The day the world ended, I stood in front of the fridge.
In my excuse, it was hot—and I don't just mean hot, I mean completely, fully, hot. The kind of hot where dirt sticks to the folds of your skin and the crevices of your wrists and elbows—where tablespoons of sweat poor down your body, starting at your forehead and burning your eyes as it rolls down your back, neck and legs. It was so hot, I heard reports that people's plastic shoes were literally melting to the pavement outside.
I embraced the chill from the fridge, but even that slight difference didn't seem like enough as I stood there in my thinnest, oversized t-shirt. I drank another glass of water to keep from dehydrating, even though I felt as if I'd burst from all the water I'd drunk previously.
"Stay out of the fridge," Mom chided. "The electric bill will be high enough without you raising it further."
I groaned but did as she said. I moved to the floor fan near the sink and re-soaked the damp rag around my neck while I was there.
My mom's voice faded as she walked towards the adjoining living room. "Karina! Come listen to this."
I hurriedly walked towards the sofa where she sat near the radio, pulling her hair into a bun with the band on her wrist."Yes, Mom?" I clasped my hands behind my back and shifted my weight to the balls of my feet.
"Listen." She turned up the volume.
The radio speaker seemed calm, but his message was anything but. "I repeat, all United States citizens must gather in the middle of their towns by the end of November first! This is a direct order from the President."
November first was today.
We gathered in the town where five large buses waited, marked by the military seal on their sides.
We were ushered into the buses at gunpoint, and in the midst of the fear, the angry shouts and the turmoil, I heard a loud speaker say, "Please remain calm. We are relocating the US people for your safety. Remain calm. Unwillingness to comply will result in instant death, without a trial." The voice was slightly crackly by static.
My Mom, Dad and I piled into the bus wordlessly, but my Dad's clenched fist spoke the volumes his mouth didn't. We huddled far into a corner and shared a hug that we stayed in throughout the entirety of the trip. The air was thick and warmer than usual, and smelled strongly of body odor, but particularly sweat. Mom's faint perfume was the only thing that didn't smell like death.
We stayed there for two hours. The door of the bus—I should really say trailer, because that's what it was—finally opened, and immediately people fought to escape, only to realize that we were inside of a wire fence that was a good ten feet tall and was wrapped in barbed-wire.
I heard a child cry somewhere in the crowd.
I peered out of the trailer, taking in my surroundings, but was pushed from behind. I staggered forwards to catch my balance.
"Rude much?" I muttered to myself as I followed my Mom and Dad's lead.
I didn't recognize my surroundings. Everything looked like a desert, which was pretty common ever since The Drought.
The speaker once again sounded from a single green building that butted up against the fence.
"Remain calm. Due to an oncoming collision with Planet X, aka, Nibiru, we are relocating as many people as we can to Mars. Do not worry, Mars is safe."
"Safe?! How is it safe?!" my Dad asked angrily. The question was repeated several times throughout the crowd.
One man with glasses and brown, wiry hair, cleared his throat beside us. When that failed to catch anyone's attention, his friend next to him yelled, "QUIET!"
The crowd almost stopped speaking, and the nerdy-looking guy spoke through a few stammers, "Uh, they're right. Nibiru will. . . will collide, but, if we obey, we'll, erm, live."
"And how do we know you're not one of them?" asked a lone, angry voice, lost in the sea of faces.
The nerdy-looking guy stuttered again and raked a hand through his hair. "Well, Mars wasn't safe when our sun was in a heated season. . . This happens every two hundred years. It's normal, but it lasts for thirty or forty years." He cleared his throat. "Tomorrow, the heating ends. It will begin cooling. The sun had been putting off a lot of radiation, which made Mars uninhabitable, but that extra radiation will be gone now. We'll be safe, but only on Mars."
No one spoke.
My mind reeled with the possibility. Was I really about to see Mars?
Heat reflected off of the sand around us, making my skin burn. If they were relocating us, they needed to hurry. Dad said skin cancer ran strongly in his side of the family.
The soldiers who brought us here piled out of the trailers then, shotguns still in hand but no longer aimed at us, and a section of our cage was opened.
"Get inside the building," they ordered.
We boarded a group of space shuttles. Each looked big, like a short spaceship, but extra wide.
My heart beat wildly in my chest as I watched the ground fall away from us. We were truly going to Mars. How long away was Mars? Would we be stuck here for years or something? Did they pack enough food for years? Did they pack enough food for me for years?!
I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and hugged myself.
"We're going to be fine," Mom said beside me. "We're safe, aren't we? And we're together. That's all that matters." Although her words were sure, her shaky voice was not.
I nodded and Dad squeezed her hand comfortingly from the seat beside her.
A girl on the other side of me bobbed her head silently to the music streaming from the microbuds on her ears. I leaned over and, for conversation's sake, asked, "So, watcha listening to?"
She opened her eyes and grinned. "The Beatles."
I raised my eyebrows. "I've. . . never heard of that." Which was surprising, because I considered myself a bit of an expert when it came to songs.
She giggled. "That's not uncommon. They're ancient—from the. . . 1980s I think. 60s or 80s."
I whistled. Songs from before the Purge, seventy years back when they removed all vintage songs—were rare. They weren't illegal, but rare.
We talked about music for quite some time, and I'd like to think that we became good friends.
We laughed together when we were able to unstrap our seatbelts and float around in the air. That had to have been the most odd experience of my life, and the only thing I could relate it to was the feeling of swimming—although even that felt heavier.
I had no way of knowing exactly how long we were in our shuttle before we landed, but it seemed like a lifetime.
When we finally landed, Mars looked like a much rockier version of the desert we just left. I was a bit disappointed to not see any green aliens running around, but that was overshadowed by the fact that I. Was. Standing. On. Mars.
I was shoved from behind because I wasn't moving, and I slowly fell onto the dirt. The impact was very odd, because when I fell, I winced and prepared to smack hard against the dirt, but instead, it felt as if I'd merely laid down.
It was so, so dry, but felt like ordinary, lumpy dirt otherwise.
Mars looked like dirt. That was it. There was nothing else, just dirt and dark, pinkish-red skies.
I heard the speakers again.
"Underground colonies have been built for you, which tap into Mars' underground water supply. Follow the soldiers."
We followed them on foot, which was actually sort of hard because I'd never had to work so hard to force my feet down before. We cautiously climbed over large dirt mounds and stepped onto uneven ground. Eventually, we were led to dark tunnels. One soldier climbed in, and suddenly it was flooded with light from some sort of fixture inside. The tunnels were made of cement, and were much easier to walk than the ground above.
I noticed that something about Mars was different from earth, but it took me a while to figure out what it was. I just realized it as I stumbled. I was lighter here—much lighter. It was then that I noticed that aches and pains in my joints disappeared that I didn't even know I had.
We followed the soldiers for a while before reaching a system of underground rooms and tunnels, each marked by a letter. The soldiers turned to us.
"All men take tunnel A. All women take tunnel B. If you are under eighteen and are a male, take tunnel C. If you are under eighteen and are female, take tunnel D. "
We were being split up?!
I turned to Mom with a pleading look on my face and the worry in her own matched mine.
—But we had to obey.
I hugged Mom and Dad for a long time. "Be. . . Be careful, Waterdrop," Dad said quietly, calling me by his nickname for me.
I squeezed my family tighter. I wanted to stay there forever, but eventually we were ushered down our own pathways.
My feet scraped against the cement floor as I walked, and for the first time since we landed, they felt heavy.
Deep in the depths of the tunnels, I saw a room of beds and chairs. Hundreds of girls sat inside, likely from previous spaceship deliveries.
A pantry sat in the corner of the room, and having nothing else to do, I began to explore it. A fridge sat beside it, filled with water.
I stood before a fridge on the day the world began.