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I can still hear them. The screams... The loud, pained, synchronous wailing... they traversed far and wide, frequently interrupted by shattering glass and the stuttering shocks from snake-like power lines thrashing wildly from fallen poles. The sickening smell of burning flesh is still ingrained deep in my mind. It floated heavy in the air, laced with the foreboding tinge of impending death.
I watched in sheer terror at the once blooming city skyline shined crimson with scorching towers of unforgiving flames. Lumps of ash blanketed the skies, casting an eerie shadow across the glass and concrete that once decorated the city.
Civilization as I knew it had come to a tumultuous end. And as I watched with teary eyes, I couldn't help but wonder, What truth lies ahead in this new bleak, and lifeless existence?
* * *
Tragedies occur, as tragedies often do, in the most unexpected moments of a person’s life. My circumstances were no different. We were living a dream, my family and I. A nice, cozy apartment right in the heart of Island city. A great paying job in the real-estate business. And a loyal cat, Scruffy, who had the unnerving tenacity for stashing my shoes in the most unexpected of places every morning.
It was paradise on earth.
Until the hour came to pass.
Honk! Honk! Honk!
Traffic was a nightmare that Friday evening. Tailor Bridge was the only way in and out of Island City, and the cars simply weren’t moving. I’d just made a huge sale out in the suburbs and I couldn’t wait to get home to celebrate with Hannah, my wife.
Oh, Hannah. How I wish I could hold you just one more time.
The car horns were nerve-wracking.
The scorching summer heat incinerated my car, cooking me to a sweaty crisp from the inside. My dress shirt was a soggy mess and I could smell myself in the heat. In my head, I could see Hannah pegging her nose at me and giving me her signature I-told-you-so look.
I told you to fix the AC Joe, she’d say.
I pulled my phone from my pocket. Drops of sweat had pooled the screen, and an additional drop splashed from my chin. I tapped the message icon and Hannah's message poppe open, I have a surprise for you… And I just might let you have it if you come early.
An image followed. Black, laced lingerie was arranged over the bed: An undersized bra. A belt garter that connected to a what looked like meshed thigh highs. And a g-string that seemed to part right at the middle. White rose petals were splayed around them on the red, silk sheets.
A grin spread over my face and I checked the time over the top right corner of the screen.
I looked up to check the daunting traffic ahead.
The honking prevailed. No sign of movement.
I grunted and hammered at the wheel in frustration.
Sucking in a deep breath, I turned back to my phone and began typing, I like what I see.
The car in front of mine moved. A corvette in my flank cut me off just before I could release the hand brake. My hand reach up and punched the horn. I could taste the bitterness of bile in my mouth as I anticipated steam to come gushing from my ears and fire to sear through my eyes. I found myself jerking my head out the window and shouting, “Get back in your lane, asshole!”
The tinted windows of the Corvette rolled down. A weasel in sunglasses turned to face me. He began to talk when he started to gag on his own cough.
Serves him right!
Still coughing, he showed me the finger and rolled his window back up.
Man, how I’d love to tear that finger from your bleeding hand and shove it right up your-
Hannah had responded. I eased back into the car to check my phone, It’ll get a whole lot better when you get home. Oh, and Danny’s at your mom’s. So it’s just me and you tonight.
That’s when the loud sirens filled the air. Angry choppers filled the skies shortly after. The deafening chopping of their raging rotors polluted the ambiance. A mechanic voice crackled to life from the sky above.
“Attention, all drivers! Attention! Attention!”
I leaned over the steering wheel for a glimpse of the hovering crafts. The sun’s unforgiving glare burned into my eye.
“The state has declared complete lock down on Island City. I repeat. The state has declared complete lock down on Island City.”
My mind phased out. As if struggling to fix a glitch in my cranial code. The sound of honking cars faded into a distant buzz. My vision blurred to darkness. And for a second… a second that dragged on for an eternity, all I could hear was the wheezing of my breath. The thumping of my heart. The pulsing of my jugular.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Reality flooded back, dispelling the glitch from my mind. But my heavy breathing persisted.
A man in camo peered in through the passenger window. The features on his face, save for his gray eyes, were obscured by a ghastly gas mask. He held a large gun in one hand. It was strapped around his shoulder. With his other hand, he tapped against the window again, interrupting his cadence with the rotating gesture of his finger.
Picking up on his message, I rolled the window down.
“Sir,” a young male voice pervaded the insides of my car, “Please vacate your vehicle and walk back to the check point at entry of the bridge.” The man waved, pointing me back in the direction I had came.
I tried to speak, but my voice was stuck in my throat.
Ignoring the soldier, I yanked the phone to my face and hit speed dial. I lodged the ear piece against my ear and waited for the beep to give way to Hannah’s voice.
“Sir,” the soldier insisted, “Please vacate your vehicle now and head back to the checkpoint.”
Suddenly aware of his presence, I turned to him to nod. But I didn’t budge.
Come on. Come on. Pick up, Hannah. Please pick up.
“Sir!” the soldier persisted.
I turned to nod at him, raising a finger to request for a minute.
Beep… Beep… Beep...
“Sir!” the soldier repeated.
I nodded rapidly, feeling my breath begin to quiver.
The soldier straightened up and rushed round the front of the car. His brows furrowed over his eyes. His hands reached for the large gun on his side.
“Joe!” Hannah’s voice gushed through the ear piece.
“Hannah! Are you-”
A loud explosion interrupted. Her scream ensued. A thump followed, and her scream dissipated in the distance.
“Sir!” the soldier was to my side now. He had his rifle pointed straight at me.
“Hannah!” I repeated.
“Step out of the vehicle, now!” the solider bellowed.
A hand grabbed the phone from my ear. I turned to follow its trail.
It was the soldier.
He shoved it to the ground and crushed it under his boot. I watched in terror as my phone crunched under his weight. Bits of plastic and glass flung across the tarmac, scattering in all directions.
“Step out of the vehicle, Sir!” the soldier insisted. The butt of his rifle was now planted onto his shoulder. His gaze was firm and sharp. He seemed ready to shoot. That’s when I saw the throngs of people running past right behind him. Their screams had eclipsed the choppers above.
“Sir, I’ll only say this one last time. Step out of the vehicle, now!”
I opened the door. I put my hands in the air. And I stepped out of the car. My legs wobbled beneath my weight, and my hands shook with fear.
The soldier grabbed hold of my shirt and shoved me in the same direction that the throng was running. “Now go! Go! Go! Go!”
I ran. And as I ran, Hannah’s terrified voice kept calling in my head, “Joe!”
To be continued...