Desolation

Desolation

It took several hours, but eventually the fatal chaos petered out. Everyone huddled around the walls of the concession lobby, staring at the bloody mess further in. Five people lay dead, trampled or mangled or otherwise broken. Two lay under the giant blocks that had fallen from the ceiling. Only a bloody hand and a foot were visible under one block, and under the other, an old woman’s partially severed, apoplectic head. Both blocks had splatters of blood and tissue created a circle of death that no one dared touch.

Marecia wondered which block had almost crushed her. Which body represented her narrowly avoided demise? Did one of the blocks weigh down her rescuer? Did one of them weigh down one of her friends?

Once the guards were sure it was safe, they scurried toward the casualties and hauled them away. Some friends or relatives came to life, calling out and running after the corpses. It took ten guards to lift each block, and when the woman was lifted, her head came completely off and made a sort of thumping splat as it rolled over the ground. At this point, Marecia couldn’t watch anymore, and turned into Jamie’s shoulder.

“Let’s get out of here and try to find the girls,” Jamie suggested quietly, speaking for the first time. Clutching her phone to her chest, Marecia let him lead her away. With everyone off to the side, the hall and all of its buildings seemed impossibly massive. She was afraid of seeing more corpses in the other rooms.

How had this happened? She wanted to believe that this wasn’t real, that somehow she was going to wake up from all of this. But the reality smothered her mind, demanding every ounce of her attention, wanting to break her down.

Woozy all of a sudden, she crouched down and took several deep breaths. It did little to clear her terror and bewilderment. Jamie stopped and stood with her, not looking at her, simply waiting. She wondered where the band had gone, and grew angry. They were probably sequestered away, waiting for the “crazed fans” to settle down so none of them broke a nail. Well, she certainly couldn’t afford to wait for things to settle into place. She had to find Selonee and Gracie. Until she saw them, she refused to consider for even a moment what could have happened to them.

Jamie and Marecia climbed the stairs to a small balcony overlooking the concession lobby. Peering over the edge, they could see the entire scale of the despair below. People cried, some held broken possessions in scratched hands, and almost everyone was holding on to someone. Some faces were angry, some fearful, some dazed. Marecia saw a woman who reminded her of her mother, and again her brain begged her eyes to stop seeing. Turning and sitting against the rails of the balcony, Marecia tuned into a news channel on her phone.

The horror played out on the palm-sized screen, three different reporters commenting on the devastation in Bari. She even saw footage from inside the concert hall, sent by the reporters who were fortunate enough to be the first to showcase the deadly tumult.

They listed the neighbourhoods that had been targeted, in order from obliteration to singed grass. Marecia’s upper-class neighbourhood was second on the list. Or what was left of it, anyway.

She tried to call both her parents again, and this time the calls went straight to voicemail.

Her tears were interrupted when Jamie pointed over the railing. “There they are,” he announced with only the slightest enthusiasm. Indeed, Gracie and Selonee wandered between the groups of people, stepping into the forbidden circle of death once in a while.

“Let’s go!”

With Jamie trailing behind, she careened down the stairs to the last place she had seen her friends. Once on the ground, Marecia’s lack of height foiled her plan. It was quiet, though, so she simply yelled, “Gracie! Selonee!”

“Marecia! Jamie!” they answered, from somewhere far off that Marecia couldn’t see. It was like a game of Marco Polo where instead of swimming through water, Marecia swam through the masses of people. They cringed away from her loudness like it was contagious. At last, she recognized her friends, going in the wrong direction and calling her name.

“Hey guys, over here!” Jamie said.

“Are you okay?” Selonee wailed as she threw herself at Marecia and Jamie. The front of Gracie’s dress was soaked in blood, and she had a furrowed welt running the length of her left calf. Shaking, she took Marecia’s hand. “W-we couldn’t see who was dead. W-w-we d-didn’t know if…if…” Selonee’s tears drowned out the words. Jamie sobbed suddenly too, and for a moment they were copies of the reunited groups around them.

“What happened to you, Gracie?” Marecia asked, touching her fingers to Gracie’s torso. They came away faintly stained. Her perfect hair was littered with debris from the ceiling.

Gracie shook her head, staring at the floor. “What are we going to do?” she whispered hoarsely.

“I don’t know,” Marecia whispered back. She drew on her little seed of anger to clear her mind. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

“How?” Selonee asked. “Everyone’s already tried. We’re trapped in here.”

“Are we, though?” Marecia wiggled her eyebrows at them until they understood. “Anybody want to go looking for my lost sneaker?”

Trying to feign aimless wandering, they set off. Nothing looked the same anymore. How could it be that on the night of its official welcome into the world, the old hall got crippled once again? Was it cursed to never be whole? Marecia and her friends slipped away from the crowd, running into the hallway leading to the conference room. Most of the lights had gone out, and only the emergency torches ensconced on the walls remained shining. An eerie glow created fantastic shadows on every surface. Rounding  a corner that should have taken them to the conference room, they found their impending escape blocked a pile of rubble.

“Can we climb over it?” Marecia wondered, craning her neck to stare at the top of the blockade. The mountain was made of concrete and rebar and broken glass. She feared she would get cut simply by looking at it.

“Hey, listen.” Selonee motioned toward the hallway leading in the opposite direction. There was a mini-avalanche strewn across the floor, but this one was only knee-high. They didn’t need to get over this one, however, to hear the emanating voices.

“I don’t care what you have to do to get here!” Michael shouted, barely muffled by the walls and the wreckage. “I want that hovercraft here right now!”

“So that’s where they’ve been,” Selonee muttered in disgust. “Trying to get out of here before anyone notices they’re gone.”

“There are people here who don’t even know what’s going on,” said another, quieter voice. Marecia was pretty sure it was Immer. “We need to help them if we can.” Wait, what? “I know it’s a little dangerous, but you need to get here with supplies as soon as you can. We’ve been told that no one can leave or enter the building until the emergency level goes down, but judging by what happened in Canada, that could be a while.”

“Who would have guessed?” Jamie wondered, stunned. “They still should have at least come out though, so we knew they hadn’t absconded.”

“It’s madness out there!” Gracie objected. “If they go out, they will only stir things up again.”

“I don’t really think so. This isn’t exactly a concert anymore.” Marecia hugged her arms around her body, wishing for her comfortable shoes. She couldn’t get over the anxiety that she would be made to run at some point, and knew that in her heels she would do nothing but twist her precious ankles. Her only hope of escape.

Without her ankles, should could get trampled the next time the crowds got set off. She would be nothing but a splatter of flesh and blood, a circle of death that no one would go near…

“What do you mean you can only send five people?” Michael exploded, interrupting her reverie. “That’s not enough to get all the supplies in before being detected. Come on, I’m sure we can do better than that. We need at least four more to help out – no, I’m not asking these people to help, they’ve already been through enough – alright, you listen here – !”

Marecia’s friends looked at each other, and without a word, they all scrambled over the wreckage and burst into the lounge where the band was sequestered. A set of steps led up to the sofas and bar, with the view of the decorative pool filled with electronic fish. A couple of security guards rose to run interference, but Marecia stopped before touching the first step.

“We’re here to help,” she announced. Immer and the rest of the band gaped at the breathless teenagers. A voice buzzed from the phone held motionless in Salem’s hand.

“Um…” Immer replied.

Marecia crossed her arms. “You said you needed four more people, to help bring in supplies. Well, here we are. What do you need us to do?”

Even from a distance, and without turning to look, she could feel Michael’s eyes passing over her and Gracie’s tattered, bloody dresses and mussed-up hair. “It’s okay, really. We can handle this.”

“What, so you think that just because we’re not wearing pants we’re not worthy of the job?” Marecia snapped at him. It had been such a long day. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to make her muscles scream through an hour’s worth of man’s labour.

“No, nothing like that. It’s just that you’ve all been through so much, we don’t want to burden anyone.”

She marched up the steps, and Immer waved away the bodyguards. She didn’t stop until she was barely an eyelash-width away from Michael’s face. “How do you know what I’ve been through? You’ve been hiding back here.” He set his jaw and glared at her, though he looked more defensive than angry. “Don’t tell me about my burdens. Did you even see what happened out there before you guys ran off?” He didn’t seem about to answer. “Don’t try to tell me that sitting around is going to help make this situation better. If we want to help, we’re going to help.”

For a second, she barely recognized the deadly undertone of her voice. She had never talked to anyone like that, not in person anyway. She had always imagined her online voice was a bit like this, when she tore into her staff over instant message for their mess-ups.

She felt a hand on her wrist and whirled to give away more pieces of her mind, but it was only Jamie. Selonee and Gracie had come up the stairs too, and they looked sheepish and embarrassed…about her. Okay, so she was lashing out at the wrong people entirely. Marecia took a breath, and smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging way.

“Alright, but this had better not be one of those fandom schemes to try to catch us unawares,” Michael warned. Marecia’s smile popped.

“Get over yourself,” she spit. “Just get the airlifter here.” Immer, to her surprise, grinned at her, shaking his head. She resisted the urge to snap at him too. Famous people. They thought that all it took was a bit of million-dollar pixie dust to make the world turn their way. It was like they didn’t even live on planet earth.

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