© Gennady Favel
It immediately became apparent what happened when I woke up in the hospital at 6:30 in the morning, my head hurting and bandages on my left arm. I'd been scratched. “Getting scratched” is a term used by Manhattan bike couriers; it means having an accident that doesn't lead to any long-term disabilities. Everyone who works this job long enough gets scratched at some point. It's a badge of honor. Lying around the hospital room was all the evidence one needed to know that that was what had happened: my helmet had a long deep crack in it and was hanging from the steering wheel of my bike, whose front tire now looked like the start of a pretty good modern art sculpture. I thought about how I would add it to my collection of similar pieces, my road-battle trophies.
I was 19 when my friend Kevin got me this job. He said it'd be a good way to shed a few pounds. I didn't plan to stay as long as I have, three years now, but in addition to the enforced weight-loss it's also turned out to be a good way of paying for college. And there's another benefit, as well: I get to meet people in different corporations and they get to meet me, which for a kid about to graduate with a business degree is important. I chat with the secretaries, ask them about what they do and whether they like it, while trying to feel out whether the company is one I should consider applying to. I figure that getting friendly with even these employees means a better shot at getting my résumé onto their bosses' desks.
Sometimes I even get to meet the managers and CEOs themselves. You see, over the years I've built up something of a reputation for being one of the fastest and most reliable bike couriers in town, so when the higher-ups want a sensitive package delivered on time and without their employees snooping at the contents they hand the package to me directly. In fact, the package I was delivering when my accident occurred was just one of those cases.
I'd received a call from Mr. Walsmith, CEO of Eden Corp, about a package that needed immediate delivery. I've delivered for Mr. Walsmith before and I knew him to be an excellent tipper. The funny thing is that, despite having been to Eden Corp on multiple occasions and even talking to several of its employees, I'd never been able to figure out quite what it is they do. Maybe contract law, or data processing—in any case, the employees always looked serious and busy. This time I arrived at Eden Corp at around 5 p.m. to find Mr. Walsmith waiting for me by the entrance. He looked even more serious than usual as he handed me the large padded envelope for rush delivery. “This package absolutely must be in the hands of the receiving party by eleven p.m. so he has an hour to review it before twelve,” he said. The label read Mr. Mophis followed by an address on Sixth Avenue. I reassured Mr. Walsmith that it would take no more than twenty minutes to make the delivery and after receiving a generous tip and another reminder about the urgent nature of my assignment I was off.
I couldn't tell you now who had the right of way at that busy intersection—me or the speeding sports car—but I can tell you that the resulting impact voided my promise to Mr. Walsmith. I was lucky, I realize now, that the car hit only my front tire, spinning me and my bike violently into a standing bus. Yes, I was hurt, but by avoiding a direct hit I managed to leave the scene alive, albeit unconscious and in an ambulance.
A nurse walked into my room to check how I was doing. She lifted the window blinds, letting the morning sun's rays bathe the room with white light. “They said on the news it's going to rain, but there's not a cloud in sight now; it looks like it's going to be a beauty…” she chatted while applying new bandages to the cuts on my arm. “The doctor will see you shortly.” Then she left. I got out of bed to take inventory of my possessions. Aside from its mangled front wheel, the bike was still in usable shape and the spare tire that I always carried with me was right next to it. The package, still awaiting delivery, was on one of the chairs. I wondered what sort of corporate headache my accident had caused Eden Corp, but having already convinced myself that there was nothing I could have done, I resolved to make good on the job as soon as I was discharged.
As I stared at the package, considering the various possible critical business dealings it might involve, a finger tapped my right shoulder. “Hello Mr. Briscon,” the doctor said, extending his hand with a friendly smile. “Call me Freddy, Doc,” I replied, shaking his hand. “Well, Freddy, it looks like you're going to live. The x-rays show no breaks or fractures so it's up to you whether you want to go home or stay here for observation.” I glanced at the undelivered package and my beat-up bike and told the doctor that I'd prefer to be out as soon as possible. The nurse returned to give me some painkillers and a change of bandages and ten minutes later I was on the street, ready to begin a new workday, or to finish the previous one, depending on how you looked at it.
When I'd replaced the front wheel and got on my bike my hand reached instinctively for the cell phone in my jacket pocket. 27 missed calls I saw when I'd flipped it open. All from Mr. Walsmith. Damn. My mind drifted for a moment to think of all the tips I would now surely miss out on. Should I call to apologize? The decision was made for me, by the blinking red light indicating no signal. That's weird, I thought. No reception right in the middle of the city? I glanced around and saw two other people staring at their phones with the same surprised annoyance. “Must be a service outage,” I said to one of them as I started pedaling towards my delivery destination. By my estimations I would miss the 11 p.m. deadline by about nine and a half hours.
About four blocks later I noticed something that hadn't happened since I started this job three years ago. I was sweating profusely. Why was I tired already? Because of the accident? Except for my bruises I was feeling fine. And then it hit me: it was extremely hot. Unseasonably hot. I didn't know the exact temperature but it was the middle of March and I felt as hot as I had when I visited Mexico as a teenager in July. Must be some kind of record for this time of year, I thought.
At the next intersection I realized I wasn't going to be able to pedal much longer, not in this heat and without water. I dismounted and leaned against the side of a building, out of direct sunlight. A couple of businessmen passed by holding their suit jackets over their arms and wiping their foreheads with their ties. The extreme heat seemed to have caught everyone by surprise. After watching the people walking by for a few minutes, I noticed something strange: although it was morning, all of the office workers I could see were walking not towards the skyscrapers of Midtown, but in the opposite direction, west, towards the Hudson—while pointing skyward and talking frantically. I couldn't see what they were pointing at because a tall building blocked my view, so I got back on my bike and, wiping sweat with one hand, pedaled towards the river, fighting my way through thicker and thicker crowds as I went.
And then I saw it: the sun, which, as everyone knows, rises in the east, today rising in the west.
To recalibrate my sense of direction, I turned quickly to find the Empire State Building, which I knew to be north of where I was. Then I turned another ninety degrees to face what I knew was east. And there it was again: the sun, in its correct position now, rising above the East River. I looked west again and again I saw the sun rising there as well. After turning my head from west to east and back again countless times I realized that what we were all seeing was two suns: one rising in the east, the other in the west.
I stood there, dumbstruck. Like everyone else my first thought was that I was dreaming. But while most of the others around me soon seemed to accept that they weren't, that this was reality (some of them even pinched themselves to be sure), I could not. I was in an accident , I reassured myself. This is probably just a vision, a symptom of my concussion. Lots of people see stars after they get hit on the head . I was seeing two. Or maybe I was hallucinating; maybe the heat and dehydration had gotten to me. But that wasn't it. It didn't take long to feel certain of the heat's source as we all nervously stared westward at the extra rising sphere. I wondered if the end had come, for me, for earth as a whole. The only sign to counter those feelings was that I was still alive, and when you are slowly cooking in your own sweat this is not a state of existence you take for granted.
Some people dropped to their knees and prayed, not unreasonably. Others tried to reach loved ones on their cell phones, but without success. This new presence in the sky had evidently knocked out all wireless communication. Some people, including me, began to disperse. I overheard a few wanting to get to a television, hoping someone on the news could provide some answers. For my part I was pretty sure no one had any answers this soon, even if there were a television signal, which I felt certain there was not.
I headed east, rolling my bike beside me. On a corner I stopped by an abandoned grocery store and drank from a gallon bottle of water. What I couldn't finish I dumped on my head, letting the water wash away the sweat and permeate my clothes, already saturated with perspiration. As I continued walking, turning every so often to look at the second rising sun, my mind searched for a plan of action. I considered finding some shelter underground and waiting for the suns to set before venturing out again for answers. But what if the new sun changed the cycle of day and night? What if night came later, or not at all?
I passed a church. A line had already formed outside and a young priest was moving hurriedly among the gathered people, reassuring them that no one would be turned away. I doubted his ability to keep that promise as more and more people arrived every second. I continued on my way, not knowing exactly which way that was, and as I walked a cold wind suddenly hit the back of my neck. I turned around to see an open door, an entrance to an office building I had just passed. Leaning through the entrance I saw an empty lobby, vacated by the security personal normally posted at a desk just beyond the revolving doors. The lobby was cool; apparently the building's automatic climate control system had activated the air conditioners. I decided to make this place my temporary escape from the agonizing heat and sitting down on the floor I felt the coolness of the marble pass through my skin, a sensation just moments ago I would have thought impossible. I placed my back against the lobby's visitors' counter and closed my eyes to contemplate how an event like this could be possible without anyone having foreseen it.
Around noon the air conditioning switched off and the ceiling lights flickered and died. I looked through the lobby's glass wall and saw that the street's traffic lights were also dead. Air conditioners blasting citywide must have overloaded the electric grid. At least that was my theory. It really didn't matter what caused the power to fail; all that mattered was that the lobby was already rising in temperature and would eventually be on par with the temperature outside. I locked the revolving doors, hoping to quarantine the cold air inside for as long as possible. There was nothing else I could have done, no other place to go. So I sat back down, waiting for the heat to win.
Suddenly I felt something move inside my pocket. My cell phone was vibrating. Impossible. Maybe it was a sign the battery was about to die. Not that I had much use for it at this point anyway. I flipped open the phone and, to my astonishment, despite the little red light still indicating no signal, I saw an incoming call. The caller ID said it was Mr. Walsmith.
“Hello?” I said, expecting to hear only static.
“The package, you did not deliver it,” Mr. Walsmith said.
“No,” I replied, not bothering to give an explanation.
“Where is it now?” asked Mr. Walsmith, his voice harder to make out. There was static after all.
“I still have it with me,” I said, glancing down at the package next to my bike.
“Complete the delivery or all hell will break lose,” Mr. Walsmith said.
The static now made it almost impossible to discern what was being said.
“Look inside if you must, but deliver the package or…”
The line went dead.
I didn't know what to make of this conversation. Surely Mr. Walsmith was aware of what was happening. Why would he now, of all times, care about some corporate documents? And how was it that his call came through when it was pretty obvious that all wireless signals were dead? I wouldn't have given any of this much thought except that I was more or less confined to the building's lobby and, despite the unfolding events outside, had nothing else to do. So I decided to open Mr. Walsmith's package—and inside I found several thick books, thousands of pages each, and a letter:
Dear Mr. Mophis,
We have received your client's request for expansion and understand his desire to do so. As the human population grows and moral standards fall it is only natural that he will experience overcrowding. Hell has always experienced this problem and we were always able to work with you to find a feasible solution. However, your client's latest request to turn Earth into one of Hell's districts does not meet the requirements agreed upon during the Meeting of Creation. You see, Mr. Mophis, despite humanity's mounting sins and dropping moral standards there is still enough good and virtue in this world to keep mankind and Earth above the minimum threshold permitting your client to institute a takeover. In the enclosed Moral Census books you will find a list of all the good people and their deeds done over the last 365 days. The list provides a legal justification to restrict any expansion into Earth for the next 75 years, at which point a new census is to be taken.
My firm would like to wish you and your client luck in finding another creative solution to your problem and I hope that in future we will be able to deliver the census well in advance of the applicable deadline.
Head Council and CEO of EDEN CORP
If this were any other day I would have thought what any other rational person would have thought: that the letter was a joke, on me or its recipient or both. But this was no ordinary day and even beforehand I didn't take Mr. Walsmith for the joking type. I picked up one of the “Moral Census” books and leafed through its pages. Sure enough, written in tiny letters were the names of thousans of people and the selfless noble acts that had warranted their being listed.
After pondering my limited options I decided to take Mr. Walsmith's call and his letter at face value, which meant committing myself to do everything in my power to complete the delivery as soon as possible. If Hell were truly coming to Earth (and it looked like it might already be here), then surely the risk of action would be less than not acting at all. I wondered why I of all people had been given the task of delivering this very important package. Perhaps I'd oversold my speed and reliability. In any case, now was the time to prove my worth.
I packed the contents back into the packaging and tied it to the back of my bike. Through the lobby's glass front I could see the streets were abandoned. A car passed every now and again, so it couldn't have been impossible to be outside. I located the bathroom and drank as much water as I could gulp down. Then I soaked my clothes again so that water dripped from me as I crossed the lobby. I got on my bike, took a few deep breaths, kicked open the lobby's side door with my foot and rode out onto the sidewalk.
It's hard to describe the sensation of such intense heat to someone who hasn't experienced it. The first thing you feel is pain all over your skin, then a tingling, then a sort of numbness as your nervous system exhausts itself. I calculated my journey to Mr. Mophis's address to take approximately fifteen minutes and made a mental map of the route with the most tree-lined streets. I had to do all I could to stay out of the crosshairs of direct sunlight.
After three blocks I felt like I was riding on two flat tires. The heat had softened their rubber. I pedaled faster, which under the circumstances had little effect. As I passed several buildings I could see, through their windows, people staring at me, pointing out the crazy deliveryman on his melting bike. In one window I saw two young children frowning at me with puzzled eyes. I gave them a thumbs-up, trying to reassure both them and myself that everything would be okay. But when I reached the halfway point to my destination I felt like giving up. The metal parts of my bike had reached such a temperature that it burned to touch them with naked skin. But giving up was not an option. The words of Mr. Walsmith, Complete the delivery, or all hell will break loose , echoed in my head and I pressed on. Finally, as I was about to faint and my rubber tires began to stick to the pavement, I arrived at my destination, a black windowless building with tinted glass doors. I lifted the package and, leaving the bike lying in the middle of the sidewalk, passed through the revolving doors.
Unlike every other building I'd passed on my way, here it seemed that all was business as usual. The lobby was brightly lit from overhead and the ventilation system blew cool air, bringing life and feeling back to my skin. I approached the visitors' desk, where a meticulously dressed woman stood at attention.
“Nice and cool in here, huh?” I said, trying to read her reaction to my arrival.
“Best of both worlds. Hot out there, cool in here,” she said almost mechanically.
“A bit too hot for March, wouldn't you say?” I replied sarcastically.
The woman shrugged.
“Got a package for Mr. Mophis,” I continued. “Is he in?”
“Mr. Mophis is always in,” she said. “You can give it to me and I'll make sure it gets to him.”
I hesitated for a second, but then realized that if I was where I thought I was there'd be no point in arguing. Perhaps there was some protocol these people had to follow; otherwise what would be the point of this delivery in the first place? I placed the package on the counter and gave it a slight push away from me. The woman smiled. I reciprocated, uncomfortably.
“I guess that's it,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. But she didn't pick up the package.
I stood there for a few seconds, unsure whether I should insist that she take it to Mr. Mophis right away. But it was out of my hands. I had completed the delivery and now was powerless to insist on anything. I backed away from the counter, gave the receptionist an acknowledging nod and turned around to exit the building. Bad idea , I thought then. The temperature outside had by now probably reached lethal levels and I was in the only place possibly in the entire world that had a working air conditioner. That's when I decided I wasn't going anywhere. I paced around the lobby for a while and then sat down on the floor in one of its corners. Back at the visitors' counter, the woman and the package were gone.
As I sat there wondering what was in store for me and all mankind I felt tired. Really tired. I still hadn't recovered from my concussion and the heat had drained whatever energy I'd had left. I closed my eyes and five minutes later fell asleep.
When I awoke it was night. At least I thought it was night, since no light came through the lobby doors. The overhead lights were still on but it was quiet; the air conditioner's humming had ceased. The visitors' counter was unstaffed and the entrance to the elevator banks was sealed off by a metal gate. I was thirsty and I had stayed in this place long enough already. There was no way of knowing what would happen when dawn came, but I had little choice except to wait. I was going home.
Gennady Favel is a Wall Street trader, author, financial writer, and screenwriter. His book The Stock Market Philosopher was published in 2008. He has written for SeekingAlpha.com, Futures Magazine and SFO magazine. Besides managing to beat the odds on Wall Street he is currently working on a screenplay to be developed into a movie. Gennady resides in New York City with his wife and daughter.