It’s like a bad magic trick. Abracadabra, and everyone you know or love disappears.
Genette Eason, 15, moved through the complete darkness that used to be her cozy hometown with surprising ease. The ground, covered in hot ash, was warm beneath her feet. The air around her was thick with dust. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that dust was made up of her family, her friends, her home; but she pushed those thoughts away.
The world had not ended, and if she just pushed forward, she would find it again. The real world, with green trees and clean, clear water.
She thought of herself as strong, and she knew she was not a cryer; all the same, the dust was sticking to her cheeks in long stripes. She pushed forward, tripping, pulling herself back up, ignoring the burning ash that stuck to her hands and arms. She couldn’t hear the boys anymore, or that weird guy that was friends with Ms. Elliot. Why did grown up women always seem to hang out with such strange guys?
Her own mother was once-divorced, once-widowed, and was dating a strange guy. His name was Lenox Foss, and he ran the only auto body shop in Grunig Lake. Genette disliked him on two counts.
First, he was just another man trying to replace her father. Her father, who had been faultless in her eyes. She had overheard her mother tell tales of abuse, and infidelity, but Genette didn’t buy any of it. Not about the man who bought her expensive presents, and gave her piggyback rides, and who showed to almost all of her school events. At least, when he wasn’t busy with his new wife, and baby.
Lenox’s second offense, in Genette’s eyes, was his bad haircut. It reminded her of a sex predator she had seen on Law & Order, once. She couldn’t prove that Lenox himself was a predator, but she couldn’t get the idea out of her head. Not that it mattered anymore; now he was just so much ash. And so was her mom.
With that, she gave herself permission to cry, but it was too late. She was all dried out. Her eyes burned from the tears and the ash, but she had nothing left. So she marched on, in search of that green world out there.
As she walked, though she did not realize it, the shock of what had happened began to wear off. Her legs ached, her feet burned, her head throbbed, and her right arm had a sudden sharp stabbing pain. She looked down, foolishly, forgetting she was in such complete darkness.
She felt with her left hand and found the source of the pain, beneath a thin layer of ash, was an enormous cut. It ran half the length of her forearm and must have been bleeding bad, the layers of ash felt thicker around it. It must have happened while she and the others were tumbling around inside that fallout shelter. She hadn’t even noticed.
She continued on a bit more, fighting the urge to lay down and give up. She couldn’t keep her arms up any longer, they just hung at her sides. So she had no warning when she walked face first into something solid.
Something solid that grunted.
SHE WAS SAVED! SHE’D FOUND THE WORLD AGAIN! Internally, she celebrated, but she didn’t make a sound outside of the “Oomph” as her butt landed on the ashy ground. She couldn’t see who she had run into, but she could feel that he was wearing a bulletproof vest. She remembered the way it felt when Wilson Charles’ dad, a deputy in the sheriff’s department, brought his in to show the class.
She couldn’t see this person, but she could hear him turning around. There was a faint jingle, a sharp clicking of metal-on-metal, and then a peculiar electronic sound. Then his hand found her arm, and gripped tight. Too tight. It really hurt, his fingers went into her cut and she cried out in pain.
Then she felt something hit her in the mouth. It was small and plastic and it hurt. Her mouth filled with blood. “Shut up,” came a muffled voice in the dark. She shut up, but not til after she spit a mouthful of blood in what she was pretty sure was his direction.
His voice again, louder, calling, “I found a survivor!” The muffled sound of a dozen men running on ash. Now there were two voices, the younger one that had hit her, and an older, raspy voice.
“I got one, sir.”
“Alright, eliminate the target.”
“You gone deaf, boy. Job one is ensure no survivors. Eliminate the target.”
“But she’s just a kid, can’t we take her somewhere?”
“She IS just a kid. So there’s no way she survived that blast without some adult help. If she’s alive, there are others. Eliminate her, and then we’ll do the same to her friends.”
The younger soldier had half forgotten Gennette. His grip on her arm loosened. She didn’t squirm, though, she just listened. Her mother had taught her how to fight off an adult if a stranger ever tried to kidnap her. Until today, none ever had.
She listened to their voices and to the best of her knowledge, figured out where they were standing. Then she drew a deep breath, as deep as one can when the air is poisoned by ash, and lashed out with a hard right kick.
She was lucky, her kick landed right where she wanted. There was a terrible howl as the younger man’s knee was kicked from it’s rightful place. She heard his body drop, and then she ran.
The men behind her yelled, one of them hooted, and she heard a chorus of metal clicking against metal, followed by the unmistakeable sound of automatic gunfire.
TO BE CONTINUED…