End of Days
There was a flash of light. It was brighter, more brilliant than any light I’d ever seen. It was beautiful, and it was ugly. A cracking thunder ensued, a boom of sound that shook the walls. I didn’t know what it was – perhaps a nearby town was being bombed again? I hadn’t heard any air raid signals.
I made my way down the hall; I had only taken a few steps when the windows blew in around me in a glimmering explosion of glass shards. A searing heat following the scintillating glass. The wall collapsed as easily as a crumbling piece of discarded paper, creating a cavern. I squeezed my eyes shut, screaming. This would be my coffin.
My legs seared in pain. Someone had poured scalding oil over them. I squirmed, feet first, out of my would-be coffin and made to stop the burning. To get the oil off. To put out the fire. My pants had all but charred away. Muscles contracted and released under the char of the burn and whatever remnants of skin were left me. I shut my eyes. Those were not my legs. I closed my eyes, the world spinning, and collapsed on my side.
I woke. I don’t know how long I had been there, unconscious. I couldn’t focus. Whimpering, I forced myself to stand on the wastes my legs had transformed into.
Horrible, horrible. Naked, half-naked red and black bodies stumbled everywhere I looked. A figure clutched desperately to their chest what I assumed was their burned child. I couldn’t tell through the disfigurements whether it was a man or woman. Few looked better. Many around me looked worse. I shut my eyes, trying to block out the pathetic, pained voices and the sight of their charred, still smoldering bodies, but could not. They engulfed me. I was drowning in sorrow.
So thirsty. I begged for water, but I was told that the water was poisoned. It was a melee of blood and fire. I trudged to the river, where hoards of people gathered. We all looked alike now, scorched, screaming, and parched from the searing heat of the blast. I followed the cries and trails of char to the retaining wall around the river.
This time of year, the river is low. I expected to see the sharp concrete drop that led to the water. Instead, there was a crimson slope of bodies, some alive, some dead. The blood-muddled water must have been poisoned. Not everyone looked so badly burned. But they were dying.
I realized then that I was in hell. Nowhere else could contain such hurt an anguish. Red and black, ragged bodies twitched here and there. The occasional hand reached up from the heap of bodies for help, only to be buried by the bodies of others who blindly stumbled toward the filthy water. Those that made it, drank. They supped up the pain and poison. The contaminated waters, trailing the sanguine fluids of so many. I could not bring myself to drink.
A warm hand, sticky blood, fell on my shoulder like a dead weight. I turned, facing a frightfully scorched man. His entire body and face were disfigured and bleeding from the blistering hot wounds. His arms and stomach were badly burned. There were massive clumps of his body missing. In a state of confusion, he offered the contents of his right hand. It appeared to be what was left of his loins. They had all but burned off. With his one working eye, he seemed to be begging for help. He stared at me, unable to blink.
I hobbled off, leaving him to his open eye. I could not shut out his pain. I could not shut out my own pain.
I looked down the hillside into the clouded, smoky skyline of the city. It’s concrete teeth had been knocked out and chipped by the powerful fist of the bomb. The highway, where it still stood, had cars like little blackened ants fried by a giant magnifying glass. Some caught fire. Others were already burning. I wondered how many pounds of human flesh fueled the fires.
I forced my legs in front of each other, running in the direction with the least amount of smoke. All I wanted was a drink of water. I was so thirsty. I had been trying to leave behind the nightmare behind me. Two or three hours of placing one foot in front of the other and shifting my weight. Forcing movement. I had to get away, but the pain was excruciating. With every clap of the half-melted rubber soles on the pavement, pain exploded through every nerve in my body, shooting through me like close-range birdshot.
Here, the houses were in better condition, but the people were just as dazed. Some others from the fiery place had already arrived here. The unburned were dying in the streets in convulsions of vomit and blood.
People everywhere were violently ill, fallen to their knees, to their sides. Doubled up in pain. I approached a woman who was sick and put my hand on her back. It was cold and clammy. Revoltingly soothing on my hot skin. But it felt wrong. Like a wet plastic bag. I watched her vomit, again and again. Her skin was blistering underneath in bulbous sacs of blood.
I backed away, realizing that the blisters covered everyone here. I stumbled and fell next to one of these boiled men. As my hand brushed his shoulder, a blister oozed ruby stickiness. Recoiling, I wiped the blood on the ground, grating my raw, burnt skin against the gravel. Many of these boiled people were dying. Some were already dead. I limped away.
On the 6th Street bridge, cars were stopped in a jumble of bumpers kissing. People here were sick, too. I looked at what was left of my skin. The blisters were beginning to form. A nausea took hold and I felt lightheaded. The painful thirst still burned my throat terribly. The entire world was ill. I brought my toes to the edge of the bridge. Far below was the poisoned water, running as though nothing had happened. Or perhaps it was running away.
With one foot out into the uncertainty of gravity, and the other placed firmly in the certainty of death, I let myself fall. I felt as though I were flying. The wind cooled my throbbing skin. It felt good. I had to escape this place. Escape the illness and pain and fire. I wondered, as I fell out of the sky, whether there was a way to leave hell if you had already arrived. I supposed I would find out.
© 2001 by Michelle Ferris