Survival can be a matter of luck . . . Feeling lucky? (650 w) Nominee. 2020 Quill Awards.
The Lucky Ones
The twisted, red wheelchair lay on its side—it was grey a moment ago—its uppermost bent wheel rotated slowly. An alloy prosthetic limb lay nearby; its owner gone, vanished, or so it seemed.
Angry black smoke billowed from the fires towards the setting sun, and painted everyone and everything in the car park of the shopping centre, an eerie hue of dreary amber: an unnatural phenomenon rarely seen by most.
Mathew Slate coughed and rolled over on his side.
A loud ringing-silence obliterated all of his senses, except vision.
A girl's blackened shoe lay close to his face, feminine, grotesque in its singularity, alone and charred.
Where's the other one? he thought. They come in pairs.
He sat up, turned, and stared at it, trying to make sense of it all. Her cauterised foot was still inside.
Where's the rest of her?
Was this a surreal dream?
A vivid nightmare.
It had to be a terrifying nightmare. A bad dream you're relieved to wake up from: pleased to forget.
Where was he? Why was he here?
The list. The food-shopping list. It was in his hand just moments ago.
His eyes swivelled to his own smoking clothes. He patted at his attire with numb hands—a natural reaction—that's what you do when you're lucky: put-out the smouldering bits.
Tearing his eyes from the horror was impossible. They were everywhere he looked.
Screaming, burning, writhing people: the lucky ones. Others were dazed, sitting, staring, quiet. And some lay in bits and pieces, simply body parts, barely recognisable amongst the debris field of broken glass, twisted metal, concrete rubble, and crimson.
The unlucky ones.
One old man sat alone amidst the chaos, unscathed, or so it seemed, and he laughed: unbelievable. Mathew couldn't hear him but saw him, watched him laugh and bleed; everybody bleeds in their own unique way, and bleed they did, even the uninjured.
The smell—burning plastic, pulverised pavement dust, and a sweet odour he didn't want to recognise.
Mathew took a deep breath; sensations returning. His ribs ached on the left side; he felt sharp pain in his left elbow; blood covered his left hand and trickled warm from both ears.
He rose and limped to the nearest stricken woman. She looked depleted; one side of her face stark-white, the other sooty—with shiny tear-tracks cutting their way through the grime. She was sitting and staring at her legs, mangled from the knees down. He removed his belt, wrapping it around her right thigh: a makeshift tourniquet. His hands shook as his eyes searched for a remedy for her other limb.
What to do?
People yelled at him—they were soundless—mouthing words with anxious faces. They kept yelling; he read their lips.
"You're shit," they mouthed, pointing to their torsos. "You're shit!"
My shirt, he realised and struggled out of it, rolling it, tying it tight around her other thigh, knotting the sleeves.
She was saying something over and over; her lips moved but he couldn't hear her verbiage. Still, his ears rang. He shook his head, hoping to fix them, force them to hear her words. It didn't work, so he focused on her lips.
"My daugh—ter," her lips mouthed. "My daughter."
Mathew glanced over his shoulder at the child's shoe. He wanted to comfort the woman and tell her everything would be okay.
He said nothing.
Dusk crept in as the first responders arrived, their red and blue lights pulsed a hopeful reassurance, reflecting off the rubble, the walls of the building still standing, and the broken cars.
He'd seen it happen on television, distant and impersonal, in other parts of the world.
It won't happen to me.
It can't happen here.
The truth was that no one was safe, and none were immune to this new phenomenon
A brave new world, he thought. The new normal.