It was the evening of February 27, 2015 when Caroline saw the Dress for the first time. Sitting in the laundromat, she found her usual game of watching her underwear tumble in warm circles had lost its appeal. She took out her phone and opened Twitter.
There at once she saw the picture of a dress. The Dress: gold and white, by Caroline’s estimation, but she didn’t think much more of it than that until the texts began. The first was from Casey, Caroline’s very best frenemy.
“Have you been following this? How is it possible?! What color do you see?!?!”
Caroline realized she must previously have missed something in her feed. She quickly did her research and came back, only somewhat unnerved. The internet was in turmoil. Nobody seemed able to agree on the color of the dress: to some it was gold and white, to others — wrong people, thought Caroline — it was blue and black.
“Weird,” she texted. “It’s gold and white for me. What do you see?”
“Omg same,” texted Casey. “Thought we’d be different, Lol”
Caroline rolled her eyes and texted her brother, Will, who lived on the other side of the country in Los Angeles, and her roommate, Sarah, who was quite rational, and not at all funny; she wouldn’t make a joke of this, she’d have answers. Will was two years younger, but had a good head on him, and could also be relied upon to have a working theory on the Dress by now. The two of them together, Caroline and Will, had a theory for everything, and several for the End Of The World, for example, with a plan of action, even, were their lives to come to that. They’d meet halfway between their current locations, at the secluded Colorado cabin they once visited when they were young. There, they’d hole up and figure out some way to survive while the world fell to pieces. But Caroline shook the thought away. The Dress was very strange, but it wasn’t the End Of The World.
As Caroline’s clothing cooled in slowly-wrinkling piles on the counter, she dug further into the internet, and became a little worried. No quick explanation of the phenomena made itself apparent to her, and —
“Blue and black,” texted Sarah. “What color do you see?”
Caroline didn’t have time to text, anymore. She called Sarah back and asked her to corroborate her story. And “why are you laughing?” This wasn’t funny. This was a thing that shouldn’t have been happening! She demanded her and Sarah’s phones were switched to similar light settings. She demanded they were both observing the photo saved and in their gallery. She pressed Sarah further, and for answers — “What the hell is going on, here?”
But as Sarah rattled off her own, incorrect ideas concerning the question of the Dress now gripping the entire nation, a strange notion took hold of Caroline. Sarah had never been entirely ‘like her.’ There was Sarah’s difficulty with dishes, for example, which is to say Sarah never did them. It wasn’t she was dirty, really, so much as Sarah didn’t seem to care about dishes. Details in general, come to think of it, were something of a problem for the girl. Laundry on the floor, salt on the counter, clutter in the living room: none of this mattered to Caroline’s blue-and-black-observing roommate. There were Sarah’s very few friendships to consider, as well, and Caroline tried to recall even one romantic interest of Sarah’s that past year they lived together, but there were none. Sarah was, as they say, a loner.
Caroline hung up and scanned her Twitter feed. Was something larger happening? Could it be possible the Blue and Blacks were in some way… different than the Gold and Whites? She wished her brother would call her. A now-viral Buzzfeed poll placed the Gold and Whites in a 2/3 majority. Her people. But what of this minority, the Blue and Blacks? Who were they? Or, might it be more of a… what were they?
A stray note of conversation caught her interest from over by the door. There were two younger guys, around her age, out of college but not really ‘adult,’ and they were laughing with their phones out. Slowly, cautiously, Caroline approached them.
“The Dress?” she asked.
Startled by her abrupt appearance, the two boys nodded, and they implored her to join them in their fun. The one on the left — the cute one, the good one — was a Gold and White. But the one on the right? He was wearing sandals. It was winter, and he was wearing sandals and a t-shirt and had a whitehead on his upper lip that Caroline couldn’t peel her eyes from, a whitehead that she couldn’t fathom. Why would he let it sit there like that? Why wouldn’t he pop it? How unusual!
“Blue and black,” he said.
I know, thought Caroline.
She made a poor effort at small talk before she excused herself to her laundry, and stuffed all of it, unfolded, into her basket. By the time she made it to the door, the two boys, now fast friends, somehow, despite their fully, radically different way of observing and understanding their shared, physical reality, had found a stoop outside and lit a couple cigarettes. Caroline wanted nothing to do with them. Caroline wanted nothing to do with anyone or anything but her brother, then, and the comforting glow of her computer monitor as she spent those next few hours researching. She clutched her basket close to her chest and hurried down the block.
It was — an officer? The man wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform Caroline was accustomed to. It was rather something like a military cut, and all black. There was a gun holstered on his side, and a small device not unlike a dwarfed TV remote in his hand. He held it out, as if checking for a reading.
“You’ve seen the Dress,” he said.
It wasn’t a question, but a statement of fact. Still, Caroline answered — “Yes?”
Was he only making small talk? The officer turned to a second man, coming up behind him, just as big, and just as intimidating. He nodded to his comrade, the two stepped around Caroline, and they approached the boys on the stoop. The officer with the remote whispered something to the other, and the two boys looked up at them, confused.
“Hey, dudes, what’s — ”
The second officer grabbed the cute boy, the Gold and White, before he could finish his sentence, and threw him to the sidewalk. The first officer picked the Blue and Black up off the stoop, turned him around, and cuffed him.
“Hey, what the hell? I didn’t do anything!”
A black van sped around the corner. The back doors opened. The Blue and Black was thrown inside, the officers hopped in behind him, and the truck was gone. Caroline and the cute Gold and White looked at one another, stunned. Had that really just happened?
“What did he do?” Caroline asked.
“Nothing,” the boy said. “At least, I don’t think? I just met him.”
He picked himself up, brushed himself off, and took out his phone.
“Should I call the cops?”
“Weren’t they cops?” asked Caroline. “They seemed like cops.”
“Did you see any badges? Because I didn’t. Screw this, I’m calling 9-1-1.”
Caroline nodded, turned, and ran for her apartment.
“Hey!” the boy shouted. “Where are you going? They’re gonna need to talk to you!”
But Caroline didn’t care. Again, she thought of Will. Why hadn’t he answered her? Something big was happening. Her roommate was gone, and no longer answering her texts. Caroline wasn’t sure if that was such a bad thing. There was something about proximity to a Blue and Black, now, she didn’t find appealing. She locked herself in her room, and she read all the theories she could about the Dress that were now in full bloom across the internet — the theories concerning the science of color and seeing differently, the already-debunked theories about mechanical differences in smart phones and computer screens, and all manner of conspiracy theories. It was 2 or 3 a.m. before the first strange stories started to appear about arrests.
She woke up beside her open lap top, unsettled and unnerved.
It was early, just dawn, and the wail of a siren outside was unrelenting. She’d slept poorly, and dreamt herself on a train car derailed by tornadoes, everywhere. She peeled off her damp clothes and checked her phone. Her brother, at least, had finally responded.
“Don’t listen to them, Caroline, it isn’t true”
“What isn’t true?” she texted back.
Caroline slipped into a sweater she grabbed from the floor, and cycled through the motions of her morning. First order of business: caffeine. She ground the beans and filled the pot and turned it on, and then she brushed her teeth. She washed her face. She walked back into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee, curious, now — had Sarah not come home?
And that siren, she thought. Damn, it was loud! What was going on out there?
Caroline walked down the stairs, barefoot, opened the front door, and found herself transported to another world: smoke clouded her neighborhood in a thin film, like some violent morning fog, and cars were broken into down the street. Glass and trash littered the sidewalks. A string of people fled the corner store across the way with groceries in hand, door open, windows shattered — were these people looting? In Ocean Grove? Caroline lived in a town of dollhouse-looking painted homes. They had town meetings people went to. Once a month, she brought doughnuts.
Five men dressed as riot police turned the corner, batons in fist, running. One raised his arm in Caroline’s direction, small remote in hand, and shouted something to his friends. They passed on, and he stopped, out of breath. He raced through his urgent instruction.
“Miss, you shouldn’t be out here. Is this where you live? Please go back inside.”
“What’s going on?” asked Caroline, a note of fierce determination in her, bubbled up from where she wasn’t altogether sure.
The ground shook, and there was the sound of some explosion in the distance. Caroline looked up as five jets cut across the sky. Were they chasing something? Was that — “oh my god” — a pod in the distance, a black sphere in the sky like a beetle, but the way it moved was…
“Aliens,” the officer said.
“Aliens? What are you… what do you — ”
“You’ve seen the dress?”
Caroline nodded. The Dress.
“It was a litmus test, run by the government. We’ve been planning the attack for months. Another race — from another world? We don’t know, but they’ve integrated into our society. Damn it, they look like us! Some of them don’t even seem to know what they are but sight of the Dress does something to their nervous system, and their body releases some kind of hormone into their blood stream. It’s harmless, but — ” he lifted his remote “now we can at least scan for them.”
Caroline shook her head. It was all too much. And yet, was she really that surprised? If she were being honest with herself, she’d know the answer: not at all.
“What do we do?”
“Like I said, miss, go back inside. It’s not safe out here. Some of these things are violent, and they’ve mobilized. They have these weapons that… ”
He trailed off. The others in riot gear had stopped at the corner. There was some kind of altercation. The man turned back to Caroline, spit out his final command — “Get inside!” — and ran to join his colleagues.
Caroline considered all of this for a moment, then finally, shock and emotion all receded, ran upstairs. She opened her bedroom closet and dug into the back for the duffle bag. Her phone rang.
“Will!” she said. “Jesus Christ, where are you right now?!”
“I’m not an alien,” was the first thing he said.
Caroline only let the panic at the thought of this take hold of her that first second. In a way, she’d been waiting for this. Her brother had been crying, though. That much she could tell from the crack in his voice. Her little brother had been crying, and was terrified, now, and she was all the way across the country.
“I’m Blue and Black,” he said, “oh god. Oh god, Caroline, I’m not an alien.”
Caroline only needed to know one thing.
“You remember the plan?”
“Aliens are apparently real and our government has gone to war with them, Will. What the hell plan do you think?”
“Our zombie apocalypse plan? Caroline, this isn’t a fucking joke. They’re out there arresting people.”
“You’re right,” said Caroline, “it’s not a fucking joke. It’s the End Of The World. Meet me at the cabin. Grab — ”
— Click! —
The signal died. She tried to call her brother back, but it was no good. She tried to call her mother, but that was no good either. The wireless towers were down. Caroline threw on a pair of jeans, and her leather jacket. She tied back her hair. She opened up the duffle bag: two gallons of water, canned food, flashlight, first aid kit, a change of clothes, and —
She hadn’t talked to him in years, but he was not a Democrat. She opened the cylinder of her revolver — “just in case,” he’d said to her that last Christmas — and loaded it with bullets. She stuck the piece behind her waistband. Her father’s political opinions had embarrassed her for decades. Now, the silver lining. She tore an old shirt into strips, and bound a butcher’s knife to her leg. She grabbed her roommate’s baseball bat. Then finally, with keys in hand, she hurried down the stairs and found her Jeep.
If Will could make it as far as Colorado, she would try and protect him.
Was he an alien? The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Little dude was weird. But she wouldn’t sort any of that out until she had to. And even if it all were true — he’s my alien, she thought.
She tossed her duffle bag onto the passenger’s side seat, and sped out of Jersey. The country would be a nightmare — riots by now, Caroline was sure, and who knew what the government was planning to combat the invasion. There was no telling what was coming next. But this was Caroline’s reality now, and only one thing mattered.
“I’m coming for you, Will.”