The Smog Arises
Three in the morning, when the upbeat sector of Libis’ party district, the night gave a cold wind during a day of January, Elena Mayuhay raised her shotg lass filled with tequila and shouted amidst the inaudible throng of dubtep music and noise. She already drank too much. Unaware of her body, surroundings and environment, she partied all night from nine to three along with her band of droogettes from the sub-urban complex of Taguig. In her tight fitting denim pants and straps, she gave herself to the pilgrimage of noise and booze, travelling towards the final point of intoxicated pleasure: the opportunity for casual sex.
Still in her third shot glass of tequila, Elena is on her worst drunken night; margarita won’t mix right in her stomach used to San Mig Lights and Alcomix. Still she drained her third shot with a greedy grin on her face and a seductive look on the man in tight fitting shirt, trimmed arms and an intense piercing look on his face. From her point of view, he’s a foreigner, a half blood perharps, from some part of the world, gone to Manila for a night out. The thought went straight to her brain to bring this stranger to a place she has known with other men. But it must start here, in this club.
“Hey Lena, come...” I was Cathy del Mundo, a call centre agent on her day off and a droogette of Elena, her face with powder to hide the black spots beneath her eyes, a product of sleepless nights and nocturnal alterations on her body clock. She stood in front of Elena, asking her to come to the dance floor.
“See that man in maroon.” She pointed to the foreigner with the trimmed arms. After a naughty giggle Cathy responded.
“Of course, the hot macho guy with the fat companion.”
“Precisely, why don’t we approach them for a dance?”
“Of course friend,” Cathy giggled with Elena as they made their way into the crowd pushing aside other party goers at the centre of the club. There at the left of this crowd of semi-drunk people, the man in a muscle shirt with his not so fat companion stood, hands rested on the wall with beer cups on the other. When the two girls arrived, faced with a Cassanovan conquest the chubby one started.
“Well...Well, chicas...” he gulped and continued. “What can we do for ya?”
Cathy whispered to Elena’s ears, afterwards Elena began with a seductive tone aimed at the chubby man’s companion. Seeing that the two had no interest in him, he chuckled.
“Here’s mi compañero, Johnny.”
Elena came close to Johnny with their bodies almost touching each other. Elena made sure to get close by Johnny’s crotch to feel the manhood inside, hiding in the thick cargo shorts.
“Okay,” the chubby one signalled Johnny as he tried to leave him with the two girls. “I’ll be leaving you guys together while I get another beer.”
Without uttering a word and exaggerating the movement of his lips, Johnny asked.
“Mikey get me a pack of 10s will ya.”
Laughing naughtily, Mikey responded with sarcasm.
“You naughty kid”
Mikey went to the bartender for another beer. On his way, in the middle of the crowd dancing to another dubstep beat, Mikey felt a small shake. More like a small shake of the ground you feel when a great weight falls down. He stopped and looked at the ceiling. The concrete ceiling did not move nor could any crack be seen high above the lighted walls. Then, the jockey played a loud bass beat which hyped the dancers to jump repeatedly while shouting: “Jump...drop the bass...drop the bass.” Calm at the sight of this, Mikey returned to the bartender for another pint of SanMig.
Mikey and Johnny were usual customers and it comes with a familiarity with Doc Jerry, the chemist turned bartender of the club.
“Mikey another pint?”
“Yup, you know Jerry for many times I’ve been here, this is the only time I felt the ground shake from all the dancing.”
“You have to thank that dubstep shit they’ve been playing since o-twelve, we have to buy special bass speakers; but it drives them nuts especially the young ones.”
“Fuck dubstep doc...It’s been causing me to feel the resonance of steel and concrete of this building’s structure.”
“It’s called ‘drop the bass.’”
Doc referred to the pounding sound that shook the ground.
“That shit? Fuck...doc do you happen to also sell 10 packs?”
Doc shook his head and replied menacingly.
“Let me get this clear Mikey. I take care of the booze. But you should come prepared. I ain’t selling jacket packs. Mini stop is just over twenty to thirty metres from here. Buy your jacket packs there.”
Alarmed by this sudden burst, Mikey emptied the pint cup stood and made his way out into the thick cushioned doors of the club. Without difficulty and a nod of approval from the bouncer, a big man with a rather angry look on his eyes, he pulled the door and made his way out of a short corridor lighted by fluorescent bulbs. At four in the morning, the long line has already disappeared, the bouncer at the end of the short corridor also disappeared for no apparent reason.
Out of this place, Mikey felt the hot air searing through his skin. Sweat immediately flowed out of his arms and brow, dropping to his eyes making it difficult to focus. Only hours ago, the air was moist and cold that one could wear leather without worrying about sweating so much. But at this early, it almost 40 degrees Celsius, he took out his smartphone, a sleek Samsung device. He pressed the lock button and the phone gave a rather obstinate flash and didn’t respond for a few seconds.
“Stupid gizmos,” he thought as he hardly pressed the screen to unlock the phone.
It was 4:35 am. From inside the corridor where he stood he felt that the sun was already high up like in midday during summer when there are no clouds. This time, the light is bright, he felt that the fact that the environment was changing just like what one would watch from an Al Gore documentary.
“Good God! It’s fucking hot how come it’s still four in the morning?”
Outside, he saw staggered concoction of men and women running, some screaming not because of a famous actor who by chance went there. The shrill is different, the tone: menacing and terrifying and they run as if someone is on a shooting spree. Mikey then noticed on his left still covered by the building, people were pointing towards the sky.
“Oh God, its bright there aren’t any stars.”
The first person Mikey encountered is a tall man with a chinita girlfriend he’s pulling by the arm. He looked at the woman’s face; she was weeping. The sadness couldn’t be described as either shallow or deep; but she was altogether terrified.
“What, the hell, happened dude?” Mikey tried to question the man.
The man pushed hum merely saying.
“I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
The two disappeared from his sight as he walked slowly towards the direction of the gathering.
He arrived at the spot; people looked worried with girlfriends hugging or crying or whining at their partner’s chests and arms. People took pictures of what seemed to be a fireworks display.
“What the hell just happened?”
Then from the distance another one said.
“That’s the second so far.”
“Fuck that shit, I’m not gonna die here.”
Confused, Mikey took out his smartphone until another detail struck dhimd. A line of jet air streaming through one point in the sky, coming towards the south, it was small from their distance; but he could see the object flying and closing in.
“Is that a jet, big deal?”
“Boy, that’s an ICBM.”
“IBM...IC...what?” Mikey never knew what the man from behind meant. Maybe it’s a new jet liner like the A380 or a 747 but ICBM; he never knew anything of the sort.
“It’s a ballistic missile. The first one arrived about an hour ago, the second just thirty minutes ago, that’s the third one.”
“Fuck, you mean like in the video games?”
The man, quite a gentleman in a polo shirt and black pants, looked at him with disappointment. He never replied again until the bright light covered the sky with its glare and it rose above the sky so high that the big mushroom cloud blotted out the night sky with that blinding light. The explosion was different from the first two, this one almost blinded Mikey and the others; he felt the air punch him him right through the chest, knocking him down over the cement drive way. The cars alarmed simultaneously while others made their way back on their feet, on the horizon the mushroom cloud went up the sky, power was cut off. The brightness of the explosion is enough to light their way back. Only then, Mikey discovered that he dropped his smartphone. He retrieved it, pressed the button; but now it did not respond. He clicked harder like one does on a typewriter but the phone did not respond. He could only ran back to the club where already some have come out to find out why the power was down.
Mikey returned to find Johnny with Cathy and Elena, his hands wrapped on their bare shoulders. Johnny, on finding Mikey, immediately raised his eyebrows to remind him about the errand. Mikey looked at him with irritation and responded immediately.
“Fuck your condoms Johnny.”
“Whoa...Whoa...Whoa...” Johnny replied with surprise. “Smart ass what’s the problem?”
Words were stuffed inside Mikey’s mouth unable to describe what just happened. The stammering Mikey could not help make out the words that would mean tragedy. They never saw anything like that. Rumbles, fistfights and drunken escapades were commonplace; but this one goes beyond tragedy and disaster. This is something unfamiliar and coming to a surprise, the effect is just internally wounding.
Johnny and his two conquests learned only after a few hours about the attack. Hearing it from a security guard in a gas mask, fear crept slowly as alcohol slowly dissipates on their stomachs and Cathy first felt this creeping inside her. They were walking towards Johnny’s car along with Mikey, hoping that their area wasn’t affected.
“I never imagined this...”Tears flowed down Cathy’s eyes as she fell on her knees to weep.
“I can’t even call back home, the guards say that even payphones are busted.”
She wept continuously and they stayed at that point at the parking lot, overlooking the concoction of cars which are either broken or blown away by the wind. Johnny acting like a gentleman assisted Cathy resting her back on a slab of concrete, while he along with Elena sat beside her, comforting her. Along C-5 road, army trucks were sen moving to and fro on both lines. Soldiers unlike the guards wore full body suits and masks beneath their helmets, their weapons around their shoulders. Elena was the first to ask a small Sergeant.
“Sir what happened awhile ago? They told us about an explosion but why the masks and the eerie units like there’s something contagious in the air?”
The sergeant looked at the four of them. As he moved his head to see the others, his covered and faceless head replied rather dryly.
“We’ve been nuked.”
The sergeant left as he spoke, leaving with the other soldiers. They entered Eastwood Mall. One could hear from the sound of a big megaphone the order to evacuate the mall and the hotel. The four cannot return anymore, from the pile of cars, Johnny’s red Montero is in the bottom of the pile of cars, wrecked. During the shockwave, cars flipped like small coins inside an empty can. The building windows are destroyed. C-5 is empty except for a few cars and army trucks.
“The question is when will they invade?”
“That is just a diversion...the real target is the United States...”
“That’s already part of the invasion...”
Cathy collapsed to the ground, crying harder. Without communication, without news, without any notice she saw the world shift from one side to another in a speed so fast it never had any time to somehow alter her body. Still in her party attire, she cried down and unfastened her hand from Johnny’s well built love handles. Elena could only look with pity as her own world is altered along with Cathy. At first, it seemed vague, abstract to the point of absurdity, tears do have a purpose; all the whining and the cowardice serve something which they all share. At least that is what these girls thought off. Everything was faced paced as dubstep, beating and throbbing in a rhythm of ecstasy, unconscious of the moving earth. Elena patted her friend’s back trying to comfort her.
“Okay...” Mikey started. “We need to know the affected areas. I’ll ask the army about it. I know nothing when it comes to nukes or ICBMs so it’s better that way.”
Mikey remembered the days when he ignored History Chanel and the boring documentaries they had seen at school. He was the disinterested kid, sleeping at classes with nothing to think off but the afternoon snack and what to do after school. Those days when one would just find words to woo a high school crush or think of the best alibi why you’re late, that day, gone forever, are just a mark in Mikey’s head. He should’ve listened well.
Outside Eastwood Mall beside the parking lot reserved for bank executives, a long line of beds and tables were set by the army and a solitary medic was just about to zip close a black body bag. The medic saw him and turned his head towards him. Mikey approached the medic, an army soldier with the distinct Red Cross on his helmet. He was about to zip the body bag when Mikey appeared.
“Radioactive water...he drank something after the fallout. Water has been contaminated by the fallout after the first explosion crashed near the water treatment facility. That simply means that any water from our faucets is generally toxic. Even the country’s latest water treatment facility could not handle radioactive contamination.”
“Yes, they cut one of the most important water lines of the Metro Manila area.”
Gasping, Mikey could only look at the young woman expiring to an early death.
“You should evacuate the area...the fallout is spreading from the Makati area and the Quezon City area, we have to be quick. Reports indicate that the fallout, mixed with pollution has created radioactive smog. It’s rather slow moving because of the moist air. If it reaches this area even our masks won’t be of any use. The South and the North are unaffected; but it is best that we move south. That is our only chance of escape.”
“How about the others?”
“We can’t take everyone and mostly people won’t come with us. They fear they’ll be recruited for the army, expecting a invasion.”
Mikey burst out in anger. He grabbed the medic’s collar and threatened to punch him right through the visor.
“What about them? Huh...are they not part of the city?”
The lack of facial expression shades the medic’s face. The mask even covered all emotion from his lips. He never knew whether the medic was afraid of him or he is about to draw his pistol and shoot him then and there in among the heap of bodies.
“You know all too well that an attack is imminent. Don’t you read the papers or watch the television? Oh yeah because you’re busy fucking. If this didn’t happen where would you be? In a motel room or your posh Global city condo unit...guess what Makati is in a fallout zone. The attack fried every electronic system which made the Stock Market work in the first place.”
Mikey could not reply. Their apartment is near Makati, a building within the business district. The news sank immediately and the tragedy so absurd a while ago became a blatant reality so strong and savage. All humanity seems to be an absurd project. He thought of every night he went to this place; the music, the light, the fickle women and the booze, they were all part of that unconscious desiring machine, moving through a bubble chamber outside of space and time. The medic looked at him and completely zipped the body bag. Through the blank expression and cruel honesty, he could feel the panic and fear, springing forth from his gas mask.
Unable to speak, Mikey could only think. His thoughts appeared so loud in this solitary moment. His thoughts first appeared just as whispers, a voice from afar; but now it screams right through his internal sense. “Should I tell Johnny and the girls?” Panic sets in; the feeling of hopelessness arises as the clock ticks and the smog slowly emerges from the distance.
“How many have died today?”
“We don’t know maybe millions and it would increase as the smog covers majority of the region.”
“NCR would end up like Chernobyl. The device mixed with polluted air, we don’t even know when the affected areas are habitable again. Even if the smog subsides, its effects could still be felt.”
The medic walked towards Eastwood mall, far from the parking lot where Johnny and the girls were waiting for him. The soldiers were working with hundreds of black body bags. From afar they seemed to be bags of relief goods like the big ones you see in TV after a storm. But as Mikey came closer, they were indeed body bags as well as corpses, huddled together in a pile. It was skin on skin, body on top of another body, in a mass orgy of death. The stench was foul enough to sear right into one’s nose, blocking the nasal passages with a horrible stench of human flesh disintegrating.
“They all died simultaneously?”
“Some died awhile ago...some maybe during the second explosion. Most of them are residents of the condo units. The blast is too powerful ad it stopped the cycle of the heart. The shockwave is enough to kill them.”
The soldiers continued with their work, placing body bags over a makeshift cemetery. Beside the entrance of the mall, soldiers dump the bodies inside the basement parking of Eastwood mall. At the entrance, two soldiers prepare the wires connecting it with bars of plastic explosives. They are prepared to blow the entrance, sealing the underground. It was a desperate move to bury the bodies and never cause panic; but to Mikey who saw it all, the sight is much difficult to bear. What would he say to Johnny and his girls? He learned already of Johnny’s apparent cowardice that beneath the trimmed arms and hypersexed physique lay a common coward, hiding inside the hollow shell of Hercules.
Mikey soon entertained the thought of evacuating with the army, towards south and towards safety. There wouldn’t be any glitz or neon lights after that but he could live with the tragedy not with himself, that’s absurd; but along with others like himself who apparently saw the collapse of a world they once known and loved. At least, that is the hope of a new existence. He will live through the savage reality opening in fron of him, the inevitable fact that anything he had valued or haven’t valued had disintegrated with the fireball, rising to the sky and never to return again. Amidst this rubble is a blatant reality, a savage mass of bodies grouping each other not of love, affection, hate or another emotion; but the single most savage reality: a fact that is neither foundational nor coherent? The unbelievable part of this madness is that all desire seems to come at a complete halt.
The army continued its work with the other casualties. Everyone is in panic and the others have left on foot, to venture around the possibility of safety. Mikey walked along the line of restaurants which are either empty or a place of refuge of its employees. He went back to the small corridor, leading to the club with the hope of finding Doc Jerry for a last swig. He approached the dark corridor only to find the door sealed by a bright yellow plastic tape with the words: CAUTION, written in bold black letters. The club was used as a treatment facility for other victims of the fallout. He gazed at the place where all the Cassanovan conquests and hang-up gimmicks led them to every motel branch and colourful experience of a libertine life. He could only face this madness with a stupid irrational grin. He couldn’t face Johnny who lay on their backs, watching the dawn pass over the sky.
“Johnny, the army could evacuate us out of here...they’re going south, they say it’s still unaffected. But they are closing down Makati; the fallout has triggered an environmental mess. You could bring them with us.”
Then Johnny made that disconcerting look as if his consciousness has already robbed him of the capability to be conscious and the faculty to operate whatever was left of his mind. Johnny looked at Mikey with a seeming burning gaze through his dark eyes. The girls hold on to him as a beacon of strength; from their postures and look of awful innocence, one could easily conclude that they have settled with this Messiah. Silence reeked out of the parking lot between Johnny and Mikey, the other being undecided and held on with the idea that everything would turn out as it is again, despite the blatant and savage reality before him and the other with a spectre of an unknown feeling boiling inside, openness to the non-existence perhaps. Yet, beneath this concoctions, Mikey retorted again, expecting to convince Johnny.
Then Johnny let fly with everything he’s got in a burst of anger.
“Then get the fuck out! Leave us here till everything subsides. That’s what you’re good at Mikey: you can’t face this...tragedy...I mean...challenge..., I don’t fucking know whatever it is, like a man. I’m staying here even if I had to die out here. We’ll take refuge at Citibank building.”
Mikey stooped down and looked at Johnny’s eyes. Those brown eyes were not the same ones before but a different set of eyeballs attached to a different man.
“What’s with all the irrationality Johnny, we could get the hell out of this mess.”
“And what? Get help from the government, from the stinking church with priests and ministers blabbering till thy kingdom come about hope and resilience till thy kingdom come. No, we’re too smart for that Mikey remember? We will stay here, we’ll find...a way.”
At this point, Mikey, the disconcerted individualist, has lost all that has defined him. Back to all that confusion and duality between this and that, the choice between one girl and another and the seeming reality of a two sided coin flipping constantly in the void, it all occurred to him as an absurdity. It is not important whether it is pleasurable or not, painful or not; rather the reality one could possibly hold would be the smoothness of that straight and savage reality that makes pleasure and pain one thing. Like the explosion, such creative force beneath something destructive. From the outside, the world seems to be destroyed, crushed to the ground with stunning force of a megaton bombs and gigantic missiles, blocking the sun with its force; but somewhere lies the creative part of the tragedy as Mikey and Johnny were both created anew.
Johnny and Mikey stood at the parking lot motionless for about ten minutes. A few metres away, the army just blew down Eastwood mall’s basement parking lot, sealing hundreds of dead bodies inside an artificial sarcophagus. The entrance from the mall was sealed with cement and the main glass doors were sealed with yellow warning tapes, leaving the once bustling hub abandoned. The building once the hub of the rich and the elite, the gathering of people who had everything, now stood not as a living fossil of economic gain; but a simple reminder of the dead and the desperation to take care of their bodies.
For all they know, Libis now stood as a grim time capsule. Once a place of neon lights, laughter, enjoyment and relationship, it now froze to a grim abandoned arcade of where once life dwelled yet never lived. The clubs would be silent forever, the restaurants would be empty. There wouldn’t be any parties with bright lights flashing and loud music to accompany it; but only sunlight pouring through empty and broken window panes and the sound of cracking walls and broken wood will fill its corridors and alleyways. No more young people to celebrate youth; but only an ageless impersonal air, no human could ever penetrate or humanize. The entrances were blocked by the army with concrete slabs and barbed wire fences. In between the fences, a large “Caution” sign is written in black bold letters. Everything done, the army sets out to move, a few were taken as refugees, the others have left in panic.
The medic approached Mikey and signalled him, ordering him to board the truck.
‘Johnny you don’t have to.”
Then and there, he left Johnny who still sat on the parking lot, his back rested on a concrete barrier.
“The smog is approaching we have to leave.”
The medic handed him a black gas mask similar to the one he’s wearing, complete with an air purifier. He could already feel the dust go down his throat and soon he would have difficulty breathing. He wore the mask and beneath the safety, an orange glare altered his vision and he boarded the truck with the medic and other two soldiers along with the medical supplies. As the truck went down C-5 road and passed through the Pasig River. The whole image was revealed to him. The horizon is filled with black smoke. To the east, the Makati skyline is in flames, the whole sector is engulfed in a bright fireball. On the sky, government helicopters filled the horizon. With the sun shining brightly above the sky, it seemed that the nightmarish incident already stopped; but to his back the smog already filled the roads. And in front, the smog moves as if the one in Makati would eventually meet with the one in the North.
© Copyright 2016 Pater Profundus. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Historical Fiction
Short Story / Religion and Spirituality
Essay / Non-Fiction
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