Fire rained from the sky and ash was dancing through the streets. Below you, through the smoke, you can see buildings toppling. They are melting from the sheer heat of the phenomenon.
As you look out the thick, protective window of the bunker you think about how wrong the weather forecast had been. Certainly wasn’t the first time that day the thought had crossed your mind.
It just had to be today. The end of the world couldn’t have waited for tomorrow? C’mon, guys! How am I supposed to clean this one up? You briefly imagine how this morning should have gone. You should be out on the stage, accepting your award. All of your hard work, all of those hours you put toward your goal, should finally be paying off. But no-o-o.
Flaming chunks of rock bounce against the walls, creating thundering metallic clangs.
The room you are in is circular, with windows ringing the entire circumference. Everything looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. A set of double doors connects the room to the rest of the base. Metal fold-able chairs were scattered around the room, though most people had chosen to sit on the ground. Red blinking lights were there to inform all of you of the danger the outside world would provide if the building were somehow to malfunction.
Well, no dip.
A flickering orange light from the blaze below illuminates the gloomy scene. People around you are crying. Children are separated from their parents, elderly are left on their own. Despair and negativity cloud the air, invading your mind. That’s one way to quickly drive someone with your talent bonkers.
Here, a man is bowing before the window, deep in prayer. He’s trying in vain to justify all of the wrongs he committed in life. There is some dishonesty in his history, but you know people have committed worse acts and felt less guilty about them.
There, a little girl with a partly singed dress is sitting on a metal seat, clutching a worn teddy bear. In her head, the stuffed animal is telling her everything is going to be alright. Singing a lullaby from her mother, recounting another disaster that daddy saved the day from. When she was lost in the big store, everything had turned out alright.
You hope that teddy bear is right. You’re not normally one to doubt the talking stuffed animal, but hellfire falling from the heavens is at least slightly worse than misplacing a five-year-old in a Dollar General.
There is a whooshing noise as the double doors retract into the wall. In step your two best friends. You were lucky enough not to be separated from them in the disaster.
“Hey,” Tracy Gillan sits in a chair to your left, surveying the damage below. She spoke at just louder than a whisper to avoid any questions from the other people in the room. Her dirty blonde hair, which was normally pulled back in a neat ponytail, now hung freely as a nest of knots. There was a smudge of ash on her face, but her emerald green eyes were still brilliant as ever. She’s concerned for you and is going circles in her mind trying to find a way to comfort you.
Good luck with that, Trace.
“Hey,” You reply, halfheartedly.
“So…” Bruno Wilcanson sits in the chair on your right. He speaks at the same volume as Tracy. His brown hair is cut short, military style. He has what looks like a burn running the full length of his forearm, but it doesn’t appear to be bothering him any. Though, there is a hint of pain in his dark brown eyes. Perhaps it hurts more than he is letting on. “What’s the game plan, boss?” He’s as concerned for you as Tracy is. But also hungry. Mostly hungry. He’s wondering where the cafeteria is in this place.
You sigh and shake your head,closing your eyes. Bruno always called you “boss”, even before he knew your secret--- well, most of your secret. It used to be a fun joke between friends. Now, in the midst of this chaos, you wish someone else could play leader for a bit.
A realization hits you. What if you are what’s causing this? What if the enemies have realized you are here? What if you are the reason why the Earth looks like hell?
People have died. People are dying. Because of me.
You open your eyes again, but keep your head down and avoid looking at your friends. Your voice comes out shaky and you can tell that they notice. “Look, guys… I know that I--- We--- have a responsibility to help people... but…” You trail off, waving a hand at the window.
Why should it be your responsibility to fix this nightmare? Why did it have to be you to receive this “gift”? It has been anything but a gift to you.
Your friends know barely a sliver of your powers, and they don’t fully understand how you acquired them. But ever since they learned of some of your skills, they have supported you and helped you fight injustices and strange occurrences. Even though they never fully understand what they were up against, they stand by you. They have trusted you with their lives. But if you tell them, they’ll never be able to trust you again. If you tell them, they’ll be in danger. If you tell anyone, it will alert not only your people, but the enemies.
They were causing this fire storm.
Tracy puts her hand on your arm, lowering her voice even more. “We know. This thing is huge. It’s bigger than us, bigger than your powers.” You still don’t raise your head, but you feel your friends eyes on you, boring into your head. They’re trying to tell what you are thinking, but the skill that comes so easily for you isn’t present in others.
Bruno sighed. “Look, we get that you feel overwhelmed. We’re not going to force you to do anything. But if you know anything about how to stop this, we can bring it to the government’s attention, anonymously, or something.”
You don’t respond. You can sense a darkness in your friends’ thoughts. They can tell you know something, but if you do know something, that would mean you have been hiding the truth from them. The trust you have worked so hard to build will tumble like the buildings below.
“I don’t know anything,” you lie. You can’t lose your only friends in this world.
Tracy removes her hand from your arm. Your heart drops as you sense hurt feelings from both of your friends. They know you are lying. You long to tell them.
But the enemies are ruthless.
You’ll find a way to fix this yourself. You can leave your friends out of it.
They sit there for a moment, each thinking similar thoughts. You are lying. If you know how to stop it, why won’t you try to help save the Earth? They thought you were better than this. Why are you lying to your friends? They thought they could trust you. They did trust you.
There goes another building.
Bruno has looked away, but Tracy is still watching you, green eyes clouded. She’s trying to figure out what to say, as always. After a second, she takes a deep breath. “We understand what you’re going through, but---”
At this you explode, almost literally. “Oh, you understand, do you?” You stand up, knocking over the chair you were sitting on. No one understands. The smog of negative thoughts and pain clogs your brain. Sparks dance across your skin. “You understand how hard it is to live like this? You understand how much responsibility is being pushed on me? You understand how much danger I’m in? You understand how I’m trying to keep you out of danger?” It all comes out before you can stop it. You’ve given up on whispering. “I’m lying to protect you! I never wanted this! This is too big a responsibility for me. You can’t understand. So maybe you should just stay out of my business.”
You regain yourself, and suddenly the gravity of what you just said hits you. Your friends are staring at you now, as is everyone in the room.
They are hurt.
No. I didn’t just say that.
“Guys, I’m sorry.” You choke out. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m struggling. I… I don’t want to lose you.”
Tracy’s face was entirely blank. She stood. “Too late.” She walked out of the room and Bruno stood to follow her.
“Bruno,” You plead. “I’m sorry. Please don't go.”
Your friend shakes his head. You can feel the pain emanating from his thoughts. “I’ll stay out of your way.” He exits, not looking back.
And like that, you are left alone in the world.
You sit down on the floor and cry. You bury your head in your knees and wrap it in your arms.
This is too big. Someone else should have been chosen for this responsibility. I can’t do anything to help. Just knowing who’s causing this isn’t enough. My friends have left me. It’s my fault. How do I fix this?
Suddenly, you feel a hand on your back. Your head snaps up, praying to see Tracy. But it’s the little girl with the teddy bear.
“You look sad.” The girl says. She gives you a hug before plopping down next to you. She makes sure the stuffed bear is sitting up right.
You are stunned. This little girl radiates love and concern for you, a total stranger. She has no clue where her parents are, or if they are even alive. But she is trying to comfort you.
Maybe everyone has it pretty bad.
“Mummy and Daddy always know what to do.” She says. You feel a pang of sadness, but you can’t tell if it’s from her or yourself. You wish you could make her feel better.
Maybe you should try.
Even if this problem is bigger than any you’ve faced, you have the skills to overcome it. You know what’s causing this nightmare, you just need to figure out how to stop it. If you give it power over your thoughts, your powers will be meaningless.
And you have a responsibility to try. How many people will you be helping if you sit around wallowing in self-pity?
A plan begins to form. The pieces click together.
If you’re what the enemy wants, you’re what the enemy will get.
You stand up. Blasts are still rocking the walls. People have quieted, but despair is still in the air.
Time to change that.
You start walking towards the door, calling out a thanks to the little girl behind you, but she is curious. “Wait! Where are you going?”
You stop, turning your head. Her wide eyes are tinged with orange from the fires, still burning strong.
“To save the world, hopefully. Take care.”