The Day the World Turned Orange

“Hey, Hun,” Elise called, pausing as she grabbed her keys off the counter, eyes transfixed out the window in front of her.

“Yes?” Michael responded as he popped his head out of the bathroom. He followed his wife’s gaze. Toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

She stood unblinking. “What’s wrong with the sky? Why’s it like that?”

He moved beside her. “I don’t know. Perhaps the clouds are reflecting the sunrise. It is almost five thirty.”

“Right. Almost five thirty?” Eyes widening, she trotted down the stairs. “I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get fired!” She flung open the door leading to the garage then elbowed the button to retract the large garage door. Placed her lunchbox in the passenger seat of her bright green Jeep.

However, her pace slowed to a crawl when she caught a glimpse of the outside world as she rounded the back of the Wrangler. Yes, the sun may start rising before five thirty, but it was never this bright. Nor was the entire air tinted orange. And that’s what it seemed like. As if someone spray-painted the air itself with a transparent, faint orange color. Never had she seen such a thing in her years of life.

“Whoa,” came Michael’s response as he stood in the doorway leading back into the house. “Were we transported into a video game in our sleep or what?”

She gave a short laugh. “Well, if we did, it was Fallout, and this is just after the bombs fell. But I guess I better get going. I can spectate this on my way.” After giving her husband a quick peck on the cheek, she pulled herself into the taller vehicle. Carefully backed out into the orange haze.

Honestly, the atmosphere was eerie. She wanted to declare this was an unbelievable phenomenon, but there was something about it that made her not want to make any final decisions on it. It was too quiet. Even for this early time of the day.

There were much fewer cars on the road taking her to her hardware store job. Normally, there was average of about fifty. Today, she counted thirteen. And they all had their windows tightly rolled shut even though the weather was lovely, despite the summer season.

Elise glanced at her two windows that were rolled down. Was there something in the air she didn’t know about? Did she need to roll up her windows? She looked around at the continued orange through the top of her windshield. Were there even clouds in the sky? She couldn’t see any kind of variations.

Ah, screw it. She was keeping her windows down. As weird as the sky was, it was too nice out to not have them down. Turning up the radio, she placed an elbow out the window. Thumb tapping the steering wheel. Although, her wary gaze didn’t lose true sight of the strange orange glow.

Soon, her nostrils flared. What was that burning smell? Her arm grew hot. She looked down and gave a yell of alarm as the top layers of her flesh bubbled red. Pulling her arm back inside the Jeep, she almost crashed the vehicle during her surprising discovery.

The subtle sizzling of her skin stopped once it was out of direct contact with the orange light. Her wide eyes studied her arm. She couldn’t feel much pain, but common sense told her not to put her arm back out. In fact, she rolled both windows up.

She stared at her festering wound. Returned her attention back outside. What was this orange glow? Where did it come from? There had been no alerts, no sirens in the night. Nothing to relay a national emergency. It clearly wasn’t safe, so why hadn’t she seen anything about it on her news feed when she played on her phone before getting ready?

Was this the result of government experiments? Or was this the pollution finally coming to wipe humans out. It wasn’t a bomb since there were no sirens. Unless certain people died, and no one was able to activate the sirens. She didn’t want to think about that.

The main worry for now was what could she find that would allow her to safely go out into the orange glow? Assuming she would ever find out what caused it and what it was made of. After sending a warning text to her husband, she continued on her way. If there was something she could make to protect herself, certainly the hardware store would have it. It didn’t seem to affect cars and houses, after all.

 

*Author’s Note: Yesterday morning, I did walk into my garage and lift the door to see the air painted with a faded orange. It was an unusual phenomenon. Of course, I ran through every fictional post-apocalyptic/sci-fi scenario I could before the science side of my brain kicked in and told me the crystalized water in the very low-hanging clouds was reflecting a bright orange sunrise down instead of out across the sky. It was ominous and beautiful at the same time. And, of course, I needed to write a short story about it. 

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Goodbye, Alice

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Alice woke to the pleasant humming sound of her alarm. Rubbing her eyes, she looked to her white robot plugged into its charging station on the other side of the room. “Thank you, R.B.B.T.”

The robot’s white, glowing eyes flickered to life as the sound ceased. Ethereal voice sounding. “Good morning, Alice.”

She watched it rise with the grace and fluidity clearly not based off human movement. The exotic android was sleek, built for speed. As per the alien race that inspired its design. Why it was her household robot, she wasn’t sure. But she had it ever since she could remember.

“Morning request, ma’am?”

“The usual.” She performed her morning ritual of stretches as the tint of her windows changed from black to almost clear, letting in the simulated sun. Then she moved to her bathroom. The door slid open in response.

R.B.B.T. entered the bedroom. “Breakfast is ready.”

Alice braided her light hair in a ponytail. Paused. Studied the mirror. Tilting her head, she ran her fingers down her neck. Her brows furrowed at the faint bump and discoloration that traversed around the middle of her neck. Something she never paid attention to before.

The android shifted. “Breakfast is ready, ma’am.”

She leaned closer to the mirror. “I know, but how did I get this? I don’t remember doing anything that could cause this. It’s like a scar.”

The robot’s eyes turned red as it sent a beacon to its true master.

There was a flash of light in the front room of the virtual house. The feminine voice of the home echoed. “General Cooper has arrived.”

Alice poked her head out of the bathroom, running to the front room. “Dad!” She threw her arms around him. Then frowned at his stern face. “What’s wrong?”

He sat her down. “R.B.B.T. has notified me you discovered the scar around your neck.”

One of her brows lifted. “Yes? What is this all about?”

Sighing, he sat across from her. Put a hand on her knee. “Do you remember you’re an agent for me and the government?”

“Yes…I just went on a mission not too long ago…”

“Well, last rotation, you were assigned to a highly sensitive mission. One I didn’t even know all the details for. Our greatest enemy traveled back in time to rewrite the future to her design. You were sent after her, you being our top agent. With its impressive shifting abilities, R.B.B.T. was sent along with you.”

Alice glanced at the exotic robot.

General Cooper continued. “Our enemy had been there long enough, she killed the king and placed herself as queen. We didn’t know at the time. We sent you straight in to explain a pre-scripted situation to the king. She had you beheaded on the spot. Thankfully, R.B.B.T. is equipped with the most advanced in medical science. It killed the queen and saved you simultaneously. It was able to fuse your head back on. Our damages team handled the rest.”

She sat in silence, blinking. Not given enough time to process the information. “This doesn’t make any sense…why don’t I remember any of this?”

“The queen, the enemy, was your mother.”

Her eyes lifted, realizing why her memory had been wiped. “How many times have we had this conversation?”

His expression stiffened. “About three times a week. There is so much we keep you from remembering. It’s why we keep you in constant surveillance at this facility. Your world that you think exists no longer does. You loved those Wonderland myths so much, your mother wanted to emulate them. In a way, I think she succeeded.”

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because your memory will be wiped once more. Goodbye, Alice. I’ll see you the next time this happens.”

“What? That’s it? You incredulously deceiving person!” She rose from her chair. Only to be forced back down by R.B.B.T. She screamed and kicked, but nothing set her free.

General Cooper transported out of the virtual house to monitor the rest from a station in the corner of the simulation room.

The last thing she experienced before she would forget was seeing the android’s white eyes blending into one piercing light, blinding her vision. And its mellifluous voice growing more distant as consciousness faded.

“Goodbye, Alice.”