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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (7 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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Jason woke thirstier than he could ever remember and his exposed skin stung with sunburn. Blisters popped painfully across his lips when he tried to lick them and his head hurt like the worst possible hangover. It wouldn't surprise him if Marcus had given him a concussion. He looked up, the yellow gleaming sun bringing tears to his eyes. It felt like late morning. He'd been out for hours.

The air smelled of dead fish and decaying vegetation. His sour stomach grumbled in hunger. He looked down from the guttered roof. The water had receded during his sleep, leaving behind large puddles and residual mud that stained the walls two stories high. Debris littered the muddy ground, mostly unrecognizable junk from his vantage point. Debris that had been cherished possessions not so long ago.

He crawled inside the open window, falling onto the frilly mud-streaked bed. The dead girl's bedroom.
Gabby
. He'd nearly forgotten about the family, then recalled the welcome sign he saw when he and Delaney entered town. Population 1573. He wondered how many people had survived.

The carpeted stairs already smelled musty, on the verge of mold. He covered his nose with his hand to block out the stench as he rushed to the door, hoping he wouldn't see three bloated, hogtied corpses piled in the corner of the living room. He didn't want to think about how he'd failed to save them, how he had barely made an effort at all.

Luckily, he didn't see them as he managed to stumble outside. He felt woozy and closed his eyes as he leaned against the doorframe. After a few moments of fighting off his nausea, he felt somewhat confident he wouldn't vomit.

When he looked up, he saw a handful of people gathered on a porch across the street. They stood around Marcus, who sat in a salvaged dining room chair.

Jason walked across the street, without fear of what they might do to him. Marcus wouldn't hurt him. After all, his brother had saved him twice since he destroyed the dam.

"You're going to be put away for a long time for this."

The bearded man who had blessed the water leaned over and spoke into Marcus's ear. His brother waved him away.

"You really need to adjust your mindset. You might think I'm crazy, but in the right light, any weakness can be seen as a strength."

Delaney sat on the ground next to Marcus, resting her arm on his thigh.

"You're no different than the society you've always railed against."

"'If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.' What you have witnessed is the correction of a ten-thousand-year mistake."

Jason stood and stared at Marcus, not recognizing him, unable to understand any of this, unable to connect one of his brother's comments to the next.

"You're a terrorist, Marcus. A murderer."

Marcus stood up, waving off the security of his followers. "I prefer the term liberator. Liberator of humanity, or better yet, of nature. Because humanity is nothing more than one facet of nature, one facet no more important than pond scum or wild flowers."

He placed a hand on Jason's shoulder, guiding him. They left the yard, walking down the ruined street of this once idyllic neighborhood. Shattered tree trunks were scattered about like discarded toothpicks. Mud caked every surface. "Look at this new fertile plain," Marcus said, gesturing broadly. "We will build sod huts and forage. We will stalk game and grouse in the soil for roots and rushes. We will live as God intended," he whispered into Jason's ear, his voice strong with his beliefs. With his insanity.

"How can you live with yourself?"

"Living is the entire point. Living within the system of nature, not dominating it and destroying it like a plague of locusts. The mistake man made ten thousand years ago? Do you know what that could possibly be?"

"What could humanity have done to deserve this?"

"It bit from the Tree of Life," Marcus said, sidestepping a sloppy network of mud puddles.

"What, like Adam and Eve?"

"Exactly! I think we're finally finding a middle ground. Here, let me explain. The Bible is fiction and myth. Adam and Eve, the Book of Genesis? That's a myth, too. But all myth is based on fact. The Tree of Life is merely a symbol. And biting into its symbolic fruit is the darkest moment in human history."

"You're starting to lose me."

"The Arkadium are descendants of that first couple, and their son, Abel. The rest of man descends from the Cain branch. The Arkadium have kept the story clear of myth and embellishment as they've passed it down for thousands of years. The symbolic Tree of Life is nothing more than the concept of man learning to domesticate plants. The moment when man left behind hunter-gatherer society and took up an agrarian one. Taking of that tree was the beginning of our end, the moment when we stepped away from a role that kept us in harmony with nature since our Genesis."

"If this is true, why have the Arkadium taken you in? Why have they made you one of their leaders?"

"Adam, the leader of the Arkadium, saw in me a certain skill, a skill that would translate well to the next stage in humanity.

"Members of the Arkadium all possess survival skills that they've honed in private for this great time of change. Our numbers include military snipers who have sharpened their skills on weapons made of sinew and sapling. There are traditional doctors who are now homeopaths steeped in the knowledge of poultices, herbal remedies and faith healing. A multitude of artisans are now able to practice long-forgotten survival skills out in the open, and they'll be able to pass on their knowledge to their children. Some have practiced for decades in silence for this day."

"And what is your skill?" Jason asked.

"People do what I tell them to. Strip away everything else I've done in my life, that is what I've always been good at. People listen to me, whether they're KKK kids or PTA parents."

"And what about me? Why not let me die like everyone else?"

As they walked, Jason took in the destruction a little bit at a time. Seeing everything all at once would be too much.

"All those people, everyone who's perished in the last day and in the coming days? They will be quickly forgotten. According to the Arkadium, there will be no more written word. Oral tradition will rise from the ashes of our former media."

Jason stopped in his tracks. If Marcus was speaking the truth, then there was no place for him in this world. He realized how obsolete he had instantly become.

"Unless, and this is where you come into play, unless you control the written word. It used to be that the victors in war controlled how it would be remembered. Now, if one person controls the written word, they control everything."

"Marcus, I can't—"

"What's done is done. There's no turning back. You can't worry about the past. If you do anything more than think about the source of your next meal or where to find shelter, you will die. Stand with me, Jason. The ties between us have been strained for far too long."

"You want me to be your historian?"

"Not
my
historian, the
only
historian. Of course, no one must know. No one would understand."

As they walked, circling back to where they'd left Marcus's people, their conversation sank in for Jason. Even in a cult forcing the world to its knees, Marcus had figured out a way to be even more devious. When they reached the group, a man handed Marcus a bundle of cloth.

"So, what is your answer?"

"No,
never
. I will not stand with you. I will not do your bidding. These people may live and die based on your word, but I'm immune. I've always been immune."

"I was afraid you'd say that." Marcus opened the bundled fabric and revealed a crude-looking knife.

"So, what, after everything, you're going to kill me?"

"No, not if I don't need to. And simple threats won't do, either. I know you. You can be quite stubborn."

Marcus grabbed Delaney by a fistful of her hair and pulled her in front of him. She cried out in pain, but then she looked over her shoulder at Marcus, an adoring gleam to her eye.

"What the fuck, Marcus!"

Marcus pressed the blade against Delaney's throat. Her expression never wavered; if anything, her trancelike gaze became imbued with lust. He pressed the blade against her skin, and beads of blood bloomed across the knife's edge.

"Join me, brother!"

"Marcus, please don't. She has nothing to do with this." Jason saw the look in her eyes, her dedication to Marcus unflagging even as he threatened to kill her. He couldn't help having feelings for her, and the jealousy he felt toward his brother.

"She has everything to do with this. And so do you. Join me, Jason, or her death will be on your hands."

The blood beads grew and joined together along the blade, trailing crimson streaks down her neck.

"Okay, fine!"

"Really?" Marcus said, surprised. He looked from Jason to the flint knife and back again.

"Just... just put the knife away. I will follow you. I will do whatever you say. Just, please, no more killing."

Marcus lifted the blade from Delaney's throat.

"Brothers," Delaney said. "There's no stronger bond." She wrapped her arm around Marcus and wiped the blood from her neck. She licked her fingers and buried her face against his chest.

Turning away from his younger brother, Jason had an unsettling feeling twisting in his empty stomach. For the first time in his life, he felt younger in comparison. Naive. Vulnerable.

At some point, he would try to turn the tables on him. But for now, he needed to find out the extent of the calamity and, if the end of civilization really had happened, how to survive in its wake.

Marcus stepped away from Delaney and put his hand on Jason's shoulder. When Jason looked over, his brother smiled. "I'm so glad you could see my side of things. See, I told you I'm a good leader, that people tend to do whatever I say."

 

 

Part II

 

Chapter 6

 

 

 

Someone pounded on the corrugated metal door of the abandoned service station and then opened it a crack, sending a wedge of sunlight across the shop floor near Jason's feet. He sat on a rickety wooden crate under one filthy window to catch the meager light. Dust billowed before him, sure to fall and settle upon a ruined landscape caked in drying river mud.

"Hey, Marcus," said a voice at the narrow gap at the door, "we should probably get on the move like we planned." It was Hector, Jason could tell by his slight Hispanic accent. Hector, who seemed to be his brother's lieutenant, did as he was told and remained outside the ruined shop.

"Thank you for your concern, Hector, but I need a little patience." Marcus stood with his arms folded, staring at a water-logged nude centerfold tacked to the wall.

"Yes, sir." The door closed once again, taking the sunlight with it. Now, only dirty light shone through a few grimy windows, making it difficult for Jason to see what he was trying to write.

Jason would be dead right now if one of Marcus's followers hadn't caught the boy spying on them from inside one of the ruined houses. If the boy hadn't been caught, Jason would've already pushed back against his brother's will, pushed back to the point that Marcus would've had no other choice but to kill him. But… the boy.

"It's a shame. Some things will change that I wish could remain constant." Marcus paused as if testing the words. "Beauty will be measured on a different scale… a scale without artifice." He traced his index finger along the curvy centerfold's curled hair, then down her slender waist. "I suppose sacrifice isn't meaningful without pain. Am I right, brother?"

The putrid air sickened him. The unrelenting hopelessness of his situation did as well. Jason had no answer.

Marcus turned abruptly toward Jason and smiled at his bruised and battered face. Without a word and with fresh blood in his mouth, Jason submissively dropped his gaze to the spiral notebook balanced on his lap. He heard a soft slapping sound and shot a glance at the hydraulic pit in the center of the room. When he realized what it was—the boy's hand smacking against the cloying surface of oily mud—he breathed a sigh of relief. If he didn't do what his brother wanted, this place would not only become his tomb, but the boy's as well.

"All right, let's see how you did this time." Marcus held out his hand for Jason's third attempt at writing the first entry of the New History. When the first two entries weren't up to Marcus's satisfaction, he beat him for it until his own knuckles had split and Jason's head swam with incoherent thoughts. Now, after nearly an hour of struggling against mounting fear and the gloom and oily stench of the service station, Jason hoped he'd finally produced what Marcus was looking for.

Jason hesitated, but realizing he had no leverage, he relented and handed over the notebook. "I tried, Marcus." He felt like crying, wanting strangely, to please him with what he'd written. He'd never felt so small, so used. "I really did."

"I have faith in you, Jason. That's why you're still alive."

"You're a fool if you think no one else is writing things down." He couldn't help pushing back a little.

"I'm sure there are. But they will be ferreted out and eliminated."

"So the Arkadium has a writing police?" It sounded so ridiculous saying it out loud. He also realized he knew so very little about Marcus's doomsday cult.

"Something like that." He chuckled. "Someday I'll tell you about the Anaki, that is, if we don't stumble across them first. They are gruesome motherfuckers, for sure. But now, let me read." Marcus began, his lips moving along with the words.

Jason sighed with a lump in his throat as he watched his brother. The other members of the group, numbering around three dozen as far as Jason could tell, had taken up strategic defensive positions outside the service station. They were all now well-armed with AR-15 assault rifles, courtesy of the Arkadium, and dressed in jungle camo and other dark clothing. When the supplies were being handed out, Hector had offered Jason a full complement of gear as if he were any other member of the group that had just taken down civilization. It wasn't difficult to turn him down.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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