The Wait

Web Short/Suspense

Author’s note: This is the original version of a story that found its way into Random Synapse Misfire, Vol. Two. While the basic premise is the same, the details of the two are quite different. This is the manuscript I wrote in 2013, newly-edited for inclusion in the web shorts catalog. Enjoy!

I raised my right hand to shield my eyes from what sunlight broke through the thin layer of clouds. Warm wetness rolled onto my finger; sweat was pouring down my face in rivulets. The murmuring of dozens—maybe hundreds of people—filled the air, their shuffling bodies crowding the landscape. To my right stood a svelte, elderly gentleman dressed in a red and black plaid shirt. Our eyes met; the wisdom that undoubtedly filled his for years was gone, replaced with absolute terror.

He, like me, has been dancing on the edge of an emotional maelstrom. Fear filled the air, thick and suffocating. It left a coppery, slightly acidic taste on my tongue. I swallowed hard with an audible click and turned my gaze back to the sky. No sign of anything other than thin trails snaking east and west.

Despite the dozens of vehicles stopped along the highway, the smell of exhaust was absent. There were no idling cars. The EMP had seen to that. Instead of burned fuel, there was an acrid odor, as if a chemical factory had caught fire. Every minute or so, you could hear the propulsion system of a missile; it always started as a low rumble, growing in intensity as it sped by overhead.

I flinched every time.

An obese man, sweating profusely through his t-shirt, called out each one as it lifted off. There’s one coming in from the southwest, five miles out; two more south of it, coming in hot. Apparently, his eagle eyes offset his lack of physical fitness. Each missile continued past us, carrying its deadly payload to other targets, occasionally painting the very edge of the horizon with red-orange mushrooms.  

People standing along the shoulder scream and murmur, then wait for the next one. It’s almost like a twisted reality TV show. Watch the apocalypse LIVE! The unthinkable had started, and I—along with my highway refugees—waited with our collective breath hitching. I wondered how much time had passed since this started; couldn’t be more than ten minutes, fifteen tops.

A man in overalls muttered to himself, walked to his truck, and tried to start it.

“That’s not going to work, young man,” the elderly gentleman said.

“Shut up, old man,” Overalls said. “You shut your goddamned mouth before I shut it for you.”

“Hey,” the fat man said. “Leave him alone. Besides, he’s right. Your truck is fried just like my car and every other one out here.” He turned back to watch for bogeys when a loud pop echoed through the air. His eye burst, expelling pink mist as a bullet tore through it. It was Overalls; looks like his mind got fried along with the electronics.

He took slow, decisive steps, targeted random people, and fired shot after shot. A father struck in the neck while shielding his kids. A woman shot in the face as she sat on the ground crying. He turned his attention to the old man, pistol raised, and the old man walked toward him. I tried to stop him, but he pushed past.

“Listen here, you vulgar beast,” the old man said. There was no fear in his voice, no hesitation. “I suggest you save one of those for yourself. You’re the weakest one out here and the wait is obviously too much for you to handle.” He walked to a large rock and sat, locking his eyes on the gunman and nodding.

Overalls stood silent, his chest heaving. A moment passed, and he raised the gun, pressing the barrel against his temple.

“Go on, you coward. Do it before we all get vaporized. I cannot bear the thought of being shepherded into the next life alongside the likes of you.”

I forced myself to look away, opting to survey the surrounding scene. A couple had stripped down and were going at it on the hood of a car. The widowed mother tried to console her children. There was—


Thinking a sky racer detonated, I spun on my heels; genuine relief struck upon seeing Overalls dead by his own hand. I turned to the old man, still perched on his rock, his face twisted by a mixture of anger and grief. He raised a hand, dismissing me before I could approach him.

Instead, I dropped my eyes to the ground and spotted a cricket hopping along. No clue that the world was burning, it simply went about its business as though this were any normal day. Little did my new friend know that—any minute now—we would all be reduced to dust.

Lucky bastard.

short suspense stories

If you enjoyed The Wait, check out The Last Cigarette:

The Last Cigarette

Walter Regin is struggling to come to terms with where his station in life and how to fix it. Lost in thought, an emergency broadcast shakes him from his malaise with an unthinkable message:

Nuclear war has begun.

With precious little time before the bombs arrive, Walter must contend with frantic neighbors and a mind plagued by helplessness.

Can he make peace with his family or will he face nuclear atonement alone and afraid?