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The glasses on the tables shattered.
Plates were smashed to shards.
Some of the tables tipped over, spattering delicious hand-cooked meals across the gleaming tiled floor.
The crisp white tablecloths were sprayed with blood and uneaten food.
The ground rumbled beneath their feet.
The baby began to wail at the top of his lungs.
His dad was now panicked, wondering what the hell was going on, as was everyone else in the restaurant.
Glass rained down, raking scared faces, as the lights and the pretty ornate lampshades which Monique had so admired shattered.
‘Get down,’ Monique’s husband, Sal, hissed.
They hit the deck, crawling down under the table.
She tipped the table over and pointed it towards the restaurant.
Their backs were to the corner, so they backed themselves up into the red leather seating.
Monique held the tablecloth over them like a kid’s makeshift play den.
This turned out to be wise as a second shockwave hit the restaurant, sending more lethal shards of glass flying through the air.
A middle-aged woman on the table across from them went down, gurgling blood through the slit in her throat.
Her husband had a starched white shirt on, a large puddle of blood quickly spreading on the front and back of it from the huge piece of glass that was sticking out of his belly.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ Monique shouted, but most people were still deafened by the blast.
She faintly heard screams, but it was as though she was hearing it under water.
She herself felt terrified but she became even more scared when she saw the terror etched into her children’s faces.
And she’d let Josie go off on her own.
Shit, where was she now?
Was she safe?
Who was she with?
Her terrified train of thought was derailed when her husband put his hand on her arm.
She noticed miniscule cuts on his face and arm, from the hails of flying glass.
He mouthed, ‘We gotta get outta here.’
And she nodded.
She raised her phone and tried to call Josie but there was silence.
‘You got signal?’ she mouthed back to him.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket, wincing as he caught the wounds in his hand, and checked.
Shook his head.
‘Fuck,’ Monique bellowed, slamming her palm into the table.
The ground again shook beneath them.
She stood up, glancing around.
The couple with the baby were cuddled together, their bodies around him, a fleshy cocoon protecting him from harm.
Their faces were blood-streaked, terrified.
The baby’s cries were about the only thing that she could hear and it was reassuring as it meant she hadn’t gone deaf just yet.
Again she felt her husband’s hand on her arm.
They rose, gathered the kids and made their way out of the restaurant.
The upper floor of the mall where the restaurant was situated looked as though it had been hit by an asteroid.
‘Fuck,’ Monique said, upon seeing that the path leading to the nearest stairs was crumbling and raining down onto the floor below.
The white floor tiles were cracked and broken, like a giant’s game of Jenga gone horrifically wrong.
There were bodies beneath where the floor had fallen, crushed like bugs on a windshield judging by the halos of blood that slowly seeped out around their bodies to sully the previously pristine white tiles.
She covered Zeke’s eyes as he looked down and let out a typical kid’s response; ‘Whoa, cool.’
The poor sod didn’t realise this was real; probably thought it was something out of one of his video games.
Freya didn’t get to see as Monique pulled her back from the edge.
‘Josie? JOSIE!’ Monique shouted, barely audible over the screams and the creaking of the collapsing building.
She looked the other way and saw a vast group of shoppers running away from the side of the mall that had begun to collapse.
‘Let’s get outta here,’ Sal said.
She nodded, her eyes surveying the horrendous scene before them.
She grabbed her son’s hand.
He complained, but she hissed, ‘Shut up. You need to hold my hand or you may never see home again.’ She immediately felt awful for it, but knew that the situation warranted it.
He clung on for dear life.
They moved on, past stores where the entire front windows had shattered beneath the force of the blast.
Some of the windows had burst outwards, spraying the passing shoppers with a lethal blizzard of glass.
Their torn bodies bled out on the floor beneath the windows.
Again they covered their kids’ eyes to shield them from the horror.
Most of the mall’s windows had been broken in the explosion and glass seemed to crunch on every step they made.
Screams and mournful cries filled the air, blotting out the constant sales announcements that were still being made over the tannoy system.
One young man had his hands clamped to his face, blood pouring from his eyes like crimson tears. His hands searched blindly in front of him.
‘I can’t see,’ he sobbed. ‘What’s going on? I can’t fucking see.’
A particularly heart-breaking scene they passed was an old man desperately dragging himself along the floor towards a prone corpse.
An upturned wheelchair lay a few feet behind him.
‘Valerie? Are you ok?’ he said, the panic in his tone making Monique’s eyes mist over with tears.
By the ragged wound in Valerie’s throat and the blood that pooled around her convulsing body, it seemed obvious she was not ok.
Monique shook her head.
She felt like she should help, but finding Josie was her priority.
And besides, where did you draw the line?
If you helped one of the injured people you’d have to help another, and there were thousands of casualties here, that much was plain to see.
‘Josie?’ she shouted again.
She pulled her phone out and again rang her daughter, but it was just a dead line.
‘The phones are down,’ Sal said.
A huge crowd of people ran towards them from the other side of the mall.
Instead of making sure none of them bashed into her, she began scouring their faces for those of her daughter or her friends.
She was bounced around like a pinball by the fleeing crowd, but she stood firm, making sure her boy didn’t bear the brunt of the repeated impacts.
‘Momma, what’s going on?’ he said, those big brown eyes full of fear and worry.
Monique gulped hard.
Her vision blurred slightly as tears began to fill her eyes, but she forced it down so as not to appear frightened in front of him.
If she was brave he would be too.
‘I’m not sure, sweetie. I think it’s just a game. Cool, huh?’
He smiled and nodded, wide-eyed.
All trace of panic had gone.
Monique felt the weight crushing her soul lift a little.
The crowd of people running towards them stopped now but shock and awe had stopped Monique querying what the group were fleeing from.
That question was answered when the sound of gunfire rang out from the far end of the mall.
Like a nightmare incarnate, a line of gun-wielding men in black uniforms and motorcycle helmets strode out of the billowing smoke clouds.
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