Rays of sun are gliding over my skin in waves of heat. Every few seconds a drift of wind breezes through my bangs and my skin cools.
The backyard is pretty and tranquil, extending to the horizon with plowed lines of soybean fields in the distance. A small subdivision sits in front of my house, but those are the only houses for a few miles.
I pop out my earphones and unhook my bikini top while carefully holding it over my chest as I lie back down on the lounge chair. I reach for the ear buds.
Acoustic guitars strum the sound of summer, and the hum of a sharp tenor voice and a dull feminine voice rise and swell in waves. They sing:
We are lying in the sun, when we’re done find a towel
Now we’re thinking of where we’re gonna eat.
Back corner table, order lobsters and Black Label
Raise your glasses, here’s to living out our dreams.
I can’t help but smile, and my cheek presses against the pink and orange polka-dotted towel. I close my eyes and drift away into a warm world of dark, damp comfort.
I imagine being pampered. Cucumber slices over my eyes, lavender scented moisturizer being smoothed over my tense muscles into an unending state of relaxation. I briefly wonder whether my father will walk out onto the back porch and sigh in discomfort at my bare back.
Suddenly, my body shakes back and forth, and a heavy noise slams into my eardrums. The enormous impact shoves me from my lounge chair, throwing me into a panicking stumble as I fall to the ground. It rips the acoustic strums out of my ears and disconnects me from my world of warmth.
Before I know what to think or say or do, a piercing sound rises up from my stomach, hurls through my chest, gathers speed in my throat, and makes contact with the smoking air.
My bikini needs retied.
I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I don’t have time.
I fumble the hooks behind my back in panic.
The horizon that used to display a canvas of pillow-like clouds on a bright blue day is filled with eruption. Orange blazes of fire dot the tips of billowing black clouds that puff up higher and bigger with every pounding millisecond. Not more than a quarter of a mile away at most, the black smoke shades the sun and casts an eerie shadow on the world. The fire is extending fast, the orange glow moving along the grassy earth with a relentless indifference.
It’s moving toward me.
I can’t see the source of the fire. In an empty field of grass and dirt, the only thing I can imagine is a plane of some kind. Maybe a meteor? An asteroid? Is this the end of the world?
I hear my scream, high and murderous. I scan the seemingly empty world around me, and my vision fills with delayed screenshots of heavy black clouds and pieces of greenness from trees and the grass around me, but I can’t stop to focus.
Only a few seconds have passed.
Reaching for my phone. Dialing 9-1-1. Fingers trembling to keep the phone against my ear. Running back toward my house as the phone rings and rings and rings. Jumping over all four of the porch steps. Looking over my shoulder at the billowing clouds that continue to heave and contract and expand as I open the sliding glass door.
Making my way into the kitchen. Phone still ringing. A cloud of dust puffs up around me. What? I look down. A scattered pile of the dust entangled in a pile of my father’s clothing, the dust evaporating into the air. Phone still ringing. Where is my wallet? My savings bonds? Running through the living room. Still ringing. Turning to the stairs, two steps at a time, gaining momentum—three steps at a time—reach the top. Turning my head towards my brother’s room, his bed unmade. Running to my room. Open my desk drawer. Grabbing the savings bonds, the two dollar bills that might mean something in the future, my iPod, what else what else what else. Turn around, turn right, sister’s room, bed made, white sheets stained with gray dust, the striking silvery-glitter laptop open. Ringing ringing ringing. Grab the dusty laptop, run down the stairs. Stumbling with my hands full of precious papers and a laptop under my arm and my phone crunched between my shoulder and my ear and ringing ringing ringing ringing ringing.
I maneuver the ringing phone into my hand and hang up. And I scream.
For one fleeting moment, I actually think about where my family went and if they’re okay.
The glittery laptop sparkles onto the ceiling as it slips from under my arm and falls to the ground.