This short story was originally published on richardholliday.co.uk on January 18th 2014.
by Richard Holliday
A curled palm shifted from beneath the warm, comfy duvet and smacked the clock, silencing the piercing beep of the alarm. 8:30.
Adam slowly extracted himself from his warm and comfy duvet. This was early for a Saturday but he’d been dreading this day for weeks. A glance at the calendar on his wall only confirmed it further: the day of the Winter Festival.
The Festival wasn’t something to be afraid of; indeed, Adam had been many times. This year though Adam was more scared by who’d be there. Brittany would, and this was Adam’s last chance to tell her how he felt before they all dispersed into colleges across the country. Having grown up with her, being thousands of miles apart without confessing his feelings felt like a totally alien concept.
“Ahh, showtime…” he sighed and prepared to count away the hours staring from the window at the crisp, cloudless blue sky. Totally clear and aquamarine, it matched Adam’s eyes. “Showtime indeed.”
Twelve hours later.
The car pulled up outside the school and the engine died with a splutter. Adam stepped out, looking considerably better than he did that morning but feeling exactly the same. His mind was swamped with teenage angst but he tried his best to put it to one side. Brittany wasn’t the only person who was going to be at the Winter Festival; his friends would be there too! They’d provide a safe social zone should the worst happen with the primary objective, Adam reassured himself with.
“Adam, good to see you could make it!” a shaggy haired guy said jovially, striding toward Adam as he climbed from his car.
“Hey Dustin, likewise,” Adam nervously hiccuped.
“Still worried about you-know-who?” Dustin laughed. Adam nodded. “Well, let’s get some drinks in ya and see what happens!”
“Where’s Casey,” Adam asked, ignoring Dustin’s threat of alcohol. Dustin indicated behind him. Struggling on a pair of crutches, Casey slowly brought up the rear.
“Hurry up, the fest’ll be over by the time you get here at that rate!”
Outside the Hope Academy, Adam’s soon-to-be-former school, was a throng of young people eager to get inside and get to the party. Adam filed in slowly, exchanging greetings and pleasantries to a large quorum of casual acquaintances. The atmosphere was happy and full of laughter. For brief moments Adam forgot all about his previous anxiety and began to enjoy himself.
Obnoxious dance music blared from the auditorium, and the doors crept closer. The floor reverberated, and Adam went inside. The hall was filled with people and above shone flickering lights that resembled the stars in the purple sky outside. Beams of coloured light refracted off the great mirrored globe that hung down from the scoreboard; the auditorium was mainly used as an indoor basketball court and the scoreboard provided ample fixtures.
“Hey Adam,” Dustin said over the din of the bass, “look over there! There she is!”
Adam did so and indeed, there she was in all her beauty: Brittany Wryrick. Her shoulder-length brunette hair swirled gently with her motion as she danced to the beat of the music. Suddenly the butterflies invaded Adam’s stomach again, leeching impressively though his stomach wall.
The song ended as, inevitably, it would. Adam knew he had to strike while the iron was hot and moved over, eased onward by Dustin.
“Now’s your chance, Adam!”
“What about Casey?”
“Restroom,” Dustin dismissed, not being thrown off encouraging his friend. “Now move!”
As Adam walked, Brittany got closer and Adam entered her peripheral vision. Brittany turned and smiled.
“Hey Adam, nice to see you here!”
Adam stuttered embarrassingly. “Sure is a great night!”
“Yeah!” she replied. Silence awkwardly fell. Adam noticed Brittany’s interest wandering and spied the refreshments table nearby.
“Fancy a drink?” he asked.
“That sounds good!” Brittany said warmly. For all of Adam’s quirks, she mused to herself, she’d miss him once all this was over.
Adam and Brittany wandered over to the drinks area. Why was this so awkward? Adam was talking to Brittany as if this was the first time they’d met, not as if they’d gone through high school together. This train of thought was diminished as they arrived at the plastic table and the sorry spread of weak-looking orange juice and warm cola.
“Not the best, but it’ll do,” Adam sighed, mostly to himself. Brittany noticed his mood, and guessed it was fuelled by anxiety about the future. Partly true.
“You know, I will miss you once you go to college, Adam.”
“Yeah?” Adam said, smiling. “Well, I’ll miss you too.” Brittany smiled. The next song started, making conversation considerably more difficult. Adam persevered. “Listen, there’s something I really have to say to you before all this is over…”
Brittany stopped sipping her drink and looked seriously at Adam. “Right?”
Adam opened his mouth but the words he wanted to say refused to come out. A strobing bright light, as dazzling as a blast of sunlight, flourished through the windows of the auditorium. Some people thought it was a fancy light show but a gut feeling in Adam’s subconscious felt differently. The ceiling rattled noisily under hundreds of tiny impacts. If this was a hailstorm, it had come out of nowhere
“Get down!” he yelled, throwing himself to the floor and bringing Brittany down too. A huge roar filled the space around the auditorium and the lights flashed wildly. The roof rattled, as if being hit by hundreds of tiny hailstones. With a whoosh the windows shattered and the white light turned a fiery orange and an enormous explosion rocked the hall.
The refreshment table buckled under the weight of falling masonry. The roof was collapsing on top of Adam, Brittany and the hundreds of other party-goers! Adam quickly pulled the girl underneath the remnants of the table which proved enough to shield them from being crushed under broken lumps of concrete.
Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the noise stopped. An eerie calm swept across the ruined building and the dust-clogged air was still momentarily before the crash was replaced by the sound of sobbing, crying and screams for help. Masonry and broken concrete flew everywhere, with Adam’s head providing an ample barrier for one such piece. Feeling dizzy, Adam fell, his vision darkening into nothing, before regaining his senses some indeterminate time later.
“Brit, are you alright?” Adam whispered. His first concern was with her safety – she’d been just next to him when this disaster had happened. There was no response, just the sound of tinkling glass and crumbling cement blocks. The smell of burning stuck in Adam’s throat as he took a breath – this compelled him to get up despite his head wound. Staying where he was meant almost certain death.
The area around the refreshment table had been pretty lightly hit in the collapse of the auditorium; the dance floor, however, was completely buried under tons of scorched concrete. Why was it scorched? There had been no earth tremor to suggest an earthquake; besides, the nearest geological fault line was hundreds of miles away. A tornado? No, there’d have been some warning. Tornadoes don’t just appear out of thin air.
Adam began to climb the mound of broken building pieces. The starry sky was their target, and it beckoned tantalisingly close. Streaks of dust rode the breeze on the descent, though as Adam and Brittany climbed, this was joined in the air by the offensively stale smell of burning.
The sound from before wasn’t hailstones at all; it was the incoming fragments of the meteor that had slammed right into the Hope Academy auditorium. Ripped paper and wood beams began to burn near the site of the crashed rock, now burned in a crater fifty feet deep where the school had once stood, and the smoke of these fires were what Adam could smell in the air.
The mound of rubble soon proved to be unstable and crumbled beneath Adam’s feet, sending him tumbling to the base in the midst of the ruined auditorium. There seemed to be no way out. Adam sighed, and took a breath of the acrid, black smoke coming in from the fires. With a dry cough followed by a gulp, Adam felt drowsy and delirious once more.
“Adam! Adam!” a voice seemed to call, its tones echoey and ethereal in the mist that seemed to engulf Adam. It was his friend Dustin calling from beyond the pyre! “Adam, are you really going to let some crashed meteor stop you?!”
“Stop me from what?!” Adam called out in his stupor, before remembering. Brittany! While he’d passed out, she was still in danger, and if she was gone, why bother living any more? Adam had never felt this way about someone before, and would be damned if he would be parted from his great personal goal by some cosmic disaster.
Adam bolted up, his hand massaging the graze to his head. Had his friend’s voice been a creation of his mind? With a shudder, he remains of a wall trembled. Smoke rose from the other side, and soon the glow of flames followed. The crumbling wall trembled again as Adam gingerly approached it.
“Get down!” a voice called from behind. It was Dustin! And Casey too, though he was limping on his weakened legs. Most importantly, they were both up and alert. Adam had no time to greet his friends, though, before being tackled to the ground.
“Wha-” Adam attempted to ask, but Dustin cut him off by shoving his face into the dirt.
“I said get down!” Adam’s friend called abruptly
The fragment of wall toppled as unstable burning debris piled against it, the foundations weakened by the initial impact. The entire ground foundation, a slab of concrete two feet deep, was cracking up. Fissures seemingly ripped into the concrete and earth like tears in a piece of paper. With a boom the wall fell and another such fissure opened as it fell. Adam got up once Dustin released his grip and peered into the round fissure, the roof of which was propped up by mangled debris alone.
“Look, leads to the basement!” Adam called, spotting the glint of metal pipe that gave that fact away, exposing the maintenance area and associated tunnels. “Maybe we can use them to get outta here!”
“Better than waiting here, I guess,” Dustin agreed, joining Adam in approaching the fissure in the ground. It was only just wide enough to crawl through on bent knees with dust and dirt clouding down with every brush of the wall.
The maintenance tunnel had become crushed and compressed under the weight of the collapsing school above it but otherwise seemed sound; the cracked concrete walls held firm. Water dripped from leaking or smashed fixtures in the maelstrom above as the three young men shimmied along the passageway. They took it slowly; Casey’s injured legs not aiding matters.
“This is bad…” Casey mused. The gravity of this nightmare was just beginning to dawn on him, though it was rare for meteors to plummet right atop a school packed with revellers anyway. This was a terrible, unimaginable calamity that the three survivors would soon not forget.
Adam halted. A noise came from ahead – a sqeal of pain, and it sounded female! A sixth sense in Adam let him know it was Brittany. Sure enough, she lay prone on the ground around the next corner with a section of pipe crushing her leg.
“Get it off of her!” Adam commanded.
Dustin assisted, heaving the weighty section of broken pipe off for the seconds it took to pull Brittany free.
“How did you get here?” Adam asked. Brittany coughed roughly before replying.
“Ground opened up beneath me, and I found myself in the tunnel. It all shook just as I was passin’ through here and the pipe broke off!”
Adam sighed. “Unlucky. But let’s get out of here!”
Adam helped Brittany to her feet and held her as she hobbled forward. The tunnel was getting progressively more broken up. The impact of the meteor strike must’ve been incredible.
“Wait a sec,” Casey called, stretching his neck toward the roof of the tunnel. There were seams of low, purple light coming through the absolute darkness and filtering through the mist that hung in the air. Through this air came the dim sound of sirens, helicopters and the excited hubbub of a rescue crew.
“They took their time,” cursed Adam. The emergency response had indeed been sluggish, considerably more so than it needed to be. Surely the giant burning rock tumbling from the sky was conspicuous enough to warrant faster response? He looked a few feet past where Dustin was waiting and saw a crack in the ground around a corner… and the low-pitched roofs of houses just visible beyond that. “Quickly, I don’t wanna be in this tunnel a moment more than I have to!”
Dustin and Brittany agreed and, despite physical pain, climbed up the ruined concrete stairwell that Adam had discovered toward the indigo night sky. It led to an escape from this devastation. It was timely too – the ruins of the school shifting on the loosened ground. Where there had been tunnel a few moments ago was now a mound of broken cement and metal.
Finally, the ordeal seemed over. The road near the school site was scorched but still contiguous as a line of ambulances and fire appliances bustled toward the burning remains of the school. Officials leapt out and into action; a policeman approached Adam and his friends, asking them what happened.
“Son, thank Christ you’re alive! You look hurt! What happened?!” the officer asked quickly.
“The school took a direct hit, though we just about made it!”
The officer hummed and directed Adam, Dustin and Brittany to an ambulance. The paramedics welcomed them and wrapped each in a crash blanket.
“Is no-one else here?” Casey noted aloud. There was a lot of rescue teams converging on the smoking crater that was a short while ago the Hope Academy but a distinct lack of survivors.
“Sorry son,” the policeman sighed with wanton sorrow. “You’re… the only ones we’ve found. And,” he sighed again, watching the wrecked school collapse further, “you look like the only ones.”
“Adam,” Brittany ventured, “thank you. For all you did. For… saving me”
Adam coughed. “I think we’re all lucky. Extremely lucky to get out of this alive.”
Looking across the smoking ruins, Adam was right. He felt numb, and dreaded the future. It was a feeling not unlike the morning, where things had looked apprehensive. However, that morning, several hundred people were still alive. Casting aside the unimportance of his survival, Adam looked across to see his friends. And Brittany.
Climbing out of the ambulance to survey the quieting scene of destruction. It had all promised to be fun, but ended in a nightmare. Adam directed the ambulance to go. His wounds were minor. He’d wait to see if there were others who needed help more than him.
Walking back toward the ruined school he felt the patter of tiny objects on his back. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Adam turned, and took a breath as the sky turned white.
© Richard Holliday, 2014