Story – Hypoxia by AM Kennedy

The first one to notice anything strange was the cat. She sat at the window, a dark shadow against the sunshine. She could not be coaxed away for food or play. Any attempt to pull her off the ledge rewarded Evey with a hiss and a scratch.
It was then that Evey realized the cat knew something she didn’t.
The story broke the following day.
POLLUTION KILLS FIVE, the television screamed. Evey yawned and rolled up the bag of chips, the reporter went into detail. “Bakersfield, California,” the reporter gestured to the landscape behind her, “has been known for years as the dirtiest city in America for air pollution content. Several other California cities dot the list including Los Angeles and Sacramento. Officials are retesting the air quality in several California cities, but in the meantime the governor urges children, elderly and those with asthma or respiratory conditions to stay indoors as much as possible.”
Evey flipped the channel through two more news stations covering the story. She finally settled on a Seinfeld rerun.

In the following week there were a dozen more deaths linked to poor air quality. The media ate it up, spun it around and hyped it back to the people. Evey began to avoid the news stations, radios and news print. She didn’t want to hear about the end of the world. Again.
Her black shadow prowled the window. She didn’t want to feel paranoid. Again.
The next week there were one hundred fifty three deaths. The president issued a statement to ventilate homes with fresh air and check anyone with asthma or lung problems into a hospital as soon as they began to have breathing problems. The president blamed pollution and ozone thinning for the poor air quality.
Evey blamed the news; the whole thing was just nonsense.
And then people in high altitudes began to run out of air. Evey caught this broadcast by accident and could not bring herself to change the channel. Cities higher than 9,000 feet above sea level lost all breathable air over night. There had been no warning. The president declared a state of emergency to evacuate all areas in elevation higher than 5,000 feet. He was, however, too late for Alma, Colorado, a small town of 227 people that died of cerebral hypoxia.
In a later follow up report, it was found several other Colorado cities were completely wiped out. This was a small toll in comparison to Mexico City, a city 12,894 feet above sea level, and a population of over eight million people.
Evey shut off the TV. Her hands were shaking and her breathing came shallow and difficult. She moved to the windows and wretched them open one by one. Her cat hissed at the unexpected motion. Evey ignored her as the fresh air came rushing in.
Up until that point she hadn’t noticed how stuffy her house had become. She gulped the air into her lungs like a swimmer. Fresh oxygen served as a tranquilizer for her nerves. She pulled a chair up to the window and sat down. Her body felt like it was vibrating. From her window she could see the forest across the way that sat on the electric company’s property, the trees waved to her in the breeze.
Without warning she could feel tears running down her face. It was an odd sensation to be crying without knowing she was. Evey wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands and smeared the black mascara across her skin.
Those trees provided oxygen. It was something Evey had never cared about, never so much as thought about in her busy nine-to-five schedule that was actually the most important thing. She sat and watched the trees dance in the wind until the sun set. As the trees faded into the blackness Evey bent her head and prayed to a God she didn’t believe in.

Through the next week the oxygen continued to thin. Everything above 8,000 feet was deoxygenated in seconds. The TV projected this to be around 150 million people, 150 million people that were gone in a few seconds. They died of oxygen deprivation to the brain.
That was the week Evey stopped going to work. It was the week everyone stopped going to work. She couldn’t face other people. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, file any reports or print any documents. The sight of all the paper products made her feel angry and sick. She had done this; she had helped kill 150 million people. That was more people than she’d ever see in a lifetime. And now they were all gone.
Instead of work Evey got in her car and drove to the grocery store. She parked near the road and walked in. The store was worse than anything she’d ever seen. Shoppers had carts mounted higher than their heads and were walking out with them. People were screaming and fighting over a box of cereal or a loaf of bread. Men with guns roamed the aisles with their shopping carts daring anyone to steal from them.
There was no personnel, no police, no stopping them. The shop had been abandoned.
Evey helped herself to anything she could get her hands on, specifically canned goods, salt, and anything that could hold water. She drove home with a car full of free food and a stomach full of guilt.
It was hard to think 150 million people deserved it, but Evey thought humanity deserved it. She was such a thoughtless and selfish creature. She could be cruel and savage. She looked for monetary and personal gain without concern for the repercussions. Humans, who thought themselves so far above the animals, so far above everything else on this planet, were not better than anything. The animals with the smartest brains had no sense of self preservation. The blood was on her hands, all of their hands. 150 million people paid the price.
The following day Evey filled every jug and container with the drinkable water from her tap. She took a shower and then filled the bathtub. Several of her friends phoned along with her mother, she ignored them all. Evey couldn’t stand the idea of talking to another person. She knew the conversation that would happen and there was nothing to say to them. There was nothing to say to anyone. It was their damn fault. It was her own damn fault.

That evening the news anchor was without a tie. He looked like he hadn’t slept and like he’d rather not be at work. Evey curled up on the couch and wrapped her arms around her knees. With the exception of the television, her house and neighborhood were silent.
“Ladies and gentleman, we are in a worldwide state of emergency.” The anchor paused and looked off camera to his right. After a second he nodded and turned back to the camera. “All heavily populated or high elevated areas are strongly advised to evacuate. Oxygen levels are deteriorating quickly in all of these areas and people must seek low lying coastal or forested areas. Just a few hours ago the president released information that air quality has begun thinning everywhere and for this reason people should avoid cities or areas with large crowds. It is also advised that all emergencies be handled privately; do not seek hospitals as they are experiencing extreme overcrowding and oxygen shortage.”
Evey changed the channel but found nothing except for news was broadcasting. All other channels were black. She turned off the TV and went to bed with the windows open and the air conditioning off for the first time in months.
The next day the power went out.
With no one to operate the power plants, rolling blackouts spread across all countries. Government officials urged people to go to work, but there wasn’t the man power. Hospitals and government buildings retained emergency electricity; everything else was hit or miss. Evey found a battery powered radio in her garage and fixed it up to listen to the news. She heard everything she already knew: mass panic, power outages, rioting, fires, and oxygen depletion.
Now everything above 2,000 feet was gone. The radio broadcaster guessed this to include most of China and the western half of the United States. The death toll was uncountable. He urged everyone to seek low lying forested areas where the oxygen was thickest. Evey turned off the radio.
When she went back into the living room her cat was gone. There was a hole in the window screen and her cat was gone. Evey knew now why. Even at sea level the oxygen was thinning, her oxygen. She had noticed all day she couldn’t get enough air in her lungs to feel right.
She could see the forest out the window and knew instantly where the cat had gone. She had gone to the only place the oxygen was still being created.
Evey shut that window and made herself a simple dinner. She turned the radio on a few times to hear the same information over and over. When the sun set she lit a candle and pushed her bed up to the nearest window. She lay down and tried to sleep, but it came shallow and breathless. Her thoughts came just as muddled. She didn’t want this, any of this. She didn’t want to die for her foolishness.
And she was so sorry. So sorry for the grass and the trees and the earth upon which she lived. The land she desecrated and the sea she abused. Her, humanity, all of it.
The thin air made her woozy and sleepy and Evey wondered how long until she lost consciousness. She turned over in her bed and opened her eyes. She was going to suffocate. They’d all suffocate. Everything would die and the planet would start again.
She supposed this was something she always knew, one way or another something was going to get them. They were too ignorant and prideful, so full of themselves and their accomplishments. And look at what accomplishments!
Evey pushed herself out of bed. Her head swirled around in her brain and she gasped for the oxygen to focus. She didn’t have a manual clock, so it was impossible to know the time, but she guessed it to be the early morning hours. Everything was still pitch black but the sliver of the moon hung low on the other side of the sky.
When her brain stopped spinning, she cautiously moved through her dark bedroom to put on some jeans and shoes. In the kitchen she helped herself to a glass of water and then let herself out the back door of the house.
It was easier to see outside with the moonlight, but she moved slow as her eyes adjusted. The world was silent; the only noise was her clumsy footsteps through the grass. Evey felt like a sleepwalker as she stumbled into the power company’s land. Her brain was foggy and her body was possessed by the promise of oxygen.
Drunk and breathless she made it to the cover of the woods. She staggered to the first tree and wrapped her arms around its trunk and pressed her lips to the bark. It smelled of pine and her tears. Evey muttered to it in the dark, I’m sorry, so sorry; I don’t want to die, please, save me.
After a few moments of this she pushed herself off it. The air still wasn’t good here, she needed to go deeper where the oxygen lingered. Her body was heavy now and her mind flickered in lucidity. Evey forced her feet forward deeper and deeper into the woods.
The moonlight faded in the thick cover of the trees, but even sightless Evey kept moving. It was very gradual, but she began to feel better. Her chest still heaved to get what her brain needed, but eventually she felt clarity come back.
With this clarity Evey decided it would be best to stop moving. All the exertion was requiring a lot of oxygen, oxygen that was not readily available. She stopped at a tree with a wide trunk and sat at its base.
The ground was mossy and uncomfortable under her, but she couldn’t summon the energy to move. She closed her eyes and practiced deep and controlled breaths until her heartbeat slowed down.
And sitting in the middle of the forest Evey felt, finally, like she had caught her breath. A light breeze rustled through the tops of the trees and it felt cool against the water tracks on her cheeks. Satisfied that this was the best she could do Evey let sleep take her.

She woke up to the sunrise coming through the trees. Her head pounded and her neck was stiff from her sleeping position, but she was alive. She blinked at the bright cascading light and tried to get up.
The air was still thinning here, this was apparent when she stood and almost lost consciousness. Her lungs burned and she clung to the trunk of the tree for support. She had her eyes clenched shut as she tried to steady her breathing to stay on her feet. After a minute when she felt confident she opened her eyes again to the morning.
And Evey was shocked to see people. They were all around her, laying on the ground or leaning against a tree. Some asleep, some barely alive. All of them breathing her air. Or was she breathing their air? It made sense then why the air was fading here, there were too many people. Too many hungry mouths.
She tried to open her mouth to say something, but there wasn’t enough air. The words were stuck in her lungs and it stirred a panic in her she wasn’t ready for. She had to move, she had to get away from these people. They were all killing each other.
She took a deep breath into her lungs, as much air as she could possibly hold and pushed herself away from the tree. Then she was running, as fast as she could, away from those people. She fumbled through the underbrush and between trees. Her brain exploded in colors and pain. Her lungs burned like fire.
There were people scattered everywhere.
She ran further.
Her body cramped all at once. It shot up both of her sides and then down through her legs. She was out of air and her mouth gasped, there was nothing to breathe in. Her vision went black a moment and came back but she was still on her feet. She ran further.
Everything she was went into her legs. Legs that propelled her forward. The rest of her body went numb. She was nothing and no one. She was suffocating.  She was dying.
She careened sideways and hit a tree with her shoulder. It threw off her balance and her feet went out beneath her. The momentum sent her whole body tumbling. Her brain rattled hard in her skull and she lost consciousness as she hit the ground.

It was two days, nine hours and twenty four minutes later when Evey opened her eyes.
The first thing she noticed was the black curled up shape of her cat asleep on her chest.
The second thing she noticed was the full fresh oxygen that filled her lungs.

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