Alice (working title)

Alice (working title)

A Story by dolcecrescendo
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The beginnings of a new YA novel set in New York City. Julliard junior Alice and her friends have experienced what seems to them to be a small nuclear explosion, but some things just aren't adding up.

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CHAPTER 1

            Alice lay in bed unable to sleep. The paisley aqua comforter was pulled up to her chin, and she still wore her gray wool socks on her small feet.

            Eying her robe on a chair near the door, she wondered whether the sprint across the uncovered flagstones would be worth the additional warmth. Probably not, she thought. Those stones had an almost supernatural way of sucking all warmth from one’s body at the first moment of contact.

            Through the darkness, Alice could clearly see the bright red display on her alarm clock. ‘3:04’ seemed to hover in blackness over her antique wooden night table, not two feet from her face. Alice sighed and rolled over, careful to keep every inch of her alabaster skin protected from the cold. She despised that clock, not only for telling her that she would have to be in class in four hours, but because its harsh light made her feel strangely uncomfortable. Almost… foreboding…

            Those glowing red numbers were the only trace of warmth in Alice’s freezing bedroom, and she hated them. They reminded her of eyes; rounded and unblinking, they seemed to watch her as she fought to fall asleep, ticking off the minutes before sleep itself would be completely pointless.

            As these things do, Alice’s slight fear of the numbers increased the more she thought about it. After not a very long amount of time, she knew sleep was no longer an option. She had allowed her mind to wander down a trail of thought from which there would be no return tonight.

            Sitting up, Alice allowed the comforter to slip off her shoulders, leaving them bare except for an inch-wide strip of fabric on each, holding up her tank top. She shivered. I should really invest in some cold-weather pajamas, she thought as she swung her legs to the side of the bed, revealing them to the cold as well. Hurrying across the flagstones, her socked feet slipping slightly, she grabbed her robe and wrapped it around her. The soft, thick cotton seemed to welcome her. The fabric smelled wonderful, like a meadow freshly washed in a summer rain. Or that’s what the fabric softener commercial told her. Alice was a die-hard city girl, and had never even been to a meadow.

            Alice walked down the hall, grateful to now be walking on a carpet where she was less likely to slip, toward her flat’s living area. In Manhattan, Alice was lucky to have found such a beautiful place for so little rent. She figured it was probably because no one wanted to live on the first floor in New York City. It didn’t bother Alice, though. She gladly traded a 30-floor elevator ride for the bars on her windows. She shivered at the thought. Tiny spaces made her uncomfortable. Besides, the first floor was the only place one could possibly have a flagstone floor. Who in their right mind would put those things above someone’s head, not to mention carry them up any number of stairs?

            Alice turned sharply left at the end of the hall, and flicked on the television in the living room. The cool blue light and voice of the newscaster had a calming effect on her. She crossed to the kitchen, and began making herself a pot of coffee. If she was going to have any hope of not falling asleep on her feet in the morning, she needed to start caffeinating now.

            After a cup of coffee, Alice felt much warmer, and began to feel even more awake. She could see through the huge windows facing the street that the sun had begun to near the horizon, and the sky was becoming a beautiful shade of indigo. Alice heard a door creak down the hall. Yawning, her best friend Christine wandered slowly down the hallway, still looking mostly asleep. Her blonde hair was pushed up into what was probably a neat bun last night, although now it looked as if a rodent had made a home on her head, and her long, tanned legs were showing out from under the oversized tee shirt she wore.

            “What the hell are you doing up?” she asked Alice when she saw her.

            “Couldn’t sleep,” Alice said.

            “AH!” Christine squealed in delight. “What’s his name? Is he still here?” Christine looked over her shoulder like she expected to see some hunk walking down the hall in his tightie-whities.

            “No,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “There’s no guy. Just a weird dream. And keep your voice down. You’ll wake up Devin and Vic.”

             Devin James, a short, tough girl from the Bronx was another of Alice and Christine’s roommates, and Victor Castellano was Christine’s boyfriend. A mechanic from northern Jersey, he technically lived across town in an apartment building near the river, but he hadn’t been there in months. He had even started paying rent to help the girls out, thanks very much to the affluence of his parents. And no one really minded his friendly demeanor and usually shirtless presence around the flat. Working on cars since the age of fourteen had left Vic with a physique anyone would be jealous of.

            “Oh, Vic won’t be up for a while,” Chris said with a wink, “and Devin hasn’t come home yet. I never went to sleep.” She winked again.

            “Fine, then. Be loud,” Alice sighed, and Christine giggled a little bit. “I have to take the subway to class, and you know I hate it down there…” Alice said, changing the subject before Chris could tell her something else she didn’t want to hear. “Plus, there’s a performance today… Do you want to come to school with me?” Alice was a dancer at Julliard. Christine didn’t exactly belong in the dance world, but Alice loved having someone in the audience for her, and Chris was usually more than willing.

            “Sure,” Chris said with a smile. “Just don’t make me sit through your Literature class again. I’ll go get dressed.” She hopped off the sofa and jogged down the hall. Yep, Alice thought, she’s definitely not a dancer. A track star in high school and still a daily runner, Christine was thin enough, but muscled in just the right places, and always tanned. Alice was shorter, with dark mahogany hair that hadn’t been seen outside a neat chignon or bun since she was around five years old. She was pixie-like, small in every way, except emotionally. Alice was deeply sentimental, and a very strong personality; probably due to her long forced contemplations of Swan Lake and her love of Shakespeare.

            Alice headed back down the hall as well, as sunlight began to stream into the room through the barred windows. The building across the street had recently been demolished, so the girls were making the most of the direct sunlight while they had the chance. It saved them a bit on electricity, at least.

            In her bedroom, Alice put on what she had dubbed her uniform: white leotard, white tights, white sweater, pink lyrical skirt, black leg warmers, and black flats. In New York City, it was an interesting outfit, but fairly unremarkable in comparison to some. As a dancer, however, it was practically required. She pulled on a pair of oversized sweatpants left months ago by her last date to help ward off the November cold, tossed her pink ballet slippers in her large bag with her water bottle and other accessories, and stepped out of her room. Christine was already waiting, in a red, knee-length dress and black tall boots.

            Both girls pushed and shoved trying to get their makeup on and hair done in front of the only mirror in the only bathroom in the flat. Giggling and joking, they took an extra five minutes. Then they donned long coats and gloves, downed one last sip of coffee, and headed for the door.

            As it swung open, Chris and Alice nearly walked right into Devin, who was standing outside with her key in her hand. Her dirty blonde hair was disheveled, and the bags under her sky blue eyes told them she hadn’t had much sleep. Alice suppressed a pang of jealousy.

            Blushing, she mumbled, “Well, at least I have a life…” and walked off in the direction of her room.

            “She acts like we’re judging her,” Christine said.

            “I’m not, I wish I had time for her life,” Alice said. Practicing took up all of Alice’s spare time; she missed being the one who came home with the sunrise.

 

A short while later, Alice and Christine boarded the subway, both with steaming cappuccinos in their hands. The Starbucks was the best addition to the subway station the two caffeine addicts could ever have thought of.

            The trains had a particular odor, and even after living in Manhattan for three years and in Los Angeles before that, Alice couldn’t get used to it. It was like a strange mixture of diesel fuel and excrement. She didn’t want to think about why. Today, though, it seemed a little stranger than normal. Alice remembered the foreboding feeling from her room the night before, but brushed it off.

            The train pulled away from the station, and the girls settled in for what was supposed to be a ten-minute ride. Sipping their coffee, they chitchatted with the six or so other people in their car. One girl, who looked to be about fourteen and was travelling alone, admired Chris’s boots, and was told simply that they weren’t really worth the effort it took to walk in them.

            Strangely, after about five minutes the train ground to a halt. Looking out the window, Alice realized quickly that they weren’t at a station. They weren’t even stopped next to one of the several light bars that were evenly spaced along the subway tubes. Panic instantly rose in Alice’s mind, despite logic telling her it was probably nothing to be worried about. She turned to Christine.

            “Chris...” she said nervously.

            “I know,” Christine replied. “It’s alright. We’ll start up again in a minute. Probably just a hiccup in the schedule or something.” She sounded almost like she was trying to convince herself as well as Alice.

            “I don’t want to be late again.”

            “I’m sure getting stuck on a subway train would be excused,” Christine reasoned.

            “You’d be surprised…” Alice said, looking out the window. She expected to see the flat black of a subway tunnel wall. Instead, there was a strange glow. It seemed to be coming from the engine end of the train. “What it that?” she asked no one in particular. Her panic began to stir again.

            “Rescue?” Christine said rather sarcastically, without bothering to see what Alice was talking about. “My heroes! I’ve been stuck in a tunnel in a heated train for a whole thirty seconds!”

            “Shut up,” Alice said. The glow was getting brighter. “I think we should leave.”

            “Dude, we’re in a train. The conductor should be �"” Christine was saying as a huge bang rumbled through the train car. It felt like the very city above was coming down on them, and the whole train shook, knocking those who weren’t sitting to their knees. Christine reached out just in time to grab the arm of the girl who had liked her shoes, and the girl fell instead onto an empty seat. Looking out the window in the forward door, Alice could see the rest of the train in flames. They were bursting out of windows and heading toward their car fast. As she watched, flames began to lick the window in the door. Smoke began to seep through the cracks. There were no people in the car; at least, none left alive. There were no MTA personnel in Alice and Christine’s car, and there was no way they were going to survive waiting for someone to arrive from somewhere else.

            “Like I said,” Alice shouted over the ensuing chaos, “we need to go, now!” She pulled the emergency handle on the back door and leapt out of the train, Christine right on her heels, completely willing to accept that her usually quiet friend was taking charge of the situation. Their coffee sprayed everywhere as they jumped, but no one noticed. There were only a few people in their car, but all were trying to jump out the door at once, and many risked getting close to the third rail. One tall man with a beard risked a little too much, and was instantly killed by the electricity running through the metal rail. Alice grabbed Christine’s hand and the girl’s arm, tearing them away from the carnage. The three ran away from the train, toward the fresh air that was rushing past their faces and inadvertently feeding the fire.

            Christine was having trouble negotiating the rails and ties in her heeled boots, but with Alice gripping her hand like her life depended on it, both ended up getting back to the station without too much trouble. The girl pulled away and ran farther up the tracks, presumably to the next station.

            Panting, Alice threw her bag onto the platform, and then climbed up herself. As soon as she was up, she turned and helped Christine scramble up. Cursing her dress, and the brand new hip-high tear it sported, Christine dug the toes of her boots into the concrete and pushed herself up. The two girls then sprinted toward the stairs. As Alice’s hand touched the rail, however, another huge bang erupted from deep within the tunnel. Both girls dived into the concrete stairwell just in time to feel the heat of a huge explosion pass them. They scrambled up the stairs, toward the light of day, hoping the girl was somehow all right.

 

CHAPTER 2

            There was something strange about the light, Alice realized slowly. As they reached the top of the stairs and caught a glimpse of the sky, the strangeness Alice had felt turned into panic. This panic was different than what the train fire had caused. This was real, mind-erasing panic, because the sky was the wrong color. It was a dense gray, and felt like it was pressing down on them. It looked like it had begun to snow, but the snow was wrong, too light, and a strange smell hung in the air. Besides, snow wasn’t predicted for the area until late the next week.

            “What happened?” Christine asked, having dropped her sarcasm and pretended control and sounding just as scared as Alice felt.

            “Don’t talk!” Alice said quickly. “Try not to breathe. Cover your mouth with something. We have to get inside.”

            “But what’s going on?” Christine sounded like she was about to break down.

            “Don’t look at the sky. Come on. We have to go.”

            With gloved hands covering their mouths and noses, the girls ran back toward their flat. In every building they passed, the windows were blown out completely. Ash and powdered glass seemed to cover every surface. Christine screamed when they reached their building, like she didn’t expect their windows to be powdered too.

            “Vic!” she screamed frantically, pushing through the door.

            Lucky we left that unlocked, Alice thought. Panic had numbed her mind, leaving her thinking clearly. She followed Christine through the door.

            Their home wasn’t damaged very much, besides the windows, but Alice knew that it was the parts of a disaster like this that you couldn’t see that were the worst. Radiation…

            “Vic! Devin! Where are you?” she shouted through the house. Running from room to room, she called their names. She ran headlong into Vic, who had come running from his room when he heard her and Chris scream. He half apologized, then ran past her and scooped up Christine who had stopped in the middle of the living room to scream. He was a full head taller than she was, and his muscles barely strained as he lifted her off the ground easily in a hug.

            “Are you all right?” he asked. “Are you okay? Why are you covered in soot?” Vic brushed the tangles of blonde hair out of Christine’s eyes, and held her face in his hands. Beginning to sob, Christine mumbled a vague account of the train accident into Vic’s chest as he wrapped his arms around her.

            “Shh…” he told her. “It’s gonna be all right. We’re going to get out of here.”

            “We need to get out of New York,” Alice said matter-of-factly. “Where’s Devin?”

            “She got in the shower when you two left, then went out not long after that. She said she was visiting her parents in the Bronx today. Then I saw the flash. I’m glad I wasn’t looking out the window... We need to get across the river. Away from New York.“

            “I don’t think we’re gonna make it to Jersey…” Alice said grimly.

            “Why not?”

            “Do you have any idea what has happened here?” Alice shouted suddenly. “Huge bang? Bright flash? Ash falling from the sky?” Alice sounded like she was trying to wheedle the answer out of a stubborn five-year-old. “It was a bomb, Vic! A nuclear bomb! We need to get underground or in some sort of bunker or something like, now!” Alice was starting to come unraveled. Christine’s sobs intensified.

            “Okay,” Vic said. His deep voice was strangely calming. “Okay. You don’t know it was nuclear. New York is still here, isn’t it? It must’ve been smaller. You two change. Quickly! Throw on something else, something you won’t freeze to death in, and grab blankets and stuff. I’ll get my car. Meet me outside in two minutes!” Vic handed Christine off to Alice, then rushed to the stairs, grabbing his sneakers at the door on his way, and ran down into the parking garage below their building.

            Alice dragged Christine into her bedroom, and watched as her friend collapsed on her bed, unable to do anything but sob. Alice realized that being gentle like Vic had been with her was the only way to get through to Christine right now.

            “I’ll help you,” she said tenderly, but as quickly as possible, “but I need you to help me do it. Stand up.” Christine did, and Alice slipped the coat off her best friend’s shoulders. Then, she grabbed Christine’s backpack off the door handle. She rifled through Christine’s drawers and stuffed pairs of jeans and sweaters and socks and underwear into the bag until nothing more could fit.

            Christine had seemed to recover a bit, thanks to the cold air hitting her body. Alice tossed her a sweater and a pair of jeans, and as Christine started to pull them on, Alice raced to her room, and packed her bag full of similar things.

            “GRAB YOUR BLANKETS!” Alice shouted across the hall to Christine, as she yanked on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. She left the leotard and tights on, and packed the sweatpants. Extra layers couldn’t hurt. It was November, after all. She ripped the aqua comforter off the bed, and gathered it up under one arm. She rushed back to Christine, who had her black comforter and an afghan her grandmother had knitted for her in her arms. Alice pulled on her sneakers, then helped Christine tug off her boots, replacing them with her own sneakers. As an afterthought, she grabbed three scarves off Christine’s doorknob.

            Together, they hurried out the door, and into the street, where Vic was… nowhere to be seen. Alice saw it coming; Christina was about to panic again, when Vic came running up the stairs from the garage to the street. On his back was a pack full of things he had taken from his car. He ran over and hugged Christina.

            “The damned thing won’t start! There are fifty other people down there, and none of their cars are starting either,” he said.

            “The EMP…” Alice muttered under her breath.

            “What?” Christina said sniffling.

            “Electromagnetic pulse. It disables electronic devices, like car starters. It happens when a nuclear bomb goes off.”

            “Some of those people are thinking of staying down there. They say the radiation won’t make it around the turns and through the concrete,” Vic said.

            “So… cell phones won’t work either?” Christina asked, still seeming confused.

            “What do you think?” Christina didn’t answer. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of this city,” Alice said. “One way or another. No buildings seem very damaged, which is good. I’d guess the bomb hit a little more offshore than it was supposed to. Let’s head West.”

            “There’s no way we’re going to make it through the tunnels,” Vic said. “Not with all the disabled rush-hour cars clogging them. And I’m not bringing Christine on the bridge. She’s slightly unstable, if you hadn’t noticed.”

            “I know. Should we head toward Brooklyn?” Alice felt her authority breaking down like ice melting in warm water. “Would something still be working there?”

            “Doubt it,” Vic said. “Let’s just head toward the river. Devin is smart, she’ll probably be headed in that direction, too. Don’t worry, Al,” Vic said, leaning forward and touching Alice’s shoulder. “We’ll find her. I promise.”

            “I know we will,” she said, unsure of what else she could say. Vic knew that Alice treated and thought of Devin as her little sister. He also seemed to have a strange calming effect on everyone, and he knew just what to say when someone was on the verge of losing it. Then something occurred to Alice. “We can’t stay out here! The fallout! We’ve already been standing in it since the bomb first went off! We need to get underground, and cover as much of your skin as you can!”

            They hurried to a nearby subway station, a different line from that which Alice and Christine had tried to ride to Julliard earlier, covering their mouths. Alice had trouble believing it was little more than forty-five minutes ago that they had walked calmly into the station to buy their coffees. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

            When they reached the platform, Alice remembered about the third rail, and Vic tossed some change he found in his pocket over the tracks. He made sure at least one coin hit every rail. There was no reaction and they realized power must have been cut to the rail lines. Satisfied that they weren’t going to be electrocuted, Vic jumped off the platform, landing gently, and helped Christine down. Then, as Vic turned to help her, Alice slid on her butt to the edge and jumped. She landed clumsily, not at all the graceful dancer she had been that morning, but she didn’t want to need help.

            “That was stupid. You could’ve broken your ankle or something. Then I would’ve had to leave your sorry a*s here, find help, and come back,” Vic said.

            Ignoring him, Alice said, “We need to get rid of the clothes we’re wearing. At least the top layers. They’re covered in fallout.” Looking around, she spotted water pouring out of the ceiling a few yards down the track, presumably from a broken main. Annoyed that she had to leave all her layers, she stripped down to her underwear and walked into the artificial waterfall. The water felt like knives everywhere it touched her skin, but she forced herself to stay under it. She rinsed her hair and face, scrubbing as if she could remove the gamma rays themselves from her pores.

            “She’s right, babe,” Vic said to Christine, undressing. “We have no choice.” Christine obviously hated the idea, but she did what Vic told her, and soon was standing on the tracks in her underwear next to him. The two entered the water together, and Christine screamed in shock at the cold. Vic hugged her close and rubbed her hair as quickly as he could while she shivered. His hugely muscled arms and back shone in the water, but he didn’t shiver. Once Christine was thoroughly rinsed, he pushed her out of the water and rinsed his own body very quickly. There were definitely benefits to having very short hair.

            They left the clothes they had been wearing on the tracks, and used an old tee shirt Vic had in his pack to dry off. Then they pulled on new clothes, trying to layer as much as possible. By the end, the girls were each wearing a pair of Alice’s tights and a pair of jeans, as well as practically every shirt they owned, followed by sweaters and jackets. Vic had luckily just come back from a trip to see his friends in Jersey, and his pack was still full of albeit smelly, but warm clothes which he too had piled on. Christine wrapped herself in her comforter, Alice did the same, and Vic wrapped himself in the afghan. Then Alice headed off down the tracks.

            They were headed to Penn Station. From there, they could, in theory, walk the tracks all the way to New Jersey. Although it didn’t seem very long by train, the track was much longer than they thought. After what seemed like hours, Christine mumbled something.

            “What, baby?” Vic said tenderly, still treating Christina like a broken child.

            “I’m thirsty,” Christina said.

            “We’re almost at the station,” Alice said. “I’m sure we can get you some water or something there. Don’t drink from the first fountain you see, though. We’ll get you a bottle, just in case.” Although I don’t know why it matters; we just bathed in the same water, Alice thought.

            Twenty minutes later, they came upon Penn Station. They climbed the stairs from the platform up to the main floor of the station, and looked around. The place was deserted. In a convenience store, Alice grabbed a bottle of Disani for Christine. She left a five on the counter, just in case.

            Christine drank heavily from the bottle, then let the others take sips. They packed their bags with more water, “I Love NY” sweatshirts, and power bars. Anything they thought they might need. Alice grabbed a lighter. She thought she ought to leave more than five dollars, but she was out of cash.

 

After studying the train line maps for the better part of half an hour, they descended back into the tunnels, hoping they were heading in the right direction. Alice and Christine walked in silence, Christine never letting go of Vic’s hand. Alice wondered how her usually calm and collected friend had broken down so completely. You find out who you really are in a disaster, I guess, she thought.

            They walked for what seemed like hours. It must have been past three o’clock by now. Christine was riding piggy-back style on Vic’s back after having twisted her ankle for the third time on a rail tie. Up ahead, they noticed a junction. Tracks from other tunnels were beginning to join together. Alice could discern through the gloom a small oval of light, around the size of a pea. As they walked, it grew larger and more brilliant.

            “Are we at the river already?” Christine asked, a glimpse of her old sarcasm rearing its head. “We’ve only been walking for three days or so.”

            “Looks like,” Alice replied as they stepped out into the sunlight of the river’s edge. The three friends covered their faces with the scarves Alice had brought, even though it looked as if they were stepping out from under the cloud of radioactive fallout. Looking back, they could see something terrifying; a huge, dark black cloud hung over the city and the Atlantic Ocean, extending to several miles off the coast.

            So it had missed New York after all.

            “I don’t know how those b******s could have missed. The Soviets had the technology to slaughter New York with one of those things back in the seventies,” Vic said.

            “Try the forties,” Alice corrected.

            “Whatever. Still, someone must have fucked up pretty bad.”

            “Unless maybe they weren’t aiming for us,” Alice said thoughtfully.

            Alice had been thinking for a while about how unlikely it was that a GPS-guided missile could miss a huge target like New York City. She wondered if maybe there was something the three of them weren’t seeing…

            “We still have to get across the river and the marshes, though,” she said, changing the subject.

            “How’re we �"“ Christine began, but Alice signaled for her to be quiet and listen. As they did, they could hear a boat approaching. A high-pitched diesel motor was headed their way, from upriver in the swampy marsh. Alice knew it must be a small craft, but she was glad to see any other signs of life. They hadn’t seen anyone since Vic told them of the other people in the parking garage.

            The speedboat appeared, and they found they were right. It was fairly small, with room for six comfortably. In a situation like this though, eight or ten could easily squeeze onto the 18 foot craft. Strangely, there were only two people on the boat. As the vessel came nearer, Christine let out a shout.

            “Devin!” she screamed over the increasing roar of the engine, forgetting her scarf. “DEVIN!”

 

CHAPTER 3

            They all recognized her. Devin looked much more undone than she had that morning, despite the shower Vic claimed she took. Her hair was free and flying out behind her as the boat sped toward them, but her face seemed thinner, and drawn tight with fear. She hung over the edge of the boat waving and calling their names in turn, while the young man behind the wheel held on to the back of her shirt.

            “Christine!” she shouted. “Alice! I’m okay! I’m okay!”

            “Devin! Danny! You’re alright!” Alice said happily, as the boat stopped just offshore. Alice recognized Devin’s tall, blond brother, whom she had known since grade eight. Their platinum hair and sky-colored eyes were the only things that gave the Jameses away as siblings. Danny was head and shoulders above Devin despite being only two years her senior, and while she was feisty and tough-natured, he was generally quiet and calm. Vic was two years older than Danny, and he often took on the roll of taking care of the girls, occasionally to Danny’s dismay.

            “You three should come with us! We were going back up North toward the Bronx, but Devin insisted that we come check for you guys!” Danny shouted.

            “We’ll have to swim,” Vic said to Alice and Christine. “The boat can’t come to shore; it gets too shallow and mucky and we’d have absolutely no chance of getting it back out. Ready to get ice cold again?”

            Christine shook her head, but Alice said, “Fine, but there’s no way I’m soaking the last clothes I have with me.”

            Thanks to years of dance, Alice was used to dressing and undressing in front of other people, and modesty was the least of her concerns. She stripped quickly despite her many layers, and packed all of her clothes and her blanket back into her pack. Picking up the bag, Alice threw it as hard as she could in the direction of the boat. Danny grabbed it just before it hit the water, about a foot short. Alice waded into the water, noting the slippery, muddy bottom. She didn’t want to think about what could be living under her feet. Again, the water felt like knives stabbing into her everywhere it touched her skin. The air rushed from her lungs, and her chest seemed to refuse to re-expand. It rebelled against the very air it so needed. Alice hoped she wouldn’t have to swim.

            As quickly as she could, Alice made her way to the boat. Danny had come as close as he could to the shallow shelf, and grabbed her arm just before she stepped into the deep river channel. His biceps bulged as he pulled her out of the water, using all of the strength years of rowing crew had given him. He wasn’t built up like Vic was, but he exuded strength anyway. He instantly wrapped the blanket around Alice and held her to him.  Alice saw over Danny’s shoulder that Vic and Christine had decided to forgo stripping down to their skivvies again, and held their packs above their heads as they waded into the water.

            “Tha�"“ Alice tried to say, but hardly any sound came out. She was shivering so violently that she thought the boat’s engine may have started up again.

            “We need to get clothes back on you,” Danny said to her. He sounded almost as tender as Vic did when caring for Christine. “Come on, sit down.” He gently placed Alice on a leather seat, and fished a pair of jeans out of her bag. He tried to get them on her, but wet skin and denim don’t mix. He fished around again, and found an old pair of his sweatpants. Barely pausing to remember why Alice had them, Danny pulled them over her legs. Alice braved the cold for just long enough to pull a thick woolen sweater on. By the time the sweater was no longer blocking her vision, she could see Danny was helping Vic onboard, and together they heaved Christine onto the craft. Danny grabbed two space blankets from an onboard emergency kit, and gave them to his shivering friends, and helped them cover up in their blankets, as Devin took the wheel and pointed the boat back toward Brooklyn.

            “We need to go to Jersey,” Alice said to Devin, with as much strength as she could muster.

            “Shh,” Danny said. “We’re going to. We just have to figure out where to go.”

            “My parents’ house. The one in horse country,” Vic said. He didn’t sound nearly as cold as Alice felt. Maybe she was being stupid… “That should be far enough away, right?”

            “I don’t know,” Devin said, “but it’s a better chance than the shore house. Christine, you’ve been there. Is it far?”

            “Not really far…” Christine said, “by car. But it’s somewhere to start.”

            “She’s right,” Alice said. It was something.

            “All right. Our parents are in Europe with Vic’, just like every year, so we’re on our own,” Danny said. “Let’s head toward the bridge.”

            “I didn’t know that or I wouldn’t have gone home today,” Devin mumbled under her breath. She resented that her parents seemed to dote on Danny and leave her to herself.

            “And you wouldn’t have had access to their speedboat to save your friends, either,” her brother told her. “Lucky it was in the concrete boathouse. The pulse doesn’t seem to have affected it. Or maybe it just didn’t hit us, I don’t know. Vic, if we survive whatever this is, I’m taking your father to dinner for giving mine a job.”

 

After a while of silence and taking turns driving the boat upstream, the group saw the George Washington bridge. Devin pulled the boat right up to the shore on the New Jersey side this time, not concerned about getting it back out later. In fact, she beached it, with the hope that the tide wouldn’t take it away.

            “I forgot…” Devin said as they finished with the boat, all of them covered in mud. “We could’ve just used the anchor…”

            They clambered up the slick, muddy bank and finally got a good look back at the city. From across the river, it looked the same as always, yet it had a strange ghostly quality about it. Christine, having mostly come back to her senses, rushed onto the bridge, and spotted an abandoned SUV. All of the vehicles on the bridge were abandoned, but strangely this one started right up when Christine turned the key. The EMP must not have reached this area. They were unlucky enough to live far enough South to have the edge of the worst effects hit their area, but Brooklyn seemed safer. The five friends climbed into the SUV, and Christine turned up the heat.

            She engaged the four-wheel drive and slowly, after many cuts and driving on the sidewalk for a bit, managed to squeeze out of the forsaken traffic and onto the shoulder of the highway beyond the bridge. With directions from Vic, who sat next to Christine in the middle seat, they ended up heading Northwest making slow but steady time.

            “I’ve never seen the roads this calm around here,” Vic said jokingly.

            Devin, sitting in the passenger seat, reached over and turned on the radio. Flipping through the channels, she found nothing but static and silence, until she came upon an obscure AM radio station.

            “…your homes. It is not safe to be travelling at this time. If you are in the New York City area, move Westward immediately,” a female announcer was saying.

            “Well that’s helpful,” Christine said. “’It’s not safe to be travelling, but you should totally leave New York.’”

            “Shhh!” everyone else told her.

            “…highways are likely to be extremely congested. Vehicles with electronic starters may not be functional,” the announcer continued. The radio signal became spotty the further from New York they got, but every once in a while, something disturbing would push its way through the static. “… nuclear sub…” static, “… devastation…” static, “… rolling power outage…” …

 

CHAPTER 4

After an hour or so of driving, the road suddenly became very clear. Alice assumed that most of New Jersey had some warning, and had evacuated before the New Yorkers had invaded their state. She still wasn’t sure why the SUV they had found worked when all other vehicles had been disabled up to this point.

            The cleared roads made their trip much easier, and as Vic pulled out a few power bars and handed them out, he gave directions more quickly. Around an hour later, the truck pulled into the driveway of his parents’ house. It was a huge farmhouse that was definitely in “horse country,” and despite probably being over a hundred years old, it was in pristine condition. Everything from the shutters to the landscaping looked as if it had been plucked out of a catalogue. The perfectly square paddocks surrounding the home were lightly frosted, and dotted here and there with small, leafless trees. From the large barn down the drive, Alice could hear horses whinnying, welcoming the arrival of someone who might bring their dinner.

            The large house had several bedrooms on the second and third floors, and everyone rushed inside to choose which one they would become temporary master of. Vic chose the master bedroom, of course, knowing where it was located and that it was by far the best choice, before anyone else had the chance to see it. He lead Christine in by the hand, saying something about borrowing some of his mother’s clothes for her since hers were still damp, and closed the whitewashed wooden door behind him. Devin and Danny chose the other two rooms on the second floor, leaving Alice with the third-floor loft.

            The room was large and airy, taking up the majority of the third floor, but warm and smelling of lavender. Everything was white except for the hardwood floors: the walls, the armoire, the night tables, and even the bedclothes and curtains. It brought to mind the crisp summer days of fabric softener commercials, until Alice noticed that it matched the whitened fields outside the window. Suddenly, it felt bleak. She had almost forgotten why they were there.

            Sighing, Alice noticed a door to her right, toward the front of the house. She walked toward it, and explored a large bathroom, complete with Jacuzzi tub. Everything in said room was also white as snow.

            Alice’s stomach growled. She realized she hadn’t had anything but two cups of coffee and a power bar all day. On her way back down the stairs, she heard sounds from the master bedroom which told her interrupting Vic wasn’t a good idea, so she headed to the kitchen herself.

            The huge country kitchen was immaculate, and every stainless steel appliance gleamed like it had never been touched. Alice reached into a bowl on the granite countertop and retrieved an apple. As she put the fruit to her lips, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun round, and saw Danny’s handsome eyes looking down at her.

            “Are you all right now?” he asked her. “Warmer?”

            “Much,” Alice replied, her mouth full of applesauce and her cheeks reddening. She had been stupid…

            “Alice, I �"“ Danny began, when suddenly Devin came racing into the room.

            “There’s power!” she shouted. It seemed Devin was always yelling about something. “I didn’t expect there to be, but the TVs work and everything.”

            “Dev,” Danny said, “the clocks are working. You didn’t notice?”

            “No,” she replied bluntly. Truthfully, Alice hadn’t noticed either. Checking the display on the range behind Danny, she noticed it was after five.

            “The news,” Alice realized.

            They raced each other into the living room, and fumbled over the complicated remote controls until the huge flatscreen turned on. Danny snatched the remote from his younger sister and pressed the number five. Seconds later, they were watching open-mouthed as a brunette female news anchor filled them in on the exact details of their situation.

            “The device detonated off the cost of New Jersey this morning has been identified. It was not in fact a nuclear device, as previously thought. It appears that a submarine of unknown origins surfaced, then fired a device at the nearby Statue of Liberty. It does not appear that the persons controlling this craft were well versed in military or weapons tactics, as the device not only caused severe structural damage to the landmark, but also decimated the surfaced sub.”

            “The only reason we can imagine so far,” an expert whose picture had appeared in the corner of the screen began, “is that this was a fear tactic attempted by a group of untrained terrorist individuals. They were clearly not a trained military force, but they may or may not be representing one.”

            Danny muted the television. ‘Well, now we know,” he said. “At least we aren’t covered in fallout.”

            I’ve already stripped and gotten into water twice, and I didn’t have to?” Alice asked. “Well that sucks. I left my entire dance uniform in the subway station.”

            Danny seemed to be processing that idea with a slight smile. Devin rolled her eyes.

            “At least we aren’t dead,” Devin said. “I’ll buy you another leotard.”

            They all glanced over their shoulders as Christine and Vic descended the stairs. Christine’s eyeliner, which somehow had survived the subway shower, was all over her cheeks. Maybe Alice had jumped to conclusions about what she thought she had heard behind that closed door. Devin quickly filled them in on what was going on.

            “So, if it wasn’t a nuke, what do they think it was?” Vic asked.

            “I dunno, some sort of ‘device’, the girl said,” Danny replied.

            “’Device’, huh? Sounds like what they’d say in some bad movie,” Christine said.

            “Well, whatever it is, be glad it didn’t completely decimate us and our city,” Devin said. She seemed very determined to ensure that the rest of the girls stop whining. Rubbing her temples, she said, “Vic, do you have some Tylenol or some morphine or something? My head is killing me.”

            Vic and Christine showed Devin to the upstairs bathroom, leaving Danny and Alice watching the huge, muted screen alone.

            Alice flopped on the sofa. She suddenly felt much safer, but something in the back of her mind told her that it wasn’t quite time to give up on her new-found leadership just yet. She took another bite of the apple in her hand.

© 2011 dolcecrescendo


Author's Note

dolcecrescendo
This story is constantly being edited, and more is being added to it every day. It was begun less than three days ago. Let me know what you think, and where improvements could possibly be made.

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Added on September 5, 2011
Last Updated on September 10, 2011
Tags: bomb, New York City, NYC, nuclear, fiction, sci-fi, future
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dolcecrescendo
dolcecrescendo

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amateur writer, musician, animal lover, college student I'm trying to get into the writing scene, but it's been a while since I've done any serious writing. Constructive criticism is appreciated! :.. more..