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She knew one thing for certain:
She was dead.
The storm had picked her up and tossed her across the bay... or at least across the neighborhood... and there was no way she was anything but terminally, irrevocably, unrecognizably dead.
She hadn't felt the impact; but then, she probably wouldn't have. It would have been too fast. Just a blur, maybe a jolt, and then darkness.
But that wasn't what happened. There was light. That light... so bright it hurt. Too bright to see for an instant, and then nothing.
But then, why did she still feel the Explorer's seat belt across her chest? Why did she still hear the wind? Faint and fading, yes, but she heard it. No rain... no barrage of bullet-raindrops hitting the vehicle. But still there was the roar of the wind and the creak of the SUV as it spun. Still there was the whine of dog being tossed around in the floor well of the passenger seat.
Suddenly the sound seemed to drain from the world. The wind... gone?
Then there was more light. Not the impossibly bright blaze that came before; this was...
The headlights? Twin beams stretching out before her into what looked like dark, empty sky.
There was a brief but sickening downward jolt as gravity claimed her. Everything she had ever eaten in her life leapt into a holding position at the top of her throat.
The headlights flashed across several towering shapes, and then everything came to a sudden halt with the sound of grinding stone, crumpling metal, and shattering glass. Miniscule fingers darted across the windshield. The cracks merged and widened; the entire windshield sagged inward. Something exploded behind and below her. The tires had popped.
Dee waited for the pain that would either end her life immediately or drag her final moments out into minutes or hours of agony.
She was alive.
Alive and... somewhere else?
Dee looked past the cracks in the windows at the scene beyond. There was a huge shape directly in front of her, framed perfectly in the headlights. It was a column. It was huge. Thicker than a tree. Thicker than several trees. Dee's eyes followed it upward. The column ended in a jagged stump only a few feet above where the headlights hit it. There was nothing above but sky. There were other columns. Dee could see their dark shapes rising on both sides of her, and rows of them ahead. All were truncated at varying heights; whatever they had supported having long since collapsed.
She looked down. The Explorer saw on the edge of a ledge of some kind. Whatever it was ended beneath the SUV. Dee saw the ground at least a hundred feet below. It was littered with shapes: piles of debris of various sizes, and several of the massive columns that had toppled. There were smaller shapes, too, but Dee couldn't make them out in the dark.
Thick vines dangled from the truncated columns, criss-crossing the space between her and the ground. The vines had no leaves or flowers, but large shapes dangled from them. The scale was hard to judge; they were thin and elongated like chili peppers, but huge. Too big to be... anything she knew. Almost as big as a person.
"Where am I?"
Dee squinted out of the driver's side window and saw the ledge on which the SUV perched. It was a huge stone, too flat and smooth to be natural. The stone itself seemed to rest upon a massive pile of debris similar to the ones on the ground below except for the size. It looked like...
Dee looked up again, then down.
The collapsed ceiling? Part of a wall? Maybe. Whatever it was looked sturdy-
Treach whined on the floor of the passenger's seat.
"Treach? You okay, boy?"
At the sound of his master's voice, the black and white pit bull scrambled up into the passenger's seat and tried to crawl into Dee's lap.
There was a low, grinding sound below the Explorer. The stone column in front of them started to move-
-but it wasn't moving. THEY were. The SUV was tilting downward. Their stone perch may have been literally rock solid, but their position on it was so delicate that the movement of the dog was about to dislodge them.
Dee threw herself backward into he seat, hoping to shift in weight would right them. It didn't. The Explorer slowed its forward tilt, but it started twisting to the left, seeking a new balance point and preparing to take them over the edge if it couldn't find one.
"We gotta go!"
Dee grabbed the driver's side door and eased it open.
The surface of the stone slab was a foot below her, but it was moving. Slowly... grinding metal against stone as it did.
"Out!" She snapped. Treach propelled himself past her, landed on the stone ledge and darted for the rear of the car, only to re-appear an instant later to stare expectantly at her. Dee reached for the passenger's seat and grabbed the black bag containing all of her emergency supplies.
Then she was out of the car. She stumbled free of the vehicle and scrambled past Treach, then turned to watch as-
-the Ford Explorer stopped moving with a springy, metallic creak. It sat before her, motionless on the edge of the stone cliff.
"Okay," Dee exhaled for what seemed like the first time in hours. Tension flooded out of her; it felt so good that she inhaled deeply and did it again. "...whew.... Okay. Now let's see where we are."
She approached the edge, but steered clear of the vehicle she'd just escaped. She looked down, hoping to find some sort of stable path to the ground. The small mountain of shattered rock looked climbable... for a human. But not for a dog, and she risked breaking every bone in her body if she slipped.
Dee circled around to the other side of the SUV, noticing the downward slope of the flat ledge as she did. She might be able to simply walk down the rear slope, if it went all the way to the ground. That sounded good to her, but she still wanted to get another look at what was down there first.
Again, she looked down, past the vines and their strange, humongous fruit.
More of the same. Piles of debris. Loose rocks and smaller, unidentifiable shapes-
Dee leaned back suddenly, then crept forward to look again. Did she see...?
There was small crowd of PEOPLE down there!
And all of them were looking straight up at her.