She was completely alone. No people, no animals, not even the biting flies. She’d gone into the bunker believing that when she emerged, everything would be the same, that it was another false alarm. But as she took in the silence, the lack of that ever so consistent hum of electricity and the missing sensation of movement, she began to panic.

What the hell happened? Where was everyone, everything? She dropped the heavy metal lid back, a quick thunk as the  hinge extended. Pushing up, she lifted herself from the ladder, her arms shaking with the effort. Up and out to the hard concrete floor that remained of her home. There was nothing left. No furniture. No walls or flooring. No decorations. But most disturbingly, no debris. Just a clean concrete slab. The house next door, the Smith’s home across the street, and the shop on the corner were all gone. It was as if her life never really existed. Swept away as she slept.

She stood slowly, her stomach heavy as she scanned the horizon. She spun taking it all in. This had to be a dream. For the first time in her life, she could see for miles. It was flat – completely and utterly flat – nothing to impede her view. Every building was gone and not a single tree or bush remained. It was like the entire world had been scraped down to it’s foundation and everything sucked away. 

A strong wind blew back her hair, but then it stopped, sudden and complete. A shiver ran up her spine and she felt eyes on her. She was being watched.

“Hello?” she called out, but her voice sounded off; stilted. “Is anyone there?”

She glanced down into her bunker and to the ladder which led back into darkness, to safety. It could wait. She needed to see if anyone survived this; whatever this was.

Thinking of the Murphys, she ran next door toward their storm shelter. She gasped when she saw the hole, stairs leading down. They creaked as her weight hit the first step. The musty air wafted to her as she descended.

“Mr. Murphy? Mrs. Murphy?” she asked. She pulled a small flashlight from her pocket and turned it on. Tears filled her eyes as she swept the space. It was empty. Not, they aren’t here empty, but they never existed empty. The bunk-beds along the back, the stool Mr. Murphy built, even the food stores were gone. The room was barren; no sign that anything or anyone had ever been here.

Sucking in a breath, she ran up the stairs and across the street to the Smith’s. When she reached their storm shelter it was the same. Nothing. Tom’s home, Ginny’s, Samuel’s… all stripped clean. 

Tears welled in her eyes, her chest heaved. She needed to get back to the bunker. It was safe in there. And out here – out here wasn’t. She’d go back down and hide. It was fine. She could be alone. Alone was something she understood.

She ran as fast as she could and nearly dove into the darkness, but something was off. The hatch that closed, securing her little home was no longer there. The hinge had been cut clean. Slowing her steps, she bent to shine the flashlight down. 

“No,” she whispered. The backpack she’d left just at the base of the ladder was gone. Skittering down it, she nearly fell to her knees as she scanned the room. It was empty. Her bed, her blankets, her books and cards, her food was gone. Just an shell with nothing left. Her body wretched and bile filled her mouth. The grinding sound of metal echoed in the distance and she knew. They were coming for her. Nowhere was safe.

Published on OBW Blog December 11, 2020 © Tracey Canole 

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