‘The problem, Julia, is I’m not sure just how fast this city can rebuild itself, as it’s so hard to tell right now. It really shows no sign of leaving and survivors are few and far beyond; it’s a cataclysm on a scale we just haven’t seen before…’
Alison peeled her eyes away from the television screen and sighed as she wrapped the torn blanket tighter around her body. The colourful voice of the newscaster echoed in the room and weaved itself around the solemn faces around her; a voice she, and everybody else in the room, had been hearing for the last hour. She didn’t know where the room was, she didn’t know what it was, and she couldn’t remember how she even got there; just that she was there, and she was alone.
‘I said I need to know where she is!’
The large brown doors on the far side of the room crashed open. Everybody looked up at once to see four police officers grappling a man who was soaked head to toe. His light blue shirt stuck to his body, and a matching tie was still perfectly tied. The sound of heavy, wet boots swallowed the sound of the newscaster as he desperately tried to escape the grip of the officers around him.
‘Sir, you need to calm down. When we have more infor-’
‘I don’t need to fucking calm down, don’t tell me to calm down. I need to know where they are, they were at home and I don’t know what the fuck is going on. These are my children, I need-’
‘Sir please,’ one of the police officers held out a torn blanket for the man. ‘With all due respect, you are not the only person who is worried about their family.’
‘Look around you!’ he bellowed, as he pointed at everybody in their torn blankets, including Alison. ‘You think these people care? You think I want to be sitting here waiting to hear that everybody is dead?’
‘Sir, you need-’
‘Excuse me, mister.’
The man turned around and his face grew somber as he saw a lady walk slowly over to him, her arms cradling her stomach.
‘Mister, I understand. I have more children than this,’ she said, as she smiled sadly at her bump. ‘I left them to school and I don’t know anything. We all have done this. We have been here more than two hours just to sit here and wait. I am alone too but I believe they are safe, please do not worry, mister.’’
The police officer beckoned for the man to take the torn blanket and he eventually nodded. He accepted the blanket and walked slowly over to a space next to Alison.
The man wrapped the torn blanket around him and started to laugh, a mixture of bitterness and helplessness.
‘What the fuck is going on,’ he muttered, as he looked outside the window; the same window Alison had been staring out of. But there was nothing to look at. It was dark and grey, much darker than it should have been at 4pm on a July afternoon. They were too high up to be able to see anything except other tall buildings, and nobody could muster up the courage to go over and see what was happening below.
‘My daughters are eight months and seven years old. My son is two,’ the man said quietly. Alison looked over and saw him turn his phone over. He pulled a photograph out of his phone case and stared at it longingly. He beckoned Alison to look at it.
‘Beautiful kids,’ she said, as she took it from his hands. A lady with dark hair was smiling so wide that Alison could count every one of her teeth. She held a baby boy in her left arm, and a girl in pigtails was grinning as she held her mother’s stomach.
‘Yeah.’ The man sniffed as he looked up at the ceiling.
‘They always tell you to make sure you treat people as if it’s the last time you’ll see ‘em. Tell ‘em you love ‘em when you say goodbye because you never know when it’ll be the last time. I always do, just in case. But it’s meant to be a precaution, you never think this shit will actually happen.’
Alison didn’t know what to say. She had to comfort him somehow, but deep down she didn’t actually know that his family were okay. She didn’t know hers were. She looked back down at the photograph in her fingers and the smiling faces that he might not ever see again.
‘You’re sure no more?’
A quiet conversation began by the brown doors; normally, it would be impossible to hear it. But everybody was hungry for all the information they could get, and as the newscaster’s voice became part of the background. It sounded no different to the rain hitting the window, and any foreign noise was a welcome distraction.
‘He gave me an indication of the affirmative – David’s team tried to do a sweep of the residential streets in this town, but we can’t even access them now. It’s getting worse and it’s happening faster than we know how to deal with it.’
‘Any children? Women? Elderly? The vulnerable?’
‘I don’t know that information . They checked the school first; we’re still getting communication but we believe there to be some refuge in at least three of the buildings. Retirement homes are wiped out. Cul-de-sacs wiped out. Upper floors of apartments and office buildings are safe, as are hospitals, but I believe we’ve now emptied out this side of the city and have rescued those we’ve found.’
‘Wait,’ the man’s ears pricked up as he stood up beside Alison. ‘What do you mean you can’t access streets? What do you mean wiped out? What are you talking about?’
The officer looked at him and back to his partner and then at the floor. By this point, murmurs in the room began to grow and panic started to stir in everybody.
‘What do you mean? Gresham Street, what do you mean? What’s happened? What do you mean you can’t access them?’ He whipped off the torn blanket and ran over to the large window, placing both hands over it. With his back to Alison, she watched him slowly drop to his knees, his hands still on the window.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ whispered, as he turned around and sat on the floor. His eyes were glued to the brown doors and his mouth was open; he looked stunned.
‘Sir, we do not know the longevity of this storm, and we might not know for a long time. We’re doing the best we can, nobody foresaw this at all. We need cooperation at this point, nobody- SIR.’’
The man suddenly sprang up and ran for the brown doors. As soon as his hand touched the handle, Alison heard a loud bang. The pregnant lady screamed. Everybody let go of their torn blankets and screamed. The man at the brown doors fell to the ground before he could scream. Alison let go of her own torn blanket and immediately started towards the doors, but an officer quickly stopped her.
He was talking, but she couldn’t hear. Everybody was screaming, but she couldn’t hear. She looked over the officer’s shoulder and saw the man laying on the floor; his light blue shirt had started to dry up and a pool of blood began to collect where his head lay. He was dead.
‘Everybody shut the fuck up’
The room dropped to silence as the clunk of heavy boots gave authority to each of the words that had just been shouted. It was a new voice.
A large man stood up on the oak desk, his left hand on his hip and his right gripping a pistol.
‘We’re in a dire situation right now,’ he said in a thick, Southern drawl as he scanned the room. ‘We need some order here.’