A short story written by Rinn Ever
I realized with a jolt of the Jeep that I had been daydreaming. It was the first time I could recall that I was not actively consumed with what would happen next. As we drove on, the sky consistently changed colors around us. The deep dark purplish-grey to the east in the rear view mirror had turned pitch black with fluorescent flashes of lightning spreading around. The cyan navy blue to the north had turned a tone of magenta I thought I had never seen before that moment. The orange marigold of the west had turned to a deep rust with waves in the clouds that made it seem as if the sun would burst over the horizon and into the Earth at any moment. Everything around me felt imminent and vibrant, but muted at the same time. If asked to describe the way I felt, I would have a hard time putting it into words. It was as if painful peace was taking turns in my mind with a sore unanimity. My mind wanted to escape, but I wanted to be there and feel every little molecule of change happening around me. I wasn’t fighting for anything or against anything anymore and it was the cool breeze through my hair. The salt crystals formed from sweat dried on my eyelids kept them sticky and wide open. I imagined showering under a crisp waterfall and letting it all wash away from me. I had the thought that this must be what the first hit of a hard drug must feel like. I was not the first person ever to realize that being human is just being a minuscule stream of consciousness in a vast multiverse; but driving in that Jeep I felt as if I was the first person ever to stop existing and start imbuing with the space all around. Every ounce of my being accepted that at any moment, I would become again the stardust that I had come from billions of years ago. I also accepted that I was just a person driving down a road and nothing more. I pressed my foot down on the accelerator and turned the wheel to dodge a stopped car on the road. I jokingly said out loud that at least there wasn’t traffic in the end of the world. Then I immediately acknowledged I was not alone in the Jeep. I glanced over to the woman sitting in the passenger seat beside me. Her face was blank and she stared at the gun laying in her open hands. She hadn’t even noticed I had said something. I wondered if she felt anything close to what I was feeling, but I knew she didn’t. For a second I thought she might put the gun in her mouth and pull the trigger, but I somehow knew she wouldn’t. Maybe it was the map flapping in the wind tucked under her arm that made me think that. I looked back at the horizon and tore myself from falling back into that oppressed stream of thought which only fought for survival. The sky continued to change, and clouds continued to collide with smoke and steam from the lands below. I noticed tall columns towards the southwest horizon that could have been windmills, buildings or tornadoes. It was too dark now to tell which, but it didn’t matter which they were to me; I had seen them all before. I noticed two vehicles on the other side of the highway zooming towards us and thought for a moment they may try stopping us since we were seemingly the only other vehicle traveling on the road but they zipped by with no sign of slowing down. We drove on and with hours to go, I felt the soft sense of deja vu. I let myself immerse again into the colors of sky and the peace that had come over me. I remembered that just a few days earlier, I was on a road trip as well. I drove the opposite direction though, and I had snacks.
I had stepped out of my white Volkswagen and stretched my whole body up towards the sky. It had been on and off cloudy the whole day, but now the hot sun beat down on my face and felt good against my air-conditioned cheeks. I had been driving for three hours straight and was relieved that I got there with still enough daylight to enjoy some beach time. I tilted my head up and let the sun kiss me for a minute or two more. I decided that I would just change into my swimsuit in the car there in the parking lot since there wasn’t really anyone around. I could get at least two hours of beach time before it either started to rain or got dark. I could head to the hotel afterwards. Once back in the car, I moved the seat back and reached for my book bag in the back seat. Luckily I had wadded my black one piece up and put it in there with a change of clothes. I just pulled the shorts I was wearing back on over top, slid my sandals back on, and stepped back out. I locked the car and headed towards the wooden path over and through the dunes to the beach. Once I was sitting on my beach towel, I noticed a few people down from me on the beach. One man was fishing to my left, and a couple was laughing and talking further down the beach to my right. I decided to lay back and let the sun really heat me up before I would walk down to the water.
I must have dozed off, because suddenly I came to and realized the couple was now raising their voices to each other. I peeked out of my right eye and vaguely saw them both standing and pointing towards the ocean. I thought for a minute it was probably an aircraft carrier out to sea or maybe some dolphins jumping so I let the sleep pull my eyes back closed. “We have to leave right now!” I heard the man say. With that, I pulled myself up and looked towards the ocean. The sky had turned deep charcoal the whole length of the horizon and there were at least ten large funnels forming out on the distant sea. They must have been half a mile wide each because even 10 miles out, they looked like skyscrapers forming and floating around on the sea. Two of the smaller funnels completed, collided and created a bright flash of lightning. The few people who were around me at the beach were all frantically packing up their things or snapping a few last pictures before running off the beach. I felt as if I was still dreaming because I couldn’t seem to stand up or take my eyes off the funnels. I suddenly felt a chilly breeze blow off the water and noticed the water had receded about 200 feet out. I looked at the shells and various rocks that were now exposed and wondered how I could possibly imagine them if this was a dream. With the brightest and loudest crash of thunder I had ever heard, I quickly stood up, grabbed my shoes and stuffed them in my bag, and ran towards the dune pathway. Mine was one of the last cars to still be parked and I jumped in and turned it on. Surely NPR would be covering this storm. It was like no storm I had ever dreamed of, let alone seen with my own eyes. The wind blew and shook the front of my car hard. I had to get away from the beach first and then ask what later. I followed a big black truck out of the dunes parking lot and onto the coastal highway. Scanning through the stations on the radio not realizing they all played the same thing, I finally hit 92.9 and listened.
“ATTENTION: This is the National Broadcast Service reporting a national state of emergency. According to the N.O.A.A., the lunar event is causing severe hurricane activity along the entire Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Citizens within 150 miles of an ocean coast are immediately required to follow evacuation protocols and evacuate as soon as possible. Do not try to pack unnecessary possessions. Take only food and water necessary for survival. For further specific instructions and information, please tune in to your local news broadcast.”
‘Lunar Event’? What lunar event? How long had I been napping? After driving about 5 miles up the beach highway, we slowed to a stop. I noticed a group of people gathered by a truck bed a few cars ahead. I got out and walked up to them to try to find out what was happening. A lady in a red bikini top and cut off jean shorts said that some asteroids had hit the moon about an hour and a half ago and that was causing severe changes in the weather. She motioned for me to come over and look at her smartphone. A shaky video recording someone had taken through their telescope in their backyard showed about a dozen building sized asteroids plummeting into the moon’s surface and visibly shaking its surface. I immediately glanced towards the ocean on the other side of the dunes wondering just when this highway would be under water. “How long have you been stopped here?” I asked. “Just about 20 minutes. They’ll have the other side opened for outgoing traffic soon we will be on the way west.” I thanked her and smiled and nodded to the others before I walked back to my car. I pulled out my phone and went to the NBC news site. From what I could gather, the asteroid shower had been caused by a rogue object rounding Jupiter and hitting several asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter knocking them in direct projection of the moon. I wondered how they had not caught that at NASA when it first happened, but then thought it couldn’t have been possible to stop them all from hitting the moon anyways. It may have been lucky they hit the moon and not Earth. Slowly but suddenly I grasped that this wasn’t just a normal hurricane coming into shore. I had only come to the coast for a couple of days to get away from everything and now I quite possibly could be trapped here. If only I had stayed. Just then, a four wheeler came by on the shoulder with a national guard soldier standing on the back with a megaphone. “Re-enter your vehicles and prepare to exit the coastal highway. If you can, do not stop driving until you reach the interstate unless it is an emergency! Maintain the speed limit and stay in your lanes!” I felt a slight wave of relief that I might not be sitting there in my car when the tidal wave came over those dunes.
About fifteen minutes after the national guard came, traffic was moving steadily out on both sides of the beach highway. Once we reached the bay bridge and the highway opened up to four lanes, traffic picked up to about 45 mph. I didn’t know if it was because everyone was staying in lane and maintaining speed because they were terrified of the funnels they had seen out at sea, or because now even the national guards and marines in their humvees and trucks were evacuating west on the shoulders and medians, but there was a jumpiness to the acceleration of all the cars around me. I knew I felt tingly in my finger tips, but I still maintained calm enough to drive as well as I could. I knew I was fine not stopping until I reached the next city over, but I only had a quarter tank of gas. I was trying to figure in my head just how far that would get me, but I couldn’t get the numbers straight. I had no option but to drive until I couldn’t anymore. I kept NPR turned on and up on the radio. They were mostly reporting the earthquakes out west and the tidal waves that had already hit Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. I just kept thinking that something like this surely had to be the end, but everyone seemed to ignore it. We were all actors in a play in those early moments. I guess we all thought if we just did what was expected, it wouldn’t be so bad. Humanity had survived chaos before. Whatever reassurances that we could tell ourselves in those first hours quickly lost their potency.
I had intentionally taken the exit for a smaller bypass highway off the interstate about an hour later hoping that there would be less traffic and at least one gas station with gas. It was still early enough that only a small portion of us had been evacuated. I would glance in amazement as I passed the houses with people running out carrying suitcases full of things and stuffing them in their cars. Did they not know those possessions wouldn’t matter anymore soon enough? I had driven about ten miles northwest when I noticed a gas station coming up. I pulled in and glanced around for anyone else. There was only one car pulled into one of the parking spaces in front of the building. I got out, swiped my debit card, and began to fuel up. I was weary that at any minute the pump would click and there would not be any more gas, but three gallons quickly changed to six gallons pumped, and six changed to nine. I was surprised and elated that the pump clicked off once I had pumped in a full tank. I returned the pump handle to the holder and as I clicked the button for no receipt, I heard the door of the gas station jingle open. A woman in her forties or fifties came running out, “Excuse me, but we don’t have any gas for sale!” I took a step back towards the driver’s side door, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know that. I just topped off on this pump.” She seemed pained from that answer and I was worried she would get angry real quick. As she started to wrap plastic bags on the pump I had just used she sighed, “And you paid with your card, didn’t you?” I took two steps back and answered her. She walked to wrap the next pump and said I should be on my way, that she just closed the store and I wouldn’t be able to purchase anything else. I apologized again and graciously thanked her for letting me top off. Pulling out of the gas station, I could not believe my luck. I had a tank full of gas, and now I didn’t need to stop again until I was out in the dispersed countryside. I knew it would get ugly soon in the more populated areas, and I would do better in the smaller cities and towns. The complete unknowing that filled me during the drive that day was enough to keep me from those inevitable thoughts that came later. I listened intently to the radio, pondered just the extent of this event and maintained some sort of hope somehow. I thought about how I wish I had a weapon of some sort. I questioned what side of the flight or fight response I would ultimately fall on. I had before then thought a few times that death could be a solution to being in a life I didn’t want anymore; but there was a curiosity that came quickly to me during that first day that kept those thoughts at bay. The question that kept popping its head up in all the other rational thoughts I was having: “Could I actually live to see it all end for everybody?”