A Time of Darkness: Book One - The Scattering of Ashes

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Summary

Following a group of people drawn together as they try to fight for their survival in the wasteland created by the eruption of the super volcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Forest. Long roiling beneath the Yellowstone National Forest, abruptly the caldera bubbles over; as the super volcano bursts in a sudden, violent eruption that obliterates everything in it's path and plunges the earth into an age of oppressive darkness under a blanket of impenetrable ash. Millions perish, as those who survive the event are left alone to fend for themselves: No electricity, no running water, no government, no help. Yet despite diversity, an overwhelming sense of community draws together a group of desperate survivors who suffer loss and tragedy as a collective family. Those living in the long shadow of the apocalypse must now battle the elements and the other dangers of the newly created sunless world - as well as their own raw humanity.

Genre:
Horror / Scifi
Author:
Robert Bartlett
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
46
Rating:
5.0 4 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Prelude

Day One, Ground Zero

His breath is strained and short, consisting of small quick gulps of air as he struggles in the chill of a pre-dawn, rocky mountain morning to restart the fire that the two young lovers (in their attention to each other) had let die during the night. Watching him from a distance, she admires his tenacity at not wanting to give up on restarting the flames. Smiling to herself as she recalls the way he had lectured her the night before saying repeatedly as he struggled to light the fire the first time; “This is the way it’s supposed to be done”. She had actually been a little surprised when he succeeded in getting the fire to start by hand last night using the primitive bow drill method he had stumbled across while watching survival videos on You Tube - and by the look on his face, so had he. His persistent nature never ceased to amaze or impress her. He approached everything with passion, doing the best he was capable of in all that he did. Be it digging a hole in the backyard to bury their cat LuLu or building a primitive fire out in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. To her, it was one of his most attractive traits.

“Damn it!” She hears him shout at the little pile of kindling he was bent over working feverishly trying to re-ignite the flames. Discouraged and annoyed the outburst is followed by the unmistakable sound of sticks shuffling across the ground as he throws them in his moment of irritated frustration.

“The damn sticks must’ve gotten wet in the night dew or something and to make matters worse, I broke the damn bow string. I’ll have to try to think of something else.” Sitting back on his haunches, out of breath and panting he lets out a heavy, frustrated sigh through his nose, his aura thick with disappointment.

“Ok baby that’s fine. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. It’s freezing out here this morning.”

She wonders if now is the right time to tell him about the Bic lighter she has secretly stowed away in her backpack. She decides against it as she turns around and sees him walking over to retrieve the sticks he threw to restart his efforts on bringing the dead campfire back to life.

“Yeah, a little chill really settled into the valley last night,” He offers as he sits heavily back down on the ground Indian style next to the small pile of tinder, blowing into his hands too warm them up before trying to fix the bow string that had broken on the fire starter. Wearing a nonchalant, mischievous grin he then quietly adds,

“I guess that’s what we get for coming to Yellowstone at the end of September instead of in the middle of July.” His voice thick with more than a little hint of sarcasm.

“True… but the way that I see it is that this is your punishment for not finding me and marrying me sooner,” she shoots back, wearing a wry grin of her own. Then with a cute shrug of her shoulders she adds matter-of-factly, “So…. ultimately it’s still your fault that we’re out here freezing our asses off in early fall instead of running around half naked through the mountain pastures of summertime wildflowers in mid-July.” His short but honest laugh fills the campsite as he laughs at himself and his wife’s own quick wit. She loves his laugh. And, of course they would have come in July, but they weren’t married in July. They had gotten married in September, which was the same month they had met in six years earlier. On a blind date of all things! Her best friend Kelsey had been the one that set the date up for her. She thinks back fondly about how she had bitched and moaned for the entire ride over to the little cantina in Huntington Beach just south of Los Angeles where they were going to meet Kelsey’s boyfriend Matt and his cousin John. Whining about how pathetic she thought she must look for not being able to find a date on her own and had essentially needed her best friend to set her up with one. She smiles warmly at the memories of the humble beginnings that would become the relationship between Carly Smith and John Foster. The relationship that had quickly transformed into the wild, romantic whirlwind affair that had ultimately led to them being married only one year later. She had insisted that they wait at least a year before they were wed, making him jump through all the hoops of courtship in the process; even though she had known from the very first time she had heard his laugh that she had fallen completely and madly in love with him. The same laugh that had just echoed through the campsite. Honest and genuine it was nothing short of contagious to anyone that was close enough to hear it.

“It could be wishful thinking but I think I just saw a thin line of smoke,” John calls over to her breathing heavily, leaning over the pile of tinder he had placed strategically in the center of the makeshift fire pit hard at work with the newly fixed bow drill.

“Good job baby. Breakfast will taste much better cooked. I’m not much into raw eggs and bacon,” Carly calls back sarcastically before she settles comfortably back into her thoughts, content to stay there for the time being. No campfire was currently keeping her warm, but her thoughts certainly were. She looks affectionately over at John still hard at work hunched over the fire pit, sawing feverishly trying to create the ember that will bring warmth and comfort to their chilly little mountain campsite. John had always dreamt of coming to Yellowstone, so how could she say no to him after he had surprised her by planning this whole trip for their fifth wedding anniversary? He had been so excited! Like a child whose parents had just told him that were taking a family trip to Disney World or something. Carly sighed at the sweetness of the memory. She wasn’t exactly the outdoorsy type, but aside from the cold front that had decided to wrap them in its arms last night, she had to admit it was beautiful out here in the middle of nowhere. It had a peacefulness to it that she hadn’t expected. It was serine in the way that something is serine when it was pure; untainted by civilization or by any form of technology. She had been amazed by the vastness of the night sky as they had laid underneath the stars the night before. It was an awe-inspiring sight to a city girl who had lived all of her life within the comforting glow of Edison’s greatest invention (or Tesla’s, depending on your own point of view).

“Any more smoke yet Davy Crockett? I hear spring is right around the corner,” Carly good heartedly calls over to the slumped over form of her husband, still trying desperately to get the bow and sticks to form an ember.

“Yeah, yeah. Go ahead, make fun of the guy trying to get us warm. Not to mention the fact that I just love anniversary jokes at my expense,” John cheerily calls back, smiling despite the cramps currently plaguing his forearms. Laughing out loud as he thinks to himself; “At least something over here is burning”, although he would prefer it to be the kindling and not his muscles.

“I actually do think I’m making some progress smart ass. You just get ready with that breakfast you were threatening me with.” John continues, still smiling as he once again begins the back and forth sawing motion of the primitive fire starter.

“Oh ok. I’ll get right on that Paw, since I am doing such an amazing job at embracing this frontiersman’s wife persona for you,” she calls back over her shoulder, smiling affectionately as she makes her way back towards their tent.

Her smile still melts his heart even after five years of marriage. He can’t believe he got her to agree to come out here camping with him in the middle of nowhere for an entire week. Carly hates the outdoors. At least she hasn’t had any lizards run up her leg while they were sitting around the camp fire sipping wine this time. Well, at least not yet anyways. You could place bets safely against the odds in Vegas that if something were going to happen between nature and humans while they were doing anything outside, it would most assuredly happen to Carly. Lizards, snakes, spiders, she is the pied piper of nature’s mishaps. It is a testimony to how much she truly loves him that she agreed to come out here at all to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, especially in the middle of September. He hoped the new diamond ring he planned to surprise her with on their hike later would make up for any creepy crawly disaster that was inevitably going to happen. He already knew it would fail at expressing the depth of his passion and love for her; but in the diamonds defense, no material object could. His love for her was spiritual on a cosmic level, she truly stirred his soul.

“Here stud, why don’t you give this a try,” she says as she walks over, gently placing her hand on his shoulder as she dangles the stowed away lighter in front of him tauntingly. Then wearing the sly smile that she knows always makes his heart flutter she adds, “My appetites getting bigger, that fire isn’t.” Then kissing him on the top of his head, she bounces away giggling at herself as John’s laughter booms out full and throaty once again. Both of them magically filling the countryside with the innocent incantation born of true love and joy.

“Ok, ok….” He says, throwing his hands up in mock surrender. “But let the records show that I still hold to my belief that this is cheating. However, in the interest of my city princess needing a hot meal, I suppose that just this one time I can make an exception.” He is still smiling as he admiringly watches her walk over to the pile of fallen branches and old logs they had collected the day before. Gathering up some of the wood she carries it back over to him and drops it next to the circle of rocks that make up the perimeter of their little campsite fire pit. Fuel for the fire that was now only a thumb flick of the lighter away. John kneels and strikes the lighter at the base of the little pile of kindling he had prepared. Smiling broadly, he knows that he is now and has always been, completely in love with his wife. He knows that the “today, tomorrow, and forever” anniversary band he has picked out for her as an anniversary gift is exactly the truth; he will love her from the deepest recesses of his soul for all of his life. Even if he is blissfully unaware that at that very moment the flame that is his life is only approximately an hour away from being extinguished.

The trail is clear and easy to follow as the couple makes their way toward the Octopus and Mushroom Hot Springs located in Yellowstone’s lower geyser basin. Both sides of the trail are littered with beautifully colored local wild flowers and birds. John pauses at an opening in the trail for a moment taking some time to admire his surroundings. Smiling to himself at how lucky he is to have stumbled upon such a beautiful setting to present his anniversary gift of the ring to Carly.

“Come on slow poke!” Carly teases as they approach the clearing that signals that they have almost reached their first destination. Laughing John checks his pocket one more time to insure himself that he hasn’t forgotten or lost the ring. The exertion of the hike combined with the heat that was rising up from the mud pots and hot springs has quickly burned off last night’s chill. Stripped out of the jacket she had put on that morning to fight back the cold Carly walks in front of John a little further up the trail, now dressed only in a pair of khaki cargo shorts, an army green tank top, a comfortable pair of hiking boots with warm cotton socks (which were now making her feet sweat) pulled up to her knees. With her jacket tied about her at the waist Carly absently fingers the gift that she has secretly hidden away for John inside the left pocket of her shorts. She was trying to figure out exactly how she was going to be able to sneak it out without him noticing when she hears him stop on the trail behind her and call out,

“Damn it got hot quick. I’m burning up now.” John laughs trying his hardest not to sound too obvious as he tries to set up his own excuse to pull out the ring and present it to his wife. “I don’t remember it getting so hot this fast yesterday. I’ve got a couple bottles of water in the pack, would you like one?” He calls up to her.

“I would love one actually,” Carly responds, thinking that this just might be when John plays right into her hands and allows her the opportunity to sneak out her surprise for him undetected. “Ok, why don’t you go on up ahead and see if there’s a bench or something where we can rest our feet and take a break for a minute while I pull ’em out of the pack. I’ll be right behind you, then we can enjoy one of nature’s many wonders together.” He knows that she’ll think he means the hot springs, but diamonds are truly one of the wonders of nature as well. He is smiling to himself at his cleaver play on words as he squats down to open the pack. Carly stands at a bend in the trail marveling at the beauty of their surroundings. She calmly bends down pretending to tie her shoe as she slips her hand slyly into the left pocket of her shorts.

John stands up from his backpack stretching his tired back, the two bottles of water in one hand and the diamond ring secretly hidden in the other. He could see Carly bent over tying her shoe just up the trail a little way up ahead of him. She stands up placing her hands on her hips catching her breath as she glances back over her shoulder calling back,

“Hurry up Johnny, this place is absolutely INCREDIBLE!” She runs on up ahead as smiles spring onto both of their faces. Her shouts filter back down the trail to reach him as Carly makes her way up around the next bend, jogging the final leg of the trail that led out to the hot springs. John, seeing no real reason to run after her just yet, stops to pick a bundle of the colorful wildflowers that decorate the landscape along both sides of the trail. Smiling in anticipation of giving the ring to Carly he hopes the beauty of the flowers would add to his presentation. John is still bent over picking flowers lost in a debate with himself over whether or not he should get down on one knee in a re-enactment of his proposal to her when he feels the earth tremble for the first time. Moving back from the flowers John stands in the center of the trail wearing the stern mask of concentration mixed with confusion. He furrows his brow as he looks down at the trail paying close attention to the ground beneath his feet. As the seconds’ tick away turning trepidation into uncertainty, he starts to second guess himself on whether he had felt a tremor at all. Standing there wondering if his imagination had gotten the better of him, his doubt is quickly extinguished as the earth begins to move for the second time. Longer and more violent than the first. The bouquet of Rocky Mountain wildflowers that he had just picked of Wyoming and Sulfur paintbrush, Monkey flowers, and Sand Verbena’s hits the ground as Carly’s screams begin to filter back down to him along the trail. Breaking him out of his dazed and confused state, her screams propel him up the trail towards his wife at a full sprint. He rounds the bend just as the ground begins to move and shake for a third time, bucking and vibrating in a long, continuous undulation of earth and rock causing him to lose his balance and fall. He catches sight of her as he stumbles, losing his balance he falls skinning both of his knees in the process. Confused he’s not exactly sure of what it is he is seeing at first. Carly looks as if she has been blanketed in a hissing cloud of steam as it rises up from beneath the ground behind her to shroud her in a hazy, ghostly nightmare. Her screams were beginning to turn into harsh whispers as her throat and lungs became seared from the heat of the steam. The tremors were now continuous as the magma continues to roll and shift deep beneath the Wyoming Mountains causing a fumarole to open in the earth only yards behind his wife in a section of the trail that had recently been cleared away to make it easier for more inexperienced hikers to traverse. Carly had fortunately been facing away from where the steam vent had opened up at her back as she had been facing back down the trail leading to the first hot spring scanning the trail for John after she had felt the first tremor. Scared and confused, unsure of what exactly was happening, a full third of her body is flash cooked in an instant as the steam hits her exposed backside with all of its devilish force. The earth continues to shake and buckle growing more violent as John finally reaches her; both the flowers and the ring lay in the dirt long forgotten as Carly collapses into him. Her partially cooked body no longer able to support her weight during the next powerful series of earthquakes. It is all John can do to hold it together as he tries desperately to comfort and cradle his lovely, dying wife. Her eyes begin to glaze over as she stares blankly up into the sky. Her hands and arms convulse involuntarily as she slips deeper and deeper into shock. Trying to stop Carly’s convulsions John looks around frantically, calling out in vain hoping beyond reason that someone would hear his desperate cries for help. Finding no reply, John tries not to panic in the knowing that they are helplessly alone out here in the middle of nowhere. Slowly, what is exactly happening around them begins to dawn on him as he struggles to keep his emotions together as the knowing of their inevitable death is waking up and bubbling to the surface all around them. The ticking time bomb that is the Yellowstone super volcano was no longer ticking. It was now what Mother Nature had always intended her to be; she was now just a bomb. A bomb like no other on the face of all the earth. In the calamity and violence that begins to surround them John bows his head and for the first time in his life he begins to pray to a God he could only hope was listening. As he opens his eyes to look back down apologetically at his dying wife he notices something clenched tightly within her left fist which she had pressed tightly to her chest, over her heart. Prying it gently from her hand, he sits there staring at the item for what seemed like an eternity before he bends over and kisses her on her exposed stomach. The tears that had been welling up in his eyes and threatening to fall suddenly burst forth to stream down his face. He is no longer able or willing to hold the tears back as he looks up lovingly into Carly’s face allowing the tears to flow freely down his cheeks as he kisses the positive pregnancy test that his wife had been holding within her dying fist to surprise him with.

-And the sun turned black as if covered in shadow, the moon turned red as if covered in blood.~Revelations 6:12

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