Nigel stared at his boss, naked terror in wringing hands and flaring eyes.
“Do we tell them?”
Professor Lingstrom flicked his eyes to the cameras blinking silently in the corners of the room.
“What about the people?”
“The military will decide.”
“Will they survive?”
“I have no idea if any of us will.”
They stared at the leaves in Petri dishes on the lab benches; leaves from across the globe, all telling the same story of extinction.
The first sinkhole had opened under New York, under the entirety of New York. It had taken 35 minutes for the metropolis to vanish into the depths. A few people survived; those on the outskirts who were able to run for safety. Many had watched husbands, children, and friends, incapable of resistance to the pull of the earth, sucked into the maw, unable to help or to look away.
Most were left deaf for days after, deadened by the sheer enormity of the sound of cracking concrete, shattering glass, earthquake ground tremors and the screaming. The screaming drove many to throw themselves into the hole; better to die than live with the memory of the screaming.
A stunned silence settled over the planet as the scale of the disaster became apparent. News anchors seemed fuddled, unable to believe the words coming from their mouths, practically begging their pet experts for logical explanations. There were none to be had. Many talked of fault lines and earthquakes and even nuclear strikes, but the truth became abundantly clear. The sinkhole had no explanation. The silence returned, drowning the confusion, the incomprehension of over 8 million people wiped out in half an hour.
Renewed screaming followed. Sinkholes opened up everywhere. 8 million dead in London, 3 million in Berlin, 2 million in Paris, 9 million in Tokyo, 11 million in Moscow, 3 million in Melbourne. The numbers blurred, became meaningless. People stood on the streets, unable to move, watching the occasional broadcast from national governments in their bunkers. Scattered pockets of people came together, leaving urban lives in groups no bigger than twenty to thirty. Hope came in the idea that only cities and large towns were being taken. Stay small, stay alive became a mantra for all.
When it ended it was estimated the Earth had lost 95% of its population. Groups were spread too far apart for proper communication. Power became something hoarded for emergencies. Food was rationed, but those left behind felt only relief. They’d faced the apocalypse and come out the other side. Battered, beaten, divided, but alive.
Amy sat on the grass, looking down over the tiny hamlet below. Smoke rose from a couple of cookfires, half a dozen people moved in the fields, but there was little sign of the frenetic pace she had known in Manchester. She missed it, but her mum was right; they’d survived and should be grateful.
It had taken 6 months to make their camp secure, to build up stocks from raiding the edges of nearby towns, but Bruce – their leader because he’d been a cop before the Sinking – reckoned they’d get through the winter now. No-one knew if government or troops would get their act together, offer some kind of aid and the general opinion was ‘fend for yourself’.
Amy liked autumn. She knew there wouldn’t be much in the way of harvest festivals or trick or treat this year, but the stillness in the air, the dewy spider webs and vibrant colours made it her favourite season. She watched a leaf twirl at the end of a dangling spider thread wondering if it was her imagination that the leaves seemed far redder this year. She scanned the trees around her and noted the lack of orange or yellow. Everywhere glowed red.
She pushed up and wandered over to the closest tree, placing her hands on the trunk for balance as she studied the foliage. All red. She stepped back, felt gooiness on her hands and made to wipe them on her jeans. Her breath came in a fast gasp. Her palms were as red as the leaves, sticky and unpleasantly warm, covered in a claret sap.
Before she could fully understand the red oozing from the tree bark, she felt a drop from above, then another. The sky ripped open with a thunderous clash and rain hammered down. Blood red rain. Before she got to the village she was swept away in a red torrent, the storm of blood drowning the land, washing away what remained of civilisation. The tempest swept around the globe, finished the job the sinkholes had begun.
Nigel watched the external monitor.
“Blood in the ground rising to the sky.” He muttered, over and over, rocking slightly on his heels. He barely heard ‘No’ issue from Lingstrom’s lips or the single gunshot, as he watched extinction play out before him.