The fire has stopped at the edge of our property, threatening to tip over into my yard, which leaves about an acre between the fire and my home. My body is sweating. I can’t tell if it’s from the heat of the fire or running around my house or the fact that the sun is strong today.
I’ve gone through the steps in my head, a list of objectives that any human being would create upon a disaster like this.
Panic. Yes, I have succeeded in that. My heart clumped up in my throat until it purged itself out into a scream.
Call 9-1-1. Okay, yes, I did that, but no one answered. My friend once told me that there can be one guy responsible for an entire county. He can have ten calls come in at once and just not be able to take them all. That must be what happened. I’ll call again later.
Grab the valuables. Yes, I did that, too. I got the savings bonds, the laptop, the money. I even found the time to change out of my bikini into some shorts and a V-neck.
Find my family. They certainly aren’t home. I checked every single room, the basement, and then the garage, only to find that everyone’s cars are still here. They were here when I went outside to tan. How long was I outside? I know I went into a daydream, but how long was it? And how could they have left when their cars are still here? Could someone have picked them up? My reasoning seems unlikely.
This is where I am. Standing on my porch, the valuables in a heap. I stare at the smoldering glob of metal that is disturbingly close to my home.
I want to investigate and find out what it really is out there. But it’s still smoking and I’m afraid.
I pick up my phone and dial my mother.
I hear a ringtone seeping through the cracked window in the kitchen.
I press my phone against my ear to hear the slow and steady tone. I get up and walk inside toward the ringing. My heart pounds as I walk up each stair, nearing my parent’s bedroom.
The ring gets louder with each step. I get closer and closer until…
My mother’s phone is lit up on the bed. Her pink nightgown peeks up from underneath the crumpled sheets. A small heap of something is underneath. Her phone vibrates and jingles and I fill with terror. Where can she be? She doesn’t go anywhere without her phone.
I run to the sheets and lift them to see her nightgown.
It’s full of the gray dust.
What is it with this dust? First it was inside my kitchen mingled with my father’s clothing, and now it’s on my mother’s bed… under the sheets? Inside her nightgown? Did it waft inside from the crash?
I got it. She must have accidentally left her phone at home. I’ll try Dad.
The tone in my ear continues and continues until the voicemail. No response. But his phone isn’t inside, so that’s good.
At least I didn’t hear it.
Anger rises up into my cheeks creating a fury. Why have a phone if you aren’t ever going to answer it? Why have one if you’re not even going to take it with you?
I growl, trying not to scream out my anger in case they come walking through the door.
I guess I could try Lauren.
I hear Lauren’s voice and my heart calms, easing up.
“Lauren! I have been wonder—“
“Hello?” Lauren says again.
“Lauren! Are you there?”
“Lauren, it’s Genevieve Where are—“
“Ha! Can’t get to the phone right now. Leave a message at the beep! Beep!”
I throw my phone at the ground and yell.
I cover my mouth as I get closer, coughing out the ash that floats in the air.
And I gasp.
The small windows.
It’s a plane.
It’s dismantled, the parts dismembered like a crucified body. They are scattered across the field, burning hot like red coals.
A passenger plane.
I’m afraid to look inside the windows.
This isn’t my job. I can’t do this. Are they dead?
I grab my phone again. I call 9-1-1.
“Please. Please answer. Please. Oh, God. Please,” I say to the empty air.
It rings three times. My heart stops as the line seems to crackle, like a phone picking up.
“Hello?” I nearly scream.
“Hello! Please, someone come help me. There’s a plane by my yard, please, I need help and—“
And the line disconnects.
I give up on my phone and throw it as hard as I can.
I flick the sweat off my forehead and run toward the plane.
I don’t know where to go, where to begin, what to do.
As I near the plane, I realize it’s too hot. The fire is too fresh and I have to get help.
I suddenly realize what I think I’ve been forgetting all along.
My neighbors! They must have heard the crash, they must have called when they heard it and the ambulance must be on its way. Of course!
I run inside and grab my keys off the key ring. I get in my car as fast as I can and drive to the small subdivision. I knock on the door of the house closest to mine. It’s a white home, small in stature compared to the mansion next door.
I knock again.
I press the doorbell and wait as long as I possibly can.
I punch the door with my fist.
I kick the door.
“Why is no one home?” I scream from the porch.
I make my way to the backyard. There sits a grill, a few lawn chairs, and an inflated pool.
No people. My eye catches on a small pile of dust in front of the grill, and I walk forward to see that there are burgers on the grill. They’re burning.
Someone must be home then, right?
I walk up to the porch, open the screen door, and try to just open the door myself, but it’s locked. I knock and knock until my fist seems numb.
I guess no one is home, but how?
I try the next house.
And the next one.
And the next one.
After what seems like hours, I give up and scream, “Where is everyone!”
I’ve tried every single house in the neighborhood, the only houses around for a mile or two.
I scream, and slip down to the ground, my head in my hands.
“Why me? Why is this happening to me?”
Those people. In the plane. They need help now; they need medics now.
Are they going to die? I imagine them inside, buckled to their seats, unconscious, breathing in that smoke, dying with every passing minute that no one comes to save them.
“Get yourself together, Genevieve,” I say, forcing myself up.
I drive back to my house wishing I hadn’t throw my phone in the field so I could try 9-1-1 again.
I run back to the plane.
The smoke is still wafting toward the sky, but the huge billows of black ink have stopped. Now it’s a dark gray, slowly retreating to a pale gray.
I don’t know where or how to begin, seeing that the plane’s parts are smoking hot and the parts are toppled and turned in various ways. I peer inside one of the windows, a piece of the plane closest to me. This part of the plane is at a level where I can actually get to the window to see inside.
The seats are there, the seat belts all buckled in. The magazines from the back of the seats have scattered onto the floor. Pieces of the ceiling have ripped and shredded, parts are dented. It looks like a plane crash all right. But something is missing.
Everything is covered in ash. That dust.
A thin film layers everything. The seats, the floor, even some has shadowed the windows, making it difficult to see clearly inside.
This must be the dust that was in my house. But how?
I can’t figure this out right now. My clothes are drenched in sweat. I start coughing uncontrollably as the smoke in the air catches in my throat.
Maybe there weren’t people on the plane. Maybe there were just pilots. Yes, that must be it. That has to be it. Do they ever do that? They must.
I feel hope now, a sense of life coming back to me. I survey the parts of the plane that lie around me, and distinguish the cockpit.
I whisper to myself, “Please be alive. Please have a heartbeat. Please.”
My heart drops into my stomach when I get close enough to the windshield to see inside.
It’s hard to see clearly, as it sits higher than my line of vision, but it looks like everything is there. The control board, the seats, all of it. Even the dust wafts through the air.
Except I don’t see any pilots.
As if someone pushes me from behind, I jerk forward, knowing I must keep moving. I must find out what is happening.
I let my mind consider the possibilities. The plane was remote controlled. I’ve heard of cars that are in the process of becoming robotic, but even then, they aren’t even available to the public, and someone has to be behind the wheel to monitor it.
The people jumped out of the plane. And where did they go? Why would they jump? My mind skims the idea as it moves to another option, an option that leaves an unsettled feeling behind my eyes. A heavy headache sits down in the back of my brain.
The people disappeared.
I can’t explain it, but for now it seems like the only explanation I can come up with.
Not a living soul answers any of my calls, my family is gone, my neighbors aren’t home, and now the plane is empty.
Something is happening and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what to do now, unsure of myself, unsure of my surroundings, unsure of just about everything including the force that jerked me forward, urging me to press on.
I need to leave my home as much as I don’t want to. Help is my first priority now, and I need to get it fast. I know I should run, but I’m desperate to walk as I try to air out my lungs that are heavy with smoke, so I settle on a steady jog to my car. I get in my car, thankful that my keys are still in the ignition, and head toward the small town a few miles down the road. I’m halfway to town as I cross over the highway overpass, looking out and down at the long, flat interstate in shock.
I so badly want to push the word out of my head, the word that I desperately don’t want to deal with now, but it makes its way to the forefront of my mind.
Cars, trucks, and semis are spewed out across the highway, into the ditches, blown into bits that scatter into the distance.
I’m struck by the scene, my heart rate accelerating and my cheeks becoming hot with an impounding fear that this is the end.
The world is ending.
I dig my fingernails into the steering wheel and screech to a stop.
I expect to see splattered bodies across the highway below this overpass, blood trails and brains spilling all over the place.
I get out of my car and stumble to the rail, peering over it to see the reality underneath.
There is no blood. I don’t see any bodies.
I start to backtrack through the last hour of my life.
No one answers my calls, not even 9-1-1. My family is missing, my neighbors are gone, a plane crashed in my backyard with not a single person in it or around it, and now. Now, I stand above dozens of vehicles, most of them shredded beyond recognition and I can’t make out a single living soul.
I shiver despite the heat and get back in my car, figuring my vision is deceiving me. I drive down the ramp to the interstate, and abandon my car, running to the nearest car I see. It’s mangled and twisted, creating a deep fear inside me that whoever was inside is surely dead.
Nothing can ever describe the lack of sound that comes from my mouth, no matter how articulate any language could ever be, no matter how great a linguist is with words, no matter anything.
Nothing can ever describe the stone-cold silence around me when the car is empty.
My chest tightens so painfully I can barely breathe. My breaths turn into sharp gasps for air that only become more rapid as my chest constricts tighter and tighter like a snake narrowing its slimy grip around my ribs.
The only thing I notice before my world turns to black is what covers the seats.
I’m being chased.
I don’t have time to look behind me to see the face of my attacker, but I know he’s coming for me.
Something in my gut says he’s going to kill me. I run down the interstate as fast as I can, my legs almost stumbling against the force I put onto them. I have nothing to hide behind, nowhere to turn. All there is is the long, flat expanse of highway that stretches out into the horizon.
My lungs push harder and harder and my legs begin to slow, unable to keep up. I sense he’s gaining on me, and I push myself to run for my life. I imagine a knife slicing into my back so I pick up the pace.
I finally force myself to look behind me, but before the image comes into focus—
My eyes flash open.
It was a dream.
My mind is confused as it expects me to be in my home, in my bed. Why am I on the highway? My first instinct is to run in fear that a car will plow right over me.
But then I am reminded of where I am and why I am here. My head throbs in pain as I stand up. I lift my hand to my forehead and it comes away bloody. I must have fainted, cutting myself on the debris around me.
Shards of glass lay around my feet, and I notice a small piece of it sticking out of my knee. I feel sick to my stomach at the sight.
I man up and pull it out, and a small stream of blood oozes down my leg in response.
I wipe it away and get back in my car.
I can’t stop myself from uncontrollable crying now. I don’t bother looking in the rest of the cars. I know something has happened. I know no one else is here. Everyone has disappeared.
But where did they go?
I feel insane for letting these thoughts sit so tightly in my head. It feels as though there is no other explanation. I drive back up the ramp and head toward the small, local grocery store about a mile up the road.
Halfway there, I encounter another car, crashed against a tree on the side of the road.
When I get to the grocery store, I see a few cars lined up in the parking lot and I smile in hope. People are here. There is some explanation for this.
There just might be life on Earth.
I don’t bother parking between the lines. I screech to a stop right in front of the entrance and rush inside. I don’t see anyone at first sight. I turn to the left where the cash register is, where an attendant should be standing.
I don’t see anyone.
I look at the ground where the attendant should be and am horrified by what I see.
It all makes sense now.
I remember when my grandfather died of cancer. When his limp, meager body was lying in the casket. I remember the preacher reading from scripture, reminding us that death is the punishment for sin. He read, “For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
I remember this as I stare at the perfect little pile of dust where the attendant should be. I think of the dust inside my mother’s nightgown, the dust covering every surface of the plane, the dust in the seat of the car on the interstate.
I understand now.
My body starts shaking and heaving at the realization. Tears well up in mass amounts, pouring from my face until that isn’t quite enough. My body lets up rounds of weeping. A kind of cry I have never seen or felt before. A kind of cry that immediately leads on to a series of pulsing migraines. A kind of cry that can only be used when something like this happens.
I cry for my family. I could remember so many things about them, so many memories, but only one comes to mind. I think of Christmas morning and it all flashes through my mind in what could be a matter of seconds. I remember my mother as she hummed all the Christmas carols in her favorite slippers and my father with his reading glasses and gentle spirit and my sister with her stupidly perfect hair and how much she genuinely annoyed me, but I still wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world. I remember my brother who sat in silence most of the morning, completely enthralled with whatever gift he opened last.
I fall to my knees, unable to support the weight of so much grief.
This can’t be possible.
After a few minutes, the only thing I can do is question my situation.
Why am I, of all people, still alive?
Even more frightening that that—is there anyone else out there?