14a-Ned

‘Fuck,’ Ned thought to himself staring out his window at the giant Equitable building monopolizing his view of the sky. ‘This is bad.’

He sat at his small lacquered wooden bar table in his tiny Koreatown studio apartment with an untouched bowl of cereal in front of him, feeling somehow cold and hot at the same time. He felt unable to move, though shaking with the jitters of sleep deprivation. At some point last night he’d turned both his computers off and gotten into bed, but couldn’t seem to turn off his iPad for hours, just watching videos and reading comments, trying to find out exactly how fucked everybody was. Finally at some point after about three-thirty, he forced himself to close the iPad and put it on the nightstand, but then Ned just tossed and turned the rest of the night, eventually surrendering his quest for sleep several hours after sunrise.

Now as his cereal got good and soggy in front of him, Ned looked down at his phone and saw the time, realizing it had only been twenty-four hours since he got home with his supplies from that bodega on Third. After he’d put everything away, he’d sat down at his iMac and saw that KTLA was doing a livestream on Twitter. He figured he’d just have a quick glance, see what the hell was going on, but as soon as he sat down the sirens went off, and an alert popped up on his cell phone. In all caps, it said: EMERGENCY ALERT. THIS IS NOT A TEST. ALL OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY IS UNDER QUARANTINE EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. SHELTER IN PLACE AND AVOID ALL CONTACT WITH ANYBODY ACTING ERRATICALLY UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. THIS IS NOT A TEST.

Emergency Broadcast System
Read all the episodes in the Last Days series in reading order — the next episode publishes Monday morning (US) / Tuesday morning (AU/NZ)

After that, Ned ended up going down so many different rabbit holes, that at one point he had four different devices playing at the same time — the NPR app on his phone, the PBS live YouTube stream on his iPad, the KTLA Twitter livestream on his iMac, and on his laptop Ned was jumping back and forth between all the apps, finding all kinds of crazy videos that people were posting from all over the world.

At first he limited himself to coverage coming from within the States. It was obvious right away which news programs were coming from Los Angeles, because they were joking about being trapped at the studios, but their eyes weren’t laughing. You could practically smell their fear through the screen.

Early on, people were calling those infected by super-rabies “the Infected”, but with COVID still out, that caused confusion, so by mid-afternoon everybody was just calling them “the Rabid”. There were tons of videos on all the socials supposedly of the Rabid, but most of them looked like complete bullshit — idiots taking advantage of the situation to chase followers and likes. In the few that Ned thought might be legit though, the Rabid were super violent — so violent that up close videos never lasted more than a few seconds.

The video that Ned couldn’t stop watching was from somebody in a Hollywood apartment building across the street from a hospital. In the video, an ambulance had crashed into the hospital sign and various walkers by and hospital staff had tried to help get the people stuck inside the ambulance out, but when the people from the ambulance finally got out, they’d attacked the good Samaritans who’d tried to help them, violently and viciously — so much biting and scratching, and moaning. That moan they all gave off was so loud and haunting.

The video had been shot from what looked like the second or third story of a building on the opposite side of the street, and the people taking the video were speaking some Eastern European language. At one point they digitally zoomed in and the view went all blurry. It was impossible to understand what they were looking at for a few seconds, it was so shaky, but then it focused and there was a balding old lady walking slowly, looking stunned and out of it. Then the view opened a bit and you could see she was walking just behind a couple of rabid paramedics tearing apart some poor chubby guy.

The guys behind the camera started calling out to the lady in their Slavic language so Ned didn’t understand what they were saying, but presumably to watch out for the rabid right in front of her. After a bit of yelling, the woman slowly turned towards the camera, but once she did, you could see that half her face was smashed in and a huge chunk of her chest was just gone. Then she must have seen the guys behind the camera because her entire demeanor suddenly changed. It became animalistic and she opened her mouth way more than you’d think was possible, and out came this really loud low moan. The moan drew the attention of the two paramedics, who looked up at the camera too, then started running towards it moaning themselves. At that point, the camera turned away and got really shaky as the guys taking the video presumably ran away, and then the video just ended.

Blurry video
“Blurry City Limits” by AirBeagle is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of the comments on it were saying it was bullshit, saying the guys were speaking Russian, so it had to be from some Troll Farm, but Ned knew that hospital. He’d driven past it on his way to and from Zankou because it never had much traffic on it.

Of course it was Hollywood. Like every other person in Los Angeles, Ned was used to seeing those big grip trucks all over town. They shot so many movies and TV shows here — maybe it was part of a new found footage movie that had leaked. The footage was terrible really, it was super blurry and included a ton of shaking too, but maybe it was an early take or maybe it was just promo.

This wasn’t territory that Ned knew much about, but one of his co-workers, Ryan, had a movie news podcast and always knew months before anybody else if there was a new show coming or if some celebrity had signed on to some superhero movie, and Ned had sent him a message asking if found footage movies might be coming back in fashion, and if there was one they were making in Los Angeles right now. He didn’t hear anything for several hours, but after midnight this co-worker finally responded.

“Not that I know of,” Ryan had typed. “Why?”

“Have you seen this?” Ned asked and sent the link.

“Oh yeah. That’s everywhere right now,” the co-worker responded right away.

“Do you think it’s real?”

Ryan didn’t respond for a while, and Ned didn’t know what to think about that. Finally his message appeared,”I sure as hell hope it’s not, but I can’t see how it couldn’t be.”

Ned typed, “You don’t think it’s promo for something? Maybe even a video game?”

This time, Ryan responded immediately, “If anybody paid for that, they need to get their money back.“

Sitting at the table, Ned thought back at that conversation and wished he’d thought of more questions to ask, but even now he couldn’t think of any. One thing Ned knew for sure: if the video was real, then everybody is way more fucked than they realize.

A loud knock at the door woke Ned up from his anxious, sleep-deprived reverie.

Ned just sat there for a minute, not saying anything — trying not to make a sound.

“Ned? Are you in there?” a vaguely familiar voice asked.

“Who is it?” Ned responded.

“It’s me, Andie. The manager.”

He opened the door without taking the security chain off, so it only opened a few inches. Andie stood looking appropriately frazzled, and her frizzy blonde hair was already halfway there before all this, but Ned was fairly certain he was looking even worse for wear.

“Hey,” Ned managed.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. What’s up?”

“We’re having a mandatory all-building meeting at noon in the foyer. Can you be there?”

Ned laughed, sardonically, “Gee, let me check my schedule.”

A couple hours later, Ned still hadn’t slept a wink. He was afraid he’d miss the meeting if he’d fallen asleep, so that had been fun. Want to sleep, you can’t. Need to stay awake, you nod off every five seconds. Figures. It was pretty excruciating, but here he was. In the foyer of the old 1920s building that was definitely built by some old Hollywood studio, surrounded by roughly a hundred of K-town’s finest — mostly immigrant families and students or recently former students, like himself, now crammed into the hallway and on the stairwell leading into the foyer.

The murmuring chatter was quiet and anxious, like church was about to start. Andie stood up on the old wooden bench in the back corner so everybody could see her, and everybody quieted down almost immediately. Damn, Ned thought to himself. The anxiety is thick in here.

“Hey everybody,” Andie started, “Thanks for coming. Listen, a group of soldiers came by earlier and told me we need to board up all the exits and entrances to the building -”

1920s building Los Angeles
“Los Angeles California ~ Jewelry Theatre Building” by Onasill ~ Bill is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

People started to protest, but she put her hands up and spoke over the murmur, “ — until they can secure this area! They said there’s a lot of Rabid nearby and if they get in …” She trailed off, but this time there was absolute silence. Andie swallowed, then continued, “So … we are going to board up the front doors at exactly Three PM. We won’t bother boarding up the back since we have those big fences with the barbed wire back there, but the front IS getting boarded up at exactly Three.”

Andie collected herself for a moment, looking like she was trying not to cry. Nobody said a word, nobody even whispered, and Ned could hear his heart beating in his ears.

Finally she continued but quieter this time, clearly trying to manage her emotions, “They say we need to stay inside, and that you can’t leave before, but what you do is your business. Just know that Three, you will not be able to leave and will not be able to get back in if you do leave before then … That’s all. Thank you.”

Nobody moved for what seemed like a solid minute. Andie didn’t even get down off the bench. She just stared off into the distance deep in thought. Holy. Shit. Ned thought to himself. This is really happening.

He was about to turn back up the stairs to his apartment, but Andie looked right at him, and with the tiniest motion of her head, directed him to come over. That seemed a bit odd to him. He’d always had a pretty decent tenant-manager relationship with Andie. She was very responsive whenever something went wrong with his apartment, but he would always try to fix whatever was wrong first himself before calling her, and got the sense she appreciated that. She was a pretty massive stoner though and a hippy to boot, and he was absolutely neither, but he’d always been civil to her, so maybe she thought they were friends?

Whatever, he thought to himself. He was too intrigued to not go see what she wanted. When he got down there, she was being pretty coy, but clearly wanted to wait until everybody else had left, so he just waited and tried to look nonchalant like she was clearly trying to, though failing miserably. Now that he was up close, Ned could smell the weed wafting off her, and her paranoid mannerisms were way more obvious too.

A few of the older tenants came up to ask her more questions, and Ned found that Andie’s boyfriend Christian, a big oversized baby with a red viking’s beard and overalls — also stoned out of his mind — was standing right next to him.

Ned and Christian waited awkwardly for Andie to get rid of the others for a few minutes, and Ned caught himself nodding off standing up, as you do. Christian was looking right at him as he shook his head to wake himself up. The knowing look Christian gave him made Ned want to say “No, dude. Whatever you think I’m on. You’re wrong,” but he didn’t have it in him, so he just sighed and waited.

Finally Andie was waving the last of the curious tenants away and as soon as the old lady was out of earshot, Andie turned back. “We’re leaving,” She said to Ned, with a false bravado.

“What?”

“Yeah, Danny and Caroline left early this morning and Caroline texted me. She said they made it past the quarantine line. She just sent me the directions. The last bit’s on foot, but she said they’d meet us at the end of the trail tonight. You should come.”

“I don’t know, Andie,” He said, while thinking No fucking way! “It just seems like complete chaos out there right now. You’ve been hearing all those gunshots, right? You got friendly fire. You got Rabid — just seems safer to wait until they get it contained.”

“But they’re not containing it, Ned. You know how with the brush fires they say ‘X percent contained?’ Christian has a police scanner and they starting talking that way yesterday afternoon — Hollywood 50% contained, then 40%, then 20%, and then they just got the fuck out!” She was getting hysterical, but Christian put his hand on her shoulder to calm her down and she took a deep breath before continuing. “They’re not containing it, Ned. We heard them talk about how the joint forces downtown are completely in over their heads. They’re about to give up.”

Fuck, Ned thought, and almost more for himself than of Andie he asked, “They’re giving up Los Angeles? I can’t believe they’d do that.”

“Well,” Andie was tired, “We’ll be leaving out the back at midnight. I have a key to that gate back there. So if you change your mind, meet us there at five ‘til.”

“Okay,” Ned said, and started to turn, but then turned back for a second, “Listen. Good luck, okay?”

“Same to you.” And she hugged him, then Christian hugged him, and interestingly neither hug was weird at all. Just sad and scared.

READ 14a-NED | Read all the episodes in the Last Days series in reading order — the next episode publishes Monday morning (US) / Tuesday morning (AU/NZ)

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Hawaiian designer / developer / producer / director/writer and professional slashy, Creative Director of Hustler Equipment & Director: Oceania of We Make Movies

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Chad Kukahiko

Chad Kukahiko

Hawaiian designer / developer / producer / director/writer and professional slashy, Creative Director of Hustler Equipment & Director: Oceania of We Make Movies

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