THE OCEAN’S END
CHAPTER ONE: HELL STORM
Without an omen, the sky turned blood red and a hard rain poured. A massive black cloud that unleashed black lightning formed like a sudden stroke of paint then faded seconds later, and with every lightning strike there followed a crackling thunder that shook the ground. The mind-numbing vibrations did no physical damage, but once awakened from a trance of grisly images of mutilation and fire and deafening screams, objects in the environment rearranged—body parts switched with the flesh closest to it, human-made structures fused with nature, streets floated in the air and the crimson sky rained from the ground—but on the next clap of thunder, everything was back to normal.
Gusts of wind appeared. They carried screams and cries and sorrowful faces that floated away, unless human eyes gazed into it, which left the mind cursed with the sadness and suffering of the tortured soul the face belonged to.
Floods ensued, and the dead bodies in the streets crept up with the water. Those who stared from their windows, thankful to be spared from whatever wicked God is extracting its anger onto them, became bewildered when the dead revived and began swimming into an enormous crowd in the flooded streets.
The rain lost most of its strength a few days later, and the high water remained, giving no choice for people to leave their homes. Many succumbed to starvation; the growing, nauseous odor emanating from the steaming, dead water sickened those who didn’t seal off openings in their homes. It was impossible to see through the red that covered the windows, and other than the rain and occasional fierce wind, pure darkness, as if the world descended into a void, appeared then faded like snow. It terrified a lot of weak minds, and it also came with grim consequences. No one can define what truly occurred, but any mortal soul captivated by the darkness lost their eyesight and the ability to move—the starved relished the opportunity to not chase their meals.
The flesh of the enthralled rotted the bellies of the devourers. Countless days of endless, tortured screams drove feeble minds to open their windows and leap to their demise. In days, an ocean of death was established.
When the bodies soaked up most of the water, heavy rain once again took over the sky and painted the world red. Buildings with open windows and doors flooded, and the water cleared out the dead. Daring hearts tried to traverse the cursed sea in search of better conditions and were overwhelmed by the thick rain that forced them underwater.
Through the harsh current, callous rain, and murderers who wanted to feast on his flesh, traversed a man who braved the entrancing gaze of the whirlwinds and withstood the stalking darkness by using his soul—tainted by the act of slaughtering his wife and son for his own survival—as a shield and sword. Unlike the others, foolish enough to go outside with just their human skin, Jamie, who before the storm was a commercial diver for the fallen District of Clarenhye, went into the unforgiving climate with his diving mask and wetsuit, worn underneath a black shirt, leather jacket, and jeans, and his oxygen tank strapped to his back with duct tape and string. He fought off the seizing hands with the same wide blade he used to pry open his wife’s skull and hack her into pieces to ease cooking her flesh.
When the dark void came, he expected a black veil to drape over him but was unamused by the black fog that rolled in and whispered foreign words in his ear that failed to curse his mind, as it was already ensnared by the damnation and sorrow it wanted to plant in him.
To avoid the weeping winds, he plunged into the murky flood and swam with the dead humans and unnatural creatures that both frightened and intrigued him. Hideous beasts approached him, stared with their enlarged pupil-less eyes, then swam away in the opposite direction. Jamie wanted to study them, as he did in the past for his daunting job, but that calling grew short when various areas of his skin started to burn. The horrible sensation grew the longer he stayed in the water. He swam faster, but that only exacerbated the pain. Jamie grit his teeth and swam back to the surface. He was lucky enough to avoid the passing whirlwind and reach higher ground by climbing over a pile of bodies and crawling through a shattered window.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, Jamie dropped to the cold, wet ground and took a few deep breaths. The agonizing burning ceased. His body jerked as his hands massaged the painful welts and dents under his wetsuit. He lied still for a moment, remembering the way his son screamed when he fed him to enclosing cannibals. If not for that sacrifice, they both would have died from being eaten or drowned by the flood. The boy would have slowed him down, and besides, he only had one suit built for the murderous climate. It was best for his son to die back there, at least in the home he grew up in, rather than foreign water where he has zero chance of survival. Jamie continued to generate justifications for his heinous act while he rested. Each one improved his mood and blackened his heart.
Warmth brought attention to discomfort in his face. The straps from the mask dug into his jaw, and when he yanked the mask to remove it, his entire head went down with it. He pulled hard on the front of the mask, which hurt, but his determination numbed the pain. A forming puddle showed his ghastly reflection. Through the foggy goggles, he examined the new structure of his face; excessive, tiny holes spread from his chin to his forehead, layers of teeth molded together with the plastic of his mask, tubes from the diver gear grew into the tendons in his face, and the regulator was impossible to separate from his lips.
Panic struck upon realizing he could no longer speak. He clawed at the rough material of his face, chipped away at the small craters, and slammed his head against the wall to break the mask, all to no avail; to be left with excruciating pain and thoughts of instant death. Jamie staggered to his feet, endured the pain, and trudged through the rising water in search of a safer place to collect his thoughts. A staircase appeared behind a sign that read: levels 2-4.
Smeared bloody hand-and-footprints painted the area. He pictured the chaos of the escape; everyone pushing each other to the ground, begging to squeeze through or cut to the front of the line to the door.
The foul stench of death faded to the overwhelming pungency of sulfur. It irritated his skin like insects gnawing on his nerves. He screamed on the inside; hit his blade against the cracked wall in anger. Every moment in the building worsened the tightness in his chest. It was like fire coursing through the tubes in his throat, but he kept his blade clenched and mind alert.
He peered around the corner, counted the bodies scattered across the floor, and stuck to the walls by broken-off pipes. Jamie stepped in the squishy spaces between them, examined each one for edible flesh. Disappointed, he kept going, stopped cold when a door creaked open and a woman wearing nothing other than a black scarf that covered her face walked to the middle of the hallway.
“You are sick,” she said as her hands gestured toward the room. “We will heal you.” Her hands gestured toward the room. The air was toxic, yet the stranger spoke with a crisp tongue and normal breath. A devourer would have run after Jamie at first contact, and the cursed can’t move; though she appeared harmless, the strange scarf made Jamie uneasy. The storm exhausted all strength he had left to raise his blade, which slipped from his fingers as he dragged his feet over the bodies to reach her. Increased sulfur fumes attacked his lungs and weakened him to the point where his legs could no longer hold his weight.
He trembled before dropping to his knees at her feet.
A force pulled his paralyzed body into a candle-lit room. Hums and harsh breaths were all he heard during transport. On the floor were five severed heads mounted on spikes in a strange formation on the ground. Gutted humans hanging from the ceiling and several women twirling around with knives in their hands surrounded. A dark figure in the corner simultaneously moved its hips and removed the innards of a dead animal with its hands. Softness embraced the back of his body and calmed him. Throughout his drift into slumber, Jamie watched black and red silhouettes dance in front of the wavering flames of the candles. In a blink, the colors floated over him. They hummed and swayed side to side. The motion brought weight to his eyelids; an orange glow consumed everything before the world went black.
Jamie dreamt of rushing red water that swallowed all life. He dived into it and followed the beam of the yellow across the crimson ocean to a large village of unnatural beings. The odd creatures welcomed him with song and praise, similar to the melancholy tone the women used to lull him, then courted him to the depths where the monsters that swam in the flood dwelled. Down below raged a smoldering heat that could only endure in a dream. From far away, tailed and horned creatures glared their crimson eyes at him. Blurry and obscure shapes presented themselves to him and spoke in different foreign languages. He, captivated by their auras, reached for them; their essence flowed through his fingers like the rest of the water.
His admiration for the enigmas faltered at the sharp scent of sulfur. It cut his nostrils and woke him from the surreal dream. He jolted out of red tubes connected to his arms and legs, cried as he looked around the empty room and no longer saw a red hue, but walls covered in black smoke. It was a relief, though ominous to the recollection of the people he witnessed dancing. Their touch warmed him. Strength in his lungs returned, release of pressure on his back allowed easy exit out of the bed, — proof to his ego he was correct in choosing to enter the room.
The joy of being awakened and healed was flawed by the fact he existed in a world facing calamity. It was time to once again brave the storm in search of food and better shelter.
He got what he wanted from the people who disappeared, which, of course, came at a tremendous price. The light in the hallway showed his repulsive skin—gray holes spotted the dull, yellow skin of his arm and legs. His voice never returned, which was the major damage he hoped they would fix. However, in a dying population, interaction with survivors is unfavorable to him. They will either trick him for what he has or try to murder him. He reached for his weapon on that thought, confused that it’s missing. The door never budged open to retrieve it, so a broken pipe pulled from a skull sufficed as the replacement. Instinct led Jamie to believe everyone was after him, yet when he walked into the world free of the flood and blessed by a gray sky, the gaunt and pale survivors scrounging the damp streets shrieked in terror and ran from him. Their normal human appearance feared his altered body.
An outcast, Jamie walked to find self-acceptance in hidden corners, underground in the sewers, abandoned foundations, anywhere the storm left no one behind, and was unfortunate to find the peace he yearned for. People perished in front of him. He took their clothing and ingested whatever trinkets they had, then kept moving. He discovered that whatever procedure the people of the room performed not only modified his physical features but also removed his taste for humans and the food they ate. For days he feasted on garbage and metal objects, and anything with traces of sulfur.
As time passed, thoughts of his past silenced like his own voice. He morphed into an emotionless machine that scavenged for parts and fuel and possessed no desire for human interaction.
Faint whispers beckoned the more distance he put between him and the regular humans. The world aged before he would oblige their call. The voices stopped when he arrived on a sandy shore, just a short distance from a vast body of murky red water. Waves crashed at his feet. He gazed into the ocean, not seeing an end on the horizon. He bent down and planted his mouth into the water and sand — pure human blood engaged his senses and compelled him to enter the water. The powerful waves rushed his body, and he welcomed it.