There was water in his
eyes when he opened them. It burned against the dim light, so he shut
them back immediately. He never wanted to open his eyes again.
His body trembled as he braced himself against the sink, a shallow breath tripping past his lips. A train passing by just outside rumbled the ground, the mirror he was hiding from rattled against the wall. Nothing felt stable, no matter what he did, the world was spinning. It made his already disoriented body want to topple over, dizziness making his stomach lurch.
He wasn't ill, but he had never been so sick. The cold sweat covering his body prickled on the backs of his hands, dark hair sticking to his temples, the back of his neck.
The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes again was the damp cement floor, and for a moment he wanted to lay his cheek against it and feel how cool it was. Something inside him was fiercely burning, and he was afraid that it might engulf him.
“What have I done?” he asked with wide, desperate eyes. There was no one near to answer him, and he was sure that if there was, he would have never opened his mouth. He reached for an answer deep within himself, but no answer he found was comforting. Something horrible, something beyond repair, something sickening, something terrifying, those were the answers he found.
Covering his mouth with his hand, he choked back the hollow feeling in his stomach, the thick lump in his throat, and turned the cold water on again. Splashing it on his face did little to soothe the ache in his body, yet he did it over again, his eyes burning just like before.
The light bulb above the mirror flickered then. The long shadows it had been casting over his face vanished for just a moment, and the dim train station bathroom fell into complete darkness if only for a moment. His reflection stared back at him, waiting for it to happen again.
And as it did, a deep roar began to rise until it swallowed the station, and he had to cover his ears before stumbling back to daylight.
Nothing seemed out of place upon first glance. But then he heard them over top of the booming noise; screams.
First screams, and then a noise like steal tearing apart.
Only a hundred yards up the track was a train, thick ribbons of smoke and flame enveloping it as it ripped away from the tracks and came barreling towards the station,
The shock only paralyzed him for a moment before the panic took over and he ran, the endless thunder casing him through the streets, now crowded with people. Some only stopped and watched, horror and awe on their faces, but most of them ran, trampling those that fell.
He wasn't sure if there were desperate people at his feet, he was too afraid to be knocked down should he try to help, even if he looked down. So he didn't look anywhere but ahead of him, didn't look back to see what caused the terror in their eyes.
The crowd thinned out, though the destruction was still close behind him. The adrenaline urging him on broke for a moment of clarity as he realized how many had fallen behind, how few people were still running beside him. And he couldn't understand what force could be so fast or so strong.
So he turned.
Nothing in his mind could comprehend the chaos behind him. Black smoke billowed as high as he could see, black like you only see when your eyes are closed at night, and it covered everything. His body seized with fear, and it took every ounce of his will to turn away from it.
And that's when he saw her.
If he hadn't stopped to look back, he would have missed her. But there she was, cowering in the shadows of an alleyway. She couldn't have been more than eight, a dandelion crushed in her hand as she crouched beside a stack of wooden pallets. She caught his gaze from the corner of her eyes, perhaps because he seemed to be the only person not running.
Despite what happened behind him, there was a greater fear in his heart when he looked at her, a fear that those green-blue eyes welled up with tears would haunt him if he left her behind. Something about that girl bothered him.
He shouted out for her to run, but she didn't move, and it was clear from her expression as her brows furrowed slightly that she could barely hear over the pandemonium of falling buildings and screaming women and children.
A burst of desperation rose up within him as he darted towards her, dodging people that passed before scooping her up into his arms and following the others towards the edge of town, the high stone wall that surrounded them. She held one arm around his neck, the other still clutching her flower, and watched as the only city, and the only home she had ever known collapsed behind her.