Jana looked up and noticed an unearthly glow filtering in between the yellowing plastic planks of the boarded-up window. She had been reading a propaganda pamphlet to pass the time, but her attention was now completely diverted away from the insultingly patriotic text. She knew she was not able to see more than a sliver of the outside world by peering between the planks.
She got up off of the worn and beaten green mat, which sighed softly as gasps of air escaped from its leaks. She ran towards the exit, approaching her father, who was laying on his back on another mat against the far wall, staring blankly up at the ceiling. It took a moment for him to jolt out of his reverie into awareness, by which point he had just enough time to spot the defiant sheen in Jana’s eyes as she passed through the jagged, improvised hole that served as the doorway to the room.
He came chasing after her as fast as he could, his injured left foot throwing him into a heavy limp. He winced painfully with every footfall. As he heard the first creaking footstep on the staircase, he screamed at Jana, “No, it’s not safe!” But he couldn’t catch up with her, and she was not stopping.
Jana ascended the first flight of stairs at a breakneck pace, then lengthened her stride and took the last two flights two steps at a time. The marked increase of decrepitude in the building since the last time she had been up here registered only briefly in her conscious mind. She was too concentrated on the possibility that the day was finally here to concern herself with trifling circumstances.
Jana burst through the flak-ridden door that led to what had once been her bedroom on the top floor. The entire top corner of the building had been ripped away by an explosion not long after her father had moved them to the lowest floor. Jagged steel beams, the exposed skeleton of the building, extended upwards a few feet above where the crumbling drywall gave up. Shrapnel and rubble covered the floor, menacing Jana’s feet. Her mangled green bed sagged against the near wall, its mattress morose from having spewed gray fluff about from its multiple lacerations. She took a few tentative steps forward and gazed up through the shattered roof at the night sky above. Her breath caught in her throat.
Thousands of brilliant multicolored streams of light littered the heavens as far as Jana’s eyes could see. They stretched from horizon to horizon, some descending to earth, others rising up to greet the interlopers in sudden flashes of bright white light that pierced the wispy clouds below. Jana followed a particular stream of rising lights down to their emission point, a recently constructed flat concrete building erected amongst the ruins not too distant in the city.
The apparently lazy movement of the distant streaks of light belied the utter speed with which they shrieked across the sky. Intellectually, Jana knew this, but she couldn’t help admiring the seemingly lethargic pace of battle. As the streaks moved, they alternately sped up or changed orientations and colors; rarely, they split into a multitude of less luminous streaklings. Jana did not understand the intricacies of the complex ballet in the sky, but she admired its beauty from afar.
But the light would not be the only assault on Jana’s senses that night. She briefly heard a high-pitched whistling sound, followed by a loud cacophony of booms and roars. The air rushed up to greet her all at once, throwing rubble around and ripping a few of the remaining pieces of drywall clear of the walls. Overwhelmed by the sheer force of it, Jana slumped forward, her knees sinking into the sharp steel shrapnel on the floor. Her blood slowly oozed out around the jagged metal.
The air, as if an impetuous child, suddenly sucked back out the way it had came. The first shockwave wavefront had come and gone, but the loud noise of continued distant explosions rumbled on, eager to overcome the ringing in Jana’s ears. She knew she could no longer observe the sights above her in a detached academic manner, but in her shell-shocked state she lacked the will, or the ability, to rise up and flee the room in which her biggest worries had once been about whether a certain boy liked her.
An instantaneous flash of white light erupted directly above Jana, much nearer than any other flash so far. Sparks played across her field of view as her vision short-circuited, the sheer brightness of it seared into her eyes and her memory. As she rapidly blinked her eyes trying to recover from the sudden affront to her senses, she saw the afterimage of the blast more clearly in her mind.
Dark shapes were silhouetted against the explosion in the sky. Millions of them. Quaint oversized humanoid shapes descended upon the blasted city, each one suspended beneath dark arcs of material. Liberation day is truly here, Jana thought excitedly, more happy than she could remember ever having been since the war began.
Her father appeared in the doorway behind her, heavily huffing and puffing. He ignored the stupendous sights in the sky and grabbed Jana from behind, dragging her along the floor. The shrapnel tore further into her legs, leaving cadmium streaks along the littered floor. He quickly realized she was not in any shape to get up on her own, so he briefly paused in the hallway to pick her up and began hurriedly descending down the stairway, doing his best to ignore his throbbing foot. As she was being carried away, Jana could not take her eyes off the hole in the roof — that portal to another world — even though she could barely see anything.
They made it down two flights of stairs. Then the shockwave hit.
This story is the result of my earlier intent to write a short story illustrating a single moment in a very descriptive fashion. I will admit to breaking my rules somewhat by describing a scene a few minutes long rather than a snapshot instant, but the snapshot style wasn’t working too well. I needed more exposition and just the tiniest bit of plot to hint at unfolding events.