Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Last Man Standing

by L. G. Carillo


AP News Wire
September 2, 2003
New York – In continued talks yesterday at the United Nations, North Korean ambassador Pak Gil Yon repeated his previous warning that "any UN economic sanctions would be regarded as a declaration of war." He further declared that his country would use whatever means in its power in order to "protect its already crippling economy" from further harm. The Security Council repeated its demands that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il comply with its earlier resolution to cease selling its nuclear technology to Iran and other nations, as well as dismantle its reactors. The word from the capital of Pyongyang was that "a new Korean war would lead to a Third World War in which North Korea could hold its own in a fire-to-fire standoff." President Bush responded by issuing an order for troops in the region, their numbers increased to 450,000 just last month, to be on high alert. The order follows news that invasion plans are now being forged in Washington by leaders of the President’s strategy team. Later today during a roundtable debate at the UN, both ambassadors from the United States and North Korea will discuss ways to end the standoff peacefully.

####

I was dead.

Dead tired that is. The day’s meetings had not gone as well as I’d hoped.

Arriving earlier than usual back at my motel room, I took in the view of downtown San Diego from the large window of my twenty-sixth story room. The cars traveling below looked like tiny pebbles rolling along a bustling stream, and I felt the chill of the frosty glass press against my forehead as I looked far below. As I watched the mosaic next to the street – how each person walking on the sidewalk looked like a runaway grain of black pepper being pushed by a subtle wind – I thought of my Megan and how much she loved the air in San Diego.

We had lived in Los Angeles for the last nine years – since I had landed the job as manager of sales at Hi-Line Industrial Supplies – and the one thing Megan missed was the pleasant, purifying smell of the air we had left behind in Texas. The first time she had stepped foot in San Diego, when we had vacationed there back in ’95, she’d twirled around with her arms extended outward, right there in the street next to the hotel. She looked like Julie Andrews on the hills of Ireland.

"I can breathe again," she had sung as she spun herself dizzy.

I wanted to call her. No, I wanted to dance with her on the street below. Unfortunately, I had taken this trip alone. It was business. Emotionless, tiring, spend all day in uncomfortable shoes business.

I kicked off my shoes, and reached for the phone as I sat on the bed.

"Hi, hon. Just got in, thought I’d call ya," I said to her, closing my eyes and seeing her face.

"Trevor…mmmm…so good to hear your voice again," she told me. The vibrations in her voice massaged my ears through the phone, purring like a soft kitten on my lap. "How did everything go? Coming home soon?"

"Not yet," I said, cringing as the words jetted off my lips. "Things aren’t going too good. These people are more concerned about cost than they are about quality. I don’t know if we are gonna be competitive with some of these bids they are getting. I don’t see how some folks can practically give away their products like that and still stay in business." I sighed into the phone. Feeling guilty about telling her the truth about the situation, I changed the subject. "So how are the boys doing? They still trying their best to get their mother committed to a mental institution?"

We both laughed, and the laughter was like a cool breeze on a hot day, refreshing our conversation. Her laughter always did that, the soft ebb and flow like the spring tide caressing the edge of a warm beach.

Our boys – Jayson, age 8, and Zach, age 5- could be such a terror on some days. Oftentimes, their mother would spend half the afternoon, once they made it home from school, chasing them around like a child chasing a butterfly though a garden. When I left, Zach told me, "Now, Dad, don’t fly into the clouds, okay. God won’t be able to see you then, and I asked God to watch over my daddy."

Jayson began shaking his head and hissed at him, "No, you doofus. God can see in the clouds. God can see everywhere."

The two began a classic argument of "no he can’t/yes he can" as I kissed Megan good-bye. The argument ended when Megan pinched their arms, never losing the smile on her face.

"The boys, well, what can I say? They’re outside right now…thankfully. Jayson squirted Zach in the eye today while he was on the toilet. Imagine that?" she said.

I started laughing into the phone, but I could tell I was the only one humored by what she had just said. I coughed twice and said, "Tell them no more goofin off. Tell them ‘Dad said so’ or else no putt-putt when I get back."

"Uh huh," she said, already knowing that the threat would make the boys behave for exactly twenty minutes before they were at it again. "Trevor, have you been watching the news? They keep talking about this Korean guy. It seems like a pretty serious situation. I hope we don’t go to war again."

"Oh come on Meg," I said, wanting to touch her face. "The last one only lasted five weeks. Surely this Korean bozo knows he stands no chance. He’ll back down, don’t worry about it. I’ll finish up tomorrow, and then I’ll be home."

"I miss you," she said as though tears were in her voice.

"I miss you, too."

This was business. Away from your family, alone in a hotel business.

We hung up, and I started preparing for tomorrow’s meeting. I turned on the television, just to have some noise in my ear while I worked.

####

From the prophet Nostadamus:
Century 8, Quatrain 77
From the three water signs will be born a man
who will celebrate Thursday as his feast day.
His renown, praise, rule and power will grow
on land and sea, bringing trouble to the East.

Century 8, Quatrain 77
The Antichrist very soon annihilates the three,
Twenty-seven years the blood of his war will last.
The unbelievers are dead, captive, exiled;
With blood, human bodies, water and red hail covering the earth.

####

I tried as hard as I could to adjust our figures to be more competitive with some of the lower priced bids, with nothing but bitter frustration as a result. All that was on television was a collection of talking heads, bickering about that Korean guy and some big, stressful meeting they had had today. Some stress those guys must be feeling, I thought. They don’t have working fathers with their jobs on the line to worry about.

But I did. Two hundred and sixteen of them to be exact.

"..Ambassador Yon, infuriated at the Security Council’s resolve to continue with plans for increased economic sanctions, stormed out midway through Colin Powell’s speech..."

Stormed out huh? I turned the stupid thing off. I wondered: these are the people who run entire countries? I laughed. Storming out was never an option in the real world.

Retreating from the table to the bed, I laid my throbbing head on the pillow and rubbed my temples. It felt like my head was at the bottom of the ocean, the pressure pushing my veins against the skin of my scalp. I could hear my pulse, pounding like a tribal drum in inner regions of my ears.

"Calm down, honey," I heard Megan telling me.

I listened to the silence –the empty space between the walls feeling dry and tense- and breathed in slowly. My body began to float, feeling like a feather in a spring breeze, right before it rains. The stillness of sleep was creeping over me.

I don’t know how long I remained that way – dreaming one minute of running with Jayson and Zach in the front yard; the next minute feeling the drone of worry invade my sleep – as I had not noticed the time when my head had sunk into the pillow. All I know is what happened at 10:31 PM on Tuesday, September 2, 2003.

The image of the orange-red numbers of the clock, lit up like the burning end of a Lucky Strike, still remains burned into my memory.

First I heard the pounding, and I thought that some kids were running in the halls. Then more and more, the pounding started to shake the walls, like a stampede of bulls running over a rickety bridge. Rising from the bed, I looked around the room as though the noise might be just in my imagination, and that explanation would have sufficed were it not for the floor vibrating beneath my feet.

Next, I heard the screams.

"Oh my God, Jim!" I heard a woman shout. "Where are we gonna go?"

"Hurry, Barbara!" yelled a man with a husky voice. "We have to leave the city!"

Cries of "I want my Mommy" from tender, frightened voices mixed with the deeper voices screaming "Run! There is no time!"

Every few seconds a shrill, feminine voice would say, "This can’t be happening!"

Wanting to run, I reached for remote and turned on the television instead. The image on the screen – a map of the United States, a yellow one covered with red dots – caused my breath to stop and my heart to strain. In the upper left hand corner of the screen, in bright red letters, were the words: "Seek Immediate Shelter."

The announcer –stuttering through his words, forehead glistening with nervous perspiration – kept repeating, "…if you are in any of these cities – those marked with a red bubble – please seek shelter immediately… some place underground, a bank vault or bomb shelter…please, seek shelter…"

The word "shelter" reverberated in the room, filling it like a swarm of locusts flying in through an open window. The sound of pounding feet and screaming outside my door hung in the air, I felt suffocated by the density of the words.

"Shelter…shelter…shelter."

I looked at the television, focusing on the blood red circle over the spot where San Diego should be. I tried to keep my eyes trained there, to not let them make the journey north on the map. A bead of sweat dropped into my right eye, and the screen became like a bullet wound underwater, the color of blood spreading amoeba-like across the picture. Shaking my head, the vision became clearer and I saw what I had been trying to avoid.

Over the entire Los Angeles area, four red dots overlapped each other, like poker chips stacked for the last bet on the table. The words that had created a dense mass in the air began to evaporate, and the announcer sounded as though he was sinking into the floor.

"Please, seek shelter…seeeeeek shelllllterrrrr…"

His words faded, trailing off and slowing down.

"Janice, you have to move!" a man shouted at his wife as she sobbed.

His words clanked - a coarse contrast to the resonating thump in my chest – and he sounded as though he was standing at the end of a long sheet-metal tube.

She screamed, "No! No, this isn’t happening!" in reply.

I reached for the phone, knocking it from its cradle onto the floor. I punched the numbers – my fingers shaking, my breath coming in short bursts – and then picked up the receiver, placing it to my ear. I listened as it rang, the volume straining my eardrum to the point I felt it might burst.

"…a nuclear strike on the United States is imminent…"

The announcer’s voice was absent of emotion; he was spent.

"Trevor is that you?" Megan said. I squeezed the phone, clutching at the hope I felt upon hearing the sound of her voice.

"Megan, oh my God. Megan…" My voice dissolved into tears. The sirens began to wail – sounding like a mother mourning her dead children – and I tried to tell my wife to run, to leave Los Angeles; I tried to tell her that I loved her, that I would always be with her; I tried to listen for my sons in the background, to hear them laughing as though it was just another school night and they had managed to stay up past their curfew.

Instead, I said nothing and the only sound I heard was that of my own sobs.

Mercifully, I finally heard my wife’s voice.

"God will protect us, Trevor," she said.

Suddenly, the world plummeted into a deep, eerie calm. I heard the distant sound of Zach’s frightened voice in the phone. Then, the line went dead.

Looking out the window I saw the horizon explode into light, as though the sun was being born from the earth. The heat – a searing heat that felt like it had welded my clothes to my skin – blast through the window, and the sound reminded me of a tornado, like the big one that had hit our house in Texas back in 1988. I opened my eyes, but my vision did not return. Seeing only sparkling flashes of brightness against pitch black emptiness, I stumbled out the door and tumbled down the stairs.

Even the flashes faded into the darkness, and I called out to my wife.

"Megan, run…"

I heard the sound of fiery death roaring towards me from the distance.

####

From Thomas Woodrow, Senior Analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
"Beijing’s willingness to sell and transfer critical components of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) technology makes China - directly or indirectly – a key component of the global proliferation of nuclear and missile technology."

From a letter to George Tenet, Director of the CIA, from the Hon. Bob Scaffer, House of Representatives, dated February 28, 2002:
"Dear Mr. Tenet: Last month, your agency produced the assessment of China's ballistic missile threat to the United States in the unclassified summary of the January 2002 National Intelligence Estimate ‘Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015.’ The lack of attention to the pronounced and growing danger caused by China's ballistic missile buildup, and its aggressive strategy for using its ballistic missiles cannot go unchallenged. The report is misleading, and, because it understates the magnitude of threat, is profoundly dangerous."

Headline from NewsMax.com, Friday, January 17, 2003: "North Korea a Nuclear Stooge for China?" Wes Vernon

Number of Chinese ICBM’s launched from land based missiles sites on September 2, 2003: 254
Number of North Korean No-Dong 2 IRBM’s launched from submarines off the coast of the Western US on September 2, 2003: 52

####

Totally unaware of the world and its chaos, I rose from a pile of ashes like baby deer being born. I stumbled – looking around dumbly with half-squinted eyes – and coughed in the echoless vacuum that had once been a thriving city.

"Megan…Jayson…Zach…"

I said each name as though I was collecting them, placing them back into my memory. My vision was slowly returning, and the vast emptiness that had only been a blur was becoming sharper. I felt like a man who had jumped from the top floor of the hotel, seeing the ground becoming clearer and closer as I approached my doom.

And that doom was the state of the world around me.

Ashes were everywhere. Beneath my feet, ashes. Swirling around, ashes. Creating a cloud against the horizon like mist on a cold morning, ashes. It was as though I had awakened in the burned out remnants of an ancient fireplace. Ashes floated in front of me like silver snowflakes, and I reached out to touch their hollowness.

"Megan," I whispered once more.

Looking to the right I saw the foundation of what once had been the El Centrada Café. I had walked by it earlier and it had been filled to capacity. The memory of the scene replayed in my mind.

There were people enjoying savory enchiladas and sipping Columbian café from bright pink and green china. There was a pack of ambitious, mid-twenties business men laughing and talking about their golf game in the outdoor seating area. The sound of clanging silverware harmonized with the romantic smoothness of waiters speaking Spanish, creating a sound that was life itself.

I remembered a conversation I overheard, between two middle-aged men wearing sport coats and blue Dockers.

One said to the other, "Going to see the grandkids next week, down in Colorado. Weather ought to just be getting frosty over there. In Denver, that is."

Looking over the foundation, how it looked barren and old like the lid to a tomb, I wondered if the old man had found shelter before the blast. Hearing the echo of laughter – sounding as though it came from beneath the placid concrete slab - I choked back a tear. I thought of trips to see grandkids, and of gray snow in Colorado.

I saw Denver with a red dot over it on the yellow map.

A gust blew – rushing by my ears like the whisper of a whippoorwill – and I turned away, only to see that the shops that had once lined the street were all gone. All that remained of them were dusty concrete blocks, and they looked like head stones in a lonely graveyard.

I screamed into the falling ash, attacking the punishing silence, trying to put life back into the barrenness around me. Running down the street, I listened to the buffeted noise of my feet pounding the warm pavement and it sounded like a drum in the faraway distance. I began yelling louder and louder.

"--------!!!!"

Saying no words, my voice was that of a primitive beast trapped inside a cage, alone and afraid.

I passed at an overturned city bus. Its charred shell reminded me of dead beetles on the sandy plains back in Texas, how it was so hollow and flaky. I heard its brakes hiss; I heard the murmur of its passengers talking. It was as though the sounds were in another dimension.

It was the only echo I could hear, the echo of life that once was.

I ran until I could not breathe; I ran until the ashes filled the air in front of me, blocking my view of the horizon. I ran until my voice dissolved back into my throat and I could scream no more.

I was running home, back to Megan and the boys.

Falling down on the street – landing in a pile of ash and feeling its cloudy softness envelope my weary body – I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again, I saw a discolored jawbone right next to my head. The ashes blew over it like drifting sand, and the silver fillings in one of its molars gleamed in the pale light. The sight of it made my stomach boil and my heart shiver. I saw what once was a smile washed away in a rush of heat and fire.

I stood to my feet, and ran silently to the north. The warm wind whirled in my ears and I prayed that its noise would overcome the ghostly echoes.

####


Personal Correspondence from Kim Jong Il to Ambassador Pak Gil Yon, dated September 1, 2003:
It is with great honor that I bestow upon you the duty of defending our nation in this time of crisis. The American hypocrites will never yield in their assault on our people, and so it is up to us, my brother in unity, to launch a preemptive strike. We must annihilate the great enemy of peace. Your duty is to stay in New York and offer your life in sacrifice to your people. As to not alert their cowardly President of our planned defense, it is imperative that you stall as long as you are able at the United Nations. Then, you may have the rest of the day to settle your affairs with your family. Your Great Nation mourns your loss and applauds your valiant service.

Son of the Great Father,
Kim Jong Il

####

It might have been days; it just well might have been weeks. I had been running north along the remnants of Interstate 5 since the day the bombs fell, running home to the family I had left behind.

The horizon flashed with streaks of yellow and red – the plumage of the colors hazing in and out of the wind driven ash – and the ground reminded me of the Mojave, the pale dust rolling in the wind like a bed sheet hung on a clothesline. I paused for a moment to take in the twilight hour, closing my eyes enough to see the horizon become blurred. Looking at it through squinted eyes, I saw a setting sun the way I remembered it; peaceful, large, red like a giant rose sinking into the earth. Opening my eyes fully again, the sun faded and I was once again the last man standing in a world destroyed.

Turning my gaze to the east, I saw a sparkle amidst the dull gray of the lonely desert – almost winking at me, beckoning me like a mermaid to a sailor – and I approached it with the suddenness of newly found hope.

Slowing as I drew nearer, I prayed for life; I wished for a welcoming smile as bright as the beacon that had summoned me there. My heart began to beat with a vigor I had not felt since the day I kissed Megan good-bye.

I came within ten yards, and I still could not identify the object; within five more, the painful reality began to infiltrate my optimism. It was a downed DC-10, and the sparkle I had seen had was a small piece of broken glass in one of its windows. There was no life there, only its echo.

The image of the wreckage – the seats where only charred wire remained like skeletons, the wings that looked as though they had been chewed off by a giant mouth with uneven teeth, the mostly empty windows where shards of glass stuck out like fangs – spoiled my hopes. I looked inside through a broken window, and the memory our plane trip to Oklahoma City just one year ago awakened in my mind.

My parents, Stew and Kathy, had raised me, my two brothers, and one sister in the heart of Oklahoma, and Megan and I were returning with their grandchildren in July of 2002. The boys had never been on a plane, and were full of chatter as we boarded.

"Hey Zach, look at the cockpit, just like in the ‘Air Raid’ game."

Zach peered into the cockpit; the captain smiled and waved like they do in the commercials. Zach tentatively raised his hand and gasped when he eyed the control panel.

"Look at all dose buttons!" Zach said, reaching out to the panel, eyes wide.

"Don’t touch ‘em doofus," Jayson scolded. "Those captains will put you in the bad boy place. It’s a box under the plane, it’s where they put lil’ boys who don’t behave and mess with stuff." Jayson smiled a teasing smirk.

"Stop dat!" Zach demanded, reaching for my sleeve. "Dad, Jayson is bein’ meanie ‘gin. He told me dey was gonna put me in a box."

"I did not, Dad." Jayson tapped Zach on the shoulder and mouthed the words: I was just playing.

"Boys, behave."

Dad had spoken. Sometimes, that’s all that needs to happen. We took our seats and enjoyed a reasonably pleasant plane ride to see Mom and Dad, Mee-mah and Paw-paw.

"Look Zach," I whispered. "Look at all those buttons."

The control panel was blackened and its buttons looked like jewels embedded in dusty coal. Running my finger along its surface, I traced the letters "Z-A-C-H" in the soot. My heart felt like rock.

I stood and continued running home.

####


Transmissions of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, September 2, 2003:
10:35:42 PM: "Oh my God, look at that."
10:35:51 PM: "What is that, it looks like…oh shit."
10:35:57 PM: "Captain? Captain, are you seeing this?"
10:36:03 PM: "Negative. No view from here. What’s going on?"
10:36:11 PM: "Looks like the whole country just caught fire, sir."
10:36:20 PM: "Repeat that."
10:36:27 PM: "It looks like the entire United States, sir. Just lit up, like one huge explosion."
10:36:40 PM: "Houston, this is Endeavor, copy?"
10:36:56 PM: "Captain, oh God. It’s just burning…"
10:37:02 PM: "Houston, this is Endeavor, we are witnessing some strange phenomenon up here, come in Houston."
10:37:14 PM: "…all of it. (static) Burning…"
10:37:21 PM: "Houston, Endeavor requests permission to abort mission. Please respond."
10:37:41 PM: "(static)"

####

I stood over Los Angeles like a Roman general looking out over a newly conquered city, its ruins smoldering under my feet. The freeway was a misshapen black serpent of burned-out skeletons – there were minivans torn in half, open and exposed like a pumpkin dropped to the ground; masses of overturned cars with only iron frames showing, some with discolored leg bones hanging out of their missing windshields; the freeway itself looking like the bottom of a dried-up pond, the cracks in the pavement like that of caked, sun-dried mud.

I continued, closing my eyes to the carnage.

"They are fine, Trevor," I reassured myself. "They are at home waiting for you."

Walking without the benefit of sight, I recalled the image of a bustling Los Angeles in my mind, using it as a guide. I heard the wind, whispering to me like the angel of death in my ear, it said: "go into the light, blessed servant, in the light is the kingdom of God."

That light, the one I had seen against the horizon on that terrible night, started to creep into my vision, like the dawning of a new day. I witnessed the light spill into Los Angeles; I saw our home – with Megan and the boys cowering in the living room – disappear in the blinding whiteness. The angel whispered again: "the light is pure, the light is love."

The image exploded in my mind and I opened my eyes, startled.

"Oh my God," I said aloud, blinking my eyes twice to make sure I was seeing the real world and not another memory.

The street – stilled filled with ash and littered with charred bricks – was now swarming with people, like an airport terminal on a busy holiday. The air remained silent, no whispers and no wind, as I watched the parade of puzzled faces walk past me.

"Can anyone hear me?" cried a man, dressed in a yellow polo and blue slacks. Standing no more than two feet in front of me, his volume punished my ears – ears that had only heard the whispers of the wind and the silence of death for countless days – and I knew that he was real. I watched as his black Rockport loafers shuffled in the gray ash, and I knew that the man was not an echo or a memory.

"Hello? Are you out there?" he yelled once more. His face bore a grimace of perplexity, like he was looking towards the green on a par five hole. He lifted his hand to his eyes – placing his palm in a salute above his brow – and whispered: "I coulda swore that I seen him, he was just there."

"Sir," I whispered with the same puzzlement in my voice as on the man’s face. "Excuse me; did you say you saw someone, a survivor?"

My pulse began to beat rapidly, and I felt a subtle heat seep into my skin.

He turned to face me, and his deep brown eyes were full of sorrow, looking as though they had witnessed the birth of a stillborn baby. He shook his head and his tight, worried features softened to solemnity. He began to walk away; his slow, shallow steps creating dust clouds on the street.

"Sir…Sir," I called after him.

Another man, wearing a tan "Wesley’s Heating & Air" work shirt stumbled past me, mumbling to himself incoherently. I took two steps towards the retreating man in the polo and watched as he turned and ran away.

I saw a young woman standing on the corner wearing a bright sundress and a ponytail in her jet-black hair. She was Mexican-born and her skin looked like deep, rich oak as she stood completely motionless. She reminded me of a clay statue of Pocahontas I had seen on a street corner back in San Diego. I called out to her, shuddering when I noticed that her hair remained still even in the wind.

"Miss, can you hear me? Are you okay?"

She turned to walk away like a puppet on a string: face absent of emotion and her body movements without fluidity, stiff and jerky.

Two more people walked by – a young black boy of about fourteen with baggy black jeans and a red shirt, looking as though he had dropped something and was trying to find it; and a middle-aged white man in Docker’s and a plaid short-sleeved whispering as though in prayer – before I noticed where I was. Seeing the remnants of a chimney with its bricks sticking unevenly in the air and the pole where I had intended to place a basketball goal when I returned from San Diego, I knew that I was home.

####

From the Book of Revelations, King James Version:
(11:18) And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. (11:19) And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.

####

I wished that I were dead.

That I would just fall over into the ash, and dissolve into its inert flakes. I wanted to be anything other than alive and standing in what once was my living room looking at what was before me. The lost people walking in front, behind, around me were all a blur – like a freshly painted mural being washed away in a misty rain.

Feeling more alone than I ever was on that barren road back home, I looked down on the skeletal remains of one adult and two children. Their yellowing bones reminded of the families of Pompeii after the molten lava had invaded their homes; all of them huddled together during their fiery, painful deaths.

My family was dead and I wished that I could join them.

Bending down – more so falling as I made no effort to remain standing – the ground beneath me breathed an ashy breath, and I reached out to touch my wife’s head. I stroked her brow, and I didn’t feel the cold, hard surface of the skull but the soft, warm flesh of her face. I looked into her eyes and whispered, "I am home Megan, my love. I am home."

My oldest boy’s arm fell from its joint and landing on the ground, creaking like a rusted chain. I reached for his disconnected hand and dreamed that we were walking into class on his first day of school. Caressing his thumb, I watched him smile at me and told him, "You’re destined for great things, Jayson, and this is the first step on the journey."

Watching my youngest – his bones small and fragile – lay next to his mother, I was taken back to the time when he was two, when he slept next to his mother during long, peaceful naps on lazy autumn afternoons. Zach always looked so adorable – his slightly pudgy, cuddly round face that looked like chilled vanilla pudding; his puffy, pink lips pouting while he dreamed; his short arms glued around his mother’s waist – and I wanted to sing to him. I began to chorus with the whispering wind: "Hush lil’ baby, don’t say a word, Daddy’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…"

The wind blew and ash covered his tiny skull.

Never had I known such sorrow. But No tears came, and no screams flowed from my soul. I just sat, eyes closed, and caressed the hollow bones of my lost wife and children, wanting nothing more than to die. Hoping to hear the angel of death beckon me again, I repeated his words: "The light is the kingdom of God, the light is pure."

The wind blew, and the ash fluttered against my hand.

"The light is love, Trevor," spoke a voice, the same voice that I had listened to many times while our heads rested on soft pillows. "We are here, and it is time."

Opening my eyes, I saw Megan and the boys standing hand in hand before me. Megan was wearing jeans and a salmon-colored, sleeveless top; looking as though she was expecting no more excitement in her day than chasing the kids around the yard. The boys were wearing after-school clothes – jeans without knees, stained t-shirts cleaned as good as possible with Cheer detergent, last year’s tennis shoes full of dust – and were smiling at me as though I were lighting the candles to a birthday cake.

"We have waited for you, Trevor," Megan said, her voice echoing like a choir-sung hymn.

"I don’t understand, Meg. How did you…"

My voice paused, my words plummeting as the stream of thoughts and images filled my mind. I remembered the man in the polo, swearing that he had seen someone and dressed in soot-free clothes as though it was another day at the office. I remembered the whispered prayers from the others –from the man with the plaid shirt, the worker from "Wesley's Heating & Air" – and the absence of any wounds on their bodies. I remembered the Pocahontas statue whose hair didn’t sway in the wind. All at once, I knew what it all meant.

All at once, I felt a happiness I had never known.

Standing and taking my wife by the hand, I told her, "I will always be with you, Megan. I always knew that I would make it home again."

Once again, the horizon exploded as though it was giving birth to the sun, and the light was blinding and warm. I squeezed Megan’s hand and watched as the multitudes of lost souls walked towards its everlasting purity.

Leaving behind the hopelessness of our destroyed world, we approached the light together, as a family.

THE END


© 2003 L. G. Carillo

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