Balance Part 1

“We’re going to have to run okay?  I’ll carry you, but you’ve got to promise you won’t look.  No matter what you hear, no matter what you feel, you have to keep your eyes shut extra tight and you can’t open them ’til I say.  Understand?”

“Yeth,” she said.

Screams sounded outside the door they hid behind.  A powerful humming vibrated the door and the walls.  He didn’t want to leave this uninhabited home, a quiet refuge amid chaos.

“Mithter?  Are we gonna die?  Like mommy and daddy?  I don’t want to die like them.”  Her eyes swam with fear and her diminutive body trembled as she tried to be brave.

Heart aching, he forced a smile, a lunatic smile, all twitchy and shaky, “You can call me Jack, remember?”

“Thorry.  I forgot.”

“That’s okay.  You ready to go sweetie?”

“Yeth,” she said and held up her arms with the type of trust only children have.

He picked her up and she buried her face into his chest.  He took a moment to build his courage before he opened the door.  He was hungry, thirsty, and he knew she must be feeling the same though she never complained.  He hoped they would find food where they were going.  He hoped they could still get in.  He never figured he would be in a situation with such uncertainty, where every decision would be a life or death one.  He prepared himself to open the door.  There was no way for him to know if they would make it ten steps before they were devoured alive.  If they tried to stay inside, they would find their way in.  Or, he and the girl would die from thirst and starvation.  Either option was untenable.

“Jack?”

Startled from his reverie, he smiled down at her.

“Yes?”

“Where are we going?”

“Someplace safe honey.”

“That would be nith.  Daddy thaid no place wath thafe.”

“Close your eyes now and when you open them, that’s where we’ll be, someplace safe.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and mashed her face against him.

They were so close.  It would be such a tragedy to die now, two hundred yards from safety.  He took a few deep breaths, opened the door, and ran out into a storm of swirling wings and sharp teeth.

***

Jack’s Fun Facts: It is estimated ten quintillion insects live on the planet.  That is a ten followed by nineteen zeroes.  There are two hundred million insects for every one person on the planet.  Those figures do not include spiders.

***

When he was a kid, Jack lived beside an eccentric couple his father referred to as those people next door.  His father knew their names, even spoke to them with civility, but at the dinner table he would narrate with rolling eyes and “Guess what those people next door are up to now…”  His father was in storytelling heaven for one month in the summer when those people next door were building something in their backyard.  During that time his father could be seen pretending to work on the garden or mow the lawn in the backyard while trying to peer through the slats in the fence and muttering unintelligible nonsense under his breath.  Jack’s mother joked that his father had never been so tanned and the garden never looked so good.  When his mother asked his father why didn’t he just go next door and ask what they were building instead of sniffing around the backyard like a dog looking for a place to crap, he just raised his eyebrows, feigned hurt feelings and said, “I’m not snooping!  There is a lot of work to be done!  I’m just being proactive about it so you don’t feel the pressing need to nag me.  Even though I know there is never a short supply of things for you to nag me about.”  His mother just glared at his dad with a knowing smirk on her face and arms crossed until his dad heard a noise from next door, perked his head up and hurried out back saying, “Look at that grass!  Amazing how quick it grows.”  Jack’s father stood by his silent electric mower and peered through the slats.

His mother ended the mystery.  She simply went over and asked the neighbors what they were building.  They told her they were building an emergency shelter.  A shelter that could protect them from airborne viruses, bomb attacks, natural disasters and anything else the dire apocalypse foretellers believed to be imminent.  His mother relayed her information to them at dinner with the glowing eyes of a gossipmonger while his father poked at his food in sullen silence.  His father had wanted to find out for himself, had wanted to prolong the mystery foreplay and Jack’s mother had ruined it for him.  Not in a mean way; she just wanted her husband to stop peering through the fence like some creeping, peeping Tom.  It was something Jack always remembered and it was the first place he thought of when disaster struck.

***

Jack’s Fun Facts: The African Honey Bee or ‘Killer Bee’ was created by man when an African bee was bred with a Brazilian bee.  Since their creation, they have killed well over a thousand people.  They attack in concert, engulfing the victim under a barrage of venom injecting stings.

***

He had been standing in a circle in front of a T.V. in the employee lounge with his co-workers. Vivid images of mass deaths occurring around the world flickered on the screen.  He worked in a high rise building and like so many that watch disaster occur on a screen, believed it could not touch him.  It was happening elsewhere; to other people.  They thought they were safe.  Screams sounded close.  Jack looked away from the TV, confused because the shrill cries sounded so near.  He remembered his parents and was frantic as he dialed their number.  The second thing he remembered was the shelter and hoped his parents were there. The phone continued to ring in his ear.

A buzzing noise filled and vibrated the room.  An amorphous cloud swirled into the office, blocking out the daylight from the windows.  A chorus of panicked yells and pained cries for help swelled in waves.  He fled the office, following the herd.  Jack had never known such fear.  His heart pounded blood in a violent rhythm.  He met Claire in those terrified moments, fleeing down congested streets filled with keening death screams, haunting pleas and eerie noises that rattled teeth, bones and viscera.

The streets were gridlocked with cars strewn about in chaotic patterns, like a toddler’s toy set.  Jack ran, not knowing where to go, just knowing enough to get away.  He weaved in and around cars, narrowly avoided being hit.  Cars honked in panic and fear pervaded the air, as tangible as the sweat on Jack’s brow and the tears on his cheeks.  His eyes roved, ricocheting between scenes of chaos while the incessant buzz filled the air and collected in his guts like a coil of cold snakes.  Cars crashed into cars, into people, crushing, ripping, tearing, and creating fountains of blood to rain down like red jewels in the sunlight.  Vehicles jumped over curbs and drove down sidewalks toppling people like bowling pins all in their haste to get away.  The streets filled with an orchestra of cries and pleas.  Through all of this, a sound so terrible, so filled with fear, broke through Jack’s survive-at-all-costs mode.  It was the scream of a small child.

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