…As We Know It

This is for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Here’s my entry that is part 1 of a Cliffhanger challenge.

 

It smelled red.

It’s the first thing that popped into my head when I opened my eyes. That acrid, tangy scent, like burning metal. I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew something was…off. I lay in bed, not wanting to get up and, just like I did every other morning, look out my window at the trees, sky, buildings and mountains before getting dressed with the clothes I laid out the night before. I glanced at the blinds, and through the little holes that the drawstrings ran though, I could see the sky. It was red. An awful, not right, red.

My legs felt like lead as I swung them off the bed and, gripping the windowsill, I lifted a slat and peered out. My stomach and body must have already anticipated the dread outside, because I didn’t feel any different staring out at the landscape before me. Or rather, lack of one. My body seemed to go numb. My thoughts slowed almost to a stop, but the first thing I remember thinking (after the red) was, how could I have slept through this? That was quickly followed by, and how am I still here? I let the blind snap back into place. I moved as if I was walking in quicksand. My body didn’t want to co-operate.

The mundane-ness of my small apartment hit me, then. It was like someone slammed into me. The small bathroom, just outside my bedroom. The painting in the hallway of killer whales in the water. The stairs, leading down to the living room and kitchen on the bottom floor. Everything seemed so normal. It was that that made the hot tears prick at the corners of my eyes, not the everything else outside. The normality of my house. Everything was the same, everything was there. Not even a single picture had fallen from the wall, or a mug out of the cupboard.

I found myself in the bathroom. I don’t remember heading there but suddenly I was looking at myself in the mirror. I held my hands up and touched my face, ran them through my long, bed-messy brown hair. I leaned over the counter, peering at my chestnut eyes. My pale skin seemed paler than normal, but, I reasoned, that’s understandable today, of all days. “Get ahold of yourself, Lia,” I scolded my mirror-self. “You’re still here. That’s the important thing.” And to emphasis that point, I pinched the skin on my left forearm. Ouch. Yes, I was most definitely still here. If this was a dream, I wouldn’t be able to feel any pain. Right? Oh how I wish this was a dream! I would be the happiest girl in the world if this was all just a nightmare. I pinched myself again, just to be sure. Nope. I threw on a pair of jeans, a coral t-shirt, and my favourite purple hoodie. I didn’t care that it clashed. It was the least of my concern. The least of anyone’s concern now. I ran downstairs, my legs moving more freely now, headed for the TV.

My hand froze on the remote. Did I really want to turn it on? I knew what would happen if I did. My nightmare would be confirmed as reality. But I needed to. I needed to know what had happened. I needed an explanation for what I had seen out my bedroom window. I pressed the red button and the TV blared to life with exactly what I was expecting – chaos. Ribbons scrolled across the bottom of the screen like a ticker tape of doom, words like DEVASTATION and STATE OF EMERGENCY shouting at me. The news-reporter woman with her usually perfect news-reporter hair seemed flustered and close to tears. I could see that she was speaking, but I couldn’t register what she was saying. The ribbon of doom at the bottom of the screen with its large white letters got through to me. Mainly just 6 words: Massive earthquake splits planet.

What? I waited until the words scrolled past a second time – knowing, yet still unbelieving, in their truth. More words followed, and the news reporters voice suddenly broke through the wall my body seemed to have built up around me. “Scientists believe that the Earth’s core has overheated, causing a sort of implosion. Massive sinkholes, sections of land have just…” the woman suddenly seemed at a loss for words. Probably the first time in her career, I guessed. I watched as the reporter tried unsuccessfully to choke back tears. “Huge areas of land all over North America, all over the world, have just disappeared.”

“Well that would explain it,” I said out  loud to my small, empty apartment. That would explain why there was only water, a vast ocean, outside my bedroom window, when yesterday there were houses, apartment buildings…oh yeah, and a whole fucking mountain range. How can the Rockies be there one day and replaced by an endless sea the next? “How?” I repeated out loud, again for the benefit of no-one, in a failing effort to rationalize what was happening. I glanced at the TV screen again where the news was showing a map of the world. Or what was left of it.

Where I was, the Pacific North West, was intact. But it was now only a long narrow strip of land – from Alaska to Mexico. There was nothing east. Nothing. My brain couldn’t seem to register that concept. Half of Russia and most of Asia was still on the screen, along with the east coast of Africa. The middle of Australia too. The coast, where most people lived, was underwater. The west coast of South America was still there too. Good, I thought. I’ve always wanted to go to Peru. I laugh at that now. I don’t know what made me think that, then, but I guess I wasn’t really thinking straight. There was a large ugly scar, a vast chasm cutting across the world.

I went into auto-pilot, then. Survivor mode. I think we all have it, we just don’t know it until there’s a reason to. I grabbed a dufflebag from the closet and filled it with food and clothes. I chucked in some bandaids. I slung the bag over my shoulder. My hand reached for the doorknob. As I was about to turn it, there was a knock. I almost screamed. My heart pounded in my chest and ears. I opened the door. Standing in front of me was a man dressed all in black, a heavy plastic visor shielding his face. Behind him stood a few others, just the same. “Are you Ophelia Ashdown?”

I winced. I hated my name. I went by Lia. Or Ash, at a push. “Yes.” It was all I could think to say. I didn’t even think to ask why. “Good,” the man replied as he roughly spun me around. I heard more than felt the handcuffs around my wrist. And then I was in a car, its windows so tinted it looked like night. I banged on the glass partition in front with my boot. “Where are you taking me?”

The only answer was silence.

– Check out Jodi Lee’s continuation of my story here!

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