Fire from the Clouds
written by: James Dean Collins
What in the hell was that?
George looked down; he was a little out of it. He sat at his station in the factory. His arm was operating the press just like always. He looked around but didn’t see anyone else. George was alone at the press he sat at for 10 years, or was it 20?
That damned alarm rang. Why was it going off now? What happened? George did the only thing he knew to do. He stopped the press and made his way toward the exit. He walked calmly until he saw a light outside, followed by the roar of an explosion.
Somehow, the alarm bells drowned out the sonic boom.
George ran outside. Did they bomb us again, He asked himself. He looked around but didn’t see anyone. There was smoke, however. There was a lot of smoke, especially in the direction of the old university. He broke into a jog and started toward the university. The brownstones looked to still be occupied and not burned out or abandoned. There were no sheets of plywood covering any of the doors or windows. The shops on the ground level looked vibrant and alive. Well, the colored logos in the windows and on the awnings did anyway. The town itself looked frozen in time, George didn’t see a single person or vehicle in motion. All of the cars were parked. In the distance was the city skyline, with the mirrored windows of the scrapers towering over the town like its protective older brother.
This place looked vibrant compared to what he remembered. Why was that, and where even was George? Why did this seem unfamiliar, and yet not?
About four blocks from the university where Helen worked he saw someone. His back was towards George. George noticed the man looking at the sky.
“Hey buddy, are you okay?” George asked. “What’s going on?”
The man didn’t respond. George ran around him and took a look at him. It was grotesque. The man stared at the sky, but his pupils were gone. He wasn’t breathing, almost like a mannequin. He wore a suit and had thinning hair that was well kept. He didn’t breathe, almost as if he was petrified. His jaw was wide open as if someone was pulling the roof of his mouth back from behind his head.
George turned back and jogged down the street. He made his way toward the university, which was on a hill. There were people standing around it. Dozens, nearly a hundred of them, George guessed. Those people all looked to the sky the same way the man in the suit did. George noticed the flames, and he noticed the lights on the fire truck and the ambulances. George ran to the rubble and looked around. Instinctively he ran past everyone and started throwing debris. He had to find someone this time. Wait, this time? Did we rebuild the college? He stopped and looked at them all. They all looked to the skies.
“Hey!” George screamed. “People could be alive in here! We have to find them!”
No one responded. No one even breathed. George noticed something in that moment.
Where’s Samuel? He thought to himself. Didn’t Samuel say he was there when the bombs dropped the first time? Was he here now? Wait; did George ever see him the first time? Samuel said he saw George. George took a good look at everyone. He recognized a few of his friends and neighbors. He looked at the firemen and the EMT’s and the police officers. Not one of them was Samuel.
Confused, George started his jog again. But he didn’t jog towards his home. This time he ran toward the nursery. George wanted to check on something.
George slowed to a walk as he approached the nursery at the bottom of the hill not too far from the university. It was convenient for Helen that way so that she could drop Davey off. George didn’t run into one of those mannequin people on the way. The nursery was a small building on the outskirts of town heading toward the city, next to a small strip mall of shops. George pushed through the double doors that welcomed him inside and ran toward the first door on the left down the hallway. He threw the door to the nursery room open.
There was the playpen; it had a teddy bear in it. But there was no Davey.
Where was Davey?
George looked around the room. The nursery room was as it always was. There was a toy box, a playpen, and a spot on the floor for the children to take naps. By the door was Mrs. Hauck’s desk.
George looked to the window at the far end of the room. The caretaker, Mrs. Hauck, was a woman in her mid thirties with glasses and a blonde ponytail tied behind her head. She wore a denim jumper with a t-shirt and sneakers today. Why was that familiar to George? She was like the rest of them, except she just stared out of the window and up the hill. George ran to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t move at all.
“Mrs. Hauck!” George yelled. “Where’s Davey?”
She didn’t respond. She didn’t even breathe.
“Where’s Davey?” George screamed, and he shook her. She wobbled and fell over, and when she hit the floor she shattered into hundreds of pieces. Her head rolled toward her desk, still intact.
George gasped at the sight of her. He took another look at the playpen. The bear still sat in the center. It was Marshie, the bear he got for Davey when Helen gave birth to him. Marshie was Davey’s best friend; he always had Marshie with him.
George noticed that Marshie was dressed in a soldier uniform. He had a little gun in his paws.
George grabbed the bear from the playpen and looked at it.
The bells! The damn bells! They rang from everywhere and nowhere! George stumbled around the room, the vertigo overtaking him. He slipped and fell on a piece of Mrs. Hauck, and as the infernal bell rang, he turned and looked at her head. Her eyes that had no pupils remained in the socket, and her mouth was pulled down in a wide maw. Then she changed. Her mouth formed a sickening smile as the head turned to look right at him.
George closed his eyes and whimpered, begging for the bells to stop ringing.
George shot awake in his bed. He looked around.
Ring ring ring ring!
He breathed a sigh of relief. The bells came from his alarm clock. He had a late meeting with the society tonight and had set an alarm. He shut the ringer off and wiped the sweat from his face.
When he pulled his hand away, he noticed Marshie the bear, who sat on a chair to the left of him.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This is a stand-alone excerpt from a novelette that I'm working on. I plan to have the overall book done this summer. It's a dystopian drama that I've tentatively titled, "Send the Young to Die". I hope you enjoy this excerpt and the novelette itself.