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From a Distance

The World Looks Like Hell

By Paula ShabloPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 10 min read
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Part 1

Mum told me about earwigs, once upon a time. Horrifying creatures that could only move forward, they were used as torture devices by evil enemies seeking information.

As I child, I thought earworms were the same thing, and those little bugs would burrow into my ear, eat through my brain and exit the opposite ear.

EARWORM: Noun. A catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person's mind.

I wish this one would exit. I think my brain's half finished anyway.

The lyrics keep repeating:

From a distance

You look like my friend

Even though we are at war

From a distance

I just cannot comprehend

What all this fighting is for

I don't want to give them credibility, but...

For the record, I hate underground parking.

Picture it: you drive in a spiral, down, down, down, and no matter what time of day, you end up in the lowest level of the hell-hole; the overhead lighting is dim where it works and darkness rules where it doesn't, and you just know some monster is lurking in the white, windowless van parked just there.

See? I just gave myself the heebie-jeebies, and I'm not even down there anymore!

I should start at the beginning.

I started the day in the usual Oh-My-God-I'm-Gonna-Be-Late-Where's-My-Coffee-Damned-Alarm-Fuck-This-Schedule way. (Who in blazes needs to be up at four in the morning, anyway? That should be bedtime, damn it!)

Five-forty a.m. found me wheeling my way down to the pit of hell, where—yes, indeed!—I ended up having to park one car space away from the dread windowless white van.

It had been there every day that week. The windshield was dark, as were the driver and passenger door windows. I don't know if they were deliberatly blacked out, or if it was just the horrible lighting in the pit. Either way, I had spent that week creeped out by the presence of the thing.

I slung my bag across my chest and held a can of mace in each hand as I made my way quickly to the elevators. Hey, I'm five feet nothing and a buck ten! My dream is to NEVER be shoved into a windowless white van, okay?

I'll add here, just for the record, that I wore my steel-toed boots every day after I first spotted the thing. Kicking power.

Now, you'd think there would be parking above the eighth level at that hour of the morning, wouldn't you? But, no. Staggered shifts, lots of part-timers, and this was what you got. Plus, most of the higher levels were for full time residents of the upper floor of the highrise, and in a city this size, you just know they're not moving when they can get the subway two blocks down.

Yeah. It made my mornings hell.

Still, there's a bright side to the early shift, and that is getting out early as well. It was nice to drive up and out into a world that was still bathed in daylight year round, knowing that even in winter you'd have a couple of hours to get things done before the sun went down.

It was a Friday, my favorite day. I would be driving out of the city to spend the weekend with my mother and my son. Because of my crazy hours, he lives with her full time.

I'll admit it, I was scared to have him in the city with me. My hours, as established, are nuts. He'd have to take public transportation to and from school. He's a little boy.

Do I need to remind you of my fear of windowless white vans?

That afternoon, as the elevator clanked its way down, I adjusted my bag and loaded my hands with mace. When the door slid open, I was ready.

The van was gone.


I'm anything but a trusting soul, so I kept my mace ready. Just because I didn't see it didn't mean it wasn't lurking somewhere.

I was almost to my car when the first explosions hit. I raced to the vehicle, unlocked it and jumped inside. Then I scrambled over the seat and into the back, hitting the lock on my keyfob as I went.

I thought, What the hell are you doing, Shelby? Get outta here!

Nope! I hit the floor and covered my head.

Best decision I ever made!

A beam and part of the ceiling, all concrete, came crashing down on my car, smashing the windows and collapsing the roof. If I had stayed in the front seat, I would have been squashed.

Car alarms were blaring all around me and echoes bounce off crumbled walls. Those lights that had been working were either destroyed or switched off, and I was in complete darkness.

After what seemed like forever (but was probably only minutes) most of the crashing and booming subsided.

I stayed on the floor, face down, my hands still protecting my head. I listened as residual collapsing of walls and ceiling continued, and prayed that nothing else would land on my car.

Finally, all I could hear was the blaring car horns, and I rose to see if I was going to be trapped in my car forever.

Using my cell phone's flashlight, I assessed the damage.

The back door on the passenger side was mostly intact, and I was able to kick it open. With all the glass and debris, I gave thanks for my boots. I wanted a hardhat, too, but you know what they say: wish in one hand—

I put my mace in my front pockets for easy access, because I was seriously freaked. But I needed my cell for the flashlight, and I wanted a hand free.

Let me just say that getting out of there was not an easy thing.

I pick and poked and pushed my way through a ton of concrete get to the elevator. Of course, it wasn't working.

The stairwell was a mess, but passable up to the fifth level. Then I had to just walk that circular route. There were times I was sure I was trapped forever, but I finally made it out.

Crazily enough, I got out of there about the same time I usually arrive in the mornings. It was so dark. I had been switching my flashlight off as much as possible to save the battery, and I was reluctant to turn it on now.

What if someone saw it?

Do I have to tell you how terrified I was of leaving the garage?

My first encounter with another human was awful. You see, it was just the lower half of a...well, I think it was a man. Cargo shorts and huaraches with tube socks. So, my impression was—well, whatever.

The upper half was buried under rubble, and the socks were full of blood, and all I could think was, who wears tube socks with hauraches?

Yeah. Pretty sure that was the moment I started going crazy.

There were working traffic lights, which was a joke. No one was driving on this street, but the lights went through their usual cycle. As I picked my way toward the subway entrance—

—Don't ask me why; I already knew there were going to be no trains making runs—

—I kept watching those damned lights. Green. Yellow. Red.

I suppose, if I was smart, I would have been watching the skies. I didn't believe for a second that a gas line had blown. The whole city, as far as I could see, was crushed from the top down.

I gave the subway entrance a wide berth. Bodies were piled up; people had tried to go down, I guess. I've heard there are little neighborhoods down there, but if they ended up looking like the parking garage—well, good luck with that!

It took me all day to make my way across the metropolis and follow what was left of the turnpike out to the freeway. You don't need to hear about my sightseeing experience along the way. Just know this: it wasn't pretty.

But the damn song—it just wouldn't quit!

From a distance the world looks blue and green

And the snow capped mountains white

"The world looks blue and green," I whispered, watching my feet as they tramped over gravel. "Bullshit, it does!"

The air was full of smoke and ash. By the time I got out of the city I had a slow, steady cough that just seemed part of my breathing process. I was no longer registering the metallic scent of blood.


I wanted my son. I wanted my mother. And by God, I was going home.

The further I got from the city proper, the less destruction I saw, although this isn't much of a statement—there was still plenty. But near sunrise of the next day, after walking all night, I found a car. It had been abandoned, apparently, and the keys were in it.

I didn't see any bodies, living or dead.

I took the car.

It was slow going. I was hungry and thirsty, and along the way I took what I could find to alleviate that. Convenience stores are still convenient, even with no one attending them.

When I finally got to my mother's house, I knew my life should have ended in the parking garage. The best decision of my life—jumping in the back—had turned out to be the worst decision.

The house was burnt, most of it destroyed beyond recognition.

I got out of the car. "Aaron," I whispered. "Mama."

I poked around in the ruins for a long time. There were no bodies, not in the house; none anywhere around it, either. Mom's car was gone.

I felt hope return.

In the area where my bedroom once stood, I found the remains of my dresser and an old jewel case, a present from my father. Inside was the silver heart-shaped locket his mother had given me when I was twelve. Grandma told me she knew I would find the perfect pictures for it.

She was right. Inside were two photos. One was my parents on their wedding day. The other was my Aaron. I used to wear it faithfully every day, but a few months ago the clasp on the bracelet broke, and I hadn't made time to replace it.

I clutched my treasure to my chest, sobbing hysterically.

After a while I salvaged what I could and packed things into my car. Yes, it is my car, now. Who is left to tell me otherwise?

I'm not sure where I am today. Some hotel room. It's actually in pretty good shape. I may stay awhile, make it a base of operations. There's still gasoline at the station down the road.

That's where I found you, Dear Diary. And I feel a little better now, after writing all this down.

I need a good night's sleep.

I have to find my family.

That stupid earworm keeps repeating in my head:

God is watching us

God is watching us

From a Distance

Are you watching?

I raise my middle finger skyward and say, “Watch this!

Tomorrow, I think I'll look for a radio...

You have just read the first story in the Shelby Series!

The story continues...

Part 2: Keys and Cake

Part 3: Once Upon a Barn

Part 4: Boxes and Bombs

Part 5: School Days

Part 6: Nightmares

Part 7: Anna Pottage and a White Van

Part 8: Ready

Part 9: Slip Sliding and Switchbacks

Part 10: Reunited

If you enjoyed this story, I invite you to follow those links above and get the whole Shelby experience!

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About the Creator

Paula Shablo

Daughter. Sister. Mother. Grandma. Author. Artist. Caregiver. Musician. Geek.

(Order fluctuates.)

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Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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