The LostThe television flickered and burned to life. The generator was finally kicking in following that dreadful power scare. I let my muscles loosen after a tough last day at school and attempted to ignore the resonating thunderstorm that plagued the outside world. Here in this room, among my family, I would be safe.
My parents were cuddled against one another and I couldn’t help smiling whenever I glanced to their chair. My mother, a town beauty with gorgeous long and brown locks, fit with bangs,
Finally, my brother, Zach, rocked in the chair that had once belonged to a great aunt of mine, not related by blood. She had been the second wife to my great uncle, who had lost his first in a car accident. Nevertheless, this woman had practically raised me, what with her beyond-human math skills and her great insight into literature. If not for her, I would have failed more than two subjects in high school.
Zach turned his blue eyes to me when he caught me looking, giving me a death glare. I stared him back to show that his two senior years above me gave him no right to treat me like a little kid. Besides, I was off to college in three months. He needed to learn a lesson.
When our battle died down, with us ending in a tie, I felt the right side of my mouth twitch. Looking back on the insane five-second old staring match, I found it funny how childish I could still be. For a second, I thought that, maybe, I didn’t belong in college quite yet; then I remembered that my brother was doing fine where he was, so I had nothing to worry about.
Suddenly, a blue screen of death replaced the picture my family was watching, and white fizzy lines appeared horizontal across the screen.
“Another power outage?” My father exclaimed. He shook his head with disbelief. “Amazing.”
He started to stand when the screen changed yet again. An image of a newsman appeared, he seemed quite hysteric in his motions and twitching eyes. “A great battle is brewing,” He was saying, and I frowned, thinking of my brother and I with our staring battle, but the man went on. “As you know, the east and the west has always had their differences, but we fear that Antonio Barnett and Sergei Chzov are taking a step too far in their, shall we call it, game. They need to get their act together, differences aside, instead of spewing their anger in little skirmishes in the countries they are fighting to control. It seems like the Cold War, a devastating event for our ancestors so long ago, is raging again with no hint of an end. These superpowers are simply that—too powerful. We are all wondering the same question: are they too powerful to stop?”
The man paused to take a breath after his rant. Behind him, several figures were moving, but it was too dark to make them out. Perhaps he stood in front of a mirror for his emergency news. “You,” He said, “the people of America, must be warned. Be cautious. Step carefully. We’re afraid there might be the chances of a nuclear war. With the new massive nuclear weapons the countries have sought to make, the risk becomes higher. Us in the television emergency news cast apologize for any inconvenience caused, and we thank you for your time to listen. Good night.”
The television went blank. Zach reached forward and pressed the ON button. Outside, thunder and lightning, hand-in-hand, made a blinding light and a heart-quickening sound. Our television would not turn on.
Antonio Barnett, last president of the United States, and Sergei Chzov, last ruler of Russia—they were supposed to be the most promising of leaders, until the superpowers struck a disharmonic chord in their greed, fighting over the support of every country around them, for a time never thinking of others besides.
It shouldn’t have happened like this. If Antonio Barnett had simply ruled a few years later, or if Sergei Chzov had happened to get a seat in the government several years before… The simple choices, the mere chance of these two coming into power at the same time, both stubborn, both facing the same goals. They should have worked together, could have made the world a better place.
Maybe then I wouldn’t have woken up to find that every single person who had been inside the exhibition, watching an invention that may have made history, had turned to ashes.
Justin had disappeared, and I didn’t think it was because he had escaped from the wildfire of the nuclear explosion. No, his body had vanished like the audience, and only I had survived. Above me, on the board protecting my body, there was a flickering blue light, running in zigzags as it jumped around the large bulb. I tried to follow the light with my eyes.
Somehow, I managed to slip off the table. I shook off the pressurizing feeling of the soul extractor and swerved around the room, trying to find any sign of life.
Overhead, through the broken roof, I thought I saw a bird fly, tweeting happily among the chaos, but the creature’s figure disappeared before my eyes, so I thought I’d simply imagined its sight and sound.
I suddenly didn’t want to leave the exhibition. Behind me, the machine was in fragments, the four poles cracked and fallen. Struggling to grasp the disaster, I drifted out the nearly broken front door and stepped, slowly, out into the world.
I saw that it was no longer a world.
The grass was charred, the tables and chairs burned to crisps, the buildings shattered and fallen with black dirt and destruction spread vastly about. The college where my life had barely begun, completely wiped out of the face of the earth. Where was everyone? Had nobody survived?
“Help!” A trembling voice cried out. I weaved myself around in a full circle, searching for the source of the voice. It was so frightened-sounding, despairing and mourning as it echoed my shaking heart.
I called back, “I’m here! Where are you?”
The voice said again, “Please, somebody help me!”
“Come out from where you are!” I said. “Everything’s safe now.”
But nobody appeared, and the voice stopped calling. A sob wafted from somewhere, and I ran from torn building to torn building, peering beyond every corner, eyes wandering through fragments of what had just been who knew how long ago. How long had I been out? An hour? Two? Maybe a day?
I would have gone to my dorm room to grab the phone I had left, but the building was nowhere to be found, and I thought that maybe I was stuck in a maze until I remembered the blast of the explosion. Just as it destroyed my friend, it had destroyed my one source of communication.
Curse Barnett! Curse Chzov!
If they were dead, they deserved to be. They knew the implications of a nuclear war, especially after they tried to bomb China in 2071. Fortunately, the missile they had sent had somehow misfired and the bomb never went off. The Chinese government, then, almost declared war on the superpowers, it being a strong country in itself. And with their growing connections in Indonesia, a fourth world war may have occurred. I may never have been born.
“Hello!” I shouted as loud as I could. Within me, I felt a sort of emptiness as wind and air, hand-in-hand, ignored my calls. Nobody would answer.
“You’re over-packing, you know that, right?” Zach said. He flipped over some of my neatly folded shirts with a foot, which I knocked away with the back of my hand. “You’ll probably only wear half this stuff and end up buying another buck load of clothes.”
“Zach, if you’re only here to annoy me, then I would appreciate your leaving,” I said plainly.
“I’m not annoying you.”
I nearly laughed out loud. Shaking my head, I picked up the clothes my brother had unfolded and made them neat again, dropping them into my suitcase. “I get it,” I said. “You’re just going to miss your little sister too much. You can’t stand the thought of me in the real world. That’s sweet, Zach. I appreciate your concern. Spend as much time in my room as you want.”
Zach said nothing as I smirked, just stood there with his arms folded, tapping his foot while he tried to think of a good comeback.
“Kids!” My mother called to us. “Your father’s spaceship is about to take off. Come on!”
Zach and I immediately raced downstairs. My brother laughed. “She will never get over calling us kids.”
“No, she won’t,” I agreed.
The television was already turned on, and a news reporter explained to us about the new spaceship, ready for takeoff. It would reach Mars in just one month, where the crew, including my father, would be ready to explore and find the resources earth was starting to lack in numbers. They would be the third team traveling to Mars, but they would be the fastest.
“Is that it?” I asked, staring as, on screen, smoke spewed out from underneath a spacecraft that looked like a large pencil attached to a large pole. Orange flames licked the launcher, and I braced myself for takeoff. The news reporter had now gone quiet, and a mechanic voice took over.
“Yes, that’s it,” said my mother.
“Ten, nine,” The machine counted. I looked over the faces of my brother and mother with excitement, not caring that my father wouldn’t be here to say goodbye to me before I went off to college. “Eight, seven, six.” I wondered what my father was going through. It was his second time to space, first time to Mars. “Five, four, three, two.” He would get to levitate, float as if he had no weight. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Was he thinking of me?
Together with the machine, I whispered, “One.”
My father died about a week before I started school at college. Remembering his face brought tears. He hadn’t deserved that. Whoever ruled the world should not have taken him away. My mother had been devastated, wouldn’t leave her room for weeks. My brother had to take her place in bringing me here. I had to wonder if I had anymore family members left.
When the spacecraft took off, I’d had my complete faith in it reaching the skies, driving upwards until it was only a speck, and then, even further, it would entirely disappear. That didn’t happen. Like all things in this world, nothing ever went as planned. This was a disaster.
Coming to school, I had tried my best to forget the incident. I had tried my best to act as if my father was still alive, and he had made it to space. Either way, he wouldn’t be on earth. I thought sincerely that this plan would work. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Skyping my brother nearly every day was probably the only thing that kept me grounded.
That is, until I met Justin, that nerd of a boy. His awkwardness was what first drew me to him. I hadn’t thought anybody could be so engrossed in a book about science before him, and his stuttering amused me. He got the first smile out of me in weeks. Of course, he knew my father had died, but I always kept it to myself that his death was so recent.
It didn’t seem right to bring my old life into my new. I was in college, and I wasn’t going to be there forever. Slowly, but surely, I recovered from my shock. I was renewed for the better.
The debris in the air would have made me cough, but my mind wandered too far in happy memories for me to care too much about it. If I was the only person left in this world, even in my present state, I could make the best of it. Or maybe there would be a survivor or two, not in this school but far away. I would travel there then. I would find them and try to communicate, if it was possible. The world had so much technology. Surely they would discover my existence?
I started to count seconds, reaching a minute, then two, then ten, and I almost reached twenty when I broke down. No, I couldn’t. Twenty minutes alone and still I couldn’t stand it. I wanted my mother here to comfort me. I wanted to relive our debates and our arguments. I wanted to count up from my father’s death so that he wouldn’t be dead any longer.
Because, in actuality, I had counted down to his death.
And I was sure, somewhere far off, wherever the nuclear missiles had been launched from, those same numbers had been played by a machine, numbers that could have been halted, an incident that may never have occurred.
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two.
I whispered to myself in the desolate world. “One.”
I like to remember my time with David. During the earlier part of our relationship, he took me out to dinner. We sat there in the Italian restaurant silently without looking at each other, our eyes scanning the menus a waiter had brought to us only a minute before.
I wasn’t sure if I should try the spaghetti, or maybe the Italian roast duck. Several times, I felt the urge to look up, to see if David was maybe staring at me, but I kept my eyes averted from him, not wanting to deal with his piercing glare, not because he scared me, but because I didn’t want him to see me flushed red, biting my lips and trying desperately to slow down my heartbeat.
In the corner of my eye, I saw black-clad feet enter my field of vision and a voice saying, “You two ready to order?”
I shook my head, looking at no particular spot on the menu. David said, seemingly far away, “We’ll wait for the lady to make up her mind. Thank you.”
Finally, after keeping a smile from my face, I turned to face my boyfriend. David was staring softly, just as I had suspected. His eyes, a tender yet foggy grey, rested lightly on mine. “I’ll have the, um, Italian roast duck,” I said.
“I was thinking the same.”
After we had ordered and the menus, for a moment my safety, were whisked away by an invisible hand, I turned my attention away from the crowd around me, knowing they weren’t watching, and that they didn’t care who I was or what I liked to do. All that mattered was David.
“You’re always red when I look at you,” David commented lightheartedly.
I felt my face get even redder. “You are too,” I said, but I wasn’t very convincing, even to myself.
“You can’t expect anything else, David. Did you not hear my name?”
David laughed, which made me laugh, and the ice between us was broken. He took my hand from across the table and told me, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Rose.”
It was challenging, but I managed to eat somewhat neatly with one hand for three seconds, until David found that he couldn’t handle it, and he had to let my hand go. I hid my relief with an amused smile.
“I wished I’d met you earlier,” David said. “Why didn’t we ever run in the same circles? Our college is miniscule.”
“Nice vocabulary,” I told him. “Honestly, if you’d just taken, say, English literature or had come down to the sports department on Thursdays, we may have.”
We must have talked for hours that night. Even after dinner, we stayed with each other under the stars, holding hands while we walked through gardens and hallways, finally ending up in front of my room. It was just the two of us. The dorms were vacant to us.
David kissed me softly goodnight. “I don’t know if I can go an hour without you,” He whispered with a smile.
I squeezed his hand with assurance. “You’ll survive.”
It was as I was trudging through the ruined tennis courts that I caught my first glimpse of movement. It wasn’t like that bird in the sky. This was real, and in front of me. Someone was behind the glass door of the P.E. director’s office. Trying to get a closer look, I quickly drifted over to the door and peered inside.
When I saw who it was, my heart welled.
Natalya. I knew her long, dark hair, always in a ponytail, though now it was scattered about her shoulders and frayed. Her dark face was made darker with streaks of dirt, and I saw that she had a cut on her chin. Beneath that hair, her brown eyes were frantic, and her chest heaved irregularly. I banged on the door, but it was so frail I slipped right through.
Her sobs entered my audible range. “Natalya! Oh, you’re alive!”
She didn’t say a word, just kept on crying and crying and crying.
“Natalya! Look at me,” I said. “You’re not alone. I know you’re in shock, but look! I’m alive. We’re both alive. Natalya, please…” And then I was crying, streaming tears onto the carpet. I lifted my hand to wipe my face, wondering if I had lost my voice, when I went rigid.
A dank, hollow feeling seeped throughout my entire being. I tried to remember what it felt like to have a hand, or feet for that matter. I couldn’t even feel the tears on my face. My face. I reached up, but I simply couldn’t. It was like my body had taken one form and I couldn’t move a single muscle. Yet I could go from place to place with ease.
I could see everything around me. So what was wrong? Why did I feel suddenly so empty? Why couldn’t I feel myself except for my emotions?
I remembered the mirror the P.E. director kept on the wall. I could see it, hanging above Natalya’s head. With reluctance, I stood before, expecting to see a dirt-streaked face and red-rimmed brown eyes.
Instead, I saw a narrow bookshelf, piled with books on fitness and health, as well as a few well-known bestselling books that I recognized. Next to that was the start of a wall of certificates, either for the director’s participation in a tournament or his winning one. I made the motion of a gulp in my mind, though I knew it didn’t actually happen.
Tensed now, I swerved to see the picture behind me. I wasn’t surprised when the same shelf with its books greeted me, and the same certificates stared back. I was a ghost, and Natalya, oh poor Natalya, the true survivor here, was alone.
She must have stayed on the floor crying for hours while I watched, dazed just as she was. It was all Justin’s fault.
When Natalya’s tears stopped, and she finally got herself under control, I followed her outside the room, talking to her the entire time. “I know you think I’m dead,” I said. “But, really, I’m not. You’ll see,” I told her. “You know Justin was performing his experiment. You’ll figure out that I’m not dead. I’m just… separated from my body. I need your help Natalya. You can put me back where I need to be.”
My friend kept on walking.
“Natalya, don’t tell me you can’t even sense me. You were always able to before. It was like you were born with six senses! It was the one thing I was always jealous of. Come on…”
Suddenly, she turned and looked at me. Not directly, because I couldn’t catch her eyes, but it was as if she knew there was another presence, and she was trying to search for its source. Her eyes peered beyond me, and I moved so she was staring at me.
“Natalya?” I said.
Her eyes filled with recognition. “Oh my God! David!”
The name startled me and I turned with haste. A bloodied figure made his way to us, and I cried out in happiness. “David!” I said. “Oh, you’re alive. I can’t believe you’re alive. I thought for sure… I mean I thought with you being on a plane and all. Oh, David.” I almost gave him a hug, but his entire attention wasn’t even on me. I hung back, unsure.
Natalya ran the last few steps too him. “You’re okay! Thank God you are! What…? I mean, how…?”
It was exactly what I wanted to ask. In this case, Natalya did know what I wanted.
David said, starting shakily at first, “The plane crashed. We were supposed to land in an hour and the plane crashed. Everything was all right. I was on a plane with my parents and it was all okay. We were talking. We were comforting each other after the death of my brother, and then… There was an announcement warning us that something wasn’t right. The plane tilted sharply and there was a loud bang. I looked out the window and everything was swirling past in a blur. I felt myself rise. I saw fire. An engine had blown, they announced, and I thought it was all over. There were cries, I think, but I couldn’t hear because mine was louder. I thought my heart would give out. I… I thought I would get… get a heart attack, even at this age.” He tried to smile, but failed. “But I lived. Everyone died, but I lived. My parents… they… My parents were right… right next to me and I tried… they shouldn’t have… They were—they… were…”
Natalya, in all her gracefulness, grabbed David and threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. They both had tears streaming down their faces. My boyfriend, who I had never seen cry, even at the news of the death of his brother, was now breaking down right in front of me. And I could do nothing, because no one could see or hear me.
I cursed Justin and his experiments, and I saw the hopelessness of the earth. In the end, there were three of us crying our hearts out, for we had lost everything, and the world had lost its people, except for three. How could we survive?