A/N: As part of my celebration of being on the site for 5 years, not only am I updated all of my in progress stories, but I'm also posting three new stories! This one was posted in the Strange Love Collection for this year, but I really like it so I'm posting it here as well.
Love Like A Candle by Tiger002
All of them the same.
Endless walls of overpriced art, decorated to be extravagant but subtle all at the same time. You'd think they'd do something to differentiate this one from all the others across the world. I drop my yoyo along the ground, bringing it back up in a split second, loving the feeling of control I have over it. I think about doing some fancy tricks or something, making my presence known in these halls of ordinary people.
Yeah, I know.
I'm just a kid with a hobby.
But one good enough at said hobby to make a pretty penny.
I walk up to my room, wishing that for once Fredrick would get me a room not a mile from the elevator, but what can you do? Swiping my key and walking through the door, my nostrils are greeted with the all too familiar smell of overly cleanliness. At least they brought my bags up to the right room this time, that's an improvement over most of the Tipton hotels at least.
I think about just going to bed now, with the sun starting to set, but decide it's not worth it. I'll need to get plenty of sleep for tomorrow, but it's still too early for that. Granted, I could wipe the floor with half those losers in my sleep, but it's best not to take any chances like that. Still, it seems like a good time to just relax, so I rummage through my suitcase, pulling out my pajamas and head to the shower, wanting to wash off the stench of the old people crammed onto the airplane. There should be a law against so many people so close to death so close together.
After washing myself, I head out of the bathroom and see that night had fallen, just as I thought it would. I hate Decembers, the way the sun always goes down so early, and it's so cold, no matter where you go. I mean, I'd have to go to Florida just to avoid the snow. But sadly, here I am, stuck in Chicago. We'll probably have a foot of snow by morning, not to mention the brutal winds.
Oh well, mop up the floor with the competition here, head home for Christmas. At least Southern California isn't too cold most of the time, even though it's 5 days before Christmas.
I get on the bed, and pull my laptop out, figuring I might as well watch a couple movies while I wait for it to get later.
I didn't notice what movie I was watching when I fell asleep, only that my laptop was dead upon waking up. The battery normally only lasts a couple hours, and considering the sky has grown pitch black, it's probably nine or something. I get out of bed, going to find the lights so I can see what time it is. I carefully step over my suitcase, knowing how bad of an idea it is to find it with my shin in the middle of the night. After a few seconds of stumbling through the darkness, I find the switch, and hit it, but to my surprise, no lights come on.
"The heck?" I say to myself, but I wonder if I should just go to bed and not worry about this. It might be for the best, I'll be woken up soon enough by the sunlight, and I really don't feel like complaining to maintenance at this hour of night about a faulty light switch. I groan, and head back to bed, but as I turn to see the window, I notice that there isn't a single light in the city.
It's one thing for a room to be out of light, but the entire city blanketed by darkness? I go to the window, to assure myself that it isn't just my imagination. But sure enough, there it is. I see some stars up above, something never seen anywhere near a city. They light up the horizon just enough to see the outline of the many towering, yet pitch black, skyscrapers.
Maybe I should go investigating…
Though it's probably nothing, or at the very least nothing that is my job to worry about. Still, I like my laptop, and if I can't charge it, there will be problems. I go back to my bed, reach down into my shoe, and pull out my cell phone. Yeah, an unorthodox place to put it, but its one place I'll make sure not to leave it behind. Unlocking the phone, I see its 12:21 and 12 seconds.
The seconds quickly change, but I notice something that seems to be too bizarre to just be a coincidence. The date is the same, December 21, 2012.
No way. This can't be anything more than a freaky coincidence. They were barbarians, they sacrificed people to gods that we've proven never existed, and for whatever reason some harebrained idiots decided that they could predict the end of the world.
Still, what if they were right, and this power outage is part of it?
I've got to stop watching so many movies.
I look to my bed, knowing that everything will work out for the best if I just lie down, go to sleep, and wake up when everything is normal again. Though with my body wide-awake, and thoughts racing at a thousand miles a minute, I know that will be a fruitless task. Besides, what's the harm in a little investigation?
Grabbing my coat, I use it to prop the door open, not wanting to risk being locked out if the card reader won't work. I glance over the room, and decide to shove my laptop under my bed, to make sure that any passing thieves don't decide to take it for themselves. I go over the room again, seeing if there is anything too valuable sitting out, but if someone really wants my clothes, I wouldn't miss them much when I'd be home soon anyway. I put my wallet, keys, and two favorite yo-yos in my pocket, and leave the room. As I round the corner, the darkness of the halls makes me wonder if I would have been smarter just to lie in bed, wait for this dark night to pass. But I've come this far, I might as well not waste this journey.
I can't help but hear the muffled voices through the walls, though they are so soft that I only rarely hear a word, and even when I do I'm not even sure what I hear. The floors seem shaky, like they could give way at any moment. I see shadows dancing in the distance, and when I go to run to them, the whole building seems to tilt, throwing me against the wall I can barely see.
I should get out of here. Being on the fifth floor at a time like this can't be a safe option, no way to get out of the building in a hurry, and worse, if this place does come down, I'd have 20 floors burying me.
I'm not letting that happen.
I look back, my room about 30 yards away from here now, and the odds are decent I won't be back there. The building begins rocking again, this time I find myself standing on the wall for a brief second, before falling back to the floor, landing on my shoulder.
My stuff can stay without me. Ain't no way I'm staying here another second longer than I have to.
I start running, trying to keep my balance as the building feels more and more unstable, and know that I can't look back now. I hate to leave all that behind, but I'd much rather lose some clothes and computer and stuff than my life through whatever this is.
What if it's worse outside?
I can't think about it. There has to be some way out of whatever this is. And right now, I know it's not in this hotel.
I finally reach the stairs, and this is the first time I see a sure sign of life. It seems, like me, many have chosen to get out of here. Do any of them have any idea what's going on here? Do they have hope, or are they filled with fear at what they don't know?
It doesn't seem like it, most of them are just walking in silence, I hear a few screams of women from a distance, and I briefly make out something asking for help for her daughter. As we continue to go down the stairs, the cries for help become more and more prevalent, but that doesn't matter right now. I have to get myself out of here, I have no idea what any of this is about, or how to help, so I try ignoring them, though the desperate pleas are wearing on my ears, and can only be ignored for so long.
Through the flashlights that some of the people were wise enough to bring, I can see that we've made it to the second floor, so escape is just out of sight.
Sadly, the light revealed something I wish I had never seen. Several people, mostly children, but a few adults as well. Their flesh seemed to have started to disintegrate, their faces were melting off, blood was seeping out from everywhere. It was as if they were zombies, some still alive, trying to get out of here. My mind wanted to run from them, an instinct brought on from watching too many zombie movies, but then I notice that they don't seem malicious; they're just trying to get out of here the same as everyone else. These people, or whatever they are, silently make their way with the crowd, not crying out in pain or demanding help, but just joining us all the same.
I wonder, can they think, do they feel pain? Or are they going only by instinct?
The others seem to notice these people as well, trying to get away, to not be touched by them. Perhaps, whatever this is, it's contagious, and it could spread. Though with the massive crowd making their way down the stairs, there is no way for us to escape, no matter the danger. A nightmarish thought crosses my mind, and I reach my hand up to my face, pulling it away as I close my eyes for a second. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see no blood there, telling me that I have not fallen victim to whatever this is.
Finally making my way to the exit on the second floor, I decide to get out here, not wanting to be surrounded by people should I need to move in a hurry. Granted, there aren't any exits here, but by now, I'm low enough to the ground to be able to go out through a window should the need arise. I'd just need to find some sheets to use as a makeshift parachute or toss a mattress out a window to land on, and I'd be fine.
I make my way through the second floor, wishing that I had the light of the flashlights guiding me still, but being alone is probably be safer. Those others would just get in the way, and if I'm going to get through this, I'll have to do it myself. It's not like that hasn't worked for me in the past. Others just slow me down, and no matter what promises are made or words cross our lips, no relationships ever last long.
As I make my way through the hallway, my eyes start adjusting to the darkness once again. I try to find an open door so I can escape this hotel, when the whole place begins shaking again, throwing me against the wall. I try getting up, but the place is still shaking too much, causing me to fall to the ground, unable to catch myself, hitting my face on the fancy carpet. I yelp in pain, as I try getting to my knees, deciding that I shouldn't try walking until the floor stays in one place. I move my hand up to my face, feeling a liquid substance on it, and sure enough, my nose is bleeding.
Great, just what I need. I can only hope it will stop soon, and wait for this horrendous shaking to stop. I'm half afraid that the hotel is going to fall over, or collapse, or something. That, or a nearby building will fall into it. There are probably a million reasons to get out of here now, but this stupid shaking is making it so I can't even walk.
After a couple minutes of waiting for the shaking to pass, it finally does, and I'm able to get up, looking for a door that would lead to my exit. But as I do so, I heard the creaking, and a still small voice calls out. It's unlike those of the many guests, running through chaos, rushing out in their ignorance of the reality around them.
"Is someone there?" it asks, a girl, and I try to find her through the obscuring darkness.
"Who said that?" I ask.
"I'm right here," she answers, and I make my way to her voice, finding that it came from one of the rooms. I jump in as the floor begins shaking again, and she shuts the door behind me, though I'm not sure it's any safer in here.
"Thank you." At the very least, she's gotten me close enough to an escape; the window at the far end of the room lets a miniscule amount of light into the room, enough to see that she is no older than me. I get up, and take in the setting, the room is a little bit smaller than mine, a single bed, but I notice a bulge in it, something that I want to pretend is just some luggage or clothes, or something, but the shape tells me otherwise.
"That was my boyfriend," she says, her voice soft, hardly able to bring the words across, and I move away from that side of the room. "It got to him almost as soon as the lights went out, he was dead in only a few minutes."
"How long have they been out?" I ask, deciding that now is as good of a time as any to start getting some answers. I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to, especially if whatever he had could spread to me, but this girl might know something.
"According to my watch, about 3 hours, but it feels like it's been forever."
So it went out a couple hours after I fell asleep. "We need to get out of here," I say, making my way to the window, and it looks like we're about ten feet off the ground. It should be safe enough.
"I was wanting thinking the same thing, but it seemed so crowded by the stairs. And I get claustrophobic, and with all those people, there could be others like him, and then-"
"That's why we're not using the stars," I say as I begin fiddling with the window latch, trying to get this thing open.
"You sure this is a good idea?"
"Better than staying here at least." Finally, I get the window open, and with a couple shots of my elbow, I make a hole in the screen. I then go to work tearing the screen out, hoping to get out of here without another quake, or whatever that was hitting again. "You ready?" I ask, taking a step back.
She nods as she walks up beside me, and I can't help but feeling she's a bit nervous at jumping out a window. Can't say it's something I've done before, but I've always thought it sounded fun. I just wish that I was doing it under better circumstances.
"Oh, before we go!" she exclaims, causing me to role my eyes, the fact that we're waiting not making any sense to me.
"Hillary," she says, holding out her hand.
"Johan," I say shaking it. Normally I'd wait for her to realize who she was talking to, but it seems like lately no one knows of my fame, and right now, I don't have time to explain. "Now let's go."
I'm not quite sure when I became worried with more than getting myself out of here, but I'd feel bad just leaving her here and the odds are good she'd end up following me anyway. Besides, there is strength in numbers for whatever awaits us out there. Not that I'm agreeing to protect her or anything, my goal is to just get out of this hellhole. And if I happen to help someone else escape while doing so, then that's not a bad thing.
Pushing my legs out the window first, I jump down, the impact throwing me off my feet as I hit the ground. I get back to my feet quickly, and signal her to follow me. Despite the fact that she's a bit bigger than I am, I stand ready to catch her and break her fall.
"I'm scared, what if I hurt myself, or fall on something, and the human body can only take so much force-"
"Trust me, I got you," I say cutting her off, and up above me I can see her nod slightly, pushing her legs off over the edge. And with the moonlight shining against the hotel, I see the wind blowing in her hair, showing how beautiful she is.
She hops down, and I wrap my arms around her waist, slowing her decent, and I stop thinking about her looks. Besides, with the noise of the masses not too far away, we need to get going. There should be a safe place not too far from here, especially in a city this big, but we'd be best to avoid big crowds.
I gaze out through the night, looking for an opening, for any indication of what awaits us out here. But with so little that we know any choice could be the wrong one.
"Get away from the hotel" I say, hoping that I choose the right path and begin running. I hear her footsteps behind me, as we make our way behind the hotel, away from the crowds, and disappear into the night.
I feel the cold winter's wind against my skin, nearly forgetting in all the chaos how cold it was out here, and I regret leaving my coat back at the hotel, leaving me in only a t-shirt and jeans. Shivers erupt along my body, and I know that this could be a long night, especially when I won't have the chance to keep running to keep my body warm.
"I don't live far from here, about ten miles if you want to head for there."
"Lead the way," I say, not wanting to be stuck out here any longer than necessary in the cold, but if we move fast, hopefully it won't be too bad.
She looks around the streets, trying to find the right path, or so I would assume, and begins walking briskly, obviously seeing how critical it is to move fast as well. She's wearing a sweatshirt and what appear to be some thick jeans so she isn't as exposed to the cold as I am. However, we have to be careful not to exhaust ourselves too soon. I soon catch up to her, the glow of the stars giving light to the dark alleys she runs through. I have to wonder how many times she's taken this path, how she seems to know it so well. What secrets must she keep, that would lead her to memorize these obscure roads so well.
"You able to keep up?"
"Yeah," I say with a nod as we round yet another corner, her deft turns nearly throwing me off. "You seem like you know this place really well."
"Let's just say that a while back, hiding in the dark obscurities of the city was the safest course of action for me. The more twists and turns, the easier to lose those who were me."
My fist clenches up at the thought of people hurting her. From the way her voice quieted as she said that, I know there are secrets she wants to keep. I want to ask her, slow down, but I can already feel my fingers starting to go numb, and know that we have to keep going. We can't waste any time just talking. Maybe once we get to her house, I can ask her, but not now.
"We're almost halfway there," she says after we've traveled in silence for quite some time, and from the way my legs are starting to tense up, I can believe we've put several miles behind us She looks back at me, as if to ask me if I want to take a break but despite the fact that I probably need to, I push my legs to go harder, even though that causes pain to shoot through them. Between the cold and the exhaustion, I'm ready to collapse, but can't. If I sit down now, I may never get up again.
"So why would you stay at a hotel when you live so close?" I ask, wanting to do something to keep my mind off the chilling air consuming my body.
"Tonight was the night of our school's winter dance. Kevin wanted for us to go to a hotel to properly celebrate, since we had been going out for so long."
I can only guess that Kevin was the person buried beneath the covers of the bed, the one who I dared not to see.
"I'm so sorry."
"Don't be. Is it bad that I wasn't sad that he died?"
I don't say anything, not sure how to respond to something like that.
"A complete douche, I just never had the courage to dump him in the two months we had been dating."
Two months, that hardly seems like a long time to me. Though I guess it's better than anything I've been capable of. It's always been short-term relationships; maybe a few weeks if I stay in one place for long, heck, I even had a girlfriend for about a month back at home. But with me being gone so often, that could never last long. The curses of having such a gift. And the thing is, they always said it was my fault that we broke up, that I couldn't commit to them enough. They just had no idea how hard it was, and got jealous of any girl I talked to.
Maybe I wasn't always innocent.
But that's in the past, and right now, none of that matters. All we need to do is to get out of this cold as soon as possible.
With my eyes adjusting to the darkness of the night, and ears tuned to the sound of silence, only the sound of tennis shoes colliding against the pavement pounding against the ears, I am nearly thrown off my feet by a sonic boom tearing through the sky. I place my hand against a building beside me to steady myself.
"What was that?" she asks, as we stop, taking in the strange sound. We glance up at the sky, and then I see it, among the stars, a ball of red.
My first thought is that it could be the sun, finally coming to give us relief from such a night, but then I see the one splotch of red quickly multiplying; what once was 1 becoming 3, and then 10, and then a countless multitude.
We stop and stare for a moment, taking in the site, the darkness of the night obliterated by the light of a thousand suns. Though these aren't quite suns, these are red, smaller, but they are brighter than the brightest summer's day I have ever seen.
These balls of fire do not stay suspended in the sky for long. No, instead they slowly descend downward, to the city itself.
I hear the first one explode probably a mile away, though from the deafening sound of the impact, I have no idea if my guess is anywhere near correct. Through the streets, I see the smoke rising, the heat touching me even from here. Gazing up, I notice that the other balls of fire descending to the earth, most going far away, but some close enough to worry me greatly.
"Do you think your house will be safe?"
"It's better than being out here."
She's probably right, and right now, I need something to keep me going, instead of being in awe of the power of these, as another one explodes behind us.
Looking back, I see one more of them strike the ground, the ashes already starting to rise, and the nearby buildings crumbling beneath the impact. My mind is brought back to the terrorist attacks nearly 12 years ago the way the buildings fell away to nothing, and as skyscrapers fall in the distance, I now know the terror those poor souls faced that day.
The sky is still filled with the balls of fire, which as they pound into the city, I notice are rock beneath the fire, meteors falling from the sky. I want to ponder where they came from, but don't, seeing no point in asking. The only logical course of action is to get away from it, find some place that could keep us safe. Even if there is no escape from the destruction, we have to try. I for one don't plan on standing out here waiting to die.
Maybe I will die, maybe my fate is unavoidable.
But I'd rather believe in a fate I can control, that whatever comes my way it isn't unstoppable.
No matter how out of the world it seems.
"One's heading toward us," I say, feeling the heat radiating from it already, driving away the chills I felt earlier.
"We have to move," she says, grabbing my hand and the two of us duck behind an alley, hoping that the buildings surrounding us will protect us. Though with the destruction the meteors have already brought, I wonder if the buildings will offer any protection.
"Get down," I say, ducking to the ground, pulling her beneath me without thinking. For a second, I consider the fact that I want to protect myself, but I have no time to question my choice, as the sound of an airplane engine exploding rockets through the air. I try covering my ears, but it's too late, the sound already driving into my head. The heat flows all around us, and I can feel it eating at my skin, soon followed by an onslaught of debris. Windows shatter all around us, and the sounds of glass hitting the street make me cringe, thinking that instead of the pavement that could be my skin. I shiver at the thought, glass burrowing into my skin too close to becoming a reality.
Once more, silence falls upon the city, and I dare to open my eyes, not noticing that I had closed them.
"Are you okay?" she asks, and I slowly climb off of her, seeing if I feel any pain, or notice any blood. My arm, which was facing the street, appears to be burned, the cool air stinging it. Several drops of blood seep through the scorched skin, but through either adrenaline or numbness, the pain isn't enough to keep me from getting back up.
"Yeah, for the most part anyway. That was way too close for comfort, let's get to your home before things get worse."
She nods, but as she gets up, she stumbles back to the ground and I see it, a shard of glass sticking out of her jeans.
I close my eyes, knowing that I failed to protect her. But maybe this is for the best, I wasn't hurt.
But is that anyway to think, when she's in pain?
I don't know, maybe it is, I should be making sure I get through this before some girl I just met.
I bend down, trying to see how bad the damage is. I think back to my time dating Jackie, maybe those two weeks weren't a total loss since I learned more about the human body and first aid than I cared about. The blood loss doesn't seem too bad, but we have to wrap it soon, to make sure she doesn't bleed out. But with what? I need to get the glass out first though, so I carefully grip it.
"This will hurt," I say, and she cringes, obviously in quite an amount of pain already. I guess a little bit more can't hurt too much.
I yank the glass out, and she screams, in tune with another metiour slamming into the earth quite a distance from here. She grips her leg, and I see the blood slowly leaking out her fingers. "Can I use your sweater to wrap it?"
She nods and takes off the thing keeping her warm through this cold winter's night, but this could be a choice between staying warm and staying alive, and she has the same priorities as me.
I carefully tie it up, wishing I had something more to hold it in place, or something smaller to use.
Then I think of it.
I take one of my yoyos out of my pocket, and unroll it. I snap the string off, letting the plastic fall to the ground, and I carefully weave the string around the sweater, making sure it will stick to the wound, but still wrapping it up enough so she can still walk.
"Thank you," she says, and then gets back to her feet, though stumbling some as she does so.
"It shouldn't be much farther."
That means she could make it. Or will make it. Either or.
"Is there someone there?" a voice calls out, a guy, though I can't tell his age, but at this point, I don't really care.
"Yes, we're back here!" I yell, hoping that it's not someone I should avoid alerting, but thoughts of caution blow by me at the thought of someone who could help.
"Oh thank God," he says as he quickly rounds the corner, revealing himself to be a man probably in his thirties with short black hair, and a suit covered by a jacket.
"Is there anything you could do to help?" I ask, pointing to her leg, and he nods in understanding.
"Of course, I am the Pastor Green of the First Baptist Church just down the road. Daniel and Justin have set up a clinic in our sanctuary to treat those wounded by this disaster."
I don't pick up on all that he says, but I hear enough to know that he can help. "Thank you."
He lets Hillary wrap her arm around his shoulder and helps her down the road and I follow them, seeing that most of the destruction seems to have passed. There are still several meteors that seem to be suspended in the sky, but once more I can see the starts that fill the heavens.
Perhaps we can get out of this, get to safety. Maybe this isn't the end of the world after all, the worst might have already passed, and all we need to do is recover from it. Judging by the ashes rising through the city, that won't be an easy process, and I'm sure thousands must have died already. But we made it, mostly unharmed.
Pastor Green leads us down the street, and I can hear the voices of despair in the distance. Several dogs are barking, kids are crying, and there are other sounds, which are dwarfed by the destruction.
"What do you think's going to happen to all these people?" Hillary asks.
"That is all in the hands of God. We can only be his servants in this time of need."
To be so assured in a faith that they can't see, that's something that's always perplexed me. Are they wiser for taking that leap of faith, or fools to look away from the world in front of them? Perhaps it doesn't matter. With so much of the city in ruins now, it might be for the best that people like him are going out and trying to help. Even if his faith is misplaced, some others will benefit from it.
"Here we are, a couple of our doctors have set up a treatment center in the sanctuary." The giant stained glass doors open revealing a place I'd imagine is typically filled with soft, reverent music, a well-organized congregation gathered together to pray.
Though tonight, it's anything but. There are those dressed up like Pastor Green, some who have taken a role of leadership, but mostly it seems that street wise kids have taken charge, those the church would condemn as unclean welcomed in, ushered around with the highest respect. Generators have been set up providing the first artificial light I have seen in hours, and I notice blood on the angel statues sitting atop the stage where wounded have been laid.
"I found two more," the pastor says to a guy wondering back and forth, some gloves on his hands revealing that he's a doctor, or at the very least, acting as one during this tragedy.
"How badly are they hurt?"
"She had some glass slice into her leg, and probably needs stiches, and he has a few burns."
"I'll take them to Miles then, Jeremiah is overwhelmed with the amount of life threatening injuries, and I'm still trying to treat those with the Scorching, but haven't made any progress. With what we have now, it's just not possible to save them."
I see the defeated look across his face, eyes tired from exhaustion and hopelessness. The Scorching, could that be whatever the weird skin condition is that killed Kevin? Hillary never told me much about her boyfriend's death, just that it got to him quick, and from those others I saw, there is no reason to doubt that it was confined to just the hotel.
"Do what you can Daniel," the Paster says, trying to alleviate the stress consuming Daniel. "That's all we can ask of you.
Pastor Green disappeared behind some other guys he needed to talk to and I followed Hillary and Daniel into what they've turned into a clinic. I can't help but wonder where they got these supplies, perhaps some of the church members work at a hospital and were able to bring some supplies with them, but upon looking closer, I see that many things could have been rummaged from around the church, towels used to soak up the blood, bottled water brought out in droves to wash the dirty supplies.
"Miles, can you take care of these two?" Daniel asks. "Her leg was cut pretty badly with glass, and he needs something for his burns."
He nods as Daniel skirts away, the rush obviously too much for them to spend much time just talking to each other when there are people dying all throughout the city.
"Sit up here so I can look at your leg," he says and she does, before removing the sweater that had thus far stopped some of the bleeding, and I can't seem to look away. My eyes are locked on the wound causing me to see the blood continuing to flow out. It isn't much, but far more than there probably should be. He then pulls out a knife and cuts away the lower part of her jeans so he can see the wound. "Good, the pressure on the slash helped prevent too much blood loss. I'm going to numb the area around the scratch, but you might still feel some pain, understood?"
She nods and reaches for my hand as Miles prepares the needle. I let her grab onto it. "You'll be okay," I say. I feel her hand wrap squeeze tighter as the needle goes into her skin. She shivers and grits her teeth, and I feel the pain travel through her hands into mine. I wrap my arm around her, hoping that my presence can somehow alleviate the discomfort.
"Okay, I'll try to get this done quick," Miles says as he prepares the needle and thread.
"Just look at me," I say, not wanting her to see what's about to happen to her leg. The mere sight of the needle going through one's skin is enough to make the pain a thousand times worse. Even so, she grips my hand harder, and I keep my eye on the needle, each stich it makes sending shivers up Hillary's body. I see tears flowing down her cheeks, her eyes closing harder, obviously wanting to cry out in pain, but she knows now is not the time. It will hurt; it's the only way, and there are others to treat so they can't waste all the Novocain on her.
"That should do it," Miles says, placing a bandage over the wound and taping it down. "You'll be in pain for a while, but I'll see if we have any medicine to help with that.
"Thank you," she says, getting down her leg still weak, but that's to be expected with it being numb. She takes a seat in one of the pews that had not been removed from the sanctuary.
"My brother said your arm was burnt?" he asks me and I nod, walking over, allowing him to examine it. "Much pain?"
It hurts, stinging pretty badly, but I've gotten used to that from walking here. I don't think there is any permanent damage, but that could be hiding further beneath. "Bearable."
"Let me disinfect it then."
I don't know what the solution is that he's wetting the white towel with, but as soon as it makes contact with my burnt skin, I nearly jolt my arm away, but don't. The burning sensation is ten times worse than it's even been but I grit my teeth, ignoring my body's command to get away from the pain.
"Sorry, I figured it might be best to not warn you."
"As long as it helps."
"You're stronger than a lot of the others I've treated here."
"Pain tells you when something is wrong, but why complain when it's actually good for you?" I say with a shake of my head. "I'm just glad it wasn't worse."
"God was protecting you," he says with what I'm sure is supposed to be a comforting tone, but I don't see it.
"No, that was just luck. If God really was protecting me, then what about those who didn't survive long enough to get here?" I don't mean to lash out at him, I should be thanking him for helping me, but can he really see God through all this? Through all the devastation and destruction, what type of god is that? One who allows disaster to fall, one which kills good men who were in the prime of my life?
"It's not always so simple," Miles replies as he continues to clean my wound. The initial stinging sensation has since waned, but it's still there, constantly telling me to yank my arm away, but I refuse, knowing that it would be pointless. It's best to just get this over with as soon as I can.
"How can you be so calm through this? Aren't you scared?"
"We shouldn't fear the world that can destroy the body, but only fear God who can destroy the soul. As the proverbs state, 'The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'"
I find it pretty hard to fear something I've never seen.
I was scared of those meteors. I was scared of the cold. I was scared of being stuck in that hotel while it could collapse at any moment. Those I could touch and feel, and knew to fear.
I don't tell him that though. Now isn't the time to get into a religious debate. He had better uses of his time than arguing with an Atheist like me, and I'm too tired to try to convince him that he's wrong. What good would it serve anyway? If his faith is what's making him help people, then that's all for the best.
He places a bandage over my burn, and like the one over Hillary's leg, tapes it up. "That should keep the air off it, and hopefully by morning it will blister over and you shouldn't be in much pain."
"We've converted the storage area below the sanctuary into a place for our guests to stay, and you are more than welcome."
I look to Hillary, and while our original plan was to make it to her house, this is probably the safest choice. We'd be stupid to go back in the cold with us in this condition. Maybe tomorrow we could make it the rest of the way, but for now we need to rest. She nods, and I know that we feel the same.
"Good, allow me to lead the way." He tosses his gloves in the trash and the two of us follow him up to the stage, and I take in the sights of dozens of wounded being treated, more rushing in, and a part of me wants to say a prayer as I walk beneath a massive cross. But I brush that thought off to the side as we're led to stairs. The pathway is hardly lit, a few candles burning in the basement, but hardly anything to see.
I just put one step in front of the other, and as we venture further down, I see there are probably 20 people already here. Cots made out of blankets acquired from who knows where and anything else they could find adorned the floor.
"I'm sorry it isn't much, but there should still be a few spots left down here."
"It's more than enough," Hillary says and Miles heads back upstairs, more people needing his medical knowledge. We make our way to a corner, and I get under the blankets. Despite the fact that it's not as cold as outside there is still a chill in the air.
"Would you mind if I join you? We could keep each other warm."
I open the blanket up, and she lies down beside me, the warm of her skin taking away some of the cold. I look over her body, see the tired soul who has endured so much, and I see a few tears along her face. It's not surprising; I haven't lost anything, just some possessions which can easily be replaced. But her boyfriend is dead, and if she's from here, there is no telling if her family is still alive.
"We're going to get through this," I say, wrapping my arm around her, and she turns to face me, our bodies growing closer.
"I'm scared, what if this is only the beginning, what if things get worse, or you know that-"
"Don't worry about it. I'll be here."
I'm not sure why her hesitation is worrying me so much. Does she reflect the fears I really have? Or is there something else.
"Really?" she asks, and she nudges close to me, our bodies already touching and I feel the warmth radiate off of her.
We stare at each other's eyes for a moment, and I feel myself drawn in, like flying across oceans at light speed, to a destination so beautiful, so marvelous, but one which words could never describe. I don't even notice my face inching closer to hers. She begins to open her mouth, to ask another question, but she is stopped by my lips pressing ever so gently against hers.
I see what I'm doing though, driven only by instinct and lust, and pull away. This is just all getting to me; that's it. I don't love her, I don't even care about her that much. She's just a good looking body, a kind soul, one that I want to protect…
Maybe there is some love there…
No. We just met today. I've dated others, kissed others, she's no different. I've never loved them, never been willing to truly put them above myself.
"Why'd you stop?"
"I was caught up in the moment, I'm sorry."
"And what's wrong with that?"
She wraps her arms around the back of my neck, and before my body can resist or my mind can come up with a reason why I shouldn't, I kiss her again, pulling her so close our clothes are the only thing separating us. Our lips dance with each other, and I'm drawn into her, and as the darkness of a night is banished by the sunrise of her eyes, all the fears and pain that have filled me this day disappear in a sense of ecstasy.
Is this love or lust?
Does it matter?
I can't answer these, but I feel right with Hillary beside me, our bodies touching, our lips locking, and my hands starting to move lower. Some would say now is the time to proclaim my love for her, to make promises out of passion that will just fade away the next day.
What would they mean should we be separated?
Instead we just kiss, lost in each other's embrace, warmth flowing across our bodies, even as I hear the wind blowing outside, thunder shaking the night that seems so far away. Despite it all, our love burns brightly. The rain pours, and I see a flash of lightning out of a window that I had not noticed before.
Her head falls and I notice the smile across her face as she leans against the pillow, and with soft breaths, I know she needs her sleep. I stare out the window, watching the storm pound against it, and I can only hope this holy building will keep us safe for the night. Though I don't worry about it for long, as I too fall asleep.
I don't know how long I slept, this room is only lit by the window so it's too dark to see a clock should one even be here. There are some others still, some stirring, some sleeping.
"Hillary," I say, shaking the girl who hadn't made a move since I woke up. I almost hate to wake her, but we should probably do what traveling we can during the day where it won't be as cold. It was nice to find refuge here through the night, but I want to leave here as soon as I can.
She doesn't respond at first, and I think about going back to sleep. I'm awake though, and sleeping away the day won't be productive. "Wake up," I say, a little bit louder this time, but hopefully not enough to wake any of the others who need their rest.
But once more she doesn't move.
Her chest isn't moving either.
The panic begins to sink in.
"Hillary!" I begin shaking her hard now, needing to wake her out of her stupor, but it doesn't do any good. I move my hand to her neck, waiting to feel the pulse, but upon waiting for at least ten seconds, and moving my hand, hoping that I was just looking at the wrong place, there was nothing.
And through the dark room, with my eyes finally adjusting, I see a horror that I can't describe. The skin on her face has decayed, blood seeping out, her flesh exposed, pieces of bone sticking out. I'm sure she could have only been dead for a few hours, but it's as if she's been lying there for a month or more.
I bolt up, tripping over someone lying not far from me, and fall to the ground. He says something, but I don't hear him, I just get back to my feet and run, tears splashing against the ground behind me.
When did I start crying?
I don't care though, I just keep going, trying not to hit anyone or anything else, but if I do, I don't care.
This isn't right.
She shouldn't be dead.
Why her? Why not me?
Suddenly the walls of the church seem too confining, like they are walls of a morgue, only fit for keeping the dead within, and this is the farthest place from where I want to be right now.
I bolt up the stairs, finally finding them, but as I exit into the sanctuary, I see the Christians huddled in a group, a song rising from them, a song that fills me with nausea.
'From the dawn of eternity until today
Your power and majesty causes us to praise
So tonight we lift our cry
Do not flee from our sights
Now more than ever, we need your strength.'
What is there to praise? What God would you want to follow at a time like this? How is it that Christians can so cling to a good and loving God with tragedy strikes like this? If anything, they should be cursing God!
'As the fears surround and pull us down
As the life we knew fades away
As the pain becomes so much
Come Lord Jesus and save us today.'
Do they really believe that? That singing some pretty songs and saying a simple prayer will save them, or this world? Will they die believing this? And what about those who it's too late to save? But no, instead of accepting that there might just not be a god to set things right that they will die like so many others.
'You promised to be with us till the end
A vow only your strength can defend.
From wherever the broken come from
All that holds us is your love.
And now more than ever, we need your hope'
Love, hope, pretty concepts. But I felt love, I had hope, but like a candle, that love was snuffed out. Am I one of the broken? Probably, I'm just a sinner like all those who don't buy into their religious talk. But what love am I held by? What strength of God is protecting me?
'As the fears surround and pull us down
As the life we knew fades away
As the pain becomes so much
Come Lord Jesus and save us today.'
As I hear the chorus once again, I make my way to the exit, avoiding their glances that would want to hold me here or pray for me, or whatever. Whatever salvation they're praying for, the destruction I see out the doors shows it won't happen any time soon.
'God of all creation we lift up your praise.
Christ the saving king, we cry out to you.
Holy Spirit, great encourager, we plead for your strength.
And now more than ever, we need your love'
Leaving the church, the sounds of music beside me, I can truly take it the horrors that have befallen this great city. Buildings lay in ruin, the chilled winter's air blows across my body, and the smoke is still rising from the meteors that struck last night. The stench of death stings my nostrils, but I walk through the chaos anyway. I see bodies lying along the ground and wonder if I too will join them in falling to this disaster.
After putting about a quarter mile distance between myself and the church, I look back and see the people moving out once again. What can they do at a time like this? Maybe offer some comfort, some rudimentary first aid, but even driven by faith, they can only do so much. Their hope may give some encouragement, their love may comfort some who were hurt by this, but that's all.
I look away once more and continue on my way, knowing that looking back would be pointless.
The characters were:
Johan Yo from Broken Yo-Yo and Hilary from Family Thais
I must say, this story was a lot of fun to write, and also a challenge for me. Since I was given such minor characters, I felt it would be best to instead of writing a story just about them, I should write them into a greater story. Writing in first person is something I have trouble doing for more than a short story, but I think it turned out really well here. I was limited in what I could show with Hillary, and might not have written her as in characters as I could have, but given what little we know about her, and this disaster, I think I made it work. I'd like to show more with her, just writing, I saw some bits and pieces in her past that I think could draw her out more, but sadly, that wasn't for this story.
The scene at the church was probably the most unique for me to write, since it's the first time I've written a story with religious themes from an Atheistic perspective. However, I think it does justice to the story, to show a disaster from the eyes of someone who runs from faith. And the song lyrics at the end were actually written by me, mainly for this story.
Thank you to WoundedHearts and Wyntirsno for betaing and early version of this. I hope you enjoyed this and please review.