The world has moved on. A virus wiped out most of the Earth’s population and only a handful of people survived. Percy is one of those survivors. After getting a fever, he survived with only a red mark on his arm. When another man knocks on his door with the same mark on his arm, Percy has no idea how crazy his world is about to become.
The world had been over for seven weeks when the rain began.
Percy could see it from his window. What was more, he could hear it. The rain fell not with the gentle music of normal rainfall, but with a hot, acidic sizzle. Slowly, he put his hand out the window but drew it back twice as quickly.
Looking at his hand, he saw small red welts where the rain had struck his skin. Smoke rose from the welts but he knew they wouldn’t last long. This wasn’t the first injury he had withstood since the world as he’d known it had come to a close.
He waited mere moments, a minute or two. Then his skin began to knit together. A stinging sensation moved down his arm and he watched the welts begin to lessen their red hue and then disappear altogether.
Percy stood there looking at his hand, at what had been mauled skin only a moment before. Now his skin was unblemished and whole again. He sighed. He had always said that geeks would inherit the earth. He just wished he hadn’t been right.
The trouble had started off innocently enough: Floods off the east coast of China, a breakout of hurricane like weather in Japan. Then there had been reports of the mass deaths of animals in the Australian outback, whole herds dying as one. First the marsupials, then the mammals had started dying off.
Leaders of the world were approached for a cause or a reason behind what was surely some sort of disease. The religious groups started talking about a new set of plagues that had come to wipe the earth clear of everything that the gods found unfitting. They were all wrong. No one knew what was causing any of the disasters.
Then the weather problems jumped from Japan and China and found their way to Niger, Guinea, and Mali. Temperatures increased to the point where people would bake alive if they remained outside for longer than ten minutes; houses were set alight just by the rays of the sun.
Then people started dying in Nigeria. Doctors could find no reason for the illness; they knew only that people were well one moment and then ill the next. They started talking in tongues first and then just screaming in wordless syllables. The self-mutilation would begin next, with people carving strange symbols in their skin. That was the last step before the people began to bleed from their eyes, as if they were crying out their souls. Then they perished. The whole illness took less than seventy-two hours to reach full effect.
Reports of this new disease were far reaching—from Poland to Egypt to Sudan. There was no rhyme or reason to how or why it struck and the religious folk started saying that it was the end of days. Watching everything unfold, Percy was left with no choice but to agree.
The panic really began when the first unexplained death happened in Argentina. The man, a scientist by the name of Hector Chavez, went to work to study the weather patterns off the cost of South Africa. He never left work. He started talking in tongues and within less than twenty-four hours, had cut strips out of his skin shaped like a triangle with a small dot in the center.
Looking at the dot, carved out of Hector’s flesh, Percy hadn’t known what to make of all of it. When Hector died, the animal herds of Argentina had begun to die quickly. The illness or plague had jumped continents and had come to South America. If a plague could move across water, there was no stopping it. Reports started to come in of illness and deaths in Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic. It seemed that temperature had no effect. It always behaved the same.
That had been around the time that Percy had woken one morning with a mark upon his skin. He had watched it grow as the days passed and panic began to reach a fever pitch. It was a few pale lines at first, as if someone had etched them underneath his skin.
In three days, it showed itself for what it was: a small circle that had five lines growing from it, almost like a five-pointed star. It seemed to pulse upon his skin.
He fully expected to die in a matter of hours. However, he didn’t feel sick or feverish. Instead, he experienced a surge in health that he’d never had before. He’d smoked all of his life and his breathing had always been poor. He had constant pain in his back and legs, but that melted away and his breathing improved.
As his health continued to get better, the mark on his skin changed once more. The five lines began to grow longer, until the little star had grown to a larger size. The tattoo covered his whole wrist now. He racked his brain to think of where he had seen the symbol before, but his memory still came up empty. Even now, with all the people in the world gone except a few, he was no closer to figuring out the symbol or what it meant.
When the scientists and doctors could find no reason for any of the catastrophes, and then perished from the illness themselves, everything went to shit. The plague and the weather disasters now spanned the world over. Percy had known then that there was no hope for the future. He had shut himself up in the top floor of an apartment building.
There was enough food in the penthouse to live off of for quite a while and, when pickings became slim, he scavenged and found whatever was left in other apartments. If there were people that had died in their homes, he covered them with sheets before taking what he needed. It seemed like the right thing to do.
From his vantage point twenty-five floors up, he could see others in other buildings, looking out their windows at a world they no longer understood.
Then, they too disappeared. He started to wonder if they had died or merely withdrawn into the dark. In seven weeks, the whole world had gone to shit and Percy still had no idea why. Seven weeks that felt like seven years. He felt as if he had aged three times over. Everyone around him had died and he had seen countless bodies in the streets. For some reason, he had survived and seemed to be thriving. He didn’t understand why he had been spared.
All he did now was ruminate on what the world had become. His only pleasure was found in the books that had been left behind by the previous tenants. Percy had always experienced a joy when he read, when he held a book in his hands. Now the books provided a refuge, a reminder that the world he’d left behind was not without joy, not without anything to remember it by.
As the rain continued to sizzle outside his window, he heard a sound outside the apartment door. He put the book he had been reading aside, setting it down beside a cup of tea, and went to the door. Listening, he heard footsteps. They had stopped just outside his apartment door.
“Hello?” A voice said “Can you hear me? I can feel you in there.”
The voice belonged to another man. Percy looked out the peephole and saw a bright hazel eye looking back at him.
“Please let me in. Please.”
It was the second please that did him in. Percy knew there was little kindness left in the world as it was now. Slowly, he unlocked the door, but did not disengage the chain. He was willing to help someone, but he wasn’t entirely stupid.
The man was breathtaking, even with the red splotches left on his skin from the rain. As he looked at him, he watched the red welts disappear as they had from his own skin.
Droplets of rain shone like small jewels upon the man’s gorgeous black hair. Percy wanted nothing more than to find out what it would feel like to kiss him. There was stubble across his chin and his lips were full and supple and that didn’t help the urge. Percy began to grow hard. He shook his head to clear it.
“You’re not sick,” Percy said, even though this was obvious.
“No, nor are you.”
“No,” Percy said. “How did you find me?”
“Like calls to like.” The man held out his left arm and stuck it through the gap.
Percy sucked in a breath. The man had the same mark upon his skin that he did, only in black instead of red. Intrigued, Percy reached out to touch the mark. When his fingers made contact, he felt a burning on his right arm. Looking down, he saw that the red mark on his wrist had turned black.
“What does this mean?” he whispered.
“It means you’re one of them, too. One of us.”
“One of us? Who are we, exactly?”
The man gave Percy a small half smile. “We get well despite the sickness and the plague. Our bodies improve themselves day by day, leaving behind all traces of physical maladies. There are a few names those like us are calling us as a group: the Blessed, the Cursed, the Survivors.”
He took a breath and Percy felt himself taking a breath, too. The man looked at him with those deep hazel eyes. “I like the other name some are using: the Masters of Death,” he whispered. “This will take time to explain. Would it be okay if I came inside?”
Percy nodded and unlatched the chain. As he did so, he felt that his life was beginning anew, which seemed odd, given that it had taken the end of the world for it to happen.
When the door was fully open, the man held out a hand. “I’m Colin.”
Colin stepped fully in the apartment and Percy closed the door behind him with the distinct impression that, somehow, another door was opening. All he had to do was step through it to find out what was on the other side.