Collapse Into Me – Prologue
I was 27 when the suicides started, 28 two weeks later when a connection was made and people figured out…something was going on. No one knew why they started but that something unusual was happening finally became impossible to deny.
Local news was the first to catch on as city editors began noticing suicide rates that outstripped the norm. Eventually the national news outlets saw local affiliates all filing similar reports and the story broke out into the open, helped by the death of a producer of a network news show. After a night out with colleagues she stepped into the shower the next morning and slit her wrist, leaving a newsroom to wonder how a bright, attractive young woman could take her own life. It would not be the last time that question was asked. But it lead the station to report that 50,000 people had killed themselves over the last two weeks.
The panic that followed was unsurprising. Speculation immediately turned to terrorism and Congressional panels were called, water systems tested and other investigations launched. Unsavory fear mongers made a fortune selling Geiger counters at inflated rates to the paranoid. Fringe groups and their acolytes suspected the government was enacting some sort of Omega Protocol to prune the population and bring the survivors under the control of the United Nations.
While conspiracy theories persisted, all other causes were eventually ruled out. There was no reason.
Social networks were, as usual, the first to react. Six months after the news became widely known most networks allowed people to set up a post-death administrator, someone who could post a “I’m sorry, but Johnny killed himself yesterday” update. These messages became seen less frequently because of their pervasiveness. People would react with a shrug and a muttered curse, but outrage and indignation were casualties of the new reality.
After a year it was impossible to find any company, organization or entity that hadn’t lost at least a couple dozen people. That lead them to begin planning for contingencies at an unprecedented level. Suzanne in IT couldn’t be the only person who knew how to access the remote server because Suzanne might eat a bullet tomorrow, so it would be prudent to have that knowledge distributed. A new industry popped up of consultants helping companies plan for the loss of key personnel. The temp market flourished.
People eventually stopped searching for answers. Suicide became a milestone we would apparently all reach. The odd thing was, there was no pattern. Young people, old people, black, white, men and women…it didn’t matter. Everyone was susceptible. The Wave – a term widely adopted but discouraged by the government and others – hit everyone equally. And soon it became clear the world population was heading toward collapse. Not only were more people dying than ever before but because there were fewer people there were also fewer births. Three years after the first reports it was predicted that within a decade the population of the world would be too small to sustain itself, entering into irreversible collapse.
How people related to each other changed quickly. Forming emotional attachments with anyone but direct family because next to impossible, or at least not something most people bothered with, because that person might be gone the next day. Marriages failed and casual sex became the accepted societal norm. STDs flourished because a little gonorrhea was fine if you enjoyed whatever time you had left.
Not much changed for me. My parents died in Year Two of The Wave. One morning after they went out to dinner and a movie my mother walked four blocks from their house and jumped off a bridge for no reason. Three months later my dad slit his wrists in the bathtub not because of The Wave but because, to paraphrase his brief note, there was no longer a point. Up to then, they’d been normal middle-aged suburbanites, stubborn about some things, easy going about others and always wondering when I was going to provide them a daughter-in-law and grandchild. Then they were gone.
It’s Year Five of The Wave.