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.”
“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.