We knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time that the inevitable destroyed everything as we knew it, yet we still thought we were prepared. We still had hope that everything would be okay, because together we could start over. I always had doubts, but when those doubts became the basis for my entirely new life, I wish I had hope when it mattered the most.
On the first of May, sirens filled the streets, filled the building and homes, filled the schools and cars, and chaos spread quickly. Drills and preparations seemed to leave most people as they realized the severity of what was happening.
I was at home with my momma that day. It was our monthly tradition to skip school and work on the first Monday of every month so we could spend overdue time together. Momma’s hours at the hospital left her busy, and me alone most of the time.
She froze immediately, her face draining color, the pitcher of juice slipping from her shaking hands and shattering against the tile of our small kitchen. I jumped up from where I was enjoying my pancakes and bacon, and gathered her narrow shoulders under my arm and led her outside to across the street where our community shelter was. My momma was always a worrier, and she had prepared a “just in case” bag that she left by the front door, filled with any kind of necessity she thought her and I may need to survive. It was, again, the sense of hope that the small bag would prevent us from starvation, from life threatening illnesses or protect us from whatever god-forsaken thing would happen next.
Our community shelter was maybe two stories underground. The stairways were dark, damp, and crowded. Authorities (community members trained just for this purpose) tried to get us to move quicker, but the shock had most frozen just like my momma. There was a tick of a clock that was loud enough to be heard even over the shuffling and quiet sobs. It was the countdown.
Each family was previously assigned a built-in ten by ten room with one set of bunk beds, no matter the size of your family. We were lucky our community was a small one, fifteen households crammed underground for our safety. I don’t know what it would be like for people that lived in larger neighborhoods, or no neighborhoods, like New York City. The government thought this would be the safest way to distribute supplies, and keep everyone safe from the blast.
I remember sitting my momma down on the bottom bunk of our space and wrapping her shoulders with the thin blanket. She mumbled something incoherent to me, but I just kept telling her everything would be all right. I remember the ticks turning off because they no longer had any further predictions. It was a waiting game.
I started counting the seconds. We waited for over two hours and most were getting antsy, thinking that it might be another drill. A few families decided to leave, and the authorities couldn’t force them to stay. I knew we’d probably never see them again.
I don’t think any of us could ever prepare for the blast. It started with an awful noise that made me hunch over and cover my ears. It sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard mixed with feedback from a microphone, and any further combination of horrid sounds thrown in the mix. The sound was followed by the earth shaking, as if it were going to open up and swallow all of us into its core. Dirt and rocks began raining from the ceiling of our shelter, and I pushed Momma and I back so we were completely under the top bunk. I couldn’t see anything or hear anything, but I imagined the devastation in my head. People being buried under the rubble, or blinded by the white flash they taught us about in school. It was difficult to envision the place I grew up with to people reduced to ash. It was also difficult to envision the people I had grown up with as no longer alive.
The next few events remain quite a blur in my memory. They happened so quickly, and all of us in that underground shelter were vulnerable with two of our strongest senses hindered, unable to see over the falling ceiling, and unable to hear over the sound of our own heartbeat in our ears.
There was a sound that resembled a gunshot, but it was so buried under the various sounds from the blast, my ears didn’t even pick up on it. I only know now what it was. At that moment, things changed. Groups of men and women dressed in blinding white clothing with lights extending from their palms flooded in, even with the waste falling on them, they were threatening. They looked human, they really did. My momma perked up a little and gasped, grabbing my arm in a tight, viselike grip. Her last words she said haunt me even to this day.
“We were supposed to be protected.”
I don’t know why I survived. I blacked out immediately after my momma’s troubling words. I guess for all I know she could still be around, but I doubt it. In the three years since then, I have only met a handful of others who weren’t killed by the blast or by them.
When I woke up from what I thought was a nightmare, I was still underground. I had no telling of time, so it could have been days, weeks, since I had passed out. There was a large cut across my forehead that was still sticky with blood so I assume it wasn’t as long as I thought. What I do know, was that every single person was gone, vanished into thin air. There were only Guardians that were left, bullet holes in their chest. I had never felt more alone in my life.
Sometime later, I decided to venture out. I don’t think I was ever prepared for what I faced from that point onward. Everything I knew, everybody I knew, it was all gone, wiped from the surface like it was completely, totally insignificant. What was left behind was only a shell of its former self, including me.