I open my eyes to the dimness surrounding me. The quiet stillness of the empty living room would be a welcomed site if it weren’t for my hammering heartbeat. I fill my lungs with air in an attempt to appease the sudden anxiety that has taken hold of me, but I find no respite. My eyelids close slowly, dreading the short walk to my own bedroom. Lena is bound to wake up as soon as she senses me walking past her room. I sigh, knowing I can’t remain on the couch all night.
“Clara,” Rob says. My eyes flash open as my heartbeat spikes at the sound of its voice. The tall, glycerin-looking robot leans closer, casting diffused shadows over me. “I’ve lost all satellite communications.”
My body freezes, but my thoughts begin racing even faster. I stand up just as a flash of orange light illuminates the night outside. I run to the window and my breath leaves me in one big blow. The hissing sound of a million wind currents intensifies as the ball of fire rises from the explosion site in the distance. It releases rings of cream-colored smoke as it floats up, like slow moving waves in the sky. Rattling follows, shaking the ground in an uproar as the orange mushroom transforms into an ever-growing tree. A giant tree of gray smoke and sand.
I wipe the tears pooling at the edges of my vision and turn to Rob. He can’t express emotion, but something about the overall stiffness of his wired body makes me stop. “I’m picking up unfamiliar resonances. I believe another plane is heading our way.”
I clench my teeth together as I run up the stairs, disregarding the loud thud of my feet against the wood, and turn left into Lena’s bedroom. She sleeps soundly, but I can see her stir under the covers as I approach the control panel on the headboard of her anti-atomic bed shelter. She opens her eyes and smiles, completely unaware of the beeping sound in the background activating the respective shields that will keep her safe.
“Mommy?” her six-year-old voice echoes inside my ears, bringing new tears into my eyes.
“You need shelter, too,” Rob says. A second, brighter flash of light radiates outside as another blast detonates closer to our location. This one nearly blinds me on the spot.
I kneel on the floor and place my hands against the protective glass doming over Lena’s bed. She sits up. The confusion in her eyes turns to understanding, and I have to fake a smile to give us both some sort of reassurance. There is no time for me.
Her smaller hands push against mine on the other side of the glass and I watch them disappear behind the color-changing shield. Time seems to slow down. I can feel the rattling approaching. The hissing blast breaks through the window, blowing burned debris over my body. The fiery particles begin to devour my skin.
I close my eyes. The light within them grows red, like an approaching dawn. I inhale one last time, taking in the heat scorching the air around me, and my lungs combust as my mind drifts away into a red dawn. A red sorrow that will burn forever.
About The Author
M.C. Muhlenkamp is the author of Markram Battles. She is an avid reader, food lover, and slightly obsessive writer with a knack for learning. You can connect with her through her blog, follow her on Twitter, or friend her on Facebook.