Debra walked through town, struggling with bags of shopping past the pub on the corner. Her sign that she was nearly home.
There used to be a group of lads outside, smoking and ribbing one another but it had been closed for about a week now. Another small hole poked in the fabric of things.
She worked with a few young lads in the call corner, who’d cringe at her suggestion to get settled down or show her pictures of their girlfriends. Presumably carefully selected ones but still, those gestures gave her hope that the world would keep rolling along. Greasy terrorists and racist politicians, natural disasters but otherwise Debra had a sense that the world would potter along without her just fine.
She shifted the bags in her hands as it occurred to her that she had used the past tense.
It amused her that there would be lads who took paid leave when a new console game came out. A day, sometimes two but they would talk about it between calls with a lustful recollection. Strategies for gaining weapons, hasty alliances for dominating maps, even admonitions about the best way to get past a particular level. She doted on them for that, how they would, despite their physical ages, retreat into a bright, warm enthusiasm for something that was not even real.
She turned down the promotion when it was offered. Saw that it had been given to Yvonne whose only qualification was that she could blink and chew gum at the same time. Two weeks into the job, then six months maternity, the little one conceived on the celebration do if she had done her sums right. David, who’d stayed late and came in early stopped doing both, started behaving like a photocopy of himself. Left one day without a card or a present to mark his leaving.
Small things like that. She’d see young women barking at men for spreading their legs on the subway or the bus, hard and sharp in their zeal, tried not to make the correlation with the imams she’d been reading about. Ones who’d let young girls burn to death in a blazing school because they weren’t dressed properly.
Facebook became less baby pictures and more passive aggressive rants, then just aggressive.
Then, the posters everywhere. A new game, immersive technology it said. Headphones and goggles, gel pads on skin and promoted so ruthlessly that even she knew the name. Holiday requests booked in, and surprisingly more than ever.
Greg, who ran marathons for charity, slower since his divorce. Took his breaks with tearful phone calls to his daughter. Him pleading more than her listening.
Harold, lived with his mum, she always saw him in the supermarket, pushing a trolley with a disbelieving expression on his face. Still joked about behind his back for asking Penny from HR out and the final written warning he’d got as her way of saying no.
The day came. Quiet though, less reports coming through than normal. Good as most of the engineers were off, holiday or had called in sick.
It was when they didn’t come back that the problem started.