'Society declines for several centuries. Port facilities rust and shutter, cranes sway then collapse. Concrete highways crack, the cracks are filled with asphalt, the asphalt dissolves. More asphalt, over tree roots, then shrubs. Schools implode, hospitals burn, ambulances and fire trucks are driven wildly then abandoned, become animal dens, tree forts. Children raise their children in shipping containers. Humans forget how to farm then learn to farm. Root vegetables become so very very. Are sold from carts near crossroads. Someone researches hang gliders. Towns rise out of nothing onto hilltops and form lighthouses. People fly the hang gliders from the lighthouses down the valleys. Land in the corn stalks.' This isn't my prize-winning speech, but handwritten, beneath a small drawing. My hair's not black. I'm not pretty or youthful. My room's eight by ten, the ceilings popcorn, the walls a hideous beige, blank, artless. My door opens once a day. Through the wall, faintly—techno music. I'm no longer in Seattle, in America. My guess: Juarez. My detention may be related to cocaine or ransom. Who can know? Can I start my own civil war? My own apocalypse? My own catastrophe? Here's the truth: 'Things worsened when we erected giant bubbles over the cities to keep out the peroxide gas.' I face the door at my desk. A one piece, chair attached to desktop with a storage compartment beneath the writing surface. There's paper and pencil and I've drawn many sparrows and detailed portraits of Jackson, my purebred bloodhound (probably dead now with no one to feed him). I write out or diagram or draw my thoughts and each morning a new person comes and takes the drawings, the writings, the diagrams. The takers are uniformly thin, wear corduroy masks, are speechless, shuffle, leave food trays with PB&J or Belgian waffles and water bottles.
I say, "Thank you."
I say, "I hope you love the daffodils poem I wrote."
I say, "Explosive paper face."
I have two buckets. One for water, one for waste.
On the third day I learn to hide paper in my underwear.
On the fifth I steal my meal fork.
On the ninth they put a new girl in my room. She wanders circles saying, "My glasses, do you have my glasses?" She's a robot, a spy, an android.
"They took your glasses, them."
When we wake that morning, a second door. It opens into an identical room with two girls bound to one desk. "Untie them," I suggest. Glasses unties them and we sit circular. "What're your names," I want to know. Rachel and Madison. Glasses says her name's Candace but I know better. Rachel's from Portland. Her head's shaved to stubble and she's bookish, can quote Jean Rhys by page number, says something about veganism, the revolution, voluntary starvation. The scar on her arm is self-inflicted, she says. Part of a con game involving eco-activists. Madison's from San Francisco. Runs cross country, has a scholarship to University of Oregon. A champion miler, her legs shiver and flex when she moves. Behind us, another door. "Open it," I suggest to Glasses. She opens it. The room, round, white, domed ceiling, a small end table, chipped, false wood, and upon it a tiny smartphone. "Pick it up," I say.
Glasses shakes her head. "Do it yourself."
"Should we really do anything?" Rachel says, running a hand over her stubble.
"She's right," Madison says. "We don't know a damned thing about it—how or why we're here now, in this room, with this phone, tied up or untied, with kiddy desks, and these blankly beige walls. Probably a trap or something. Part of some complicated ruse to get our social security numbers. Right? Isn't it?"
When I hold the phone it buzzes. I touch the screen, hold it to my face.
A voice: "Fantastic. Thank you. That you answered the phone prevented several small earthquakes and a long term sub-Saharan drought. Pay no mind to your cell mates, they're merely actors. All of this will be videoed in accordance with applicable state and federal regulations. You're depressed about your father's alcoholism. Don't tell anyone. No one wants to know your personal details, the dropped baby, the ladder fall, the 'you were an accident' speech. That won't play on the national stage. We deal strictly with the 'big issues': war, famine, plague, death or something. Natural disaster. We're big into earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes. The occasional shooting rampage. Nuclear meltdown. None of that's important to you except as motivation. You can prevent all of it. First, to get this thing moving, we need: name, rank, serial number."
A voice: "If that's how you want to play this."
A voice: "A shipment of HIV medication is intercepted by guerrillas. Dozens of children die of malnutrition."
A voice: "Put the phone away and try to escape. We'll contact you later."
"What'd it say," Glasses asks.
"We have to figure a way out of here."
"Just go out the door," Rachel says, snickering.
Madison points. "Are you blind or something? No one wants you here anyway."
"I thought we were friends."
"You're not even a person," Rachel and Madison say in unison. They go away.
I follow Glasses through the wide double doors and into a ballroom with vaulted ceilings. The far end is all glass, windows and doors. The phone's in my pocket. Glasses walks next to me, glancing up at my face every few moments. I take the fork from my waistband and place it in my cargo pants pocket. The problem, of course: I am a not-me. Parents removed from home a few years back. Military operation? Who knows? The soldiers in corduroy masks with rope and Mac-10s arrive through doors and windows. Dressers and tables overturned. Television shot-up. Then me in pajamas. Same as everyone. Boarding school. Survival-training. Fatigues. They want you to hold your role down. Clean this, sweep that, kill her, report him. The message (as always): WE WILL SAVE YOU.