It was winter and at four o’clock in the morning we were just arriving home from celebrating the beginning of a new year. It was January 1, 2012.
I staggered up the front porch and into the living room, laughing my head off and mom and dad just held on to each and guffawed like two crazy people. We were all slightly tipsy from the laughter and silliness of our usual family gathering. We always joked that we'd gotten our silliness and loud laugh from mom's side of the family and watching her giggle now, her cheeks red and her eyes sparkling, I was glad that we had. I started giggling and began to sing (which wasn’t a good thing since I was quite tone deaf) the ending song of the old Lawrence Welk variety show, “Goodnight, sleep tight until we meet again….” Mom looked at me and grabbed her stomach with one hand and her right cheek with the other. “Stop it! I can’t take anymore. My stomach hurts from laughing so much and I think my cheeks are gonna fall off!” She bent over laughing again and dad just sat in his easy chair whooping with laughter, the lights reflecting off of his eyeglasses. I’d forgotten how easy it was to make them laugh and how hard to make them stop. “You’ve got to go to bed before I start throwing up,” mom said with tears running down her face. I smiled, my stomach and face aching from laughing so hard and I was tired. I sighed hugely and finally managed to say goodnight, for real this time and we all went to bed.
In my bedroom, I walked over to the window, said goodnight to my snowman, promised myself good dreams and climbed into bed. I slept soundly from the moment my head touched the pillow.
It felt like I had been asleep forever when I was awakened by the suffocating heat that invaded my room. I glanced at the clock as I made for the window on shaky, rubbery legs. I hoped that the winter air would keep me from stifling. Hopefully mom wouldn’t make dad’s life a misery for putting the heat up so high. Gratefully I found the drawstring and drew the curtains aside and my heart seemed to stop and then stutter briefly, at the scene that met my eyes.
There were just a few houses standing; they looked decrepit, long empty. Doors and windows were missing; it looked like someone had been pulling whatever usable wood was available off of them. It appeared that no one had been around for years to take care of them. The ground as far the eye could see was dry and cracked. There were small clumps of what passed for trees and there was very little vegetation at ground level. I could see the sun, but little else in the sky and it seemed to have swollen to four times its normal size; the ground steamed where the sun’s rays touched it.
I stepped back quickly from the window and for the first time I took a good look around my room. Here and there, you could see some cobwebs, but the room and bed where I’d lain, were clean if a bit tattered. I started praying hard, I knew this had to be a dream and I’d be waking up any minute now. I knew the best thing would be for me to go back to bed and then I’d wake up from this horrible dream and mom would be in the kitchen making her awesome blueberry pancakes. I started to sway and put my hand out and my fingers grazed the wall. That wall was real! I moved to my bed and touched my satin comforter. It was all real!!! I ran out of my room as fast as I could and made for my parents’ room. They always knew what was going on, they’d be able to explain everything.
I knocked repeatedly at their door and when there was no answer I pushed the door open and with a creaking sound it slammed hard against the wall, before falling off it's hinges. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere and the area around the bed, which was covered in clear plastic, had large footprints going around it that were beginning to fill with dust. I stepped into the room and froze as I heard squeaking to my left and turning I almost screamed as a rat like creature, the size of a German shepherd crawled out of the bedroom window. I stood there panting for breath, my heart beating like crazy in my chest, my body trembling. I kept shaking my head and blinking my eyes. It was all a hallucination! It had to be.
I walked over to the bed and began to raise the plastic cover off of the comforter that covered the bodies I could see underneath it. They were so still and I braced myself and closed my eyes briefly, before jerking the comforters back. I let out an agonized cry. Two skeletons lay there, their eyeless sockets staring back at me. I started to back away, but a glimmer from the smallest skeleton’s wrist caught my eyes. Very slowly I lifted the arm, so that I could examine the bracelet, then leaning closer to look at the inscription, I read, ‘To the most wonderful mother in the world. I love you, Miri.’ “Mom?” Disbelieving tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my face and I just let them flow.
I don’t know how long I sat on the edge of the bed holding mom’s hand I just know that it was for quite a while. The heat had become tolerable, the sky outside the window was turning into a pale, glowing orange and I knew it was time for me to move. I didn’t understand what was going on and at that exact moment I felt like giving up. What did I have left? I got up and walked over to the window and looked out again. There was nothing left out there. I turned and looked towards the bed; and there was nothing left in here either. What reason did I have to live for? Suddenly I felt as if someone had whispered into my head, “Don’t give up. There’s always hope.” I looked around the room, I knew I was alone, but it felt as if someone had their arms around me and the voice in my head wasn’t loud, it wasn’t even audible. It was a still small voice, the same voice that had always been there when I was hurting and in need. No matter what I did or what was going on, God was ever present. I knew I wouldn’t give up, because my parents hadn’t raised a defeatist. They’d taught me to fight and to know that God was always my shield and my fortress.
As always, just as I’d made my mind to pack it all up, God was there to soothe and calm my troubled spirit. I knew I was being told not to give up, that there was always hope. I felt encouraged and I knew I wasn’t going to give up. I gently slipped the bracelet from mom’s wrist; kissed her forehead and I arranged her more comfortably on her pillows before turning to examine the larger skeleton.
This skeleton was hideous! Its skull was huge, the size of an elephant’s head. The area around the eye sockets was sticking out and away from the skull and the teeth that were still left in the mouth were small and sharp and set in three rows. The neck bone was thick with a large hump in the back and there were four arms each thin at the top, thickening midway and thinning out again with hawk like claws at the ends, instead of hands. The hips were very small and looked like deformed fists, the legs were thick and long, thinning out at the ankle and ending up in huge misshapen feet. How had this thing ended up in the same bed as my mother?
I covered both skeletons up with the comforter and placed the clear plastic over the entire bed and finally said goodbye.
Looking through the other upstairs bedrooms I found the same thing; years of decay and dust. The rooms downstairs were in a similar condition. The walls were discolored and there were cracks in the walls. There was some furniture in the living room and whatever pictures frames hung on the walls were pretty much destroyed, others lay on the floor in bits and pieces. I stopped looking around realizing that I wouldn’t find any answers here.
My stomach started growling and I made a quick stop to relieve myself before heading to the kitchen; hopefully, I would find something edible. Once there I made straight for the cupboards, but halfway there, the kitchen table was violently thrown against a brown cracked wall. Looking over my shoulder, I came face to face with what looked like a cross between a rat and a scorpion. I closed my eyes and screamed.
With my eyes covered and all the growling and screaming (mine) going on I didn’t see or hear the outside door, behind the creature, being thrown open nor did I see the other creature that fought with it, until the rat scorpion lost the battle and slumped to the floor, death crawling over its body. “What new danger do I have to face now?” I thought to myself as I slid into a dead faint.
I came around a while later and found myself in a clean, but worn living room, being coaxed to sip some sweet tasting liquid by a hairy ape like man. I tried to get up and run; my only thought to run as fast and as far as I could. I was firmly, but gently held and a very human voice soothed me as best it could. I learned his name was Daniel and that he had been the one to care for me while I slept and that we were the only living people left in Layton Hills, at least as far as he knew. Somehow we had survived the disaster. I couldn’t get my mind around what he was saying, “What disaster? What are you talking about?” He looked at me with sad, tearful eyes and said he’d bring my mother’s book to me. I wanted to ask him what he knew about my mother, but I couldn’t talk. I was crying again. My family was gone. I heard the door slam as he walked out.
Daniel returned quite a bit later with a diary that I immediately recognized as my mom’s, and indicated that I should read it. My heart started pounding as I realized that I would finally find out what had happened to my family and my friends, but now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know.
It took me several hours to get through the dairy and I finally began to get a very clear picture of what had happened. One of the countries that had sworn they had no weapons of mass destruction or facilities had launched some type of germ warfare weapon at the United States. They’d hoped to weaken us before launching nuclear weapons. They’d bombed three strategically located nuclear facilities and as the deadly viruses had begun to take effect, many of our top scientists had died painful, agonizing deaths. The remaining scientific community had not been able to find a solution or a cure and in the end madness had taken them. In our madness we had in turn launched some of our most powerful weapons. There had followed the deaths of hundreds of thousands and only a systems malfunction had kept either side from unleashing total destruction on the planet. People in the immediate blast areas had, had no chance whatsoever; the explosive blasts had destroyed everything in their path. The weaponized virus together with the nuclear and thermal radiation and the fallout had done most of the damage. The wind had carried death to those who had thought themselves fortunate enough to be out of harms reach. Those who had survived had begun to transform into something not quite human, unspeakable creatures and others, like myself, while having escaped that fate had been frozen into a hibernating type of sleep, a kind of suspended animation.
At first mom’s entries in her diary had been made faithfully as she watched over dad and myself. She hadn’t been able to fully explain exactly what had happened to me; all she knew was that I was still alive, but asleep. She’d described in detail the metamorphosis that Dad had gone through until he had slowly gone mad and eventually he’d slipped away into a place where she couldn’t reach him. He’d finally lain down in their bed and had just stopped breathing. By this time mom had met Daniel, who was also changing; they had become friends and support for each other. Daniel’s family had been out near Chicago and they had all died instantly. At first he’d insisted that mom should leave and get to a safer place, but mom had refused to leave Layton Hills, because of me. She didn’t want to take any chances at going into a more dangerous area or of something happening if they moved me. Others had begun to leave in droves and little by little the town had become little more than a ghost town and only the animals, or whatever they’d become, had roamed the streets.
As I read her last entry in the diary, I could feel her despair, fear and sadness. She was so weak and tired and she knew that she wouldn’t live much longer and she hated the thought that maybe someday I would awaken from my long sleep and I would be all alone. Even to the very end her thoughts had been for me.
Apparently, even if there were others out there, they’d all moved into safe zones. The only ones still left in Layton Hills were Daniel and myself. He’d promised mom that he wouldn’t leave me and he’d stayed near me to keep me safe. He’d covered mom and dad’s bodies so that there would be something for me to bury when I awoke. He’d taken care of me, kept my room clean and had collected food, clothing, whatever he could find so that he’d be prepared when I woke up. He said he’d prayed every day for years that I would wake up. He hadn’t had any idea when that would happen, but he’d had faith God would wake me up, when the time was right.
Mom had been so afraid that I would be alone, but I wasn’t. I had Daniel and although I knew it would be hard, we would survive and together we would look for other survivors. We (humanity) had messed up again, but I knew that God would forgive us and that He would help us to survive. He’d given us the hope for a new beginning and it was up to us to do it right this time.
I looked up into Daniel’s sad eyes and wanted to cry, I needed to cry for my family, but I knew there wasn’t time just now. Still with mom’s diary and my memories I had something left with which to remember them. I wouldn't forget them, but for now, in order to begin anew I had to put them in a little corner of my heart and mind. Later there would be time to really grieve, but right now we had plans to make.
I didn’t know how long it was going to take us to find others, but I knew we would. It would take a bit of patience and lots of hope. There was always hope.