What if everything we thought we knew about angels and demons wasn’t quite true? What if they weren’t the timeless, immortal beings we had spent entire ages of human history thinking they were? This news would surely prove Earth-shattering in a far too literal sense as we find out on that fateful day. Hell may or may not lie in the physical world, but the shockwaves felt were on a very real scale when it all broke loose. That day started like any other; day traders hit the stock market en masse, children took to schools, the world turned as it had countless times before as far as we knew, and then it happened.
In a moment the mostly tranquil serenity of “the day to day” was shattered in favor of a cataclysmic tremor that took the entire planet by storm. It didn’t take long for the shaking to build from a menacing vibrato to something that might only be described as someone playing a drum solo over the surface of the Earth. Cities on every continent were subjected to the violent throes of a massive event. It was as if someone had pulled the rug out from under us except our streets, our structures, our whole lives had been unwittingly standing upon it. We had no idea this was a planetary phenomenon and that it was just the beginning.
With toppled skyscrapers and similarly ravaged smaller towns and byways, those of us unfortunate enough to have survived the initial wave of destruction would be met with a much more heinous fate. With our entire lives in ruin we were forced into what was left of the streets, many of which were mangled and torn. How many had actually survived was anyone’s guess at that point. Having been at work for a local chemical supply company in southeast Connecticut, several co-workers and I had managed to find our way from the rubble that used to serve as an office only to find that the once level parking lot had been reduced to utter ruin. We counted ourselves lucky to have made it even this far despite the bruises and scathes that plagued our bodies.
When the ground stopped convulsing and some of the dust gave way to enough visibility that we might take a head count, only some nine of us were in any condition to stand let alone walk. Though battered and bleeding from falls and scrapes we were at least still such a way that we might help ourselves or help each other. The rest rolled about the mosaic patterned concrete, bodies broken with the churning of pavement and the displacement of vehicles. As if on cue hand after hand dove into the pockets of khaki pants, buttoned shirts, and various purses for what has become a lifeline of modern man. The frantic shouts amounting to “What happened?!” broke a silence that until that moment we hadn’t realized was there. No sooner had the cell phones flashed from these varied crevices that we all realized each device was searching for service. Some began to panic right then and shake, slap, plead with or even abuse the devices in some vain attempt to force a connection that they might at least confirm the safety of their loved ones. Some turned to begin helping those who could not stand or who were trapped under the abundant debris, some fled after a brief declaration of finding their family, some without so much as a word left to parts unknown. It didn’t matter really. What we were to experience in the following days would have, and did, render the armies of the world powerless.
Then it happened. Without so much as a sound the oppressively large cloud of dust swirling about us was sucked skyward. The force of it pulled the very breath from our lungs. It was as if someone ran a vacuum overhead, and yet instead of disappearing that same cloud remained. That layer of debris now encompassing the sky didn’t belong and we knew it, but someone forgot to tell the shroud that. It didn’t take long for us all to begin exchanging wide-eyed glances at one another, and the twisted forms strewn amongst us wailing and clutching at themselves on the uneven ground. Those on the ground ranged from the unconscious with what looked to be only a head wound, to those with clearly broken limbs, two people pinned under cars, and one man had even been trapped between two large chunks of concrete that had shifted and clamped upon his shoulder. It felt like a lifetime and yet, suddenly, almost as if on cue, someone uttered what we were all thinking.
“What do we do?”
The resulting conversation was little more than a discordant, multifaceted exchange between a clutch of frightened office employees. From conjecture to what had just happened with the dust, and talk of figuring out what to do next, to three of them profusely apologizing as they ambled off to find their loved ones. The only answer was staring us in the collective face. Someone had to go for help while the remaining three did what they could for the ones unable to even stand until help was brought back. Volunteers weren’t exactly lining up to be the odd man out on this expedition into God knows what alone, but with no family to speak of and being the least injured of the remaining quartet loitering in this dilapidated lot, clearly, I was the best candidate.
It was obvious where I would look to go. There was a hospital some seven or eight miles away just outside of town. Maybe they couldn’t spare much but at the very least I would be able to tell someone where the others were and get help, and if not maybe they would let me have some supplies to bring back so we could help the wounded. We needed bandages, antiseptic, something to remove things like broken glass and other such foreign objects, food, water, and at the very least some sheets to either transport or cover up ourselves and the wounded when it got dark. Given the time of day being almost three in the afternoon it would likely not be long after I returned, assuming I returned in time, before it got dark.
As I turned from the others it was like stepping into another world entirely. It didn’t look any different than the lot that looked like the pavement had taken the form of an ocean momentarily. Buildings were toppled, the ground looked like it had been chewed on, and the air was still impossibly thick but something was different, something was missing. There weren’t any cars on this road, no people strewn around like discarded scraps at a banquet. It’s as if this area had been constructed for the sole purpose of whatever it was that had gone on that day. Walking, or hiking with the ruptures and crags that the ground was now pieced together in, at a pace best associated with meandering tourists due to the terrain proved to be far more difficult than I’d imagined but I had to keep going. People were depending on me to return with help and I couldn’t let them down.
Street after street it was all the same. Not a single vehicle, animal, person, body, or even any sign that they’d even been here before. Just toppled houses and trees strewn about like a messy child’s toys, the roots of which, in some cases, jutting from the ground like so many hands grasping in vain at a sky that couldn’t help them. I knew better. People lived in this area; I drove through these streets five days a week for the last six years passing by them both in and out of their homes. Not a day went by that I had failed to see at least someone hanging up laundry, or a dog in a yard, or birds and squirrels in the trees. I may not always have taken notice of these things, being so commonplace, but the stark realization that they were suddenly all absent was perhaps the most disturbing thing about this situation. I was convinced, mostly out of fear, that somehow they knew what was coming and had the good sense to get out of dodge while the getting was good. Maybe there had been something on the news and we at the warehouse just hadn’t heard. But then how far did they go? How far was far enough to escape this? I told myself not to think about that. I had to stay focused on finding help for those people back there. It was hope against hope that the hospital in this area hadn’t been decimated like virtually every other building I’d come across by then, but it was the best I could come up with at the time on my own wandering a landscape that had been so drastically altered from what I’d driven through almost every day for over half a decade now.
My trek continued with a near constant crackling of broken glass being stepped on. It helped to drown out what would have been silence aside from my breathing. The blisters were forming all over my hands from grabbing hold of tilted slabs of asphalt to traverse. It wasn’t until I reached the hospital that I began to really feel like this was no ordinary disaster. Where there should have been at the very least ruins playing homage to a place of medical care, there was simply a jagged hole in the ground. There wasn’t even anything that remotely resembled a building there. How could a twelve-floor hospital just vanish? All that was left was this tragic cavity in the terrain and the five-level parking garage that used to serve as a stacked parking lot for the late hospital.
“What do I do now?”
“Where did it go?”
“Why did this have to happen to me?”
“Was this really just an earthquake?”
In a silent frenzy the questions began racing through my mind. I didn’t have any answers, I didn’t have anything left. Having sunk to my knees in a mixture of shock and hopelessness, I found myself indulging in an activity I hadn’t even thought of since I was a child. I prayed. Silently at first, with my eyes closed and my chest heaving, but soon it progressed into the sobbing pleas of a man praying to a God he wasn’t even sure he believed in. Knelt on the uneven street, abused hands cupping a dirty face now streaked with tears and blacktop residue, I pleaded with a higher power for anything. For help, for an answer, for proof of existence, anything that might show me anyone was listening. Maybe the words were still hollow, maybe desperation revealed a very real level of faith that, until that very moment, hadn’t been a requirement to live and prosper, but at that moment I had nothing else.
For several minutes this went on until I regained what was left of my pride and composure. Feeling both silly and defeated I rose to my feet and found myself questioning the next course of action. Did I have it in me to look somewhere else? Could I go back to that parking lot empty handed and tell those people I gave up? I stood there weighing my options and ultimately settled on trying the police station. It wasn’t much of a choice at all. I couldn’t go back there without anything to show for it .I forced myself to resume the trudged exodus that became increasingly depressing. The police station may not contain all the medical supplies we might need, but maybe I would be able to salvage some food or water to bring back. It had dawned on me that by that time in the day the sun should have gone down. According to my phone it was after ten at night, and yet, the sky was still light as though it was midday. Stranger still was the fact that, despite the flowing cloak of earthy debris painting the heavens, everything was still illuminated.
Another couple of miles passed before my morale hit a low I didn’t think was possible. Not only had I failed to that point to find any supplies but now I was beginning to wonder if turning around and heading back wasn’t the better option. Even if I bring anything back with me, I had no options. The hospital had vanished. Would they believe me? Would it even matter to them that I tried if I came back empty handed? That inner struggle would most likely have continued on for some time if not for a violent force hurling me off the ground and into the air. It didn’t feel like the wind, but there’s no other way to describe it visually. I saw nothing and the force of whatever it was hadn’t blown into me so much as it had pulled me off my feet. The brutal rollercoaster included almost unbearable jolting turns that scrambled my insides and that feeling didn’t stop when I did. When this force came to a halt I recognized the area I was now dangling over. The toothy chasm, where once stood a hospital, was seemingly all too eager to have me. I was allowed one last look skyward before whatever had held me up decided to drop me.
That fall shouldn’t have been so lengthy but I remained untouched for must have been an hour or more. The breath had long been forced from my lungs, and yet I was still reeling from the sheer friction of the air as I hurled through it. It felt like belly flopping repeatedly and relentlessly. My lungs were continually assaulted and crushed by the impacts almost as fast as I could gasp and choke a breath before surging through another ghostly obstacle. If these objects were visible I didn’t know it since the entirety of the plunge was total darkness. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I could do nothing but struggle for a half breath at a time and endure it being ripped from me in rapid succession until smashing into one last indiscernible barrier. I did not crash through this impediment, instead I was drawn into it after some moments of lying there in a vain attempt to catch my breath or rest in the hopes that the burgeoning pain across my being would subside.
As the mass absorbed me the burning in my chest had ceased to dominate my thoughts. I no longer craved oxygen; my lungs had forgotten the want to be filled. Despite the relief that represented I felt at a loss. Being passed through what felt like quick sand filled with broken glass should have been excruciating yet produced a dull ache I would scarcely have noticed if anything else had been going on. With everything that had happened to that point, I had failed to take notice of the blinding darkness preventing me from viewing the horrors I had felt. That all changed as I reached the other side of that grainy pool and found myself settled on the floor of another world; one crowded, filled with a radiant blue hue, the kind of climate you might expect on the South Pole, and the fervent screams accompanied by chaotic motion of a thousand intersecting tides. Chilled to the bone but otherwise, surprisingly, unscathed upon a cursory inspection of myself in the first bit of light I had seen in some time; I struggled to erect myself to a stand amidst the trampling feet and crashing waves of bodies. As if by some miracle I was plagued neither by the agony in the limbs I could feel twisting and snapping on that blind plunge, nor the chest that should have been long since caved in by the repeated blows against unseen partitions.
The chasm looked endless in all directions as well, and filled with panicked wailing that sounded akin to a jet engine. I tried to garner the attention of several people around me. Everything from shouting and swatting at them, to grabbing them by the shoulders and screaming in their faces, anything to get someone to tell me where we were and what was happening. I was met with a sort of vehement effort to ignore all this. Even while I howled in their faces most of them didn’t even look at me, those that did seemed not to care that they were being accosted. Everyone was pre-occupied with something. With each individual I wrestled to at least face me the same result was had. As my voice began getting sore from the vain attempts to get a response beyond the rare moment in which a pair of eyes might flick my way, an arctic worthy wind rolled through the ocean of bodies housed in the strange abyss. Despite the veritable throng of people amassed, the algid barrage bit me to my very core, flowing into me, around me, through me even. Just as the wave of torturous, mind scrambling shock began to subside, a booming voice dwarfed the cries of the crowd with ease cut through the cavernous expanse.
“Silence you simpering insects!”
This served to quell the miserable weeping of many, while only spurning others to double their efforts. My attention snapped behind where I had been facing, and to my horror an entire procession had amassed amidst the crowd. A dais upon a massive tread had somehow erected itself in mere minutes. Upon the throne sat a grotesque, bloated individual whose fanged sneer could be clearly seen even from my distance. Hairless with a skin of crimson sat the hulking form. Eyes of a solid white surveying the populace as a merchant might assess potential acquisitions. About the steps stood a considerably smaller, thinner framed creature with the scales of a reptile and a tangle of jagged horn-like protrusions about its head. Again the thunderous roar of a voice resonated through the expanse.
“Hail Mammon! Emperor of this realm and all others!” the voice once again pierced the air with such force it wasn’t just heard, but felt. “With the demise of the once indomitable lord of the depths, the abyss is mastered by another.” A brief pause by the prong-faced orator spurned a mixture of terror and suspense. Despite the fact that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing I craved to know where this was and what all was happening. “With the deceiver’s time at hand a great battle raged for eons in the name of a successor to the throne,” a shudder inducing cackle broke the rhythm “and when the skirmish was done none stood above your master!” As the lightning strike-esque voice subsided the myriad of piteous cries surfaced again, this time louder than when I had first arrived. They were soon rendered inaudible by another blast from that sonic canon standing on the raised steps before that massive throne. “Mammon claims all, and you worthless, insignificant, subjects belong to him!” With that the serpent resembling creature began to cachinnate, only adding to the woeful reality.
My mind reeled. What was all this talk about emperors, battles, and eons? Where was I? Was that really an earthquake or something else? I didn’t want to accept the answers to the questions racing through my thoughts. I couldn’t accept them. Either the seemingly endless expanse had begun closing in on us all, or there was a massive influx of yet more poor who had suffered the same fate. Whichever it was, it forced us even closer together. Before long the pressure of being crushed against everyone else around changed from an uncomfortable situation to profuse agony. It felt like being locked in a vice that just kept tightening. My entire body was now on fire again. On all sides I was pinned by the helpless, wailing people and even without space enough sense the air between those writhing forms, still that sharp chill encircled me.
And that’s where I am now. The pressure increases almost constantly, and the sensation never tapers off. I don’t know what happened to those people in the lot. For all I know they managed to pick up and find help, cursing my name for never coming back. Better that I had died during the shaking that day. Better I had refused to leave that parking lot. Better anything other than this. What if everything we thought we knew about angels and demons wasn’t quite true? What if they weren’t the timeless, immortal beings we had spent entire ages of human history thinking they were? Ignorance truly is bliss.