One word, yet filled with such dreadful power. Just speaking the word is enough to bring forth disturbing mental images. Perhaps I should circle that word, caging it in like a prison for that is exactly how I feel.
I am sitting at a school desk beside a window overlooking the street and a portion of New York’s Central Park. The world has settled since earlier, although the wind continues to howl against the window in frustration. I’m quite sure it would like to shatter the glass and send its sharp wedges into my skin. The candle I am using for light dances before me, the wind is so blowing hard that invisible currents have penetrated the window frame. The draft I feel caressing my skin is cold and damp and it frightens me. The blizzard started hours ago and shows no sign of stopping.
In the next room the teacher’s voices are a murmur sometimes raising in sudden bursts of anger, sometimes falling into a whisper. Images of the day stabbed at my mind. I look out the window at the darkness beyond that fragile piece of glass.
The fire alarm rang between classes and the crowded hallway became congested as teachers joined the flow of students. A prank, I thought because I did not smell smoke and knew that a scheduled fire drills only took place after students were safely inside their classrooms.
“At least we’ll get out of math class for twenty minutes,” my best friend Shane said as the two of us were shoved forward.
“Good, because I never got the chance to study last night.” He ran his fingers through his hair, paying special attention to the abnormal gray patch of hair toward the top back of his head. I never fully knew if Shane purposely messed up that portion so it stuck up, or if he tried to mentally rub the abnormality away.
“You would have aced the exam and you know it.” I said to Shane.
“Yeah, we both know I’m the smarter one.”
We were walking side by side in the center of the hallway. A surge of seniors bulldozed me to one side of the hall and Shane to the other. They moved through the crowd like bulls among sheep. The resulting bottle-up shoved me up against a window, the other kids eddied around me. I stood on my toes but couldn’t find Shane, I searched heads to see if I could find a gray patch in the flowing sea of hair.
Mrs. Schroder leaped from room 313. “Up against the walls. Everyone, this is not a fire drill!” The fire alarm went dead in mid-ring. All around Manhattan, sirens were blaring. A dreadful silence settled among us.
“Everyone!” The teacher shouted. “The Government has issued a State of Emergency. We need all of you to line up against the walls and tuck your heads between your legs. This is not a drill. If you cannot find a spot I suggest you go into the nearest classroom.”
My mind screamed for me to run and hide, but my legs remained firmly cemented to the floor. I was paralyzed like a deer transfixed by the sudden glare of headlights as it watched a car speeding toward him, heart thumping furiously, mind pleading with the body to move. It was exactly how I felt. The skin beneath my watch began to grow uncomfortably warm, almost hot.
I turned away from the crowd and focused my eyes outside the dirty window, my blood solidified, every muscle locked, except my eyes, I could feel them growing wide.
It was the sky.
Something wicked was stirring up the atmosphere. Black clouds were boiling as they raced across the heavens, gobbling up the blue as they went. Sharp bright lines of lightning shot from these clouds like arrows of death. It was a dazzling display, mesmerizing the senses. An instant later, threads of grayish-black clouds passed beneath the sun, they were joined by denser clouds. I could see the sun as a silver glistening orb as if I was looking at it through a curtain of fog and then it too, was gone.
A sharp pain in my wrist brought my eyes down. The hairs on my arms stood straight up in the air. The watch seemed to be burning a hole into my wrist. The very air around us seemed to be charging up. People’s hair began to stand erect like weird statically charged balls. My wrist was burning so badly, I had to pull off the watch and tossed it aside. My skin was red where the metal of the watch rested. The hair on my arm immediately collapsed against my skin. Was this phenomenon related to the electrical storm in the sky?
The lights flickered, dimmed, snapped back on, then went out, leaving us in darkness. An iron vice of cold fear clamped around my heart. I have never seen darkness so complete, or so terrifying. All I could do was wait for the shock wave of intense heat to boil me alive. Waiting for death is not easy. Time passes too slowly.
I looked outside again. A red mass of smoldering matter was speeding toward us. It lifted buses into the air as if they weighed less than a cotton seed, it engulfed people. Everything in its path vanished. A woman was running away from this mass when a bolt of lightning sliced out of the air behind her. It made contact with the back of her neck she was thrown into the air, and as she flew I watched as her skin disintegrated, her bones turned to dust. Within two beats of my heart the woman was literally gone. Her empty clothes fell to the ground still smoldering.
Shoving myself away from the window, I dove for room 313. Just as I crashed onto the floor the window where I was standing exploded, driving sharp wedges of glass into the kids I left behind. The force of the wind lifted them into the air like dolls and pinned them against the brick wall. Lightning balls appeared suddenly and jagged bolts shot off in all directions, vaporizing all of those statically charged. The metal! The lightning was only striking those who were wearing metal.
Screams filled the air as I slammed the door closed with my heel and crawled across the room toward the closet. Behind me the door blew off its hinges, flew through the air end over end and smashed its exit through the north windows. The wind whipped around me, but it was not hot as I first assumed. Grabbing onto the leg of the teacher’s desk, I gasped as the desk slid across the room with me in tow. Then it was gone. Shaking in fear, I released the desk, taking deep slow breaths.
The emergency lights flickered on. I got unsteadily to my feet and looked around dumbfounded. Outside it was still dark. I stepped into the hallway and noted other kids were just getting to their feet. We all shared the same dazed expression. Some kids were touching themselves and the things around them as if they expected to wake from a bad dream.
Emergency lights bathed the hallway at even intervals, leaving sections of the hall in grim shadows. All the students who stood by the window were dead. My stomach felt loose and watery and I had the sudden urge to pee.
Further down the hall something caught my eye, a brown head of hair with a patch of pure gray. “No! Oh, God no.” I dashed forward, slipping on blood and tripping over bodies, and sank to my knees beside the head. I knew of only one person in the entire school who had a gray patch of hair, and yet I refused to believe it, hoping against hope that I was wrong. I rolled the bodies off the still figure below and felt tears sting my eyes.
Shane’s eyes were open and glazed, staring at something only he could see. Thrusting up from his chest was a large piece of twisted aluminum, torn loose from the window. Memories of the two of us coursed through my mind. Shane was my best friend, my only friend. He and I shared one thing, our intelligence, in a world filled with jealousy and hatred it was enough to forge us into a treasured friendship.
I don’t know how much time passed, probably not much, because only a few people staggered past me.
Mom! I’ve got to get home! What if . . . if—
I forced the thought away. Before leaving I pulled off my sweater, and draped it over Shane’s face. “I’ll come back for you.” Stumbling to my feet, I hurried down the hallway.
We stopped on the school’s steps. It was totally dark outside. A bitter cold wind rushed past us. I looked up into the murky black sky. The sun was gone!
It started snowing then and hasn’t stopped since. The temperature continues to drop. The end is near.