D’hani found herself lying on the cellar floor. It took her a while to come to grips with what had happened. Longer for her to realize she’d survived what had to have been a major event.

            She was able to sit up, propping her back against the stone wall that was unusually warm instead of chilled. In front of her was the doorway to what she called the outer cellar. The one she was in being the inner cellar.

            She blinked. It was dark, except for something burning. That was her only source of light. Then it struck her. It was the wooden door to the outer cellar that was burning.

            She glanced over at the kegs stored against the far wall. How many times had she and the others who worked here in the tavern complained about the beer deliveries being stored way down here? How many times did they bitch about having to lug those fucking heavy kegs up two flights of stairs? “All right. So they were short flights. But it was still a major hassle,” she admitted, looking out the doorway again.

            “But that lower cellar is the coolest,” Mark informed them in that voice that brooked no argument. “I’m going to build a wine rack down here, and that way all the beverages will stay a lot fresher and last a lot longer than if we stored them in the upper area.”

            She didn’t know if his supposition was true or not, but two things were clear. There was no arguing or trying to convince the man not to go through with it. And, second, unless they chose to quit their jobs, they’d have to, at some point, go down into the second cellar to retrieve a bottle or—heaven help them—a keg.

            She stared again at the upper cellar, or what she could see of it past the burning door. What happened? Why wasn’t she informed? Had something…

            Reaching into her jeans pocket, she pulled out her cell phone, but the damn thing was dead. “Why didn’t I get the alert? Why didn’t I hear it?” She shook it. “I know it was fully charged! Why didn’t it go off?”

            Her vision blurred, and she realized she was crying. She’d survived. She was still alive. “And all because of you, Mark Haskill. You and your fucking insistence that we keep the drinks way down here.” She took a shuddering breath. “Thank you.”

            She rose to her feet. “Okay. Those flares must’ve knocked out the electricity. No biggie.”

            It was when she lifted her foot to take the first step upward that the initial wave of discomfort hit her. On the second step, it was real pain. By the third step, she was almost reeling in agony. Propping herself against the wall, she was forced to remain perfectly still until it subsided enough to keep going.

            “What…happened…to me?” she gasped. She found that if she kept her head bowed, the dizziness was not as intense. When she felt she was finally able to continue up the steps, she took it one slow step at a time. Pick foot up, put foot down, pause, wait a bit more, then lift herself up to start the process all over again.

            Eventually she reached the top step where she was able to kick aside the remains of the door. Here, the upper cellar was just as dark as the lower one.

            “All right. One more flight to go. Take it easy, Dee. You got this.”

            Using the same method as before, she gradually climbed to the top of the stairs, only to find that doorway completely missing as well.

            D’hani stared in shock at the darkness. The entire tavern was clothed in nighttime, with the exception of a few small fires scattered around the room. They were just enough to give her a sense of how bad things were.

             Cocking her head, she listened. There was no sound, no outside lights. Nothing.

            “Holy shit. How long was I unconscious?”

            Then it hit her. The windows were gone. The tables and chairs were gone. No. She sniffed. Burnt. All of it was burnt. Like a huge fucking fireball had swept through the place.

            “But I thought we were just supposed to be hit with a massive solar flare, or flares. Unless…”

            She moved toward the front doorway. The beautifully carved door that had been part of tavern ever since its erection in 1780 was gone. Not burnt. Disintegrated.

            Standing on the portico, she stared up at the big, full moon. Was it her imagination, or did it appear to be less bright than it usually was?

            And the stars! With the town completely blacked out, the stars were brilliantly clear. Almost brighter than the moon.

            She sniffed. She detected the pungent stink of gasoline. Burnt metal. Burning wood. And something else. “It almost smells like…someone’s barbequing. Hello? Hello! Can anybody hear me? Did anyone else survive besides me?”

            No one answered. Neither could she hear any birds or insects. And she was unable to detect any movement, even with the lack of adequate lighting.

            A breeze moved around her. The air felt cool on her skin, even though it was thick with the stench of whatever continued to burn. She tried to swallow, but her throat constricted. She had no saliva. She wouldn’t be surprised if she’d suffered first-degree burns.

            “I need to find some water,” she told herself. Glancing down at herself, she realized she was covered in grit and smoky ash.

            Going back inside the tavern, she went straight to the restroom, only to find the taps had melted closed. The same thing was true in the men’s restroom. “Shit! How hot did it get up here?”

            The small sink behind what was left of the bar had shattered. The ice maker and fridge were melded shut. D’hani gave a growl of frustration when she remembered there was a little sink in the upper cellar. It was normally used to rinse out the mop and pail, and to wash the dust off the occasional wine bottle.

            Descending back down into the cellar was easier than when she’d climbed out. The burning doorway and wine racks were almost embers. Stuff crunched under her feet, but she was able to find it. Too late, she’d forgotten the sink and faucet were made of metal. When she reached for the handles, she cried out when her fingers came in contact with the still hot brass fixtures.

            Fuck!” Shaking her hands, she blew on them. Gradually the pain subsided, but didn’t entirely fade away. She grabbed the tail of her t-shirt and tried to use it to protect her hands as she gripped the handle again. The damn thing wouldn’t budge, and she screamed in frustration, almost kicking the sink.

            “Wait. D’hani, you idiot! What about the cases of water in the lower cellar?”

            She ventured down the second flight of steps and made her way over to where the bottles were stacked. Except the flimsy plastic had succumbed to the heat, leaving vague lumps on the rock floor. The water had apparently evaporated.

            “What now?” she whispered. “What do I do now?”

            Venturing back upstairs, she returned to outside where the cool breeze felt good. Staring at the moon, she wondered if she should just go back below and wait it out until morning, when she could see things more clearly. She knew going to the parking lot at the rear of the tavern would be a useless endeavor. Judging by the smoldering heaps of metal parked against the curb down the street, her own vehicle would be in no better shape.

            She sat down on the portico and tried not to cry. She had no idea if anyone else was still alive…most of all…

            “Gideon,” she whispered hoarsely. “Are you alive? Did you survive?”

            A wave of terror rushed through her, and she jerked her gaze skyward. Were there going to be more of those flares? “If there are, I won’t get any warning. There won’t be any alerts.”

            Struggling to her feet, she went back down to the lower cellar. “If I survived that last one by being down here, this is probably the best place for me right now. At least until morning.”

            The place was beginning to feel chilly again, but she felt she had no other alternative. “Come morning, I’ll see if I can find some water and something to eat.” Bowing her head, she softly added, “Please, God. Please let Gideon still be alive. Please. That’s all I ask for.”

            Scooting to the farthest end of the cellar and out of direct line from the doorway, she curled into a fetal position, pillowing her head on her arm, and closed her eyes, unsure if she’d be able to sleep at all.

             She slipped into unconsciousness a few minutes later.