I heard a faint knock through my headphones and quickly freed an ear, ‘Yeah?’
‘Hey, Kari…’ giggled a sweet voice.
‘Ugh, get out Inge! I don’t wanna build a bloody snowman! I’m gaming!’ I slammed my mouse down and clicked furiously. ‘You almost got me killed again!’
‘Always playing Elsa locked in her room…’ I heard her voice trailing off as she dragged her feet, ‘… never wants to build a snowman…’
I chuckled and fixed up my headphones. She was adorable even if she was annoying. I almost felt bad for yelling, but she’d be back asking the same question yet again anytime now.
«You have been disconnected. Please check your internet connection.»
I stared at the screen for a second, processing the new information. ‘Oh my god, INGE!’ I shouted as I leapt off my chair. ‘I’M GOING TO KILL YOU AND PLANT YOU OUTSIDE AS A SNOWMAN!’
I ran up to the living room doorway and stopped short of running Inge over – not that she didn’t deserve it, though. I quickly scanned the room; the router was plugged in and everything seemed in order. Except for the people. Inge was frozen just in front of me and mom was sitting rigidly on the couch. Mom usually just sat on the couch like she was melting into it.
‘Oi midget,’ I poked Inge hard in the arm, she twitched but wouldn’t look up at me. ‘What’d’ya do to sis’s router ’ey?’ No reply. I realized I’d yanked the cable and dragged my noise-cancelling headphones along with me and pulled them down, leaving them resting around my neck. The TV was on pretty loud, these headphones weren’t a waste of money after all. Hah, take that, Dad. I petted Inge’s messy blonde curls trying to get her attention again. ‘Midget?’
«This is an international emergency broadcast. Please remain calm. As we speak, a solar storm is forming which appears to have missed NASA’s detection system. Experts believe it is big enough to hit the Earth. Please follow your government’s instructions to remain safe.»
‘Spiffy movie, mom. But my internet is broken. Hey mom, listen to me?’ I sighed and tapped on the couch’s wooden arm. Mom looked at me, her eyes blue eyes were ice cold. I shivered, ‘mom, what the hell?’
«Temperature may rise depending on your location and electronics will likely begin to fail within the next couple of hours. All radio signals will be affected. The earth will go dark. You are urged to seek shelter immediately and remain there until your country’s troops can evacuate you.»
‘Does this mean my snowman is going to melt?!’ cried Inge.
‘Yes, sweetheart’ mom replied quietly, she was teary and shaking. I felt myself shaking. She got up and strode to the phone almost mechanically. I was still frozen; Inge was by the window, waving good-bye to her Olaf – or whatever his name was.
‘… yes I would like to speak to Mr Sørensen.’ Mom’s voice interrupted my daze. Dad was still at work. He wouldn’t make it home in time and mom can’t drive. ‘I’m Astrid Sørensen, his wife! Get him on the phone right now you incompetent bit-‘ she threw the phone across the room so hard it broke and Inge looked back. ‘We have to go. Right now. No dolls.’ She looked at Inge. ‘No, you can’t take your laptop.’ She paused, looking at me. ‘Grab your coats, move!’
I could tell Inge was very confused. She just looked at mom and blinked, not moving an inch.
‘But where are we going?’ she asked, calmly sitting on the couch.
I was going to reply I had absolutely no idea and that mom had probably gone mad but then the TV shut off by itself. “Electronics will likely begin to fail within the next couple of hours.” It’d been a couple of minutes at most. It finally sunk in how royally and thoroughly screwed we were. I grabbed Inge’s blue coat from the coat hanger in the entrance hall and forced it on her despite the protests from her that she was absolutely not going out in her pink Hello Kitty Pajamas.
‘You’re 7, the hell you even know? Get your boots on before I’m back or I’ll whoop your butt!’ I made a run for my bedroom and looked at my laptop before getting my coat. I grabbed the warmest one since it was snowing outside and put on sneakers because I figured I would have to run to keep up with mom’s pace wherever we were going.
‘Sorry, mom says I can’t take you.’ I closed my laptop and patted it goodbye. It hurt a bit leaving everything behind over something I didn’t understand the full implications of. The TV sounded like we were all going to die; mom was acting like it was the end of the world too. Was it? I wanted to crawl into my bed, hide under my covers and wait for everything to blow over.
‘Did you just talk to your computer? You’re such a dork!’ Inge was right behind me. I spun around ready to smack her partly for being herself and partly because she probably hadn’t even put on her boots yet. But she did have her boots, and when I looked at her cheeky smile I wanted to cry. She had no idea what was going on.
‘Are you kids ready?’ In the couple of minutes it took us to get our coats, mom had packed everyone’s backpack with canned food and some of the water that we always kept in the storage just in case we got snowed in. She had collected herself somewhat, too.
‘Where are we going, mommy?’ Inge asked jovially. ‘Are we going to the beach? Why aren’t we waiting for daddy? It’s nearly 5 PM. Mommy?’ She kept blabbering incessant protests and questions while mom dragged her through the door. I followed right after and I felt a sense of dread overcoming me; a feeling of impending doom.
The earth shook as soon as we left the house, and everything became all too real. The chaos outside was unbelievable – like one of those silly and over the top apocalyptic Hollywood movies. Front doors were wide open; abandoned in a hurry. People ran every which way, sirens echoing in the silence filled with intermittent screams. Night was falling, and lights weren’t coming on, and it gave the world a dark, dusky tint. All in all, it was a beautiful mess.
Inge reached for my hand and squeezed it tight. Mom pulled on her and we ran swiftly in an orderly line through the imminent destruction. In my head, I imagined we were stars; our silvery blonde hair reflecting the little sunlight there was in the ever-darkening earth, running through space.
The earth shook again. We ran in a frantic panic, like prey running from a starving but vicious predator. Whenever Inge would fall because she couldn’t keep up we would drag her back up without stopping. Her knees were bloody, but her heavy breathing muffled her cries. I could sense her panic settling in. Like mom, I no longer had time to be afraid. I had to keep them safe.
The earth shook a third time and mom lost her balance and fell. I balanced myself just in time to stop myself and Inge from falling down as well. I dropped my backpack for a second and took off my coat, giving mom some time to recover. After helping Inge do the same, I just threw them on the ground. It felt strange not wearing a coat in the middle of January, but it was getting so warm I was starting to feel sick.
‘Mommy, why aren’t you getting up?’ Inge wasn’t crying anymore, like a brave good girl. ‘Mommy?’ She winced in pain as she kneeled next to mom. ‘Mommy?!’
Mom had begun to get up but only managed to get on her knees. Her face was all bloody and I noticed she’d hit her head pretty bad on the curb. It was gushing blood; I ripped the hood of my coat and kneeled next to her as well, applying pressure to the gaping, pulsing wound. It had stained her hair and some had gotten on my clothes as I tried to stop the bleeding.
The earth shook violently once more, each hit was increasingly stronger. I was worried how we would keep running, especially with mom like this.
‘Look…’ She muttered weakly; her face twisted into a sweet smile. ‘Look up, girls. The valkyries are riding down to get us.’
Inge and I looked up at the sky. It was the northern lights in all their breathtaking glory. I could not possibly find enough words for the forbløffende dance of lights above my head. We had but a couple of seconds to bask in the beauty of the swirling hues before our grim reality came crashing back down on us.
‘Kari, sweetie’ I looked back at mom. ‘I can’t keep up with you girls and we haven’t much time.’ She was right, she wouldn’t be able to get anywhere on her own and I wasn’t strong enough to carry her. ‘You need to get your sister and hide. Do you know where we were going?’
I shook my head. I had absolutely no clue; we had been running towards wilderness.
‘But mom, I can’t just leave you here – what am I going to tell Dad, mom? I don’t even know the way, I’ll get lost…’ I’d lost my backbone. I was crying. I was weak and frail without my mother. I couldn’t face this reality, this could not possibly be happening. I was fine with my life; I wanted it back. All those times I’d ever thrown a superficial tantrum because mom wouldn’t buy me that new phone or because dad wouldn’t let me go to the mall with my friends were coming back to me; choking me; not letting me breathe. It felt as if I had brought this hell upon myself. I had been such a flawed, bratty kid and this must be my punishment. I wish I had built a snowman with Inge instead of sending her away. We sure couldn’t build a snowman now; it was so insanely hot – all the snow had melted.
‘Kari…’ Mom’s voice snapped me out of my downward spiral into absolute despair. ‘Do you remember those abandoned World War II bunkers you kept pestering me about?’
‘Yeah, like the one you freaked out about when I asked you if Tom and I could go?’ Tom was our next-door neighbour and we used to be up to shenanigans all the time. We hadn’t spoken since we had a fall out a couple of months ago.’Yes, exactly like that one. The one you went to anyway and I pretended to never find out.’ She chuckled and then moaned in pain and the earth moaned with her, rumbling and shaking once more. The lights danced brighter. ‘Listen to me, grab your sister and do not stop running until you get there,’ she paused, waiting for the new tremor to pass; they were becoming more frequent. ‘I won’t make it. Your dad doesn’t know where we are going but he was never going to be able to get out of the city centre anyway.’
‘But mommy…’ Inge protested, cuddling up to me in fear. She was trembling even though she was drenched in sweat.
‘If you stay here, you’ll both die.’ There was a loud bang with a bright orange-tinted flash and I needed no further persuasion. I entered fight or flight mode and adrenaline rushed through my body. I tore off my blouse before I passed out from the heat – it was the end of the world, after all, I could be in my underwear if I wanted to – and yanked off Inge’s blouse too. I stuffed those in my backpack just in case. She was quiet as a mouse, glancing pitifully at mom as she helped me lay her back down. We both kissed her forehead and sped through the woods, leaving the road behind. My heart was so heavy that I didn’t know how I could still carry myself; all I knew was that I had to get Inge to safety.
The earth roared louder, the lights danced harder as our surroundings took an orange hue to them. ‘Come on Inge, come on, run! It’s right there!’ I shouted at her without looking back, hoping she wasn’t falling behind. I could see the door camouflaged between the rocks with vegetation taking over it. The door creaked loudly as someone opened it from inside. A tall, lanky boy with messy dark hair waved at me, Tom had gotten here first; as I got closer, I could see his smile turn into a dark grimace.
The last thing I heard was a long blood-curling shriek as the heat caressed my back. I felt myself being forced inside the bunker. Shockwave or valkyries? Mine and Tom’s bodies collided as we were thrown all the way down the stairs. My head hit something hard and then the whole world shut off.
A maddening silence had overtaken over the earth, with an orange glow lingering over the embers of the destruction. A metallic taste filled my mouth and I forced my eyes open as an acrid scent crept up my nostrils. I was on top of something soft but cold – I was cold. It was pitch black and it took me a couple of minutes to get up and look through my backpack for a flashlight (mom would not have forgotten to pack one or the spare batteries). I fumbled to turn it on and called out, ‘Inge?’ I pointed my flashlight at what I was lying on top of; it was Tom – he was as pale as the monochrome concrete floor and had a trail of blood coming out of his mouth collecting in a thick pool by his chest. I instinctively checked myself for any wounds. ‘Tom?’ Tom you okay?’ I held the flashlight in my mouth as I shook him, he wouldn’t budge so I turned him around. My gasp echoed through the empty bunker and the flashlight clattered to the ground, illuminating the morbid scene before me. He had landed on top of a pipe and his body had cushioned my fall. He was dead and I was alive. I didn’t know what to feel anymore. ‘Inge?’ I called again. I had to make sure she was okay. ‘Inge?’ she was the only thing that mattered. I scanned the room. ‘Inge?’ Her name felt like an empty word.
Suddenly it all came back to me. I ran up the flights of stairs as fast as my weak legs would let me and tried to open the door with all my might. The heat had welded it shut. I punched it a couple of times and then collapsed against it, knuckles bleeding, crying softly and whispering pointlessly. ‘Inge, Inge…’