It's so quiet. That's the strange thing: to see all this destruction and not hear a single noise. Not the wail of sirens, or the groans of construction equipment. Not even the screams of the trapped or the injured. It makes it feel as though the whole city has been abandoned, given over to the rule of the aliens. It makes me feel like prey, like a mouse in the den of a cat.
A recent shower of rain that helped to clear away some of the dust in the sky has also turned a lot of the ash on the ground to mud. It sucks and sloshes beneath my boots as I walk. I follow the layout of the streets as much as possible, climbing over wreckage or doubling back when the remains of a fallen building block my path. The air stinks of smoke and, beneath that scent, the cloying reek of rotting corpses. There aren't many bodies visible--the Creatures have seen to that--but there's no way of knowing just how many poor people are buried in the wreckage.
The first living thing I see is a cat. It's a mangy-looking thing that darts away as I approach. I catch a glimpse of a red collar around its neck and feel an unexpected burst of sympathy for the dumb thing. Nobody to feed it now. Since I don't know where I'm going anyway, I follow it long enough to see it squirm into hiding under a piece of rubble. I watch the dark hole into which it disappeared for a few minutes, but the cat doesn't seem to want to come out. I have more important things to think about anyway. I turn around...and only just manage to keep myself from screaming.
Standing there, not fifty feet away, is one of the Creatures. Tall, sculpted, the watery sunlight gleaming off its bone-coloured armour. It takes a heartbeat for me to realise that it's asleep. I've wandered close to one of the craters without realising it. All the same, it's a good minute before I dare to move.
Part of me wants to go and examine the thing, maybe even touch it. I imagine it would be cold, like touching stone. But I'll never know, because a much larger part of me just wants to get as far away from it as possible. Slowly, cautiously, I turn and make my way off down the street.
I pass an overturned fire engine. I pass a row of houses that have been reduced to charred skeletons by fire. I pass a place where a flyover has collapsed, leaving a kind of broken archway of road, scattered with damaged cars. And still, all the while the silence and the emptiness persist.
It's only after almost an hour of walking that I see another human being. I come around a corner and find myself facing a young boy who crouches on his haunches atop a low mound of rubble. His face is obscured by a gas mask, and his skinny body covered only by a pair of red shorts and a grimy vest. That masked face swings around to glare at me, and we both freeze where we are, unsure how to proceed.
Eventually, I pluck up the courage to break the silence. "Hello," I say. Then I clear my throat and say it again. It's been so long since I last spoke out loud. "My name's David," I say.
The boy stares steadily at me, barely moving. I take a tentative step forward. "Are you all alone?" I ask.
Quick as a bird, the boy turns and flees.