Name: V.T. Bidania
Genre: YA Apocalyptic/Thriller
Title: Till the End of the World
The day I found out the apocalypse was coming was the same day my world had come crashing down. The dust clouds hadn’t even settled yet. My heart was still crumbling at my feet and gloom clawing into my skin, when the news blasted at me like bombfire.
But I won’t think about that now. I can’t. I’m supposed to be concentrating.
I blink and move closer to the glass, look out at the emptiness that surrounds my house. Each morning I open my eyes to a silence that’s so deafening I’m afraid my ears will burst. I didn’t wake up to it today, though. It was already there. Because I hardly slept last night.
Seven days ago, I was reheating Thanksgiving leftovers with my brother Ben, on the phone discussing Black Friday shopping with my best friend Lia, hanging up lights on the Christmas tree with my parents.
Now I’m crouched by the kitchen window, peeking out the curtains, gripping Ben’s old varsity baseball bat in one hand, Mom’s birding binoculars in the other.
It’s my turn on watch.
Dad and Ben worked late into the night boarding up most of our windows and doors from inside. They used plywood from the shed they never finished building last summer when Mom got sick. Now we’re glad they didn’t.
It’s early so no looters out. Yet.
Yesterday from the upstairs window, we witnessed a group break into Mrs. Fitzgerald’s across the street. They tore down her front doors with crowbars. She wasn’t home.
Everyone on our block -- in our entire suburb -- is already gone.
Seconds after storming in, they sprinted out carrying a giant screen TV and shiny speakers. Her state-of-the-art security system kept wailing even after they sped away in their slick new stolen pickup. Minutes later, different looters arrived. Pounced inside, destroyed the alarm, then took off with her hi-tech stereo and satellite dishes from the roof.
I’m not sure how useful those will be come Doomsday. If you survive.
Through the tiny slit in the curtains, I see the sun slowly creep over the treetops, quietly paint a coat of blue-gray light onto the empty driveways, deserted streets and abandoned houses.
No more kids cruising by on skateboards or mothers pushing baby strollers. No more joggers and dog walkers waving to familiar faces driving by. Our neighborhood has become a ghost town littered with trash and the occasional plastic bag whirling across the ground like tumbleweed.
My eyes flit to the calendar, where dates have been crossed out with black magic marker. Four days since we heard any warning sirens. Three since army trucks drove down the street to remove any remaining wreckage from riots. Two since we saw anyone besides looters. I pull on the corner edge of the calendar and tear the old month away. The page swishes from the wall and to the floor, splattering the events of the past week across the tiles.
Down the hall my family sleeps. I hear them crisp and clear from the kitchen. Dad and Ben’s synchronized snoring. Mom’s noisy, winded breaths. Her oxygen machine is off and her breathing is loud. As a safety precaution, we sleep together in the first floor family room now. At my feet are a shovel and rake. Plus, I guess we always have the kitchen knives. In case.
The truth is, if we had an actual break-in right now, I don’t know what I’d do. The idea of intruders forcing their way into our house terrifies me, fires a searing panic into my bones. Picturing my family fighting them off horrifies every part of me -- but at least we’re prepared with weapons, if that were to happen.
My family couldn’t leave town when everyone else did. Mom’s minivan was still in the shop, waiting for parts. The night before the Voluntary Evacuation, Dad’s sedan and Ben’s jeep were stolen from the garage in the middle of the night. So we’re immobile.
At first, we tried to hitch rides with friends and neighbors, but no one had space for all of us and for Mom’s medical equipment. And everything happened so fast. The frantic packing of cars, loading of kids and pets and food, scrambling for supplies, rushing and running. There just wasn’t enough time.
On the eve of the Evacuation, we’d stuffed the car with everything important we owned. We’d made the decision to go. We were supposed to. In the end, it’s not like we had a choice anymore, but Dad said it was safer not to. Because of Mom’s fragile condition, it was better if we stayed at home, in our house, in a stable environment. Whatever stable means now.
My attention shifts back to the window, where I scan the area for any sign of movement. But it’s dead quiet out there. Not even a breeze to stir through the trees. As I stare at the calm, leafless branches, I try not to think about Nick. As I watch the winding sidewalks, I try to stop wondering why he didn’t tell me, why he didn’t warn us. With his dad being some kind of important Pentagon official, you’d think he would have had the resources to help us somehow. If he’d wanted. Or at least to give me the heads-up. Didn’t he owe me that much?
I shake my head. Focus on the curbside, the road. Nick is gone now. I’m never going to see him again.
“April, where are you?”
I turn to see Mom in the hallway, searching the gray shadows of the kitchen for me. She’s wearing the pink flannel pajamas I got her for Mother’s Day. Her favorite wool sweater is draped over her shoulders. With one hand pressed against the wall, she looks more frail than usual. Like she might fall over if she lets go.
“Mom, why are you up so early?”
She spots me by the window and frowns. “You need rest,” she says and takes an unsteady step toward me.
I toss my bat and binoculars onto the counter and rush over to help her. “I’m fine. You go back to sleep.”
Mom holds my hand as we step down the hall. I can feel her veins protruding from underneath her soft, thin skin. Her fingers are so cold.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“Good.” She tries to clear her throat but is interrupted by a sudden coughing fit. It forces her bony shoulders to shake up and down violently, flushes more red into her already pink cheeks.
“Are you okay?” I rub her back and Mom nods, pounds her chest with her fist. “Come on, let’s get some oxygen.”
I tug her gently into the family room and blink hard. Lately, she’s barely had the strength to walk. She’s lost so much weight since August. That’s when the doctors said her lungs were deteriorating more rapidly than they had predicted.
Mom has panacinar emphysema, which is a rare genetic lung disease. She needs oxygen treatments to help her breathe and over a dozen medications daily to ease her pain. Her condition has been worsening in the past few weeks.
I help Mom into her wheelchair by the side of the pullout where Dad is snoring away. Just as I pick up her oxygen mask, a thunderous pounding rips through the house. The mask drops from my fingers. I spin around, my heart stomping fast.