Kimi wiped the corners of her mouth with a white napkin, her tongue still burning from the fiery sauce that flavored her chicken. Nando’s was full. Every wooden chair had a person sitting in it, and each table contained lively conversations and laughter that filled the restaurant. Kimi looked up and saw white oak beams hung from the ceiling, absorbing the warm sunset lighting that oozed out of the ceiling bulbs. The orange lighting transported Kimi back to the day trips she and her family used to take to Sandy Hook when she was little. In her mind’s eye, she saw the sunsets that she would always watch from the jagged rocks, Kimi remembered how fascinated she was when her father told her that the Earth was rotating around the sun. She stood completely motionless. She dug her brown feet deep into the sand, trying to feel the Earth’s rotation. Kimi lifted a corner of her mouth at the memory as she removed her dish from her table and placed it on the slate marble counter, where a worker in a shirt that read “It’s the people that make the chicken” picked up the orange plate in one swift motion and took it to the sink. Kimi walked towards one of the glass doors and leaned on it to open it, which took extra effort due to the cool gusts of November air blowing against the front of the restaurant. The strength of the wind surprised Kimi and nearly knocked her over. She took a moment to maintain her balance before attempting to push against the gusts in the direction of the Target near her townhouse.
She was soaked in late afternoon sunshine. Leaves rushed past her head as she resisted the frigid blasts of air that whistled in her ears. Her bobbed black hair was being whipped around behind her. While most people complained about such weather, Kimi loved it. Wind excited her, and walking against a strong gale made her feel invincible, as though she was laughing in its face and daring it to try to lift her off of her feet.
Her hands remained balled into fists in the pockets of her black leather jacket until she stopped at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the bulbs in the sign across the street to light up in the shape of a walking figure. She watched the cars as they passed, listened to the rolling of the tires against the pavement. The sun had set during her walk, and D.C. had begun to shine. Signs on stores and places to eat glowed in the darkness of the evening. The street was filled with the babble of city dwellers and tourists alike who strolled in the rays of artificial light from streetlamps and shop windows. Kimi’s ink-colored ripped jeans didn’t provide much warmth for her knees, and the silver sliders on her coal-colored high tops clinked against the zippers as she half-heartedly jogged in place in an attempt to warm herself up. As soon as the sign lit up, Kimi’s lanky legs propelled her to the other side of the street, where the two-story Target awaited her. She stepped through the automatic doors, searching her memory for the floor that the napkins were on, and breathed out a sigh of relief as the warmth of the store wrapped its arms around her.
She stopped walking, closed her eyes, probing her mind for where the napkins were, for God’s sake. And at the exact moment that she remembered that she needed to go to the back of the first floor, absolute silence suddenly enveloped her.
Kimi froze, not fidgeting at all. Her subconscious habit of wiggling her toes in her shoes ceased as if by the flip of a switch. She tried listening for anyone, anything, even the sound of the escalator whirring or the lightbulbs buzzing. Not a single noise. Too terrified to open her eyes, Kimi kept her mouth shut and tried to feel for the metal shelf that she knew was next to her. Her lengthy fingers gripped the shelf. Relief washed over her, and then disgust as she realized that the shelf she was touching felt sticky and smooth, almost like a slimy film. Kimi yelped and shook her hand, instinctively opening her eyes to see what she had been resting her hand on, and all of a sudden, where the napkins were didn’t matter so much anymore.
The shelf looked centuries old and was covered in cobwebs. It was no longer sleek, tan metal, but covered in dust and cobwebs, and was so decayed that it looked nearly grey. Kimi looked around, terror filling her eyes. The entire store was in the same condition as the shelf. The warm, welcoming Target Kimi had just stepped into looked as though it had been abandoned for hundreds of years and was completely empty. Not a single voice rang through the store.
She turned around to look through the windows by the ruined checkout lanes and didn’t see the lively street scene that had been there less than a minute earlier. The area looked like a ghost town. It was as though a tornado had hit, and nobody had bothered to clean up. There wasn’t a spot where debris wasn’t scattered. Cars were crushed and flipped over, buildings were unrecognizable and barely standing. All of the bright paint that once coated them had peeled away, leaving deteriorated, discolored bricks. Windows were shattered, and old signs were littered across the ground. Dark, black clouds crowded the sky. There was no sunshine, no light, no life.
Kimi went into a shocked daze as she shuffled emotionlessly out of the store and ventured outside. She pressed the home button on her phone. In the spot where the time and date would have been displayed was a single white dash. Her lockscreen, a photo she’d taken of Central Park before moving from New York City, had been erased and replaced by a blank black screen. Kimi turned on her phone’s flashlight, the only light she had to go by, and walked.
She had nowhere to go. There was no trace of human life anywhere. Kimi simply put one foot in front of the other, staring straight ahead, needing to move. She was the only person in that twisted, dark version of her planet. Nobody would save her.
She found her way back to the street right in front of the Target, whose liveliness that she had been a part of less than an hour ago had been ripped away from her. Kimi’s foot caught on something solid, sending her tumbling with a shout into the remnants of a shattered streetlamp. She landed on all fours, and the pain of her knees slamming into the broken glass jolted her awake from her trance. She squeezed her eyes shut as she tried rolling back onto her heels to stand up. The pressure being put on her cut-up knees brought tears to her eyes, and she felt them rolling down her cheeks as she finally picked herself up. She opened her eyes, looking down at her knees to assess the damage, and wiped away her tears with the back of her hand. Kimi looked back up, sighing, knowing that she’d never find bandages in the world she was in. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure before her. She lifted her head quickly, assuming that what she had seen in front of her was a human who had noticed her and had come to help. But human skin wasn’t grey, and human feet touched the ground, and humans… humans had eyes.
The specter cackled as Kimi broke down sobbing and screaming in front of it, screaming so loudly and desperately that her throat burned. Its long bony fingers rushed at the tender spots on both sides of Kimi’s neck, and snatched her towards itself. Kimi felt as though ice cubes were being poured down her back as the being pulled her nearer. The coldness radiating off the being became unbearable, so icy that it bit through the skin on her back. She tried to scream, cry out in pain, but she was choking on her tears and on her breath as the apparition’s claw-like hands pressed tighter and tighter around her neck, attempting to squeeze the life out of Kimi as though it were squeezing the juice out of an orange. The demon-like creature looked down at her, satisfied at seeing her feverish struggle and her blue face, and released her.
Air forced itself down Kimi’s throat. Her lungs filled so abruptly that everything around her spun and sent her crumpling to the ground, chest heaving. The moment that she regained her breath, Kimi rose and turned to face the phantom. She wanted to hurt it with every fiber in her being, but knew that it was more powerful. She restrained herself and resorted to begging for her life.
“I don’t know who… or what… you are,” Kimi gasped between inconsistent breaths. “But if you’re looking for someone, it isn’t me. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know why. I’m in some alternate universe where no one like me exists…”
Kimi’s anger dissolved as she realized the gravity of her situation. She had just nearly been choked to death by some sort of demon and was stuck in a desolate dystopian version of her world that didn’t seem to have an exit. Tears tightened her throat one more. Kimi looked at the Target from where she stood in the center of the road, longing to see it filled with light, never wanting to see light more in her entire life. Yet there she stood, at the center of the crosswalk, pleading with a monster for her life.
“I just want to go home,” she wept. “Please don’t hurt me. I don’t know anything. I don’t know…I just want to go home right now.” Kimi tried to compose herself, but she shook violently with fear, the forceful movements causing the cuts in her back from the freezing poltergeist to widen. She winced in pain.
The being broke into an malevolent smile that reached its ears. Its chapped lips pulled back to reveal rotting, black teeth. Kimi’s breath hitched at the sound of the wicked devil’s raspy voice as it pierced through her. It was a single word, but it held as much cold force as a blizzard.
Kimi looked at the being in surprise, opening her mouth to reply. Her lips prepared to form the words, “What do you mean?”
She spoke the words to air, for the ghost had disappeared, and her world was restored. Kimi was back in the real world, in the middle of the street in front of Target. Her heart felt joy beginning to seep in. Gratefulness overwhelmed her, and her breathing began to quicken in excitement as she took in all of the life around her. Kimi looked at every person, smiling from ear to ear. It took her a moment before she realized that they were all looking back at her, too, looking back at her and yelling, “GET OUT OF THE STREET! FAST!”
But the car hit her faster.