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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014  

by Marc Mason

It had been twelve full days by our counting since last we heard sound from above. Before that, the sounds of battle echoed for at least three days, thunderous explosions tearing their way through the waning infrastructure of the city, erasing civilization as we know it.
            The quiet was harder to take.
            The group of us had found our way into a bunker as the carnage began. That day had begun so simply: my intern, a bilingual young man with a fantastic sense of style, had stopped and brought in donuts, making sure to save me a maple-iced, and those of us on the design team gathered in the conference room to eat sugary goodness and discuss our next move with the athletic shoe company that had just hired us. It was smoggy, as Los Angeles usually is, but the sun seemed particularly radiant, like it refused to be shut down by the brown haze in the sky. Then we felt the rumbles begin.
            Earthquakes are a fact of life for Southern California, so no one really panicked. Plus, the rumbles were rather short, not sustained. But then they began to increase in intensity, and they felt… closer is, I guess, the right word. My intern thought they might be coming from somewhere on the opposite side of the building, so he ran that way to see if he could see anything. This was to be his one and only mistake while he was under my supervision.
            Goodbye, Jose. You were a fine web designer, and your taste in donut shops was impeccable.
            We all heard him scream his final words: “Holy shi--!”
            The “t” was silent as what looked like a huge, white beam of energy tore upward through that side of the building, eradicating everything in its path. Everything around us shook, and pieces of the ceiling began to cave in. But I didn’t move. Not at first. I was frozen in horror as I stared through the gaping wound in our building and saw what was out there. It was so insane, my mind could barely cope with it. What I would estimate to be a three hundred foot tall dinosaur was walking toward us. Toward downtown, really. I watched as its jaws flared wide and that energy beam erupted, the creature destroying buildings next to ours, too.
            I would have stayed still, but one of the team members grabbed me and yelled at me that we needed to go. So I ran, following my crew down the stairs and out of the building and into the streets. The insanity outside was worse. Emergency services vehicles were clogging the roads, a select few ridiculously brave people answering the call of duty. Helicopters zoomed by overhead, and it looked like a couple of them might be military. I went numb as my body registered the fact that my city had just become a warzone.
            But war against what was the lingering question.

            A very stressed out looking policeman waved us down into the L.A. subway tunnels. For a moment, we were all able to take a breath, but the sounds of the creature’s footsteps were still quite audible, and more to the point, obviously coming nearer. So we headed deeper into the tunnels, the idea being that the further underground we were, the more protection we would have from whatever it was that was stomping through the city. Nobody thought much at that moment about the fact that this actually took us in the direction of the monstrosity, and it didn’t ultimately matter. We got through. Then we got lucky.
            We had been down there for almost twelve hours, listening to the military shooting and bombing and doing god knows what else to this thing. Every once in a while, we’d feel a massive impact, like a missile had missed the thing and hit the ground instead. Lucy, a quiet redhead who had only worked with us for short time, had been walking around to burn off pent-up energy when she saw a huge fissure in one of the tunnel walls. Behind it was a door with a huge sign on it:
            “Fallout Shelter.”
            Chatter broke out amongst the group, and while we weren’t in full consensus about everything, there was one thing we did feel sure about: if the Army couldn’t stop this thing quickly, they would consider dropping a nuke on it in order to contain the situation. So finding a bunker meant to protect people from that exact scenario was awfully damned fortuitous.
            It took six of us a few hours working together to break away enough of the rest of the tunnel wall to have full access to the bunker door. One clear, we all powered down our cell phones completely. They weren’t going to work in the bunker anyway, and we all wanted to conserve battery for when (we hoped) we would leave it and return to the surface. After that, we entered, a set of stairs taking us down about seventy-five feet into a large room barely lit by red emergency lighting.
            Someone found a regular light switch and with that, we saw where we were and what we had. The room was about 150 feet long, and the walls were lined with shelves full of canned food and bottled water. A stack of cots sat in one corner, blankets piled next to it. There were a few flashlights, along with packs of batteries, and some first-aid supplies.
            We settled in to wait out the storm above.
            After a couple of days, the shocks and rumbles stopped. We didn’t notice at first, having become so used to it, but it was Lucy – still pacing around, as we discovered she was a smoker who was desperate for nicotine – who said “Hey, hasn’t it been a while since we heard anything up there?”
            Bobby, who was enough of a hipster that he wore a traditional wind-up watch, estimated that it had been over twelve hours. Did that mean it was over? Who knew? I mean, it was hard to be sure of anything at that point. Had the city been nuked? Was there anything left above?
            This led to a rather robust discussion. Not just about the nature of the creature, but about whether or not it was alone. It all happened so fast that none of us had been able to get information about whether or not anything like this was happening elsewhere. For all we knew, there could have been one in New York or San Diego or Paris or wherever. We had no answers.
            Well, we did have one answer were we sure of: Los Angeles had taken a hell of a beating. The amount of bombing and stomping we heard during those days was more than significant. When we emerged, we were not likely to find a pretty world. So we waited.
            It was unsettling, really, because the quiet kept demanding to be filled. The quiet made people edgy. We started having uncomfortable chats that no one really enjoyed, but we couldn’t help ourselves.
            Conversation turned on one particular day to whether or not they would have been able to evacuate the city if the decision to nuke was made. Would it just be the cockroaches and the rats on the surface or would people in deep basements have survived? Would they be trapped by buildings toppling overhead?
            Would we? Could the subway tunnel have collapsed and locked us in?
            Much of the food in the bunker had been there so long that it was inedible, so around day ten we started to realize we were in trouble. After a lot of deliberation, we took a vote and decided to try and return to the surface on day fourteen if all remained silent. It did.
            We made our way up the stairs on day fifteen since the attack started, and as we climbed, I said a silent prayer for Jose and for wherever he bought his donuts. Once we reached the door, to our delight, it opened with little struggle. Once more, we were in the subway.
            It had seen better days, of course. Rubble everywhere, wiring and rebar jutting out from everywhere around. An acrid stench filled the air suggesting that a massive fire had swept through, burning flesh and bone in its path. We walked back the direction we had come two weeks prior, winding our way through debris and destruction, the maze-like quality of the underground slowing us down, as each step had to be accounted for, no one wanting to risk a broken ankle or leg.
            Finally, after what we guessed was around four hours, we saw specks of light ahead at a platform. We carefully climbed up to the platform and followed the doors out to frozen escalators whose stairs would lead us to the surface. Again, our steps were taken with great care. One other scenario was still possible, and that was that the creature had won and was still above, the military haven taken horrific losses. We crept along quietly, inch by inch, as we approached an egress to the open air above.
            What we found there is almost indescribable. Suffice it to say that all we saw, in any direction, was rubble, a city in complete ruin. We did not see the creature. We did not see any humans. Bobby turned on a Geiger counter we found in the bunker and it read clean, which was a relief to us all. A strong ocean breeze moved through the air, swirling dust around, and I stared at the ground to look for smaller traces of life, finding nothing except a small roach that appeared to be eating the remnants of a potato chip.
            Lucy pulled out her phone and switched in on, inspiring the rest of us to do the same. Maybe we would get lucky and somewhere there was a cell tower still standing, or a wifi node still broadcasting. It probably looked comical, the group of us standing in the middle of a dead city staring at our phones, but none of us could help ourselves.
            No one got wifi. A few had text messages asking if they were okay, but no one had offered any details of what was really happening, assuming that because we were in the middle of it, we would have known. It was frustrating. We needed to know! Was there a world left beyond Los Angeles? Was there a place to go for proper evacuation? What was happening everywhere else? Or was it just us and the cockroaches?
            It was then that my phone rang – loudly – and I got my answer.
            “Hello? Is this Chris Larkin?” I replied in the affirmative. “Good, good. Chris, this is your student loan company. We’re calling today because we noticed you’re over a week late with this month’s payment…”

7:41 PM

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