Slight movement caused some small rocks to trickle to the ground. A hand belonging to a man covered in dust began to rise. Sunlight was exposed from a crumbled side of the structure. The white light caused him to stir. His head began to move as well. His eyes opened slowly, squinting at first. He coughed, swallowed whatever saliva was left in his mouth, and coughed again. “Hel-hello?” he slightly mumbled, “Hello!?” again but this time he called out desperately. “Somebody. Help me,” he yelled out some more. The lower half of his body was pinned under an upside down desk and a couple large chunks of concrete. He waited for an answer and heard nothing, absolutely nothing. The air was quiet. The feeling of loneliness started to creep in. He wiped his wristwatch of white dust, it was 4:42pm and he knew the light was in his favor for only a few more hours. His instinct was to free his body from the crushing weight.
He could just barely reach a thin metal rod; having to sit up and stretch for it since it was towards his legs. A lot of energy went into grabbing the rod. He grunted and fumbled for it, giving up a couple of times. After catching his breath he gave it another shot, this time he was able to shimmy the rod closer to him with his fingers. He grabbed it and was able to hold himself up. Sweaty palms caused the rod to slip his grasp, he had to act quickly. He ripped the rod from its position and collapsed on his back with the rod a safe distance beside him. The backwards fall bumped his head and a familiar stinging pain pulsed through his skull. He reached to the back of his head with one hand and felt a drop of blood on his fingers and proceeded to wipe it away on his shirt. He held onto the rod, clutching it close like a child’s blanket. A slow warm summer breeze blew over his sweat riddled forehead. It was momentarily refreshing; unfortunately he was in no mood to relax.
The dusty dry conditions were taking a toll on his health. It irritated his throat and he couldn’t stop coughing, his lips began to chap, there was no water within reach. The weight on his body was cutting of circulation to his legs, he couldn’t feel his toes. He had to put whatever energy he had left into freeing himself from this grave situation. All he could think about was getting back to his family; his caring beautiful wife Rebecca, his two boys Nathaniel and Harris, his annoying older brother, worrisome mother, strict father, even his white boxer named Eddie. Now he was driven. His adrenaline was boiling and he felt a surge of power begin to rise. Taking in a large breath, he sat up with rod in hand, and started pushing one of the concrete chunks. It was working; the slab of stone was moving slowly but at least it was relieving some of the weight. “Is anybody out there?” he called again for help, still there were no answers. One piece of concrete was shoved off of the upturned desk, blood rushed down his right leg, finally regaining feeling. A celebratory smile inched its way to his face and a slight chuckle spilled from his lungs. He lied back down for a moment, the jagged pebbles of debris dug into his back but he ignored the pain. It was more comforting than the stress affecting his muscles. There was one more block to tackle.
The sun was beginning to set. He checked his watch again; it was now 8:15pm. With less light he has to work fast. He could see the white moon and its starry offspring beam through the opening. There was metallic crash behind him; it sounded like a cooking pot hitting the floor. He turned his head to catch a glimpse. “Hey, who’s there?” he called out. “I’m stuck here. Please help me.” There was still no answer. He thought the worst, maybe it was a ravenous animal or an armed intruder. Break time was over; he had to get out of there. With rod in hand he thrust the final wedge from atop of him. He pulled his legs out from under the desk, jumped up as fast as he could and swung the rod over towards the sound. Still nothing.
He hobbled over to a shelving unit and fumbled for a flashlight. White light shined in the sounds direction. Whatever object made the clanking thud was just lying on the floor. There were no signs of others, human or animal. He crept around the room, limping slightly, all he could find was more destruction and debris. There was a calmness that filled his body.
He left the room, stepping over the desk of which he was pinned. The corridor was filled with white smoke. He coughed and waved the smoke from his face. The flashlight only made the smoke appear thicker. It began to disperse once he made his way further down the hall to the stairs. A steel staircase leading to the ground floor was mangled midway down. He put down the rod held onto the rail and carefully walked down to the half way point. The exit door was visible because there was still enough light to see through the cracked glass. His only option down was to jump. He clenched the flashlight between his teeth, took a seat on the step and held onto the railing. He scooted closer to the edge, hanged his legs over and pushed off with his feet. This left him dangling; he took some deep breaths, and counted to three. “One…two…” he repositioned his grip on the railing and took another breath. “Three,” he let go and dropped several feet to the floor. Screaming in pain he lay there cradling his left knee, there was a shard of hard plastic jabbed into it. He winced in pain; he wanted to yank it out but couldn’t bring himself to do so. He began to cry, his back itched like bugs were crawling up and down it. His throat formed a lump and it pained him to swallow. He kept hesitating, reaching for the plastic but always withdrawing his hand. He took more big breaths to gain courage. He grabbed a hold of the protruding sliver and took one more breath. He pulled it and let out a roar. He began to weep, his tears are dry. “Help me, please” he struggled to call for help. Dehydration took over his body. His limbs went limp and his mind blanked. His vision was empty and he whited out.
“Nolan, wake up.” A soft voice pried the man’s weary eyes. Upon opening his eyes he noticed a figure surrounded by white light. When he regained focus it was as if he was staring at an angel. The most beautiful blue eyes shined into his. He reached to touch its fair pale skin. “Rebecca? What are you doing here?” She nodded while brushing back his hair.
“Don’t worry, my meeting ended early. They told me there wasn’t much to do since the accounts were being backed up on the exterior hard drives and blah blah blah, some other computer jargon. Anyway, I’m back, would you like some breakfast?”
He looked around, confused; he sat up and checked his watch. It was 8:15am.
“Nolan, what’s wrong?”
“It’s eight in the morning on a Saturday?”
“Uh, yea? Is everything okay?”
“You weren’t supposed to be back until 4pm.”
“I’m sorry? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No, no, it’s fine. I just had a surprise planned for you. Haha, it wasn’t anything important seeing as how it’s our twentieth anniversary.”
He reached for the nightstand drawer and pulled out a small velvet box. He held it in front of her and popped it open.
“Happy anniversary honey.”
Inside was a sparkling white diamond ring. Sunlight reflected into her eyes. She was ecstatic.
“Oh, Nolan, I love it!” She gave him a quick hug, a long kiss, and another kiss.
“Well, come on. Try it on, I hope it’s perfect.” She slipped the ring onto her finger and straightened it out.
“Oh my God it’s amazing. Thank you so much. How did you afford this?”
“We’ve been doing some pretty breakthrough stuff at work and the top dogs have been pretty pleased. So, they’ve been bumping up our paychecks.”
“Baby that’s great, but I bet they won’t be as pleased as you will be tonight.” She ran her fingers up his neck and gave him a lingering kiss behind the ear.
“Oh, I bet, but how about a little test drive right now?” He returned her kiss with a slight nibble on the neck and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“No, no, stop it.” She giggled and pulled away. “Let me make you a big breakfast; some eggs, toast, pancakes, maybe some hash browns. What kind of bread do you want?”
“I’ll just take white. Since you’re home now and the boys are at summer camp maybe we could catch a movie, like we used to.”
“Sounds great babe. I’ll get your food started and you can find a movie. Don’t let me down like last time. I know everybody loves Betty White but the last thing she was in wasn’t for me.”
“Ha, alright, don’t worry I’ll pick a good one. I love you.”
“I love you too.” They kissed. She left the room admiring the ring on her way out. He sat in bed with a curious face. It was as if he was trying to remember something. “What movies are out again?” He whispered to himself. Bed sheets were wrapped around his legs as he tried to get out of bed. He stumbled and fell to the floor getting a small Lego stuck in his knee. He winced at the slight pain; it had passed once he took the piece out of his skin. “Jeeze Nathaniel,” he complained of his son’s unkempt ways. They played Legos together the night before the boys left. He placed the block on the nightstand next to a partially finished castle. The curtains were waving slightly from the breeze. He tugged the linen back to reveal a blinding white light. It was too much to bear; shielding his eyes with his hands caused him to trip over his own feet. He fell backwards knocking his head against the bed frame. All he could see was white.
A tiny repetitive beeping noise woke him. He gasped upon sitting up, he was breathing heavily. Sweat covered his eyes as he tried to survey his surroundings. “I’ve got to get home,” he said aloud hoping it would motivate him further. When he stood up his leg buckled. He checked his watch, it was an alarm set for 6:00am, the time he usually wakes up for work. The air was grey; full of smoke. He limped toward the glass door and pushed it open with his shoulder since he was tending to his sore leg.
Once outside he was able to view the damage to the rest of the community. Cars were piled up, sink holes swallowed entire trees, buildings were crumbled to piles of grey ashes and worse of all; human bodies littered the streets. He was in disbelief. How terrified could he be when he was too much in shock? A woman with a small baby was lying on the ground, both of them deceased. Children were down like flies in the elementary school playground across the street. A man in a dark grey suit sat lifeless on a bus stop bench with a newspaper still firm in his hands.
He walked the morbid stretch until he found the parking lot with his car. It was strange; his vehicle was the only one left. Did everybody else know what would happen? He reached for his keys to discover them missing. He panicked. There was no chance he was going back inside to look for them. Desperate to get home he found a car that was stopped in the street; he did not care if the driver was still stuck to the wheel. He pried their hands from the steering wheel and dragged the body on to the pavement. He turned the key and the car stalled. He tried again, this time pumping the gas. A hard rock song blared through the speakers, the engine revved, and windshield wipers waved to him. He fumbled with the radio; the channel changed, the tape player turned on, then he finally managed to turn it off completely. The only sound was a slight hum coming from the hood. He put the car in reverse and backed up, accidentally running over the former driver. “Oh God,” he said aloud, his way of apologizing to the man. He switched to drive and sped off towards home.
Inside the car he shuffled around the garbage on the passenger side floor. There were soggy Big Mac boxes, crushed cans, a few parking tickets, and several receipts. There was also half a bottle of Grey Goose vodka; it wasn’t water but it’ll do. He uncapped it and took a long satisfying swig. Then he took another. His home was about fifteen miles away. But there was a blockage in the road. Trees had been knocked out of their roots and lie rigid on the path. Any attempt to go around would be a close call with death. The car slowly rolled between the downed timber and a steep ditch. He slightly lost control of the wheel because he was trembling with anxiety. The front left wheel ran along the edge of the ditch but he quickly jerked the steering wheel to the right which caused the car to scrape the tree limbs. Sparks jumped off of the car. It was dangerous and he required another sip of vodka to maneuver through it. It only lasted for several feet but felt like an infinite labyrinth on ice.
He continued on the road for eight more miles then took a sharp left causing the left wheels to rise above the ground and narrowly avoided a yield sign. The tires came to a screeching halt in front of his home. He struggled with the door handle, freeing himself after a quick tug and thrust. He tumbled out of the car and smacked the side of his face on the driveway. His eyes flickered and the last thing he saw was his crimson front door turning grey.
“Nolan! Hey, are you okay?” She shook him, desperate for him to wake up. His eyes fluttered open and he saw a sad angel crying over him.
“What? Where am I?” he struggled to rise from the floor. She knelt down and tucked her head under his armpit to help raise him from the floor to their bed.
“You must’ve hit your head. Are you alright?” she examined the spaces between his hair for any cuts or bruises.
“Yeah, yeah…I-I’m alright. Just a nasty headache,” he held the back of his head rubbing the pain away. There was a trickle of blood descending under the back of his grey t-shirt.
“You have to be more careful, you’re always falling or something. Let me go get some ice. Stay put okay?” she ran out the room and down the stairs. He took a glimpse out the window. The sky had turned grey and the rain ripped through the trees.
“Hey!” he called downstairs. “Looks like we’re not going to the movies huh?” he chuckled a little. But that only made his head ache more.
“Here babe,” she handed him a bag of peas and some gauze wrap.
“Ha, peas? I’d rather take some vodka for this instead. Thanks though.” He placed the frozen bag on his throbbing head, wincing at first. She held his available hand and squeezed. The diamond ring no longer shining as bright as before.
“Some anniversary so far huh?” he smiled and raised her hand to his lips.
“Well, it was nice while it lasted.” She looked at the ring and then into his steel grey eyes. They leaned into each other for a tender kiss. The phone rang.
“Hello? Hey, how are you? Yeah, things are alright. Yeah, he’s right here. Okay hold on,” she turned to him and extended the phone. “It’s for you. It’s your boss.” He had a puzzled expression.
“Hey, Mack how’s it going? Oh. Really? Now? Alrig-No it’s not a problem. See you soon. Bye” he handed the receiver back to her and stood up from the bed.
“Looks like I’ve got to go to work today. I’m sorry babe. We’ll grab a movie tomorrow night I promise.” He grabbed an outfit from his dresser drawers.
“Are you sure you’re okay to go? You just got knocked out.” She had a wrinkle between her eyebrows.
“Don’t worry baby I’ll be okay. It’ll only be for a few hours okay?” he consoled her then continued getting dressed. They walked downstairs where he grabbed a briefcase and his car keys.
“I love you Nolan.” She held his hand as he opened the front door.
“I love you too. Happy anniversary.” He kissed her, left the house and covered his head with the briefcase. It was a shield from the heavy rain as he headed to his car parked on the side of the street.
He started up the four door sedan, headed down the quaint avenue, and turned right. The windshield wipers had trouble keeping up with the rain, even on its highest setting. The long stretch of road went on for miles. He was taking the downpour in stride and cranked up some tunes on the radio. An important severe weather warning beeped over the song. He tried to change the channel to avoid listening to it. However, the message was airing on all AM and FM stations. It said there were hurricane warnings for locations set far inland. As soon as the message ended a downed tree was in the middle of the road forcing him to slam on the brakes. He stared and took the time to catch his breath. The rear lights of the car lit up as he started going in reverse. He carefully made his way around the tree’s sickly finger like branches that seemed to grab at him.
Once he walked into the office building he proceeded upstairs and took a seat at his desk then picked up the phone to let his boss know he arrived. After hanging up he checked for notes and memos when there was a slight rumble. “Hey, did you feel that?” he called out to the other employees. Then an even stronger force shook a grey lamp from his desk. Lights and ceiling tiles dropped down like oxygen masks on an airplane. He held onto the desk until the shaking stopped. He looked out the window across from his desk only to see a huge grey boulder hurdling towards the building. Just as the impact occurred his chair was yanked right out from under him and he fell to the floor. The desk buckled and fell onto his legs and stomach. The wind was knocked out of him. As he gasped for air he was having a panic attack. His eyes rolled into the back of his head. The last thing he saw were grey chunks of dust and rock covering his face.
He struggled to rise from the front lawn. All these knock outs were frustrating him even more. They’ve been keeping him from checking on his wife. When he rose to his feet he noticed the black roofing shingles of his house were scattered all around the yard, leaving the frame exposed and naked. He tried opening the front door but it was locked. Then he tried kicking it in but was far too weak. He went around to the backyard, accidentally kicking a monster truck toy. “Harris…” he stared at the toy, playing with it in his hands. A tear fell from his eye as he began to sob. The thought of losing his children were devastating. A personal tragedy cannot compare to a natural one. He wiped his eyes and placed the truck on back on the grass. He turned over a black garden stone, took the spare key and unlocked the back door. “Rebecca? Are you home?” he checked the kitchen first; the stove was open, the dishes were shattered on the tiles, and the breakfast she had prepared for him was still on the counter but had been covered in a thin layer of dust. Then he checked the living room where he last kissed his wife; the TV had fallen from its stand, pictures above the fireplace fell face down, and throw pillows to the sofas were tossed to the carpet. “Rebecca?” he called out as he went upstairs step by step. He opened the door to their room, it was pitch black. He prepared for the worst. When he switched on a light he was relieved to find all of their belongings strewn across the floor. Their clothes were torn from hangers, his dresser had collapsed, and the unfinished Lego castle was destroyed into hundreds of tiny plastic pieces.
He flopped onto the bed and began to wonder where his wife could be. He waited for a phone call or even the headlights of the car to reflect off the bedroom wall. Hours passed before he heard a grumble from his stomach; he had forgotten to eat. He went back downstairs to the kitchen and scrounged what he could from the fridge. After he was satisfied he went back to the bedroom and tried making phone calls to anyone and anywhere. He tried the police, no answer. He called the hospitals, nobody picked up. He even dialed the number for Movie Phone and the machine man never came on.
He began to ponder what he just experienced. Meteors bowled down his work place. Hurricane strength winds ripped trees from the ground. Gigantic trembling shook the town. And pelting rain blackened the sky. “Am I the only one left?” he asked aloud. He felt as if this was a dream, that he could slap himself awake at any time. But the pain was too real and his face turned pink. He went to sleep hoping things would be different when he woke up.
The next morning he heard his watch sound off and woke up to a sun blackened by clouds of smoke. He gathered some potentially useful items; such as canned goods, a flashlight, and a shovel, and threw them into the vehicle. He drove towards the city passing empty yards and vacant homes. Their only occupants were either missing or rotting. The usually bustling city was as abandoned as a graveyard. Nobody was eating pizza or hailing a cab. It was a ghost town.
The world had ended. At least for him it should have. He continued riding the streets of the tri-state area. Craters were imprinted across the fields and burnt out forests presented an offensive odor. But he accepted all of this and drove even further. Once he reached the edge of the country he turned around and headed back home hoping to spot anything that was still alive. The Earth had grown brown from withering landscapes. His heart grew lonely with the absence of mankind. They would both eventually turn black.