Once upon a time, the Internet must’ve been something to behold. Now it’s just…the Internet. As such, we’re bored and looking for something to do. That’s why we’re sprawled on Theo’s bedroom floor with our phones. Well, Theo, Eva, and me, we have our phones. Ernie’s got a bag of Cheetos. He’s also got a posture that’s one-hundred-percent beached whale.
“There’s a new Star Trek: The Next Generation server online,” Theo suggests. “We can play the Poker in Data’s Quarters mini-game.”
“Meh,” Ernie replies.
“Ooh,” Eva says. “Justin Lukach and Yoshi the Dolphin are doing a Departures anniversary Q&A. We could go to that.”
I nod at Theo’s Switch. “Maybe there’s a new Mario Kart DLC?”
Theo puts his phone down, glares at Ernie. “Well, what do you want to do, then?”
“Anything but this!”
Eva sighs. “Um, here’s a thought. Why don’t we go for a walk?”
“There’s a server for that?”
“I meant in the outdoors, Ernie.”
“Where would we walk?” I ask.
A trio of asterisks breezes past my head. Suddenly it’s ten minutes later, and we’re sneakered and strolling through Theo’s neighborhood. Down Almond, to be exact.
“Oh, this is fun,” Ernie jeers sarcastically, inhaling a mouthful of Cheeto (yes, he’s brought the bag with him). There are crows circling above his head; one of them swoops in and tries to grab a morsel from him. He swats at it, screams, “Fuck off, wing-slut!”
Expletives aside, it’s kind of nice to be outside. Like Bus Stop Simulator, only actual.
We make our way down the street with Theo’s phone scoring our steps. He’s got on “walking music”—something by David Arkenstone, I think. We’re waiting for the light to change at a random cross-street when we notice the box. It’s half hidden between the sidewalk and a row of bushes flanking the house to our right. It looks like some kind of junction box, with a blinking red light on top and a gigantic warning sign that reads, “If this light is blinking, contact the CDC immediately.” Followed by an eight-hundred number.
Ernie reads the sign, then takes a step back from the box. “What the hell does that mean?”
“‘Center for Disease Control,’” Theo answers. “That’s what CDC stands for.”
“I know what CDC stands for. What the fuck does it have to do with this box?”
I shrug. “Should we call the number?”
Theo looks concerned. “What if it’s some kind of prank?”
Ernie looks more concerned. “What if it’s not a prank, and by not calling, we’re unleashing a new strain of ass-thrax upon the world?”
“Ass-thrax, not a thing,” Eva says, frowning. “And anyway, why would this box in this suburb have anything to do with a biological outbreak?”
“Flu season doesn’t just happen! It has to come from somewhere! Maybe this is how these things get started—ground zero! Virus in the wild! Zombie apocalypse!” Ernie goes wide-eyed, cups his Cheeto-encrusted hands over his mouth. “OMFG, guys—what if calling the number for this box saves Theo’s neighborhood, but simultaneously triggers another box in some random neighborhood we don’t know to release an ass-thrax mushroom cloud that zombifies everyone within a mile radius?”
We all look at each other.
And then back at the utility box.
With its blinking red light.