July 4, 2076, 7:00pm, Seattle, Washington (July 5, 3:00am, London Time)
The man walked through the streets slowly, his head bowed solemnly. Grey smoke coiled and rolled around him, whispering softly on the rubble-strewn pavement. Spirals of thicker black smoke filtered out through the blank grey wall, hovering around the man and the small party behind him. Flashes of bright orange and gold erupted in the hazy dimness, sparking and flashing like fireworks. A wry smile crossed the man’s face, a bittersweet smirk at the morbid irony.
The once proud buildings were hollow shells, with gaping black windows and bits of broken glass trickling down like soft rain. Soft chimes echoed when the shards shattered on the sidewalk. Their eyes wide and glazed, the small crowd followed behind the man, stepping over debris with unnatural ease, ignorant of the small flames flickering around them.
Splayed on the streets, their limbs twisted grotesquely and their lips cherry red, were hundreds of mangled bodies. Mouths were half open in screams, eyes were half closed, and some hands lay on the ground, grasping vainly for the cold hand of their love. Empty eyes watched impassively as the man moved through the city, heads lolling on limp necks and legs stretched out in front of them. One woman lay curled up on herself, her back charred and her dress burnt through, with the fragile corpse of child tangled underneath her. A line of dried blood ran from the corner of the child’s pale lips, and small flames flickering in the girl’s sooty blonde hair. Ugly red burns mutilated the girl’s delicate features, twisting them into a misshapen mask. Her small hands, with bits of raw red flesh and bone visible under flaps of loose skin, were pressed against her mother’s stomach, as though she had been trying to push her mother off her after her mother’s death before dying of the burns. The man looked away, a silent tear slipping down his face.
Ashes lay scattered thickly on the ground as the man and his followers approached the center of the city. The buildings were little more than rubble, ash, and teetering steel support beams, and all that survived, other than the carpet of dark ash swirling around his feet and the bone fragments crunching under his boots, were sooty wristwatches and half-melted wedding bands. Anyone this close to the center of the charred starburst on the ground had been burnt to a crisp within seconds. The ash was made chunky with scattered chunks of bone, but so many bones seemed to have simply shattered, or been crushed by massive chunks of debris into fine powder.
The man knew that there were survivors, stragglers with dark eyes and vacant expressions farther from the center of the city, but they would die off eventually from radiation poisoning. They would be trapped by the same massive white bubble, a government monstrosity encasing the entire city in order to keep the radiation from escaping into the world, which towered over the city. The bubble had begun to be raised within seconds of the bombing by some FBI or CIA big shot in Washington, D.C., or even the Commander in Chief himself, and had taken less than an hour to be cover the entire city like a white fishbowl, or a neon white sky, blindingly bright.
He stood in the center of the black starburst, where no remains of a bomb remained, and turned to face the dutiful group, forty strong, trailing behind him. The group, composed of mostly younger people, men and women both, knelt and bowed their heads. When they looked up at him, their eyes shown with love. The radiation and smoke did not affect them whatsoever, as long as they were with the man.
The man, no older than seventeen, ran a hand through his mop of brown hair as he faced his followers. His green eyes, flecked with brown and gold like a kaleidoscope, were dark and distant under thick eyebrows. His features, simple but handsome, were classically European, and his eyebrows were thick under the fringe that just barely brushed his eyes. He pulled his white jacket closer over the thin black T-shirt, suddenly cold, and fingered the gold crucifix dangling around his neck. The puncture marks in his wrists, large enough to stick a finger through, were hidden by the sleeves of the jacket now, but he rolled them up to reveal the holes in his arms, ringed by dry brown blood. The scars of small scratches, white and almost invisible now, ringed his head like a crown. Similar punctures in his ankles were hidden by heavy black boots.
“My brothers and sisters,” the man began, clearing his throat. His voice was slightly musical, deeper than expected from a slim man of only medium height, and he had a faint British accent. “It was told to you, long ago, that the sinners would be sent to Hell for their crimes against the Lord. Thousands of years ago, Adam and Eve forsook their Eden and accepted sin. Thousands of years ago, the Earth was flooded to purge it of sin. Thousands of years ago, a sacrifice” (he fingered the crucifix reverently, a strange expression coming across his face) “was made to save man from Hell!”
His followers stayed kneeling on the ground, their faces tearstained. Abigail, an emotional and empathetic girl of only sixteen, was biting her lip to repress sobs.
“Hell was promised,” the man continued, “for the sinners after their deaths on earth. But now,” he swept his hand behind him, indicating both the ruined city and the world as a whole, “Man has brought Hell to earth for himself. They say that the Father is not real because he does not save them from the devil. But even if the Lord could remove Satan entirely from humanity, man would create a new Satan in his place, as they have created a Hell to replace the paradise given to Adam and Eve! Only you, the chosen, turn your back on this Hell of your own creation, and so you shall be saved!”
The man approached Abigail, who turned her face up to him. Her tearful eyes shown with joy. He kissed her on the browj, and she faded, becoming first muted, then transparent, before ceasing to exist at all.
Tristan, a boy of only fourteen, was next in line. Innocent blue eyes peered up at the man from under honey blond hair.
“What of the dead here?” he asked quietly, his eyes sad.
“Worry not,” muttered the man, kissing Tristan on the brow. He too faded, as if he were a movie character using a green screen. “They will be judged with mercy,” the man whispered the empty air.
“Does death hurt?” murmured the next boy, eighteen-year-old Simon. Earnest brown eyes peered at the man from behind thick black glasses.
“Less than Hell,” replied the man, brushing his lips on the crown of the boy’s head, “and less than life.” Simon too faded away, becoming sepia toned, and then a ghost, and then he was gone.
The man kissed every one of his followers on the brow, offering words of comfort and accepting final prayers and words of love. When Lara, the last to leave, had faded away, the man turned to face the empty streets. Far in the distance, dark shadows were beginning to stagger through the fog.
“Why send you to Hell” the man asked the empty street, “when you create it for yourselves?”
The man clasped his cross and muttered his prayer, fading away just as his followers had before him, but much more slowly, inching his way toward transparency.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name….”
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