With a sharp exhale and a vicious kick, Sally MacIntosh pushed away the old claw foot tub to peer at the new world around her…
… Only to discover that it had been decimated.
Those monsters… Those terrible, heartless people…
The buildings, the tree, the cars, and the grass had all been destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth. And it had been done by those horrible people. … Whomever they have been.
A wicked thought crossed her mind, hoping the enemy had blown themselves up in the process. But, she quickly pushed that evil thought back down, trying to bury it under her grief. “Such sinful thoughts are not acceptable,” Sally whispered under her breath, gripping her cross tightly with her left hand, “Especially during godless times like these.”
The words came from her mouth, but Sally did not recognize them as her own.
They could have belonged to an old father figure or priest from the days of her youth, perhaps, but not from “sweet, innocent Sally,” as others would say.
If only they could see her now. And see what she saw, her own eyes wide with disbelief and her mouth agape in aw, as she stood to her feet.
Never in her life could she imagine such calm destruction.
The whole landscape had been flattened, all the way down to the basements, and second basements, in her case. A gray mist hung in the air from the microscopic particles of dust and dirt that floated on by. And, it truly was dust, because that was all that was left of the human population.
Sally covered her mouth at the thought of swallowing the pieces of the people she once knew. Then, she vomited. Her back arched, and she quickly turned to the side and lurched up her last meal, her body quaking in pain.
Oh God, oh God. They were gone. All gone. All of them. Dead. Everyone.
Sally bit her tongue and held her body, shivering violently. She choked back tears, and more vomit, and threw herself against what was left of the concrete wall behind her. Its solid support only had the chilling cold and lifeless metal existence to give. Because, that would be all that was left in this world. No plants, or bugs, or animals, or humans of any kind. Just metal frames. And dust.
Her teeth clattered, staring at the world before her. The haze made it difficult to see more than a few hundred yards. What she could see was a smooth surface of gray powder, that blended with the sky.
Where had the blue sky gone? It had been so sunny earlier, before she had gone into hiding. ‘Save yourself’, were the only words that had gone through her head once the nuclear launch had been announced.
And she had. She was alive at least. Alive and unharmed, more or less. Her trauma would pass, and she had not begun to show signs of cancer, if she had been affected by the radiation at all. So alive and well. And alone. And scared. And cold. Sally sank to her knees, shivering as she rocked herself forward and back, hitting her spine against the wall. Dallas was supposed to be so warm in the Spring. Warm and sunny and bright, and oh so inviting.
Sally had assumed that it was still Spring. It had been May when the bomb dropped. She could not have been out for more than a few hours. Since the world was now gray, and not black, the sun had to be up there somewhere.
Closing her eyes, she tried to remember her last moment in the city, before it had been obliterated. Traffic was heavy, as always, as she road the bus to work that day. Tom, the bus driver, had seemed rather cheery that morning. His wife’s birthday was the next Friday, and he had a beautiful dinner planned for her. Tom was a rather good cook himself, and he had just started culinary school, in hopes of becoming a chef one day.
Birthdays. Cooking. Home made dinners. Her eyes welled until she could not hold back the tears anymore. Oh, Tom. Jessica would have loved the dinner. It would be one that she remembered for the rest of her life. Sally tried to imagine Tom, and his beautiful wife, sitting in their new kitchen in heaven, while Tom learned to prepare the most divine dishes, alongside culinary angels.
… Because, down here, on this gray earth, there would be no more birthdays or dinners, or cooking schools of any kind. Those monsters blew it all to hell! And damn them all if they did not die along with the rest of the population!
Sally shook her head, and wiped her eyes, smudging dirt against her cheeks. No, she would not think of such bad thoughts, and wish harm on those… people… even if they did deserve it. She would never allow herself to sink to their standards.
Taking a deep breath, she went back to that morning, and tried to remember what else happened before her last moments.
Oh, Gran Milla, the older lady that rode her bus in the morning to her knitting club at the nursing home. The first time Sally had rode that bus, Milla had gotten on two stops after hers, and Sally had given up her seat so Milla could sit down. Ever since then, it had become a habit, and their friendship naturally spawned through conversation. Gran Milla was working on a blanket for her granddaughter’s new baby girl… And, last Christmas, Gran Milla had knitted the softest scarf for Sally that she had ever owned.
Now, that scarf was gone. Along with Milla’s granddaughter and her new baby. And Gran Milla would never be able to finish that adorable baby blanket, because she was dead. Turned to dust, along with all of her yarn…
And Christof, the high school dropout… On their first meeting, he had planned to rob everyone on the bus, but Sally had stopped him before he had gotten a chance to try. He was going to the local library to study for his GED. And after that, she had inspired him to join the Army like she had.
… It had started out as such a good day, for it to end like this…
Even Robert Mills, and his wife and son, the family she had been rooming with, had woken up in a rather good mood. Robert and Samantha had only had one argument before Sally left for work, and it had not been a very loud one, either.
It was odd to think that someone could be friends with random strangers in a big city like Dallas, but this place had a completely different feel to it than New York. So many more bright sunny days. Perhaps, that was why the people were nicer.
The gray new world would not affect too many people, though, on account of there not being any people left, if there were any at all.
Taking a deep breath, Sally finally stood to her feet and began to brush the dirt from her clothes. Yes, she had saved herself, and now she was more useless than ever. Even enlisting in the Army, the only job she could land after basic training was a desk clerk.
Pulling out her hairband, she leaned down and shook out what dust would fall, then put it back up, wishing for at least a hair brush. But, there would be no more hair brushes or combs, or grooming tools of any kind. There was only her hair tie, to hold back her unruly hair. She should have been thankful that the tie had survived the explosion, let alone herself.
Sally was not. She felt alone, and empty, without a purpose. Not even an unimportant one, like her job. Not thankful at all that she had saved her selfish butt.
Her soldier instincts were beginning to kick in, thinking of food and water, and a shelter. Essentials she would need to survive. But, what was the point anymore?
Staring around, she had no clue as to which direction she should head, or even what to look for. It was not like she could tell which way was north or east. Sally could barely tell which direction was up and down.
The street signs and street lights, buildings and trees, did not exist anymore, for her to use as landmarks. She could always head toward the river, but she had no way of telling which direction that was, either. And it was possible that the river had turned into mud, anyway, with all of this dust and dirt.
Sally looked at her feet and kicked the soft gray matter with her shoe. It was like being on the moon. If she had ever wanted to be an astronaut as a child, she could cross that achievement off her bucket list. But, this was not anything like what walking on the moon was cracked up to be. Sure, there was no wind, no sound, and her boot prints would probably last for quite some time. But, there was no one to cheer her on, or applaud all of her hard work, for making it this far.
Her hard, selfish work. When the announcement had been made, and the missiles had appeared on the large map, Sally had taken one look at the one headed for Texas, then dropped her paperwork and ran. All of the other military personnel had stayed behind, working hard up until the last second, to try and stop this doomsday from coming.
Sally was not even supposed to be in that room to begin with. It was restricted access only. Sally had only been in the room because she had followed her boss in, after the call had come in from Washington that announced the attack, carrying his coffee and pointless paperwork she had scrounged around to find for him to sign, because she foolishly had a crush on the gentleman and wanted to spend every waking moment at work by his side, no matter what the excuse was.
The missiles on the screen were like red dots, burned into the back of her skull, that made it impossible to forget. Every major city in the United Stated had been targeted. There must have been over a hundred nuclear warheads… But, Sally had not taken the time to count. She had only dropped her things and ran.
‘Hurry,’ she had thought, ‘Save yourself. Before it’s too late.’
And she had. Sally could not remember anything after that map, except hiding under an old tub in the second basement. If only she had grabbed a coworker, or someone from outside. Or, even her boss. Grabbed him and urged him to hide with her. Or, even an animal of some sort, like a dog or a cat. Then, she would not have been alone, feeling the guilt rise in her chest, smothering her heart and lungs. Or, perhaps if she had not hid at all, and tried to help everyone save America, or at least Texas. Then everyone would still be alive. Or, she would be dead as well, and free from the guilt that choked her from the inside.
And that ever pounding voice in her head, that asked the impending question: ‘What now?’
Sally took a deep breath, and placed one foot in front of the other, slowly repeating the process until she had begun to walk forward. She left the concrete wall behind, and walked away from the rubble and dust and debris that was the Army Depot in Dallas, Texas, and her work. She walked away from the old claw foot tub, and into the new gray world before her.
Traveling in a straight line, Sally walked for three whole days. She watched the gray haze become darker and darker as the sun set. When it was too black for her to see where she was going, she would stop for the night. Sally would then lay down in the debris and take her shirt off to cover her face and hands as she slept, so no dust would get in her eyes and mouth, and suffocate her while she slept.
At some point in time after the sun had risen, she would wake up, tired and sore, and shake the dirt from her shirt before putting it back on. Then, Sally would continue her walk forward, heading in a semi-straight path, she had hoped, to where ever it was she was headed. She could have been traveling in circles for all she knew.
A healthy human would be able to survive at least seven days without water, and thirty days without food as long as they had water. Sally had neither. Nor was she healthy or even hydrated. She had lost her last meal at the start of the first day. And the only liquid she had drunk before then was a large coffee in the morning, and a diet cola at lunch, since she was “trying to lose weight” in hopes of impressing her boss…
Her pace became slower and slower after each day, and several times, she broke down into sniffles and then screamed her heart out, laying on the ground as she did so, crying out woeful questions like, “Why me?”, and “Why now?” She did not bother trying to answer those questions herself, even though they would have been very simple questions to answer.
After her voice had died, and her tears were dry, Sally would stare out at the gray path ahead, and forget her life for just a moment or two. It would feel like hours had passed before she pulled herself to her feet again, dusted the debris away, and continued on her straight path, however slow her pace was.
A thought crossed Sally’s mind as she lay down that evening and curled up inside her shirt to go to sleep. … What if she was not alone? What if… Well, from what she remembered, only the major cities had been targeted in the US, right? Not all of the cities. Closing her eyes that night, Sally pictured the digital map in the conference room, the one with all of the little red dots. If only the large cities had been targeted, then why had she not come across another town by now? Or, the rubble of one…? How far did the blast radius travel?
… And, how far had she traveled…?
Her mind sank back from reality, and slipped into the dream world, where she dreamed of her job and her boss. And, how handsome he was. If only she had told him sooner about how she felt about him. Or, perhaps he had already known? Her boss had never shown an interest in her, at least, none that she had noticed…
She thought of the city she had become accustom to. The tall buildings, millions of people and rushing traffic. Dallas was so alive and active, and that night, she dreamed of the large city filling with an endless rainfall of mud that crushed buildings and choked the life out of her and everyone around her, struggling to kick as she and many others suffocated and drowned in the mud sea…
Sally sat up from her slumber and began to panic as she tried to move her arms. She could not see, and something wet kept her from breathing. Kicking and flailing herself about, Sally heard a long rip. She had torn her shirt in half from trying to free herself.
She sat in the mud, staring at her top in her lap, and then looked around. It was raining…?
In Texas? She supposed it had rained once or twice since she had moved, but Sally could not remember when. The sky was pouring down rain, so much so that the haze had cleared, and she could faintly see large puddles all around her. Sally closed her eyes, opened her mouth and fell back in the mud, splattering it all over herself as she drank from the sky.
The water was lukewarm at best, not cold, and it tasted very bitter. But, it was water, none the less. She would survive, for now, and not die from dehydration. Sally laid in the mud until she fell asleep again, where no dreams would disturb her sleep.
She awoke with a yawn, and nice long stretch, keeping her eyes closed from the bright light up above. She blinked once, twice, and squinted up into the sky. Finally, the sun had appeared.
… The Sun! Sally jumped to her feet and screamed as loud as she could. “Woo! The sun is alive! I’m alive! All alive!”
“And rather topless, if I might point out,” someone shouted back, snapping Sally out of her mind for a moment.
She panicked and quickly covered her bra with her arms, eyes darting all around to find out where the voice had come from. To her left, Sally laid eyes on a group of travelers, at least ten or fifteen, all heading in her direction. The one in the lead, a male, was stopped only ten feet in front of her.