I hit the floor hard and began taking giant panic breaths. My lungs burned and I screamed out in pain. The echo reverberated off the concrete walls. I was blind. I remained on all fours for several minutes until I gained composure. My training with Special Forces had taught me to be effective even without the use of all of my senses, but my senses were all haywire. I couldn’t pinpoint sounds or determine from which direction they came. It was as if there was an echo in my head.

The floor was polished and covered with a viscus solution. Something had shattered and fallen about the floor but I was unable to determine what it was. There were sirens blaring and I think I could make out symphony music of some sort but had no idea what piece or from where it was emitting. I began to think about the last thing I could remember. I had volunteered for an experiment known as the Protogaea Project.

I crawled around on the floor trying to get a sense of where I might be. It was dark and wet, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. There had to be a switch somewhere along the walls, I thought. Had the project failed? I called out loudly to find out if anyone was in the lab with me,

“Hello!? Is anyone here!?” I shouted but nobody seemed to answer.

After a few minutes of crawling I found a wall and stood up. I began to follow the wall thinking it might lead to a doorway. Where were the technicians? How long had I been out?

“Hello!?” I shouted again.

I suddenly realized I was naked and covered myself with my hand. I must have looked like a fool to anyone watching with one hand on my johnson and the other on the wall — then again, who could see me in this darkness? I wondered if the power had gone out in the whole building?

Little by little my other senses began to sharpen. I could smell burning wires and hear sizzling and popping mixed in with the alarms. It was a blend of sounds that I couldn’t make out separately, they all seemed to run together in my head.

***************

Had I been drugged? I tried to remember the purpose of the experiment but was having trouble remembering things. My name is John D’Arby, Weapons Sergeant, Special Forces. I repeated my name, rank and serial number again and again in my head. Everything would be fine. This must be part of the experiment. It’s a test of my abilities. I would just have to make my way to a door and find my way out and the others would be waiting for me. I came to an opening at the end of the wall and followed it into a hallway. The sound of the alarms began to fade as I continued down the long corridor. Without my sight, navigating my way out of this strange prison was going to be difficult, it was like a giant labyrinth. I could tell I was moving away from the room I was in only because of the sounds decreasing in loudness. I wasn’t sure if I was alone or being watched. I made a slow measured count of my steps and continued running my hand along the wall as I moved. I could only hope to be rescued soon.

Suddenly I was struck by an intense hunger like I’d never felt before. I heard someone coming and I stopped moving. I stood at attention awaiting the person to identify themselves, perhaps they were part of a rescue team. The person ran up to me and grabbed my head softly. I tried to look straight at him but couldn’t see a thing.

He whispered, “Don’t worry, your sight will come with time, wait for me here.” then left.

It must have been half an hour, or two days for all I could tell. I sat there waiting. I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and continued moving in the direction from where the stranger came. There had to be an exit, or an entrance that way. He seemed like a scientist. Maybe he was one of the lab techs. Something had to have gone wrong with the project. The way he spoke, it was as if he was trying to calm me.

“Hello!” I called out again. “What the hell is going on here!?”

Nobody answered. I started to doubt whether that lab guy was coming back for me. Things must really be screwed up. In the distance down the corridor, I started to see something. A hazy light at first — I couldn’t focus on it. I began to pick up my pace. Before long I was running.

***************

When I got to the source of the light, I realized it was the sun. I stopped just short of the exit and stared for a moment. My eyes were strengthening, I could tell. I still wasn’t able to make anything out, but I realized quickly that it wasn’t the darkness that prevented me from seeing. Maybe that’s what that lab guy meant by my eyesight coming with time. I wondered if it was the drugs that affected my sight. I knelt in the doorway and strained to look out as far as I could. This was getting ridiculous. I could either wait for the lab guy to return, or continue out of the facility. I looked back in a moment’s hesitation, then decided not to wait. I stepped out of the facility and looked around. I could barely make out huge colorful objects that swayed in the breeze. The sky looked red and behind me appeared to be a desert. Nothing about this landscape made any sense. As my eyesight returned I realized the objects weren’t swaying…they were alive.

At first I didn’t understand it. I squinted hard to see them, but there was no denying it, they were moving of their own free will. The more I watched the more I realized the objects were rooted to the ground. They were plants and the plants were alive. They were beautiful…blue and red trunks, purple and orange leaves, shimmering gold vines with satin finishes and long stems that reached out to grasp invisible enemies. I was petrified. I couldn’t act. I stared for a long time just examining their movements. It was a while before I got up from my crouched position there in the garden. I was nearly surrounded by them. Behind me was a vast desert leading to what looked like a barren city. I was confused and tormented by this confusion. My nakedness was offering no protection against the harsh sunlight. I had to find clothes. I was slowly realizing this was not how I remembered Earth. Had I been transported somewhere? Another planet maybe? Had they done something in the experiment which knocked me out for hours, perhaps years, while my body had been taken to an alien planet that had once supported life, but now was inhabited by living plants? I began to run as fast as I could heading straight for the city. If there were once people on this world they must have dressed in something, I could take some clothes and look for survivors.

***************

I ran through the desert for several minutes until I came close enough to read the signs. I stood on the outlying rocks and crag faces and examined them a moment. I was shocked to notice that they were written in plain English. For a second I stood in horror, but maintained my composure. I was on Earth, still. I thanked God for that. As my eyesight sharpened I noticed movement coming from within the city streets. Maybe it was the survivors I had anticipated finding – I remained on guard. I climbed up onto one of the rock faces and crouched there waiting. I watched in disbelief as I saw several figures of large height moving through the streets. They poked and prodded going inside and out of the empty buildings that looked like skeletons. Structures with their facades ripped down leaving only the steel frames intact, windows with shattered glass and empty doorways leading into nothing.

The creatures moved at a labored pace, slow and methodical, as if they were searching for something…or someone. I watched as the sun moved across the darkened skyline. Cloudless and oppressive, the world had become a wasteland and these monsters must have hunted down man and destroyed him. I started to think I might not find any survivors. They were obviously hostile, these beasts. They carried weapons of some sort. As they moved toward the outer rim of the city where the roads ended and the desert began I could see them tossing vehicles aside with little effort. The prospect of waiting for that lab technician to return was becoming more appealing to me as time passed, but retreat is never an option. I would bide my time until they were gone.

Nightfall was approaching. My hunger intensified. I had no way of knowing when I had eaten last. Was it hours, or days? From the looks of it, it could have been years. How long had I been out? Questions began to consume my thoughts. Who was the lab guy? Why had he survived? Were there others? I watched quietly as the beasts moved in formation away from the city and out of sight. I ran to the buildings. I was sure they hadn’t seen me, but I was cautious just the same. They could have left a garrison behind.

***************

I made my way from the desert to the first outlying buildings. Storefronts smashed and shops, once busy with the activity of citizens, were now empty. Nothing remained. I found a car and examined the license plate. The tax sticker read ’34, two years after the last date I could remember. Had it been that long?

I looked around me in every direction, down the street, along the sidewalks and into the parks. Nothing green was left; life had been pinched out of every corner. It was night and total darkness covered the area. A bit of moonlight peeked through the cloud cover illuminating my path, but beyond that there was nothing. I stood for a moment contemplating how long I had been gone. I needed food and water and shelter. It occurred to me that if the Earth had been a wasteland for 2 years or more, there was no way for me to know for sure, basic needs might not be met easily. My training in special forces would have to be my guide now. The first order of business would be to find a source of water, I wouldn’t survive long without it, then I would need to find bleach and iodine…the sun would do the rest, matches would help. In my training for disaster preparedness we learned that after a natural disaster like an earthquake, flood or blizzard knocking out power that between 30 and 60 gallons of clean drinking water could be found in water heaters. Before traveling much further I decided to find a water heater and a pharmacy. Provided that all the water had not evaporated and the pharmacies had not been drained of supplies, I would get what I needed first from these two locations. I didn’t want to travel far, since conserving energy was now a priority. I would survive 3 days without water, maybe longer, but if I used up my strength I would be a goner. Eating would not be a major priority because water would be needed for digestion and would use up what little I had left in my body.

I set out in search of a water heater. The first building I came to had been used as an office, apparently an insurance company. Tattered signs detailing the benefits of Life insurance and planning for the future through retirement could be seen lining the walls and floors. I scoured the rooms and in a closet found an old coat, my first score, it was over-sized but in decent condition. I put it on and continued searching. When I came to the room that housed the heater, it had been crushed and drained dry. I moved on.

***************

I then came upon a restaurant. I ran inside searching for food, but the place had been ransacked. I found a bottle of bleach, but all that was left was salt, the bleach had totally degraded and the water had evaporated long ago. All the kitchen utensils were gone, but I was able to find a portion of hose. Everything of use was taken, even the chairs, presumably for firewood. I assumed the water heater had probably been emptied as well and it had. I continued through the buildings gathering what I could. Most of those who survived sought out weapons and food leaving few items of use behind, mostly electrical items like hair dryers and irons which would have no benefit. I found a bag of balloons in a convenience store and shoved them in my pocket. I stumbled upon nothing of great value and then, as day began to break, exhaustively I fell to sleep.