“Chiz, don’t go in there.”
Decker is tugging on my arm. His dark eyes are so wide the whites show all around.
“Calm down.” I peel his fingers from my sleeve. “It’s just for a look.”
I touch the spot on my forehead where he hit me with a rock when he first saw me. It’s stopped bleeding, but it smarts. Instead of apologizing, he told me it made me look less naff.
Decker kicks at a chunk of brick. He looks up and away, into the gray sky. There used to be towers and high rises blocking the view here, but they’ve all been turned to rubble. When he sniffs and rubs his face on his sleeve, it leaves streaks in the dust on his skin.
“Hey,” I say, under my breath.
He spits on the ground and then raises his chin. His lips are all twisted together so they won’t tremble.
“I need you to keep them safe,” I say, gesturing to the other kids, 30 feet behind him. St. John sits by a bench at what used to be a bus stop, bouncing Dilly on her knee.
“You’ll come back,” he says, holding his hands in fists.
Neither of us move, and he launches himself at me. It’s more like a tackle then a hug. His forehead hits me square in the breasts.
He pulls away before I can put my arms around him and starts running back to the other kids, yelling, “You better be fast! I’m not a babysitter.”
I take a deep breath and start to pick my way through the debris of what we think used to be Westminster Cathedral. Whatever happened started here–or ended here. The buildings were intact until about a mile ago. Except for the glass. Even in my flat in Chiswick, the glass was broken in all the windows.
Decker couldn’t remember anything. He said he woke up in a double-decker bus, just him alone, and crawled out of the window. There was dust all inside the bus, but no people, no bodies. None of the kids remember anything except where they woke up. I told them I was from Chiswick, and the name stuck. I like it more than my real name.
My pajama pants are already shredded from the knee down. I’m wearing boots we looted from a store. Every step is awkward and I lose my balance, but they keep my feet from getting torn up. Pieces of the church frame are still standing, bits of wall here and there. There is one dome toppled in the middle; the rest were demolished.
I don’t know what I’m looking for, or even what drew me in this direction. When I woke up I was covered in plaster dust and pieces of broken glass. My dad’s bed was empty. I didn’t go looking for him.
“Shit.” I slip and cut my hand on a piece of stained glass. Decker was right to be scared for me. The rubble alone could be a death trap. Colored glass, wood splinters, brick chunks, shreds of other material I don’t recognize. My hands are raw and my feet are sore. My nose is stopped with dust, but I’m sure I smell. I turn to look back and I can just see the top of Decker’s head moving.
Decker was the first one I found. Neither of us had seen another person. He thought I was an alien at first. When we passed a shop window, I saw that my hair was standing all on end like I’d been electrocuted.
We tried the tellys in the shop, but none of them had reception. The radios just blasted static.
“You heard that junk about a solar flare?” he asked, back out on the street.
I shook my head. We were walking in the middle of the street. Here and there, cars were parked at intersections, but it was mostly empty.
“A solar flare wouldn’t make people disappear,” I said.
He shrugged. “How do you know? You’re not a scientist.”
“I’m not stupid, either,” I said.
“I think they all got turned to dust,” he said.
“What about us?” I asked.
My breathing is ragged as I climb over larger pieces of the building. The dome is closer now, and beyond it what looks to be a small open space. Maybe it is an invasion. There’s no cross or statue of an angel left standing, like you’d see in a movie.
I come to the top of a pile and straighten to decide which direction to take. My knees buckle as the scree under my feet gives way, and I stumble a few steps, half-running toward some beams that look more solid. Dust rises around me. I hear things shifting, and then the whole rock pile gives way. The gray of the sky is the only thing I see, and then darkness.
For Part II, go here.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Jen. This month we’re posting extra short stories on Halloween. Check out Audrey’s answer to this prompt next Monday.
For more amazing photos by Days of K, please visit her Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/daysofk/). Photograph © Copyright, Days of K 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Original sculpture by William Wetmore Story 1894.