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The Sky Below (Chapter Ten)

It’s been a month since Chapter Nine and again sorry for that. Figuring out a writing schedule with my new work schedule has been a little tricky. I’m getting more sleep which is great, but I’m not always at my peak writing shape in the evenings. Plus I’m moving my office into the basement which will give me about three times the space (and a new desk), but the moving process itself is taking up time and energy (even planning energy). Anyway, hope you enjoy this latest installment. I’m thinking that the next chapter will be an interlude that will interrupt the flow of the main story for a little bit, and then we’ll get back to the adventures of these four.

The story so far:

Bethany, a lawyer just wanting to enjoy a donut and a cheap cup of coffee, is caught in the mall when her world is turned upside-down. She teams up with Claudia, a Dunkin Donuts cashier, in an attempt to find out what’s going on and avoid the roving looters who are using the disaster as an excuse for mayhem.

Bethany has tried and failed to get in touch with her sister Grace, who was trying to call her just before disaster struck. Having narrowly avoided a group of thugs in a sporting goods store, Claudia and Bethany make their way down a service hallway and into the maintenance stairwell. Their ascent is cut short when the thugs discover them…



“Kiss your knees, bitch!” the skinhead with the baseball bat screamed at Bethany, while the man with the combat boots, presumably their leader, wrapped duct tape around her hands. Her fingers were interlocked under her knees, a position that forced her to lean forward, exposing the skin on her lower back and hiking the skirt halfway up her thigh. The boots wearing thug ran his hand down her leg, beginning along her thigh and moving slowly down to her calf. He smiled the whole time, his sweaty hands leaving behind a trail of moisture that made her shudder with disgust.

Already she could see he thought of himself as the charmer. Moments before he’d restrained baseball bat and bloody shirt from knocking her senseless after the stunt she pulled in the doorway. Claudia had been a couple of steps behind her when Bethany fell through the door. Bloody shirt had made a move to jump down into the stairwell, but Bethany had wrapped an arm around his ankle, sending his full weight tumbling on top of her. Claudia had taken advantage of those precious seconds and had practically flown up several flights of stairs until she was out of sight.

Bethany didn’t blame Claudia; she would have done the same thing if she’d been in her place. If Claudia had tried to save her they’d both be sitting here tied up. She would come back, Bethany was almost sure of it. She was coming back.

Blood from the boy’s shirt had stained Bethany’s left shoulder, and the crush of his weight knocked the wind out of her. She felt like she’d bruised or broken most of her ribs. She coughed and wheezed for nearly half a minute, while the young man tried to kick his way off her. In the end, combat boots had pulled his compatriot off Bethany, even offering her a hand up, which she refused, even though it meant another half minute of the men watching as she struggled to stand.

Back in the present the leader was finishing his tape job. “There we are, my dear. Isn’t that much better?” he said, the back of his fingers brushing her calf as he pulled away.

“Go to hell,” Bethany spit out through clenched teeth.

“Quiet, whore!” Baseball bat hadn’t settled on a favorite gender slur for her yet, but she was sure he’d get there.

“That’s enough!” Boots said his voice deeper and more resonate than she would have expected from a kid his age. Just as quickly his affect shifted to a low warm whisper.

“You’ll have to forgive him. We’re new at this and are still a little rough on the protocol.”

“Why are you doing this?” Bethany asked trying to sound less scared than she was.

“Because it doesn’t matter anymore,” the young man grinned. “You want me to go to hell? Lady, if we’re not already there, then where do you think we are?”

“We’re wasting our time,” bloody shirt said, “Let’s just kill her like we did the fucking little-league coach.”

The young man shook his head, “There’s such a thing as a sense of proportion. We killed the manager because he refused to give us the end of the world discount. He was holding on to the archaic notion that money or property still had value in this new world. But her,” he took an appraising look at Bethany, “she still has quite a lot of value.”

“She looks frigid to me,” bat-boy observed.

“She’s just getting to know us, that’s all,” combat boots answered, “She’ll warm up to us once we’ve had a chance to get acquainted.”

“Whatever man, we just need to get out of here,” bloody shirt scoffed.

The young man put a hand on his compatriot’s shoulder, “I assure you we will have time for all of our pharmacological errands. The hospital is only a few blocks from here. Even underground we should be able to get there in a few hours.”

‘The hospital,’ Bethany thought, ‘what the hell could they want there?’

“Your friend is right,” Bethany said. “There’s no point staying here. This building wasn’t designed to hang upside down.”

“Did anybody ask you?!” Bloody shirt’s tone had shifted from vague exasperation with his boss, to open and violent hostility.

Boots must have sensed the danger as well, but his tone remained calm. “If you want to move things along, why don’t you find that Latina our friend was climbing with? She can’t have gone far.”

Bat-boy chuckled and grinned back at boots, “You never know, man. Those wetbacks know how to get out of some tight spaces.”

Boots nodded, “Nothing the two of you can’t handle. I’ll take good care of our new arrival; keep her company until you find her friend.”

The two thugs split off in different directions looking for Claudia, leaving Bethany alone with boots. Bethany wasn’t sure if the situation had just become more or less dangerous. Boot’s hold on the brutality of other men seemed tenuous at best, so keeping them occupied was probably in her best interest. But every time he grinned at her, she felt a cold chill.

She needed to keep him talking, distract him long enough for Claudia to do something.

Evidently he was interested in breaking the ice as well. “Well my dear, we haven’t been formally introduced yet, and since it’s just the two of us we might as well be friendly. I’m Zane. What’s your name?”

She’d seen a lot of hostage situations on TV. The general consensus of all them seemed to be that the first thing you needed to do was get your captor to see you as a person. Tell them something personal about yourself, appeal to their humanity. And that started with your name. But even as she said it, the words tasted like ashes. He repeated it back to her, chewing on every syllable. This was a sound-bite that would remain in her memory long after this prick got what was coming to him.

“Bethany. You don’t look like you work in a donut shop. What’d you used to do for a living?”

She hadn’t thought about her job in the past tense yet, though the demand for lawyers had probably sharply declined following the events of the morning. Telling him her particular job wouldn’t do much to humanize her, but she couldn’t refuse to answer either. She had to keep him talking. He would slip up. She just had to give it time.

“I work for Culfe, Holter and Greenwald downtown.”

“Y’know I knew you were a lawyer, Bethany,” Zane said, sitting cross-legged on the ceiling a couple of feet away. From this position he looked like what he was, just a kid, leaning back on his hands without a care in the world. “That building’s just a stone’s throw away from my old church.”

“You went to church?” Bethany couldn’t help the question.

“What’s that old saying, ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’? I sit before you a hooligan, a hustler, a man of violence. Yet didn’t Jesus spend his time with tax collectors and sinners? No, Bethany, I have strayed far from the flock of my redeemer, but I still remember the words that pompous old windbag Father Marcado used to say every Sunday. ‘The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.’ Or put another way, ‘up is down and down is up.’”

“That’s an awfully literal interpretation,” she responded after a moment’s pause. “You think God was always going to flip the world like a pancake?”

Zane grinned again, the longer hairs of his mustache hanging over his pursed lips. “That was the thing I always liked about the good Father. Sometimes he would go on and on about the spiritual meaning behind something, especially when he had a particular axe he wanted to grind. But mostly he just played it straight. The Bible isn’t a metaphorical book; beneath all the poetry there’s a lot of cold hard fact. If God or the Devil didn’t flip the world, then who did?”

“Maybe it was us,” Bethany replied, the quickness of her answer surprising her.

Zane laughed. It was not a pleasant laugh. Phlegm rattled in the back of his throat, and he coughed several times as he regained his breath. “That’d be a hell of a thing, wouldn’t it? We didn’t bake ourselves to death, or nuke ourselves into oblivion, we just flipped ourselves off.”

Bethany wasn’t sure why, but she felt like defending her answer, “I read once that if every nuclear weapon ever created was detonated, we could knock the Earth off its axis by half a degree.”

Zane chuckled again, “Maybe, but you and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it. There was no explosion, no flash of light, no whoosh of air, nothing. One moment the world was right-side up, the next it was upside-down. Man can’t do anything that cleanly.”

“You see this?” he said pulling out a small joint. “This is natural, this is God given. Grows out of the Earth and is rolled and lit and brings you to another place. Man only knows how to create highs with chemicals and powders, dark crystals. Those are artificial sweeteners compared to this beauty. Sure we can make powders that knock you down twice as hard or twice as long, but it’s not clean. You worry about buildings pulling out of the ground, but what about plants? Maybe trees with deep roots can hang on, get water from somewhere, but this?” He pinched the tip of the joint between his fingers, “this will dry up and blow away, just like you and I.”

Bethany wasn’t sure if it was Zane’s ‘pharmacological regimen’ or just a delusional personality that was driving these ramblings. Was a man’s sanity like gravity, something that should be solid and dependable, but that can apparently shift without warning? On a different day he’d be saying these things in a Case Western dorm room while getting high with his buddies. But he was saying them to her, and she couldn’t even see him properly. Resting her head sideways on her knees felt too intimate, too relaxed. Yet it was an awful strain to try to hold her neck up. She could always bury her face, but that would be an invitation for him to come over and try to coax her out.

She was angry, not just at the threats and the violence, but that Zane had deprived her of a way to properly express her anger. She could thrash, she could scream, but she couldn’t make him see her fury. She wanted to force him back to reality, not this juiced up pseudo post-apocalyptic fantasy, but to a world with hard truths and consequences for actions.

“She’s long gone, Zane.” Baseball bat said. Bethany looked up with a start. She hadn’t heard either of them return. “Craig found a couple of crowbars in a toolbox. We should be able to get that sewer access open.”

“That’s excellent news, isn’t it Bethany?” Zane said.

“So you’ve made friends then,” baseball bat said, “guess that means she’s coming with us?”

“I don’t know,” Zane said, considering. “You want to come with us, Bethany?”

The glare was worth the neck pain, “And how exactly do you expect me to walk tied-up like this?”

Baseball bat moved swiftly. The knife came out of nowhere and flicked open in a flash. She felt a light scrape and quick downward pressure as he cut the tape. He grabbed her left wrist roughly as he pulled her up, a little trickle of blood already running down her palm. Her other arm was contained and re-taped behind her back before she’d even regained her balance.

Then she was falling forward, the pressure on her wrists suddenly gone. She took a stutter-step and managed to plant her feet in front of her. She turned slowly, expecting to see bat-boy laughing at shoving her forward, but he wasn’t there.

Bethany suspected that even if she had learned his name she would have found a way to derive satisfaction from the sight before her. Names can only confer so much humanity. We give them to animals after all. Whatever his name was, he no longer had any need of it, not with an arrow sticking out of his chest.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below (Chapter Eight)

Well the production schedule is back on track. Today we check in with our baseball players in the aftermath of losing one of their number, and Bethany and Claudia go out of the donut shop and into the fire.

You can download the full eBook (Chapters 1-8) in Kindle, EPUB and PDF formats. Or you can go to the book’s landing page here.



Eddie looked down at the dead young man and felt nothing. His act had been merciful, a hastening of the inevitable. And if not merciful, it had at least been just. Franklin still lay in a bloody heap behind Eddie, his blood and brain matter plastered all over the back wall. This young man had shot his teammate. It didn’t really matter if he’d meant to do it, or if Franklin had goaded him into it, the young man had taken a life and so his was forfeit. Accounts were kept short at the end of the world.

If Eddie felt anything it was anger, but not toward the young man at his feet. Conesta had been the one to deliver the truly fatal blow. Rather than face his actions and take some share of the responsibility for what to do next, Conesta was curled up in a far corner of the concession stand, rocking back and forth with his head in his hands.

Stankowsky wasn’t acting much better. He hadn’t curled into a ball, but only because his body was frozen in place. His arm had been limp when Eddie dressed it, and now hung uselessly at Stan’s side. Eddie knew the wound hadn’t been that bad; Stan’s arm worked. But Stankowsky didn’t seem to think he had any use for it. He just kept staring at nothing, trapped several inches deep behind his eyes.

These two men had seen the lives of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, all snuffed out in an instant. What did one more matter?

Eddie shook his head. He couldn’t believe the way he was thinking. He wondered if they all could see it on his face. Was that why Manny wouldn’t look at him?

“What are we going to do with the bodies?”

The question had come from Belanchek. He’d been crouched next to Conesta trying to get him up, and had given that up to walk over to Eddie.

“Nothing we can do. We leave them,” Eddie answered flatly. His dead tone snapped Conesta out of his daze.

“What the hell, Eddie? What if that was you lying there?”

“I’d expect you to leave me too,” Eddie replied.

“You heartless…” Conesta had gone from being withdrawn to being on the verge of tears in a matter of seconds. Eddie hadn’t really realized before just how young Conesta was. He was maybe five or six years older than the kid.

“Hell of a time to be talking like that,” Eddie continued. “You and Stan didn’t seem to mind turning this kid into a human piñata. And don’t pretend that any of you would have gotten too sentimental over me if I’d been the one to buy it instead of Franklin.”

Conesta seemed about to protest, but instead looked down at his feet.

“What would you have us do, anyway? Do we drag Franklin and this kid back to the stands and toss them into the sky? We can’t bury them, and we can’t hide them. This stadium is a tomb, and we’re grave robbers trying to grab whatever we can before this place comes down around our heads. Franklin understood that much at least.”

Conesta had shut down, and Stankowsky just kept staring blindly forward. Eddie could feel Manny’s stare without turning around, but he suspected, hoped, even Manny knew he was right.

All of a sudden Belanchek got a wicked grin. “You’re wrong, Eddie. Franklin wouldn’t have left you. He probably would have eaten you.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow, “Excuse me?”

“Better WE eat you than somebody else,” Belanchek replied. “Meat’s not going to be easy to come by.”

Eddie chuckled, “When did you get such a sick mind, Bellie?”

“I’ve always had a sick mind; I just kept it to myself. And it’s Bella, not ‘Bellie’. Y’know, like Bella donna.”

“You’d rather we called you a beautiful woman?” Manny asked.

Belanchek shrugged, “Better than being called a stomach or a tiny bell.”

They all laughed. Eddie should have felt terrible, yet if felt good to get some kind of a release. If he couldn’t laugh he’d become bitter like Franklin, or broken like Stankowsky and Conesta.

He turned to Stankowsky and clapped him on the shoulder. Stan’s eyes refocused abruptly, like a room full of static resolving into a single note. “You okay?” Eddie asked.

Stankowsky swallowed. “Yeah,” He said hoarsely. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The ramps to the skybox seats were about fifty feet out and around from where they were. They had a gun but they were already down six bullets, and they still had little in the way of water or medical supplies. For those things they’d need to go down before they could climb up to whatever safety the sewers offered.

The ramp was smooth cement, lined on either side by tight meshes of rubber coated squares. Long electrical line pipes ran down the middle, broken up by evenly spaced bulbs in cages. The floor above them was rougher, designed for the slow shuffling of hundreds of pairs of feet on their way to the upper decks before making the rest of the schlep up to the nosebleed seats.

Eddie was surprised at how reluctant he was to take that first step down. They’d all felt relatively safe nestled in the cement hallways of the stadium, which looked largely the same right-side up as down. But now Eddie was convinced the floor could crack at any moment. Despite the ramp’s gentle slope, he took every step cautiously with both arms outstretched, and the rest of the team followed his example.

They climbed down three levels before Eddie suggested they take a break, stepping off the ramp and back into the catacombs of the stadium. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he leaned against a wall to try to focus on something solid. His mind was creating all sorts of nightmare scenarios. His hands were tingling, and he told himself it was just his own blood rushing through his palm and not the building beginning its death throes. What if he was right about this being a tomb, their tomb?

Belanchek shouted, and Eddie’s eyes snapped open. Even though they were only a few levels down, the distance between the ramp and the seats was a lot smaller, and he found Belanchek standing right on the edge looking out. Eddie walked up beside him and Belanchek turned, a rueful smile on his face.

“Wives, girlfriends and mistresses,” He muttered, shaking his head back and forth.

“What?” Eddie asked.

“Down there’s the complimentary seats. Y’know, for our families. We couldn’t see them from the dugout, never even saw them go.”

Eddie frowned. He’d given his seat to a woman he’d been dating for three weeks, one of the few moves he had left to impress anyone. And for the life of him, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember her name.

* * *

The service hallway was dark, the only light cast by the exit signs in dim red flickering cones. Several 50 gallon trash cans had toppled over, spilling garbage everywhere. Each step brought another new sound and another unpleasant sensation on Bethany’s stocking feet. She’d left her shoes behind in the donut shop. Heels weren’t very good for climbing, but they were better than bare feet for stepping on half-eaten pizza. Claudia gave Bethany’s hand a reassuring squeeze as they moved slowly down the hallway. Her hands were smooth and felt like they had a permanent thin layer of flour from hundreds of hours of baking.

The service stairwell was about 100 feet down the corridor, but it felt like it had taken hours to reach it. Bethany turned back to look at the small circle of light at the other end of the hall. She told herself that no one could see them even if they were looking, but she wasn’t so sure. Claudia, meanwhile, was examining the double doors to the stairwell before letting out a snort in disgust.

“Locked,” Claudia vented. “We can’t go back out there and look for one of the maintenance guys with those maniacs running around.”

Bethany replied calmly, “It’s alright; let me give it a try.”

“You hiding a crowbar under that skirt?” Claudia whispered, her voice tense and coming out in bursts.

“Not exactly,” Bethany said as she produced two small pieces of metal. The first was slightly curved and flexible, the other firmer and straighter. “Never had to do this upside-down before, but I think the concept should be pretty much the same.”

Bethany inserted the thin piece into the lock, and started probing gently. Claudia’s face was a mixture of surprise and amusement. “That something they teach all lawyers?”

Bethany shook her head, “It’s something you’re expected to know before you go to law school. I learned from my mom, actually, or rather from her keeping a lock on the liquor cabinet. A determined teenager with an afternoon to kill can accomplish wonders in the face of such adversity.”

She smiled as she remembered Grace taking the brute force approach, pulling on the lock until her hands were sore and sweaty. Bethany on the other hand, had been calm and methodical, and had the lock open in less than ten minutes with a couple of hairpins. The memory of what happened afterward was largely obliterated by the quantity of gin consumed, though she did remember her father trying to hold back both of their hair as one threw up in the bathtub and the other in the toilet.

A satisfying thunk indicated success. She pushed the door open triumphantly, only to take in a sharp breath of air as she looked down.

“That’s not a skylight down there, is it?” Bethany whispered.

Claudia looked over cautiously, “I don’t think they build skylights in maintenance stairwells.”

Bethany looked down, speaking almost absently. “Either the stairs are going to fall out from beneath our feet, or they won’t.”

Claudia frowned, her mouth pulling to the left in consideration, “I guess you’re right. Lawyers first.”

Bethany took a deep breath and sat down on the door jam. The ceiling was low in this part of the building so from a sitting position all she had to do was hop down about a foot. The cement was slick and she almost lost her balance when she hit the ground, but Claudia steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. When Bethany was sure of her footing she stepped to the right, leaned on the wall for support, and put out an arm to catch Claudia as she jumped down.

The floor was definitely moving. One of Bethany’s first temp jobs had been on the second floor of an office building. There was a passageway next to her cubicle and every few minutes when someone walked by, her monitor, the desk and the floor moved ever so slightly. By lunch her stomach was often queasy from all of the low-level earthquakes. This floor felt like a hundred people were running a marathon down that passageway.

She took a tentative step toward the stairs, then stepped back as she nearly lost her balance again. The stockings weren’t going to cut it. She’d never much liked going barefoot as a child, but even she could admit the evolutionary advantage bare feet gave her over slick nylon. She hiked her skirt up around her thighs and tried pushing the material down. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she’d been sweating, and the nylons were stuck to her like a second skin.

Claudia let out another grunt of disgust and without any warning stuck one of her long fingernails about an inch down Bethany’s thigh. She pointed her finger outward and pulled, the sharp nail tearing a hole about the size of a quarter. She took both hands and tore downward till the material split at Bethany’s foot. Another tug upward and she tossed the stocking unceremoniously down the center of the stairwell.

“Bet Jared wishes he could see us now,” Claudia smirked as she worked on the second nylon.

Still a little surprised, but grateful to be free from the clingy and slick material, Bethany flexed her toes and felt the cool metal and cement beneath her feet. The climb was much easier, her foot almost sticking to the stair with each step.

“Can I ask you something?” Claudia said as they climbed onto the next landing.

Bethany chuckled, doubting an answer of no would actually stop this woman. “Sure.”

“Why donuts? I mean, you don’t exactly have the figure of someone who eats the food of the common man.”

Bethany smiled, “Just something my dad and I used to do when I was a kid. He worked long hours, 12-14 hour shifts to be able to provide for all of us. He’d get off work at one in the morning on a Friday, and be waking me up around 5am to go with him for a donut and coffee. He should have been exhausted, but he was always so excited for the opportunity to spend time with his girls. We’d sit in the donut shop and talk for hours, watching the sun come up.”

“That’s nice. All my dad ever did was sit on the couch in front of SportsCenter. My mom used to say that keeping a constant vigil wasn’t going to give the Browns a Super Bowl.”

“Or the Cavs a national title. I wonder if King LeBron is happy he came back,” Bethany said.

“Miami has too many open spaces. He’d have been a goner for sure,” Claudia answered.

Claudia and Bethany were nearly out of breath by the time they reached the top of the stairs. Bethany leaned against the wall for a moment, taking in air in big gulps before pushing tentatively on the double doors. To her surprise, the doors swung wide open, and she fell forward on her face.

Looking up she could see thick black boots mostly hidden underneath baggy jeans. A young man in his teens with a buzz cut and scraggly facial hair gave her a toothy grin. Flanking him on either side were two equally unappealing characters. One had a noticeable red stain over the whole front of his shirt, and the other was running his hands up and down a baseball bat like he was trying to rub it out.

“Well,” the young man said softly, crouching down so he could meet Bethany’s gaze directly. “What do we have here?”


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below (Chapter Seven)

Well, it’s finally here, and it only took a month. Actually a lot of this was written in the last three days, including some marathon sessions starting at 4am, then picking up again after work. It’s good to be working on this again, and hopefully we can get back to the two week production schedule with Chapter 8.

If you missed yesterday’s post and want to catch up on what’s happened so far, or you need a refresher because the author takes too darn long to write, you can check it out here.

You can download the full eBook (Chapters 1-7) in Kindle, EPUB and PDF formats. Or you can look at all the posts on the blog on this page.



Kammie’s hand was going to be a problem. By the time she’d crawled to the supply closet for alcohol and some sterile gauze, the blood had run all the way down her arm and was dripping onto her scrubs. She bit down on a roll of gauze and held her hand out as far away from her as possible, hoping distance would somehow lessen the pain. As the alcohol flowed over the wound it was all she could do to keep from screaming. After pouring out about half the bottle, she wrapped her hand quickly and tightly.

The wound wouldn’t close without stiches, but at least she might be able to contain the bleeding, hopefully without cutting off circulation to her fingers. She stood inside the dark supply closet, her former sanctuary, closing her eyes and hoping the faintest hope that when she opened them, all this would be back to normal. Her throbbing hand and the memory of that empty lounge grounded her too well in reality for that dream to last long.

When she rejoined Grace the young woman insisted on looking at Kammie’s hand. Kammie had seen this kind of thing a lot with the daughters and sons of older patients. A fierce protective instinct kicks in, and sticks around for days, even weeks, after the parent has passed on. Kammie waved off Grace’s offer gently with her good hand. She didn’t want the young woman worrying more than she had to, given all they still had to do.

It took another hour to check the rest of the rooms on the floor, though at least twenty minutes of that had been taking abuse from Mr. Thomas and trying to resist the urge to knock him out. Out of the 30 patients on the ward she’d lost four: Grace’s mother who’d likely passed just before the incident, two patients crushed beneath hospital beds including the woman in room five, and a man who’d suffocated after his respirator shut down. Maybe about half her patients could walk if the need arose, and another five might move with assistance, leaving seven confined to their beds, eight if you included Margie who still had not regained consciousness.

A few of the patients on oxygen would need new tanks in a couple of hours, but they could last a while without them until some kind of help arrived. Then again, she’d been wandering around for the better part of two hours and hadn’t seen anyone from the other floors. She doubted they were the only people left alive, but if the other parts of the hospital were anything like hers they probably had enough of their own problems to deal with.

Grace suggested congregating the patients who were well enough to be moved into the lounge with Margie, while the two of them tried to come up with some way to move the others. Even the people who could walk did so with great difficulty, having to lift IV poles above the metal slats between ceiling tiles, all while shuffling in hospital booties. A few of the patients had managed to pull on clothes, though most were forced to wander around in thin hospital gowns. Kammie did her best to help the patients maintain a shred of dignity, though even she stifled a laugh when a particularly wide step exposed a plump 55 year old fanny.

A series of hastened footsteps followed by a loud bang caught her attention. It took her a few moments to realize the sound was coming from the stairwell. The loud bang was soon followed by a series of thumps against the door, punctuated by copious amounts of swearing. Through the small glass window she could see one of the part-time paramedics trying to jump for the door handle. The ceiling, which was now the floor, was about four feet below the door, with another couple of feet between the base of the door and the handle. It would have been a stretch for even one of the taller ride-alongs, and Frank was only five foot two.

Kammie pushed the door open gently and looked down.

“You rang?”

“Hey Kammie, can you give me a hand?” Frank said.

Kammie bent down and grabbed Frank’s arm with her uninjured hand. As she pulled up she nearly fell backward as her calves grazed the ceiling slats. Frank stumbled forward and caught them by grabbing the door frame. After righting them both, he grinned wildly.

“Somehow I knew you’d still be alive,” Frank said.

“About time you showed up,” Kammie shot back.

Frank was young, but already almost completely bald. Kammie had never seen his original hair color, but the bits that were left were dyed a dark red. The “part-time” paramedics usually worked the same shifts as the nursing staff, at least three 12 hour shifts a week, which usually amounted to more like 14-16 hours.

Despite pulling roughly the same hours, there was a definite pecking order between the nurses and the medics, with the medics at the bottom. Most were only asked to start an EEG, or maybe to put in an IV, while the nursing staff took care of the rest. Frank had never abided by this divide, and Kammie had never seen the need to build fences either. Mostly Frank was just happy to be away from the stress of riding in an ambulance, never knowing if you’ve saved a life or merely delayed the inevitable.

At the end of a long shift Frank would sometimes stand on his head, walking down the hall on his hands while balancing a tray of green Jello on his feet. The patients got a kick out of it, as did most of the nurses as long as their supervisor wasn’t around.

Frank looked around at the patients congregating in the lounge and the distinct lack of other nursing staff. “Are you alone down here?”

“Just me and a civilian, what’s happening on the other floors?”

“I’m not sure. It took me forever just to get up here from upstairs. I’ve only been to the floor below this one, but it looks like more of the same. At least now you’re all seeing the world the way I usually do.”

A tremor tipped the ceiling beneath their feet and Kammie stumbled into Frank, wincing as she hit her bad hand. The tremor shook the building for maybe five seconds, then stopped.

Frank shook his head, “I was wondering when that was going to start.”

“What?” Kammie asked.

“We’re essentially hanging upside-down from the foundation. Even the best engineered building isn’t designed to withstand these kinds of stresses. Some of the floors might hold up a little longer since they have connections to other buildings, but we’re going to start losing the upper floors soon.”

“Assuming the whole building doesn’t tear itself loose first,” Kammie nodded grimly.

“I knew there was a reason I came up here. What would I do without your smiling outlook on life?”

They’d already been hanging for several hours, and there was no sign that gravity was suddenly going to snap back to normal. She’d had some hope that she could treat these patients in place until some kind of help arrived, but it looked like Frank was all she was going to get.

“We’ve got to get these people off this floor and into the basement levels, maybe the parking tunnel,” Kammie said.

Frank nodded, “My thoughts exactly. Any ideas on how?”

Grace walked over from the lobby and Frank extended a hand. Grace shook it limply, then turned to Kammie. “I picked a hell of a day to wear sandals. I don’t know how you guys can stand for all those hours.”

“I’m not sure either,” Kammie smiled. “How is everyone?”

“Wondering what the hell that tremor was. I told them it was nothing to worry about. I’m assuming I was lying?”

“Not really. Worrying isn’t going to change the outcome one way or another. Those tremors are only the building beginning to tear itself apart.”

Grace nodded, “I’m glad to hear it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It’s much much worse.”

Frank smiled, “A couple of hours with this one and you’re already Miss Sunshine and lollipops.”

Grace looked about to chuckle, but then her face fell. She looked down at the floor, then back up at Kammie. She looked more exhausted than just a moment ago if such a thing was possible. Then again, she had probably been at her mother’s side for days. Her hair was oily and pulled back, and her eyes were white from exhaustion.

“We can’t take her with us, can we?” She said quietly.

Frank looked about to say something, but Kammie brushed a hand against his side to quiet him. “I’m sorry, Grace.”

“Can I see her?” Grace said softly. “I don’t want to just leave her.”

Kammie looked at Frank who nodded. “I’ll see if I can round up some boards for the patients who’ll need to be carried. You guys take all the time you need.”

Grace and Kammie had skipped her mother’s room as made their sweep of the patients. By now they’d been back and forth across the hall so many times that stepping over the ceiling struts was something they could do almost by memory.

The world is such a small place at the end. Her mother had died in a room maybe 10 feet by 15 feet, with only her daughter for company. Was that going to be the way it was for the rest of them? They’d never be able to go outside, never feel the sun beating down on their faces again. They would have to huddle in small dark corners until they ran out of water, or food, or maybe even air.

The people who had fallen into the sky had died in an infinite expanse. It must have been so quiet and peaceful. Sure you might scream for the first few minutes or so, but then you’re just falling without ever stopping. It’d get harder to breathe at some point, but the cold would shut your body down long before you’d have to worry about it. You would just float upward, rising toward heaven. How many of them would step into the sky at the end, just to feel the sun one more time?

They found Grace’s mother lying flat on her stomach, cocooned under her deathbed. If she’d died half an hour earlier she’d be laying upside-down on a cold metal slab in a drawer waiting for a ride to a funeral home that would never come. Grace took a few tentative steps in the door, then hung back. She’d spent so much of the last few days in this tiny room, yet it still felt so cold and foreign to her.

Kammie knelt down gently, and slid the bars back on one side of the bed. It creaked, and moaned, and threatened but it didn’t topple over. She reached over and grabbed under the body’s thigh and shoulder. She pulled gently and slowly, taking care not to bump the bed. When she had Grace’s mother out, Kammie turned her over slowly, taking care to reposition her gown and smooth out her hair. She grabbed a blanket that had been resting on the floor and pulled it up to the woman’s chest. She didn’t look all that much older than Kammie, maybe ten years at the most, and it was clear even from her sunken features that she had once been beautiful. Her daughter was evidence of that if nothing else.

Kammie turned and extended a hand toward Grace, who moved tentatively. Kammie beckoned gently until Grace sat down on the other side of her mother’s body. Kammie discretely watched from the door as Grace stroked her mother’s hair for the last time, kissed her softly on the cheek, then brought the sheet up over her face.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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The Sky Below – The Story So Far

It’s been about a month since the last installment of The Sky Below so I thought it might be a good idea to catch everybody back up to speed before tomorrow’s Chapter 7.

*SPOILER WARNING – Contains content from the first six chapters of The Sky Below*

The Sky Below follows the immediate aftermath of a world-wide disaster from the perspective of four residents of Cleveland, Ohio. Gravity has gone all higgledy-piggledy and what was down now is up, and vice-versa.

A morning of silent prayer and study is interrupted for Reverend Marcado when the world is flipped upside-down. He rescues a young man who was visiting the historic Old Stone Church, but unfortunately is unable to save the man’s girlfriend, Stacey. Marcado is an alcoholic, who came to the church when the booze wasn’t working for him anymore, but it’s hard to see God’s plan in a cataclysm like this one. The two men are currently wandering through the church basement which is now its highest point, searching for an entry into the sewers and possible survival. Marcado has no idea where his wife and two children are, or whether they are still alive.

Eddie is a baseball player at the end of his career. After striking out at bat he watches from the dugout as everyone watching the game, including the next man at bat, starts falling into the skies. In a matter of minutes Eddie and his teammates watched tens of thousands of people die. It’s unclear how many people were in the inner part of the stadium when the calamity hit, or if anyone managed to hang on out in the stands, but Eddie and his group decide it’s best to act first for themselves. They strike out in search of food and a means to protect themselves when they encounter a young man who pulls a gun on them, demanding food and help for his injured sister. The scene takes a disastrous turn when the young man kills one of their teammates triggering a savage beating that ends with Eddie putting three bullets into the young man’s chest.

Bethany is a lawyer getting a cup of coffee and a donut in the mall when the world turns on its head. Her sister Grace has been living in her apartment for the last three weeks as the two try to care for their dying mother. Circumstance throws her together with Claudia, the woman behind the counter at the Dunkin Donuts and her co-worker Jared who is badly injured. The two women carry Jared into the back offices behind the store while Bethany tries to get a hold of her sister, who was trying to reach her before the disaster struck. Bethany and Claudia are forced to abandon Jared when they witness a gang of looters stabbing the manager of a sporting goods store. They hope to return with first aid equipment and some kind of climbing gear, though they suspect Jared may have to fend for himself.

Kammie is a nurse at a downtown Cleveland Hospital, taking a break in a supply closet after a 13 hour shift. She encounters Grace, Bethany’s sister, and learns that their mother died shortly before the disaster struck, a fact of which Bethany is unaware. Grace helps Kammie take care of Margie, a nurse and mentor, then the two sweep the rooms of the floor looking for survivors. While some have been crushed beneath falling debris or other injuries, there are at least half a dozen patients alive and well on the floor. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other nurses, who died falling through a hole in the skylight of their break-room. Kammie cut her hand crawling from room to room, and will probably need to stitch it herself if she can find the supplies. She worries for her cat Alomar, though suspects he’s probably better able to take care of himself than her.

Chapter 7 continues Kammie’s story as she looks for a way to get the patients to safety. Tune in tomorrow!

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