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By LeoNation All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Thriller

Chapter 1

"When the earth falls from its orbit and crashes into the sun, all that will be left will be the greater beings laughing at our predictions. Nostradamus and oracles. The grand and the genius,  Einstein and Napoleon  It will mean nothing. You and me will mean even less. Try to think of the name of your great, great grandparents. Odds are you can't. That is how quickly the majority of us are forgotten, but there will be a time when we are all forgotten, and the ash of the stones and the trees will be indistinguishable from our own." 

One year. Light snow. Orbit had ceased.

Offices were abandoned, homes were fortified. Trees had begun welting like old lilies and grey leaves filled the street corners. Rumor was there were blizzards in Miami. Riots too.

"Beta and omega. Yin and yang. Light and dark. Mankind has convinced himself of balance in the world. Stability. That was our greatest mistake. We expected the world to keep going, the gears to keep churning and the clock to keep ticking. But gears get weathered and clockwork slows, and like that the world can not stay like it has for eternity. Nothing is definite."

Twelve months. Storms pound Chile. Earthquake in Sumatra, 8.9.  Day fades to darkness and the world wonders if the sun will rise again.

Three-Hundred Sixty-five days. The highways are abandoned. Refugees with ash smeared faces and tattered clothing had been passing for days, but now only the dead and the twisted metal of interstate chaos remained.

Eight-thousand Seven hundred and sixty hours. The old world's priest's convictions were labeled as deceitful babble. In China they were eating children under the guise of culling the population which was too high to eat whatever food was stored in soviet era bunkers scouring the landscape.

By the ocean, things were less hectic. The waves continued to crash upon the sands, and with the collapse of widespread human society, it seemed already more fish has begun to lead their schools towards the coast, making it easier for the fishermen to catch a meal. 

The day the power grid went down the stars were so beautiful. Only small fires dotting the coastline provided any light for the maritime population, and thus appeared the clearest sky any had ever witnessed. What had once been minuscule pinpricks of light was now a great canvas reminiscent of Van Gogh's Starry Night. 

When the news had begun, many went in-land. Expecting some strange ecologic hazard to appear from the sea, but in truth the opposite was true. The sea was as dangerous as inland. Where the sea had uncontrollable tides and fatal currents, inland has forest fires raging along the entire expanse of wilderness and roaming bands of marauders already set on founding a new world order.

Factions broke up from the former states, and war began quickly. Family feuds had been turned into mass death, and with the dead came a sweeping plague of influenza. Rumor had it there were cases of bubonic plague in the north. 

The air smelled of smoke from the burning inland half the day, and the rest smelled like salt. Abandoned boats clinked in the docks. a dead body floated out at sea, face down, a drenched wool sweater hanging loosely around the pale blue shoulders. Matted black hair stood floated above where its head had sunk down beneath the surf. Dead bodies float.

Feral dogs had made a habit of visiting the camp in the evening, mimicking their past lives where they would visit their masters at supper. A few had been taken in, and wandered around the camp during the day, sleeping near the embers of the crackling flames at dawn. There skin hung tight to their ribs, and their long tongues lolled out, as if the vapors of the food itself would end its hunger.

Often the dogs would return with the carcass of a raccoon or opossum, and more often then not dozens of ticks and fleas. The local cats fed on the swarms of mice that had appeared following the collapse. 

At night, the dogs would howl at the stars, their voices blending with the crash and twist of the waves as they hit the sand and the shifting of the foam as it sputtered on the grains of sand. Voices of other dogs from afar would echo over the previous, and their calls echoed through the forest and the world, awakening every bird and beast in the land to their moaning melody like forlorn sirens.

Some nights great bands of traveling people would pass through the town, and feast on the fish and tell of rumors from the north, of towns in Atlanta and a haven in Cuba. They said Havana was unchanged, and they were functioning as they always had on their own. Others said Castro had died due to an assassination attempt a few days after the end started and the country had been split into factions, each faction painting themselves as paradise to attempt to get soldiers from afar. 

Nonetheless, it was generally agreed that islands had faired better off. Cuba and all the other islands was free from the flames that raged in the Rockies and Appalachians. Apparently even Manhattan was fairing well for several days until gangs from the Bronx and New Jersey crashed through a police line, activated the subways and began raiding the city, fighting over high rise apartments and fortifying themselves in a stolen life of luxury.

Several days after a ship had been lost at sea and two civilians drowned, a band of Russian merchants arrived. They had raided hundreds of pharmacies across the land, targeting them on their path south, and now were trading prescription pills for all sorts of things. 

Xanax sold for the equivalent of a week's meal, a ream of clean paper, glasses, and a wardrobe of clothing. Everyone was chasing a high to escape this cruel world. Marijuana sold for a extremely high amount, and farms had sprung up to grow the plant and profit by trading it to all sorts of communities across coast. 

It was quick, and unexpected. The world had expected violence and chaos next to nothing, and of course that existed, but people wanted to return more than anything to their old lives. Communities began to appear quickly in the safety of the coast and the world was together again. The Russians passing through brought something new, something forgotten. They brought the concept of commerce back to the world, and it was the first step to growth.

The small coastal community named itself Palma after the Majorcan city and the great palmetto trees that sprouted about the coast and inland, around forgotten highways and throughout abandoned neighborhoods. 

Inland in the remnants of a plantation was the second community. While the majority of mankind fled the coast, one family, the Daneau, stuck to their land, refusing to abandon it in the face of a hurricane that would never come and flood that never arrived. Instead their farm claimed more land and products that season than ever, and a year after the end, or the beginning, their farm began to grow. Rumor of it spread from Miami to Washington, and hundreds came to work for shelter, food and safety, which was more than most others had. 

In reality, most of those who came became slaves. Tilling the farms and repairing machinery on the farms. Collecting gasoline to keep the tractors running and picking cotton throughout the land, but many did other works. Former accountants began to record sales and products, and soon a wage system arrived with the currency as strips of fabric. Those who could sow made clothing for the workers, and those who could cook cooked. 

But those who could steal stole, and a raid took place soon after. A group had risen in the remnants of the ghettos north of the city, and they had been driven hungry after food began to rot in the supermarkets, and soon canned food began to slowly vanish, and their stores became thin. 

They armed themselves with golf clubs and hunting riffles, and in the dead of night approached the farm. The farm was protected by guards on the major roads, but the swamp land around it was empty and allowed a party of twelve to attempt to make it through the swamp in the dead of night.

Overhead sprawling gnarled trees swayed in a turf unexplored by man, over a surface flat as a mirror, the surface of a large brackish expanse of water where rotten logs propped out of the surface like frozen ghouls standing in the dead of night. 

The humming of the crickets, their harmonious banter rising through the night like the sound of thousands of instruments was loud, and the buzzing of gnats fell and rose like the voice of some french maestro tuning his vocal chords for the opera, which was the bloodbath to come. 

Twelve men entered the swamp and eight escaped it. Snakes slithered through the water, and in the dead of night dragged a man down. They said frogs the size of cars his beneath the water, and would kill those who came next to their egg pods, and many of the men who entered the swamp agreed that two had been taken down by the creatures. The last man died when he fell into a sinkhole, and quickly nothing could be heard but his splashing and screams as mud filled his throat and he was dragged to the floor of the swamp, his lungs filling with the twigs and rot of the undergrowth as some strange prehistoric beast dragged him down. His blood, and a hand gnashed to pieces rose to the surface, and silence returned to the night, not even the crickets daring to disturb it. 

The eight men entered the farm, set fire to the granaries and killed the butcher's servant, before stealing his meats, several chickens and two cows. They loaded the food and livestock onto the back of a truck and rode out, shooting a guard and a local farmer on their way out the plantation.

News of the raid spread throughout the coast, and the news on the infamous Swampstalkers was heard for miles. 

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