Manakin_31_copy.jpg

Boxed Ones

Devin K. Barricklow

The first time she noticed it she dismissed it because she’d taken something. The rocks by the lakeshore were velvet; her eyes couldn’t focus on anything and so they rolled around while her jaw did a gurning-dance. It was clear enough that she could see a star burning next to the moon, bright and orange enough to remind her of Mars. She thought to download a stargazing app to identify it and dug around in her hoodie pockets for her phone, only to realize that she’d given it to a friend for safe-keeping. The horizon vibrated quietly and she lay back on the rocks, looking up.

 

Back at the office, she didn’t think much of it until she came across another one of those posts. Someone had shared it to one of the many housing groups she was in with punctuation so erratic it made her feel dumber just for having read it. Her coworkers scoffed at the notion when she shared it in their group chat and went back to talking about the service they used to rent designer clothes, but that night she thought to pray for the first time in years, just in case. When August 14th dissolved the same as any other day, she vowed to limit the amount of idle time she spent scrolling on Facebook. She felt only a little reborn.

 

She liked to track the way that people’s dating profiles would change—references to politicians, the bachelor, astrological and weather events. After a popular video about the asteroid theories did the rounds online and sparked a wave of jokes, she found that nearly a third of the profiles she swiped on contained some sort of nod to mass extinction.

 

We’ll get along if…

 

You also secretly believe the asteroid stuff lmao

 

 

I’m looking for someone who…

 

wants to spend our last days together (asteroid emoji, shooting star emoji, sparkle emoji, groaning face emoji to show it’s—duh!—ironic).

She often replied to these with some variation of hey baby, I’ve got space for 2 in my bunker, which she thought was bad, though it didn’t matter because she was a girl. Tweets she saw during this time period would get stuck in her head and reverberate for weeks on end. if this asteroid shit turns out to be real im fuckin raw idc.

 

In early September, she went on a date with Chase, and after sex he showed her the conspiracy account he’d become obsessed with—hours and hours of videos detailing how NASA had lied to us, going deep into the supposed leaked report that an asteroid was bound to hit the earth in 2028. They claimed that scientists had tried to divert the path with missiles years prior and failed—hadn’t we noticed the debris? They claimed that Elon Musk was funding a last-ditch attempt at finding an inhabitable planet.

 

Haven’t you noticed that NASA skips over the orange spot whenever they livestream a meteor shower?

 

Haven’t you noticed that the media won’t cover it?

 

Haven’t you noticed it’s getting bigger?

 

These questions flashed onto the screen in the WordArt she’d once used for assignments in elementary school—4th grade, maybe 3rd, big rainbow block letters dominating her tri-fold brochure on ancient Polynesian wayfinding. She couldn’t help but giggle. Graphic design is my passion, she joked, and they fucked again without a condom.

 

***

 

The next week she traveled to New Mexico for work. Bored and scrolling in a conference session on what was apparently called radical transparency, she came across one of those swipe-through posts that explained why things were bad—this one revealed that it was actually racist not to believe the asteroid theories because Indigenous people had predicted an asteroid thousands of years ago. She silently squealed and sent it one of her group chats with the caption educating myself.

 

Haven’t you noticed it doesn’t show up on any stargazing apps?

 

After two mezcal drinks she admitted to her coworkers that she sometimes wondered about the theories. She was just tipsy enough that she didn’t care whether or not they thought she was an idiot, and when Stella, who had long hair and was often too sincere to be taken seriously admitted that she’d lost sleep researching it, the two of them formed a drunk-girl bond that lasted them through the remainder of the evening. We’re going to the bathroom, she announced to nobody in particular, only free thinkers allowed.

 

Stella sat on the counter of sinks despite the puddles leftover from previous hand-washers while she went into the stall to pee. She knew she was drunk from how good the cover of “Tiny Dancer” sounded blasting through the bathroom speakers. She sang along through the stall door to make Stella laugh and when she came out to wash her hands, both of their cheeks were flushed.

 

“My mom swears it’s getting bigger.”

 

She struggled to keep a neutral expression, the effort made more difficult by her co-worker's wide blue eyes and the fact that she could see both of them talking in the bathroom mirror across from her. She kept time with “Tiny Dancer” in her head while Stella talked about the stockpile her parents had started.

 

“A stockpile—how do you think that would help? If it were real, I mean.”

 

Stella shrugged. It was clear she’d spent time thinking about this.

 

“Probably just gives them something to do. I don’t fully believe it, but my mom says it used to be the size of an 8th of her index finger and now it’s doubled.”

 

“Yeah, but I mean, that’s obviously not, like...” She held herself back from finishing the sentence and instead gestured vaguely in a way that she thought would convey some sort of meaning.

 

“I know, I know. I hope she’s wrong! She’s probably wrong. I don’t think I’m going to seriously worry unless we start seeing it in New York.”

 

She felt a pang of sympathy for Stella having watched her be so vulnerable and made a half-hearted attempt to reciprocate this new intimacy by describing her date with Chase in vivid detail, admitting her slight crush on him. He was very charming; she’d enjoyed flirting with him. She hated how she fell for these guys who were so painfully Online, hated how smart and superior she felt making fun of everyone alongside them. At least we’re both in on it, she’d tell herself.

 

In the car back to the hotel she sent him a live photo of the desert moon.

 

Notice anything strange to the right of the

moon? Am I the only one who sees this?

 

lol

can i see you when you get back

 

***

 

Another post that her co-workers had shared explained that the theories themselves were actually racist because astronomy has often led to the desecration of Indigenous land. She swiped through the pictures of protectors at the base of Mauna Kea, still protesting against the massive telescope which was slated to finish construction later in the year. She remembered the images of kūpuna being arrested during those first few weeks, how surreal it had felt at the time. The final slide was yellow text against a solid red background that read: Ask yourself: what can I do to respect Indigenous ways of knowing about the universe?

 

***

 

The Facebook banner showed up again with an ominous i icon that indicated the platform was speaking.

 

(i) Get the facts about 5001 EMP

 

She clicked. At the top of the page was a video that had gone live only 13 minutes ago—NASA officials were holding a press conference to a small audience. Next to them, the ASL interpreter wore an awful yellow tie. They confirmed that it was getting bigger and acknowledged the possibility of an impact. Around 71% based on current models, they said. These numbers are going to change as it gets closer, though, and we’re committed to giving you the most accurate and up to date information that we can.

 

She saw it that night when she stepped outside the bar to smoke—faint orange blob to the right of the moon. Standing out on DeKalb in the October chill, there was no denying that it had grown. Everyone else had seen it too. I want to formally apologize to any asteroid truthers I’ve hurt with my earlier statements. I promise to learn and to do better during the three weeks that we have left.

Fuck this shit who’s tryna do meth lol

 

5001 EMP kind of has a wagon not going to lie

 

More like 5001 SIMP am I right guys……..I’m here all week

 

Others tried to be earnest—they summarized everything and listed the things they were grateful for, the people they had loved, the things they still hoped to do. They wrote about how strange it was and would continue to be; they shared poems and songs. She thought of the conference session, of radical transparency.

 

Does this mean that the flat earthers were right too, she typed and then deleted, then closed the app, three blurry versions of the same orange orb swiped out of sight. She texted Chase, lmao can I come over

 

He flipped her over and when she came this time she saw stars. When it was over he asked if he wanted to sleep there, and on her walk to the bathroom she noticed the faintest glow of orange. She walked to the living room window, wondering if it were possible, but it was just one of the sodium lamps opposite his street.

***

 

One Facebook post reminded readers that they’d been given a 3 out of 10 chance of survival. Stay positive! it concluded. Despite the chorus of half-coherent comments, 29% was trending before long. They added it to their bios; they shared graphics, some serious and some never-serious.

 

As the blob grew to the size of a tennis ball, im a 29%er became the new punchline of the week. Often when she went out with her friends from college one of them would look up and get sentimental, start to wax poetic about what it all means or had meant. Other times one girl would get drunkweepy and cry into a half-finished moscow mule while two or three others rubbed her back. She hated most of all when one of one them would turn to the other and say, we just don’t know yet.

 

On the day that it could solidly be described as a cantaloupe, she negotiated for a raise. Her boss nodded solemnly and said he’d need to discuss it with the rest of the higher ups. Though it wasn’t visible during the daytime just yet, she’d taken to checking out the office windows periodically just in case it were to suddenly appear. She’d call them all in like she’d seen the first flurries of snow, like she’d been the first to feel a baby kick.

 

So does anyone know what that cantaloupe-looking thing next to the moon is lol

 

***

 

The orbit theory was interesting. For a week in November, it was all anyone could mention. People were abuzz at work; they denied her the full raise but met her squarely in the middle of what she made and what she’d asked for. In terms of further growth areas, they’d said, we’d like to see you take more ownership of your work.

 

It seemed that as the asteroid passed through a gaggle of other planets, one might be large enough to pull it into its orbit. They created hentai of the asteroid and its lover. The NASA home page updated each time it passed a planet. The whole office held its breath when the chance of impact went down to 20%.

 

Still 1 in 5, one of the engineers said. I don’t know why you guys stay glued to that thing when we’re all eventually going to get the same information anyway.

 

With her raise money she bought a nice wool coat.

 

Her phone screen lit up with the AMBER alert sound along with everyone else’s when she was home for Thanksgiving. NASA predicts potential impact on January 12th, 2029. In the coming weeks, 5001 EMP will appear much larger and may brighten the nighttime sky. Please visit www.nasa.gov for more information.

 

She flashed the screen to her mom, who furrowed her brow trying to read the tiny text.

 

“Well, if it happens it happens.”

***

The condom broke in mid-December, and they joked about what they would do if they were 29%ers. They ordered Thai food and ate it in bed while Chase scrolled and chuckled occasionally, turning the phone screen towards her to share. After a while, another alert:

NASA has increased the probability of impact to 93%.

 

He took a screenshot of the notification and posted it with the caption, Here’s how Bernie can still win, which made her giggle. Out his window, it was now bigger than one of the panes, dwarfing the moon and lighting up the giant oak tree growing in the courtyard.

 

She stopped going to work. Each day she’d wake at 10 and walk from her apartment in a different direction until it was too cold to go any further. She did her best to travel back through time—the drive back from Block Island, the donuts she’d eat at a grandparent’s house on Saturday mornings after walking the dogs, family reunions at Laupāhoehoe and stars, so many stars, black tea taken on the porch in high school, frost thawing in the early light, vegetables she’d carry back from the farmer’s market in green canvas tote bags, dead mice in the laundry room of her childhood home, how she’d discover them in the glue traps days after the fact, their shit caked behind them in an arc.

 

The homes along Cypress Avenue were lit up red and green, some with elaborate Christmas displays, a plastic sled and reindeer floating on strings of tinsel above the sidewalk. While she walked she traveled back to complete her family’s traditions, help them braid the bread and set the wreath on the door outside, how its needles would dig into her tender skin and she’d feel strong for having lifted the thing onto the door hook without any help. When she went home, she lied and said she’d been offered a promotion that would start in the New Year. Her mom did a little hop when she heard this and they all went to bed smiling, bellies full of red wine. They wore eye masks to sleep since 5001 had started to glow like an amber night light. On the train home the next morning she texted Chase a meme and he ha-ha reacted to it.

Lol

How long do you think we have

Idk! Been wondering that myself

 

Can I come over tonight

Yes please

Lol

The speed of his response made her feel like he’d been waiting for her to ask, and the quick lol afterwards maybe even indicated that he was feeling sheepish about it. Though reading too much into things like this had been the death of her in previous lives, she granted herself the excitement as she arrived at Penn Station.

 

A new type of seal had been discovered that morning. It was meant to live underneath feet of ice; its eyes were set very far apart, and she remembered the sun bears from when she was very young, how she’d mocked their strange snouts and googly-looking eyes. She saved a picture of the seal to her phone, then took a picture of her face straight-on without a helpful angle so that its asymmetries were evident. She kept her expression neutral, which had always made her look as though she were brooding, a little dead behind the eyes. She posted the photo of herself next to the photo of the seal without a caption. Chase, who had followed her a week prior, liked the post.

 

Before early afternoon, the post had several hundred likes. She turned push notifications off once it broke into the thousands. By the evening, several hundred people had imitated the format, and “me vs. seal” was trending in her zip code. An hour before she was set to come over, Chase texted her.

 

did you just start a meme

I think so lmao

That’s hot

Wear something cute :)

 

When they went to sleep that night, he offered her a spare eye mask.

 

***

 

The longer it went on, the more she found herself wanting to joke about it. Her solemn face at the grocery store with a bunch of green bananas held up in front of it, captioned I live on the edge. She bought a bunch of slutty outfits, schoolgirl and cowgirl and spacegirl and wore them to Chase’s apartment with abandon. She liked how grateful he’d look when he’d answer the door to find her in some vinyl-skirt-thing. Once, he’d carried her from the doorway into his room. We’re married now, she’d said. He came in her each time. With the spacegirl outfit she’d worn a pin with the NASA logo on it, had even planned a little quip about it, but he hadn’t noticed.

 

They had just finished having sex when their phones buzzed in unison.

 

NASA confirms impact within the next 12 hours. Please visit www.nasa.gov for more information.

 

Both laughed uncomfortably at the exact same time, as if on cue. Her stomach was still streaked with cum. She lay back to stare at the ceiling only for him to pull her onto his body and wrap her in both arms.

 

They watched the world’s reactions. Some were sharing secrets, posting nudes and love letters and awful things that their exes had done to them. One person was livestreaming their drive from South Carolina to Florida, trying to make it in time to be with their girlfriend while others cheered them on in the comments. One of her college friends had already taken four tabs of acid, if i’m going out of here it’s going to be a journey lol and someone she had met at a party once had gone viral instantly for referencing the original conspiracy posts.

 

They learned that Elon Musk and a few other billionaires had tried to leave earlier that week. Someone joked about killing Jeff Bezos; someone else actually did.

 

They took the train to Times Square and held sweaty hands on the way there. The lack of darkness would’ve been noticeable anywhere else, but in the square she felt safe bathed in the lights and shapes and colors. A group wearing shirts with a bold sans serif font made deep-sounding noises by the pseudo-bleachers. Girls with wavy hair held small rectangles, sometimes in front of their faces and sometimes projected outwards from just under their chins, as if they were holding small doves with the sides of both their hands. One large rectangle projected the changing numbers, and she remembered waiting as a child for a ball to drop them into yet another endpoint—she looked around for it, then, but got distracted by a group of three spidermen huddled together.

 

They were toying with a box which she at first worried about but quickly realized was a firework, one of the giant boxed ones only sold in certain states where it was legal. At its ignition the gatherers gasped, but the billboards above them made it nearly impossible to see the colors as intended. Instead, they noticed streaks of smoke against an orange-turning sky and woo-ed all the same, some taking out their rectangles again. She sent a video to her mom, who sent one back from her own perspective—more and more intermittent streaks of smoke against a slightly darker orange glow. She thought of posting the exchange but instead pulled on Chase's arm to show him.

 

“It’s because Jeff Bezos is dead!”

 

He chuckled.

DEVIN KAWAILANI BARRICKLOW is a writer living in New York City. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has been published in 4x4 Magazine, Quarto, and Tabula Rasa Literary Journal. You can (unfortunately) find her on Twitter @maryoliverstan.

Header art: "Manakin" by Roger Camp.