By Prospero E. Pulma Jr.
"Will death come in seconds?" Doroteo Jose asked her grandmother who was serene even as she gravely answered him. "We are where death comes in a blink."
"Mama, I want to grow old like you."
The boy still dreamed of the future. It was time to remove the blindfold. "When cancer kills me, you will be totally alone!" She saw the boy recoil from her words and regretted it.
After a minute of staring at his feet and twiddling his fingers, Doroteo spoke guardedly. "Will all these people die with us?" They were at that moment insignificant specks of a fraction of humanity that started streaming into a barely settled valley in the past day. The land had blossomed with the cacophony of people and machines and the lights of vehicles and flashlights. Many among the multitude were craning at the night sky that frequently flashed as space debris pierced the atmosphere. The earth repeatedly twitched from the impacts of the larger fragments that survived vaporization. Unlike the ground beneath them, the people did not tremble.
"Yes, if they are merciful to themselves. No, if they want to suffer more."
"Many will die with us." On his micro TV, he had watched satellite feeds of armies of the desperate streaming into the projected impact zones globally.
"And the billions who will survive will wish that they joined us."
"Ma'am?" Both looked up at a man in a wet sleeveless shirt reeking of sweat. "Parking my amtruck was easier than finding a spot for my tired legs. This place is full of people wanting to die."
She smiled at the driver who ferried them across land and pockets of sea in an amphibious truck painted Maritime Navigation Safety Bureau - Demolition Team. "After taking us here when no one else would, you think that we will not make room for you?" Briefly lighted by a headlight, his sunburned forearm, face, and nape came clearer to Ele than when she sat on the back of his truck. Day jobber and skin cancer candidate, she thought.
"Thanks." He dropped beside Doroteo and extended his hand to the boy. "Willis."
"I'm Doroteo Jose, after Mama's ancestral place." Living in a building washed by the waves and moving from floor to floor as the sea rose before retreating to highland filled the boy's dreams and air castles. For Ele's grandmother, it was life in Doroteo Jose.
"Doroteo Jose? I've worked at D. Jose!"
"You've demolished buildings there?" Doroteo, eyes twinkling, moved closer to him. With robosubs?" Willis tilted his face to one side, away from the boy's shrill voice.
"With robosubs and explosives! You see, D. Jose had plenty of buildings that barely broke the water and drivers really hate that so our job is to clear the place. First, we send the robosubs to rig explosives, then we detonate them. Another team scoops up the debris to fill in low ground. That way, we keep boats and amphibious cars from hitting roofdecks and salvage land. But the sea is winning."
"Doroteo." The boy responded by returning to his original place. "Mister, where are your companions?"
"Hitchers like you. My brother went to the bunkers buried there," he pointed at a faint line of mountain peaks, "to live longer." He snorted. "Leo's so cruel to himself."
"Gone. Heat wave took mama...Flash flood swallowed papa."
"I am sorry."
"Somehow, they're luckier than us."
"Maybe. Every year, we buried someone from my family, until only we are the only ones alive, but we are not here to mourn but to celebrate a reunion. Right, Mr. Willis?"
"It has the same spelling as the monster that will redraw the earth's face tonight."
"Honestly, I want this event to be named after me. But Ele sounds better than Willis. Only parents would name their child Willis." Both grandmother and grandchild laughed. "They said there was an actor in Hollywood, well, before the Big One hit California, named Willis."
Their attentive eyes left him and strayed to the sky where more debris poured from space, lighting the night.
"It's starting." The collective murmur rose as several large phosphorescent balls of metal and rock plummeted and crashed on the distant mountain range. From the impact, a cloud of pulverized debris rose, enveloping the mountains and the land below.
All that Willis could perceive from straining to see through the haze was a pyre of earth and meteorites. "Leo!"He hollered. "I was supposed to die today, not you! Not you!"
Beside him, Ele and Doroteo formed a calm spot in a sea of trembling and wailing children and screaming adults. "It will be over soon," she said, wiping the grime from his face and smiling bravely.
At midnight, an alien sun descended from the cosmos. Its radiance blotted the darkness and its roar split ears. Knees wobbled, but Ele's knees were stronger than most as she had willed her body to carry Doroteo on her hips, singing a lullaby to him as the giant sphere of burning metal and rock rushed to claim them.
*Originally published in Very Short Stories for Harried Readers in 2007 by Milflores Publishing. All rights retained by the author.