A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.
The assignment was to write no more than a thousand words in the present tense. Voila!
My main idea came from an article I read in an issue of The Atlantic. Global warming, nuclear accidents, killer asteroids, and vampires… these apocalyptic scenarios get plenty of attention. Why is everyone overlooking that big glowing thing in the sky?
FROM THE SUN
Alanna rolls over. The smartphone is buzzing on her bedside table and she’s too tired to open her eyes. It buzzes a second time. With a huff, she reaches out. Her fingers taps across the top of the bedside table but she’s unable to find the damn thing. With a huff, Alanna sits up. She gropes until she finds the grooved peg on the neck of the lamp. With a twist, the light comes on. In the moment of blindness as her eyes adjust, she thinks, who could be calling after midnight?
It’s a text message from Blake. “Turn on the TV, love.” Ten years rewind in a split-second.
Curious, Alanna reaches for the remote control as she leans back into the pillows. The screen moves from tranquil black to a scene of chaos. It’s CNN. A female broadcaster narrates a scene of terrified people, fires, explosions. “This is the last live feed sent from our studio in Tokyo, Japan, one of the world’s most populous cities. As you can see, the population appears unprepared for the rising sun just hours ago. It appears we are experiencing a solar flare from the Sun. Extremely high amounts of electromagnetic energy are striking Earth and temperatures have risen three times higher than normal. These temperatures are higher than most life can withstand.”
The view changes as the horrifying scene is inset and the announcer in the studio comes to the foreground. The broadcast loops. The woman taps her ear, as if adjust her earpiece. Alanna can’t believe her eyes. “Our sources at the Pentagon report the situation is dire. As the sun rises, time zone by time zone, the temperature on Earth will rise as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. There appears to be little chance of survival, short of taking shelter underground. Scientific sources believe most electrical grids, nuclear installations, and communications equipment, along with modern infrastructures, will not survive the extreme heat. I am sorry to report that it appears hundreds of millions of people are dead and more will join them.” The announcer audibly swallows.
“Oh my god!” Alanna whispers in her empty bedroom. The screen fills again with fire, flood, and explosions as the ticker runs reports of death steadily across the bottom.
She grabs her phone. As she waits for the call to go through, she mutes the TV. Alanna flips through the channels. The scenes of horror are different from place to place but in the end they are the same; the broadcasts end with static.
He picks up on the third ring.
“I’m glad you called. I wanted to talk,” he says. His voice is still as she remembers – warm and comforting.
Nervously, she stammers, “Hi. Where are you?” It would be unusual for him to be in the same city two days in a row.
“Somewhere in Kansas. I’m as lost as Dorothy ever was. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to head back to the city…” They both understand there will be no tomorrow but the mention of it is like glass shattering. In the silence, reality breaks into a million jagged pieces.
Finally, he says, “I wish I was there with you.”
“I do too.” The words slip out.
He sighs. “How did we get here? Where did we go wrong?”
Alanna draws her legs up to her chin. She knows. “I shouldn’t have taken my frustration out on you. I’m sorry, so sorry. It was hard for both of us.”
“The fault was mine. I wasn’t there for you, or for Avery.”
How long has it been since she’s heard her daughter’s name aloud? Alanna imagines there is yet again a small warm body snuggled under the covers beside her. The memory defies ten years of sleeping alone. Life is cruel. When she lost one, she lost both. “I wish I made a different choice. Every day I wonder what life would be like, to be with you. I miss you.”
“We both made choices. I only wish we had the chance to make new ones today. You’re still living in our house?”
“I looked at some smaller places but it just didn’t work out.” In truth, the search was a complete failure. In one condo, the bare walls reeking of fresh paint threatened to close in any second, and in another, a swing set in the backyard stared back forlornly. Then she understood. To sell, she would have to paint over the soft pink color of Avery’s room. How could Alanna do that? Pack up and erase every sign of Avery’s existence?
Something moved on the TV. A suit with a clipboard was talking silently to the camera. Were his hands trembling? He was reviewing a series of bullet points on the screen. Seek shelter underground before sunrise. Bring as much survival gear, food, water, and medicine as possible. Appropriate shelter would be deep underground. Underground U.S. Government installations will allow civilians inside until sunrise. Be prepared for floods, fires, and explosions. The initial event may last several days. Sunrise charts are available by city at http://www.sunrise.gov.
“Oh, it’s really happening!” Alanna begins to sob. The tears burst from her eyes. She tried to swipe them away but one or two ran down her neck to the prim neckline of her grey cotton t-shirt.
“I’m afraid it is. And like most nights, this will be one where I wish I was with you.”
“Really, are you that surprised? You really were the only girl for me.”
Swiping fiercely at her face, she can’t stand it anymore. “I’m turning off the TV. Turn off yours and talk to me.”
“Okay,” Blake said. “It’s off.”
“What would you do differently if you could do it over again?”
He didn’t hesitate. “More children. We should have six more children, all as beautiful as their mother.”
“Still a charmer! And as smart as their father. What should we name them?”
They talked until the sun came up.