Smoke stung her eyes and nose. She put a piece of torn cloth over her nose and tied in behind her head. It would have to do, but with the oil and gasses, she knew it wouldn’t last long.
In the thick black sky, flames shot up into the air, seeking escape. Carcasses of burned vehicles were everywhere, including fire trucks and ambulances. People ran past her with their hands covering their ears. She heard only silence; her eardrums had burst from the first explosions.
They had been so powerful, windows and walls fell inward, like invisible hands pushed them. It looked like a movie scene. She’d hoped it was a movie scene, but another explosion had lifted and tossed her outside, leaving her crumpled under the burning trees.
She didn’t remember getting to the street, but somehow she had. People wandered about. Some dazed, like her, while others screamed. She couldn’t hear them, but her eyes watched their contorted mouths open as they ran.
She kept walking, trying to escape the putrid smell of burning bodies. In the distance, more explosions burst, like orange-red flowers. In her mind, the line from Dante played over and over again, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
This truly was hell and she didn’t know how to get out of it or even how deep it went. People passed her, but no one stopped, even though she reached out to them. Huge asphalt cracks opened up before her. She almost fell, but managed to make her way around them.
Tired and wanting rest, the endless heat drove her on. She hurried through an alley. Broken glass tore her bare feet. She ignored the pain; there was nothing she could do about it. Across her mind a thought flickered. This is “The End.”
They’d talked about “The End” for years, but no one had really believed it. Those who spoke of it were considered doomsayers and crazies. She didn’t know what had happened, but to her eyes, this looked exactly like they’d depicted it. Fear nibbled at her heart, making it stutter, but she pushed on.
Out of the alley, she walked to the one building still standing. It was made of old stone. While it had crumbled in places and smoke billowed from it, she climbed the steps anyway. They were worn down by age and green with algae and moss, but they cooled her feet. It was a hard climb and her breathing was ragged when she reached the top.
As she caught her breath, she stared at the thick wooden door. It was open, smoldering and hanging askew. Above the door was a stone plaque. Carved into it was one word, Bibliotheca. She looked in. Burning papers were blowing everywhere. In other places, books were ablaze. A red fire extinguisher lay on its side, obviously dead.
She stepped inside and almost tripped over a burning book. Using the cloth from her face, she put out the flames. Reaching down, she picked it up. It burned her fingers. She dropped the book. It fell open.
Most of the pages were blackened and unreadable, but when she squatted down, one half-burned page still had writing on it. Her eyes read the words, absorbing them. Then, she spoke them, even though she couldn’t hear. Her throat hurt with the effort, but she needed to do it.
“There will always be dark times, but when people join together sharing hope and wisdom, their spirits will ignite and lead them out of the darkness.”
She looked up and saw a small group of bedraggled people emerging from the smoke. They beckoned to her. All were covered in black soot and some obviously injured. But they smiled at her. She smiled back, even though her burned skin stretched in pain.
They were the survivors; already at the task of joining together and finding strength in the human bond. She stood and walked towards them. As she did, she thought, “It’s not the end. We’re alive. Together, we will survive this darkness!”
* * * * *
This is based on a prompt from Liz of The Writing Reader: Write a scene about a character’s reaction to a crisis. It fit a story I had started working on for another site’s prompt, but couldn’t finish. Thanks to Liz, I completed it. It’s definitely not my usual fare, but I hope you enjoyed it.
NOTE: I’m not a believer in doomsday prophecies, but I am a believer in hope and the ability of people to survive crises, whatever they may be.