Neil balanced precariously near the crumbling edge of the pillar which pointed like a mammoth finger from the ruined landscape toward the massive thunderheads in the western sky. His agonizingly slow ascent up the leaning monolith was punctuated by the stark fear of a misstep, or a weak handhold, that would send him plunging into the jagged rubble and twisted rebar below.
Just a little further man, finish what you started.
Bracing himself against a massive iron bolt, exposed when the pillar was rent by a blast, he reached tentatively over the edge. After a few breathless moments his fingers brushed against the dusty fabric. He squeezed his hand beneath a fold and began to haul his heavy prize toward the top like a fisherman’s net, loaded with the catch, being dragged from the water.
Be careful. Never, ever, let it touch the ground.
A soft whisper on the wind sent a sick shiver up the length of his spine. He froze in place, glancing skyward.
Idiot! No cover, no escape...talk about suffering fools! What were you thinking?
Even after a week the sky remained shrouded in the fine white dust, ground and cast in great billows from the ravaged concrete buildings. Neil watched for any flicker of movement through the haze, heralding scores of fresh R62 drones to finish their crushing harvest.
The minutes passed slowly for Neil as he waited for the fates to decide whether his life, such as it was, would be spared; or whether he would die amidst the rubble as another hail of white drones cascaded onto the ruined city like great sheets of arrows.
Awash in fear, surrounded by a sea of ashen white destruction, Neil’s shock-addled mind strayed again to the vivid scene etched in his memory.
The Knicks game was on. They were pummeling the Nets by twenty-two late in the third. Returning from the fridge with another cold one, the game had been replaced on the screen by some Arab wearing a gold crown and sitting on a frigging white horse! His translated venom crawled across the bottom of the screen.
“…your government has failed you. Allah has re-united Persia under my rule and all the world will soon follow. But you Americans have not joined your brothers in Europe and South America in Allah’s merciful plan…so, instead, you will bow to me…”
As though a counterpoint to the ridiculous image that filled the screen, through the apartment window behind the television, the lighted American flag was still waving proudly over the capital.
Minutes later thousands upon thousands white R62 predator drones entered US airspace carrying their concussive “SHATTER” payloads, and the terror on the white horse made good on his threat. City after city was leveled, and America lay conquered beneath a wall of white dust which marched across the land east-to-west, coast-to-coast.
All gone in twenty-four hours…all gone…
Satisfied that the threat had passed, Neil renewed his efforts. The dust blanketing his exposed forehead creased with dark lines of sweat as he wrestled the ash-covered prize past the vicious metal claws and jagged stone which separated them.
After several minutes, the bulk of Neil’s prize lay crumpled beside him on the uneven crest of the leaning pillar. He carefully worked himself along the incline to a sitting position, pulled the bandana back over the bridge of his nose and began brushing the dust off his treasure.
Through the smoky tendrils of particles, he recognized the points of the embroidered stars against the dark blue-gray of the field. Neil comforted himself with the folklore of the colors.
White for hope, blue for freedom…and red…
A resonating roll of thunder, like the voice of a mountain beckoning an unseen giant “COME!” from the depths of the earth, shook Neil’s perch. Distracted from his thoughts for a moment, he watched sadly as ghost-like survivors seemed to float aimlessly through the white ruins of Albany.
As rain began splattering around him, Neil hugged the flag closely and began to sob as despair and exhaustion finally claimed him. Mixing with the rain, his tears branched down the American flag, transforming into tiny rivulets of crimson as they wended their way through the white ash covering the long, narrow swaths of red…
…a red which eerily matched the ominous horse galloping ever nearer on the eastern horizon bearing a new terror...a rider hungry for slaughter and holding a sword...
Inspired by Revelation 6:1-4
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