“Stay here,” Steven whispered. “Stay out of sight. And whatever you do, be quiet.”
“What’s going on?” My cube mate, Jim, was always the most vocal of us. Quick to ask questions and short on listening to answers.
“I don’t know. News mentioned disturbances. Said to remain indoors, out of sight, and above all, to remain quiet.” Steven eyed our small group. Me, Jim, Georgiana, and Katherine. The relentless five. That’s what we’d named our marketing company after several false starts.
Inseparable. Insatiable. Relentless.
We’d just spent the day huddled together in the back room working on our latest project when Steven hurried back to our cubicles after taking a break and checking the news.
He turned and I touched his wrist.
“Whatever you’re thinking. Don’t.” His eyes latched on to mine and for a single moment I imagined turquoise waters and a beach littered with Robin’s eggs.
I’d always admired Steven. His booming voice, easy laugh, and domineering figure made me feel safe.
“Where are you going?” My other hand twisted my fountain pen in my fingers. My stylized quill that Jim never tired of teasing me about.
Why do you write with that stupid thing?
Earth to Judy, it’s the 21st century. Not the 1800s.
How’s writing coming along using ancient technology?
Now one hand remained on Steven’s wrist and the other twirled an outdated feathered pen in a nervous wave.
“I want to check the floor. Make sure we’re secure.”
Georgiana and Katherine hovered in their cubes.
“What’s really going on, Steven?” Georgiana’s pinched eyes revealed what most of us were thinking.
Steven was holding out.
Katherine walked around her cube and stood next to me.
“I’ve never seen you so pale and shaken before. What do you know?”
Steven’s chest moved as though he labored for breath. He pinched his nose and I squeezed his wrist to offer encouragement. It unsettled me, seeing him so shaken.
“Riots. Murder. People are… The dead –“
The overhead lights flickered and a sudden, ear-shattering mechanical shriek filled the room. The floor trembled and the walls shook as though the skyscraper was about to crumble.
I opened my eyes, shocked to realize I’d even closed them. Steven waved his arms.
“Away from the windows. Get away from the windows!”
When had he gotten away from me?
I stood still as a stone.
This must be some sort of workplace hallucination. Or better yet, a dream. Just a dream.
The shrieking reached a heightened pitch. The source suspiciously close to my head. I reached for the blinds when a heavy body collided with mine.
Steven rolled me to my cube and tucked me under my desk so I was completely shielded. My ears burned when a horrible crash caused our building to shudder.
9/11? Another terrorist attack?
Screams. A sickening fear of falling. The groan of the building loud against some strain. Then at once, all the windows shattered, and dust, concrete, glass, and dirt poured into the room.
We coughed and covered our faces in the thick onslaught.
Is this my end?
I tightened my fingers on my quill. A sudden stupid yearning to protect the symbol of my writing career. The feather my only beacon as I choked on thick waves of dust. Through the grey air and war-torn blinds, flames reached into the sky.
Steven pulled me to my feet and Katherine, Georgiana, and Jim soon followed. All coughing from rancid, dust-filled air.
Oh my God.
The statue of liberty was in flames, the head missing, and large chunks of it torn and smashed to pieces.
A Boeing 737 slowly sunk in the Upper New York Bay. It’s wing broken off and scattered across the remains of Liberty Island. Down the block, another familiar skyscraper had large chunks of it torn and ripped from its side. Debris scattered everywhere.
On the ground, shapes and shadows moved through the debris, not bothered by the stifling air.
A collective moan echoed off the buildings and the sound chilled my blood. Low, animalistic, inhuman.
“We have to get out of here. It isn’t safe.” Steven’s voice muffled by his shirt.
We were on the thirtieth floor, but below us, shadows shifted as one. A rancid smell left me gagging in my shirt.
I’d smelled something similar once. When my mother and I visited Aunt Jenny after days of silence. That smell when we stepped into her apartment. A feverish wave of rotted meat. Sickening sweet decay that stayed in your nostrils, no matter how much you rinsed.
On the streets, people shambled.
“Where do we go?”
Jim coughed and spit. “What the hell is that smell?”
Steven hurried to the front office doors and locked them. We followed, blocking it with a large desk, trying our damnedest to be quiet. Office chairs, random cabinets. Anything we could find.
We’d just finished when the screams came from behind the doors. More moans then another wave of rotted meat. Steven motioned for us to step back.
When did the banging start? Twenty minutes ago? Thirty?
I’ve lost count of the screams. Shouts that came from the office next door. Then a weird keening. A wail.
I remain focused on my pen, carving my name into my palm.
Is this nightmare real?
Georgiana began to cry. Quiet tears that trailed down her cheeks in earnest. Jim held her. Rocked her in his arms. His own eyes wary and scared. The banging grew louder.
I walked to my cube and Steven followed. He wrapped me in his arms, and together, we curled into a ball beneath my desk.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Three words I’d longed to hear.
I clung to him, finally dropping my pen.
A splinter. Crack. Tears on my cheek.
“I love you, too.”