"ELOI! ELOI! LAMA SABACHTANI!"
The words screamed through his flesh like a wave of black fire flashing through dry kindling. The language was foreign to him, but he could feel the echo of the scream's meaning burning in every cell of his body. For a moment, he was lost in mortal terror, unable to put a name to the experience that had just shattered everything he thought he had known. Finally, the moment passed, and he found the only word to describe his new reality.
He awoke with a start. His eyes snapped open, and all that he could see in front of him was an unbroken field of gray.
His stomach churned with a mix of vertigo and terror. Where was he? Why was he here? Why was everything gray? Or was he just seeing gray? Was he blind? In his confusion, he couldn't even figure out which way was up or down.
Was he dead?
As he felt a cold, hard surface beneath his back, he realized that he was lying on the ground staring up into a thick fog.
For a moment, he lay there, motionless. Then, he tried to move, but couldn't remember how.
Was he paralyzed?
At that thought, his entire body twitched. No, he still had some degree of motor control. However, as he brought his awareness down into his body, he suddenly realized that it felt like a pretzel that someone had stomped into dust. His spine and hips were twisted, his arms and legs were tangled up in one another, and he felt a dozen stabbing pains in his back and joints.
Had he been in some sort of accident?
At first, that seemed plausible. But then he remembered the words – the words that had torn through his body like nothing he had ever felt before. In that moment, he had known that the world was over.
And yet, here he was.
After a few moments of struggle, he rolled onto his side to get a better look at his surroundings. He was lying in the middle of an abandoned parking lot, surrounded by a handful of gutted vehicles and a wasteland of broken blacktop. A few feet from his face, he noticed a shattered glass bottle with its neck resting on the ground and its jagged midsection pointing at the foggy sky. Any logo that the bottle may have had was lying in pieces around its neck, leaving the original contents a mystery.
He blinked, realizing that he had been staring blankly at the shattered pop bottle for a very long time. Why couldn't he concentrate?
He decided to stand up. His arms and legs were slow to respond, moving with disjointed twitches that sent shooting pain throughout his entire body. For better or worse, he found his way to his feet and took another look around.
It occurred to him that something was definitely amiss. The parking lot was much larger than he had first realized. He saw a few smooth curves on the otherwise burnt, stripped, and crushed vehicles, evoking the memory of a similar parking lot filled with bright, shiny new cars zooming and buzzing beneath the crisp fluorescent lights. But what was once a hub of automotive activity had somehow been reduced to a silent auto graveyard.
Graveyard? The mere thought of the word sent a chill through his spine.