The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. So we flee our apartments, those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We flee our apartments grumbling about testing the system on a Monday morning, a heads up would have been nice, an email, a note on the doors. Some of us still in pajamas, a rogue Cheerio stuck to our chin, others with wet hair and mis-matched socks, no shoes, all flooded out like roaches from behind toasters, microwaves and forgotten loaves of bread. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Keeping our distance from neighbor-strangers, the men we smile at in elevators, the women we nod to in the mail room.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. They don’t stop after a minute like we expect. Or five or ten. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Noses buried in cell phones. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs, picturing chargers on nightstands, kitchen counters, plugged into laptops. Oh how we long for them. Noses buried deep in cell phones. We play Candy Crush, we text our mothers, we punch emails to bosses with trained thumbs.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. Some of us try to call management. This is unacceptable. We have Zoom meetings to attend, we have scared cats under beds, we have lives to live in those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs. The numbers dropping fast, counting down like it’s goddamn Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. What do we do with that last percentage? Who do we text? Which feed do we scroll? Which photo do we like? When the screens go black we look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one we hear fighting on the other side of the kitchen, saying things to his wife we have only heard in movies. We look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one crying at night above our bed. As we lay, scrolling ourselves to sleep, the sound of their sobs becomes the white noise that finally puts us under. We look around and try to match unknown faces to the lives we hear on the other sides of walls.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. We long for chargers, we worry for cats, we wonder for neighbor-strangers. And then we see it. Smoke twirling its way up from the rooftop like an angry ghost. This is not a test. We grab madly for our dead phones to snap photos, to Tweet in all caps, to text our friend in Boston.

***

Eric Scot Tryon is a writer from San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Pithead Chapel, Los Angeles Review, Pidgeonholes, Monkeybicycle, Cease, Cows, Longleaf Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and elsewhere. Eric is also the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. Find more information at www.ericscottryon.com or on Twitter @EricScotTryon.