When Preston regained consciousness, his body sang a chorus of pain. He was under something heavy that trapped his right side, and his neck was tilted at an angle that sent a shock of nerves from his cheek clear down to his left hand. He could feel that his face was covered with something hot and sticky, and he could smell blood through all the dust and char. His stomach was a knot. There was a blossom of pain below his right knee, but below that his leg was worryingly cold, numb. If he moved, whatever was on top of him shifted and conjured fresh pain. He moved anyway.
The desk that had collapsed on top of him moved reluctantly, but eventually it did. Preston rose into a room that could barely be called that anymore. Any sense of order had been shattered along with the windows, along with the walls. There was rubble everywhere, the desk one of many things that had been thrown across the room and smashed against the walls before they crumbled. He picked his way out of the small pile of rubble that had fallen on top of him. It hurt him to put weight on his right leg, but he couldn’t feel his foot beneath it.
There were the remains of his laptop on the floor, and the filing cabinet had vomited its contents through the exposed walls of his corner home office. The shards of broken glass that littered everything caught and reflected the light of fire burning inside the room — inside his house — and whatever was raging outside. He coughed when he noticed it, and he felt his eyes and throat burning with the coat of soot and smoke. He dragged himself out of the remains of his house and into the rubble-strewn lawn beyond. Preston knew he had to get out of here.
The house was in a good neighborhood, a suburb ten miles outside of the city. There were good schools here, and the neighbors were all young families who had bought into the American dream. A couple expecting their first child bought the house to the left of his. The manager of an insurance company bought the house to his right. He had a family — his wife made clothes and sold them on the Internet, and their children went to a nearby high school. He had no idea where they were, but as he looked back to see the burning remains of his house he saw the houses of his neighbors rolling with fire, pouring smoke into the air. It made a loud, roaring, popping sound, and the smoke hissed as it joined the immense cloud that hung over everything.
The houses across the street were blown into the street. The only light came from the fire that was consuming his entire neighborhood. The sky was black and solid and low. Preston dimly recalled that before he lost consciousness, he was in a 10 AM teleconference with clients in Europe. There was a flash, and then a ringing in his ears, and then darkness.
He looked up and down his street. There were other shocked people dragging themselves out of the wreckage of their lives, like him, with tattered clothing and bloodied faces. They were moaning, or screaming, or silent. He couldn’t tell who they were, but he felt the instinctual need to avoid them all the same. They stared at him, too, like they had no idea who he was.
He shuffled down the block, towards a small group of people at an intersection. The road sloped gently down now, and on clear days you could see the sprawling suburban neighborhoods, all the way down to the highway that circled the city proper. All he saw now was a world razed by fire, the ashes it made floating through the air.
“What happened?” He heard someone say. The voice startled him.
“Nuclear bomb.” Someone else answered. “Hit the city right in the middle. I saw the mushroom cloud go up before…before the blast wave hit.”
Preston heard that ringing in his ears again. It grew louder, more distinct. A nuclear bomb? In the city? His wife was in there. Nora. Jacob was with her. They were…they were in that.
His right leg wobbled, and he toppled entirely. The world dimmed to a mass of black and yellow. And then there was darkness again.
(The Thursday Prompt for this bit of fiction was “ashes”. I immediately thought of ashes drifting through the air and an entire city on fire from some calamity, because my brain will conjure up post-apocalyptic images if given half the chance.
What I wanted to do with this is set a nesting doll of scenes; we begin with Preston’s consciousness, awareness of his own body, and then expand out to ever-increasing circles. The room he’s in, his house, his neighborhood, the city. Eventually — and I think this happens with everyone — you lose the ability to comprehend the enormity of an event or the community you’re a part of. Having him lose consciousness at the end is a bit of a copout, but I like the way it bookends the action. Besides, if I were in that situation, I’m pretty sure I’d do the exact same thing.)