What horror do you imagine in the dark future? Last week, I posted a themed challenge prompt, to paint a vision of a future very much removed from our current times. Only a few people were able to participate this time around, Mike Lane, Nick Paschall, and myself. Here they are, with the inspiration picture posted above it. I hope you enjoy them, and stop by tomorrow to catch the next challenge.
Only the Weather Changes by Mike Lane
“It all started with one drop of rain,” Rueben Everett said in a small still voice. “But the real problem was always here.”
The old man looked out over the dark land with a heavy heart, wondering how the world had gone so wrong. In his youth, people constantly joked about the “end times” and how mankind would finally meet its match. People talked about it, but they never truly believed it would happen. They fantasized about wars and zombies, diseases and famine, robots taking over, aliens from outer space, but when the earth was making its final stand no one really thought it would be Mother Nature to land the death blow. At least not at first.
Sure, there were those who warned of global warming and Rueben believed that had played its part, but even as the scientists and politicians talked about it, the consequences of global warming were always predicted for the far away future. It was something they needed to get a hold of now, so that generations to come wouldn’t suffer from the current generation’s ignorance and refusal to act. Rueben laughed at that with a bitter, angry chuckle that sounded more like a grunt.
Preaching to the masses about a better earth for people they would never meet was stupid. At the time, people in general were a self-centered bunch of assholes who were more concerned about their own rights, much less about someone else’s life. They were more concerned about too much violence in The Walking Dead or when the new iPhone was coming out. This celebrity said this and this celebrity did that. People strived to obtain bodies like Dwayne Johnson and a butt like Kim Kardashian. Fidget spinners and rompers, for God’s sake. They were more concerned with posting funny memes and coming to blows with friends over politics. In the end it didn’t matter who was queen, dictator or president. It didn’t matter what country had beef with another. The sky opened up and wiped those arguments and fleeting fancies from their minds and introduced them to the real problem. Chicken Little had been right all along. The sky literally began to fall and man fell soon after.
That first, lonely raindrop fell from the sky and Rueben believed that if he had seen it, he would have considered it Mother Nature’s mournful tear, shedding regret for all she had allowed them to do. At first, it was just another rainy day. People carried on with their lives as normal, bitching about the weather. The earth’s plates started to shift and collide with one another sending out a slew of sporadic earthquakes. Buildings collapsed at record highs and the casualties were more than alarming. No area seemed safe from the competing ripples that rocked the earth. Then the hurricanes and typhoons cropped up, one after another pounding shorelines the world over. It was believed then that people on the coasts suffered the most, but in hindsight Reuben believed they were the lucky ones. Flooding became an issue and with the floods, power was eliminated. It didn’t go down without a fight. Fires broke out across the land and rallied against the pouring rain, but the water continued to rise, spawning more of Mother Nature’s demons to wreak havoc. Tornados and high winds carried the fire and rain across the land like blazing ballerinas, adding more destruction. The ones in power fought over where to send help but were soon wrapped up with the atrocities in their own faces, leaving the rest of the world to suffer alone. Even their efforts did little to hold back the rising tide or mend the rifts in the earth. Continents ripped apart like shredded paper left adrift on the raging ocean. Relief and government aid dried up quickly and before long, mankind found it was completely on its own. Without power and phones to keep them informed, the media disappeared and they were left to communicate by word of mouth. Not that anyone had time to worry about the rest of the world. Their own piece of land was sinking below their feet and the world was littered with bloated, rotting corpses.
Riots and looting became the staples of humanity. To find food or shelter, people began to steal and kill without remorse. They had been given the opportunity to return to their primal instincts and they embraced it. Without gas and automobiles, people traveled by foot or makeshift rafts. Law was no longer the safety net that kept humanity in check. Only the strong survived and might made right, each and every time. Rueben, who had always considered himself a good man, tried to avoid the mindset of the new world order. He tried to deal and barter as best he could and only stole when it was absolutely necessary. It was the only way to survive.
As a boy, he had always been fond of Jack London novels, adoring stories like Call of the Wild, When God Laughs and To Build a Fire. These readings had been useful in his new life, but there had always been one London story that he didn’t truly get until disaster struck the world- The Scarlet Plague. In his travels, this story cropped up in his mind time and time again. The world hadn’t ended with a devastating plague as the story had suggested, but the aftermath was nearly the same. Civilization fell, just as it had in the story. And just like in the story, man was given a new chance to change and rebuild the world for the better. Man failed at this, just as they had in the story and Rueben witnessed it all firsthand.
He spent most of his life as a nomad, rafting from dry earth to dry earth and scavenging anything he could find to stay fed and dry. He steered clear of other people as much as he could, especially groups. Some areas had started rebuilding their own governments, but no matter where he went all laws were designed to benefit the ones in charge and nothing more. As an outsider, he could never find a community that would accept him, nor could he find a community that was worth joining. In every town the scene was the same. The current leader would serve as dictator until a stronger person crushed him and claimed all rights to the throne. It was a never ending cycle that only benefited the strong and starved the weak. Man hadn’t learned a damn thing. Rueben believed that if the world had ended with a zombie plague or a hostile alien take over like those old movies from long ago, at least mankind might have abandoned race and religion and banded together as one against the common enemy. Instead, they continued to fight one another, just as they always had.
In time the years bled into one another and Rueben could no longer tell the seasons apart, much less the years. The rains dried up and the earth began to settle. Mother Nature had unleashed her worst and thinned the herd, but she was still ashamed of them. By this point, Rueben had grown much older. The life had hardened him, but he held fast to his beliefs. He stole more often than he cared to admit, but when he spotted the potential for an altercation with another person, he still avoided it. He would not take another man’s life.
After being saturated for so long, the world was a moldy place. This led to what was referred to as The Green Death epidemic that swept the land. Severe lung infections killed off whole families with long, painful wheezing deaths and it became standard practice to wear makeshift masks and search for drier ground. Land dwelling animals were scarce and much harder to kill. Insects thrived in the humidity, leading to a plethora of diseases. Many amphibians adjusted to their surroundings and some had even evolved. Gators grew larger than they ever had before, roaming the land freely and feeding on unsuspecting humans. With a lack of smaller animals to feed on, even hawks and buzzards attacked mankind’s dwindling population. Unable to grow food or successfully hunt the creatures available to them, some people resorted to eating one another.
But through it all, Mother Nature saved the best for last. She allowed the land to dry up and refused the blessing of rain, the very thing man had cursed at the beginning of the end. Man was already a miserable wreck with the lack of food, but without water it could not survive. Dark rain clouds filled the skies, blotting out the sun and refusing to spill the precious liquid. Day become a lighter shade of night and sometimes it was difficult to tell the two apart. Even the moon and stars hid behind the dark clouds, driving thirsty people to the brink of insanity. If water was found, it was treasured and protected. Rueben had witnessed a feral woman rip a man’s throat out and lap the blood from the wound. Children cried from thirst while parents licked the tears from their cheeks. People were hung for stealing a drop of water. This last bit, Rueben knew all too well.
He had managed to break into the tribe’s storehouse and lap up the last bit of water they had. It was less than a thimble’s worth, but he relished every single drop, waiting for the townsfolk to surround him. In fact, he had wanted to get caught. The state of the world disgusted him and in all honesty, he was tired of living in it. His plan had been to drink their water and give them no choice but to hang him. It had worked.
He stood on top of an overturned diesel with a noose around his neck and looked out over the dark land with a heavy heart. The crowd screamed for his death, but he tuned them out. The blackened clouds rolled overhead and he could see the toppled powerline towers lining the distance. Mankind had been given a chance to change. They had endured Mother Nature’s worst, screamed and cursed the sky like spoiled children and never once realized that it wasn’t the weather that had destroyed the world. It was them. The scenario could have played out a thousand different ways and the outcome would always be the same. Man would continue to be mankind’s downfall. The strong would always thrash the weak. Those that had would take and those who had none would perish. Now that the end was near, he no longer cared. Good riddance to bad rubbish, he thought. You bastards deserve your suffering. I’m just glad it’s over for me.
The hangman grabbed Rueben by the shoulders and prepared to push him from the ledge. The crowd’s screaming came to a sudden halt as each man, woman and child looked at one another, their hands held out and their angry faces starting to smile. The sky opened up and Rueben felt water splash his cheek.
“It all started with one drop of rain,” Rueben Everett said in a small still voice, hope surging through him. It was another opportunity for the world to change. There was a chance for mankind yet! The people were joyously hugging one another and thankful for the water. Children splashed around in circles, clapping their hands and holding their mouths open toward the sky. Streams of sunlight broke through the clouds and shone on their upturned faces. The world had been given another chance to make things right! Reuben had been given another chance to see it through!
The hangman shoved him from the ledge. As he fell and the last of his breath escaped him, he could see their hateful faces and hear them cheer for his death.
Child of the Apocalypse: The Harvest Part One by Nick Paschall
As far as the apocalypse could go, Jamie mused as she sucked in a lungful of smoke, holding it in to allow the soothing qualities of the herbal mix, this could be a lot worse.
It’d been twenty-seven years since the Darkness fell, when modern infrastructure fell as most modern technology failed. Major computers simply turned off all at once, closing international trade and communication. Satellites stopped sustaining the veiny network for cell phones, silencing most emergency services and local communication. And the precautions at thousands of private laboratories gave like cracked dams after a major rain storm, refrigerated samples of toxic viruses escaping and spreading through the world like ripples in a pond, one wave striking the populace after another with devastating effects.
This led to some biological weapons that at least the American government had been keeping under wraps. She’d met physicians and scientists who called it various labels, but the common man referred to it as the Lazarus sickness. It was like a nightmare torn straight from Romero’s most disturbed thoughts, with added features that could only come from the demented or mentally ill.
Leaning back against her motorcycle while sitting on the pavement in front of what had once been at the outskirts of a small town in what had once been northern California, a nameless place that might’ve boasted a friendly population that hosted local festivals perhaps. Maybe they’d had a state fairs, or beauty pageants? Puffing on her hand-rolled joint, the crinkly paper torn from a Gideon edition she’d liberated from a motel a few hundred miles back serving as best it could to house the marijuana that seemed to grow everywhere across the former American nation.
Coughing as she let the smoke leave her lungs, she crossed her arms under her bosom and pulled down her goggles from atop her head. The area had the salty breeze of the Pacific rolling in, and the air stung her eyes if she left herself exposed for too long. Pulling a “modern” spyglass from her belt, she held the ramshackle tool up to her eye and stared out at the roads leading into town, rusted out skeletons clogging the streets like dried out corpses laid out to be picked clean by the vultures of the post-Darkness era.
The vultures of today, scavengers in the most literal of senses, were people who left the small communities that had sprung up in nearly every major city to harvest goods from the wastes of the fallen civilization, like barbarians picking through the ruins of Rome years after it’d been sacked.
This particular Rome had been stripped early on, leaving the bare bones of cars and tractors, long since rusted out by the salty sea air. Frowning, she knew she wouldn’t find any gasoline this far out of town, and that her only chance would be to venture deeper within.
But she had no choice; her beat up motorcycle, a Frankenstein in the truest sense as it didn’t have an original part from the model it’d started as, now composed from, at the very least, fourteen different old choppers and cars. Jamie’s old girlfriend, when she was alive, had outfitted a solar panel in the side of the bike and rigged it up with a battery from a Tesla car from sometime when the years were counted by calendars and not seasons. This had made her abomination of a vehicle live long without gasoline, but its inevitable thirst begged for the source of its addiction.
“God, I hate towns,” Jamie muttered to herself. Flicking the stub of her joint away, she stood up and stretched, her leather jacket baggy around her thin frame. Ever since she’d hit the road, leaving the South to flee from the pain of her lost loved ones, she’d found her appetite had waned. Now she mostly lived on canned vegetables and meats and rainwater she gathered in buckets when she broke camp.
Slinging her compound bow over her shoulder, she counted her remaining arrows. “Twenty-seven,” she muttered, “need to gather some old soda cans to make arrowheads.”
Walking down the dirt path, flanked by old power lines and turned over mechanical fossils, Jamie slid her bow into her hands and pulled an arrow from her quiver. Listening for the telltale signs of a Child of Lazarus, she strained her ears.
Sure enough, she heard the clicking being carried on the warm breeze wafting through the littered road. Stopping, she scanned for movement, hoping against hope that the Child was alone. When a Child turned into Children, they all grew more cunning. Enough of them together and their lack of eyesight was no longer a disability, but an advantage as each of the shuffling dead could use each other as echolocation points to triangulate the position of their prey.
Namely Jamie, in this instance.
Jamie winced as she saw the undead shuffle into view, heaving a sigh of relief when she noted its physique.
Emaciated with wiry limbs and thin cords acting as muscles, this corpse held its head back, tilted towards the sky as it sent out a trill of clicks every few seconds. Dressed in worn jeans and the tattered remains of a tee shirt with a long-forgotten logo, the cadaver’s eyes rolled lazily in the skull blindly, the few stray hairs still attached to its scalp fluttering in the breeze. It sported numerous broken bones, but they didn’t seem to hamper its movement. She could see how the left knee rolled as the leg shook and quivered beneath the weight, however slight, that weighed down on the limb as the zombie slinked across the automotive graveyard.
Pulling back her drawstring, Jamie took careful aim and waited with bated breath for the rotten to stop, to take in the various scents around it.
The bow launched its missile faster than the eye could track, the handmade arrow piercing the soft skull of the dead, entering through one of the gray eyes and breaking through the back of the skull. The ghoul wavered for a moment, a gurgled cluck stuck mid death rattle. The zombie slipped down to the ground, falling listlessly to the ground with a slight thud.
Jamie smiled to herself, and almost took a step forward until she heard it.
Several other rattling breaths came from further in the graveyard, these clicks sounding stronger, healthier, than the rotten she’d just handled. They were close enough that they would all be aware of each other, and that the remaining dead knew something had happened to their kin.
And she knew that they would come running to find whatever had severed the mental connection, appetites roused at the thought of a meal after going for so long without.
Scavenge by Tilby Noir
I crouch behind the low, scraggly bush, narrowing my eyes against the morning sun. From this distance, I can just see inside the grimy portholes of the rusted ship, the weight of the corroded iron slowly pushing into the soft ground beneath. I scan each window–peering into every jagged hole in the hull–searching for any sign of movement, of danger.
The area had once been a shipping channel, back before the earth shifted and drained away the life-giving water. Now, it’s a lonely patch of clay and weeds, the degrading remnants of our once flourishing society rising up from the soil like broken toys.
It’s also prime hunting ground for the Greenies, flesh-eating monsters who had welled up from the cracks in the ground like a plague after the Great Shift. Their favorite dinner consists of any and every unwary person they can dig their claws into. That’s fine by me because, given the chance, I’ll happily return the favor. I am becoming less picky about my meals as time went on.
Taking on a Greenie by yourself is never a good idea. They are stealthy, agile, and tended to hunt in packs. But Dad’s down with a pretty nasty infection. I’m hoping to find a few Z-packs, or even some antibiotic ointment, in the sick bay of the ship. I hope it hasn’t already been picked clean, or I’ll be risking my life for nothing and Dad would be one step closer to dead.
Spying no hint of movement, I make my move. Keeping in a low crouch, I dash towards a pile of discarded cargo, ducking behind the collection of rotting crates and rusty barrels. I do another check of the windows and holes before zipping over to the next pile. Repeat. I take no chances of the Greenies catching me off guard.
Finally, I make it to the door-sized hole in the ship’s hull where the keel meets the soil, keeping my spiked club at the ready just in case. The interior is dark, with small patches of sunlight filtering in through the holes. Reaching up, I click on the lamp of my miner’s helmet. If there are any scavengers about, they’ll flock to the light like moths, but I’m not stumbling around a rusty metal interior without a light source. That’s how Dad got infected.
A quick duck of my head around the hole reveals a jagged and littered hold, crates busted open, their contents looted long ago, and iron beams hanging like dripping wax. No Greenies. I slip inside, picking my way quickly across the hold to what remains of the stairs on the other side. Several treads are missing, and the railing is pocked and corroded, leaving a rough and sharp surface just waiting to tear into an unprotected palm.
I take the first step cautiously, giving it a little bounce with my full weight to test the metal’s strength. It rocks alarmingly, but doesn’t bend or snap. I continue up the stairs slow and easy, touching the railing as little as possible. A twisted walkway leads from the stairs to a heavy door leaning against the wall at a sharp angle, held upright by one warped hinge.
My light shines down an empty corridor, signs and posters still clinging to the walls, one of them a ship map. The edges are frayed, the left bottom corner is torn off, and a dark stain spreads across the diagram, making it difficult to read. The little cross symbol that signifies medical brings a sigh of relief. It’s directly above me.
At the end of the hall stands another stairway, whole but littered with the bones of small animals and dried offal. A hand over my mouth and nose filters the musty smell as I tighten my grip on the club. Greenies have been here, might still be here. They tended to hang around until they were sure an area had been picked clean of edible tidbits.
Sitting on the top of the stairs, I lean around the corner, club raised at the ready in case a Greenie crouched nearby. Another empty hall. My lucky day. A few moments more, and I’m in the sick bay, not feeling so lucky anymore.
Looters and scavengers had clearly gotten here first. All the cabinets and doors stand opened, the shelves cleaned out. Even the mattresses from the cots are gone. Empty packages and unusable equipment lie strewn about the floor.
I check all the shelves anyway, not willing to go home empty-handed without at least taking a look. Each empty shelf adds to my frustration. What am I going to do now? I’d checked every junk pile and dilapidated building in a five mile radius. Much further, and I’ll be in dangerous territory.
A low growl sounds behind me and I freeze, keeping my breathing slow and even despite the sudden pounding of my heart. Fear-damp palms tighten on the club. I hear the faint click of claws on metal, closer and closer. When I smell the sharp tang of its scaly flesh, I spin on my heel, bringing my club up with all my might.
A flash of a snarling maw, saliva dripping from yellow, curved teeth, catches in my light as I smash the club into the Greenie’s temple. It falls to the ground, legs kicking for purchase and tiny arms flailing as it fights to regain its footing. The long claws on the end of the ridged toes leave thin cuts in the metal floor. The head lolls in a disoriented fashion as it makes a series of irritated, abrupt screeches, a thin trail of blood oozing from a small puncture where a spike had hit it.
I curl my lips over my teeth in a sneer, as I vocalize my distaste at the squirming reptile. I’ve never seen one this close before. Greenies look like what would happen if dinosaurs tried to become people. They’re bipedal, with back-bending knees and powerful thighs, but small arms good only for balance and tearing. The heads are elongated, with front facing eyes, flat noses, and an overly large mouth crammed with sharp teeth and a reptilian tongue. The scales that cover their bodies vary in size and thickness, offering protection over vital areas, but lay smooth and almost snake-like across the chest and chin. The covering made them difficult to kill unless you hit them in just the right spot. Apparently, my blind swing had found just such a spot.
I wouldn’t be able to combat it once it regained its footing. Greenies looked odd, but they moved fast and were very skilled with their clawed feet. It would have me eviscerated in seconds.
Gritting my teeth against the distasteful task, I drive my spiked club into its temple again, then a few more times for good measure. The skull makes a flat crunching sound as a little dark ick smooshes out from the eye sockets. Little dots cover the flattened head, which is punctured by the spikes, but not bad enough to really tear the hide.
Arms sore, breath panting from exertion, I pause to see if it’s still moving. It doesn’t so much as twitch, not even the flutter of a breath. I sigh, wiping the sweat from my brow with the back of a hand, and look around the room for anything I could use as a litter.
There’s a bed sheet waded up in the corner, stinking of old urine. It will do. I lay it out, roll the body of the Greenie inside, and tie up the corners. Bracing the tied ends over my shoulder, I head back for the hall, dragging the Greenie behind me. The sheet will certainly help, but it’s going to be a long walk home.
I’m not thrilled I haven’t found any medicine for Dad, but the journey home won’t be as depressing as it could have been. I’ll have to extend my search beyond my usual scavenging grounds. That doesn’t fill me with comfort, but having a full belly will go a long way towards bolstering my courage. I’m pulling a week’s worth of meat behind me, and that will do for now. I’ll worry about medicine again tomorrow.