Where once there had been a lush forest, a thriving, but small town, there was now nothing. The ground was burnt black for miles in every direction. Grunig Lake itself had boiled off in the explosion. Nothing remained of it now, save for a long, silver box. A box stretching half the length of a football field.
The box, a long forgotten bomb-shelter, lay on its side amongst the ash that was once Grunig Lake. From inside came a frantic thumping, fast like a trip hammer. Then suddenly the door to the bomb shelter flew open, collapsing to the ground and sending up a cloud of black ash. First through the door was Kevin Sheenan, red faced, sweating and angry. In his arms he carried the body of Topher Carman.
When the bomb hit the first thing they felt inside the shelter was a deep rumble, accompanied by a deafening blast. It seemed to resonate off the walls of the shelter. It reminded Kevin of an earthquake and he had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen next.
He shouted for the kids to grab on to anything that was bolted down and they all followed suit, except for Topher. When the shockwave hit, the ground dropped out from beneath the shelter, sending them into a free-fall. It was a fall of only about 20 feet, but when the shelter landed it landed badly. It struck the hard ground beneath it and bounced around, tumbling down a steep incline. Kevin and the students who had grabbed on to something were taken for a rough ride. They banged back and forth and the girl got a nasty cut on her forehead.
Topher was in the back of the shelter, he didn’t hear Kevin call out for them to hold on to something. He was tossed mercilessly up and down, left and right. His body was broken and twisted, it was a horrible sight, but Kevin couldn’t just leave him in that giant tomb. He had to do something for the boy.
Once the movement had stopped, Kevin worked on the door, throwing his weight into it to get it open. It had been damaged in the blast, and it didn’t open easily. But once it did, he savored the fresh air. He dropped onto the ashy ground, still hot beneath his shoes. He walked about 8 yards from the shelter and placed Topher’s body delicately on the hot ash. “I’m sorry,” he choked back a lump in his throat.
He walked away from the body, knowing that he must think of the students who were still alive.He had to focus on a way to keep them alive.
Genette Eason followed behind him, dropping to her knees as she landed. Dried blood covered her face, matting her blonde hair down across her forehead and cheek. She stayed on her knees for a moment, despite the burning pain of the hot ash pressing into her bare legs. In the doorway of the shelter, Nicolas Porter waited to jump. “Hey, Genette,” he called down to the kneeling figure, “Can you scoot?”
She must have heard him, she rose to her feet and moved out of his way immediately, but she didn’t make any indication other than that of having heard him. Nicolas hit the ground behind her, a shadowy figure in the fading sunlight. He was followed quickly by Enzo Tesoro and Brody Stidolph. The three boys gathered in a rough huddle around Kevin as he thought over their next move.
“Hey, Genette,” he called to the girl, who was clearly shell-shocked, “Why don’t you join us?” She didn’t turn to face the group. She stood on the far side of the shelter, staring at the sun that was setting over the edge of what could only be described as a black crater. A crater that had once been her home.
“Abracadabra,” she muttered, “It’s like a bad magic trick. Abracadabra and everyone you know or love disappears.”
Nicolas Porter broke away from the group and approached her, to comfort her. It was against his nature, his father had raised him to suppress his feelings, but he’d always had a crush on Genette. He was more than willing to show a little emotion for her.
He reached out his arms to hold her, to make her feel safe, but she reached out with a surprise haymaker that caught him right under the jaw. It hurt like hell, physically as well as his pride and he trotted back to the group of guys.
“Come on now, Genette,” Kevin called to her, “I know we’re all a little freaked out. I know this is a horrible nightmare situation, but that was uncalled for. Why don’t you come over here and discuss a solution with us?”
“What are we going to do,” Brody Stidolph spoke up.
“I, uh, one minute. Genette, where are you going?” She was moving further from the group, headed toward the place where the sun had disappeared. “We need to stay together, kid! They’re going to come back!” He hadn’t meant to let that little bit slip. He hadn’t wanted to panic the children, but he was beginning to panic, himself.
“Who’s coming back?!” The boys spoke almost in complete unison. He looked them over, their faces nearly invisible as complete darkness settled in over them. “If this was the work of a paramilitary group,” he spoke quietly, not wanting Genette to catch any of what he said on the wind, “Then they’ll send in ground troops to make sure their target is completely neutralized. And soon.”
It was the truth, without any sugar coating. Kevin was surprised, pleasantly, to see how well the boys took the news. They seemed to straighten up suddenly. Three determined and brave shadows. Now he would just have to bring the girl back over to this side.
He spun around, searching the pure darkness for her, for any sign of her movement. He listened to the pervasive silence, broken only by the heavy breathing of the boys and the occasional click-clack of rocks falling against each other. It was an apocalyptic scene, but he would be damned before he would lose another kid. Not after losing Topher and Roxanne.
The realization hit him like a ton a bricks, bringing him to his knees and pouring forth from him in a primal scream. The boys held their breath, fear gripping them for a moment. In that silence he could hear Genette’s footsteps, faint, moving off to the west. He would take the time to mourn Roxanne, but not until these children were safe. She would want him to protect them, no matter what.
He gathered himsel up, dusted the ash from his pants and shirt. “Ok, boys,” he spoke in their direction, “I’m going to grab Genette. You stay here, close to the shelter. I’ll only be a few minutes. Then we’ll decide what to do.” The boys nodded, he thought, it was impossible to see.
“Do any of you have a cell phone?” There was a grunt and three backlit, flat rectangles were held out in front of his face. “Thanks, do they have flashlights?” The phones were pulled back into the darkness and then the darkness was gone. Lit by three bright flashlights. He grabbed the nearest one and turned to get the girl.
“Turn off your lights for now, save the batteries.” He didn’t add that it would also make them more visible to any passing aircraft. The boys were scared enough. “Two minutes, and we’ll all be back together.” The boys didn’t say a word. Kevin thought he heard one of them trying not to cry.
The light from the cell phone was bright and lit his field of view for several yards against the stygian darkness. At the edge of the beam he could see Genette’s shoes moving off into the nothingness. “Genette,” he whispered as loud as he could, “You’ve got to come back with us. You don’t know what’s out there.”
He rushed forward, not watching his footing, and tripped over a protruding rock. He sprawled across the hot ash, his eyes burning from the dust up. The cell phone flew from his hand, skidding across the uneven terrain and stopped with a sharp crack against a second stone. Great job, Kevin.
He continued moving forward, blinded by the darkness and the stinging ash in his eyes. He tripped a second time, skinned his knees on the the rocky ground beneath the ash. Soon he was utterly alone. He couldn’t even hear Genette’s footsteps anymore. Above him the stars were hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds. He had come too far from the boys, he had tripped and stumbled too many times, there was no way of being sure he could find them again. Not unless the clouds cleared up.
Now, sitting in the ash, arms wrapped around his knees, he allowed himself to grieve for Roxanne. He closed his eyes against the tears, squeezing them to fight off the image that was burned into his memory. Roxanne running from him, slamming the library doors behind her and turning to give him a look of burning anger.
“Don’t worry, Roxanne,” he whispered, “I’ll make sure these kids are ok. I’m going to take care of them for you.”