Authors: Matthew Eliot
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic, #Zombies, #meteorite strike, #asteroids, #meteorites, #Science Fiction, #apocalypse, #sci-fi
All rights reserved.
Cover image: NASA, “Bennu’s Journey”
Fortunately, all the events in this book
are the product of the author’s imagination.
Any similarities to reality are merely coincidental.
Join my Reader List for exclusive previews, signed copies, release updates and more:
To you, Sofia.
Twelve-year-old Adrian stood shivering in the dark.
With one hand, he held the trembling wrist belonging to the love of his brief, unfortunate life. In the other, a butcher’s knife.
The creature, the meteorwraith, was somewhere close. Too close.
Alice, one year his junior, buried her face in his shoulder.
,” she whispered. Her body was shaking. Despite his own fear, he couldn’t help notice the cold tip of her nose against his thin neck. She was so young, so vulnerable. They both were.
“I know. It’s okay. We need to be quiet.” He hoped he sounded brave and confident, capable of defending her. They were words he thought a grown-up might utter – one willing to protect them, perhaps. There had been very few of those since their journey began. Other than Maurice of course, but no help would come from him ever again.
Adrian freed her wrist, and passed an arm around her shoulder, embracing her. She snuggled up against him. How odd his life had become. How
. Love, in the form of this delicate, trembling girl with its unfocused promise of happiness, and the shy intimacy that constantly sent waves of indecipherable warmth through his chest, contrasted bleakly with the world of constant threats, horror, and pain which he was currently trying to fight back with the butcher’s knife in his right hand. The opposite worlds of love and death, balanced on his brave, but oh-so-narrow shoulders.
They had entered the cave two days ago. It had seemed safe. Thick woods surrounding it, and a small entrance partly concealed by thorny shrubbery. Its deep, dark recesses would provide some degree of safety. Secrecy and concealment – these were the grim, necessary requirements of survival on post-impact Earth.
“Do you like it here?” he had asked.
Alice had shrugged with a smile. A sad smile.
It’ll have to do.
Now, as he tried his best to keep himself and his friend alive, Adrian bitterly considered the ruthlessness with which fate had brought an end to their childhood. What they had received in return was neither the innocence of youth, nor the experience of adulthood.
Something was moving in the shadow ahead. Although meteorwraiths generally travelled in packs, Adrian believed there was only one of them in the cave. He desperately hoped so. His eyes darted from left to right, scanning the dark cave, trying to spot a movement, trying to catch a glimpse of their hunter. Then, the creature spoke.
Vous etes ici. Je sais
,” it hissed. “
Viens. Viens ici, mes cheris
It was a male. They were the worst. Alice tightened her embrace around him. He tightened his grip around the knife.
The thing moved. They heard the faint crackling of stones and pebbles beneath its feet.
Viens ici, mes amis
Then he saw it. A skinny, hunched silhouette crawling towards them.
Adrian had to think fast. The thing had entered the cave roughly twenty seconds ago. Odds were that its vision was still adapting to the dark, and it hadn’t spotted them yet. But it was only a matter of seconds. Adrian’s chance, his only chance, was
If he had had time to consider their situation, to fully appreciate the risk, Adrian would have likely cried. But there was no time. He released himself from Alice’s embrace. She resisted, at first. With a delicate, but deliberate movement, he guided her extended arm away from him. Without speaking, he gently pushed her downwards, until she was crouching on the cold, stone ground. He held his fingertips on her shoulder for an instant,
. Adrian peered down at her.
This might be the last time I stand by her side
. The thought tortured him. Before making his move, he silently mouthed three words in her direction. She’d never hear them, but he felt he had to.
Then he turned. He cleared his mind, adrenaline pumping through his veins. The thing had stopped. It was looking around, trying to find them.
Y’a pas d’mal, mes amis… viens ici…
Adrian crept forward, knife raised. He reached down quietly, and picked a pebble off the ground. He heard the meteorwraith breathing heavily, menacingly through its nose.
Adrian stopped. The thing was only about ten feet away now. Holding his breath, he raised an arm, and flung the pebble as hard as he could towards the opposite end of the cave. It struck the wall with a soft thud.
The creature instantly turned towards the sound. “
Parlez-vous Francaise, mes amis?
Do you speak
nglish?” it asked, inching forwards. The voice had a nauseatingly liquid, rasping quality to it. The sick utterance of the monster’s disease-stricken lungs.
Now it had its back to Adrian. With a grimace distorting his lips, the boy sucked in a deep breath. And attacked.
He stabbed the creature in the shoulder, the blade tearing into its skin. He drew the knife back out as fast as he could, ready to strike again.
The meteorwraith howled in pain, and turned to confront him. His movements were fierce, but clumsy. Adrian caught a glimpse of its face, only inches away from his own. He looked like all the rest of them – bloated lips, toothless gums, and pale, rotting skin. The sinister shadow of what was once a man.
The boy breathed in the creature’s warm, sickening breath. He contracted the muscles in his stomach, trying hard not to throw up. He raised his arm to strike again. This time, he aimed for the neck.
But, at the last instant, the creature grabbed his arm and twisted it. Hard.
, you l
ttle shit,” it whispered with an eerie smile.
Adrian tried hard to resist, to get rid of the thing’s hold on him. But he couldn’t. The pain was too strong. Finally, he had to let go of the knife. It dropped to the ground. It felt like his heart had, too.
,” his opponent said triumphantly. Then, still holding Adrian’s arm, the creature kicked the knife away.
“You ssought you could k
ll me, right,
Adrian struggled and fought, but couldn’t break free from the creature’s grip. He shouted. Not because of the pain, but due to the utter panic he felt at the thought of dying here, and leaving Alice at the mercy of the meteorwraith.
He was shoved to the ground. Drops of thick, slimy saliva trickled down his ear as the man whispered, “
iss will be fun,
?” It held him firmly. Again, Adrian screamed.
How had it come to this?
Confused morsels of thoughts, images, and feelings struck him. Flashes of the past, of what might have been, of what he had been denied. His face was pushed against the sharp rock.
The cave echoed with the meteorwraith’s perverse laughter and Adrian’s desperate cries.
Then the boy felt a sudden, increased weight on his back, as if the creature were laying on him.
An instant later, the laughter stopped. In its place, an eerie gurgling sound. Adrian felt the creature’s hold on him weaken. Then came the blood.
It poured, thick, on his head, trickling down his neck and quickly collecting in small, foul-smelling puddles under his cheeks. The meteorwraith gasped and clutched its throat before collapsing to the ground next to him.
Still incapable of moving, Adrian watched his opponent. Its eyes were wide, and filled not with anger, but rather surprise and terror. His deformed fingers uselessly attempted to halt the flow of blood from the wound around its neck. Then, Adrian saw the creature’s arms slowly drop to the ground, and lay still.
Adrian heard a soft whimper. Then a broken, rhythmic sobbing. He’d never heard anything sadder. He stood slowly, ignoring the sticky blood that covered him and the pain in his arms and knees.
Alice stood there, shaking, still holding the knife. He delicately removed it from her hands, and drew her forehead towards his chest. The meteorwraith’s body lay at their feet. It was just one of the untold curses that had plagued the world since the impact of the three meteorites.
Colossus. Europa. Nero.
Their three names lingered in his thoughts for an instant before he swept them away. There was only name that mattered to him now.
, he thought to himself.
My dear Alice
He breathed in her scent, and held her tight.
As tight as he could.
“Go in peace.”
Father Paul watched in silence, head slightly bowed, as Father Claudio spoke those tired words, his arms raised towards the congregation. If such a poor, scattered group of faithful could be labelled as such.
Today the turnout was even lower than usual: three elderly ladies barely able to walk; Luke, he too only just capable of standing, but for reasons other than age; and two more people he’d never seen before – a man in worn clothes and what appeared to be his son.
They all rose quietly, as if the noise might shatter the fragile illusion they insisted on perpetrating upon themselves: that the Catholic Church was still alive.
He nodded his goodbyes to the faithful, watching them leave (whether or not ‘in peace’ he couldn’t know). Just before closing the church door behind him, Paul hesitated, his eyes lingering upon the bleak, colourless view outside.
When did I last see the sun?
he asked himself. He couldn’t remember. England had never been too generous, in terms of weather. But this, this was different.
Eerie grey clouds hung above the small town of Bately, and stretched out in all directions, as far as the eye could see. An occasional pale glow along their uneven fringes was the only feeble reminder on the light that had once bathed this corner of the Earth.
You’re fooling yourself
, thought Father Paul with the hint of a bitter smile,
the weather was rubbish. Always has been. This is England, remember?
Ah, to be in Italy, or Spain perhaps, back before the impact. To walk along the beach in Sorrento, bare feet softly sinking in the hot sand, the summer heat almost overwhelming. Couples lying on their beach towels, children shrieking with joy as they ran towards the glittering Mediterranean waters. And then, maybe, to sip on a glass of wine in the evening, in some cheap sea-side restaurant, enjoying the sunset. Those had been the days.
But this torn stretch of southern England was, despite it all, far better than many, many other places. If nothing else, they still had a bit of vegetation. Father Paul distractedly crossed himself at the thought of the millions who were suffering, both here and elsewhere.
With a last look at the hills, slumped over the land like decaying bodies, he slowly shut the church door behind him.
* * *
Father Claudio sat at a wooden desk, in the small unadorned room that he used as his rectory.
In front of him sat a glass of what Paul guessed was whiskey. Claudio silently watched the younger priest enter the room and hang his chasuble – the white vestment worn during liturgical services – in the wardrobe. Paul could feel his eyes on him as he did so. Doubtless, they shone with the slightly irritating spark of sarcasm that seemed to be ever-present in Father Claudio’s gaze.
“Why do they even fucking bother?” Claudio asked. His Spanish accent got stronger when he’d had a glass or two.
Paul concealed his irritation towards the other man’s cursing.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” he said, waving his hand in the air. “They turn up – five, maybe six of them – and sit through Mass. They listen to the liturgy, they pray and all. Have you noticed the old women? They stare at the cross with tears in their eyes, waiting for our Saviour to step down and whisk them off to the high heavens, far from the shit hole the world has become. Well. Here’s the news – it ain’t gonna happen, ladies.”