Since the first of us stood up in the Great Rift Valley, humans were obsessed with how their world will end. Eschatology, the study of the end times, has been at the root of major religions, scientific initiatives, and lunatics shouting on street corners. Ragnarok and Rapture, Big Crunch and heat death, there was no shortage of ideas on every step of the continuum betwixt science and faith.

Would anyone have guessed that the end would come through the gradual unraveling of reality?

It started in the densest and most populated places. People started noticing areas in which time slowed, gravity behaved erratically, and light did not refract properly. They were regarded as mere curiosities until they began to grow. What had been a simple fuzzing of light at the center of the anomalies soon became utter blackness, only fading into focus and light at the edge of each anomaly.

In time, they grew to consume most of the urban areas, leaving only treacherous ruins and parts of skyscrapers hanging impossibly amid the abyss. Anyone entering–or falling into–one of the anomalies was never seen again; experiments with ropes and pulleys came to naught. New ones formed as well, with the only one piece of apparent rhyme or reason to their emergence: they seemed to appear where humans congregated most thickly. City life quickly became intensely dangerous: trading the safety of pastoralism for comfort could mean vanishing into a hole in the fabric of reality.

Perhaps the effect was inevitable, a natural function of the universe never before observed. In that case, assigning fault would be like blaming a man for a thunderstorm. But there was no shortage of theories as to why the perceivable universe seemed to be rotting from the inside out.

Animals were occasionally seen to emerge from the anomalies after entering, for one, suggesting that all or part of the phenomenon was limited to humans and their constructs. Some argue that the very act of human perception and cognition, especially when concentrated, has overwhelmed some sort of natural balance. Those of a philosophical/religious bent have seen in the decay the fulfillment of any number of prophecies.

All that’s certain is that the decay continues at an accelerated rate.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

He’d lived a remarkable life, being born sometime in the 1850s when his tribe still practiced their traditional way of life as farmers and herders and dying well into his 90s (at least) in 1941. His real name was long-forgotten, lost with most of his people when they were moved to a reservation; people mostly called him John Green.

From the time his people were forcibly resettled around 1885 until his death, John Green lived a quiet life in his ramshackle government-provided reservation house, tending to his true passion: gardening. As a youth he’d been trained in the cultivation of the Three Sisters: squash, corn, and beans.

Finding himself with nothing but time on his hands, John Green set out to perfect them.

He carefully bred and nurtured new varieties of each in his garden, year after year, decade after decade. The cultivars that worked were sold out of a small booth in the nearest town every other Sunday. John Green was intensely private, but did show the occasional interested party around his garden; a notebook from a state official that visited him in 1927 is the best source for many of the varieties he created.

Ordinarily, that’s where it would have stopped; John Green, the interesting footnote in botanical history, the humble man responsible for over 45 varieties of corn, beans, and squash.

But that was before the contagion that began sweeping through the cornfields of Middle America, resulting in massive crop failures and the specter of a supply chain collapse for the first time in centuries. The only strains resistant to it?

John Green’s.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The isle of Cevkawesi in the East Indies, known as Kawas to the Dutch and Portuguese, was of little interest to Europeans prior to Dutch consolidation of their colonial rule post-1814. It was small and mountainous, with few of the spices or safe harbors desired by the VOC or the Crown in Lisbon.

In fact, Cevkawesi was best known for the volcanic eruption of its central peak in 1800, one which violently ejected much of the central island into the sky and left a caldera full of seawater. While paling in comparison to the eruptions of Tambora (1815) and Krakatoa (1883), the eruption still caused a localized cooling and mild tidal waves in nearby harbors, with ashfall recorded in Jakarta and Singapore.

However, archival research has indicated that the island may have been inhabited at the time of the eruption. The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie archives in Amsterdam show a visit to Cevkawesi by a trading vessel in 1787, and the master’s official report includes mention of oerbevolking (aboriginal inhabitants), ru├»nes van steen (stone ruins), and hindoe beelden (Hindu statues). The ship’s master’s notes indicate that there was little of economic value, mentioning that the inhabitants were squatting in the structures and did not appear to have the technology to make such structures.

In a controversial paper published in the Historical Bulletin of Southeast Asia and Oceania, a group of scholars argued that the VOC records indicate a relict population of a much larger empire or entity living on Cevkawesi and surviving in monumental architecture from an earlier period until the time of the eruption.

The paper went on to propose a number of origins for the “stone ruins,” from the Sailendra dynasty on nearby Java circa 800 AD to the Mataram kingdom circa 1000 or even the later Srivijaya, Singhasari, or Majapahit empires. A totally unique and independent origin was also discussed (the VOC ship’s master mentioned being unable to understand the Cevkawesis despite the presence of a Javan translator in the ship’s compliment).

It was possible, however unlikely, that the inhabitants of Cevkawesi had an entirely unique culture, architecture, and language.

Whatever the case, the answers lay buried on the flanks of the island. Volcanologists estimate that the eruption would have unleashed multiple pyroclastic flows into Cevkawesi valleys, scouring them clean of all life and burying any structures deeper than Pompeii.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Taera walked among the delegates, but she was not of them. In spite of the form she assumed there was no mistaking her for a mundane thing of dust and clay. There were waterfalls in her eyes, soft plains of waving grass in her hair, and the shifting expanse of desert sands played impossibly across her skin.

Even the delegates who has seen her before were visibly enraptured as if they were first beholding a world wrapped into a quasi-mortal guise. Some could be heard muttering wonderingly to themselves under their breath; from the audible snatches it was clear that each saw Taera differently–as they wanted to see her.

When she reached the dais, Taera turned and spoke in a voice that was both sea-breeze and premonition of storm. “We are pleased,” she said. “Pleased at the steps that have been taken and the progress that has been made.”

The rapturous applause that followed was indicative of how her praise cut to the quick of even the most hardened delegate’s soul.

“Under our guidance, you have done much to roll back the ongoing rape of the natural order,” Taera continued. “We spoke to you once of a gun at the temple of the world. You have removed the finger from its trigger.”

Pandemonium among the delegates. Even the most hardened, grizzled veterans of the cause, men and women who had torched dealerships and sunk whaleboats, responded as enthusiastic children.

“However.” That one word brought an unsteadiness to the acclamation. “The gun still remains, pressed to the very center of the world’s being. Eventually another hand will rise up to grasp it.”

Silence. The last cheers faded and there was no sound until Weatherby cleared his throat. “What would you have us do?” he asked.

“The immediate threat has been averted, but so long as hands exist to strike flint to rock, the danger remains. The cancer must not simply remiss; it must be cut from the body.”

Murmurs of unease. “I don’t understand,” Weatherby said, voicing the sentiment of all the delegates present.

“You ask us what we would have of you,” Taera said. “We can answer only in one regretful but necessary word. Extinction.”

Taera’s eyes flashed, burning with the molten force of a pyroclastic flow as the storm suggested in her tone of voice broke with shattering force. Weatherby didn’t have time to utter a sound before he was struck by blinding green lightning issuing from the center of the emissary’s being. He instantly crumbled to fine ash.

The other delegates, panicked, began to flee. But the green lightning arced from one to another, vaporizing each before each could move more than a step. Only a handful near the outermost periphery escaped the room with their lives.

“Flight will avail you not,” Taera boomed. “In your destruction lies the world’s salvation.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!