1 | On the Brink of Death
I’ve always known that the earth was a lost cause.
In my mind, when you put seven billion people with emotions and feelings and ambitions differing from a clear point of understanding on a floating mass of rock in the middle of the universe, they will end up killing each other. Of course there are people on this earth who wish to see us prevail as a species, but those people end up being assassinated, imprisoned, or ignored.
Ignored until the walls start to deteriorate all around us. That’s when people start listening as if there is something left to do.
Earth, which is billions and billions of years old, is accustomed to human beings killing each other for odd, illogical reasons: money, power, religion, or pure mental instability wielding the knife. However, quite recently, we have gone from killing each other to killing the earth around us. Yes, we have been ruining the gentle infrastructure of our planet officially since we began industrializing, but back then it was a fact that could be easily ignored.
Now, it’s beyond dismissal.
The President of the United States has just announced about two weeks ago that martial law is now being enforced due to “civil and foreign disputes and difficulties,” which basically means the country is under military control until we can all figure out what to do with ourselves and the world around us; sea levels have risen dramatically over the past two years, which has pushed my family and I from the Virginia Coast to the National Capital about six months ago, droughts plaguing mostly the west and Northern Mexico have grown to impact majority of the country, food is no longer a double cheeseburger from “Tommy’s,”, and twelve different countries have sent numerous threats to the U.S. that consists of bombings and total destruction of the Land of the Free. But of course, every morning at eight o’clock on channels two, five, seven and eleven, we are told that everything is fine and that we are safe.
But we’ve never been safe. We’ve just been lucky.
My mother complains incessantly about the military construction of our current government.
“Martial law isn’t going to stop climate change or nuclear war!” She yelled at the President’s figure on the television two nights ago. My father was silent as she waged her own war at the TV to a man who doesn’t even know she exists. Dad looked up from his wide-rimmed glasses at my mother, then to me sitting on the love seat, then finally back down at his week old crossword puzzle.
Mother and father have gone out to purchase more canned goods and blankets from the convenience store a couple of blocks away. I decided to stay inside, hence why I’m staring out of my window layered in frost, because the thought of crowded lines and “Currency Card” scans make my head hurt.
“I’m going to the liquor store,” a voice says behind me.
I turn around from my iced view to my little brother, Cameron standing behind me with his snow jacket and hat on. His Identification cart is clipped onto the pocket of his pants, a law that has been implemented two months ago amidst revolutionary groups “disturbing the peace” of the country with their rioting, looting, and capital building infiltrations.
He shrugs, “No one. I’m just in the mood for apple juice.”
“Too expensive. And besides, you don’t even have any money on your Currency Card.”
Cameron rolls his eyes at the fact. The Federal Government has issued Currency Cards in place of cash based on your social security number—cards you can use on anything, if you have enough money on it. But if you lose yours, you don’t get another one until you can prove you are who you are…again. And if you don’t have your social security number for some reason, you’re toast.
No wonder everyone is starving.
“Well can I just use yours?”
I give him a disapproving look as his eyes stare blankly at me from underneath his beanie. My Currency Card has about ten dollars left on it since I used it for bread and milk at school the other day, and Apple juice falls a little under that; juice has become a privilege the last few months.
“C’mon, Shannon,” he begs.
I sigh and get up, “Fine. But just apple juice. I don’t have enough for anything else.”
Cameron follows me through our dim hallway until we reach our bedroom. Cameron and I’s sections used to be very distinct and individualized with our own creative touches, but now our room is one big expanse of white and gray. We were advised last week that our comforters and pillows were to be turned into the city for the soldiers patrolling the streets, and mother figured decorated walls along with heartless bed sets made little to no sense. So now, my once black, white and red chevron printed bed set is now substituted with a gray blanket that does little to keep me warm at nights and a pillow that gives me neck kinks. I hope the Soldier that has my comforter enjoys it.
Note the sarcasm.
I walk to my desk and pull out my wallet from my drawer. Once I find my Currency Card, I take it out of the pocket and hand it to Cameron.
“The code is 438723,” I tell him.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Make sure you’re back before mom and dad. They’ll kill me if they know you’re at the store.”
Cameron waves me off, grabs his protective mask from his dresser and straps it around his mouth. He breathes loudly, sounding similar to Darth Vader or Bane from the Batman comics. He’s trying to make me laugh, as every nine-year-old tries to do when they think they’re funny, so I laugh and tell him to hurry up to the store. When the stomp of his boots is no longer noise and our front door slams at a close, I set my wallet down on the desk and make my way to the bathroom. Inside, I rummage through the cabinet of unused pills and band aid boxes until I find my vitamins. I pop two, then three in my mouth and stare at myself in the mirror. Nothing has changed in terms of my eyes perceiving my reflection differently, and I sigh tiredly. My tall frame, skinny body, and caramel, blemished skin riddled with dark freckles has and always will be who I am, unfortunately. The only thing about myself that makes me feel more than what I’m worth are my dread locks. I remember the day I had made the decision to convert to the Rastafarian hairstyle. My mother didn’t believe me until they grew past my ear instead of laying on the ground next to a pair of scissors.
“Are you trying to get more in tune with your African roots?” My mother asked me as she packed my lunch at a time when sandwiches and juice boxes were accessible to the average working citizen.
“No. I just think they look cool,” I answered with a lisp. That was when I was eight. I’m seventeen now, and teetering between the mental states of sanity and insanity that has turned into a silent conflict with myself. I’ve had issues with depersonalization since I was little, but as I’ve grown older I’ve had to work harder at convincing myself I’m not crazy—just different. Stressed. Overwhelmed at the quick change my world has gone through in the past several years. But not crazy.
Sometimes I hear voices calling my name. Beckoning me. I used to talk to the voices when I was younger but have ended that habit long ago when I was caught in the act in elementary. The title “psycho” was plastered onto my good name until I was in middle school and good enough at creating a new name for myself. But I do hear voices. And sometimes I feel like they’re trying to actually tell me something important. Maybe one day I’ll listen and get some answers, but if the voices are in my head like I’m sure they are, then I’d only be getting answers from myself.
“Breaking News coming in from TBC China. Reports of a potential nuclear detonation from Iran to the United States are pouring in, with news that may be assisting Iran by supplying nuclear weapons…”
The once background noise from the TV becomes crisp sound to my ears. Nothing new, in all honesty. Yesterday it was a threat to bomb Los Angeles by Russia, and today its Iran and North Korea. Iran has been very “popular” in the news since the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement have been compromised by Iran themselves. It’s worrisome when nuclear threats made to your country are a normality—like a car chase or a bank robbery. I wonder when, or if, there will be a time of serenity and calm, because everything seems so uncertain to me. I shake the thoughts from my head; they don’t help me.
I turn off the bathroom light and walk into the living room. The red bulletin at the bottom of the television screen reads “BREAKING NEWS.” Again, the same as yesterday.
“Reports keep pouring into our newsroom, again we are unsure if this is a prominent threat or a hoax we are trying our best to gatherinformati—”
The empty room speaks to me. I turn my head to the left, to the right, with the silent hope that my brother has made it back like a thief in the night. But no one is here.
“C-Cameron?” I stutter out. No response.
The voices. They’re back. They can’t be. Why now?
“God, stop it!” I grit. The television speaks along with the constant calling of my name.
“Shannon. Shannon. Shannon…”
I grip the sides of my head, “I’m not listening!”
“Shannon,” it says again, sounding the same from my childhood—the soft, childish voice I remember. “Hear me.”
“Stop talking to me!” I practice my breathing techniques; breathe in, hold for five, breathe out. But what is breathing going to do to rid my head of these voices? These voices that have haunted me since I was old enough to answer back to them?
The calling doesn’t end. I’m not crazy. I swear I’m not crazy. I’m just overwhelmed. We can be blown to nuclear bits at any moment, or swept away by a massive tidal wave, courtesy of the rapid changing climate. That’s what causing this. I’m having a nervous breakdown.
I shut my eyes and hold my head until the voices finally stop. Now it’s only the newscaster on the TV that speaks to me; I don’t feel so alone anymore. But the minute I open my eyes, I am welcomed to a strange light in the middle of my hallway—a blue, hollow orb emanating a light so soft yet so bright it entrances me. I rub my eyes so hard my sockets become sore, but the light doesn’t disappear.
“What the hell?” I whisper to myself. “I’ve got to be dreaming. This whole day is-is a dream.”
The light hovers over the dirty carpet. It coos like a baby at me. One time, then a second time, like it wants me to approach it. It doesn’t even sound real.
“This isn’t happening,” I assure myself, but I slowly walk towards the light and reach my hand out to the unfamiliar object. It’s being mists and slithers between my fingers in a cold, blue, peaceful fog before the entity suddenly disappears with another youthful coo.
“What?” I say to myself. The blue orb is gone without a trace.
Until it appears again at the entrance to my bedroom.
“Now you’re playing with me,” I grumble, running up to the orb and attempting to grab it again. It disappears right when my hands invade its space, then reappears over Cameron’s bed.
I tread into the room and reach out carefully, determined to catch this mysterious essence. But then the voices return to me again.
“Shannon,” the orb amplifies with a melancholic whisper. There is no mouth, no lungs nor a face for me to identify who the voice belongs to. Just the orb, as if it’s acting as a channel of communication.
“Y-yes?” I reply. The first time I have accepted the voices in years. “What do you want from me?”
“A’sta ut’jel ir pre’virir.”
You are in danger. My brain immediately translates the unearthly language, like I’ve known it my whole life. What is happening?
My heart rate accelerates, “What do you mean danger?”
The orb begins to shift hues, from blue to red, and in the orb I can hear crying. Sorrow. Pain. I can also hear the deafening sound of an explosion. Just one explosion. Then everything is quiet, and the orb is black.
My hands shake; I sweat through the cold air. One explosion. Just one to end it all.
“A’sta ent l’estvener.”
You are chosen.
“Chosen? Chosen for what?”
“A’sta ent l’estvener,” the orb repeats, slowly returning to its hollow blue color.
“Chosen for what!?” I yell. “What am I supposed to do? Please tell me!”
And then it’s gone.
“Come back!” I shout at the empty air in vain. I try to convince myself it was all a hallucination, but it was too real, too close to feel like it was all in my head. I remember the orbs words: A’sta ut’jel ir pre’virir.
You are in danger.
Cameron. Cameron is the first thought on my mind. The second thought is the orb, the speaking orb that has just told me that I am in danger. The colors, screams and explosion emanating from its entity, the language that I understood even though I only know one language.
I’m unsure of what I really know anymore.
The Emergency Broadcast suddenly blares through my TV. I freeze at the frightening ringing.
A’sta ut’jelir pre’virir.
You are in danger.
“Warning. This is not a test. Warning This is not a test.”
My skin feels hot and my heart tightens in my chest. I run out to the living room and look at the TV, once on the news station, now just a screen, with white block lettering in front of a background of the United States National Seal. The words “Civil Emergency Message” blink on and off the center of the screen in red text. An automated voice speaks through the television.
“This message is transmitted at the request of the United States Office of Civil Defense. At 5:32PM Atlantic Standard Time, The United States detected a long-range nuclear missile launch in Iran. This missile is believed to be headed in the direction of the Washington District of Columbia Metropolitan area. It is believed that it will impact this area within the next one and one half to two hours. All residents within a four-hundred-mile radius of this area must seek a fallout shelter immediately. Fallout is a product of nuclear attacks. Prolonged exposure to Fallout will result in certain death.”
People are screaming outside. Cars are speeding down the road, sliding on the sleet and ice. Three military tanks have just passed our street through the now crowds of running frantic people. The soldiers on the tanks are telling everyone to head up the street towards the Capitol Building.
This is happening. This is real.
“If you cannot find a Fallout Shelter in your area, local authorities will lead you to one. Take a battery powered radio and all essential supplies with you to the Fallout shelter. Tune to 574 AM on your radio for emergency information while in the Fallout Shelter. Sheltering places not advised, as your survival cannot be ensured in that scenario.”
The Nuclear Alarm Sirens have gone off outside. They’re louder than the simulations we would have in school preparing for a situation like this. I can practically feel the vibrations of the sirens run under my skin.
Immediately, I run to the closet and take two emergency bags. One for myself, one for Cameron. It has everything we need in there. At least I hope it does. God, why haven’t I checked?
“…President Greene will be speaking on all television and radio stations shortly. All television and radio stations in the United States will now cease their regular programing to carry this special message from the President and to report news on this incident.”
“Don’t take bags for us,” I remember Mom and Dad advising my brother and I, given a situation like this were to happen if we were alone. Mom made sure to drill into me the importance of making sure Cameron is safe and with me. But he isn’t. And I have failed, because I am afraid and unsure of what to do. The Nuclear Alarm Sirens seem to be getting louder and longer
“Citizens of the United States of America. This is your President speaking to you about the imminent danger currently threating our country. At 5:32PM Atlantic Standard Time, we had received reports of a Nuclear Missile launch from the country of Iran. We have confirmed that a nuclear missile is indeed making its way to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.”
I reach for my snow jacket on the coat rack, my protective mask and slip on my sneakers before rushing out of our apartment. My entire building is running down the staircase in screaming masses.
“Cameron!” I call out through the abundance of bodies running and tripping down the stair case with their belongings. An elderly man almost pushes Cameron and I’s bags and protective mask out of my hands. Two men at the bottom of the third staircase are fighting over a snow coat. I quickly put mine on and zip the thick jacket up to my neck.
“…I advise you to please stay calm,” abandoned apartment 12’s television plays as I sprint by. “As the emergency broadcast stated, soldiers stationed out on each block will direct you to safety.”
I’m in the lobby now. The windows are broken, and people are climbing out and falling on the broken glass. There is blood everywhere.
“Cameron!” I scream again. No response.
“…they may take our homes. They may burn our food and poison our water. But they may never break our spirit. May God be with you all, and may God Bless the United States of America,” an old radio on the ground broadcasts. And then the stations are static or the emergency messages repeated. I regret taking the news for granted; that was the last time I would see Christy Waters reporting our global mishaps.
I run outside. The dirty air stings my lungs, but I don’t put on my protective mask; I’m too afraid to.
More tanks are rolling in, blocking streets and setting up perimeters while ordering people to move ahead towards the Capitol building. Soldiers are pouring out from corners and intersections with rifles in their arms, grabbing thieves and cutthroats who are robbing and pillaging whatever they can find in stores across the street. The liquor store is only two more blocks ahead. I begin to panic, wondering if that store has suffered the same fate with Cameron inside.
An aircraft with the United States flag painted on the side flies above the neighborhood. Its size blocks the sun, and its noise momentarily tunes out everyone’s screaming. It flies ahead towards the Capitol Building, and everyone then decides to follow it.
“Oh my God,” I pant up at the sky. I’ve never seen a plane so big and so close. “Oh my God!”
Cameron and I’s supply bags bring aches on both of my arms, and my lips sting from the icy air. My protective mask accidentally drops behind me, and one woman rushes to grab it and places it on her crying daughter before picking her up and running behind a tank. There’s no use fighting for it. I have to keep moving.
The liquor store is a mess. Toppled shelves and opened bags of food lying on the ground, broken windows and a missing cash register. People are grabbing what they can—chips, soda, canned goods, alcohol. The soldiers haven’t arrived yet; Eddie the Cashier defends himself with a hand gun, and my lungs constrict and him pointing it at a few thugs.
“Shannon!” I hear Cameron cry. He’s huddled in a fetal position in a corner by the back door, tears streaming down his dirt-covered face. He clutches onto a bottle of apple juice and rocks back and forth. His protective mask is in his arms as well.
I run up to him and pull him up.
“It’s okay. I’m here!” I push the supply bag into his chest. “Grab this. Let’s go!”
“Where’s mom!?” He wails. “I want mom!”
“Cameron, we need to go! Put your protective mask on!”
He follows my orders. Cameron continues to cry as we both run out of the store. We don’t stop running, even when the air has left our lungs and our feet ache badly. Cameron hasn’t stopped wailing, and neither have the Sirens.
I turn to the voice calling out for their mother. For a moment, I think it’s Cameron, then I think it’s “the voices” that speak to me, that have spoken to me. But then I realize the voice belongs to a little girl, around six years old, crying on her knees next to a dead female corpse with glass punctured into her neck, back, and legs. I cover Cameron’s eyes.
“Mommy!” she cries again, looking into her mother’s lifeless eyes. Quickly, I sling my backpack onto my back and run up to her.
“C’mon, sweetie,” I say as I pick her up. She is resistant at first when she realizes her mother isn’t coming with us, but eventually, knowing the circumstances, she wraps her arms around my neck and cries into my shoulder as we keep moving, her long red curls whipping in front of my eyes from the cold wind.
We run until the Capitol building is in front of our vision. The gates rock back and forth with the force of people trying to pry it open. Soldiers are pushing people back, but people continue to push forward. Rounds fire off from the buildings above, and everyone drops to the ground with scared screams and cries. Shortly after, bodies fall from atop the gate down onto the ground. No one tries to climb the gates after that.
“It’s okay!” I comfort Cameron and the girl in my arms as we crouch on the snow, even though I’m hyperventilating so badly I can’t breathe.
On the other side of the gate are platforms. Platforms to Fallout shelters, deep underneath the earth.
“Everyone please remain calm,” A General standing on a tank orders through a microphone to the populous. “We will conduct the proper procedures needed to get you all to safety. Please remain calm.”
Right. Because it’s easy to stay calm when a nuclear bomb is approaching.
The Soldiers up ahead start bringing out scanners, and immediately everyone runs as fast as we can to reach the salvation they promise.
“Please provide the soldiers with your Currency Card, Identification Card, Social Security Card, or any other form of legitimate identification.”
“Cameron, do you have my Currency Card?”
He nods and gives it to me with shaking hands. Then he pulls his Currency Card out and grips the laminated ticket to survival in his gloved palm.
“Hey,” I whisper to the girl in my arms. “Do you have your Currency Card?”
She doesn’t reply—just cries into my shoulder and tightens her grip around me. I feel her pockets, her back pockets, then the pockets of her jacket.
“Shit,” I say under my breath.
There’s sorrowful screaming up ahead. A woman is being dragged away from the checkpoint to the back of the crowd; she didn’t have identification.
“It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay,” I assure the little girl. But am I assuring her, or assuring myself? The voices, the Blue Orb told me to have faith. Now I’m starting to believe that whole exchange was just a part of my imagination, because now I have a little girl in my arms who won’t get into the Fallout shelter.
We make it to the front of the line. A soldier takes Cameron’s Currency Card, scans it, and matches his Identification photo and information on the screen to Cameron in front of him.
“Cameron Ashon Blake. All clear. Go ahead.”
Cameron rushes by and joins the crowd of the Fortunate slowly entering the now opening gates.
“Currency Card, Identification Card or—”
“I have mine,” I interrupt him. “B-but, she doesn’t have hers. Her mother was killed by some glass a-and she must have had her card on her.”
“No one gets in without the proper identification,” he answers. There is no sympathy in his cold eyes.
“Please! That’s my brother!” I point to Cameron, “and I just can’t leave her here! Please I’m begging you!”
“I’m sorry ma’am—”
“I don’t know where my parents are, sir. I don’t know if they’re inside or somewhere around here so I’ve got to be with my brother.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
People are pushing behind me, wanting to take my place or become like those who are passing the check points. The girl’s crying has stopped, and she is now looking at the soldier with wide, frighten eyes. He doesn’t soften his demeanor.
“Then scan my Currency Card and have her take my place!” I tell him.
The soldier takes my card, scans it, and looks at the screen and my face side by side.
“Shannon Hasana Blake. All clear.”
The moment I try to peel the girl off of me to hand to him, she begins screaming and holding onto my hair. Cameron is screaming, too, begging the soldier to let us both in.
“Cameron, it’s going to be alright,” I tell him, choking back tears. “Don’t let her leave your sight!”
“Shannon!” he cries when the soldier finally takes her and sets her down next to him. He reaches out to me, and I reach out to him, but the contact never happens; soldiers usher them through the gates to the platforms.
“Shannon!” I hear him scream again, before I become lost in the sea of desperate people. That’s when the tears begin to fall. I look around me, with the pathetic hope that my parents are somewhere in the crowd, but they aren’t. I’m alone. My brother is safe, and the unnamed girl is safe. But I am alone, and I’m going to die.
Is this the thanks I receive? The reparation for saving a little girl’s life? I wonder what would have happened if I would have left her there, crying by her deceased mother? Would someone have saved her, or would she have been left to die? Perhaps this was my fate all along.
The crowd pushes and shoves me different directions as I let the tears fall down my face. I’m the only one walking away from the checkpoint; even people who were denied are trying to gain entrance by pushing past the soldiers. Children are being carried above the crowd to the front. They are all sobbing viciously as their parents sacrifice themselves for them.
It’s beginning to snow. Flurries fall slowly down towards the ground—the only thing gentle about this situation. I wonder if the pain is going to be quick when I’m incinerated? Or am I going to burn alive before being swept to ashes?
I look up at the sky, like I’m waiting for the bomb to approach my city and make it’s supposed impact.
It’s almost as if everyone’s cries of sorrow and survival are turned off. Can this be it? What the Blue Orb had told me about being chosen?
The familiar light from my apartment appears again at the crack of an alley ahead. Is this real, or am I imagining things due to being at the brink of losing my life in thirty minutes?
I push through the crowd until I’m on the empty sidewalk. Then, when I’m a foot away from the light, it disappears and positions itself at a back door of an old apartment building.
Tendinir fatura. Have faith.