The heat and bright light burned through her eyelids as she lay still, unable to speak. In the distance, she could hear sounds that seemed familiar, but couldn't be placed with certainty.
A sharp tap against a piece of glass slowly increased in frequency and the warmth on her eyes faded into darkness.
If only she could open her eyes.
"Can you hear me?"
All she could remember were those fateful four words before the crash.
A few feet away, there was a steady flow of activity as people dressed in uniforms and white overcoats walked hastily through the corridors carrying clipboards and shiny instruments under halos of white light. Just beyond the door, a hum of voices, soft and authoritative, undulated with the rhythm of blips and moving air.
"Asha, can you hear me?" The nurse repeated the question.
The room was cloaked in gray now as the light drizzle burgeoned into rain.
"Come with me." Brendan cupped her left hand between both of his, imploring her to join him on the east coast. With school now behind them, they could write a new chapter together. He reminded her of their hopes and dreams. How good they were together.
How clever Brendan was. Bringing her to the shore, the sunlight sparkling on the water as the sailboats ambled along, carefree, toward a promising horizon. Even the birds were chirping as if on cue. Asha knew all his tricks. She also knew that's why she wanted to be with him.
She took a deep breath, let out a sigh, looked deep into his eyes and lightly shook her head from side to side. No words were necessary.
"Asha, no! You're throwing your life away."
"Stop saying that mom."
"Baby, open the door."
Asha frantically packed whatever she could fit in her gym bag. She knew that the longer she stayed in the house, the worse it would get. She'd been on the phone with Brendan most of the night dreaming, making arrangements and debating whether or not this was the right thing to do. Now it was time to act. If she could get to her car she'd be home free. Brendan would be waiting at their designated spot.
"Eric, speak to your daughter." Asha's mother pleaded from the top of the stairs, gripping the banister tight. It was the only thing she could firmly maintain in her grasp now.
Asha's father had had enough of his daughter's delusions. He'd made his position known long ago. If she stepped out the front door to be with "that boy," then she better not look back. He slammed the patio door and stepped out into the backyard to tend to his sapling.
Asha quickly surveyed her room to see if she'd forgotten anything. Her head was spinning. She tossed her phone into her bag and ran out of her bedroom, leaving her mother behind to dry her own tears.
Asha's room was quiet and serene. Night had fallen and the rain had stopped. She laid there asleep, under the watchful eyes of a ticking clock above her doorway and the drip, drip, drip of her I-V. Her parents were told that a full recovery was expected, but the doctors would know more in the morning. As it turned out, they would know much sooner than that. The steady pulse of Asha's heart monitor abruptly jumped to an unpredictable rate. Her vitals were dropping. Fast.
"Code Blue, Emergency Department, Treatment Room A, Code Blue, Emergency Department, Treatment Room A..." Asha's nurse called for help as no pulse was detected and the monitor flat lined. A crash team sprung into action.
"Mom, please. I can't talk right now." The road ahead was a blur as Asha tried to fight back the tears. She knew her mother had good intentions, but at this moment, she really regretted picking up the phone.
"Sweetheart, listen to me. You're only...and...hardly...the..."
"What? Mom, you're breaking up. We can talk later."
Asha's mother had no intention of hanging up. "Baby...don't understand. What if...work...what...do?" This was her mother's only lifeline. She couldn't bear to think of when she would ever be able to speak to her daughter again if she were to lose this connection.
Asha looked out the window and switched the phone to her left hand, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her right hand. Her mother's voice continued in between pops and beeps. Asha moved the phone to her lap. Upon taking a closer look, she noticed that the battery was dying.
For a moment, the phone went silent. A burst of white light filled her car's interior from front to back as if a light switch had been turned on from the inside. Asha looked up to her right and heard a horn blast racing toward her. Seconds later, a voice from the phone said "Honey, can you hear me?"
The air was crisp and Asha could hear the crunch of the fallen leaves under her feet as she ran toward the chain link fence where Brendan loved to watch the enormous barges crawling down the East River under the immense weight of their cargo.
Was Brendan there now? Did he know where she was? Will he wait for her? Or will he fulfill their dreams with someone else?
She could see him in her mind's eye and tried desperately to get his attention, but try as she might, she couldn't form the words "Brendan, wait up!"
Smoke surged from all eighteen screaming tires as the trailer lunged forward, clipping the rear of Asha's car with all its momentum. Asha's car spiraled down the road and flipped into an embankment which mercifully stopped it from sliding into a thicket of trees.
Moments later, all went quiet. Like raindrops, fluid trickled down the side of Asha's car. Tranquil and heavy.
Asha lay still, unable to speak. In the distance, she could hear sounds that seemed familiar, but couldn't be placed with certainty. It was the cry of sirens sounding faintly in the distance.
A sharp tap against a piece of glass, slowly increased in frequency, and the warmth on her heavy eyelids slowly faded into darkness.
If only she could open her eyes.
"Miss, can you hear me?"
All she could remember were those fateful four words before the crash. •
It was the 3rd day of the 23rd month of the 16th year since the slaying. Or Butternog Day to the natives. Aromas of burnt vanilla and chilled poppy seed filled the air as The Little Ones scurried about prepping for the night's festivities.
The trees bowed down and the waters stood still as the Lourdes seated themselves along the shore.
"Play On!" cried the crow. The show was about to begin.
Once every four years the island came together to celebrate the island's bountiful harvest of herbs, crops, and spices; rosemary, thyme, basil, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg – all grew in abundance. This island was special and its inhabitants knew it. They were never in want of anything and had no need for the outside world. If you could eat it, you could find it here. More importantly, the personal chef to the Royal family, Abdim, knew what to do with it. Coming from a long line of culinary masters, Abdim's destiny was settled long before he was born. His ancestors had learned to command fire and water back when the world endured in darkness and he too, inherited this ability. Cooking was in his blood.
Fortunately for its residents, the community was small, so everyone on the island lived and ate very well. Each day began the same way; at the first sign of daylight, when the clock tower struck five, the dwellers rose from their beds, rubbed their eyes, came down from their trees and harvested their crops. In the late morning, they lined up along the lakeshore in one single file, waiting patiently, wiggling their toes and fluffing their tails, for a breakfast of sweet banana crepes with caramelized pears, candied bacon, yogurt biscuits brushed with honey butter, roasted asparagus with pickle-poached eggs, cherry tarragon sausage, and hot peppermint-spiced cider.
The fragrance emanating from the palace kitchen was intoxicating. The meals were delectable and filling; all one could do afterwards was take a nap. In fact, that's exactly what they did. When the clock tower signified the end of the meal, the plates were licked clean and the whole community returned to their trees to sleep until noon. Lunch was served then. Indeed life was perfect. The only things to do here were eat, sleep, and eat again. Day after day after day. "Dependability through Predictability" was their motto. Routine and familiarity were paramount to maintaining a happy life.
For three hundred years, the island operated this way. And there was no reason why it couldn't continue for three hundred more. Perfectly synchronized. Tranquil and content.
That all changed one lazy afternoon at the end of another splendid meal. While all were asleep the lake's waters began to stir. A slight simmer at first, hardly noticeable, but then slowly heating up to a boil. As if it were coming alive. The heat traveled below ground reaching the tips of the tree roots, startling them awake. This in turn, rattled the tree dwellers. The clock tower hadn't rung, because dinner was not for another four hours, so whatever this disturbance was, it was neither expected nor welcome.
The royal family was alerted and news swept across the land. The townsfolk flocked to the lake's edge to see what was amiss. Trails of smoke rose from the lake's surface. Emerging from beneath the water was a bulbous mound, occupying nearly the entire diameter of the lake. The tide rose and lapped at the bystanders' feet. They jumped back and fled to their homes, fearing the unknown. Only the royal family's sentries remained to stand guard, but truthfully, what could they do? Nothing unforeseeable ever happened here. Ill prepared, they simply stood there stupefied and afraid.
They watched, paralyzed, as the large mound rose to the height of a shiny knoll. Glistening in the afternoon sun, water flowed down what they assumed was its face. It cast fearful sounds that echoed for miles as the sun's unpleasant rays pressed its unfamiliar heat onto the thing's back. The beast's incessant noise went on for hours, finally abating after the sun went down. But their supper of Mango-Radicchio Caprese with Basil Vinaigrette; Prosciutto with Persimmon, Pomegranate and Arugula; Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup; Brined grilled Chops with Treviso and Balsamic Glaze, and Triple-Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies for dessert could hardly be enjoyed, because while they dined along the banks of the lake, the trespasser laid there. Completely still. A giant, immovable object, impossible to ignore.
Clearly, something had to be done. At dinner's end, the residents gathered to determine how they could remove this foreign invader. They bemoaned their situation, agonized over the problem, and struggled to come up with a solution. Later that evening they returned home, distressed and tired. Settled in their beds, they slowly drifted off under the dark blue moonless sky. Thankfully, not a sound was made the entire night. It appeared the sleep that had eluded everyone earlier that day would finally be enjoyed. Had it not been for the bright white glow that quietly emanated from the center of the lake, perhaps it would have. But the light traveled through the forest, beyond the glade and across the mountains. Trees shone like candles, preventing anyone from sleeping. All through the night, the strange visitor remained a bright orb in the middle of the lake. It wasn't until sunrise that its light gently dimmed, eventually returning to its normal self.
Butternog Day was a day of remembrance. A day to commemorate the eradication of an unwanted danger. A chance to praise one another for coming together to restore unity. The audience now properly seated along the lakefront, the clock tower struck one and the performers with flaming torches held firmly in their mouths, swiftly encircled the lake's perimeter.
On cue, the Little Ones went about collecting storm clouds, assembling a foggy mass directly above the stage. As if by command, a violent wind swirled the mass like cotton candy, agitating the waters below. The audience watched in awe as a whirlpool churned the water, rapidly reaching a boil. They sat forward, mesmerized at the display of bubbling water and light as they recalled that dreadful period in their history with a great sense of relief.
For the grand finale, the torchbearers, in unison dipped their beaks into the lake. The crowd watched in awe as a ring of fire radiated a brilliant glow arcing high into the sky. Then all at once, everything stopped. The air cleared, the flames extinguished and the waters became placid. Everything and everyone remained still. The hush lasted a few seconds, before the crowd erupted with a great cheer.
As they did every morning, the tower's bells signaled the start of a new day, but without a wink of sleep the night before, no one was in the mood to do anything but devise a plan, once and for all, to rid themselves of this horrendous monster. The entire town gathered within the palace's walls. The unruly crowd clamored their dissatisfaction, but nothing could be heard clearly through the pandemonium. The royal family tried desperately to quiet the crowd to no avail. Nothing even remotely close to this had ever happened here.
Chef Abdim peered through the kitchen window to see what all the ruckus was that prevented his French toast soufflé from rising properly. For his meals to turn out perfectly, he required meticulous attention to detail that could only be accomplished through an almost meditative state. All this noise was a disturbance and deemed entirely unacceptable.
Determined to put an end to this, he huffed through the palace halls and marched out to the balcony banging wildly on a stockpot with a large wooden spoon. "Silence!" he shouted as he continued to bang the pot until the clanging rang through everyone's ears. Gradually, they quieted down. "You are all ruining my soufflé!" He shook his wooden spoon at the masses. "If you continue to act this way, there will be no breakfast."
"Who cares about breakfast?" someone shouted from the crowd.
A group joined in agreement. "Somebody needs to do something!"
The royal family looked toward the palace guards, the palace guards looked toward Chef Abdim. The fact of the matter was that this peaceful island was so remote that in all its history, there was never any need to plan for security, or prepare for an invasion. The only things that even resembled weapons were Chef Abdim's giant metal pot and wooden spoon.
"How about you? You have weapons," shouted someone from the crowd. Further pointing out that the chef had a meat cleaver, a colander, a baking pan and an eggbeater, the group chimed in accord, volunteering the old cook to save their homeland. The chef dismissed this notion with a wave of his spoon, but a quick vote from the crowd and a mandate from the royal family sent the culinarian back to his kitchen to form a plan of attack using whatever he had on hand.
Defeated, he stared at his deflated soufflés, wondering how in the world he was expected to fight the enemy with a cheese grater and a saucepan. This was a suicide mission and he wanted no part of it.
To take his mind off things for a while, he did the only sensible thing he could think of. He set off to cook. He fired up the clay oven, lined up his spices, kneaded the dough, laid out his cookware and chopped up the vegetables with machine-like precision. Within minutes, he was blanching spinach, toasting sesame seeds, simmering the cream sauce, sautéing the meats and baking the bread. Darting back and forth from stove to oven to grill to fryer, Abdim whirled his way through the kitchen, checking temperatures, tasting, sprinkling and adjusting the flames. The entire room was fragranced with mint, fenugreek, tomato, garlic, ginger and a myriad of other exotic scents.
The royal family could hear the activity from the other side of the walls. Clearly, he was onto something. They were so excited to finally be ridding themselves of their annoying visitor, they approached the kitchen door, eager to know the Chef's plan. But the door was locked. Chef Abdim had a strict policy of never being disturbed while working. The suspense too much to bear, they rapped on the door.
"Chef Abdim. May we see?"
Chef Abdim was startled by the interruption and lost his focus for a moment. "Go away!" he said.
But they wouldn't go away. They begged him to let them in on his strategy for putting an end to their misery. He obviously had a brilliant solution, what with all the commotion coming from inside the kitchen.
But the commotion was actually Chef Abdim struggling to keep track of all the dishes being prepared. The distraction caused him to lose his train of thought and now something didn't smell right. He sniffed the air and detected that something was burning. His soufflé! Abdim dropped his eggs, sprinted toward the oven, and hurdled a dessert cart. His right foot landed in a pot of boiling hot water that had been sitting on the floor. He let out a yelp, grabbed his foot and hopped about carelessly knocking over trays, bowls, mixers...the kitchen was a disaster, the entire meal ruined.
Abdim looked around. Dejected, his eyes settled on a low-running flame on the stovetop. That's when it hit him.
"We'll cook it right where it lays!"
At the Lourdes's command, the entire town set to work with perfect synchronization. While the tables were being set outside, Chef Abdim drafted his recipe and assembled the ingredients. Of course, typically he would test his recipe before serving it, but there was no time for that now. He would have to rely on years of training and instinct.
As the Little Ones lined up outside the kitchen, Abdim armed them with all the necessary ingredients. One by one they flew to the lake and dropped sacks of herbs and spices onto the creature's head, who up until that time, lay soundless and serene. After all the ingredients had been dumped into the lake, the chef gave the signal. Immediately, the mantis shrimp dipped below the surface and began to stir vigorously. Bit by bit the water's temperature began to rise. The heat from below unsettled the creature. Feeling some discomfort, it let out a whimper. The villagers made final preparations as the shrimp continued to stir faster and faster. The creature's whimpers turned into wails and soon after, cries of pain that resounded throughout the land. As the water bubbles increased, the creature's color turned pale and skin became soft. Eventually, its cries subsided into faint whines, until nothing but the gurgling of the bubbling water could be heard.
Moments later, the stirring lessened, reducing the boil to a simmer. And so it remained for most of the day. Quietly, everyone retired to their homes to catch up on much needed rest, looking forward to tonight's feast.
At dusk, the bell tower sounded. The natives ventured toward the lake, where the trees had already begun extending their branches and dragging the creature onto land. With the crows' assistance, they broke down the body and served it to the eager diners. Once everyone was served, the cue was given to begin.
Night fell and only the sounds of enjoyment broke the otherwise sober mood. The food as expected, was divine. The portions, plentiful. Their bellies full, the villagers were overcome with a sense of relief and comfort, knowing that life as they knew it had been restored. All that remained was to sleep. And so they did. As aromas of burnt vanilla and chilled poppy seed filled the air. •
The blood-orange sky was bruised with belts of deep purple when Gnarr let out a thunderous yawn that echoed for miles. He stretched his arms and legs, stiff from their lengthy slumber, far and wide forming a swollen 'X' across the rugged mountainside. When he sat up, a forest of dry trees beside him snapped like twigs and the stale earth shifted, forming a wrinkled ridge near his lower back. Throat dry and muscles tight, he turned his head slowly, squinting far off into the distance. The weight of his eyelids made everything around him look hazy and unfamiliar. But that's to be expected after sixty three million years.
In a language only he could understand he called out, "Momma, I'm hungry!" and pounded a fist-sized crater into the ground. The only answer was his own series of grunts and grumbles bouncing back at him.
He was accustomed to waking up every morning to the smell of his mother's favorite recipe; his family's version of freshly baked cookies with a tall serving of cool milk. This morning was different. There was no sweet warm fragrance wafting in the air. And no sign of his mother.
"Where is everybody?"
Were they playing a trick on him? Was it his turn? He often played Hide and Seek after dinner with his siblings but that was when the light went out over the horizon. Camouflaging oneself was much easier then.
Several miles west, a red light flashed. "Sir, come quick!" A young man, wearing a white lab coat and spectacles was hunched over an 'L' shaped needle nervously plotting "2.6 at 21° 8' N, 86° 44' W. Foreshock?"
The head researcher peered over the young man's shoulder. "Hmm..looks like a small temblor. Nothing to worry about."
To the south, a shipping container, suspended 30 feet in the air swayed momentarily while being loaded onto a freighter due northwest. Aside from raising a few heart rates, all was well and the container was safely loaded. Work resumed.
In the north, throngs of families awaited with great anticipation as final preparations were made for the latest launch. The buzz of the crowd swelled to cheers as the earth began to tremble ever so lightly. Moments later, an announcement was made postponing the launch until further notice, pending future seismic activity.
With nothing but miles of desert before him, Gnarr slightly disoriented, rubbed his bloated belly with one chapped hand and braced himself on a large rock formation with the other. He stood up with great effort, casually blowing a low hanging cloud out of his way and then made his way eastward, each step covering no less than a city block. As he ambled along, his stomach bellowed and gurgled with increasing intensity. Locating his family and being fed were the only two things on his mind.
From one mountainside to another, Gnarr wandered around aimlessly, kicking over boulders and stomping his feet in frustration. If this was a game, it wasn't fun anymore. Upon reaching the coastline, he plopped down to rest and listlessly jabbed his finger into the sand. As the sun continued to set, Gnarr scooped up a ball of sand and chucked it into the sea. Moments later, far across the great expanse, he noticed the rippling of waves.
"Aha!" he said as he lifted himself up and bumbled into the water. His family loved playing water games and Gnarr was thrilled at the prospect of finally joining them. As he waded through the ocean, he flapped his arms with glee. He shouted their names and called out to his mother. Just then, some lights in the distance began to flicker and smoke began to rise. Dinnertime. With fervor, he quickened his gait.
Thrilled with their day's boon, Amani and Josef pulled back their lines and redirected their dinghy back toward shore. Their mouths salivated at the thought of filling their bellies with mackerel stew, peas and rice and an ice cold Kalik Gold or two.
"All crab fine dey hole, eh, Josef?"
"True, true. We be da best fishermen in all de island Amani."
The tiny boat sputtered along. The two friends reached across the seat to give one another a congratulatory fist bump when an unexpected wave surged from behind, causing them to lose their balance and slip.
"Wybe! De sea, she shakin' her bunggy," Josef said, propping himself up and clutching his elbow. "Amani, you alright?"
Amani wasn't alright. His nose had struck the cockpit and split open just below his brow. Sitting up carefully, he looked over the boat's stern and saw an enormous wall of water rushing toward them.
There was to be no mackerel stew dinner for these two this evening. Nor for anyone else residing along the coastal village. The upheaval hit shore unexpectedly and was unlike anything they'd ever seen before.
Breathing heavily and slightly dazed, Gnarr arrived at the site of the smoke and fire. Heaps of flames and embers were spread for miles, but his family was nowhere to be found. Confusion soon turned to anger and he released a ferocious roar that radiated a blast of hot air across the already charred fields. Undeterred, he saw that his only option was to continue northeast. So off he went.
Trudging through miles and miles of earth and water, Gnarr eventually grew weary, but with nowhere to lay his head, he pressed on until he saw up ahead a second patch of land. Unlike the one before, there was no light beckoning him to hurry and no sign that a reward awaited him this time. He paused and tried to remember when and where he last saw his family. His last memory of them was playing Hide and Seek on a warm, humid late afternoon. It was his turn to hide and up to his family to find him. He knew all the usual places to hide, but this time he was determined to win.
While his friends and family merrily scrambled about, dipping their heads into the seas, peering over treetops, and splashing through rivers, Gnarr was keen on finding the perfect spot in which to tuck away. The moment the others covered their eyes, he tiptoed into a valley and slipped into a hollow place in the ground. They'll never find me here. And right he was, for seconds turned to minutes, and minutes turned into hours. As time passed our stealthy friend grew increasingly tired. He curled up against a ledge, and deep inside the mouth of the underground cave, quietly fell into a deep sleep. Nothing in the air even remotely hinted at what would happen next.
Hundreds of crags the size of train cars hailed from the sky with great force, blistering the earth, splitting it apart and swallowing everything within reach. Dust and rubble shot up high into the air and a thermal pulse fired off in every direction. The result was a rain of molten rock and storm waves of radiation evaporating anything and anyone out on the surface. If it wasn't burrowed in the ground, or deep underwater, it was vaporized to extinction.
For years, debris remained in the atmosphere, blocking out the sun and dropping the temperatures to unbearable degrees. Covered in an enduring frost, life on the earth would never be the same.
That was to be the last time Gnarr would ever see his family or friends, but he didn't know it at the time. He had so cleverly found the perfect hiding spot and as he'd intended he did indeed win the game. But, now he was not happy. Though spared from the devastation, his friends were gone. His family disappeared. And now standing in the middle of the Atlantic he had nowhere to go. Helpless and afraid he had difficulty breathing. Weeping turned to sobbing, until all he could do was look up to the sky and cry.
It was the end of another six straight day, twelve-hour shift and Davi was looking forward to his three-day furlough. In just seven more minutes, he'd be driving the long road home high up in the hills where his girlfriend, a home-cooked meal, and a soothing hot bath would be waiting.
"Davi! The boss wants you to head over to the mixer and check the temperature. The sugar pulp isn't separating. Over."
Davi rolled his eyes and reached for his two-way radio. "Sir, you're breaking up. Can you repeat that? Over?"
Standing on the catwalk, high up near the top of the extraction tower, Enzo tried waving his arms and shouting as loud as he could to get Davi's attention, but the noise from the steam turbines down below drowned out any attempt at success.
Unanticipated high winds were interfering with the two-way radio's signal and both Enzo and Davi and the hundred other workers were unaware that a colossal wave was bearing down on them. The wave crashed down, collapsing the processing plant as if held together with paper clips. The assault was so immediate there was no time to react. Boilers exploded in succession, fires flared up, and water swept up everything in its path.
Seven thousand miles away, tourists visiting the Boca Do Inferno were snacking on Bifana sandwiches at a seaside cafe. Hundreds of feet below, the faint sound of the crashing waves played in concert with the hum of conversation among the guests. Further inland, vacationers were traveling north toward the Capitol, approaching the bridge over Rio Trejo.
It was another quiet evening in this part of the world as families and friends gaily spilled out into the streets to share some wine and break bread with one another as a way of welcoming the long weekend. How could they have known that all around them, the fortified structures designed to protect them were quickly undergoing immense amounts of pressure? Tiny pops sounded off, followed by hairline fissures extending in every direction as if mocking the way the slow rising rivers snaked across the land.
Before long, fractures turned to gaping holes and massive amounts of water burst through. Millions of gallons rushed through the streets, raising automobiles, carrying them away, devouring homes, and ripping buildings off their foundations. Screams were muffled as entire neighborhoods were submerged at once. What once was a vacation destination featured in high-end travel brochures was now a cesspool of shattered dreams and unfulfilled memories.
Just as the big ball of light dipped into the sea, Gnarr caught his breath and slowly let it out. A soft, pillowy cloud floated past him offering a moment of comfort. He watched the cloud caress his left shoulder and followed it with his eyes, as it gently pulled apart into smaller fragments, quietly disintegrating into nothingness.
Engulfed in darkness, Gnarr was overcome with the real sense that he was alone. The grief over losing his family and friends was overwhelming. A quiet rage bubbled up inside until he could no longer contain it.
He stomped his feet crushing large chunks of coral; reached down, grabbed fistfuls of oceanic crust and threw them as far as he could. Sunken ships, truck wreckage, crashed airplanes, anything his enormous paws could find as he thrashed about, flew great distances into the air, like tiny plastic toys. His outcry could be heard for miles and long after his tantrum tapered off, his voice continued to reverberate, fracturing the otherwise silent night.
Defeated and weak, Gnarr struggled to remain standing. He gazed out into the horizon and watched the sky and sea turn white as his eyes rolled back. His knees buckled. His body went limp.
"It's getting late Mithan! We better hurry or Aunty will be mad," Feni said, prodding the lead bull with a tree branch. Five cows back, Mithan threw small pebbles at his lazy cow as it trailed far behind the herd. Though it did quicken its pace, it wasn't without protest. "Bahan, look!" Mithan said, pointing to the top of the nearby hill where plumes of smoke were rising under the glow of the moon. Just around the bend, a stream of red-orange liquid meandered its way downhill toward the neighboring village. Bits of ash fell from the sky.
Four thousand feet above the valley of El Chalten, Benito and Alex were mere flecks against the soaring peaks of Cerro Torre in southern Patagonia. The cloudless sky was a deep blue, but that was little comfort as the ice cold wind cut through like a knife's blade. Even so, this was a dream come true, as they'd spent years training for this trip and few climbers could match their natural instincts.
Which is why when Alex felt the rope tug at his belt he called down "Benito! Todo bien?" It wasn't like Benito to not maintain the proper slack in the rope. Benito repositioned his body after letting a few stray pebbles tumble pass and replied "Hold on!" He inspected his harness to ensure that all was secure and then looked up to give Alex the thumbs up. As he gave Alex the signal, a stone slab sheared off, and shot straight down the rock's face, just missing Alex's head. Benito was not so lucky.
The rope snapped and instantly, Alex too, was free falling. A stampede of rubble and boulders followed closely behind.
Just west of a remote island near the Bering Sea, a pair of Sail drones self-maneuvered the icy waters, continuously taking measurements of meteorological and oceanic activity.
A phone rang at home base. The on-call engineers received data indicating that sensors had picked up a rapid increase in temperature. As the engineers scrambled to determine the cause, opposing currents collided forming a maelstrom several miles wide, sucking the Sail drones into the ocean's depths and losing its signal.
Across the Americas, nuclear families were settled in for the night and tuned in to their favorite late night talk shows. In between the sprinkles of laughter and commercials for auto insurance, entire city blocks caved in as enormous projectiles slammed into homes and apartment buildings, dropping entire neighborhoods below the street's surface. A single point of origin could not be detected due to the fact that the assault was partially caused by the nation's own satellites which had been inexplicably veered off course.
Regaining consciousness, Gnarr struggled to raise himself up and crawled on all fours across a wide stretch of desert land where he could lay himself down and catch his breath. The water around him was warm and milky white, much like what his mother once gave him each morning. He was tired and hungry; his eyes could barely stay open. But, they remained open just long enough for him to see the early stages of the waning moon. Its various shades and textures formed familiar faces that appeared to speak to him. He stared at it for quite some time. A blanket of calm and insight draped itself around him. Measured, he reached out toward the heavens with an open hand, plucked the moon from the sky and plunged it into his pool of milk. "Mm...peculiar," he muttered, his utterances sailing off into the starry sky. "Tasty."
Savoring its nooks and crannies, he licked the cookie's sides and dipped the waning moon back into the milk until it fell to the bottom. "Gulp!" He drank every drop of the moon milk and soon fell asleep in the black night. •