The young man did not recall exactly when he finally regained consciousness, but he somehow knew that he hadn’t recently woken up. His surroundings weren’t out of focus, his muscles weren’t sluggish or sore, and the groggy sensation that would fight him every morning for nearly an hour, without fail, was missing entirely.
“Where am I?” Lake’s voice was loud and clear as it bellowed into the brightened room.
Though there was obvious shuffling around him, no one seemed to be eager to respond to his query. In fact, it became evident all too quickly that Lake was surrounded by the tension—the spreading panic—that immediately preceded complete chaos.
“Sir, stay in your bed,” said a voice, stern but with an unmistakable hint of fear.
Lake turned to meet the one that had spoken, only then realizing that he was already sitting up. This was a voice he recognized, the one belonging to an older woman—one of the hospital administrators that greeted him and approved his entry into Saint Joseph’s hospital every afternoon when he showed up for his clinicals.
The room was a tempest of motion, purposeful still, even if only slightly. Where Lake had been sitting up on one of the hospital beds, at least a dozen others had been lined up next to his, and another dozen across the room. Every bed was occupied, and many of those that laid on them were in such a critical condition that they felt like a roundabout of trauma, with constant medical traffic gravitating around them busily. The reception area was all but deserted, and each of the neighboring trauma rooms were full and similarly bustling.
How did I get to St. Joe's emergency room?
The lights above beamed to life for an instant before they flickered and shut off once more. Lake’s eyes traced the source of the light, down the walls to the boarded windows, and towards the large double doors leading to the outside world.
They’ve been using emergency lights. They’ve locked the doors, and blocked off the windows? What the fuck is going on?
The sound of a crash cart bursting through the door made Lake turn back around—it skidded to a stop by one of the beds, and several physicians followed suit.
“How long has the power been out? What’s happening?” Lake slung his feet off the bed and stood, noting that all the monitors and chart screens were still off, and that an alarm was sounding off in the distance. The frenzied edge in everyone’s movements was beginning to make sense now. The fact that the ground seemed to lightly tremble every few seconds was not making the boy feel better.
“Sir, get back in your bed!” A different voice commanded, a physician with long black hair.
“Dr. Song—I mean Dr. A-Adler,” one of the nurses cut in, his scrubs stained crimson with dried blood. “The g-generator is not working. Maintenance hasn’t come back, a-and we can’t get the medicine cabinet open, it locked when the lights—”
“Get someone back there now! We need the power restored,” said Adler, pressing down on the patient’s gut to stop them from hemorrhaging.
“Break the glass to the cabinet, pry it open if you have to! We need to get these patients stabilized!” Another physician barked at the nurse from just a few beds from Lake. “Have you heard from Chief Daniels? We need the trauma team back here!”
The blubbering nurse winced, but immediately shook his head. “Cell i-is still not working, so n-no. Our pages won’t go through, and the surgeons that went looking for them h-have not come back! Maso M-Medical was evacuating stable patients to Wrigley Field just before the power went out, they said survivors are being taken to—”
“We can't just leave,” said Adler, “people are dying, and we don't know what's out there!”
“We can't stay here!” Lake snapped. “We need to find out where everyone is being taken!”
From this final show of panic, true chaos was born. It spread all around the room, and patients who were previously lying still were now trying to free themselves from the wraps that shackled them to the beds. Those that hadn’t been tied down were bursting from their sheets, falling from their beds and running towards the doors to flee. The doors to the trauma doors swung open, and the patients from therein flooded the emergency room.
“GET BACK IN YOUR BEDS!”
But the mass of people would not listen. They moved like a swarm of one mind, down the walkway out of the emergency room to tackle the double doors. Their momentum cracked at the glass from the first set of doors, and they burst forth towards the final doors leading to the ambulance bay. The second set of doors stopped them just as the first had, but the sheer pressure threatened to bring the entire thing down.
“Stand back, over there!” Adler didn’t move from where she stood, her hands still firmly pressed against an unmoving patient, but her head motioned to the few patients that had remained calm to back up against the wall and away from the those that had seemingly lost their minds. “Get away from the doors!”
Lake felt the command in his chest and took a few paces back, all but stunned by the madness that had consumed the emergency room. Then realization dawned on him. Whatever had struck fear into the hospital’s staff, it was coming from outside. They weren’t trying to keep the patients in, they were trying to keep something out.
“Away from the—”
Then the walls that faced the ambulance bay cracked, giving the people in the emergency room only a second-long warning before something shook them so forcefully that they burst into the room. Boulders the size of desks fell from above like rain, sending a cloud of dust all around them. What was once only chaos, was now complete disaster.
When the screams and the dust finally settled, all that was left was the sound of sirens going off in the distance, growing louder and louder.
There was a book Koda remembered his dad reading to him once; it started with an acorn falling from the sky and ended with every animal being eaten.
While Koda had sat burying his head in his hands, wondering how he was going to come up with a hundred grand in short order, the first comet hit. It rumbled through the brick walls, distant and low, like an old canon saluting to the war. The water glass on his night table sang. Dust fell from the ceiling. And in the aftermath of the rumble was the faraway sound of dozens of car alarms. It wasn’t until the glass windows blew moments later and Koda was tossed like a ragdoll across the room that he had any indication what had happened.
Some might have considered it divine intervention when the sky opened up and space debris rained down. Others might have considered it an omen of things to come: Armageddon. Ragnarok. Yom Adonai. al-Qiyamah. Maitreya. Koda didn’t believe in any of the religious propaganda, but he knew he had to get out of Chicago before the worst of it came.
“My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the king,” Chicken Little said and he ran.
The handgun was heavy in his hand. It weighed more than Koda remembered, buried between his mattress and boxspring – a momentarily forgotten artifact from a botched job and an unattainable deadline. It was the day before the comets fell that Ali had put the gun in Koda’s hand and told him he would need it. It wasn’t clear at the time if Ali had meant for Koda’s pursuers or for himself.
He never told Shae about it, but he hadn’t told his sister about a lot of things.
Tucking the gun into his waistband before Shae could see him, Koda zipped his backpack closed and guided his sister towards their apartment door. “Someone said there is an evacuation point in Wicker Park. We’ll get out of Chicago and head for Mom and Jake’s.”
He stopped in their kitchen, wrapping both his hands around her face, trying to emulate a tone he thought he might have believed. “Just stick close, stay behind me, and we’ll be okay.”
Smiling reassuringly, he wrapped both his arms around her small frame and kissed the top of her head before he let her go. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“The sky is falling,” Henny Penny said. “We are going to tell the king.”
Outside the apartment complex, the city was dust and ruins. Cars overturned, broken glass, crumbled brick and mortar. There was no power. No cellphone signal. Just garbage and debris. There were still sirens in the distance – a high pitch whine and some automated message being repeated over speakers that were still too distant to make out. The looting had started on the first night after rumors spread of dozens of spherical objects hovering in wait over the ocean. Koda had managed to secure him and Shae some dried granola bars, cereal, and a few jugs of water before police lost control. Now the stores nearby were picked clean.
It had only taken three days for all semblance of law and order to fall apart.
Someone told Koda they had called the army to lock down the city. Others said they were too busy fighting something else.
Either way, Shae and Koda were about to find out.
“Where are you going?” asked Foxey Loxey.
“The sky is falling and we are going to tell the King,” said Ducky Lucky.
“Do you know where he lives?” asked the fox.
“I don't,” said Chicken Little.
“I don't,” said Henny Penny.
“I don't,” said Ducky Lucky.
“I do,” said Foxey Loxey. “Come with me and I can show you the way.” He walked on and on until he came to his den. “Come on in.”
And they all go in, but they never come out again.
The burning ache in the back of her mind started again. Savannah gripped her head and wrinkled her nose.
“Damn those falling rocks.”
The pain had started after the meteorites hit, when the world went dark.
That was three days ago...
When she was relaxing on her plush coach, bundled in blankets, a glass of wine in hand, and a bad reality tv show on. When she was just one semester away from graduating, and the dreams of starting a decent life weren’t looking like dreams anymore. When the world made sense.
Savannah sat in a damp alley going through the bag of things she had collected before she left her apartment behind. She had run out of food already, not counting on the extensive looting that had commenced almost immediately. Still, she had a pair of fresh clothes and a bottle of water. Savannah took a long gulp of water, trying to ease that burning in her mind. Maybe it was Dehydration? No, Savannah knew it wasn’t something as simple as that...
…It was something new and powerful…
Confusion flooded her mind as her thoughts spun with these words. The pain increased substantially, like something was trying to crawl out of her mind….
A rush of adrenaline ran through her veins, as a glowing golden light started to pour from her. It poured and poured until she was a mass of bright light. Then, as quickly as it came it dispersed, leaving her alone once again in the alley. What the fuck was that?
“I need to get out of here.”
Stumbling out of the alley she glanced around looking for anyone who knew what was going on, or at least had some food. In the street Savannah spotted a familiar face. With dark hair and perfect length stubble, she recognized him as a bartender for a local college hotspot. She wasn’t close with him, but she had ordered a few drinks here and there.
“Hey! You…um hot bartender, wait up.” If only she could remember his name.
"Ugh... fuck, turn it off," Heidi groaned, turning from one side to the other in her cot. The makeshift bed whined from the movement, swaying in a minimized version of how the entire beach hut often did in harsh winds. But the alarms continued and in her groggy state the sludge of memory slowly washed ashore to remind her that she was alone. Her father had left on the boat a week prior with the promise to return in three with money to take care of their responsibilities.
She didn't have the heart to tell him she expected him to screw it up another time. That she'd still work with the aim that it was only her that would carry the weight of their debt.
That she still smelled the alcohol on him like a warped cologne.
"I said fucking turn it off!" She yelled now, slamming a hand and shoving herself to sit up. Wild, frozen eels for hair framed her face with twin pits of oceanic annoyance. That same annoyance twisted and turned until the tides slowed and became clear understanding when all she received was more alarms. Those weren't the alarms for the hurricanes. She didn't recognize this noise. Water sprout maybe? Rare, but possible when this close to the coast.
She shifted the covers from her legs and padded over to the window to assess the damage that could've possible triggered the alarm.
The telecomms were down. Cell phones, radio signals, even the lights were barely holding on in some places with backup generators. No news, no way of knowing how far They'd spread. How many. If people were still alive elsewhere.
Heidi had already stuffed her backpack with the necessities. Her many excursions growing up during blistering rebellions had taught her just what to take with you on the streets and how to ration when you didn't have any money. But even money didn't mean anything anymore. Stores had already been looted and the gunfire shots in the middle of the night hadn't been ignored, either.
Two extra change of clothes, multiple bottles of water, prepackaged food like cans and nutrigrain bars, and medical items. Or at least, whatever she could find of them. Normally she'd carry any money she could have, too, but Heidi wasn't dumb enough to think that money had any say in a lawless world already. Her brief stays on the street had shown her that people valued trade, not money. Banking on the fact it would descend into the same, a final look was given to the house on stilts before she headed deeper into town.
Surely the boat her father was on would have seen the descent and turned around. She'd wait them out and then leave before anything got worse.
"Shut up Kevin, no one fuckin' asked you." Heidi didn't look up. Her eyes, clear as the sea before it changed, were trained on the horizon line. Pointedly ignoring the massive, black formation in the sky meters above the water's surface. If she didn't look at it, maybe it wasn't there. Maybe it would be replaced by the ship.
"Come on, don't be fucking dense. You're smarter than that." He was right. They both knew it. Another grifter and one she didn't care for, Kevin was a few years older than her and perpetually smudged with dirt. Despite this he'd always made ends meet and helped her even with their tumultuous acquaintance. Heidi had always assumed it was to get into her pants, but after a few years and he still hadn't made any aggressive moves she'd doubted that theory.
All that was past now. It was different. Everything was different.
When she'd trudged into town to survey they damage she hadn't expected what she'd found to greet her. Instead of the usualy pothole filled cement streets and waterlogged downtown stores that smelled of salt and sand she found... nothing. A broken cliff face smeared with new mud and clay with the rubble of what had once been her town now swept away into the ocean. And that ocean was just as different as the town's absence. The usual blue smattered with eroded pebbles in the sand had now turned angry and dark green. The seafoam resembled frothing at the mouth, hungry for more lives and ground that it had yet to claim. In the center of its swirl the Thing hovered, the black mass clearly the cause. Like the eye of a storm that was in a state of pause at its command. A modern Poseidon.
Apparently during the arrival they'd triggered a tsunami. Whether it had been intentional or not had yet to be seen, but it was unquestionable that it destroyed everything in its path for miles and miles. The dock that the ship would've been at was gone now, and the ship in the opposite direction had likely met the same fate.
Heidi just wasn't ready to accept that. Kevin seemed to know it, too. He groaned as he sat down next to her and let his legs linger off the jagged ledge. "Heidi...."
"Don't." Her voice was raw and scratchy but it wasn't from the salt. "Don't say it."
Tense silence stretched between them as Kevin held onto his words. It felt like a lifetime before he spoke again. "Aren't you hungry? I managed to get some of the food from one of the stores...."
How? How was he still thinking about her state at a time like this? "No, I'm good. Thanks, though." She was starving, actually. But Heidi wanted the numbness to take over. To shield her from the absolute truth hurdling her way. She felt almost feverish, in fact. It wouldn't be a surprise if she got sick from all the stress and oddities They were causing. Maybe it was a virus they were sending out, or radiation. All of the options were things she would quietly accept. What was the point anymore?
Filming was always an adventure. That was Ava's motto, anyway. It helped keep it fresh. Not that travelling wouldn't do that sometimes. And her career in general kept her on her toes. But eventually it got.....repetitive. The same motions were being repeated in different combinations. Eventually she just became accustomed to the feeling of bruises up her arms and the soreness in her feet. All of it made the days just blend together, slipping by like sand through her fingers. Worse yet, half the time, she wasn't even filming, she was just sitting on her computer answering e-mails and scrolling through her social media. Sometimes, she'd read hate mail just for the fun of it. Just to feel something different- to shake things up.
And then the world got shaken up.
She'd been mid-jump from a balcony when the world collapsed around her. Literally- the building she was landing on just seemed to shake and crumble into chunks as a wave of light swept her sight- and her landing- right out from under her.
When she woke up again over twenty-four hours later, Ava wondered how she was still alive. By all accounts, she should have been dead- the level of destruction that surrounded her was just unreal. But by some stroke of luck, she was alive- having landed inside the building she'd been leaping to, instead of on the ground fifty feet below. A chunk of concrete bigger than her head with twisted rebar poking from it had landed mere inches from her head. Her legs had been shielded from wall wreckage by a particularly sturdy desk, which was snapped in half centimetres from her toes. Broken glass daggers were strewn over the ground, and she was coated in a blanket of dust and glass bits. Ava stood up slowly, wincing at the pain that flared through her spine and her ribs at the action. She felt herself over quickly with dust-coated hands, searching for any evidence of broken bones. As far as she could tell, all she had were some nasty bruises and scrapes. But she was no stranger to bruises, and she'd take what she could get at this point.
Her hands were shaking.
She balled them into fists and shoved them into the pockets of her jacket as she cast a look around.
Her voice seemed to echo in the silence that surrounded her. Dust seemed to be her only company- hanging idly in the rays of golden sunlight that filtered in through the hole in the ceiling.
"Henry? Dave? Anyone here?"
Ava swallowed, wincing at the feeling of grit in her throat. She was parched.
There. One of those plastic water coolers that hung around in every doctor's office was perched neatly against the wall of the destroyed call center floor. Ava stumbled over to it and bent down, putting her mouth under the exit spout and yanking up on the tab, allowing cool water to flow down her throat and ease the aching. Once she'd finished gulping down her fill, she straightened up with a shaky sigh and made her way through the wreckage to the edge.
And from there, four stories up, she could see the destruction down below. A sinking feeling entered her stomach as she looked down at the empty streets. Her crew....they'd been standing where half the roof of the building she'd leapt from was now occupying. The office behind her reeked of dirt and death- she could smell the coppery tones of blood through all the dirt that clogged her nose, now. She could feel her eyes start to water, but if it was from the smell, or the dirt, or fear...even she didn't know.
Where is everyone?
Ava spent that first day in a stupor. A mixture of shock. Terror. Grief.
She wasn't entirely sure she wasn't in some kind of coma. Or maybe she'd had a concussion- did concussions do that? Maybe she was hallucinating. Any crazy reason she could come up with that wasn't the truth of the situation was something she wanted to latch onto. But eventually she had to face the truth.
On the dawn of the third day, she forced herself up onto her feet. Forced herself to find her way down the precarious staircases. And out, into the sunlight that bathed a broken world. To search, for supplies, for allies, and for answers. She headed to the street first.
Another stroke of luck- her backpack was intact, lying in the remnants of their crushed van.
Well, mostly intact. The strap was broken, sliced in half by the sharp edge of the van's crushed door. Her phone lay in splinters inside, and she tossed the thing over her shoulder once she knew it couldn't be salvaged. But inside she had a change of clothes, at least. Clothes. A water bottle. A notebook and a few pencils. Her wallet, which....might be useless, now. But she held onto it anyway. And a godsend- a few granola bars.
Ava tore the wrapper of one open immediately and shoved half of it into her mouth, groaning in relief as she felt her ravenous hunger begin to ease with the meager rations.
The van itself held camera equipment and even a camera drone, but she didn't think any of that would be useful.
Finally, she turned, and she started to walk. In what direction, she didn't know or care. She just needed to find something. Anything. Anyone.
A way out.
The smell of seawater assaulted her senses and she stopped, frowning as her nose twitched. No. She wasn't that close to the docks....was she? Ava picked up her pace, a new hope flaring through her. The docks meant people- and if not people, stores. And boats! Boats were at the dock. She could find a boat she was confident with, and get out of this hellscape on that.
Those hopes were dashed the moment she turned the corner and saw the destruction that had been caused to the coast. It was as if half the city was just....gone. Swept away under angry waves that licked hungrily at the edges of broken sidewalks and collapsed buildings. And in the water lay...something. A black mass, huge, lying passively in the middle of the water. Was that the cause of this?
Was this real?
Ava gritted her teeth and looked around in a panic, her dark eyes scanning the landscape for an answer to any of her questions and prayers. And there, sitting at the edge of the broken new cliff, was her godsend. People. Despite the fact that they could very well spell her demise- she'd heard gunshots in the distance- she couldn't have cared less in that moment. She just wanted answers, she wanted contact. Something to follow or to lead.
"Hey!" The relief that spilled from her was obvious as she started running toward them, closing the distance between them swiftly. Ignoring the soreness that still radiated through her with every step. The pain that shot through her scraped thigh. "Hey! What the hell happened? Where is everyone?"
She probably looked like a crazy person. Sprinting down a broken cliff edge with a broken backpack and torn clothes, absolutely coated with dirt. Then again, everything was crazy right now. Wasn't it?
The past seventy two hours were a loss. Shae couldn't keep track of the sun, or the moon. She slept when her brother told her to sleep, and woke when he shook her. In between she moved quietly around the apartment, like a ghost, cleaning up the broken dishes and spilled paints. Picking up the pieces the best she could, like she always did. Occasionally she would check her phone, tapping mutely on the blank screen while wondering how long it would be before their parents called to check on them.
I never should have left home.
"You haven't spoken in two days." Koda said to her once. That was her first clue that the world was still spinning.
She remembered a beautiful blue glow, and then the floor leaping up to meet her. She had busted her head on the corner of the island in the kitchen as she fell. Her windows shattered as dishes rained around her in an unending choir of sundered glass. She didn't know what was happening. Was it a bomb? A riot?
Shae wasn't an overly religious girl, but she was pretty sure there were supposed to be horns blowing at the end of days. And they were blowing: car horns, alarms, police sirens, fire trucks, first responders. They howled through the night like the keening of the damned. Hands pressed to her ears, Shae had screamed. She screamed, and she screamed, and she kept on screaming. Dakota slapped her to snap her out of it. Then he apologized, over and over, but it had worked. The screaming stopped.
Afterwards, Shae just sort of closed herself off. The TV didn't work, and neither did the lights. Koda came and went as Koda always did. There was so much noise outside, but whenever she heard something she didn't like, Shae just retreated further into herself. She built up her walls, and expected to die behind them.
Dakota took a wrecking ball to those walls when he told her they were leaving.
“Someone said there is an evacuation point in Wicker Park." He said. "We’ll get out of Chicago and head for Mom and Jake’s.”
"Momma?" Shae rasped, her mind rousing slowly as if she were finally waking up. They had a plan. They finally had a plan.
Dakota had already gathered some essentials for them. He hugged her, and kissed the top of her head, the way he used to do when they were kids. Then he led her carefully through their complex towards the exit. The hallways were simultaneously familiar, and yet so alien. The elevator was apparently out of order, so they took the stairs.
Where are all the people? Shae kept wondering.
Her ears strained as they passed by each door, listening for the muffled chatter of neighbors. She heard the occasional soft voice here and there. At old Mrs. Franklin’s place she thought she could detect someone just beyond, crying. She almost lost herself again, but Koda seemed to notice, and he tugged her forward before she could relapse.
Shae wasn’t sure what she had expected to find once they finally broke into the open air. Anything, she supposed, except what was waiting for them.
“Oh god.” She gulped. “Oh God!”
Shae wanted to go back inside, started to turn, but Koda grabbed her hand and squeezed hard. She stopped, but did not return his grip. Her hand just hung limp in his. She felt sick, lost. Her vision blurred as her eyes scanned their surroundings, gradually filling with tears. She was starting to tremble.
“Hey!” Someone shouted nearby. It sounded like they were approaching. “You…um hot bartender, wait up.”
They were talking to Dakota...obviously. Shae giggled suddenly, helplessly, unsure of why she found it funny. Her knees gave out, and she sunk to the ground, pulling her hand free from her brother. Then, unsure of what else she should do, Shae started to weep.