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One day I woke up, and the whole world was gone. Remembering now, it felt like missing a step in the dark, crashing cold and hard against a surface you thought you knew so intimately. My father’s cellphone stopped working, and our television stopped broadcasting. The Internet died. White noise spilled out whenever I switched on the radio. Some houses hummed with radio static for weeks, like giant empty beehives, before anyone went inside and found the bodies.
I was so young that I can’t remember everything. My mom left during the takeover. The other kids in my class would talk about her, whispering together in hushed voices, but none of them ever said anything about her to my face. I never saw her again. I tried to find out why, get answers from my dad’s knees while he cooked dinner, or from his eyebrows when he tucked me into bed. He never explained why she left. A few weeks after the takeover, my dad knelt down to tell me something, but then looked past me, through me, like he was talking to someone else. He said that it wasn’t my fault and that I shouldn’t blame myself. It hadn’t occurred to me that it might have been my fault. He hugged me, and no one has ever squeezed me tighter. His moustache was damp and smelled like smoke when he pressed it against my face.
After the takeover, everyone’s parents started wearing the same navy blue uniforms except for my dad. I remember that we had brand new teachers in school who wore navy blue. They thought their lessons were so important that they had to speak slowly and enunciate every syllable so we could truly and deeply understand, but I didn’t pay any more attention than I had before. Before, I always used to look out the window during class. My desk used to be in the back right corner, with a boy beside me and a girl in front. Once I cut off her pony-tail with a pair of scissors during math class.
Instead of taking notes in class, I lived in my head. I remember that the sun could only reach a foot inside the classroom, like a dragon trying to force its snout into a cave, only able to slither its tongue blindly through the entrance. In the mornings before lunch, that foot-wide beam of brightened dust particles would glide slowly across the desks in the back of the classroom. I used to feel like I had superpowers because I could watch light move, when everyone said it was too fast to see.
But school changed all of a sudden with the takeover. Instead of learning about the history of other countries like Japan or Peru, we learned about what made our city the greatest in the world. We learned how we were the first, but soon everyone else all over the world would copy us and be free and happy too. We also learned how to strap helmets to our heads and hide under our desks when the air raid siren boomed. My dad told me that that siren was just an old cruise ship’s foghorn moved into city hall. We learned what to do in case of emergency, whether they bombed us, invaded us, poisoned our water, burned our farms, tunnelled into our sewers, or tried to attack us in any of the million ways they were planning. Mostly we learned why all the changes were good for us. I didn’t know if that was true. The new teachers moved me to a new desk in the front of the classroom, and the sunlight didn’t reach my desk any more. Also my mom was gone.
None of the plans drilled into our heads ever actually happened in the real world. Instead of men wearing camouflage pouring into the fields around the outskirts of town, we just started having less and less food.