Axiom 1: Remain calm.
When I next opened my eyes, it took me a moment to remember why I was waking up in the back of an unmarked passenger van. But as I lay back on the thin, scratchy carpet, I felt the wave of memories come rushing back to me.
The explosion at the mall. The sound of people dying. The angel, majestic and deadly, hovering in the center of the destruction. That Furby’s wide eyes before it exploded into shards of half-melted plastic.
I briefly wondered whether I might be able to find a Starbucks that still had some coffee.
With a grunt, I hauled myself up, reaching out for the handle of the van’s back door – but I paused for a moment as my fingers rested on the plastic grip. What if that angel was still out there? I didn’t doubt for a second that his flaming sword would cut through me just as easily as it had sliced and diced that Furby.
So instead, I crawled to the front of the van, wincing and biting my lip as I stubbed my knees and toes against innumerable little sharp corners on the inside of the van. Battered and bruised, I managed to haul myself into the front seat, looking out through the cracked but mostly still intact windshield.
The destruction of the world hadn’t stopped with the mall, I observed.
A few hours previously, the mall had been surrounded by parking lots, most of them empty. On the other side of the parking lots, the highway passed by, filled with zipping cars and trucks. A couple of satellite shops sat in strip malls on the other side of the highways, each with a big, brightly lit sign to attract hungry, thirsty, or bored highway travelers.
Now, cracks ran all across the parking lots, turning the asphalt into rubble. On the far side, the highway looked like broken teeth, the concrete pillars shattered and the road itself split into giant shards. I saw cars caught in that rubble, crunched and smashed like crushed aluminum cans. Dust from the broken roadway filled the air, obstructing my long distance view.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this new world, I realized, was the silence. All of the sounds that I usually ignored as background noise – the rumbling of car engines, the humming of electricity through overhead power lines, the occasional honk of a horn or squealing of tires – were missing. I could hear nothing, not even the cries of birds.
A little part of my mind still gibbered in fear, wondering what had happened. Was this some sort of attack from a rogue nation? Had North Korea finally snapped and gone around the bend, shooting missiles across the ocean at us? Was this some sort of terrorist attack?
Somehow, I didn’t think so. Despite the threat of a rogue nation, I couldn’t reconcile the opposing ideas of a terrorist attack and a floating angel. Did North Korea even believe in angels? Why would they send over Heavenly beings, and why would they tell said Heavenly beings to bother with destroying Furbies?
Maybe Furbies were the ultimate symbol of Western decadence and needed to be destroyed. But that idea seemed purely silly.
In any case, I told myself, clamping down on my wildly fretting thoughts, I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit in this broken van forever.
I glanced over at the driver’s seat of the van. Unfortunately, the previous owner of the vehicle hadn’t been kind enough to leave his keys in the ignition – and now that I looked at the crunched front hood of the vehicle, I doubted that the van would even start.
Looked like I would have to huff it on foot.
I peered forward, scanning the dark, stormy looking skies. No sign of the angel, I noted, although those roiling storm clouds didn’t bode well. If I wanted to move, to find a better hiding place, I ought to go now.
I reached out, opening the side door of the van, but then paused. Where was I going to go? I scanned the dusty view around me, searching for a possible shelter.
Not back into the mall, that much was for certain. Even if the angel wasn’t still prowling around, I remembered how the other shops were destroyed, flattened under the collapsed roof. I could head the other direction, away from the mall – but where?
My house – well, my parents’ house, but that minor little unimportant detail didn’t matter – was too far away. Five miles between the house and the mall hadn’t seemed like much distance at all when I had a working car, but I didn’t want to walk all that way back, especially with those dark clouds looming overhead. I needed to find someplace else, someplace closer.
And then I saw it.
Across the shattered highway, in the strip mall area. Most of the lit signs had gone out, the buildings either dark or entirely destroyed, but I saw one sign still glowing, a savior’s sign through the swirling dust.
The calming green and white reached out to me, a single familiar sight amid the madness around me. Almost without thought, I climbed down from the van’s seat, starting across the sea of destruction between me and that faintly glowing sign.
I soon found the passage tough going. I had to pick my way across the cracked and half-shattered parking lot, dodging around broken cars. Thankfully, I didn’t see any dead bodies anywhere, for which I uttered a brief but fervent prayer of thanks – I didn’t know if my fragile mental state would be able to handle finding another person, injured or dead.
When I reached the highway, my progress grew even slower. The concrete highway had been shattered into huge chunks, big spikes of roadway pointing up into the sky. I found myself picking my way between the big boulders, occasionally having to turn sideways to scrape through narrow passages or scrambling up over flat boulders. I felt my jeans tearing as I pulled myself across the rough terrain, but I couldn’t stop now.
And then finally, after what felt like ages, I stood on the other side of the highway, in the long grass.
My eyes were drawn up, as if by strings. There it was, just ahead of me. The glowing green-and-white sign still hung over the entrance. I had one more parking lot to cross, although this one looked much more difficult to navigate due to a higher number of cars. Still, I felt a surge of energy.
Gasping for air, I stumbled forward, through the maze of cars in the parking lot. My eyes remained glued to that sign, the one constant in a world that suddenly made no sense.
Please, I prayed, let there still be some coffee inside.
To be continued…