Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic thriller.... view prompt



Ingrid had been shunted awake by a hurricane, an earthquake, some disaster that’d brought the world down around their IKEA bedroom. The noise was so thunderous and overwhelming that she needed the violent tremors and falling objects to convince her it wasn’t just her eardrums imploding.

And then it was silent. Horrifically silent. The quiet was thicker than the darkness.

Some plaster fell out of that darkness onto her arm.


She anxiously awaited the next impact, flinching against the unknown.

At some point, she realised that Emil hadn’t screamed or called out her name.

She gently pushed his name out into the ether: “Em-il?”

Louder: “Emil?”

Louder again: “Emil!”

She swallowed panic. He could’ve gone to the toilet just before whatever happened had happened.

Where was her phone? She reached out and only got some alien building material where the bedside table should be. She had to move.

Her hands frantically searched the bed and found the badly damaged phone under some more plaster. Its light revealed a bedroom that looked like forty thieves had ransacked it. Reluctantly, as if pulling a plaster away from a wound, she directed the light to her left, to where she knew Emil was lying dead next to her.

A sob escaped her throat as she saw him, throat and jaw crushed by masonry, with the sheets and mattress they shared mopping up the red mess he’d become.

That solitary sob was all she allowed herself. Inspired by fear, she moved as quickly as she dared through the collapsed room, pausing only to scramble into what clothes she could find and grab a photo of her and Emil.

She pushed the bedroom door and met resistance. For an intolerable moment, she thought she might be trapped here with Emil, encased in a large impromptu sarcophagus, breathing dead air until there was none left to breathe.

She swallowed back panic again and pushed the door harder. It opened enough for her to squeeze out and see the devastation beyond. Instead of seeing an IKEA shrine/living room at the end of the hallway, she saw a hallway interrupted by a mountain of grey rubble.

Prepared for the worst, she turned to her left and was relieved to see the steps out of the flat were passable. She ascended carefully but swiftly, mindful that the flat could cave in entirely at any time.

The world she surfaced in was unrecognisable from the one she’d left last night. A growing dawn showed the ruins of Cologne, miles and miles of wreckage in every direction.

The skyline had been rearranged, with beige flats and glistening skyscrapers smashed down and piled back up by some demented architect. Dust already reigned supreme, covering everything from Earth up to Heaven, turning the sun into a feeble presence locked outside of an impenetrable ashen dome.

She knew there was no point in calling the emergency services. The deep hush told her that they wouldn’t be coming any time soon.

And that hush nearly drove her mad, as she wandered the ex-streets, her only companions the sounds of settling rubble. As she trudged through the ex-city to the south, she saw a few bodies, but no sign of life, not even in the charred sky. Eventually she stopped calling out for survivors, giving her parched throat a rest.

She had no watch and her phone had died the previous night, and the sky gave only a dim hint of time, but she thought it was afternoon on the third day when she found them.

Walking alongside the Rhine – which was still carving its ancient way through Germany without regard for the catastrophe around it – she was marvelling at the flattened forests when some people, actual living people, stepped out from behind a mangled mass of leaves, bricks and steel.

There were six of them, including a child, all dressed in near-identical grey raincoats. Other than the coats, however, they didn’t seem to be that much better prepared than Ingrid. One of them was dragging a beaten-up shopping trolley along the scarred road, but it was mostly empty.

“Hallo!” she shouted at their backs.

Startled, they all whipped their heads around to see the person behind the noise.

“Hallo”, replied the nearest raincoat, who turned out to be a man in his 50s, with a heavy blonde beard. “I’m Jens.”

“Ingrid. It’s so nice to finally see people.” She grinned/laughed and it almost turned into a cry. She slumped to the ground in relief.

“You OK?” asked Jens.

“Yeah. I’m just um…happy to see you.”

Jens smiled and she thought it was the most wonderful smile she’d ever seen.

“This is Marta”, he said, gesturing towards a graceful 20-something with his outstretched arm as if revealing a prize on a gameshow. She wondered if she’d ever see another gameshow.

Marta raised a hand in greeting and Ingrid reciprocated.

The other members of the group had made their way over.

“I’m Andi”, said a worn-out, bespectacled man approaching midlife, who was wearing equally worn-out trousers and moccasins beneath his raincoat.

“Stefan.” An athletic-looking young man who could’ve just graduated from university. He was the trolley-puller.

“And just to confuse matters, I’m Stef,” said a midnight-haired woman who had the manner and practical clothing of a professional mother. “But you can tell us apart by the boobs.”

Here came Stef’s little girl, shuffling behind her and just momentarily raising her crystalline blue eyes

to take Ingrid in. She had her own mini-raincoat, with a mini-bear peering out of its breast pocket. Ingrid guessed she was around 10.

“Hi, I’m Ingrid,” she offered, summoning a gentle smile with some effort.

“We call her Kitty, because of the shoes,” said Stef, nodding towards the girl’s scuffed, yellow Hello Kitty shoes. “But we don’t know what her name is, or even how old she is. I think… She’s waiting until she gets to know everyone before she decides we’re worth chatting to.”

Stef ruffled Kitty’s chestnut brown, shoulder-length hair.

“Shall we take a break and make a fire?” Jens suggested.

“What? We’ve only just gotten going again!” Andi protested.

“I think it’d be nice to say hello to Ingrid properly though. What do we say?” Jens countered.

Circled around a fire, sharing scavenged old bread and lemonade, they listened patiently to Ingrid’s story. Her escape from the flat. Her crawl through the remnants of Cologne. Her lonely walk along the Rhine and the bordering wastelands.

They put an arm around her as she talked of Emil. And they told her about the many people they’d lost, mainly in Bonn, where they’d all met. They formed a band of six and now seven strangers, each of whom had lost everyone else in the world they knew.

Eventually, talk turned to the cause of all this, the event behind their devolution to hunter gatherers.

They agreed upon an asteroid as their educated guess.

Andi was a professor, not of astronomy, but of engineering. Still, his intelligence was obvious and his logic stood up. Led by Andi, their hypothesis was that a huge asteroid had ploughed into the Earth, obliterating and scorching it and driving debris high up into the atmosphere.

That dust was a malignant presence. In your eyes. In your lungs. In your mind.

It separated humanity from its nourishing creator, the sun, choking the sky with hazy uncertainty.

At least they assumed humanity everywhere was facing the same disaster. News would come via word of mouth now, not Twitter, TV or even newspapers. One hit from a giant rock and humanity’s technological revolution was over. A lump of metal, as old as the universe itself, puts humans in their cosmic place.

But, of course, none of them had seen the asteroid, careening through the sky and blazing night into day before it turned the lights out entirely. Ingrid doubted that anyone who’d seen it come down was still alive now. Even where she had come from, in west Cologne, the devastation was complete, dwarfing the work of British bombers during World War Two. But she, nor Andi or anyone else had any idea how far they were from the impact site, because science was dead.

She imagined that anybody who’d been close enough to see the fireworks, or hear the asteroid screech through the atmosphere, would’ve been toasted seconds later.

“Does anyone else think it’s gotten colder?” asked Stefan, a while after they’d rejoined their Rhine-hugging route south.

“That’s what happened when Tambora erupted,” said Andi.

“What?” Stef sounded like Andi had replied in Aramaic.

“In 1815, when Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia, it spat up so much ash that it lowered global temperatures. Crops failed. A lot of people starved.”

“Well there aren’t many people around to starve anymore, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” said Stef.

“We might, if we don’t find food soon,” said Andi.

“Something will turn up, Andi, don’t worry,” offered Jens.

“Anyway, you said you were sure this was an asteroid,” said Stef.

“I am,” Andi replied. “Well as sure as I can be. But I was talking more about the effects of the ash in the atmosphere. I think Stefan is right – it is colder. But this is just the start of it.”

“Didn’t some of those big eruptions produce some lovely sunsets though?” Jens asked, rhetorically.

“They did, apparently,” said Andi, failing to realise the question didn’t need a response, or just loving the sound of his own voice. “Edvard Munch’s The Scream was inspired by Krakatoa’s aftermath, so they say.”

Jens’ eyes lit up with childlike mischief: “And I forgot to bring my watercolours...”

They spent the night inside the shell of a church, whose thick stone walls were clearly built of sterner stuff than the suburban homes that had fully bowed before the might of the asteroid. A sputtering fire drew their sleeping bags together.

The Valkyrie-like Marta worked in a small outdoor supplies shop in Bonn, so she’d led the band through the almost unrecognisable streets to loot the shop. Although maybe it didn’t count as looting if the whole economic system had ceased to exist.

Identikit raincoats, sleeping bags, torches, backpacks, solid boots – they’d gotten lucky and found lots of essentials. No tents, unfortunately, but Ingrid still slept the sleep of someone who felt safe. She thought that meeting this band of strangers had quite probably saved her life.

As they packed up their few things the next morning, Ingrid found Andi staring across the river. She followed his gaze to what used to be a campsite.

“Guten morgen, Andi.”

“I suppose it is for us. It certainly isn’t for them.”

The caravans and camper vans had been bunched up unnaturally at the foot of a hill. She fancied she could see crimson smeared onto some of them, but she didn’t want to confirm her suspicions by investigating.

“I’m not sure we should leave, to be honest,” stated Jens.

“But we all agreed we’d head out towards Koblenz for food and supplies,” said Stef.

“Look at this place, though. We’ve got shelter here. And the Lord will provide, especially in his own house. He doesn’t wanna be known for being a bad host…”

Ah, so maybe Jens got his jollies from Jesus. No matter, he was a nice guy. He’d be one of those preachers who’d use his charisma to really help people. He wouldn’t be a scammer. He had too much Santa Claus in him for that.

“God isn’t real. But Koblenz is.” Andi somehow popped Jens’ balloon with his blunt voice and they stayed on course.

After two or three hours – it was impossible to tell since nobody had a functioning watch or phone – they were forced to stop when Marta screwed her ankle up on some rubble recycled from homes. As she went over to investigate Marta’s yelp of pain, Ingrid glimpsed a mangled kid’s swing in the wreckage and wished she hadn’t. She wished for Andi’s level of detachment. Instead, her treacherous mind gave her the image of a pre-teen girl tucked up in bed, long hair flowing over her pillow this way and that, her mouth contorted in impotent shock as she saw the walls of her bedroom falling in to become her tomb.

The pit stop gave them time to take stock of their food. Not that it took long.

The lack of fluids was the biggest worry. They were down to just a couple of litres of water and three cans of iced tea.

Paltry lunch over with, they set out again, albeit at a slower pace.

As they passed decimated woodlands and singed farmlands, Ingrid saw Andi look back down the line of travellers, his eyes broadcasting annoyance towards the struggling Marta.

“Does Andi ever piss you off?” she asked Stef, who had her shadow, Kitty, clutching her hand as they strode along.

“Ha! Of course. But he’s a smart guy and he’s just um…you know, not great with people.”

“I don’t think all the negativity helps though. Everyone is suffering as it is. Why’s he like that? Did he lose someone really close to him? A wife?”

“He’s not said. Like I say, he’s hardly an open book.”

Rain suddenly emptied out of the hurt sky, but not enough to quench their thirst. They trudged on a while, until an ex-farmhouse offered a dry place and silent consensus took them in through the open backdoor.

It couldn’t have been much longer than 20 minutes when Andi came charging around the open-air lounge, demanding everyone get up and get back on the road.

“I can’t, Andi, I just can’t,” said Marta, through tears.

Andi didn’t know how to deal with that, but Jens did.

“I think we should rest here a while and then head east. My brother-in-law had a place not far away and he’s the kind of guy who’d survive this. He was even in…”

Andi: “That’s suicide, Jens, no matter what your buddy up in the sky might tell you. That half-baked plan would be the end of us. You just do it and see.”

“Fine, we will, Andi.” Ingrid was surprised to hear her own voice. “Because you don’t know everything. In fact, nobody knows a fucking thing about what’s happening anymore. But at least Jens believes in something.”

Jens’ eyes gleamed: “Great! We’ll have a lovely adventure! Who’s coming?”

Marta and Stefan joined them. Stef followed Andi, saying she had to back the logical move, for Kitty. Splitting up felt wrong, but Ingrid was hopeful, and told herself they’d see each other again one day soon.

Two slow days of progress later, and she regretted instigating the split. Their path east had taken them through some pretty steep terrain. Stocky Stefan had carried Marta some of the way, but Ingrid felt more drained than ever, so God only knew how poor Marta was doing with her defunct leg.

In fact, God seemed to running the show more and more. Jens had even convinced them to take part in a joint prayer, holding hands and everything. Ingrid just went along with it – desperate times called for desperate measures, after all. And it was almost worth it just to see the pride on Jens’ face, like she was his favourite grandchild or star pupil.

She was dreaming that Emil, her fervently atheist boyfriend, was sat on the front pew in a church, with a benign, wooden Jesus suffering above. She rushed towards him, calling out his name as she had in the doomed flat. But he wouldn’t turn to face her, so she carried on to the front of the nave.

She saw Emil but not Emil. It was the Emil she had left in Cologne, the one with a mutilated jaw and throat. As blood gurgled out of Emil, she became aware of something shaking her…

“INGRID! For fuck’s sake, woman, move! Get up, now.”

It was Marta, wide-eyed and sweating.

“Hey. What is it? What’s…”

“Jens. He brought us back to that church. Stefan and I went for a walk this morning and saw it over the hill.”

“OK, let’s go. Wait, where’s Stefan now?”

“He’s confronting Jens about it.”

“Let’s get him and go.”

They were approaching the crest of the hill when a shape beat them to it and stopped them still. It was Jens. His hands were soaked with blood and his warm smile was slick with it.

“Hi girls! Stefan agreed to help us out. His sacrifice will please God greatly.”

Behind him, a plane traversed the sky, which, Ingrid noticed, was now partly blue.

September 21, 2020 09:50

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Clap. Clap. Clap. That word just basically summarized everything I am going to say. Yes, I am almost speechless! What a fantastic job you did writing a thriller and a mysterious story! I mean, I am not really good at writing a thriller genre, but you completely blew my mind with all your details in the story! That is something many authors still struggle with, but you excelled at it!!😮 I just have to mention this, but the way you created this spooky, mysterious, and ominous mood in your story is just...wow! The way you described every act...


James Donaldson
08:58 Oct 02, 2020

Thanks so much for the kind words and thorough feedback, Haripriya! Glad you enjoyed it. You're right about the italics there. Good point! Have a great day...


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