The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)

By: Mark R. Healy

Part One



The flashlight was starting to give out. It threw a murky yellow disc across the pavement, enough to accentuate the shadows in the street but little else – a poor excuse for illumination. As I watched, it winked and then went out.

Thumping it in my hand, I tried to jolt it back to life as if hammering on the chest of one whose heart had stopped. It was no use.

The motion of my feet ceased and I listened. Something out there was watching me.

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt it. In the past weeks I’d experienced this same feeling before – an indefinable knowing that I wasn’t alone, that there was some kind of presence nearby and that it observed me, not unlike a hawk watching a mouse in a field. I felt that any minute now it would decide that it had waited long enough, that it had finished toying with me and now the game was over, that there was no more satisfaction for it to derive from this pursuit. It was time to end it, to swoop down with a wordless shriek, to rip and tear at my innards with talons and a wickedly curved beak until the light went out of my eyes.

I fought to push that idea from my mind. Imagination was a dangerous thing at times.

High above, the stars were coming out. The last breath of the day was spent, manifested by a cool breeze that eddied around my ankles and flapped at the folds of my jacket like the hands of an invisible assailant. I pressed my fingers to my chest. The fabric fought to squeeze between them, to cast itself at the mercy of the wind, but as suddenly as the breeze had arrived, it was gone. The fabric went limp and the street quietened as the last wisps receded across the concourse.

This was a city without people. The humans who had built it had perished long ago, and now it was an empty husk where the sound of their voices was but a memory.

I still thought of them often. My creators. I’d outlived them by many years, but still yearned for their return, to hear the reassuring sounds of their feet echoing in these streets again, to hear their voices. After so many years I’d had enough of traipsing this place alone.

But now I wasn’t alone. Something other than me was flitting between the shadows, unseen. I could sense it. And it was anything but reassuring.

I took a few quiet steps along the asphalt. There was a rustling in the gloom that seemed to mimic every movement I made, as if the thing out there was a shadow, masking its own motions in the furtive stirring of my own. A predatory thing that stalked me with great cunning and patience, waiting for the right time to strike.

Marauders? No, it wasn’t them. They would have come at me already by now, brandishing their machetes and screaming promises of violence as they thundered along the street. They would have taken me by force, not by patiently abiding in the darkness.

I hooked my thumbs under the straps at my shoulders and tugged them forward, the weight of the backpack transferring snugly to the curve of my back. With that secure, I ducked into a crouch and moved rapidly to the alleyway nearby, poking my head discreetly around the corner to survey its narrow confines.

Overhead, threadbare cables stretched between apartments and along the walls like cobwebs, disappearing in and out of gaping voids and crisscrossing into the upper reaches of the tenements, where one thick strand dangled vertically, swinging idly back and forth in little oscillations like a hangman’s noose.

Was this place truly hiding secrets from me, or was I just afraid of my own shadow, creating imaginary spectres in order to frighten myself? Tricks of the mind to alleviate the loneliness.

As if in answer I heard a noise down the alleyway, a rasping, drawn-out scrape like a blunt knife being dragged across wood. I shied backward involuntarily, then, edging forward, peered down the alleyway again. There was nothing moving, nothing altered since I had last looked.

I could leave now and be on my way, make my way home while there was still enough light to see, make it to the security of four walls and shelter from the evening chill. That was the safe option, the easy option. It was probably also the prudent choice.

I knew that it would gnaw at me, though, the source of this unknown presence that seemed to monitor my every movement. It would dog me as I fled home, as I lay in the darkness of the house, watching the windows for signs of movement. It would be waiting in the morning when I stepped back into the sunlight and looked out across the city, teasing me.

It would eat me up, knowing that I’d had a chance to unravel the mystery and had failed to take it.

I needed to go after it.

Slinking away from my place of concealment I shuffled down the alleyway. The wind stirred again, ruffling little flaps of garbage at my feet, and I noted that among them were the decaying remains of those who had died in the Winter, their forms now nothing more than mounds of brittle grey bones entangled in scraps of clothing. An undignified kind of resting place, I thought remotely, but one that I had seen all too often in my travels. I had mourned for so many of them over the years, understanding the pain of what they must have gone through, but now was not the time for such sentimentality. I needed to focus.

A wooden doorway appeared on my right, bent and broken inward, within which I could see a staircase leading up into the dimness of the building. I stood and listened. Drifting down the stairwell, I thought I could detect the barest hint of that scratching and rasping I’d heard before, permeating the quiet. Something moving, sneaking about.

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