World Absorber by Chris HaldermanThe screaming calmed followed by the blanket of silence. A thin veil of smoke remained, however, trying to cover up the devastation from the flashlights.

Piper rose upright from her crouch and looked at the bodies strewn about her. Tears stung her eyes, half caused by the smoke and half by the shock of what she had just been through.

“So much for keeping the library open,” Paul said. The weapon in his hand clicked as he set the safety on.

“Yeah,” Piper said between wheezes. “…and Merry Christmas to all.”

One hour earlier…

Wolf pulled two sets of cutlery from the drawer and stepped over to the table. Strategically he laid the utensils out with a set at each side. “Fox?” he called. “You going to be much longer?”

Fox’s laugh came from the hall. Her curved figure appeared at the kitchen door frame carrying a pizza box. She walked in and posed, pizza held above her head on her spread open right hand, as she spun slowly for inspection. Other than the red apron and matching red heels, there was not a stitch of clothing on her.

“You do have a lovely ass,” Wolf growled at her.

Fox mock curtsied. “Why thank you, sir.”

“Jerome happy with his tip?”

Her eyes rolled, pulling her lips into a grin. “He always is.”

Wolf pointed to the right corner of his mouth. “Yeah, I can see he did. You missed a spot.”

Her tongue darted out and caught the drop of white cream from the corner of her own mouth.

“I tell ya, Christmas Fucking Eve and the woman orders pizza.” His own grin strengthened. “Good girl. You do make good choices.”

“What is it you always say? When an atheist is born, a kitten kills a god.”

Wolf chuckled.

“Thus, why the fuck would we have turkey when neither of us believes in that tripe?”

“Fair point, but there is something to be said for some traditions.”

She laid and opened the box on the table. “Such as?”

Returning to the cupboard, Wolf pulled out two plates. “The traditional Christmas Eve orgasm in front of the fireplace. Now, that’s a must.”

She shrugged, causing the brunette pony tail behind her to sway. “I’m good with that.”

“Good?” Wolf put the plates on the table. “Just good?”

The kitchen lights went dark and silence enveloped as the everything shut down.

After a moment of eyes adjusting to the dark, Wolf smiled. “Guess we’ll need candles for dinner, too.”

“Shame,” Fox agreed.

A flash lit the room briefly.

Fox spun to the sliding glass doors that looked out over the snow-covered deck outside the back door. “Lightning in winter? How odd is…”

“That wasn’t lightning,” Wolf corrected at barely a whisper.

The following rumble was low at first. It grew in intensity and the floor of the house shuddered beneath their feet.

“Earthquake? With lightning?”

A second flash followed. The rumble was the same, but the house didn’t shake as harshly this time.

“Fuck, no. Not strong enough to be an earthquake. That one was further away.” Wolf did not move. His eyes searched the night sky he could see over the surrounding rooftops.

“What the hell, then?”

“We’re being bombed.”

“Bombed by whom?” Who the fuck wants to bomb Toronto? I’m going to get some clothes on.”

“Dress warm and ready to travel,” he instructed. His eyes caught a streak in the distant sky and followed its path down. The flash was unmistakable as, whatever it was, hit the ground. “They’re not bombing us yet. So far I think they’re only hitting Buffalo.”

“New York?” Fox gasped as she turned to sprint from the room.

“Yeah, New York,” he answered to the darkness. “But it’s coming this way.” His eyes flickered around the darkness further. “No air raid siren?”

It was only moments before Fox returned in jeans and heavy sweater. “So what are we doing?”

Two candles were lit and on the kitchen table.

Wolf was seated, waiting for her with a flashlight on the table, torch-end down.

“First, we eat.” He sat at the table and picked a slice from the pie. “I see all these horror films and how people simply run without thinking about things like…oh, I don’t know…food?”

“Not everyone can eat when they’re stressed out. I mean, the kids are at…”

“Sit down and eat.”

She grinned. “Yes, sir.” Following his instructions, she had a slice as well. “No more yet?”

“No, just three. There will be more, though.”

“Who?”

“Not sure. They likely have emblems on the rocket casings, but I’m not going to go check.”

“Smartass.”

“I suspect we’re staring at a mushroom could that is hiding in the darkness over there. With no city lights at all, nothing to light up the sky from below to show us what’s happening.”

“What about the hospitals and the buildings with generators that would power them.”

“There’s no light out there. Something not only cut the power, but disabled those as well. Haven’t heard any sounds from the streets of cars or sirens. Whatever this is even disabled the air raid sirens.”

“To think,” Fox said around a mouthful of pizza, “We seem to have gone to war in the last five minutes and here we two are sitting having a calm conversation.”

Another flash filled the room. This time, however, the rumble was heard almost immediately.

Wolf chuckled. “Time for calm is over. Now we run. Let’s get our packs then head over to Raoul’s to get the kids.” He stood and clicked on the flashlight and led towards the garage. “Not even worth trying the car.”

“What about the bikes?” Fox offered.

“The bikes…” He turned and smiled.

“Gas combustion, kicking it old school without hover-power.”

“I’ve told you not to talk in clichés,” he said holding a finger up for emphasis.

“Fuck off, old man. The bikes are a good idea.”

“Assuming they start. Plus the sidecars for the kids will make them easier to handle in the snow.” He swatted her ass as she stepped past. “Regardless, you’ll pay for this.”

She flashed a grin over her shoulder. “I look forward to it, sir.”

“Brat.” He pushed the garage button beside the door and, as expected, nothing happened. Stepping inside, he pulled a few cords and raised the door manually. Upon seeing the scene outside, he felt his calm finally start to seep away through the top of his head.

Seeing his face drop, Fox walked towards him. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure running is our best option.”

Another close flash and rumble illuminated the scene outside. The house of Wolf and Fox was a large red brick at the bottle-neck of a cul-de-sac with ten other houses. The neighbours, it appeared, had already begun running. At the foot of Wolf and Fox’s driveway was eight of the neighbours in large parkas with massive backpacks and duffel bags. Each body, however, was face down either on sidewalk, street, or in snow bank.

“Are they all…?”

Wolf had planned to return inside to get his own cold weather gear before heading out, but that plan seemed lost as he ran out to the mass of bodies.

Fox followed half down the driveway.

Checking necks, he quickly assessed and felt more of his calm slipping from him. “They’re all dead.” He looked around, trying to reign his fears back in.

“What the fuck?”

He held up a hand to Fox for quiet. “Those rumbles really haven’t caused much damage.”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen,” he said, and held up his hand again. After a moment, he continued, “No explosions outside of whatever these missiles are hitting the ground.”

“What are you suggesting?”

His eyes glanced around. “No other movement anywhere that I can see.”

“You mean…?”

“We may be the only survivors.” He began striding back towards the house. “These missiles were not intended to take out buildings, or infrastructure.”

“Just the people,” Fox finished the thought for him. She followed him back up into the garage. “We can’t be the only survivors.”

Another flash and rumble hit nearby.

“No, there are likely others. I’m not even sure of percentages, but with those eight and the other bodies across the street; I’m guessing less than ten percent.”

“The other bodies? I only saw the Flemmings and Lancers in the driveway.”

He nodded. “Jim Young and Marcus Truman are likely the ones on the other side. Big red coat on Jim, I think.” He reached to pull the garage door down.

“Wolf?”

Hearing the fear in her voice, he stopped and turned.

“We still have to get the kids.”

His head cocked first, before he nodded. His calm returned with a vengeance. “Let’s check the bikes.”

“All I want for Christmas…” Fox whispered.

“You carry a machine gun regularly?” Piper asked. “I thought that was an American thing.”

Paul glanced at her. “When you deal with the folks I run with, you come prepared.”

“So why didn’t we go nuts like the rest of them?”

Paul shrugged and moved his flashlight around the room. “No idea.”

“How many did you…?”

“Twenty-five…at least. For an underused library, seems the place was actually pretty busy on Christmas Eve.”

“The students with no place to go come here. Likely only time of the year they come here for a lot of them.”

“At least twenty-five won’t be leaving. I just want to know what that flash was.”

“We’re under attack,” Piper said. “I saw a streak through the sky out the window.”

“Okay, but whatever it was drove them all nuts briefly and did nothing else.”

“The Stand.”

“Sorry?” Piper took her flashlight and checked around further without moving.

“Guy named King wrote a book before the turn of the Century called The Stand. About some disease that escaped containment and wiped out most of the population.”

“Weaponized and well read. You are a sexy beast.”

The belly laugh that followed was more a release of Paul’s tension than it was at her sarcasm.

“You think that’s funny? Big headed action hero thinks that’s funny.”

“Sorry.” He still giggled. “So you think the weapon did this?”

“Crazed out the people without too much damage to the buildings, yeah.”

He nodded. “Obviously not all the people, though. And, for the record,” he pointed to more bodies with his flashlight behind her, “I didn’t shoot that direction.”

“You mean they just went crazy and died on their own?”

“With them I count forty bodies at least. Likely a few hidden in the stacks.” He lifted the light and pointed at the dark bookshelves.

“We must be somehow immune to whatever this was.”

“I just hope they don’t get up. I can deal with a lot of things, but zombies scare the shit out of me.”

“You know they’re fictional, right.”

“I don’t fucking care. Zombies freak me out.”

“Who else survived?”

The odd sound of nothing was something John had always craved. Upon waking, after a moment to realize that even the usual whir of the furnace was silenced, he remained for a moment to simply experience it.

Sliding out from under Janet’s arm…at least that’s what he thought her name was…he rolled out of bed and stood naked. The silence was nice, but combined with pitch black it was nasty. “Fucking power outage,” he whispered.

A rumble vibrated the floor beneath him.

He padded across the tight rug over to his dresser and pulled his flashlight from the top drawer. Before turning it on, however, a thought caused him to stop.

Other than his breathing, there was absolutely no sound. No electronics, no equipment humming and most disturbing, no breathing from the hooker that was in his bed.

Flashlight on, his fears were confirmed.

Janet’s face was frozen in pain with her eyes wide open.

“What the fuck?” he asked no longer whispering. Turning, he ran out the door and down the hall to the condo’s front room. Opening the blinds, he could see nothing but darkness outside. A nearby flash caused him to throw his arm over his eyes, and another rumble followed beneath. He went to the shelf beside his door and checked his mobile which, like everything else, had no power.

Another flash and rumble.

Warm urine ran down his leg, but he didn’t notice. He slumped onto the leather couch and pulled his knees up to hug.

There were no further flashes and no further rumbles.

For eight hours he clicked the flashlight on and off, waiting for fear to subside. At the first light of day, though under overcast and snowy clouds, he smiled. He returned to the window and looked out.

Twenty-six floors below snow piles waited on either side of the street, leaving some sidewalk for people.

The bodies, however, had not been cleared.

John giggled at the sight. No power left him washing using a case of cold bottled water before dressing in his warmest sweater over long-johns and jeans. Flashlight in hand, and backpack on his shoulder, he headed for the dark staircase and began the trek to street level.

A few bodies were on the stairs. All had similar facial expressions to the dead hooker.

At the ground floor John propped open the stairwell door with one of the bodies, just to make certain that he could get back in without his magnetic passkey. He then pulled the body of the concierge from behind the security desk and used his body to prop the main security door open. Stepping out with the crunch of snow and frozen bodies under his boots, he smiled. Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out his pistol and checked the clip.

The sun winked between a brief clouds opening above.

John winked back. “What a glorious day.”

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