Nicky used to run around every day from book shop to book shop, browsing their collections frantically and with an intense focus. She would ask the clerks whether they had the latest Randy Pausch, even though she knew that what she was looking for was a carefree feeling which came to her less and less these days: the feeling of being young. When they had informed her that Randy Pausch had passed away, and would therefore not be writing any more, she ran out into the street in a haze and got hit by a limo.
She came to her senses in a dark rainy twilight. She was in the middle of a pine forest clearing. In front of her, framed by trees and heavy rain clouds, there towered a building that looked like an old-fashioned iron radiator partly encased in a concrete slab. The cold drizzly wind smelled of pine resin, tar, and wet concrete. All over the building's walls she could spot loose insulation foils wrapped around vent entrances that didn't lead anywhere. Wiring and broken pipes hung out of pockets in the concrete, trailing long vertical rusty smears. Anything loose was being rustled violently by the strong wind. It was bitterly cold.
She walked around the building looking for an entrance. There were machine parts, oil pools, and pieces of broken glass scattered everywhere. It looked as if an old car repair shop had exploded and spewed its contents all over the ground. Some parts were rusted, some were half buried in the wet soil, and from some parts there extruded wires and cables that snaked into the back of the building. She followed them all the way to the far side where she spotted an inlet. Looking inside, her eyes traced a ramp that led upwards - but not into a passageway. Instead the ramp went right up and met the ceiling, from which more wiring hung out in clumps around pipes and even more insulating material.
All the same, Nicky decided that she was going to walk into the inlet because she felt that she had to hide: There were bad things that walked in the rain below those dark pine trees, evil things, and they were looking for her, she could sense it. She took a few steps up the ramp. She stared up into the layers of decrepit hardware hanging above her head. This place felt as if it had fallen out of another time and an almost unrecognizable place.
Nicky wondered what this place had been like originally. Was it some sort of machine installation, perhaps a power plant? Why did it need so much intricate hardware? Was it an outlet for a much larger installation, perhaps a giant complex of machinery underground? What if there were people down there, warm and safe under the freezing wet soil, and more importantly, was there a way in? She closed her eyes to try and hear any sound that might betray any activity: The sounds of engines or the hum of electricity, anything. But the only sound she could make out was the wind blowing through the trees.
She watched the drizzle fall on the wet floor of the ramp. Her sudden stillness, together with the gusts of wind, caused her body to shiver violently. She tried to find a corner where she could take shelter from the worst of the wind. She noticed a silver-painted insulation flap behind some pipes, which was partly ripped and stuck out. She walked over and tugged at it, managing to tear a whole side from the ramp's floor. Its underside was black and smelled like burnt rubber, but she crouched behind it, pulling it up over her as far as she could. It barely reached her shoulders, but it was enough to calm the shivers temporarily so that she could think.
Just then she noticed that she was sitting on solid concrete. How strange that the concrete is shielded like that, she thought. The vents are fake, the wiring doesn't lead anywhere, there and no entrances and no windows. The machinery is probably just a thin layer as well, and underneath it's just concrete. This whole thing doesn't lead anywhere. It's not a building or a machine, it's just a concrete slab. Oh God, she realized in despair, it has no inside.
She thought about the evil things that wandered in the forest. Feeling colder by the minute, she huddled under the insulation and looked out into the thickening darkness behind the tree line, trying to catch a glimpse of any movement. Time passed and the twilight faded. It became so dark that she could no longer see anything. It was only a matter of time before whatever was out there found her, she knew, and she would not even see it coming.
The wind eventually died down, leaving only dead silence and total darkness. Nicky, in blind terror, held the insulation flap rigidly in front of her like a shield, waiting for the sound of footsteps to come out the trees she could no longer see. Her hands and feet were already numb from the cold, and gradually it spread all over. Then as her body started to shut down, even her trembling stopped. Slowly, her consciousness began to fade, and as it did, she finally heard those dreaded footsteps approaching from dead ahead, moving slowly and steadily up the ramp towards the spot where she was huddled. They had found her, but she didn't care anymore.
She woke up a million years later. She was standing on the blackened asphalt of a deserted street, looking up at a blood-red sky that was punctuated by a dull mustard streak of a sun. The air smelled of dust and ozone, and the wind burned as it blew over her bare arms.
There were tall buildings all around, giant totalitarian blocks whose edges were silhouetted by jagged balcony rails and stained concrete. Her gaze searched for people, but none were to be found. In the distance she could make out a copper statue on a pedestal. It portrayed a man in military uniform, a solitary human figure, soulless and still, but she did not recognize him.
A long drawn out crackling sound like prelude to monstrous thunder echoed through the air, but no lightning flashed; only dull sub-sonic thuds that she felt on her belly and her back. She glanced at the sky once again. From the dull yellow sun there emanated webbed rips and cracks that spread, turning the sky into a bloody wound. She smelled blood and pus in the hot wind. With her eyes she tracked a piece of sky as it snapped and sank earthward. From inside the jagged opening it left behind there came a blinding light.
Suddenly the landscape began to move: Shadows sprang out of every corner. They were the shadows of running human figures, yet the people casting them were nowhere to be seen. The road's asphalt shimmered as thousands of these shadows washed across it, their legs making desperate running movements, their arms waving in a panic.
Just then, somewhere deep inside the shadow city, the falling piece of sky made contact with the ground. A giant cloud of dust and debris lifted like a veil across the horizon, but no sound came. Nothing moved except the running shadows.
Swiveling her head up, Nicky saw something new: From the cracks in the sky, millions of angels dressed in white were coming down to raise humanity up to the judgment chambers.