We were all living at Aunt Nono’s store at the time: My Father Kevin and Mother Nancy as well as my Younger brother Ryan. Aunt Nono was in California when it all started so we had no idea where she might have been. The electricity was out for a few months and so we were still getting used to making fires and lighting the old oil lamps Nono kept around the antique store. It had a cozy back room with a fireplace, all wood paneled walls. The front room was about as boring as any store front, and it’s big front windows saw through to the strip mall enclave outside.
I was never a big user of technology and my parents grew up in the 80’s so I don’t think the internet crashes really hit us as bad. Their big thing was the lack of comforts. It took hours to boil the course rice from the bag we salvaged and our clothes stank from lack of any running water to clean them. It bothered me too, but I could see it bothered them more.
But my brother, he never lived in a world without phones and the internet. Even as we sat by the fireplace with the pot boiling rice and the low firelight flickering across our downtrodden faces, he would take out his precious phone and the foreign blue-white LED light would splatter into the dark. His eyes wide and grasping for hope that he would get a connection again. Each time, it became worse to see; I just wanted to take it from him and throw it into the fire, but I could see it gave him hope and that was the resource that could afford any cost.
“Why don’t you just throw that damn thing away!” my mother said. Her face twisted with frustration as she huddled under Aunt Nono’s blanket.
My brother said nothing but clicked refresh on the unopened web page.
“Didn’t you hear your mother!” my Dad said by the firelight. He threw in a leg to an antique chair and the smoke smelled like varnish.
“Maybe it came back up! The government was trying to bring it back in places.”
He clicked refresh again and I could see tears in his eyes. I reached over and put a hand on his. He looked over suddenly with wide eyes.
“You’ll waste the battery.” I said
Slowly he clicked away the screen and put it back in his pocket.
“We’ll try again when we can move.”
The first month or so we had to live this way, sitting by the fire waiting for the rice was full of conversation. We’d reminisce over things and the places we went and how things might get closer to how they were. I always knew that things would never go back to how they were. I didn’t say anything, but I think they knew.
Now we just sat by the fire, watching the flames like the enigma of life. The only sound now the lapping of its magic tenderals on the pot, the snapping of ancient wood, and the occasional bolt of thunder beyond the thin confines of the house. There was no telling if it was natural thunder or not. The silence with each other was a fearful and tense comfort.
We had to find things to occupy ourselves. Nono’s store had a collection of strange knives and I learned pretty well how to throw them and a series of marks embedded into the far wood panels of the wall showed practice. My favorite was a sort of curved knife with a curved handle of bone with a large pommel at the end. I would idly learn how to spin it between my fingers. I taught my brother as well.
“I’m gonna look outside.” I said, standing.
My family looked at me.
“Be careful.” My mom said.
“I’ll look too.” My brother said and got up.
Beyond the thin wooden door was the storefront, still full of junk and antiques which were now of little value except to burn. An old globe, the kind you’d see in old movies in some rich guy’s study, stuck out among brass poles to a disassembled trundle bed. Coffee tables and handcrafted chairs with floral patterns on their cushions from a bygone but not a dissimilar era.
The big glass windows that looked out to the big parking lot showed the rubble and deep holes gouged into the tarmac. The other stores in the old strip mall plaza were dark. Old cars, either smashed into twisted metal or burned to a solemn husk littered the cracked and jaunted pavement. In the distance, a tall building was engulfed in flame. It had been burning for two days.
The sky was clouded with a low overcast that had been present for nearly a month, and tiny speckles of rain formed on the glass panes. Under my poncho and my brother under his blanket, we moved to the window and looked up. Beyond the clouds flashes of orange light could be seen and their mystery was terrifying and out of our control.
The two of us just looked and said nothing for a long moment.
“What do you think is going on?” My brother finally said as booms and rumbles reached our feet.
“I don’t know. The government could be trying to fight them.”
Suddenly an object burst from the clouds far away. Behind it carried a streamer of blue flame and debris broke away and spiraled in streaks of blue.
“look!” My brother said.
The object became more clear, and it seemed to be nearing us. An aircraft of some strange design. I couldn’t see any wings and my brother adjusted his old rayban glasses to see better.
“Get back.” I said as the craft broke apart further, it’s hulk rocketing down.
The craft struck the burning building and the largest part skipped off of it in a shower of fire and rubble. It moved very fast now in our direction and crashed against the smashed pavement at the edge of the parking lot. The sound was a tumult and the ground shuddered under our feet as it came to rest at the far end of the plaza.
From what I could see, it was not a government plane or design at all. Wordlessly we watched it as blue flames rose up to the heavens.
From the side a door could be seen opening and we pressed up to the glass to see. Several small blue humanoid creatures exited it and milled about the wreck, they had weapons of some kind and red spines flaring off of their heads. At the distance we were, it was hard to tell what they were doing, but they were the survivors.
“It’s them.” I said, and the primal fear took hold. We looked at each other and both bolted back to our parents.
“We NEED to go.” I said
Mom and Dad both looked up at us, breathing heavy.
“What is it?” My dad said standing.
“A ship or something just fell and some of them are out there in the plaza.”
We took no time to hurry our things together. The hunger was what lead my dad to strain the half cooked rice, pouring the water over the fire and make for the door last with the pot in his hand. We left the embers for whomever might find it.
The four of us moved swiftly as we could out into the woods next to the highway and we did not stop moving until dawn rose the world into a grey.