You saw it coming, the clouds of gray over the horizon, massive fortresses in the sky. The neighbors shrugged and said it was merely a storm brewing, then took their potted plants inside. But what storm brews like that?
Smart thing to do is hunker down at home, board up the windows, triple-lock the doors. And that’s exactly what you do, because God knows it doesn’t look good. The dogs whine and scratch at the doors, but you’ll be damned if you let anyone go outside. All Hell is going to break loose. While there’s water to be had, you fill up water bottles. The lighting dims. Damn lights are going to go out, so you gather a flashlight and batteries, and as an afterthought, grab the gun from the attic. After setting up the dusty old thing you call a TV, you sit down on the couch in front of it. The signal is messed up; screen’s fuzzy around the edges. You smack the TV upside the head to clear things, but it only becomes worse as the minutes roll on by.
Then everything shudders.
It’s like the whole world’s gone scared. Wind claws at the windows and doors as though trying to get in. The TV sputters before the signal dies. Stuff falls to the floor, but you never hear the impact. The dogs huddle around your legs, tails tucked under their bellies. And you grip that gun so tight, your knuckles are about to pop out of your skin.
It stops. You wait. Maybe it’ll start up again, like a motor with a faulty starter.
But it doesn’t.
You head up to the attic, because this can’t be right. Hell was supposed to break loose. In the attic, you peek out the little window that’s cracked with age. Outside looks like it is coated in ash, washed in gray and left out to dry. Did it rain? No. But it’s damp like a fine mist sprayed on everything. There’s an eerie light coming from the clouds – not sunlight, the clouds have swallowed the sky; it’s what you imagine radiation to look like if something was dipped in a vat of it, hard yellow that shifts around like an amoeba. You get shivers just thinking about it.
You expected screaming. You expected folks walking out of their homes, viewing the mess with dazed expressions. Maybe they’re all staring out windows just like you, wondering what the heck just went on, but too scared to investigate.
You get sick of looking at that depressing scene and head back downstairs. The dogs are on your heels, tails still tucked, silent as ghosts. They’ve never behaved like this before, why won’t they whimper or yap? You shove one in the rear with your foot and he stiffens. Maybe yelling will snap them out of it, but you suddenly find your throat parched. You go into the kitchen for a water bottle, unsnap the top and drink. Tastes awful, like it’s been sitting in a rusty tin pan for years – and you spit it out. Ack! You try the faucet, but nothing comes out. You try the lights, but they don’t come on.
Then there’s only one thing left to do.
No point sitting around a house that doesn’t work, and who knows, someone out there might need some help. Maybe those neighbors who said nothing was gonna happen. Well something did happen – you just don’t know what.
With gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, you head out, leaving the dogs behind. There’s not even a breeze, and wouldn’t that be nice to have since you’re soaked in sweat. The sidewalk absorbs the sound of your footsteps; all you can hear is the racing of a heart. You try to call out but that parchedness has turned into cotton in your mouth.
Instead, you shine the flashlight into homes. You’d think you’d see folks huddled together under blankets or tables, but there’s no life inside. Did they evacuate? Was there even time for that? But their cars are still here.
You keep walking, from one neighborhood to another. Nothing. Not even a damn stray cat. Where the hell did everyone go?
The clouds stir. No wind but they move just fine, layers shifting, unfolding like a mechanical contraption. It’s a sight to see, but it’s just not right. And it’s not something you want to stick around to see the end result.
You run onto the nearest porch, shoot off the lock and open the door. You lurch inside and throw your weight against the door, closing it just as something rushes by. Wasn’t the wind. Gasp for breath, heart pounding so loud something is bound to hear it.
The rushing comes back. Everything shakes. All the windows smash at once. The door behind you bursts open, flinging you across the room. Your head cracks against a wall.
© Siobhan Gallagher
Siobhan Gallagher is graduate from ASU, and currently living in the Tucson area. She has short stories forthcoming in Abyss and Apex and Uncle John’s Flush Fiction anthology. Occasionally, she does this odd thing called “blogging” at: http://defconcanwrite.blogspot.com/