The sirens began blaring just as my old Subaru Forester rattled to the stoplight. But they were too late. No amount of preeminent preparation could have prevented it.

  I saw the light, like a supernova beaming through the caliginous storm clouds overhead. The ground began to rumble, as if the earth itself were soon to open and swallow humanity whole. Then came the heat. For a second it was warming, but then burning, then unbearably agonizing. I felt my skin blister, my hair singe and my eyes sizzle in their sockets like eggs in a pan. I turned, and the world erupted around me.

  The next moment was a blur. A maelstrom of broken debris and shattered remains cascaded down upon and around me in a typhoon of glass and metal. The panicked screams of hundreds were almost drowned out by the vociferous crescendo of destruction. The sound was immense, enough to almost shatter my eardrums. I folded my arms around my head as the onslaught annihilated my vehicle and launched me from my seat.

  I heard a ringing noise in my ears, met with a throbbing sensation and dampening of my torso with a warm sticky liquid. Shell-shocked, my eyes cracked open to reveal the freshly formed hellhole around me. An orange haze consumed the vicinity, as winds blew clutter and thick noxious smoke around the area. The smell of sulfuric chemicals, petroleum tinge and smoke filled my blistered nostrils. Dust particles and cinders danced around me like petals in the breeze. The buildings and vehicles around me now lay as shattered husks quickly eroding in the oppressive climate. My eyes drifted upwards to see a distinctive gargantuan mushroom-shaped cloud form overhead. I felt the caustic residue of radiation fall like a blanket upon me. Then came the pain.

  Agony the likes of which I couldn’t possibly reiterate properly struck me and coursed through my withered veins. My bones and skin ached and head felt as though it were about to rupture from the inside. Tears of blood drifted from my eyes, and each breath I took scorched my lungs. Bad as it was, it was not the full brunt. My nerves had been scorched like a well-done steak, leaving them damaged and improperly functional and thus slightly dulling the true pain. I felt bile rise in my stomach as a sudden sickness overtook me. I vomited there, as my head lay on the searing pavement. A bloody pool of thick, chunky yellow muck wretched from my throat and splattered upon the pavement. My vision blurred once again.

  I lifted a scarred rotting arm to my face, gently caressing the raw flesh on my cheek and forehead. The pain was enormous and sent shivers through my mangled body as my hand made contact. Charred skin and cauterized flesh covered my arm, and removing my hand from my face brought sticky tendrils of flesh and burst multiple sinewy pustules. My pinky and ring finger had been entirely degloved, leaving only unresponsive bone in its place. I watched as my muscles frayed, and a patty-sized piece of flesh fell from my wounded arm. Another round of bile demanded freedom and spilled forth from my throat onto the crumbling pavement.

  Around me massive holes had opened in the road, and fires burned the perimeter buildings producing thick black smoke which bellowed up to the canopy above. I heard the distant echoes of screaming, yelling and with some even laughing in their tormented and bewildered state. A lethargy descended upon me, but I fought back, hard as it was, knowing that sleep in that moment would mean death and nothing else.

  To my left, I saw an image slowly crawling towards me. It appeared from out of the apricot fog, dragging forward on a single boney arm. In it’s wake was left a trail of bodily fluids, tissue and fragmented organs. Despite her obvious duress, she was silent, dead silent. Perhaps she had lost the ability to speak. Her face, or what was left of it then came into view. Badly scarred, with hair dangling at random lengths and intervals upon her scalp. Her face was all but eviscerated, with the lower right side of her jaw bone exposed and burned black. Small pieces of flesh dripped from her head like water from the tap.

  She paused as her single eye fell upon me. I tried to speak but found my voice unwilling to comply. Her attention then turned from me, and I could see the pitiful desire spiral in her lone eye. Her arm reached forward, beckoning to something unseen. A low hum then echoed from her throat, and slowly rose in volume until it had amassed into the most haunting wail of anguish one can possibly imagine. Then she slumped forward, never again to rise.

  My eyes drifted to glimpse what she had reached towards. I saw someone, walking in the dense sanguine mist. He was small, only a child. Couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. He was naked, missing both arms and completely destitute. The skin on his face had remained surprisingly intact, enough for me to even surmise his physical appearance. His brown hair fell from his head like rain and his blue eyes stared forward hopeless and flabbergasted beyond words as blood dripped from their sockets. He strolled as if he felt no pain, putting one foot in front of the other as he shambled towards the spot which I lay.

   He stopped some 10 yards from me, and turned to the mangled corpse of what I assumed to be his mother. He did not react, only stared ahead. But in his eye, I saw the resemblance of a boy impossibly lost.

  He trudged onward, more labored now with every step. Twice he almost collapsed, but he would not be deterred from his destination. He reached the motionless body of the woman, and stared down upon her. A croaking sound weakly emanated from his mouth, but no words came. He stared for a while, swaying and helpless. I could feel my eyes attempting to form tears, my heart ache for the poor lost boy, and my heavily chapped lips quiver.

  The boy collapsed to one knee, as the weight of the world fell upon his shoulders. He gave a single last soulless cry, and fell forward to his mother. His body hit the pavement with a sickening squelching sound, and he joined his mother.

  From somewhere unseen the sounds of rotary blades and jet engines began like a mechanical orchestra. I heard the screams for help rise once again. Gurgled desperate cries they were. The sirens played their trumpets once again, sounding more ominous now than ever before. Their songs were too late. The damage had been done. That hellish concoction, a result of the unholy union between man and science. A device so powerful, it split the very molecules of reality. A bomb that stripped electron from atom, flesh from bone, and mother from son. Now I am become death.

  In that moment I couldn’t help but wonder why. What could possibly have invoked the wrath that warranted the use of so terrible a weapon? What madman had called for its utilization? Perhaps a foreign nation had declared war upon ours and initiated the first strike. Maybe a terrorist syndicate had stolen the device to maximize destructive power. Perhaps even a rogue entity, or person had stolen access to it, and unleashed the warhead to simply watch the world burn. Or perhaps it was something else.

  The tremors shot through the ground, reverberating with massive concussion sounds and a trembling sensation. Parts of the concrete twisted and split, and portions of the skeletal buildings collapsed into the dust. I saw a fissure open some dozen yards ahead of me. The corpses of the woman and young boy were swallowed whole by the earth as the ground beneath them disintegrated.

  The sounds of cracking and alarms rose to a cacophony of unrivalled proportions. I could feel my time waning, and my soul desperate to leave my physical body and escape the relentless pain. I knew my time was short. The sickness returned to me and I gagged as the stream of vomit gurgled upwards from my throat. It burned like napalm in my esophagus and tasted of copper and putrid slag.

  In the midst of the screams and sirens, a new noise cut through them. A low guttural grumble of a noise it was, like boulders tumbling down the side of a mountain. The noise became so loud my eardrums again threatened to implode. I attempted to cover my ears, but my arms did not respond to the plea.

  The booming sound then leveled and lowered slightly in volume, changing pitch in the process as well. The sound was not like the others though. It was not the sound of explosions or earthquakes, but something else entirely. There was no denying that uncanny sound that could only have originated from a living thing. A roar.

  The buildings ahead of me crumbled and were suddenly catapulted upwards as something below them burst forth. From beneath them ascended a wiggling monolithic object which extended upwards into the haze. I saw the object loom, as at least six wiggling digits unfurled from its peak. Slowly it teetered to and frow, basking in its newfound freedom.

  From the heavens above came a stream of molten lead that charged towards the object with a repetitive pitter-patter sound. The gunfire struck the thing hundreds of times from dozens of directions in a matter of seconds. The earth-trembling scream returned as the fleshy pillar flailed wildly about. Fragments of the pillar were blown away by the barrage, spraying dust and rancid liquid from the object. One of the middle digits was blown completely apart and landed with a sickening crunch on a mangled van further down the road.

  The monstrous thing bellowed angrily as chunks of flesh and viscera rained down upon the area. The massive form then rapidly sunk back into the ground and retreated from the onslaught. For a moment, things were silent, ungodly so as the simple sound of flames devouring their fuel filled the environs.

  Another massive roar then boomed out in the distance and the thing quickly reemerged from its pit. But it was not alone this time. In the distance the shadow of another vestige ascended in the orange air to mimic the actions of the first. I saw another do the same to it’s left, then a third to the left of that one. The reign of machine guns and missiles quickly turned the shattered vicinity into a battlefield, as dozens of the enormous things sprouted from the earth like daisies in the springtime.

  I soon lost count of them as the rumbling sensation began below me. I felt the pavement behind my head give way, causing my head to dangle painfully backwards. With an inverted vision I stared as the blackened bulbous thing rose from the ground. It stopped and teetered overhead, dripping odious slime and broken rock from it’s hide. The bullets continued to whiz and clang, as the two forces engaged one another.

  I stared at the abhorrent thing before my eyes and marveled at it’s wretchedness. It’s skin pulsated and throbbed as parts of it opened and wiggled about at random. Dozens of slobbering toothy orifices covered it’s reviled frame, with smaller appendages then those on top writhing about. Perhaps the hideous thing was just as tormented by its own existence, as I was at viewing it.

  Then almost directly in front of me the skin split. A yellowish ocular sheen then emerged, and I watched as the pupil rotated in it’s socket and fell directly upon me. Our gaze met, both of us bewildered at the sight of the other.

  The thing that demanded the bombardment of humanity’s deadliest weapons leered at me. That eldritch abomination which had lay just below our feet all along. How long had it been there? Waiting and listening from the depths of the earth. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

  The slithering tendrils wrapped around me and began to draw me towards a single gaping mouth. And as my horrific fate drew nearer, I felt my soul and again knocking upon the infinite door to beyond. But it was not to be.

  A stream of thunderous shots rang out as the hail of bullets returned. They pelted the monstrosity which held me, and shredded through its hide like paper. I was released by the tendrils and dropped to the pavement as the leviathan beast was torn asunder by the storm of lead. Two separate missiles struck the thing like meteors from the sky, blowing large chunks of flesh away and causing the thing to finally retreat below.

   I felt a strong wind blow down upon me, as the sounds of mechanical whirring grew nearer. My shredded clothing blew and whipped about as the torrent of air spiraled around me. I managed to just barely tilt my head, enough to see the Apache descend downwards. From within four separate figures dove and repelled down the ropes that dangled from the chopper. They wore gas masks combined with a strange grey attire. One of them saw me as his feet touched down upon the mangled road.

  He yelled to the others and they quickly approached me as my eroding mind attempted to rationalize what it was viewing. Within moments they had moved me from my pavement sarcophagus and onto the gurney which dangled from ropes above. I was drawn upwards into the belly of the helicopter and strapped down as my saviors returned inside.

  The pilot commanded the iron beast away from the vicinity and we rose up into the apocalyptic sky. I was tended to by those who had saved me, and quickly suited with a mask and blanket that covered over me. The pain from the fabric contacting my withered flesh was immense, but I was unable to voice my discomfort. One of the men began applying a thick viscous goo all over my wounds. It felt like ice against my body, but the chilling sensation was a welcome relief from the hell I had been drawn out from.

  As the men worked, my eyes drifted to view the madness outside. As we sped away from the sight, I saw hundreds of the fleshy obelisks dotting the mangled landscape like wildgrass. They flailed about as hundreds of machines both air and land moved in to challenge their uprising.

  I thought to myself, in that fleeting moment in the back of the helicopter being whisked away from the carnage. As my soul teetered on the precipice between life and death, I laughed. Man’s mightiest weapon, the nuclear warhead couldn’t match them, whatever they were. What hope does small arms fire have? For all their efforts hadn’t killed it, they had only liberated it.