Image Prompt 044 Response – Shelter in Place


I chose the picture of the fountain at the McKimmon Center.  I wrote this at my weekly write-in and the prompt from the room was to crash a spaceship into it, so I hope you enjoy a little random scifi.  As usual, this is the product of a timed sprint and a quick copy edit. I went a bit over my usual twenty minutes so I could get to the actual crash, so this is a bit closer to a thirty-minute sprint.

Shelter in Place:

Sarah was on duty at the front desk in the McKimmon Center doing her statistics homework.  It was a work-study position, so they had to let her work on stuff when there was no one around that needed help or directions.  It was the only reason she had both rent and all her homework done.

She heard the rumbling and thought it was thunder at first, but when the noise just kept up, she got up and checked outside.  It was bright and sunny. The only clouds were the fluffy white ones that never caused rain. The rumbling noise was still there, and it was getting louder.  She didn’t see anything, so she went back to the desk. If it was worth worrying about, she’d get an alert soon. It could just be related to one of the ever-present construction projects in and around campus.  She’d started ignoring a lot of noises after they began reconstructing Hillsborough Street. You could hear it in any building within a block of that edge of campus.

Sarah was just getting back to her statistics homework when her phone went off.  It was a campus alert telling everyone that there was a national warning asking everyone to get indoors as quickly as possible and shelter in place.  All campus personnel were to stop what they were doing, go to the nearest building, and follow the shelter in place procedures.

Frowning, Sarah left her homework on the desk, but grabbed her backpack with her computer and did a quick sweep of the main area on her way to the bathrooms designated for shelter in place.  She was only half way across the main entryway when someone came on the building’s speakers announcing the shelter in place call and asking everyone to follow staff to the designated location.  She clicked on the link in the alert, hoping the main page would have additional information, but there wasn’t much. Just that the warning and shelter in place directive had come from the US government.

“Do you know where to go?” Someone asked as they walked into the main hall from one of the side rooms.  There was a line of people behind them.

“If you’ll all follow me,” Sarah said, putting her phone back in her pocket.  “Shelter in place locations are in the center of the building in the bathrooms there.”  It was a pretty typical shelter in place location. Sarah had been doing what she thought of as hide-in-the-bathroom drills since she was in kindergarten.  Back then they’d been called tornado drills. They were better than the code red drills.

When they reached the bathroom, Sarah held the door open to the women’s restroom and let everyone else file in past her.

“Should we go to the men’s room?” a guy asked her, pausing before entering.

“For shelter in place purposes, it doesn’t matter,” Sarah replied.  “This one is closer, so we’ll all shelter here.”

There were about a dozen people in the bathroom when Sarah stepped in and let the door close behind her.  Her supervisor, Greg, was in the back corner with a few other people Sarah didn’t know, plus the eight people that had come out of the meeting room to ask her for directions.

“Everyone make yourselves as comfortable as you can,” Greg said.  “We could be here a while. It’s Monday morning and the bathrooms are always fully cleaned over the weekend, so feel free to sit if you need to.”

Sarah leaned against the wall near the door and watched everyone.  A few people looked at the floor, but no one sat down. She understood.  Bathroom floors were a weird place to sit down, even if you knew it was freshly cleaned.

The rumbling noise was still audible, even from where they were in the center of the building on the first floor.  It must have been really loud outside. It sounded a bit like being inside an airplane during takeoff or landing. Just a huge rushing air noise.

Another alert went out, urging anyone not already inside to get there as fast as possible and anyone driving to pull over and shelter in place in their vehicles.  Sarah knew she should probably be scared. It wasn’t a weather emergency, and the US government was telling them to hide. Did that mean the government had finally pissed someone off enough to attack the US?  But why would they go after anything in the Raleigh area? She’d think they’d target something like the military bases near the coast before anything else in North Carolina.

The rushing air noise got louder, and Sarah thought she heard a couple loud banging noises.  That’s when the wall started to shake. Sarah stood up and had time to take one step away.

There was a horrible crunching and crashing noise, accompanied by the walls shaking and drywall cracking, and dust raining down on them.

Sarah dropped to her knees and threw her hands over her head.  Years of public schooling had ingrained the need to protect her head.

The next sound was so loud it left Sarah’s ears ringing.  The ground shook and the wall beside her pushed inward, drywall falling on her.

There was silence after that.  Sarah coughed, and pushed up, hoping there wasn’t anything heavier than drywall on top of her.

The drywall cracked and fell on either side of her.

Sarah looked up for find everyone covered in gray and brown debris.  There was dust everywhere, and she could see blood on some people.

“Is everyone alright?” Greg asked, right before the fire alarm went off and the sprinkler system activated.

The sprinklers only stayed on for a few seconds.  Long enough to soak everyone, but not long enough to do anything if there was a fire.

Sarah got to her feet carefully, thankful for her backpack, which took the brunt of the hit from the bits of wall that had accompanied the drywall.  She turned to look behind her.

The main lobby was gone.  So was most of that half of the building.  She was looking at the courtyard where the fountain should have been.  She could even see a few cars in the lot on the other side, though none of them were right side up.

Where the fountain should have been, was a pile of metal.  It looked like it had been rectangular originally. Maybe slightly rounded on one end, but it also looked broken.  There was a crater around it, and it had dug itself partially into the ground of the courtyard. There were broken bricks scattered everywhere.

Sarah’s phone chimed, and she checked it automatically.  An unidentified object had fallen from orbit and landed near the McKimmon Center.  Those in the affected area were to remain sheltering in place where possible, or follow emergency evacuation procedures if their building warning systems indicated.  Everyone else was to remain sheltered in place.

Sarah looked back at the weird object.  It didn’t look like a satellite. What else might have been in orbit?  She didn’t think anyone made spaceships that looked like that.


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