Continued from ‘From The Inside‘
What does one do when they’re cut off from the world? How does one handle witnessing the destruction of thousands of lives? Where does one find the strength to go on? The answer? I don’t know. I didn’t know then either, but I knew that I was out of food. I knew that I had to remove the dresser from in front of my door and wander into the chaos that settled in the city below. Yet it took me a few days. A few days after I’d eaten my last poptart, after I’d opened and closed my cupboards more times than I could count just to find them empty once again.
So, with a plastic butter knife in one hand and a pen in the other I poked my head into the hallway of the dorm. Silence. Posters lay on the ground. Items scattered across the floor as if a tornado had rushed through, but despite that, there was no one. Still, I hesitated. My heart pounded wildly in my chest as I strained for a flicker of movement that would send me reeling back into my room. Yet, it didn’t come. Finally I forced myself from the safety of my dinky, square room and locked the door.
It dawned on me as I heard the lock click over how stupid it probably was to lock the door. Were locks really going to keep people out? If they were desperate enough to search through a college dormitory for resources, a deadbolt would probably be child’s play to them. Even so, I kept it locked. Something about the normalcy of the act gave me comfort, or at least as much comfort as such a thing could give me after what I’d just seen.
The stairs were empty. The common room was empty. No one sat at the desk to answer stupid college kid questions. It was a ghost town. Where was everyone? Seeing no one should have given me ease, it should’ve calmed me. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to run into anyone. It wasn’t like I wanted to have to figure out what kind of person I am in a world gone to Hell, but the silence was unsettling. It’s a college campus for goodness sakes! Silence is when you should be most worried and I was. My breaths shook as they entered and exited my lungs. My hand wavered the plastic knife in the air.
With eyes wider than should be physically possible I exited my building into the courtyard, glancing back and forth down the streets for any sign of life. A twig snapped. Slamming my back into the brick wall I brandished the pathetic excuse for weapons in front of my face as I searched wildly for the noise. A squirrel bounded forward. It sniffed the air curiously, its tail twitching like it was having a seizure, but it was harmless. As I stepped away from the wall, one hand on my chest, trying to calm the excited beating of my heart like horse hooves on a race track, the squirrel scampered up a nearby tree.
Swallowing the fear clogging up my throat I continued down the sidewalk. It led to the river. The river was always a very popular place among the university students who sun bathed, did homework, played frisbee. It was the place to be. I expected to find someone there, yet the usual commotion and vibrant noise was a dull murmur of water bubbling over rocks. Dread started to set in. Where was everyone? Why aren’t they here? There has to be someone, anyone, out of their homes. They were all out just a few days ago…
Maybe they were holed up. Maybe the chaos had died down now that the world beyond the shimmering fog had vanished. Maybe the reality of our situation had set in… Though, I’m not even sure what our reality is. How are we supposed to survive? Our food comes from beyond the fog, from the farms of the Midwest, the orchards of Washington, the vineyards of California, the fisheries of the East Coast. What are we going to eat? How are we going to survive?
I gaze into the water of the river. It looks as clear and clean as ever and yet worries flushes through me. Is it radioactive? Is it safe to drink? My throat parches at the glistening liquid, flickering in the faint sunlight that gleams through the Dome. The thirst wins out. It pushes me to the ground, where I set down my pen and knife in the grass to cup the water in my hands. Running down my throat it tastes normal. Slightly cool. Yet, it quenches the dryness that had built up for the past two days, when I ran out of water in my dorm room.
A new sound breaks the white noise of the bubbling water, sending me into a panic as I scramble to pick up my plastic weapons. On my feet I glance around. No one stands within ten feet of me, but someone does accompany me at the water’s edge, a familiar person, in fact. The anxiety ebbs. I gather my courage enough to wander closer, close enough to identify the person.
“Professor Miesbach?” I whisper.
His eyes flash up to me, frightened and tear-stained. I’ve never seen him look so… human before. Professors always act like they’re on a higher level than university students, no doubt thinking themselves more refined and mature. Even so, Professor Miesbach was one of my favorites. A young man with a lanky form and a way with words. He always had a witty humor. Every day was started with a joke to lighten the mood that generally went along with the seriousness of lessons.
He sniffles, but says nothing.
“Professor, are you alright?” I dare to inch closer to where he stands on the high bridge that crosses the wide river.
“They’re gone,” he mumbles.
“All of them!” He cries out in anguish, his hands covering his face as he sobs some more.
My throat tightens at the sight. It also tightens at his words because they’re the same words I’ve avoided telling myself. “That’s not true,” I return, trying and failing to use a comforting tone.
“Yes, they are!” He blurts. His hands slam down onto the stone railing. “I watched them! I watched them burn!” Shaking, his hand points towards the wall of shimmering fog.
I step closer. Extending my hand slowly I place it on his arm. He shudders and pulls away. “They didn’t feel pain,” I tell him. “It’s quick.”
“What difference does that make?!” He screeches, turning to face me. “My wife and child are gone! What do I have left?!”
No answer. I have no answer to his plea because I don’t have the answer for myself. What do we have left to live for? How does life go on?
“I can’t take it,” he mumbles. “I can’t handle living without them.”
“Professor Miesbach, it’s going-”
Before I have a chance to finish my literature professor pitches himself over the side of the bridge. I scramble to the edge. A splash of disturbed water signals his impact, but there’s no sign of him even as I scour the surface. Racing to the other side, I look again. Maybe the current dragged him a little farther down. Maybe he’s washed up on the shore of the-
Red water seeps from under the bridge. It extends, carried away by the current, in a long line that sends shudders down my spine. My fingers whiten from gripping the railing. Yet, I continue to search for the man, for some sign that he’s still okay, that I can save him.
A white flash peeks from the water. The red water slips over its smooth surface. The skull’s attached to a body. My stomach heaves, forcing me away from the horrid sight and back onto the grass where I crumble into the soft earth. How could he do that? How could he just kill himself?
Because he lost everything he cared about, a tiny voice in my head answers. You lost everything, too.
Next Installment: ‘Deadly Instincts‘