrified. Toby managed to break free grabbing my arm and dragging me into a nearby shipping dock for the store. "Chloe! Oh my God what are you doing you're going to get yourself killed!" He was screaming at me in a hushed whisper, trying not to attract attention. "I thought you were dead!" I hissed back. "I've been stuck around here Chlo, I couldn't get back it wasn't safe. The glitches have had the place surrounded I can't get out safely and now you're stuck too". I looked around and saw a gap between the shipping dock and the store, so close. "Can we slip through there and get inside?" I asked while he was still reprimanding me. "Have you not been listening? They're everywhere Chloe, inside is safer yes but getting in is risky. It looks close but its a bit of a run, if we're spotted..." He trailed off. I knew what he was trying to say, there was too many of them and only two of us.
Toby eventually agreed we had to make a run for it, here we were sitting ducks to be torn apart. If we were lucky enough to not be found, we'd starve anyway. "Ok here's the plan, when the coast is clear you run. A few seconds later I'll follow. Staggering it like that will give you a better chance to get inside first". He was more stupid than I thought. That sounded like a terrible plan. I argued with him until eventually he won. He looked me straight in the eyes and kissed me, before I could react he yelled at me to run, we had waited too long and we had been spotted. I sprinted for the front door with Toby not far behind. We were going to make it, it was a clear run we just had to shut the door behind us and we'd be safe. I was inside, panting, heart thudding. Toby was right behind me except now he wasn't. What I saw was worse than I imagined. They had got him, three of them had him by his limbs, he was flailing and screaming at me to lock the door, one looked at me and started towards me. I slammed the glass door and locked it tight, screaming out to Toby but it was too late. I stood there, watching him be torn apart, red mist covering the lifeless faces of the glitches. Tears blurred my eyes as I tried to scream his name but nothing came out. Deep sobs engulfed me as I struggled to breathe. I lay there on the cold tiles, glitches banging on the door, wanting nothing more than to die too. I was hyperventilating, shaking and...
"Chloe! Chloe!" My eyes snapped open, my chest was heaving and I was covered in sweat, the heart shaped locket around my neck hot against my skin. I look to my right and Toby is looking at me, concern in his eyes grasping my arm. "Chloe, are you having that dream again?". Relief washed over me, it was just a dream. I got up and went to the bathroom, I splashed cold water over my face and as I looked into the mirror my eyes flashed blue.