“I gave a quick thought to Pompeii, and decided that I never wanted to think again in my entire life. Ever…”
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the whole business took place. Even at the time, I didn’t want to think that it actually happened. It felt like some bizarre lucid nightmare which I was forced to stumble through. Of course it was real; we’ve all been through it. Unless we’ve all gone completely mad, then the whole mess had to have happened.
The nightmare began as I was walking through the streets of the city. Listening to my music, I plodded my way across the endless sidewalk which twisted in. My eyes rolled past all of the faces that were before me. I hate to say this after what happened, but I didn’t care much for the people I saw before me. In my deaf world coddled by classic rock, I cared only for where I was going. The terrible part is that I don’t even remember where I was headed to on that day.
So, I imagine that I didn’t see the faces of those around me when complete horror began to grip the others in the city. I think that I only saw that the world became less bright. Yes, it was a very bright and clear day before that; the sun’s light shone radiantly with no clouds to get in the way, and the warmth of the day kept me energized. It was peaceful.
It was the sudden change in the colors of the day which let me know what was going on. At first, the colors seemed to fade from the world. The colors of the world softened at first, gradually, and I didn’t even notice. Then, the world became decidedly darker. A sharp wind then struck up and beat through the folds of my jacket and caused my hair to do an interesting dance. Something, I thought to myself, was not right.
Only then, I took notice of the people around me, even on both sides of the street, seeing that they had stopped and were looking to the direction right behind me. I turned around to see what could so hold the attention of this large city.
It stood there between the buildings on either side of the street, dwarfing all of the structures it moved past. It was a great nebulous Wall of a dead brown color, with infinite wisps swirling inside of it. Several small parts of it extended forward, like scouting tentacles which the blind wall used to find its way through the streets. I then realized that I could smell it. It was not smoke, but it was dust. Dead ground swept up by the air.
The Wall moved slowly forward, engulfing all people, vehicles, and buildings in its way. I heard no screams, but intense and sickening coughs came from those stuck behind the Wall. My mind then told me that I would soon be lost in the Wall if I didn’t think quickly. I looked to my right, and saw the stairs to an old apartment building. I ran towards it just as everyone else in the street broke out into a panic. I pushed my way past running people in order to reach my goal, and it was no small feat.
In a split second, I saw a young woman who was still dazed by the sight of the Wall. In as much time I grabbed a hold of her by the shoulders and lead her to the apartment with me. Again, I did not notice her face, but only that she was being a fool to sit there and stare. As we both mounted the stairs, I noticed that the Wall was a few dozen meters away from where we were. I ran to the door and pounded my fist hard against the door, yelling to the occupants of the building.
I couldn’t hear anything with the combination of my screams and the tumult from the street, so I heard none of what the young woman was saying at this point. I imagine she was yelling “What’s going on? What are you doing?” or something similar. All I heard was a murmur of a female voice, which sounded quite incensed. I was too worried about our safety to care, frankly.
Eventually, the door of the apartment opened slightly, and an older man’s face greeted me. It was old and abused, his face, as if it had seen much it did not like and cared to not speak of.
“What…” the man said.
“Let us in!” I screamed, distorting my voice to a level of panic and worry it had never known. I practically opened the door the rest of the way, pushing the man aside. Looking towards the Wall, I saw that it was right on me. I cared not to test how well I would stand up against it, and I ducked into the apartment, closing the door behind me.
The old man cursed at me for intruding, but I did not respond for several moments. I could hear the rush of wind as the Wall moved past. I ignored the man’s shouts as I finally began to relax. He was saying something about me breaking the law when I said “Do you have any duct tape?”
“What?” he incredulously shouted.
“Duct tape! Grey round thing! The stuff that holds this stupid universe together! Do you have any of it in a maintenance closet or something?” I screamed louder than him, and it knocked him back.
“Yes,” he answered in a more subtle, yet just as aggressive tone.
“Use it to tape all of the entrances and windows and vents and everything else connected to the outside. We need to make sure that none of what’s outside gets in here.”
“And what exactly is outside?”
“Death. Look out a window and see for yourself.”
The man walked to the window. It was as if a brown board had been placed right on the window, except that it had the same frightening billowing effect. The man stood aback when he realized that some of the small tentacles had made their way through the window and the door. We both ran to the maintenance closet, taking as many rolls as we needed. Running through the house, we secured every opening as best we could. The young woman stood still in the font hall, desperately trying to call her family and friends.
Now, obviously we all survived this terrible ordeal, this blanketing of the city, because I’m sitting here talking to you. I never had any real doubts about our survival, save a few panic attacks I kept successfully to myself. So this isn’t going to be some dire story about our struggle for life. Our rescue was just as banal as everyone else who had the common sense to duck into a building. We were happy to see the Army relief crews, sure, but the rescue wasn’t the most interesting part of the day.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but all we ended up doing was sitting around for several hours before the military found us. Most of the time was wasted in silence, after we had all made our awkward introductions. There was myself, the young woman I had absconded with, some younger man I never was formally introduced to, the owner of the apartment building I had met in that bizarre display, and his wife I had met sometime later.
We spent the time looking at each other and looking at the walls of the owner’s personal room. The other inhabitants kept to themselves in their own rooms, and I don’t know what personal agonies they went through during that time. The room was towards the front of the building, and there was a window which looked out into the Wall. The most exciting moment of that affair happened while looking out of that window. We had silently taken turns, seeing how the dust was settling, checking for any signs of relief.
It was my turn to look at the window, one of the first few goes at the watch. My sinuses naturally gave me headaches, but straining my eyes into the thick dust cloud only made the situation worse. I was turning my head to look away, when all of a sudden I saw a form struggling through the cloud. I called my companions over, saying I had seen someone in the dust.
“Who is he?” “Is he a survivor?” “Is he going to rescue us?” “Where is he going?” “He surely can’t…”
I hushed them, and continued to look out. He had come closer to the window. It was obvious that he was a civilian. I could see his face and his striped shirt through the cloud, somehow. His face was contorted badly as he went onward. I didn’t understand why he was there at first. The dust had been around for a terribly long time. The poor fool must’ve gone out from whatever safe house he was in to go out and look for help. I wanted to open our door to help the idiot, but I knew that the instant the door opened would spell death for all of us. I was forced to watch this spectacle of human stubbornness, and felt a tear come to my eye.
He had made it right by our window, when he suddenly stopped in his course. I could see his chest reverberate as he heaved terrible coughs. He slowly descended onto the ground. First his right knee hit the dust which covered the sidewalk, and then his left knee joined him. After a few minutes of a grotesque display of prayer, he heaved his last and fell forward onto the ground. It was then that we were able to look around and see other specters around him. They were crude facsimiles of people; like clay figures made by a Heavenly child and strewn about the city. They lined the streets, completely packed. I gave a quick thought to Pompeii, and decided that I never wanted to think again in my entire life. Ever.
After that, we closed the curtain.
“What could cause all of this?” asked the wife of the apartment owner. The sight of the poor man had racked her senses, as it had for all of us. I confess that I was shaking at that point. “I mean, there was the Dust Bowl back in the 30s, but it wasn’t this bad, was it?”
“I don’t think so,” the owner said. “But I mean…. I just don’t know.”
“Well, this is what happens when we strip the soil barren for so long,” the young man said. I usually don’t care for environmental dogma beyond the pragmatics of conservation, but after seeing what I had just seen, I wasn’t going to ignore him. He was right, of course. The government confirmed that the surrounding countryside of the city lost nearly all of its topsoil in the powerful winds that kicked up that day. Overharvesting took away the nutrients of the soil. Completely killed it.
The young woman looked towards the covered window. She looked at it with such an intense stare; she had been the most affected by that episode out of all of us. Later, she told me that the young man reminded her of her fiancée, which he fortunately wasn’t. No matter what, the sight had jarred her.
“Why did this have to happen though?” the young woman asked with a voice that resembled one long, troubled sigh. “Why did all of these people have to die? Why do they have to be laid out there in the dust, like wasted carrion? Why does this have to happen?”
Then, just as she said her last sentence, a terrible and horrific idea came to mind. I didn’t want to say it, I didn’t want to think about it, but the thought was left. It stayed in the back of my mind despite all my efforts to suppress it. I could not hide my thoughts any longer, because my companions noticed the look which had crept onto my face. Their stares forced the silence out of me.
With a sigh, I said “Well, all of those bodies would be a lot of fertilizer…”