The end did not come swiftly as media and literature had predicted. There was no deadly virus released to wipe out humanity. There was no meteor on course to collide with earth. There was no Biblical flood or fire and brimstone. And there was no army of the undead to rise up against the living.
In fact, no one knew where or when it began. It was suspected to have first occurred in some remote village without the means to report what was happening. Even when it began to be reported, no one understood what was happening, so no one was alarmed. They were just lightning storms. First came a thick, gray cloud covering that blocked out the entire sky and all light. Then the steady and unending drizzle of rain that never turned into a downpour, but never lightened up either. Then there were reports of lightning. But no one took notice. After all, who cared about a mild storm? It wasn’t until the cloud bank reached Spain, and then France, that the panic began to rise.
Scientists called it a climate shift, but even they couldn’t explain how it was destroying entire cities or why there were very few bodies found. Paranormal experts claimed extraterrestrial visits and mass abductions. Conspiracy theorists believed the government was concealing either a massive war that was quickly escalating and approaching the United States or a government funded weather control experiment had grown to an uncontrollable scale. The religious believed, wholeheartedly, that it was the Second Coming. But when the thick cover of clouds and the steady rain reached American soil, people stopped looking for the root cause and began trying to find a means of survival. In the end it didn’t matter whether a family had boarded up their house, hid in a basement, secured themselves in a panic room, fled to the country, or found a cave or underground bunker that they thought would protect them. It found them just the same as it had everyone else. And the cities that had once stood out so brightly against the darkness were now just as silent and hollow as every other town, village, farmhouse, hut, and tent around the world.
Lucy felt herself begin to shake, but kept her teeth clamped shut. She closed her eyes tightly and prayed that they were gone and wouldn’t return for her.
She shook her head and clutched her legs to her chest even tighter. They hadn’t found her. Maybe they wouldn’t find her. Better to hide than to run.
Feeling a shiver of adrenaline, she stood. This must be what the fight or flight reflex felt like. Anxiety hit her full in the stomach. She couldn’t stay here, waiting for them to return. The last standing building in town, an obvious hiding spot.
She opened the door a little wider and peered out. Empty. Quiet. No shadows. No eerie faces spying in through the windows.
Anticipating the jingle of the door at any moment, she knelt down and crawled her way out of the closet. If she stayed low enough, they couldn’t see her. If she moved slowly until she reached the door, then maybe she could outrun them in the open.
The rational side of her screamed into her head. She should be hiding. Staying still. She didn’t know who they were or what they wanted. Why did she think she could outrun them?
But she knew if she stayed here, the anxiety would drive her insane. And so she crept forward. As she reached the final aisle, she thought she heard a noise outside the door. Heart racing, she froze. The jingle would come any moment.
But it didn’t. Nor did any other sound. No voices. No footsteps.
Slowly, she stood. And right before her head cleared the shelves, the most horrifying sound she’d ever heard filled her ears.
She ducked down and tried to control her breathing. Peeking around the shelf, she saw only a black silhouette disappear down an aisle. The door was slowly closing. Not daring to think, reconsider, or wait for another chance, she bolted.
Somehow she managed to clear the door before the shout sounded behind her. Heart attempting to pound through her ribs, she sprinted away from the store at a speed astonishing even to her.
The initial shout of surprise was followed by more shouts. She couldn’t look behind her. Wouldn’t look behind her. Not even to see what she was up against. She forced herself to keep running.
Looking up, she saw a line of trees. Thank God. If she could make it to the forest, she’d be safe. At least for a moment. At least temporarily.
The shouts continued, and they sounded closer.
Her lungs screamed in pain. Her legs were beginning to feel rubbery. But she couldn’t stop.
Then, in one glorious stride, she reached the tree line. Dashing in, she kept going, looking for anywhere to hide. A small crevice in the side of an old rock wall looked promising. Sliding in as if straining for home plate, she sighed in relief as her body fit into the small space, leaves and brush sliding in after her, concealing her path.