Monthly Archives: February 2012

Aftermath: Chapter Three

A truck rumbled across the scorched landscape, cutting through the curtains of pale moonlight. Headlights streamed through a thick mist that hung lazily in the air. A small satellite dish sitting atop the roof of the truck revolved continuously. The one thing that survived the disaster that formed this new world, ironically, was fuel sources. That of all things was thought to be the downfall of mankind. Little did anyone know it was a simply a committee full of good intentions that nearly destroyed it all.

The truck came to a stop. A door in the rear lifted and a ramp lowered. Two men in makeshift military uniforms stepped onto the ramp and surveyed the area. Armed with uzi nine millimeter guns, their uniforms were stitched together with the pieces of many military outfits from a variety of nations. Nations whose reigns were long over.

Satisfied that there was no clear and present danger, they stepped aside and stood at attention, making way for a woman. Her silhouette appeared on the ramp. She stood for a moment, looked around then stepped into the humid air.

She was clad in black leather from head to toe, complete with knee-high boots. Her uniform was much better put together than those of her soldiers and hugged her curvaceous form like a second skin. Long flowing black hair caught the moonlight as she walked, dancing in the wind that suddenly blew through the land.

She glanced now and then at a black box in her right hand. It flashed with red lights and beeped erratically. With determined steps, she hurried herself along a path only she could see. Her men followed behind her. She stopped suddenly and looked up.

“In there.” She pointed at a small red-bricked building.

Her two thugs burst into the building, kicking in the door and tearing through the interior in a clatter of chaos and destruction. A few moments later, she watched them reappear with a canister labeled DANGER. They brought it to her and she scanned it with her device.

“Ah, just as I thought. Some plutonium mixed with another rare and unstable element. My scanner doesn’t even have a name for it.” She smiled. “Excellent. All of the leftover raw power of the old world is quickly becoming mine.”

“Store this with the other supplies, Luana?” One of her men asked.

“What do you think? Idiot.” She glared at him as if she wanted to kill him. He scampered off. Before she could comment again her device beeped wildly, catching her attention. “What is this?” Her eyes widened with surprise. “It’s big…huge. New to our world? So much power. I must know what it is and I must have it.”

Luana ordered her men back to the truck and followed in a whirlwind of emotions. I may be the last of my family line but soon… this world will know my name and will bow before me.

“Quickly,” she yelled to the driver. “The sun’s coming up.” She glanced at the horizon and the red hues forming across it.  She pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on.

The truck roared to a start and rolled off into the fading mist, tracking a new found source of overwhelming power.

###

The morning sun hit the hillside first. The hills were the least affected by the disaster, although some forests were decimated and many were littered with deadfall, the higher and deeper the hills, the more trees and lush forest lived and thrived.

The sun settled on a lone cabin nestled deep in one of the pine forests. Majestic pines flanked the home on both sides, providing a natural canopy of protection. The trails were worn and covered in debris, making discovery of the cabin that much harder.

The cabin’s windows were barred and the inside of them was covered with patchwork blankets instead of blinds or shades. The timbered door looked weak and insecure as if the big bad wolf could come along and blow it down with ease.

Not far from the cabin a crackling disturbed the peace and solitude. Out of the trees a man with blonde hair appeared, carrying a wicker basket full of purple berries. He muddled about for a few moments until a sound caught his ear. He stopped, listened and waited.

His gaze searched the forest, the trees, the bristle patches. Nothing came or at least it wasn’t ready to come. He shrugged and moved on.  He walked back to the cabin and gently pushed open the door.  He shut it behind him and slid a board across it. Not that it made much difference.

Across the room, he spotted his wife sleeping soundly in a bed of moth-eaten blankets and hand-knitted shawls. He slipped up to the bed and crawled into it with her. He stroked her shaggy dark hair that hadn’t been washed in weeks. She opened her eyes. He smiled, presenting her with the basket of berries.

“Cameron, thank you,” she said. She smiled briefly then dug into the berries as if starved.

“Take it slow. There aren’t any more.”

She looked up at him. “You need to have some then.”

“I’m ok. You eat them.”

“Cam?”

“Yes, Lila?”

“You know we can’t stay here. There’s not enough food and water. We have to go someplace where we can find more.”

“I know. I’m working on it.”

“Working on what? We just need to collect our things and go.”
“It’s not safe down there, Lila. I’m working on a safe path to another hill with water nearby.”

“But is there food there?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Cam, we need to find others, others that can help us. Share their resources or we’ll starve. We can’t say in the hills forever.”

“I know that but not everyone down there is just going to share things with us. Most likely they’re going to rob and kill us or …eat us for food.”

“What?” Lila’s eyes filled with repulsion.

“It’s true. You have no idea what is going on down there. I do. I’ve been watching. I’ve been scouting, learning. Don’t worry, sweetie.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’m going to get us to someplace safe. With food.”

###

Cameron sat outside with his map, letting the pine-scented air fill his senses. Faintly, in the far distance, he heard another tree slowly fall…crack, snap, a change in the air, a hollow bellow as it toppled. He sighed and put his attention back on his map.

A moment later Lila came out and sat beside him. She laid her head on his shoulder. “I miss seeing towns, cities.”

“There’s not much to see now. They’re like shells with danger roaming on every street.”

“Still. It’s been a long time.”

A rustling caught Cameron’s attention. His conversation with his wife stopped short as he stood. He felt eyes on him.

Lila looked around. “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong. Go back inside.”

His wife stood to return to the cabin and the rustling grew louder and the brush around them thrashed. Cameron tensed. A snarl resounded and something leaped into the air.

A massive white wolf landed in front of them, showing its teeth. Cameron froze. “Honey, don’t move,” he whispered to her.

The wolf stepped closer, locking rage-filled eyes with Cameron’s. The two stared each other down. The wolf broke eye contact and gazed at Lila. She let out a squeal and the wolf growled. It advanced toward Lila and sniffed the air.

“Cam…”

“Don’t move.”

The wolf snarled and jumped toward Lila.

Cameron’s mind screamed and his voice followed suit. “Wolf!”

The wolf pulled back and stopped short. It turned to stare at Cameron. Again they locked gazes and Cameron remained unflinching. “Wolf, no.”

The wolf whimpered. “Sit,” Cameron said and the wolf complied, wagging its tail. Cameron felt something in his blood, in his mind. He and the wolf communicated.  He put out his hand and the wolf came and licked it in submission.

Cameron looked back at Lila. Her mouth was agape. “Did you see that?”

She was speechless.

He turned and patted the wolf with caution, running his hand down its soft white fur. “Something is going on here. It listened to me. It can understand me.” Cameron patted its head. The wolf whimpered. “I think you’re right honey,” he turned back to his wife. “I think it’s time we went back down below…to the cities and towns.”

###

 “Orchid! Oh Orchid…. Get up! Get up it’s coming!”

“Morganna what is it? What’s coming?” Orchid threw her blankets aside and stood up.

“It’s here now. It’s coming for you and the others. But you are the one Orchid…the one that will…”

The warehouse doors rumbled. They buckled and warped. Something on the other side bashed against it.  Another bash and the doors buckled again, the hinges popping. The locks, the sliding bars, all useless. Another bash–

The doors tore apart like scrap paper.

Everyone in the base screamed. Cesar and Sarah rushed to Orchid’s side. She turned her focus on the hole torn in the building, bright sunlight streaming through it. A hulking figure stepped into the light.

Sarah gasped. She pushed herself in front of Orchid and the others and curled her hands into fists. She knelt down and drove them to the floor. Vibrations rolled off Sarah, her skin and clothes rippled, the walls around her trembled. The floor beneath her ruptured as if at the hands of an earthquake and splintered toward the masked assassin.

Men and women jumped out of the way as the floor tore into a chasm but the assassin was unaffected. His body never flinched. He hurled himself into the air, scaling across the fissure and avoiding it completely.

The killer slammed down in front of Sarah and grabbed her by the throat, driving his other hand through her chest. He pulled back and ripped out her heart in a glob of blood. Screams and wails filled the base. People huddled together and cowered.

Panic swept through Orchid but somehow she knew what to do and reacted. She flung her hand up toward the ceiling and instantly the killer launched into the air and crashed through the roof. Splintered beams and shingles rained down as Orchid grabbed hold of Morganna.

“Get everyone out of here, now!” She yelled at the girl.

“What about you?”

“The people first. Go now, all of you! Out of the building, head into the alleys and regroup in the nearest suburb.”

Men, women and children dashed past her, some screaming, some in shock. The building evacuated in seconds with Morganna and Cesar exiting last.

“Orchid, come on,” Cesar called. “Before it comes back.”

Orchid searched above and listened. She heard nothing on the roof. She caught her breath, adrenalin pumping through her, and rushed out with her friends.

The killer fell out of the sky like a comet. He came down in front of Orchid, stopping her cold. “You’re the strongest one yet,” he said to her.

Cesar and Morganna stopped and turned. “Go!” Orchid yelled, “get to–”

A fist across her jaw cut her off.

She sailed through the air and landed in the middle of the street. A streetlight wobbled and fell toward her but she managed to roll out of the way. Her head swam, her body burned with pain. She tried to shake it off and saw the masked man coming straight at her.

Orchid spotted a vacant shell of an SUV on the street corner. She lifted pointed a weak, bloodied hand at it and it lifted into air. The SUV hovered momentarily then flew at the oncoming killer.

The two-ton vehicle collided with him and drove him into the front of a six-story building. A loud crashed echoed, all the windows in the building shattered and its roof collapsed.

Orchid gasped for air, her heart pounded in her chest. All of her energy was drained. She struggled to her feet, trying to catch her breath. Feeling dizzy and weak. She glanced over at the dormant SUV and waited.

“Orchid, please!” Morganna pleaded. “Time to go.”

An arm pushed its way from under the SUV and took hold of it.  Orchid’s mouth gaped as the killer lifted the SUV and pushed it off of him.  “What is that thing?” she cried.

“We’ll fight it another day,” Cesar yelled. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

Cesar ran to her and slung her arm around his shoulders. Reluctantly, Orchid let him lead her away. Glancing back over her shoulder she saw the killer crawl slowly on hands and knees, blood pooling from his entire body. “Why won’t it die?” Orchid said to the others as they scurried into a network of alleyways.

No one answered her.


Aftermath: Chapter Two

The apartment building was ominous and loomed over him as if at any moment it would topple over and crush him. He entered it any way; there was no other choice.

“Emily!” Jack Crandle called, his gray dress shirt was torn, his dark hair, usually parted and neat, was disheveled and he was in need of a shave.

He stumbled through long stretching corridors filled with debris. The ceiling was caved in and the support beams buckled.  None of that mattered. He was a desperate man now and he raced through the building without a second thought.

“Emily, Justin! Can you hear me?” He climbed deeper then higher into the building taking stairs two at a time and noticing the blood that stained them.

Jack came to a dead end. He could ascend no further, the stairs were blocked with rubble and cement. He pulled open the door nearest him and entered another hall. He caught glimpse of a dead elevator with its doors hanging open like an invitation. He accepted and leapt into the shaft, climbing the cables up as high as his arms would carry him.

Finally he reached a hall covered in giant cobwebs, Jack fought his way through the sheer white curtains. He was barely able to see the floor away there were so many webs. A clicking sound resounded nearby and the floor crackled beneath his feet.

Jack looked down and saw that he was walking on bones, cracking them under his weight. He held back his horror and stammered on, seeing the open door ahead of him.

“Emily, Justin?” he said again as he reached the room. He heard more clicking. This time it was not himself. A sick feeling filled his stomach and his heart slammed against his chest like a sledgehammer. He froze at the room’s threshold and for a fleeting moment he thought he heard a moan.

Mustering all his courage, he threw himself into the room and ran face first into the half gnawed carcass of what was once a human being dangling from a thin line of web. He was knocked to the floor with a thud and a trickle of something wet hit him on his cheek. He gazed up to see the dozens of other body parts hanging on the webs that stretched over the ceiling; rib cages, half eaten arms, severed legs, blood-stained bones all tangled in a nest of death.

In the back of the room he saw cocoons, huge silver ones that fattened the spinner of the web’s next meal. Jack pulled himself out of his initial shock and raced to the cocoons in a fever of panic. “Emily! Justin! Hold on, I’m coming! I’m coming!” He grabbed one of the cocoons and tore it bit by bit, strand by strand, the webbing sticking to his sweat-coated fingers.

His fear turned to horror then grief as he discovered he was too late. He took his beloved wife Emily into his arms discovering that half her face gnawed away, bone exposed in all of its ugliness, there were teeth marks in it.

Tears streamed his face as Emily slipped from his arms. Jack stood up in a stupor, about to give up when he caught glimpse of one of the cocoons wriggling. Grabbing hold of it without hesitation, he tore it apart discovering that his son Justin was still alive. He took the small boy into his arms and hugged him tightly, preparing to take him from the room but a noise from above stopped him dead in his tracks.

From out of the webs dropped the web weaver. A half human, half spider thing, the result of a mutation created by the defense field that almost destroyed the planet, stood before him. The right half of the thing was spider with four bristle-covered arms that clicked as they rubbed against each other. Its eyes were pitch black and large pincers protruded from its mouth.

Jack dropped his son and ushered him against the rear of the room. The spider-thing lashed at them using its legs to smash Jack to the ground, with its pincers it tried to bite him and fill him with its paralyzing poison.

Justin cried in the corner as Jack rolled out of the creature’s attack. The thing suddenly turned toward Justin, drawn to the boy by his cries. It turned, pounced on him and—

A father’s fury was ignited. He got to his feet and pulled the beast off his son. “Don’t you touch him you bastard! You killed my wife now I’m gonna kill you!”

The beast shot a strand of web out of its mouth and wrapped it around Jack, attempting to cocoon him. Jack was unaffected; he simply took hold of the web and closed his eyes. The strand went up in flames, spreading across it and catching the beast.

In moments the spider thing was a great ball of fire, squealing and writhing, stumbling about the room in chaos and terror. With his next marvel, Jack stared up at the ceiling and with a thundering crash it came tumbling down on top of the burning spider, burying the nightmare forever.

Jack stared in awe, having just discovered something new about himself. He just used the sheer will of his mind to destroy that creature. He shook his head, felt what might have been a smile cross his lips.  What else can I do?

He took his son back into his arms and carried him to safety.

###

 Morning burnt its way into the ravaged world. The days were as fun-filled as the nights in this strange new landscape.

The masked man found his first destination from a search that lasted the entire night. He stood before a cemetery. Mist hung thick and foul in the air here and the sun barely touched the place as if it was afraid to. The ground was scorched. Dead trees dead reached to the heavens like skeletal hands.

By some miracle some of the stones still stood, some were piles of ash, others were cracked and broken. Graves were unearthed and ravaged, a few smoldered.

The hulking masked figure watched someone ahead of him in the graveyard, squirming. This frail form was down on its knees making some sort of bizarre gesturing.

He moved in closer and got full view of the only other person in the cemetery aside from himself, a teenage girl. She leaned into an open grave, dark hair tattered and disheveled, nightgown stained and filth-ridden.

He moved closer to her, observing her odd behavior and listening to her sudden raving.

“School is open again,” she muttered reaching into the grave, arms streaked with mud. “Ooh that feels good daddy. No, don’t touch that..I…errr…” her words became muffled by munching sounds. “Big truck,” she gurgled. “…big mountain.” Chewing, chewing, chewing. “Yes, yes, yes…”

The hulking masked man now stood directly behind her, feeling the power that emanated from her. He now knew why he was summoned to this half dead world. Looking down, he noticed that she had broken into the grave’s casket and was eating the corpse inside. The carcass was littered with her scratches and bite marks, limbs removed, face deformed beyond recognition.

He watched her suck the last bit of dead flesh from a bone and without hesitation he reached down and pulled her up by her hair like a scolded pup.

“How pathetic!” He roared, speaking for the first time, discovering to his amazement that his mouth could actually form words. It was his outrage at the girl that caused him shout his first words. “You don’t even know what you are. The world would bow to what you are capable of doing. Such a waste!”

A moment later, he took her by the throat and snapped her neck effortlessly, bubbles of blood escaping from her mouth and nose as her body slipped from his hands.

He stood staring at her lifeless body and flexed, a feeling of delight washing through him. His gray eyes expressed the sheer thrill of killing her. Gazing up, he sniffed the air. “There are more, many more out there. I must continue, for they must not meet, it must not come to pass…”

###

Orchid and Morganna crossed into a new city without a single disturbance. A car or truck would hum by them now and then but they were scarce. Orchid watched, a bit unsettled, as a hearse drove by them. An entire family rode inside it as if on a Sunday drive.

“Morganna, we’ve traveled all night. How much further is it?”

“We’re nearly there. Patience Orchid, patience.”

“How did you get so far away from your home?”

“I was taken there in my sleep.”

“You were, who would do such a thing?”

“We were meant to meet, Orchid.”

“Huh?”

There was only silence. Morganna would not give any further information.

They came to a stop at the outskirts of the city. A huge warehouse stood before them, its windows boarded, graffiti covering its walls. An empty parking lot stretched around to the back of it and it was bordered on all sides by yet another dead forest.

Morganna walked up to the warehouse door and knocked softly. She waited a moment and the door slowly slid open. A black man peered out and when he saw Morganna his eyes lit up and a smile drew wide across his face. “Morganna!” he called. “You’ve returned to us. Hey everyone, Morganna is back!”

Morganna took Orchid by the hand and led her into the warehouse. The inside reminded Orchid of an airplane hangar and as they made their way in the others came to greet them.

The warehouse was set up with tents and beds. Lanterns and candles provided light. What food could be found was stockpiled and shared among all. Even pets co-existed in this small community.

Families lived here, husbands, wives, children of all ages and races. Some had armed themselves with guns of the old world, knives and makeshift bows. They had to protect what they fashioned here, many dangers existed on the outside.

Orchid spotted bottles of water stacked in one corner. Her eyes widened. “You have water?” her voice had a hint of joy in it. “May I have some?”

“By all means, Orchid,” the black man said. A short, red-haired woman handed him a canteen. “I’m Cesar. And this is Sarah.” He pointed to the red-haired woman.

“Cesar, how did you know my name?” She was puzzled but took the canteen and drank deeply.

“Your coming has been foretold to us, my lady,” Cesar replied.

“Foretold? By who?”

“Morganna of course. You have come into your power Orchid and have come here to lead us. You are but one of many who will begin the new order.”

“Lead you? Others? There are others like me?”

“Yes,” Morganna said. “They’ll being joining us soon, with people of their own. We will all become one and bring the world back from the destruction. You’ll like them…most of them anyway.”

“I don’t understand. What’s happening here?”

“Soon,” Morganna said. “All will be clear.” Her gemstone glittered.

###

Darkness fell again and the savage lands echoed with barks and roars. Terrible things roamed freely, things gone mad, things that struck terror in the survivors still lost and wandering.

The air was hot and humid, the moon rose casting pale ghost light over the land. The light illuminated a brick tower in the midst of the city, revealing movement at the top.

Nomadic in nature, the cannibal cult moved its base of operations to the top of the desolate brick tower, the only surviving tower from the great factories that at one time crowded the industrial part of town. Thick black smoke used to pollute the air now the only smoke that rose here was that of incense. Candles lit the area as a new blasphemous, perverse ritual began. The cult prepared for another feast.

The bald leader sat in his chambers, maps strewn on the table in front of him. He sat in a chair deep in concentration, hands frozen in a sort of claw shape. Above him some objects levitated; a goblet, plate, candlestick, a shoe. They formed a circle around his head, hovering under the power of his will.

His door flew open and in walked the red haired member, his best hunter. “My Lord?” The objects tumbled to the floor as the leader glared up at him. He swallowed nervously. “Apologies grand one but we are ready. The woman is prepared.”

“Thank you, Octavius,” he grinned. The leader joined his cult in closing the ceremony. He raised his dagger over the naked, painted woman.

“Lord of the feast,” he began. “We give thee praise and thanks. By your word we eat and cleanse ourselves, knowing that we are the chosen ones to inherit the Earth.” With that he cut the woman’s throat. The others dug into her voraciously, cutting and chopping her flesh and drinking her blood.

A horrendous scream stopped their feast as a hulking figure leapt over the tower’s wall. All eyes watched dumbstruck as the masked man came crashing down in front of the cult. His gray eyes flashed with rage. “Is this what is left of mankind…a bunch of flesh eaters!” He roared.

A cultist charged the menace with an axe, swinging hard he sank the blade into him. To his shock he saw no blood flow from the wound, the axe had no effect. The masked man seized the cannibal by the throat and threw him off the tower, his screams filling the night sky.

The masked man stared the cult down as they brandished their weapons, the bald leader stepped to the front and laughed. “So, you have come. Don’t worry my children he is mine.”  The leader stared down at the bloodied dagger in his hand and willed it through the air.

It plunged deep into the killer’s head but he didn’t even flinch. Instead he laughed. “You’re new to your power, foolish one. You are not strong enough.” He pulled the knife from his head, stepped to the leader and forced it right through his eye. The blade ripped through the leader’s brain, the tip of it popping out the back of his head.

The leader twitched, buckled and fell to the ground. The killer’s eyes flashed with pleasure again as he basked in it, the high of snuffing out another one of them.

He looked over at the cult, cowering for their lives. “I have no quarrel with you,” he said to them. “I have found what I need, you may live.” He turned and jumped from the tower. The cult gasped, rushing to the edge of the tower and looking over it. They saw nothing.

Octavius pulled the dagger from his bald leader’s eye. He turned back to the others and licked the blood off the blade. “This was a sign my brothers,” he said. “A sign that a new leader is needed to lead us to our glory. Brothers… I am that leader.”

###

The masked figure walked to the outskirts of the city, a shimmer of moonlight lighting his way. Ahead of him he could see the warehouse, still and quiet. “They must not rebuild. I will not allow it. The ones with power must die.”

###

Morganna woke suddenly, shaking the slumbering Orchid beside her.

“What is it?” Orchid yawned.

“Someone is coming. Danger, there is great danger.”

“Who Morganna, who’s coming?”

“Not one of us, not one of us. Oh, Orchid your first battle is about to begin.”


Aftermath: Chapter One

It came like a whisper in the night.

The sound of the rain rattled through the old house, rolling off the roof in thunderous waves. Wind howled almost with laughter, lashing and tearing at the house with fury.

Inside, the rooms of the looming manor were illuminated by weak candlelight, electricity no longer a luxury. The house was silent except for the echoing symptoms of the storm. Shadows crawled and danced, stretching over the rooms and halls like a shroud.

Another crash of thunder rocked the foundations, walls creaking, windows shaking and at that moment a scream pierced the silence.

She woke suddenly, lying on the cold floor beside the bed instead of nestled within it. The dreams plagued her again as horrible as ever. She opened her eyes, her breathing was heavy, chest heaving, and looked around. “Damn…” she muttered with a sigh.

Rolling onto her back, she pushed herself up against a wall for support, it vibrated under the control of the storm. Slowly, she got to her feet and approached a dilapidated dresser in the corner of the room. She stared at the image of herself in a shattered mirror.

Her hair was pale blond, her eyes emerald green and enchanting, mystique burning in them. A sprinkle of freckles crossed the bridge of her nose. She wore a ripped and smudged red and white polka-dotted dress. She looked like someone from a Norman Rockwell painting although somewhat war-torn.

She turned from the mirror, unable to bear much more and looked about the room. It was in no better condition than she was. Ravaged pink curtains draped the windows like shredded skin; a bed, half made, was covered with moth eaten blankets. A bureau sat unused in the corner filled with old clothes that hadn’t been worn in a very long time.

A bizarre dollhouse sat on a table in the room filled with tiny dolls that were missing their arms and legs. Cobwebs gathered in the corners of the ceiling and a thin layer of dust blanketed the floor.

Running her hands through her hair she stepped towards the only window in the room. The rain soaked the glass and her eyes skipped from side to side, following the rain as it blew in the wind. “Stop it!” she cried, clenching her hands into fists and pounding them against the wall. “Damn it, just go away! I want this storm to just go away!”

To her amazement the storm stopped as if by magic. Her words heeded as the wind and rain ceased.

“What is this?” she said stumbling away from the window and feeling a tingle fill her veins. I did that didn’t I?  As I had seen mother do…her strange gift…before it all came to an end. I never had the gift before. “Why now?”

She made her way down the candlelit stairs to the first floor and found the front door. Opening the heavy, cracked door, Orchid Donovan stepped from the cold, three-story house and into the new world.

###

The Earth is not what it once was. A great catastrophe befell the world, one that left it in shambles, nearly destroying all of mankind.

An experimental defense probe fashioned by a union of world powers was sent into space to protect the Earth from a multitude of possible disasters; meteors, planet-size asteroids, nuclear war started at the hands of maniacs, solar explosions, the vanishing ozone layer and the green house effect and anything else the mind of man could conjure up. Little did they know that their own hope for defense and preservation would be their destruction.

The probe emitted a powerful force field that surrounded the planet, supposedly keeping it safe for all of time. It did the opposite.

The rare and experimental elements that were used to construct the force field reacted with the Earth’s atmosphere and its environment. The Earth rejected its new artificial skin and for the first time fought back against man’s abuse.

Tidal waves swallowed cities whole; earthquakes reduced others to rubble. Great fires ignited, laying waste to the lands and scorching them clean as if to start anew. Long dormant volcanoes brought terrible justice, tornadoes carried civilization away, the seas burned, acid rain fell and mankind bowed to the will of Mother Earth.

The world of man fell and most of the population was wiped from the planet. Those who were spared emerged into a new world, a strange, savage place that unleashed old beings and new, where strange forces rose out of the chaos. The veils of reality fell, the rules of the old world vanished and governments as the people once knew no longer existed. These survivors lived according to their own will, guided only by their conscience and the desire to live.

In a world where the seas are dry, where the land is scorched, and food and water is scarce there are those who are easily led and others who boldly lead. Hope still lives in the hearts of some of these leaders and they will light the way through this dark, shapeless world.

###

In the midst of one of the last surviving forests a black pond bubbled, low gurgling resounded. Trees drooped around the pond as if in mourning, brush and plant stalks glowed with phosphorescence and night creatures took flight as a mist rose from the surface of the pond.

A muscled arm punched its way out of the black waters reaching and grasping for support. It took hold of a hanging tree branches and moments later a hulking figure emerged from the pond.

It stepped onto solid ground allowing the thick slosh to ooze off of its body. Underneath the muck and mud was a man with a chiseled, muscular body; over his head he wore a tattered executioner’s mask held together by stitching. A half shirt of burlap scaled his huge chest, torn jeans hugged his bulging legs and his black boots were riddled with holes.

At last he opened his gray eyes, glassy and without pupils. He sniffed the air like an animal, stretched his arms to the skies, clenched his hands into fists and headed off through a clearing in the woods… towards what was left of civilization.

###

A young man ran as fast as he could, scaling fences like a gymnast, terror in his eyes, panic surging through his body. He peered over his shoulder sporadically, praying he lost them.

He made his way down a dark alley and into a crumbling plaza where old stores used to thrive, some of them were abandoned and boarded up but others still functioned, serving new purposes—dealing black market items, trading makeshift weapons or bartering religious and magical artifacts and tools for food, fuel or water, the most precious resource of all.

The young man managed to find an open window in the scattered remains of the stores and eased his way through it. He slipped onto the floor of a spiritual shop, after all that happened some still clung to their faith whatever it may be. A crucifix toppled off the wall and to the floor beside him as he crouched out of sight. He grabbed it with both hands and pressed it against his chest, tears filling his eyes.

His gaze darted around the shop, candles glowing with bleak light, crosses and crucifixes scattered everywhere, Buddha smiling at him from musty shelves. In boxes that lined the floor sat jars of herbs and oils, silver-plated chalices, portraits of the yin and yang, Jesus, and pentagrams. Ancient bookshelves filled with bibles, the Torah and books of the dead cluttered the room–this was shop of many faiths.

“What are you doing?” an old man squealed from behind a bookcase, his cracked glasses perched on the end of his pointed nose.

“Please,” the young man begged, his body shivering. “Just let me hide in here. They won’t look here.”

“Who?”

“Don’t make me tell you. It will draw them to me. Please.”

“What are you nuts?”

“Please, they won’t look—” his words choked in his throat as he watched a sword plunge through the old man’s chest.

The old man gagged and twitched, then slid off the blade and hit the floor with a thud.

“Wrong,” the tall red-haired man chuckled, cutting the air with his sword. “Poor boy, we’ve found you. Nowhere to run.”

The young man attempted to escape again but found his path blocked by another man, shorter than the other with white hair. Both wore scarlet robes. They smiled at one another and advanced on the screaming young man.

###

In the basement of a ruined church a bizarre and horrifying ceremony took place. The young man from the spiritual shop was tied to a table draped in black. He was naked and his face was painted red.

Around him burned a myriad of putrid incense, red and black candles flickered about the room and bells chimed. From out of the darkness a circle of scarlet-robed people gathered around him. They sprinkled him with green powder and a vinegar-scented oil. Humming rhythmically, the circle turned to watch the arrival of their leader.

A tall bald man stood before them, his mouth painted in black. He walked over to the naked young man and stroked his hair with pale fingers. “We are blessed,” he whispered.

“No, please… no!” the young man begged.

His pleas fell on ears of stone.

The leader lifted his arms and called: “Hear us Lord of the Feast! Again you have brought us sustenance and shown us the way. Through the rebirth of the ages and the vanishing of the food of the old ones you have given way to the righteous path, the way of instinct, the way of the animal in us all. In your Honor Oh Lord, we eat!”

He pulled a dagger from his robe and cut the young man’s throat with one stroke, the blood flowed in rivers and they rejoiced at the sight as if it were life-giving water.

The leader licked his knife clean and gestured to his followers. Swords appeared from beneath their robes and with unity they cut into the body, removing the flesh and devouring it without a second thought.

###

Orchid walked the dark streets of her neighborhood staring at rows of houses or what was left of them. Some were nothing more than rubble, others were empty, dark and silent and a few glowed with weak candlelight.

Electricity was only a memory in this new world. Darkness was everywhere. There were no streetlights to show the way. Towns and cities existed without souls but amazingly continued to exist.

Her pace was dictated by new thoughts, fueled by the discovery of her inner self. For the first time in so long Orchid sensed a purpose among all the chaos. The skies were clear, filled only by a blanket of stars, the air smelled of hope and she no longer saw the fires burning. Changes were happening.

Orchid entered an intersection filled with downed, inactive power lines that resembled giant coiling snakes and heard a shattering scream. Pulled by a sense of duty, she ran until she discovered a group of men clad in leather encircling a young girl.

A man with a blue and green Mohawk leaned into to girl, swinging a baseball bat embedded with spikes. “Give us the stone!”

A second man with a shaved head and leather jacket jingling with chains yanked a cleaver from his belt and joined his Mohawk-crowned friend. “Give it to us now and we might let you live,” he said with a rasp. “Or maybe I’ll just wear your fingers around my neck as a souvenir.”

The girl crouched on the street in defense. Orchid noticed a green gemstone hanging around her neck glittering in the moonlight. The white dress the girl wore was marred with dirt and muck from being chased. Blood seeped from her lips and her frail body trembled. “Never!” she spat at them. “You can’t have it.”

“Give it over bitch!” The Mohawk man yelled. “Or you die.”

The other men brandished sickles and knives, jeering and chanting, thirsting for the little girl’s blood.

“I don’t think so, dudes,” Orchid found herself saying. She didn’t know where it came from but a newfound courage surged through her. A strange sensation filled her as well and she stepped from the shadows to confront the men.

The man with the Mohawk laughed mockingly. The others followed his lead. A chorus of laughter filled the streets. “Oh really?” he said. “What do you think you’re going to do, bitch?”

“Don’t make me show you,” she replied.

The Mohawk man laughed again and prepared to jump her until his cleaver-armed buddy took hold of him. “Let me have her,” he said. “Man, this will be so much fun.” He screamed and lunged for Orchid.

She felt her muscles tense and her back arch. A film of green filled her sight like night vision as a force exploded from her body.

The cleaver man froze in mid-run and with the nod of her head, he flew into the air and crashed down on a rod iron fence. The spikes slid through his body with ease, impaling him.

Orchid glanced over at the fallen power lines and suddenly they danced to attention, writhing and coiling around the other leather men, squeezing the life from them. They twitched a bizarre dance like marionettes until blood erupted from their mouths and eyes oozed from their sockets.

The Mohawk man rushed at her, bat held high, face a mask of fear and rage until Orchid nodded again and the bat flew from his hands. He stopped short and watched hypnotized as the bat whirled round and round. It spun around his head slowly, flipped high into the air, and came slamming down on his awaiting head, the spikes splitting his skull . He dropped to the street in a slump.

“Thank you,” the little girl whispered.

“You can get up, you’re safe now,” Orchid said, her breath heavy, a weak feeling now drained her. She stared at the girl, guessing her to be about 11 or 12, chestnut hair hanging in her face.

She walked up to the girl and parted her hair. Looking into her eyes she noticed they were green just like her own. “What’s your name?”

“Morganna,” she said, taking Orchid’s hand and climbing to her feet.

“That’s a pretty name. Those bad men wanted your pretty stone. Why? What is it?”

“I can’t tell. I promised I wouldn’t.”

“Okay, well where do you live? Where are your parents?”

“I have no parents but I live with a lot of people who take care of me.”

“Can you take me to them?”

“Of course, just follow me.” Hand in hand the two walked towards the inner city. Inside Orchid knew she was supposed to meet the people that took care of Morganna.

She also knew that they were being followed.