By Dexter Joseph
“Everyone, kindly exit your current locations to the lifting ports nearest to your given locality. The ships leave in five minutes. Those not there on time shall be left behind. Godspeed…”
The billboard screens, the security bots restlessly hovering about the streets, each had the same words locked to an endless loop. Across the city, the same was believed to be the order. It was unclear whether that was scarier or the fact that aliens were real, on earth, their machines scattered across the rivers and seas of the multiple countries, and by scientific analysis were trying to cook Africa, and worst, the planet.
There was commotion growing outside, and even with the muddled wax of cries and screams and trampling against the ground, which was the stampede of a hive of frightened people, none of these erased the thundering blasts estimated to be on the city’s suburban regions, hundreds of miles away.
They were repetitive, the explosions, which came seconds after harsh high pitched sounds everyone claimed to hear from all across the country. Kaamara snorted in startle as the house quivered to the roar of the next explosion.
Even as his eyes darted around the house, like a startled mouse, for nothing in particular other than the shrill feeling of anxiety, his hands moved with haste against the bag before him, stuffing it with water, bread, snacks and everything else his fears could let him see in the refrigerator. He didn’t know much, but he knew enough that they were leaving for space, unclear when to return, if at all they could return; thus feeding was necessary for himself and his sister.
“Alice!” His voice barked at its peak, his eyes at the door leading to the bedroom passage. It has been half a minute and he had not seen her anywhere. “Alice!”
“Dede…” There she was, running out of the room with her shoes on, and her backpack in her hand. She had her eyes wide, typical with the expression she put up when she felt trouble loomed around her. Making a stop before him, she screamed as the building shook again. This time there wasn’t an explosion but the ground was trembling.
Screams rose against each other just outside the door. The last time he had taken a quick peek outside to know what was going on, all he could see was a disorderly crowd rushing, shoving and trampling on each other as they made way for the nearest lifting ports created by the government, just about forty meters away. He had called his uncle who had taken a trip off the city and had been informed that he and his son would not make it back to the city, thus would be using the lifting port closest to his location. Kaamara was alone once again with his sister, and it was his forced job to get them to the nearest lifting port before it got filled, or worse, left for space.
Kaamara slid the bag behind him, clutched Alice by her wrist and yanked her towards the door. Outside, the dust raised by the crowd lingered even when they had thinned out to the distance, leaving a few less fast persons running but dragging their families, and others properties, along. Kaamara turned west of where he stood, where the alien ship had been said to have landed during the early hours of the day before, just at the Niger River. From hundreds of miles away, he could see the darkened skies. Already, the air smelt and tasted like dust, and the wind was getting strong.
Something struck him, something strong and serious; a passing thought of sort –which should have been all things but that. Not everyone was going to make it to the lift ports, and not everyone who did make it would get a space for themselves. There were not enough ships to rile up everyone after all. With this passing thought and a quickened sense of fear sending his lowest feet of his mind to peaked agitation, he reached for his bike and drove off into the distance, Alice riding with him.
Then the boom came again.
This time a gust of smoke and fire brushed across the skies, making clouds of its face and devouring everything in its path.
* * *
Five minutes was up, the lifting ports were active and the space shuttle, larger than life and already housing over five hundred people, came to life and its doors slowly sealing off with each second’s hover into the air. Just a family remained, running as fast as their feet could carry them: an elderly woman and her young grandchildren, one around the age of six, and a toddler wrapped around the woman’s frail-looking arm. And behind them was a thick fog of dust spreading like a tentacled tyrant out to devour everything on its part.
Everyone screamed, asking them to move in a little closer. Kaamara stood two meters away from the door with Alice wrapped in his arms, looking out the shuttle’s window as the old woman struggled to get the wailing toddler crying into the heating, booming shuttle amidst the screams and aide of a few men reaching out the doors to help her without falling over themselves. He sighed in relief as the child got on board and the men tried pulling the old woman and the little boy up.
The ship quivered like it was shuddering to some cold sensation.
Kaamara opened his eyes to the desperation in the young voice not too far from where he and a dozen others stood. Before his eyes met its owner, it drove past Alice, certain it wasn’t hers. The young boy raced after a box he’d held close to him all along as it slipped and fell off the ship. Jumping to catch it, he too fell over, off the ship and past the adult hands trying to catch him.
The older woman screamed his name, nervous. Everyone watched as the ship gradually went further up with its doors coming to a slow close. The woman was on her knees crying, and no one was stupid enough to go back down to pick the boy.
The bang came again, this time deafening. Everyone gasped as a shock wave hundreds of miles away spread over the horizon, speeding forward. Then the cries of the old woman were drowned in seconds by screams of fearful people, yelling and ordering the pilot to shut the door as fast as possible and speed up to avoid the stomping titan blasting its way forward, taking and turning everything on its part to tumbling piles of debris.
Kaamara looked out the window. He could see the boy with his box in hand, running towards the moving ship but not fast enough. His heart paced with worry as he thought hard what to do. His chances were slim so he could not help even if he wanted to, plus he lacked the strength to help the boy up without sacrificing himself in the process. The cloud of dust and the wave which carried it was moving fast.
He reached for Alice’s face, bent down and slid her hands off him. He kissed her forehead. At least she was safe. That was all that mattered. Earth had been taken over, undergoing a rapid terraformation no one remaining on earth would survive from. He leaned to her ear and sighed.
“Dede!” Alice screamed as those dreadful whispers slipped off his lips and her grip off his hand. Her pitch sent eyes to them as the speed of his footsteps moved for the door and out of it.
Kaamara hit the ground, toppling over the tarred road. He moaned to the pain, feeling his head spin. He stood to his feet and raced for the boy. Why did he jump? What recklessness? Why didn’t he think of Alice? What was he thinking?He cursed his impulsion, watching it drown at the sight of the kid. The shock and terror in his eyes mirrored his own, and the horror rumbling just behind him.
He grabbed and pulled him off his feet, racing back for the ship which had gotten too high to reach. It was only seconds before it went on turbo mode and zoomed off. He deducted if he could reach on time, with the right distance plus the right force, he could toss the kid high enough for those at the edge of the ship to catch him. So he ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
“Tch!” he growled, disappointed. His hand and throw would never reach. The engines were all steaming red for a turbo shot. He was dead, he concluded. He stopped and dropped the kid, struggling to catch his breath. Then he froze, shocked, with his gaze on the ship’s shutting doors. It was Alice.
“No, no, no!” he barked, but Alice was off the ship. Over thirty feet high, she willfully plunged with her scream trailing behind her fall. The doors were shut, the ship turned into a sonic boom of dust and propelling force. It was gone in an instant. “Alice!”He ran towards where she’d fallen, unconscious and covered in dust. He picked her up, afraid of the very worse as he brushed dirtied crimson off her bloodied face.
The sound was louder. The wave; It was too close. He felt its wind, the very tentacles which decimated everything in its part. He turned to the blinding dust, beholding nothing but a wafting gust of darkened dust, flying cars, trucks, tiny looking bodies, polls, detritus and rocks. He pulled Alice and the boy into his arm, making a shield of himself as the wave of dust and maybe death overwhelmed them.