Family Prompt Story 1
Matthew Abraham didn’t wake up in the morning realizing that before this day was over, everything in his world would change, but does anyone when that situation arises? It would all be caused by a little too much hubris and not quite enough patience, but these things often are. They aren’t often so devastating.
His day was normal up until his ride home from work. He woke up just before Beth, as he always did, since otherwise he could never get a shower in the morning. He made a quick breakfast for them both, a few slices of bacon, some scrambled eggs, and toast. He ate his while reading the headlines on his tablet. It was more of the same, how the world was going to hell, and it was all the fault of the infamous “them”. He finished up his morning routine by putting his wife’s breakfast on a plate in the microwave, writing a quick note on the whiteboard on the fridge, and then heading to work. He didn’t know at the time how prophetic that little note would be.
Can’t wait to see you tonight.
A typical day followed, and given what was coming, this was probably for the best. A morning full of meetings where nothing of consequence was decided, followed by a group of his coworkers spending the entirety of lunch congratulating themselves on how productive they had all been. An hour to catch up on a few emails, two quick chats with potential clients, and an end of the day meeting that almost felt like something was accomplished before he was on his way back home. Matthew, as always, spent his time on the trip home reading on his Kindle, barely acknowledging his fellow passengers, though he would have noticed a sense of growing unease amongst them had he paid attention. It started with a small group glued to their mobile device up front, murmurs about the news being vague and confusing. The news organizations seemed to be offering up conflicting reports, and before long it seemed like they were playing a game of “oneupsmanship’ amongst themselves. Just before they arrived at his stop, Matthew put his book down just as the man next to him said “This can’t be happening.” Matthew glanced down at the man’s phone, and saw the headline blazed across the screen.
World War 3?
Matthew pulled his phone out of his pocket as he got up for his stop. He tried to piece together what was happening as he made his way the half block back to their house, but no one agreed on anything. Some news outlets were reporting that missiles had been fired, others were reporting that definitely had not happened, but implied it was on the precipice. Another one said that Russia had fired missiles (nuclear?) at the Chinese. The only thing everyone was sure about was something was going on, and this was different than anything that had happened before. In a race to be the first to get the real “scoop”, it seems almost anything would be reported as “sources say”…
He glanced at the clock as he walked in his front door, it was 5:47pm. Beth’s car wasn’t in the driveway, so should be home within the next fifteen to twenty minutes as worst. He dialed her cell number, but couldn’t get any signal, the cell towers apparently overloaded with the madness of whatever was going on. He tried texting her, but wasn’t even sure if that went through. Not as if it mattered either way, she always had her phone on silent in her purse on her drive home and wouldn’t have noticed. He tossed his phone back in his pocket and grabbed the large tablet from the counter. It seemed all of the major sources agreed, and most called it “confirmed” now that some type of missiles were indeed fired, but from where and at what still seemed to be mass speculation. The United States was rarely mentioned as one of the targets. It was 5:53pm. Beth should be home at any minute now.
There was a commotion outside and he went out to his front porch to investigate. The sky had turned a deep shade of red, with a large backdrop of clouds. It almost looked like a fluffy pillow was on fire up there, and in a way it was almost serene. People were filling the yards and street in the neighborhood now, some sitting quietly on their own porch watching the sky, others congregating in small groups on one another’s lawns. He meandered aimlessly, watching the sky, listening to people talk, keeping an eye out for his wife. He could pick up bits and pieces of conversation all around…
“This can’t really be happening, can it?” asked a man’s voice.
“Why’s everyone so scared?” asked a little boy’s voice.
“I told you we never should have moved near DC,” a woman was yelling at her husband.
He reached into his pocket and looked at his phone. It was 6:03pm, and Beth was still no where in sight. That was the time the first bomb hit United States soil, exploding just above the ground a few hundred miles north east of Matthew. He tried texting and calling his wife again, but the cell service was still down.
A few of the small groups had coalesced into a larger one, everyone talking loudly at once. Matthew tried to ignore them as he walked down the road the direction his wife should be coming from. He heard them talking about the bomb hitting up north, but that didn’t matter if he could just find Beth. Everything would be fine if he could just find his wife.
The night was getting warmer, or maybe he had started sweating because he was jogging. Off in the distance he could hear fireworks, or maybe it was gun shots. He got to the edge of his community and looked around. Cars were stopped in the middle of the road, their engines still running, doors open, lights shining down the road, the owner probably one of the dozens of people roaming the streets. Everyone was looking at the sky, the blazing clouds getting darker as the dusk tried to settle over the area. It was 6:11pm and he screamed his wife’s name.
A few people glanced his direction, but he couldn’t see his wife. He heard a scream and to his right he saw a few people running towards him. Behind them, one of the cars in the road seemed to be on fire. A large muscular man pushed into him hard, knocking him down. Matthew gritted his teeth as he tried to catch himself, getting scratches on his palms and a sore tailbone for his trouble. He heard the chorus of yelling heading towards him from the direction of the car, and the flames were bouncing wildly. He was scrambling to get up and backpedaling away from the car when someone stepped on his hand. He fell back onto his tailbone. Something (the car?) exploded in a loud crescendo a few hundred feet in front of him. Someone’s knee hit him in the face as they ran away from the ball of fire. He heard muffled screaming as he fell back, and lost consciousness.
He was aware that it was hot all around him. Part of him probably even recognized the screaming, understanding that meant something had to be wrong, but in that instant when you first regain consciousness things never seem right. His eyes fluttered and he saw the flames dying down from a burnt out car in front of him. Someone was kneeling besides him.
“You all right mister?” the man asked.
Matthew looked at him and nodded. The man was a small guy, clean shaven, probably around 35 or so. He titled his head and looked down at Matthew before standing and reaching his hand down. Matthew grabbed it and helped pull himself back to his feet. Instinctively he reached into his pocket and looked at his phone. It was 6:31pm.
“Oh my god, my wife,” he said, a wave of memory hitting him like a baseball bat to the chest.
“BETH” he screamed out. “BETH!!” He completely forgot about the small guy with the kind face. He turned and ran towards their house, screaming her name with every new breath. His chest was on fire, and his screams were barely more than hoarse whispers as he ran. He felt light headed and was sure he would collapse. His head darted back and forth trying to look at every person’s face, hoping that one of them would be Beth’s and she just hadn’t heard him yet. Each face was unfamiliar to him, and he was doing everything he could to push the terrible thought permeating through his brain. The idea of never seeing Beth again was unbearable. The thought that she was somewhere scared, alone (or worse), right now and he wasn’t able to be with her broke him.
He saw his house and collapsed down onto his porch. He struggled to catch his breath, his heart thumping so hard in his chest it felt like it would leap out and onto the ground. He buried his face in his hands and the tears started falling down his cheeks. It was 6:39pm.
His mind was racing, terrible thoughts of what was going on and where his wife might be dominating his feeble attempts to convince himself she was fine and just running late. The thought of never seeing her again had pushed its way into his psyche and refused to go away. It made him sad, but even more than that, it made him angry. He knew it wasn’t fair.
His self-pity party was interrupted when he heard a familiar voice calling out his name. He looked up and frantically searched for someone recognizable, and after a moment finally saw her. Beth was on foot, running towards him, still at least half a block away. He felt a sigh of relief and the tears started falling even harder as he got up and ran towards her. He was so focused on her face, relief pouring over him like a bucket of ice water, that he didn’t notice everyone else looking up at the sky. He didn’t even hear their screams.
He didn’t see the trail of fire blazing across the sky towards them. He didn’t see the large metallic phallic symbol heading on a collision course with his neighborhood. He didn’t see anything but his beautiful wife. He remembered his note on the refrigerator white board, and he felt thankful that he did get to see her again. She was just a few feet away from him when everything went silent.
It was 6:40pm when the missile above their neighborhood exploded (and the forty fourth to hit the United States), destroying all human life within miles from the impact spot. Thousands of missiles had been fired from all countries on the planet that day, every bit of arsenal some countries had, and every type of weapon the world had seen. The impacts only killed a small percentage of the world’s population, but the damage to the planet, and the atmosphere was catastrophic. Nuclear fallout covered the world, the sky turned dark. The plants died, the animals died. Within three short months, every human on the planet was dead. The difference between a normal day and extinction was an accident and a few people’s inability to act rationally.
If time still existed the same way, it would have been 8:18am.
She heard birds chirping, felt a warmth across her body. Her eyes fluttered open and she saw a blue sky above her. She sat up and saw Matthew sitting next to her, looking down on her and smiling.
“Matt,” she said stretching her arms out, “I had the worst dream.”
Matthew got up and kneeled next to his wife. He took her hand in his and bowed his head.
“I’m so sorry Beth,” he said.
She put her other hand on his cheek. “Sorry,” she asked, “why are you…”
She felt a lump in her throat, and she looked around. They seemed to be in a field of grass somewhere, but there was nothing else around. No buildings, no trees, nothing but them and the blanket she was lying on. She looked back at Matthew.
“Where are we?” she asked, “What happened?”
Matthew looked at her and sighed. “It’s so hard to explain,” he said, “but I’ll try. First, what do you remember?”
She looked at him confused, and described what she had just thought was a dream. The drive home was crazy, the news talking about an upcoming Armageddon, people just abandoning their cars in the middle of the road. She had gotten out and ran back home, and just when she finally got there and saw Matt, everything went blank and she woke up here.
“A nuclear missile exploded above our house,” he said. “It killed…”
“Wait, what?” she interrupted. “How did a missile exploded above us, and we’re still here? Where is everyone else?”
“Everyone else died,” he said. His eyes were still lowered, he couldn’t bring himself to look into her eyes.
“I don’t understand,” she said, “none of this makes any sense.”
“Beth,” he said, “there’s something you need to know about me.”
She was hearing him, but barely comprehending. “Wait a second, back up,” she said. “Who died?”
“Everyone,” he replied.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means everyone,” he replied, “unfortunately, quite literally.”
“My mother is dead?” she asked, “My manager? The President of the United States? Babies in daycare?”
Matthew took both of her hands into his, squeezed them, and pulled her closer to him. He looked directly at her and said, “Everyone.”
She jerked her hands away and stood up.
“No, no,” she said, “this isn’t possible.” She paced around the blanket. “Where are we?”
“That’s hard to explain,” he said. “Somewhere else, somewhere safe.”
“If some missile exploded and killed everyone, how are we here?”
“It wasn’t one missile, it was thousands, the missiles aren’t even what did most of the killing.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
He sighed. He stood up and took ahold of her hand once again. “I’m not from around here.”
She looked at him, and he could see the confusion in her eyes.
“There’s no way to try and make this sound less crazy, so I’m just going to lay it all out for you,” he said.
“My people watch other civilizations,” he said, “and when (or if) they show a level of technological competence, we help show what is truly possible. We only do this for the species we deem worthy though, and I’m sad to say that before this, humans probably wouldn’t have met the bar anyway.”
“I’ve been watching for thousands of years,” he went on, “I think I’ve always known your world would end this way, I’ve never seen a species so in love with conflict, strife, and war. Well, everyone says they hate it, but their actions betray their words.”
“You’re not…” she said, “human? Was our whole life a lie?”
He cupped her cheek in his hand. “Honey,” he said, “I’m the same man you have loved for these last seventeen years.”
A tear ran down his cheek.
“Actually,” he said, “that is a lie. Had that war broke out when we first met, you would have died in this explosion, and I would have moved on, just like I’ve done hundreds of times before.”
“Before?” she looked at somewhat bewildered.
“As I said, I’ve been here thousands of years,” he said, “was married (or the equivalent) hundreds of times, watched my spouses die countless ways. I never cared, it was just part of the job.”
“Until I met you,” he said, “you were different. You made me feel something inside I never imagined. You made me feel like this ‘humanity’ might have a chance after all. Being around you made me feel as if this wasn’t just a job, this was the way life should be.”
He took her hand and sat down, gently pulling her down next to him. He put his arms around her.
“The thought of losing you never even crept into my mind until that last night,” he said, “and I realized I couldn’t deal with it. If I couldn’t be with you, what point was life?”
“So I broke all the rules,” he said, “and saved you. I brought us here to wait for my people.”
They sat in silence for what felt like an eternity.
“What happens when your people get here?” she asked.
He turned his head down and kissed her forehead.
“The punishment for interfering in the natural course of events for a species you are monitoring is death,” he said, “for both of us.”
He broke down crying.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed, “I can’t believe I was so selfish. The thought of spending an instant alive in a world without you in it was more than I could bear. In the split second when the missile exploded I had to make a choice, but there was never really a choice at all.”
“I’d gladly sacrifice my life to spend just a little more time with you.”
He squeezed her shoulders, and whispered in her ear, “I hope you can forgive me.”
She smiled pulled back to look at him. She locked eyes with him and said, “What you did was definitely selfish, but in a weird way is the nicest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He laid back onto the blanket, and she laid her head on his chest. He ran his fingers through her hair.
“How long do we have?” she asked.
He couldn’t bear to tell her the truth.
“So long as we’re both here together, we have just long enough.”