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Fiction, Short Fiction, Science Fiction
by: Derek Hawkins
It started out like any normal day. I woke up, dozed in bed until the snooze alarm forced me to get up or be late for work again this week, and left the house I lived in just off City Park Avenue. The job was drudgery - I worked the afternoon shift in a coffee house in the Central Business District of New Orleans. All the trendy yuppie suits stop in for their lattes and their decaf cappuccinos. I hate it.
I shuffled past my roommate's door on the way to the shower. I could hear him on his ham radio, and I thought I caught the word 'Nebraska' through the closed door. I shook my head in dismay. Ham radio went out with the1970s didn't it? I have a weird roommate. Shower finished, I dressed and walked out to my car. Time for another eight hours of being pinned down at the coffee house.
I started down past the community college under the Oaks that lined the street, dashing from shadowy coolness to shadowy coolness. The sun was beating down relentlessly in the August heat. The humidity was miserably thick, and competing directly with the thick swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. There was a hurricane brewing out in the gulf. And, if that wasn't enough to make me miserable on my way to a job I already hated, the air-conditioning in my car was broken, and I didn't have the money to fix it.
I was almost past the college and nearly to the cemeteries at the foot of Canal St. when it happened.
The ground shook mightily, an angry epileptic fit of convulsions. Cars slammed into one another and the trees along the road. And then the dust came, whiting everything out. I went out too.
When I came to, choking and coughing, the dust had cleared somewhat and everything was coated in dust and mud. Water poured out of broken water mains coating everything near ground level in a thick layer of mud. Fortunately for me, none of the water got in my car, so I was only covered in dust.
It was dark out now, or nearly so. A deep twilight covered the area I was in for as far as I could see. Which, given the amount of dust still hanging in the unsettled air, wasn't very far. All around me there were people shouting, for help, for missing loved ones, crying for the dead. It looked like some nightmare vision out of a Hollywood movie. Broken glass fragments covered the streets and sidewalks in front of the windows in which they were most recently held. Bits of broken brick and wood lay strewn about in every which direction. Debris hung precariously from building sides, as if they were so many notes recklessly tacked up to a bulletin board without a care. Honestly, it looked like a war zone.
Block after block after block of devastation. It only seemed to ease perceptibly as I made my way away from the cemeteries and towards what I thought to be the direction of the river. I'd driven these streets a thousand times, at every time of day and night, but now they looked alien to me, unrecognizable. It was as if I had been scooped up while I was passed out, and then dropped in a foreign city left up to myself to find my way without a map.
It was some time later (I'm not sure how long, my watch stopped working in all the bouncing around) when I made my way out of the darkness and into the growing shadows of sunset. Rescue workers were swarming all over the place like ants on a dropped candy bar. Someone had set up flood lights around the edges of the darkness I had just come from, and others farther in to illuminate the work areas where the rescue personnel were at work. I must have walked right past them and not even noticed.
Someone, or several someones actually, had made it in as far as ground zero and set up flood lights there. I noticed this as I looked back at the devastation while I waited for emergency medical technicians to check me out. Canal Street is a wide thoroughfare in New Orleans, and you can see a good long ways down that street on a good day from a balcony or a window on a higher floor. When I looked back this time, I noticed at the center of all the devastation there was a silver cylinder, much, much bigger than the Superdome. and leading away from the cylinder there was a giant saucer shape that looked to go all the way around the shaft. Where the lights touched it, the saucer had a greenish cast to it. From my vantage point, it seemed no building over four or five stories tall stood intact. Several of the buildings I could see, which were once that tall and taller, now had their top floors crushed downward, like smashing down an overstuffed po-boy so you can fit it into your mouth to bite it. Some were simply obliterated all together. It was like the city had been given a uniform buzz cut at so many feet up in the area under the disk. The thing looked oddly familiar though, for some reason. It looked almost common, an every day thing you see and don't think about. Maddeningly familiar. Thinking about it too much though was making my head hurt.
The EMT checked me over, nothing more serious than bumps and a few bruises, and a minor concussion, and released me. I stole a glance at his watch. It was almost 9 pm if I'd read it right. I just sat for a bit in a daze and watched everything going on, like I was thumb-tacked to the sidewalk. People were pulled out from the wreckage and brought to the make shift ER set up along Canal Street on the river side of I-10. I watched as people rotated through the ER, some staying for a bit, others being whisked off in a taxi-cab rank of ambulances from the surrounding parishes.
I guess it was sometime around midnight when I left the ER area and walked aimlessly for awhile. Obviously, I couldn't go back home as my house was well under the shadow of the saucer thing, whatever it was. And I was too late to work to even care now about showing up. So, I wandered, and eventually I found myself in a deserted bar somewhere in the French Quarter. The barkeep had the televisions on and turned one to a local station, and the other to CNN. Both showed live coverage of the events happening just blocks away from where we sat. The bartender poured me a drink at no charge when she saw how dusty and dirt coated I was.
I sat watching the TV tuned into CNN. It was showing various bits of news footage shot by all four local network stations. Inter-cut in all of this, the talking head "experts" came on to give their own educated guess as to what happened. And then the anchor person recapped the facts as they were known at the time. This process repeated itself every hour or so.
Some time around daylight, someone talked a helicopter pilot into taking up a news crew for some aerial footage. The chopper slowly circled the saucer from a mile away, above the saucer. The film showed a second shaft above the saucer about three-quarters of the width of the saucer and the same green color. The top of this green shaft was lost in the clouds that were rolling in ahead of the approaching hurricane in the gulf. The saucer covered a large portion of the city, from around I-10 in the south to the shores of Lake Pontchatrain and from Causeway Blvd almost to the 610/I-10 merge east bound.
I listened to the anchors discussing everything going on that morning, recapping everything that went on yesterday and last night. CNN showed file footage of similar happenings all across the Central US and southern central Canada. Winnipeg, Chicago, Ottumwa, Tulsa, Harrison, Wichita, Lubbock, Pine Bluff, Evansville, Thunder Bay had all had very similar experiences this summer. Some were blue, some red, some yellow, some white. All very devastating to the cities and towns in which they occurred.
The anchors turned to discussing what this might be with an endless stream of "experts". Some said it was alien spacecraft come to invade Earth. Others put forth that it was an act of God and that Judgement Day was here. I thought about that a bit. Days were abnormally long or short without a logical reason. Occasionally, I would hear a voice in the sky thunderous and not quite distinct. Could this really be an act of God?
In the end, I really didn't much care. I passed out at the bar and fell asleep.
Timmy sat in his room at his desk and shut his ham radio off when he heard the front door close. "Dad! Dad!", he shouted. "Come see, Dad!" Timmy was jumping up and down excited in his home in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Timmy's dad walked into his son's room. "What is it son?"
The twelve year old boy pointed at the map that hung over his desk. There were almost a dozen push pins stuck into the map, red or blue or white or yellow colored. Timmy tapped the map next to a green pin that hadn't been there before the two day business trip his father had to go on. "Look who I talked to while you were gone!"
His dad looked at the map next to Timmy's finger. "New Orleans? That's great son. I bet you made quite an impression on them."