GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Even with my eyes closed I could tell he was probably more curious than genuinely trying to be helpful. It didn't matter. I couldn't do anything but string together a few words anyway. They weren't even enough to form fragmented sentences, but I offered them to him in raspy breaths nonetheless.
"Bombs everywhere. Dropping. Chaos. No visibility. Dust. Nothing normal. So much noise. Screams." I quit trying to talk and tried to swallow instead. The priest sat there a moment. Maybe he offered a prayer. Maybe he didn't. I didn't care. I never opened my eyes and finally he moved on.
I went back to sleep and the nightmares returned. They always began the same way.
I'm on foot, running; to where, it doesn’t matter. It was just important to get there, as fast as I could. Another bomb was about to drop. I don't know how I knew; I just did. The streets and sidewalks were no longer visible. Everything was blurred. I yell at the driver of a Chevy S10 pickup, “Get out! Get out!”
It’s a nightmare, but I’m reliving it. I’m back in that moment of time, remembering every detail.
There we were, crouched down beside his pickup. The last bomb was different, creepy. It made everything that had turned to dust seem even more eerie. It seemed to be a sonic boom followed by a bright light. The brightest I had ever seen. Then complete, utter silence. For a brief moment, the world was absolutely devoid of sound.
I looked over the cab of the truck to see the nuclear cloud several miles away. For a moment, all I could hear was my heartbeat, my labored breathing and the blood running through my veins. They were all pounding warnings into my brain. I could see the mushroom cloud, but didn’t want to believe it. Realization set in.
I crouched back down next to the voiceless stranger. His eyes were bigger, dilated, but nothing else about him had changed. He was motionless. He was already in shock. Poor bastard, I envied him.
I looked all around me. Some of the dust had settled. We were too far away from any other shelter. The truck was going to have to do. It wasn’t much. Nothing really, and there was no way to fortify it. In a futile attempt, I braced my back against the side and poured all my strength in to my thighs. I laughed because I knew it wouldn’t do any good – against the initial blast or the radiation, but I had to do something.
Then all hell broke loose.
The world blew by us, through us. There was such power in the waves of energy that passed us, it was surreal. The waves didn’t take anything with them. They just consumed everything. It was power at its finest and was so forceful it almost demanded reverence. Then it was over.
I don’t know why, but the first thing I did was look at my arms and hands to see if they were burned. I couldn’t tell any difference, at least not initially. Then I looked at the man next to me to see if he was burned. Nothing about him had changed either. In fact, if at all possible, he seemed paler, his eyes were wider, but he was still listless, frozen in place. Then I slowly began to look around me.
The cloud that had just blown by us was stampeding the horizon, blocking my view of anything beyond it. I watched it for a moment, awestruck again at its power but already fearing its legacy. As it revealed the objects it left behind, they each look stripped, barren, lonely. It was a strange viewpoint. How could buildings look lonely?
Then I realized the cloud was leaving nothing behind that could be classified as living. There were buildings, vehicles, other structures, but no trees, no plants, no birds, and no humans. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we were still alive. Once again, the silence was deafening.
Movement to my left caught me by surprise. A pink, hairless dog walked up. His quivering body and bewildered eyes were asking me for help, but I didn’t know what to do. He was begging for me to do something, anything, so I opened the door to the cab of the truck and let him inside. Once again I knew my actions were futile, but it was something.
There was more movement. I began to see more bewildered creatures, some human, some not. There were no birds, no vegetation, but at least there were some forms of life. I tried to convince myself that it meant something, but I knew better. I turned from the wake that the storm cloud had left behind, and looked once again over the truck to the source. I looked at the horizon and realized that it would be forever called Ground Zero, the drop zone. I was staring at oblivion.
From underneath the clouds of rolling ash and debris, I could see something oozing toward us on the ground. It was thick and globular, moving slowly, emitting steam or gas. I couldn’t tell which, but it covered most of the sloping hill and was headed in our direction.
As I scrambled to get in the bed of the truck, I started screaming at the man who had remained stationary, “Get up! You have to get off the ground. Come on!”
I pulled and clawed at him but got no response, until the strange liquid made first contact. He showed signs of life for just a moment, as if regaining consciousness, but it was too little too late. I had to let go and turn my head as the strange ooze slowly ate him, inch by inch. I prayed for my own life then. Not for it to be saved but that it might go quickly.
I grabbed the side of the truck as it began to sway. If it turned over, I would meet the same demise as my anonymous partner had. There was a part of me that welcomed the end because I knew what the near future would bring. Yet another part of me still struggled for survival. Unable to choose between the two, instinct kicked in and I held on for dear life.
The truck swayed and bobbed for what seemed an eternity then settled in the cooled ooze that was no longer rolling. Everything was still, even the dog in the cab. He blinked and looked back at me through the window. For a long while, we just stared at each other.
That’s where the nightmare always ends because I honestly can’t remember anything else. All I know is that after staring at the puppy for what seemed an eternity, I woke up in a makeshift infirmary with no idea of how I came to be there, or even where “there” was. Except for the priest that had just stopped to talk to me, everyone seems to be hurrying to get somewhere yet no one is leaving. People all around me seem to be shouting orders yet no one is listening. I feel cold and hot all at the same time. I close my eyes again for just a moment, but now, even they hurt.
I open them again and look at the cots beside me. To my left is a stylish, elderly woman with white coiffed hair that seems to be sprouting out in all directions. Under other circumstances, she would probably be quite manicured and lovely. She smiles a faint smile as if to comfort me.
To my right is a guardsman, or marine, or is he an army man? I never could keep them straight and with most of his uniform missing, it is impossible to tell. What is unmistakable however is the alarming reality that his gun and holster are seared to his body, as are the remaining shards of his uniform. It is horrifying to see and yet hard not to look.
Remarkably, he is able to pull his gun out of the holster and is doing so repeatedly. It is as if he is practicing for a part in a play at some western theme park. I wait for him to stop. He doesn’t.
The aristocratic lady wretchedly throws up in the few inches between our cots. That catches the gunslinger’s attention and he stops unholstering his gun. The sick, pretty lady struggles to get back center of her pillow.
I take advantage of the opportunity, and turn back to the gunslinger. I wait until he looks at me and I thrust my chin in the air toward his gun. At first my vocal chords will not cooperate. They seem to be swelling by the minute, much like my skin that gives me the appearance of having been dipped in a vat of boiling lard. Finally, I speak. My voice is barely audible. I am pleased that both of them strain to hear me. That means they are interested.
I ask, “How many bullets do you have left in that thing?”
I have to repeat it when he doesn’t respond, “How many bullets?”
He looks at the woman who had once been beautiful, then looks at me as if the horror is just setting in. “At least three,” he replies.
I look at the pretty lady with faded blue eyes. She gives me that same faint smile once again and says, “Ladies first.”
Almost in sync, as if on cue, we reach out and hold hands. I see him get the gun out of his holster one last time. I look him in the eyes with heartfelt gratitude and the lady on my left squeezes my hand as if to say the same.
There we lay, straight in our beds with chins up as if to signify pride, three nameless strangers waiting for the end that is blessedly coming sooner than later.