by Joel M. Traylor

“There won’t be any training.”

Nobody moves, and we just stare at the commander. He’s young, promoted too quickly, clearly out of his depth. And he’s scared.

“They’re already here.” His voice quivers. “I’m sorry, but you’re on your own now.”

As his words sink in, the world lurches in a thunderous roar. People scream as debris fills the air.

I pull myself off the ground and barely keep my feet as another explosion rocks the gymnasium turned emergency shelter. Through the smoke, civilians and military swarm over each other, some rushing the exits, most not sure what to do. Tables crash to the ground, and I’m nearly knocked over by a big man pushing past me.

My backpack is on the ground, open, its contents spilled around it. I grab the military-issue rations, water packets, and flashlight. There’s also a map, some matches and a hand-crank radio I’ve managed to scavenge. All of it goes into my bag.

A pistol rests in a pile of busted drywall a couple steps away, and no one seems to see it. I snatch it up and jam it into my belt.

I haven’t encountered one up close yet, but we’ve all seen the pictures. They’re over ten feet tall with massive claws and faces full of teeth, walking nightmares come to Earth to kill us all. Their six eyes miss nothing, and they don’t hesitate. The commander told us to always run, never engage. You get close and you’re dead; it’s that simple. A pistol probably won’t do much, but it helps a little to feel it pinching against my skin.

The commander is gone, and the military personnel stand in groups busy with their own agendas. I need to find my wife, and it’s two miles to our apartment. Time to move.

I push my way past a coughing old lady and almost fall tripping over a chair. As I near the exit door, I pull my phone out and dial my wife. Fast busy, no surprise. No one has been able to get a call out since it started.

I open the emergency exit, and the light and heat almost knock me down. The Southern California sun is a spotlight, and it has to be 100 degrees. I put a hand up and step through.

“Where are you going?”

I turn. It’s the commander.

“I need to find my wife,” I respond.

“You need to stay here,” he says.

“This isn’t optional.”

“They’ll kill you.”

I shrug. “You’ve never been in love, have you?” And then I let the door close behind me.