Panda pulled her Glock out of the shoulder holster and told Dell to stand back and stay close behind her. She was preparing to drop into a low center of gravity crouch to make herself less of a target when she saw Dell rear up in front of her with a case of serious indignation.
“Put that gun AWAY!” Dell said firmly.
“No, Dell, you don’t understand!” said Panda, “That kid could be a Decoy!” She could feel her adrenalin pumping as she remembered tales of fanatical gangs using children, the elderly, or someone appearing to be injured as bait to lure an unsuspecting do-gooder into a trap where they would be turned into slaves or eaten!
“She’s just a little girl, Panda! She must be scared to death! Do you think she’s been stuck here the whole time?!” Dell turned and raced in the front door and up the central escalator to the second floor dining room where she had seen the girl.
“Hoo-Hoo! Little Girl! Hey, Sweetie, are you all right?” she called as she came, with Panda hot on her heels hoping against hope that Dell’s need to rush in pell-mell and rescue everything without thinking it through first was not going to end them into serious danger.
The girl, Sorrel Bay Anderson, came rushing up to Del and Panda hanging onto the hand of her father, Paul Anderson, dragging him along. There was an awkward moment when nobody knew quite what to say or how to act, and then everyone fell to pieces with crying and handshakes converted to hugs and everyone talking at once. It’s not every day the last two people on earth run into the other last two people on earth in an IKEA restaurant lobby.
They all sat at a table under the large window overlooking the empty world as Paul told his story. On that fatal day he had been at work, his daughter at school, and his wife at the IKEA meeting friends for lunch and spending the afternoon shopping. As he watched all of humanity disintegrate around him his first thought was for his wife and child. He did not know what was happening. He thought it must be some kind of radiation poisoning reaction from a solar flare or some government project gone horribly awry.
He had grabbed a raincoat from a coat closet at work and pulled it over his head as he rushed to get to his car, thinking that it would offer some protection from the direct rays of the sun. Of course he knew that was a scant hope. If the sun was going to torch him, a thin layer of rubberized vinyl would do him no good. But he was nearly mad with anxiety to get to his child and dashed out into the parking garage in a frantic race to get to Sorrel’s school in time.
In time for what? The deed had been done. As he drove through the empty streets, dodging abandoned cars and driving up onto embankments to get around small pile-ups it began to dawn on him that people were GONE. Not just a few, but millions. It was OVER. Some huge shift had occurred on the planet and he was utterly clueless as to what had just happened.
Sorrel Bay, when he found her, was standing in the school vestibule with her book bag over her shoulder waiting for him to show up. At first, when all of her classmates and the teacher suddenly leapt up and headed for the schoolyard, she had followed along with the rush. But she couldn’t figure out what was happening. Why was everyone so intent on getting outside? There was no talking, no shoving; in fact none of the normal mayhem like when the bell rang and class was over. It reminded her of a quietly moving herd intent on a single purpose like getting to the water hole or out of range of a predator like she’d seen on Animal Planet. Almost at the front door she held back and stepped into the receptionists alcove. She stood there and watched the entire school empty out in a matter of minutes. And then everyone was gone. They were there. And then they weren’t.
After a long silence and nothing but the sound of her own breathing, she decided to go back to class and gather up her things. Mommy and Daddy would come and get her. Just like the time there was a bomb scare, her parents would show up as soon as they could to come and keep her safe. In order to see in both directions the farthest distance all around, she stood on the top step of the school and waited.
But it wasn’t Mommy and Daddy who came, this time. Just Daddy.