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Painted Skies

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1.
The classroom was silent, dark, cold. Just seconds before, all the students that occupied the bland desks had a stylus in their hands and a digital test out in front of them. Now, they each lie under their desks, waiting in anticipation for the worst to happen. As soon as the first pulse ran beneath the feet of the students and their terrored faces were lit with a bright orange glow, the blast curtains were pulled and all the students scurried to safety under their desks.  The windows were cracked, and the warning sirens were blaring loudly outside the school. Flora Morrison lay beneath her desk, holding her breath, feeling the ground beneath her pulse a second time.
Thirty seconds after the first pulse, the classroom “Evac Crew” barged in, ready to have the opportunity to complete their jobs. Row by row, the men and women of the Evac Crew quickly handed each student a small, portable gas mask for their safety. Flora had difficulty putting hers on, much like she always would when having their drills. Luckily, a kind woman wearing a bright yellow jacket from the escorting team assisted her with putting on her mask before quickly leading the children outside of the classroom. The class followed the woman in the yellow jacket in an orderly fashion out to the schools bunker that lied a few feet outside of the school's front entrance.
Immediately after walking outside, Flora looked up at the orange tinted, smokey sky. The beautiful watercolor sky frightened her, but it also amazed her with beauty and wonder. The overwatered colors mixed in ways she’d never seen before, changing the rest of the atmosphere around her. All around in the far distance, trees and homes were burning, sending dark grey plumes of smoke into the air. The atmosphere outside burned Flora’s pale arms, and she took deep  breathes from her gas mask and lowered her head to watch her feet. She counted her steps till she reached the bunker. 1...2...3..4... after the 14th, one of the Evac Crew members lifted the heavy metal door and quickly huddled the children inside and down a set of stairs that led into the bunker. 
The inside of the bunker wasn't anything spectacular, simply a concrete structure with hundreds of white blinding lights hanging from the low ceiling. A large “3 of 8” was neatly printed with white paint along the brown colored walls, meaning that Flora was in the 3rd bunker. The numbers 1 through 52 were painted along the floor in white paint; half of them already occupied with a child seated on them.  Flora followed the other children from her class to one of the Evac Crew members who gave her a number, assigning her to a seat in the middle of the quiet sea of children. She sat crisscross on the floor and subtly looked around. Nobody said a word. Silence filled the bunker despite it's large size. The occasional sniff from someone crying and the squeak and slam of the entrance door was present every so often. The medical team in bunker 3 moved from each student, injecting them with a dull orange colored shot before moving along to the next. This wasn't the first time the students had to come down there. Ever since a war was evident to begin, schools and other federal buildings were all required to have bunkers within 20 feet of their building. The children would always have drills, so everybody knew exactly what they had to do. However, this time it was different.
This time, it was real.
When the last painted number on the hard floor was occupied by a student, two members of the Evac Crew closed the heavy door, separating the kids in bunker three from the watercolor world outside. As soon as the door slammed shut, another pulse, which sounded closer to them now, shook the ground, taking the lights out with it. The room filled with shrieks and sobs, the Evac Crew tried calming the children, and  Flora closed her eyes tightly. Her mind was rushing with fear and anxiety, a mental list of the people she loved and cared about and questions regarding whether they were okay or not. The lights came back on after the generator was brought to life, and Flora wondered whether they were all safe or not.

 


2.


An Evac Crew member walked out in front of the 50 children, introducing herself as Terisah, the head Evac Crew member for bunker 3. She stood confidently, spoke robotically, and through her body language, she showed a great amount of strength. Calmly, with her monotone voice, she explained the situation outside of the bunker to all of the children seated before her. Flora listened carefully, intently, wanting to grasp as much useful information as possible. 
Terisah explained to the group of kids that Washington D.C had just been bombed. A hushed whisper erupted out of the crowd, along with a few sobs. “The school is just 26 miles out of the radius of the bomb. We’re all safe for now, but evacuation is mandatory and it will begin within the next 2 minutes.” Teresa's once confident face had softened, and ever so slightly showed fear and uncertainty. Flora knew exactly why she was concerned. Numerous times she’d been sat down by her parents and had conversations about what was going on around them in the world. Her generation lived in a society filled with fear; each passing day alive was a miracle. As Terisah explained the evacuation procedures, Flora’s breathing intensified, and a nauseous feeling erupted in her stomach. Her mind exploded with questions, making her anxiety and stress worse. She had been prepared to be in a situation like this, but she never expected it to become a reality.
All around Flora, students began sitting up and quickly making their way to one of the exit tunnels, ruining the orderly fashion they once had. Flora knew that she must remain calm, as fear had began to take over everyone, and she knew very well that fear could kill you.


3


It was mandatory for all of the students in Flora’s middle school to keep their gas masks on until they reached their drop off destination. 7 packed school busses with 3 kids to a seat made their way 80 minutes from their middle school to a nearby high school in a safe zone out of potential harm or radiation. A crowd of parents were waiting outside to pick up their children, and for a school of 432 students, there was a large majority of adults. When the busses screeched to a halt, all the children jumped up into the aisle, eager to get out. An Evac Crew member waddled out of his seat and to the front of the bus, holding a large basket. “Please return all masks into the basket before you exit the vehicle,” he said in a smooth, bland voice. “Those of you who cannot find you parents, please find your way to the nearest Evac Crew member for assistance or to be taken to the school's gym to wait for their arrival there.”
The bus door screeched open, letting in the cold September air. The children occupying the bus exited as quickly as possible, and ran into the sea of parents to try and find their legal guardian. Flora sat in the front of the bus, so she was one of the first ones off. Immediately after her small feet touched the concrete, she spotted her mother in the front of the crowd, looking around. Without saying a word, she ran up to her, engulfing her into a hug. Surprised at first, her body tensed up, before softening when she realized her daughter was safe. “It's okay, everything’s alright,” she softly said as she pat the yellow hair on her head. “Let’s get out of here alright? We can’t get back into the city, so your father and I have rented a hotel room until we can figure something out.” Flora looked up at her mother for the first time since she’d left for school that morning. Her green eyes were puffy and red, remains from her crying earlier in the day. Flora nodded her head, and walked with her mother to their black pickup truck.
Flora hoisted herself into the truck and buckled herself in. She wasn’t too aware of much that happened earlier in the day, but she figured her parents would sit her in front of the hotel rooms tv to gain some information over the situation.
The car ride to the hotel felt like a long trip. Flora and her mother remained silent like they typically would on any normal day. Flora’s gazed remained outside of the window, staring at the blurred world outside her window. The sky was grey now, smoke and ashes littering the road and windshield like snow.
As soon as Flora's mother parked the car in front of a hotel, Flora’s father ran outside and gave his daughter a big hug, happy to be able to see her again. He then quickly ushered her into the building while her mother scrambled to find her keys to lock the car door.


4
“We have just been informed, that after the Syrian attack on the White House, the president of the United States is no longer with us…” The Vice President said,  breaking terrible news to the entire world. Flora’s mother erupted into tears at the announcement, and her father leaned forward in the arm chair in which he was seated. “A 68 mile radius has been set up for all the locations attacked today, and all access within that 68 mile radius has been denied. Rescue teams have been released into the areas, but there isn't much that can be done.
The United States of America’s survival is currently at risk, but issues regarding the situation are currently being dealt with. We assure you that we are all doing everything possible to keep our-” Flora had enough. She was aware that her life, and everyone else's, was at stake. She didn’t see the purpose of sitting inside in fear waiting on good news that may not even come. Instead, she would rather enjoy the beauty of her life and the world around her while she was still alive to see it.
With an open mind and a thick blanket, Flora made her way out of her hotel suite without her parents noticing; their eyes too attached to the tv in front of them. The suite door automatically opened and quietly shut behind her, and she made her way down the quiet narrow hallway to the elevator. When she finally made it out onto the rooftop, the cold air instantly slapped her face, and she felt her cheeks slightly begin to tingle. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, she sat down and looked out to the horizon. The sun was just beginning to set, but it wasn't visible through the thick smoky clouds that were still filling the sky; despite the fact that Flora was already in a town just beyond Gettysburg Pennsylvania; about 70 miles away from her hometown of Gaithersburg Maryland.
A five-story high view is not the most scenic, but Flora was still able to gaze over the small town. The streets of the small town were lit with the headlights of cars, all of people rushing out to go seek shelter elsewhere. Flora figured by now, her parents were both already planning somewhere for them to go next. She was aware that they were soon to be out of money, they didn’t have a home to go back to, and the nearest relatives were all the way up in Ohio. However, instead of deciding to focus on the bad, Flora breathed in a breath of smokey, cold air and continued to look at the horizon of lights.
Just below her in the 400 room hotel, families—some including kids from her own school—were all huddled around the tv in their suites. Her parents were in a heated argument without her there, bickering over what to do next. Other individuals, who unfortunately had to evacuate their homes due to the other numerous bombs spread throughout the US, were fighting for their own survival as well.
For the past three years, the US had been struggling with other countries outside it's borders, and for years everyone had been preparing for attacks. However, nobody expected when they would come. Syria and China had officially declared war on the United States, and there was nothing they could do about that. Medical services were dwindling, and many couldn't get the proper medical attention that they needed. Millions had already been killed, and the worst was yet to come. Much to Flora’s dismay, she was aware that mass panic was beginning to spread like an infectious disease.


5
Nine sunrises after Syria had first attacked the United States, a full out war was raging. People all around the country were being drafted, killed and terrified to death. Within those 9 days, Flora’s parents decided that with their decreasing money, it would be best for them to leave the town of Gettysburg and travel 500 miles west up to an aunt's house in Columbus, Ohio. The trip would take roughly two days - maybe more.
The small family left early on the morning of September 23rd, taking nothing with them but a small suitcase to share between the three of them. When they walked outside, the sun was just now starting to peak above the horizon. The sky was still filled with dark clouds, and it upset Flora that she wasn't able to see the beautifully painted sky that lied behind.
The Morrisons piled into their car and began their long drive to Flora’s aunts house, who they were hoping would welcome them with open arms. There were major risks that Flora's parents talked to each other about when they were out of earshot. They figured that Flora wasn't able to hear them, that she was too distracted by the sunday morning cartoons on the tv in front of her. However, she looked past the moving pictures and listened to her mother tell her father in a hushed whisper, just how scared she was.


The usually isolated streets were piled with cars and the windows of houses had planks of wood boarded up on them. Flora gazed out  the window, and watched the horizon blur into a bundle of abstract art. With the soft rocking of the car along the pavement, her eyelids fell, and she was asleep.


6
The pastel colors of the sunset were bleeding through the sky. The wind was blowing through Floras yellow locks as she raced down the hill on her bike, red and yellow leaves raining down from the sky all around her. To her left, an insect was buzzing along the wildflowers. A laugh escaped Flora’s lips as she began to race the insect on her way home. Floras feet stopped petaling, her eyes closed, and she extended one arm out into the wind, holding on tight to the handlebars with the other.
When her wheels came to a stop on the pavement, Flora dismounted her bike and parked it behind a big oak tree. She made her way through tall yellow grass and wildflowers until she came to a field with nothing but beautiful colors of beautiful flowers. Flora smiled as she inhaled the chilly air. She went to lie down beside the floral maze and gazed up at the canvas that the sky was painting above her.
Many kids found entertainment and happiness in friends, hobbies, television or games, or sports. Flora however, was content when she did whatever it took to make herself happy. She didn’t talk much, nor did she surround herself with too many friends. Instead, she surrounded herself with the beauty that the world had to offer her, and she took it all in as much as she possibly could. She may not of lived the best life, or had the best relationship with her family, but she was happy, and that's the way she liked things.


Flora was awakened by the car coming to a stop and the window rolling down. She didn’t know how long it had been, but she guessed not more than a few hours, as the sun was still gleaming through the grey clouds in the sky. A man dressed in a green camo suit leaned into the window and began talking to her father. Flora rubbed her eyes and looked out of the glass to see where they were. It wasn't her aunt's house, and she knew the place they were at couldn't be good. Instantly, she wished she was back in the beauty of her dream.


7
The man at the gate wouldn't let Flora’s father continue going to Columbus, as most of the state was in a “No Access Zone.” Saying they had nowhere else to go, the man just smiled and said, “Luckily for you guys, you’ve found one of the few Refugee Camps.”
Her father, after given instructions,  drove the truck deeper into the camp until they reached tall white walls that seemed to stretch far into the horizon. Another man dressed in US Army attire pressed a button and opened a gate to let the family of three enter. The area, maybe the size of two football fields, was filled with bright green grass, yellow and orange flowers, and women and children with smiles on their faces. Nowhere did Flora see beds for the people to sleep; just people walking, running and playing on the grass and zigzagging stoned pathways.
An officer came to the car and talked with Flora’s dad through the window, while another came and took Flora and her mother with him. They exited the car and he brought them into a small brick building that appeared to be an office and began explaining to the two that where they were was safe. Flora didn’t necessarily believe they were “safe,” but her mother looked relieved, so Flora decided not to say anything. He took the two into a room with a desk, and sat them in front of a lady who asked them a bunch of questions for a fairly long time. Eventually, after finishing procedural things, the man gave the two a key card and led them back outside to giant metal doors that rested in the ground.
“Welcome to Checkpoint B!” He exclaimed. “We have facilities like this spread throughout the US, all connected with underground tunnels. It’s like a new society, safe from war and destruction. There are metal doors like this spread all along the grounds of the camp inside of the walls. You must not lose this key card, as you only get one. We eat every day at noon and 6 p.m, curfew for everyone is at 10…” He continued to tell the two of them rules, but Flora’s mind was elsewhere. Eventually he led the two of them inside the bunker and to a small room, smaller than the hotel they were in about 5 hours ago.
He left with a farewell, Flora’s mother fell onto the bed and quickly fell asleep, and Flora walked out of the room, wanting to check the place out.


Although the sun was beginning to rest beneath the horizon, it still burnt the skin on her pale arms. She squinted her eyes and wondered where to go, as all there was around her was simply grass, flowers, people, and army officials. Standing there in the open, Flora mentally scrolled through a list of things she could possibly do to get her mind off of the harsh world raging all around her. She couldn't exit the compound, she didn’t necessarily want to talk with anyone she was unfamiliar with, but she was curious. Where was she currently at? Why is this facility located in the middle of corn field Ohio? Her mind raced with questions until she became very much aware of something. All around her, as the sun was falling beneath the horizon, people began to make their way back inside to catch dinner. All around she saw the faces of women and younger girls and boys. Panic sparked inside of her, and a nauseous feeling erupted in her stomach. Along with all of the other fathers, where was hers?


8


Flora wasn’t necessarily close with her mother, but she had always felt a much stronger relationship with her father. Worry began to run a marathon through her veins, she hadn't seen him once they got pulled out of the car to come into the compound.
Her black high tops clicked along the concrete as she ran down the corridor, trying to find the room her mother was in. The lights hanging from the ceiling were bright, reminding her of the same underground bunker she was shoved into along with all of the other students from her 6th grade class. The grey walls and blocky brown doors made her feel like she was in a prison, only increasing the queasy feeling swelling inside of her.
When she finally made it to room 116, her mother was still lying in bed, quiet snores escaping her mouth. She was worn out, and finally able to sleep soundly since being told her and her family were safe. The loud clatter of Flora quickly opening the door woke her mother with a startle. “What’s going on?” She asked sitting up quickly, her voice slightly groggy, but still full of worry.
“Have you seen dad yet? I don’t think he’s come in since he was taken to park the car, and I’m really starting to worry about him.”
“Flora, They’re probably talking to him right now, telling him protocols and rules, just like what they told the both of us.” Flora groaned, her mother obviously not understanding her.
“But then what explains the la-”
“Flora!” Her mother interrupted her. She got up from the bed and grabbed her daughter's shoulders before looking into her golden brown eyes. “There’s nothing we should be worried about right now, all that matters in this world currently is that we’re safe. Yes, I am worried about your father currently too, but it’s also only been an hour and a half since we since we first got here. It took an hour to answer their silly questions and at least 15 minutes to go through protocol.” She paused and brought her arms back to her side. “Let’s go get some dinner now alright? And if we haven't seen him by morning time tomorrow, then you and me will go to look for him, alright?”
Flora’s eyes were filled with tears, but she refused to set them free. Instead, she simply nodded her head. Her mother looked at her with a small smile before putting her arm around her shoulders, and walking over to the door. Her fingertips just barely brushed against the metal door knob when the floor began to shake and a pulse ran throughout the veins of the earth.
A scream escaped both Flora and her others lips as they both fell to the floor due to the profound shaking all around them. The concrete ceilings were cracking, and a thin sheet of dust was falling all around them.
After about 20 seconds passed, the shaking eased. Silence filled the room, and neither Flora nor her mother moved for a few seconds. “Are you okay Flora?” Her mother asked, getting a small “yes” from her daughter in reply. The two slowly stood up before a loud siren began going off, filling the atmosphere with a sense of terror. Neither of the girls knew what that siren meant, they’d only been in the compound for around 10 minutes. They were promised safety, but Flora expected they wouldn't receive it. Some things are too good to be true sometimes. Flora’s mother quickly grabbed her wrist and opened the door before running down the long corridor to the cafeteria—the place she figured people would be. Their shoes scoffed thin dust as they ran down the hallway, adrenaline ran through their veins, and fear motivated them to keep going. 


9.


One moment Flora was being dragged through the bunker by her mother, and the next she was screaming for her as she was being dragged out of her grasp, the tears finally freed from her eyes. By the time the two had made it to the common room, children were all being separated from their mothers and being put into an elevator, gas masks hiding each of their fearful faces.
“What is going on here?” Flora's mother yelled through the loud barrier of shouts coming from the people around them. She was yelling at the young man trying to take her daughter from her. “The area around us was just hit, and we need to take all the children down to our underground escape tunnels! It's not safe here, ma'am, and we’ll be coming back for all of the adults once we get the children to safety!”
“No!” Flora screamed, trying to free herself from the grasp the man with camo had around her wrist. “I’m not leaving her here all by herself! It’s either the both of us or none of us!” Flora had a river of tears streaming down her cheeks, the salty substance staining her face. The man loosened his grip on Flora’s wrist, but he didn't let go. He turned his head to look at the elevator behind him before looking back to Flora’s mother with worry filling his eyes. “They’re filling the last lift, please ma'am, it’s for the best.” The fear that filled his eyes told Flora’s mother that this was the last possible opportunity to save her daughter's life. She knew that the bus wouldn’t return, as there wouldn't be anything else to return to.
She made her decision quickly, nodding her head lightly, tears silently escaping her eyes, falling one after the other. “Momma no,” Flora said quietly, shaking her head lightly. “No, No, No! I’m not leaving you!” She was screaming at this point, kicking and hitting the man trying to once again pull her away from the only one she had left. “Flora, you need to go!” Her mother said, stepping up to her and kissing her forehead one last time. Her mother lifted her soaking wet chin into her hands and looked into her brown, bloodshot eyes. “I love you Flora,” she said, forcing a smile on her face to hide her fear before her daughter was dragged away from her. Flora was sobbing, screaming, scared, and losing hope.
Flora was shoved into the elevator with a bunch of other children when the man who took her handed her a gas mask. He sent a quick nod to the last of the children before stepping out of the elevator and pressing a button, sending the children closer to the core of the earth. When the doors opened, in a rushed fashion, the children were all loaded onto two yellow school buses and sent through a large underground escape tunnel to who knows where.
Everything was dark, everything was silent. Flora sniffed, the last of the tears had already escaped her throbbing eyes. In the seat beside her, the quiet voice of a boy spoke just loud enough for her to hear. “I didn't even get to say goodbye,” he mumbled. Neither did I, Flora thought to herself.
Twenty minutes passed before Flora’s tired eyes grew heavy, and before she knew it, Flora had unwillingly drifted into an uncomfortable sleep.


10.


When Flora opened her eyes, they were still driving. She remained silent and kept her emotions tucked away. Next to her, the boy woke with a jerk and a gasp. It made Flora jump, and she looked over to him to make sure he was okay. “Sorry, just a bad dream,” he mumbled almost incoherently. She exhaled, rather loudly, louder than she originally intentioned. Beside her, the boy shuffled in his seat before saying something to Flora.
“My names Liam, what's yours?” He asked her, still speaking with a quiet voice. Not much of a talker, Flora remained silent. He cleared his throat, trying to get her to respond in order to prevent the awkward silence. “Flora,” she said quietly after he sat there staring at her, annoyingly waiting for a response.
“I’d been in that place the day after the first attack went off in Washington,” he began to say. Flora tried to tune him out, but the next sentence sparked her curiosity, and gave her the opportunity to find answers. “My Mother was quick to rush my dad, little sister and I all the way here from Massac-”
“Your father?” She interrupted, turning to face him.
“Yeah? He was sent off the second we arrived…”
“What do you mean sent off?” Flora asked, her voice still hushed.
“You don't know?” He asked her, his voice falling. Flora shook her head. Liam breathed in.
“Anyone over the age of 16 is immediately taken to fight. It’s mandatory for them to be drafted...” he kept talking, oblivious to the worry in Flora’s voice.
“What do you mean?” She asked again, her voice cracking.
“It’s a real war going on out there, and they needed more men for the ar-” he stopped when she turned her head to face the seat in front of them, quiet sniffs escaping her nose. He couldn't see her face through the mask, but he knew she was crying. “They didn’t tell you did they?”
She shook her head.
“I’m sorry,” Liam said. “This whole thing is just a huge mess,” he sighed. “They’ve taken everything from me too.”
The two kids sat in silence. To Flora, Liam didn't appear to be more than 14 years old, alone in the world just like her. “What about your sister?” Flora dared to ask, breaking the silence between them. She looked over to him, and Liam remained silent, not speaking for about 45 seconds. As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted it. “You don’t have to tell me anything,” she said while turning back to face the seat in front of her once again.
“I watched her die of radiation,” he said quietly. “It happened while we were here. Apparently when we were driving here, since she was so much younger, only 5, it affected her the most.” Flora didn’t know how to respond. Sitting beside her was another individual who had lost everything important to them. His family. “I’m sorry about that,” she said.
“Yeah, me to,” Liam replied in a whisper as the bus came to a stop to refill on fuel.


11.


A day after constant driving, the children were all loaded off the buses.  Each one was paired with their seat partner and given a flashlight and 2 granola bars to share. It was still nearly pitch black in the tunnels, the only light was coming from the foggy headlights of the busses. One after another, all of the children lined up and began walking up a narrow staircase, afraid of what lied ahead of them.
In her mind, Flora wondered where her father was, if he fought the guards to have the chance to see his daughter again and say goodbye to her with a kiss on her forehead; just how her mother had said her final goodbye. Flora wondered if a nuclear bomb landed closer to the safe haven, if the bunker crumbled to the ground with all the crying mothers in it with a cloud of fire, destruction and death. She wondered how people all around the world felt, those who were neither allies nor enemies. She wondered if they were all huddled in the living room, a cup of hot morning coffee in hand, watching the devastation and the fall of the United States of America. What about the other people, sitting in the countries who were in the war with them—Syria, China, and now Russia. Were they fighting for their lives just as much as all the people around Flora were? Were they facing the same destruction, or was it greater or worse?
Her mind was racing, her heart was beating, and she existed. Flora knew she was alive, she knew all that she once knew was now gone, trapped and only existing as a memory. She knew the world was a more beautiful place, and deep down, there was love and peace among the destruction. She knew that above them, on the grounds of the earth, everything would be dead. The beautiful earth she once knew was now dying, and it was too late to do anything to save it’s beautiful life. All the flower fields she danced in, the freshly picked apples she ate, and the initials she caved into a maple tree beside her house were most likely gone. Just like her family, they’d remain a memory left to her thoughts.
A white blinding light cascaded down the staircase, and each kid had to close their eyes, as all they’d been used to for the past 2 days was simply a dim light. Liam, the boy next to Flora, had come quite close to the younger girl, a quiet person who he could easily relate to.
Stepping out onto the crunchy, ashy ground, gasps erupted from all of the children. All around them, death and decay was present. This was the first time many of them had seen the destruction outside. The sight brought tears to Flora’s eyes, and she couldn't stand to look at her earth so broken and close to death. About 45 kids were standing on the lawn of what was once someone's home, but what was now full of nothing. The kids were instructed to move quickly, as radiation would shortly begin to infect them if they stayed out for too long.
The group of children were quickly escorted by foot to a steel building off in the distance. With a quick walk, the group made it there in under a minute. Block letters reading “CHECKPOINT D” were written over the top in peeling white paint. Two people in white radiation suits were waiting outside, inserting a shot into the children's veins before they entered the building. Flora remembered when the Evac Crew at her school gave them similar shots, and she assumed they were to protect them from the effects of radiation.
The air outside felt cold on Flora’s arms, and the clothes she had worn since the morning of September 23 were now tattered and dirty. Even through the mask that covered her fearful face, she could still smell a strong, smoky aroma. The sky was still littered with grey clouds of smoke, and the sun was casting an eerie orange glow to the atmosphere below it.
Flora was shoved into the steel building—rather harshly—and taken with the others to a staircase. Liam and Flora walked alongside each other through a narrow hallway until they reached another underground tunnel big enough to fit a bus. This time however, it wasn't surrounded in darkness, but blinding fluorescent lights. The group of about 40 kids were loaded onto the two school busses, Flora and Liam both deciding to stay beside one another again.
The children on the bus remained silent as a few individuals wearing radiation suits boarded alongside them. The last one aboard stood at the front of the bus, standing in silence. When he spoke, his voice sounded light and bland. He explained to everyone that they were headed out to safety, off to a shipping port located in Portland, Maine. There, all of them, for their own individual safety, would wait for a ship to arrive to take them out of the country. “There may not be anything left of the United States within the next month, most of the country has been contaminated with radiation. We’ve had scientists go to numerous locations, and all around the US they have stated that most of the area is non habitational; and it may not be for a long time. It is now time for all of us to start again.” He bowed his head, and slowly, he made his way to a seat in the front of the bus.  Seconds later, the bus began rolling down the tunnel, the lights creating a strobe effect on the masks that protected the children from inhaling harmful substances.


12.


After a full day of driving, the buses came to a stop at the end of another tunnel. Once again, the children were loaded off the bus and brought up a dim lit staircase. They were blinded by the outside light of the world, and a humid, salty air engulfed  them upon exiting the bunker. Once again, an ashy blanket littered the ground around them. In the distance, Flora could see the tops of ships which had yet to flee the destructive world. “I went here once,” Liam said to Flora as they were making their way to another metal building off in the distance. “I was with my family for thanksgiving holiday.” They passed destroyed houses, all which had burnt to the ground. The grass was black and crunchy. Dead. Just like everything else around it.
When they got to the building, they were once again greeted with another orange colored shot. In silence, they were all led deeper into the bunker, and led through a maze of walls to a room filled with bunk beds. Liam was separated from Flora at this point and taken to another room with all of the other males. Once they had left and a heavy looking door had been tightly closed, they were instructed that they could take off their masks. When the heavy object that had covered her face for the past 2 days had been lifted, her face breathed and felt refreshed.
They were then all told to get into bed and rest. The bunk beds weren't the best, but the soft surface under her body comforted her, and it reminded her of home. She shut her eyes, not even close to tired. In her mind however, she dreamed and imagined life the way she wish it had been.
Safe. Secure. Happy.


13.


Early the next morning, the sun peaked over the thick clouds for the first time in a while. It turned the grey clouds purple in the morning sky, but there was nobody present to see it. Everyone who remained had to of been hiding underground, if not, they wouldn't be alive. Gone to the world, gone to humanity.
The children were all allowed to sleep in, their sleeping bodies woken at noon that day. The girls were all taken together to eat breakfast and to have a shower, although the water was fairly cold. Afterwards, they each took turns going to a nurse and getting a checkup. About 6 never came back from her office. When asked what happened to them, those in the hazmat suits would simply say they were sick and needed to be treated.
Flora stayed silent and to herself throughout the day, wanting nothing more than to see her family again. She knew she wouldn't be able to, her mother was most likely gone, and her father in another country fighting for the protection of the daughter he hoped was still alive.
After dinner, the girls were taken to another room in the underground bunker, another room lightly lit with blinding fluorescent lights. Here, they were told by a woman that the next ship wouldn't come till another week, and they were fearful because they couldn't estimate how much time they had left. One nuclear bomb within a 6 mile radius of the bunker would send it crumbling in on itself.
“We’re going to do the absolute best that we possibly can, and we pledge that our main goal here is to ensure your safety. We just need you all to understand the importance that when that ship gets here, we need to load and then leave. It is one of the last scheduled to leave the country, and the last chance that anyone under here has for surviving.” Her voice was strong and well spoken, her words made Flora think she was an important figure in the facility despite telling them her name or occupation. Everything seemed to be kept a secret. “It will be a long and challenging ride to wherever it is we’re going,” She began saying. “There is a war raging around us, one that a small group of people like us can’t fight. We need everyone's help along the way, and all of us here ask you all to follow instructions and do what you're told until we reach safety. We thank you for your time and participation,” she said loudly before turning around and walking out a door. The door shut loudly, engulfing the room in an ominous echo.


14.

It had been 2 days since Flora had seen Liam or any of the other guys that came with her and the other girls. She wondered if they were sent out to fight, knowing that most of them wouldn't survive a day. Foot shortages overtook the country, and most of the food above ground was too contaminated to consume. Due to the lack of food, most of the children that she came here with were nothing but skin and bone. She worried most about Liam, the only one she was familiar with. Even though she didn't know him well, she still felt a connection, and she hated not knowing where he possibly was.
At lunch the next day, she had asked someone in a hazmat suit where the others were taken, but unsurprisingly, didn't get a reply. It wasn't till she lied to him, saying she was looking for her brother that he finally sighed and gave in. He lifted a walkie talkie from his belt up to where his mouth was behind the suit and pressed a button on the side. “Commissioner I have a little girl here from 102 asking if she is allowed access to see her brother from the group she came with.” Flora and the man stood there in silence, waiting for a reply.
A female voice was spoken through the speaker, barely audible due to static. “Okay, grant her access to visitation in 1340.” The man in the suit motioned for her to follow him down a hallway and to a pair of doors which he had to swipe a card to unlock. He led her through a maze of rooms into one that was filled with tables and chairs. He asked Flora what her brothers name was before instructing her to wait where she was before disappearing through another set of doors.


By the time he came back, Liam wasn't in sight. Flora raised her head to look at him questioningly. “Come with me please,” he said, his voice bland and empty of emotion. The two walked down another long corridor until they reached a room. There was an odor to it, reeking of vomit. Flora had to breath from her mouth to prevent puking. Numerous beeps echoed throughout the long room, and rows of white curtains lined the walls. There were single beds lined up behind the curtains, and people with red burnt skin lying inside of them, motionless. Heart monitors beeped all around her, and a sickening feeling erupted inside of her stomach.
The man in the hazmat suit led Flora to one of the beds, opening the white stained curtain and letting her in. There in the bed, she gazed down upon Liam's motionless body, bandages wrapped all around his arms. His chest rose and fell ever so slightly and the heart monitor beside his bed continued to beep, indicating for the time being, that he was still alive. Flora didn’t understand why she wanted to see him so bad, but it was something she felt she needed to do. She never dealt with death very well, and just by looking at him, she knew he didn't have much time left in his short life.
Tears filled her eyes, and the man in the hazmat suit backed out of the small space and closed the curtain to give her privacy. “Liam?” she said with a crack to her voice. She couldn't fully see his face, wet bandages and ice packs were littered all over his skin. He had brown curly hair which was wet with sweat, and bushy eyebrows resting above his closed eyes. She couldn't see anything else. After she spoke, his eyes hardly opened, squinting at the figure in front of him. “Flora, is that you?” He asked, the words hurting his throat like bullet wounds. All over, he felt like he was on fire, a bad sunburn slowly eating him alive.
“Yeah, it's me,” she said, “ how're you doing?” She wiped the liquid slowly beginning to fill in her eyes.
“Please don’t cry, Flora,” he said speaking slowly. “I'm fine, doing fine. Just tired that's all,” he said his eyes closing. “I just need to rest...I’ll speak to you shortly…” his voice was in such a whisper, that she could barely hear that last sentence. A tear ran down Flora’s cheek as she forced a smile on her face and softly said, “good night, my friend.”


Flora never saw his face, never saw the color of the iris in his eyes. The face with a gas mask is all she’d ever come to know. The two had only known one another since the first day on the bus, but they never separated once. Flora hardly spoke, but she allowed Liam to ramble to her because it was a good distraction from the loss around her. At the time, she often times found his presence annoying, but now, shed give anything to have it back.  He was a great storyteller, and it was a shame he would never grow up to share that with the world.


15.


Five days after Liam's last breath, a large cargo ship finally sailed it's way up to the harbor beside the large underground bunker community that Flora was hiding in with about 200 other people. When the news first came out that it had arrived, the children were all rushed out of bed and quickly lined up with their gas masks on.
They were all taken up a flight of stairs, and the familiar light cascading down the staircase blinded their eyes once more as the door to the outside world opened. While they were standing on the burnt grass and remains of what was once there, a loud buzz began to sound in the sky, along with an orange glow in the distance. A faint boom could be heard, along with a shake to the ground beneath their feet.
Seconds later, the buzzing got closer and a plane soared over their heads before disappearing back into the clouds off in the smoky horizon. The sky was the same ashy grey color it had always been, and Flora was almost too caught up with her surroundings to notice the group of children and adults in hazmat suits running to the sea that lied a football field's length in front of her.
She saw the boat, she saw the freedom. She wanted more than anything to run to it, so she began to take off, her feet lightly thumping above the ground. However, she began to slow her pace until she eventually came to a complete stop about a fourth of the distance  between the sea and bunker. The thing that stopped her the most from proceeding was the fear that littered everyone's faces. Although shouts and whoops escaped their lips, and smiles were planted on their dirt covered faces, their eyes still gleamed with fear. She turned around and looked back at the bunker, she wasn't the last one out. Many adults in hazmat suits and children were slowly walking up the staircase, their arms full of supplies. She returned her gaze to face the crowd of about 60 people running for the ship, they were about three fourths of the way there by now.
Something inside of her told her to scream for them to stop, but she knew they wouldn't hear her. She knew it would be pointless. The excitement was pumping through their veins, and the thought of freedom was a few strides away. Nothing was stopping them. Nothing could. That is, until a little boy, one so full of pride, stepped on the wrong spot in the sand, his toes plummeting into the warm sand. The ground along the coast was littered with explosives in hope to prevent the enemy from entering, not to prevent the Americans from leaving.
The first thing Flora felt was the cloud of air that blew in through her golden yellow hair. Next, her hands found their way around her ears, the loud boom vibrating through her bones and brain. A loud ring began to sound in Flora’s ears as the wind from the explosion violently pushed her to the ground.
With her eyes closed tightly, her hands covering the ears that dripped with a sticky red liquid, and her body curled in a ball, she began to feel a sensation of warmth next.  A warmth that grew to a strong stinging feeling, one which spread all throughout her body. She screamed in agonizing pain. The blast was far enough away for her to avoid death, but not the burns that followed. She knew that if she didn't get help soon, then she would die.
She threw off her mask, and her eyes watered profusely. She began to scream and sob, knowing of nothing else better to do. With her face so close to the dry earth, she inhaled deeply, taking in a lungfull of ashed that bunt her throat. She had never once felt pain so great as what she felt now.
Flora was unable to move her body, the pain was increasing too fast. Tears stopped flowing, drying on her cheeks. Her breathing slowed, becoming shallow. Her throat burned with a stinging sensation. All around her, the screams of others began to fade. She managed to open one of her eyes, and there in front of her lay a single shard of green grass, one that had somehow managed to survive the attacks thus far.
Not long after Flora had fallen to the ground, rain began to fall around the beach and facility, slightly soothing the burning sensation racing along her body. Her mind raced with her memories, her family, her earth; the one she loved so dearly. Humans were the ones that brought an end to human kind and soon, earth itself. Shortly, there would be no more fields of flowers, no more green forests, no more life. No more fresh rain to fall and create the growth of life.
Around her body, she felt the ground soften, and the puddles deepen. A loud noise shook the sky, along with a bright flashing light. Even though Flora’s eyes were closed, she knew it was just the sound of thunder. She thought she felt contact along her burning skin, and as her mind started to slip into unconsciousness, she was lifted off of the wet ground. However, Flora wasn't thinking about that. She was thinking about what got her into the situation that she currently faced. Fear and hatred drove the world to destruction. And Flora knew very well, that fear could kill you.




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