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Reaping the Whirlwind

by Bradley Ramsey (He/Him) 5 months ago in fiction
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Three People, Three Stories, One Globe-spanning Storm

Image by Racyhel Sanner via Unsplash

Part one: The Broadcast

Becky sat beside her colleagues in silence, looking up at the monitors showing the cameras covering the nightly news. Tonight’s broadcast was consumed only by camera three, with the anchors providing a small introduction.

Camera three was for Ray Patterson, Channel 9’s resident weatherman. Ray was visibly disheveled, constantly adjusting his bright blue tie with shaking hands. His eyes were heavy, as if he hadn’t slept in days.

Becky leaned forward into the mic protruding from the console as her colleagues switched on the feeds.

“We are live in three, two, one.”

Becky’s gaze turned to camera one as the anchors, Sharon and Mark, who forced a frightened smile.

“Good evening, and welcome to Channel 9 News. As we’ve reported throughout the day, the storm composed of strange matter has continued to make its way across the Atlantic Ocean towards the East Coast of the United States,” Sharon said.

“Scientists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, continue to assure the people of the world that this storm, which originated at the LHC or Large Hadron Collider, is not apocalyptic in nature, and will dissipate on its own over the course of the next twenty-four hours,” Mark said.

Sharon nodded, adjusting the papers nervously on the news desk.

“We urge our viewers to remain vigilant, however, as the dangers of the storm are well documented from early reports coming out of Europe. Next, we turn to Ray Patterson, who will tell us what we can expect, and how we can keep our families safe through the night. Ray?”

Becky leaned forward and switched the main feed to camera three. Ray didn’t bother with pleasantries, instead opting to jump right into it.

“Folks, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. You know me for my wacky ties, my shitty weather puns, and my always positive attitude, but I can’t be that person for you this time. Reports coming out of Europe are horrific to say the least. Death tolls are in the thousands, possibly millions. This storm may not end the world as we know it, but for many of us, tonight will be the end.”

Becky let out a quiet sigh as she triggered a graphic to appear on screen beside Ray. The graphic depicted a video on loop, taken on a smartphone through someone’s window. The sky above the skyline was thick and black, filled with clouds that churned like shimmering oil.

From above, massive tentacles swept down, ripping entire buildings from their foundations and carrying them back into the shifting liquid sky. The video was only a few seconds long, but as the graphic faded, Becky shuddered and reached for her cup of coffee.

“What you saw there was just one of the many reports we’ve been receiving. This storm defies all logic, and we’re being told that, as time goes on, strange creatures are falling from the sky and wreaking havoc on the populace. These events are simply the beginning, however.”

Becky triggered the next graphic. An artist's representation of a figure in a hallway depicting a person standing in the shadows between two doors. Their face was a twisted visage, the eyes, mouth, and nose were spun around the head like water swirling down a drain. Despite the blurred nature of its face, it was easy to make out a twisted smile.

“The strongest phase of the storm triggers indescribable hallucinations. People have reported seeing doppelgangers like the one you see here. They’ve also described their homes taking on non-euclidian features, twisting in ways that are not possible. Despite being hallucinations, the threat is very real. The very sight of them poses a risk to your sanity.”

Becky switched to the next graphic. A quick and dirty job put together by the studio’s graphic designer. It showed three steps to take to prepare for the coming storm.

“You can find this image for download on our website now, but I will explain the three steps in detail.” Ray said.

Becky switched to step one, which advised people to go underground.

“First, try to seek shelter underground. Cover any and all exterior-facing windows with tape or another thick adhesive.”

Becky switched to the second step, which was, simply put, to numb yourself however possible.

“Our second step may sound counterproductive, but it is essential. Regardless of your age or health, you must take steps to dull your perception and awareness. Alcohol, prescription drugs, even illegal substances, taken in small quantities, can mean the difference between surviving the sights and sounds you’re about to encounter, or permanently going insane.”

Becky switched to the third step. It was another simple directive that urged people to stay near a source of light at all times.

“Lastly, you must stay near a source of light. Power will go out, so have flashlights, a source of fire, or something else nearby. If one of the creatures from the storm gets into your house, any kind of light will deter and possibly frighten it to the point where it will leave. We’ve also been told that loud music or sound can frighten them. Do not try to harm them with conventional weapons, they have been confirmed to be entirely ineffective.”

Becky closed the graphic and watched as Ray lowered his head for a final thought.

“It has been an honor to be your source for the weather these last twenty years. It pains me to report on this inexplicable, unprecedented event, but as they say, the show must go on. My friends, hold your loved ones close tonight. Say a prayer to whatever god or higher power you place your faith within, and follow the three steps as best you can.”

Beck switched the camera back to the anchors for the closing remarks. She reached for the bottle of whiskey behind her chair and poured the remainder of the liquid into her coffee cup.

“Thank you, Ray, and thank you to everyone out there watching from the safety of your homes. If the world is still here tomorrow morning, we will be back to report the news as we always do. Any final remarks, Mark?” Sharon asked.

Mark broke eye contact with the camera, staring off into the distance.

“We did this to ourselves. We shouldn’t have meddled with the fabric of the universe. Hosea, chapter eight, verse seven reads: ‘For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.’ May God have mercy on our souls.”

Becky cut the feed and drank the last of the whiskey mixed into her coffee.

“Here comes the fucking whirlwind.”

Part Two: The Mass

Image by Zoltan Tasi via Unsplash

Walter Simmons had heard the announcements. He’d seen the broadcasts from emergency services and watched the news. It still didn’t make any sense.

A storm, but not one composed of wind, rain, and lighting. Instead, it carried horrors and hallucinations beyond comprehension, and brought nothing but unimaginable destruction and insanity in its wake.

Walter didn’t claim to understand the concept of “strange matter,” or how some underground facility in Europe could have unleashed it, but he had seen the footage, and that was enough.

Disheveled, half-drunk, and smelling like he hadn’t showered in a week, Walter was turned away from shelter after shelter. Not because of his appearance, but because they were already full.

And so, he went back to a place that he had sworn he would never enter again:

A church.

He sat quietly in the back corner of the cathedral. Packed wooden pews surrounding him were filled with people in various states of panic, clutching their children and their spouses in equal measure. Tears flowed like rain, and sobs echoed across the vaulted ceilings like distant haunting wails.

“May I sit here?” a voice asked.

Walter turned and saw an elderly priest standing beside him. He had kind, calm eyes, which was the last thing Walter expected to see.

“Sure,” he replied.

The priest sat down and looked out at the packed church in silence.

“What brings you here, my son? Other than the storm, of course.”

“Trust me father, this wasn’t my first choice. I haven’t been a believer in a long time.”

“Oh, and why is that if I may ask?”

Walter bit his lower lip as the tears crashed against the inside of his eyelids.

“I lost everything in the accident. Everything. My wife. My daughter. My reason for living,” Walter said.

“I am so sorry, but you must know that God had no hand in that,” the priest said.

Walter turned to the priest, enraged by his calm demeanor.

“No hand in it? What kind of God lets that happen? What kind of God lets a storm like this sweep the globe and kills millions or even billions of people? Even If He’s real, he doesn’t give a shit about us!” Walter said, unable to contain the tears.

The priest laid a hand on Walter’s shoulder as he sobbed into the pew.

“I understand your anger, my son. Many people have asked me these same questions in my years at this church.”

“And? What did you tell them?”

“God’s plan is not for us to know or to understand. We simply must have faith and know that we will one day be reunited with those we have lost,” the priest said.

Walter let out a sarcastic chuckle. “Of course you’d say that.”

The priest stood to his feet and patted Walter on the shoulder one last time.

“I am glad you are here. This storm brings darkness and evil, but shadows cannot exist without light to cast them. There is a reason you are here tonight.”

Walter raised his head, his sadness now replaced with anger and rage.

“What reason could there possibly be for all of this? Have you heard the news, we’re all going to die here! This isn’t an underground shelter, it’s a fucking church!”

The priest looked to the nearby people who had stopped to listen and extended his hand to calm them. He looked back to Walter.

“This is the safest place you can be during a storm such as this,” the priest said.

Walter watched him walk away as his jaw hung open in shock. How could he believe any of what he had said? He sat back in the pew, trying not to make eye contact with the people still watching him like an animal at the zoo.

“Just let me die in peace, will ya?”

They went back to their own business. Walter reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a flask. The sensation of the liquid inside sloshing against the side was comforting. Like the embrace of an old friend.

He took a swig and relished the burn in the back of his throat as the priest took his place at the pulpit. The church went quiet as he adjusted the microphone.

“My friends, members of the church community, and any guests that have taken refuge here on this night of nights, I welcome you. Though this place was built by human hands and made from stone and wood, it has withstood every storm and strife. You sit upon hallowed ground, guarded by the might of God’s army of angels, and no harm shall come to you this night.”

Several people in the audience whispered an audible amen and held their hands to the sky. Walter rolled his eyes and took another swig from his flask.

“The book of Psalms, chapter ninety-one, verses one through five, tells us that ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the almighty. He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart,” the priest said.

Walter could feel the priest's gaze from across the room. It was overwhelming.

“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.’ Let us pray,” The priest said, finally turning his gaze away from Walter.

The wind picked up outside the church’s thick doors. Walter could hear the ancient wood groaning. He couldn’t make out the specific words, but he swore he heard whispers carried on that frenzied wind. The priest bowed his head, as did the congregation. Walter reluctantly lowered his head as well.

“God, we come to you now as a storm of darkness and shadow sweeps across our home. Lord, we do not claim to understand your plan, or the nature of the wickedness at our doorstep, but we believe in your perfect will. We ask that you dispatch your angels to guard this sacred place until the storm has passed. In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Amen.”

Walter wasn’t sure if it was the whiskey or how the priest had a way with words, but he felt a temporary moment of calm and peace he hadn’t felt in a long time. He opened his eyes and shook his head.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, just stories for sad saps meant to make them feel good.

Walter gripped the edge of the pew with white knuckles as a thunderous roar swept over the church. It was unlike any thunder he had ever heard. The sound came from the right, then the left, and then the right again. The ground trembled beneath his feet as bright light flashed through the stained glass windows that lined the walls of the cathedral.

Brilliant shades of red, blue, and green flashed across the terrified faces of the congregation as the light filtered through the windows.

“Brothers and sisters, we must not let fear take hold! Everyone, stand to your feet!” the priest shouted.

Walter stood up. His head snapped towards the door in the back as something slammed against it with incredible force. The smell of sulfur and ash wafted from outside as the ragged breath of some monstrosity heaved just outside.

“Everyone, do not concern yourself with the wolves at our door! Psalms, chapter twenty-seven, verses five and six: ‘For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling! He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent, and set me high upon a rock. Then, my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at this sacred tent, I will sacrifice with shouts of joy. I will sing and make music for the Lord!”

Walter snapped out of his frozen state as music filled the space like a tidal wave. The elderly woman at the pipe organ let loose a melody that shook the very halls around them.

“Sing, brothers and sisters, sing to the Lord! Page two hundred and seventeen in your hymnals.”

Walter was dazed and confused. The whispers he had heard on the wind had elevated to a dull roar in his ears. Incomprehensible speech, assaulting his mind like thousands of needles. He reached for the hymnal, no longer worried about his pride or his hatred for God. He simply wanted to drown out the voices in his head.

The congregation raised their hands to the sky and their voices became one. Walter followed along in the hymnal, softly singing the lyrics even if he didn’t believe the words. The sound was soothing to his ears. It was the only thing that seemed to help.

Surrounded by darkness, fear takes hold.

The enemy closes in, my heart becomes cold.

I cry out to my God, seeking out the light

Death has no power in the face of his might.

Lord God, fill this place with your love

Deliver us from this evil, take us high above.

We ask for your protec—

The congregation's song was cut short as every window in the cathedral shattered at once. A shower of colored glass splashed across the people as they ducked and covered their heads. Wisps of a black substance crawled in through the broken windows, moving through the air like ink on a page.

“Don’t stop singing! God is listening, church, let him hear our praise echoed in the halls of heaven!” the priest shouted.

The congregation resumed their worship. Walter watched as the black tendrils slinking through the air retreated at the sound of the pipe organ. He looked back down to the hymnal and paused as he felt something brush his hand.

He looked away from the book in his hands and turned to his left. A woman stood beside him with vibrant auburn hair and emerald eyes. She smiled as her fingers intertwined with his.

Walter struggled to breathe, like someone had taken all the air from his lungs. He felt a tug at the sleeve of his jacket and spun to his right. A young girl, no older than six, with shoulder-length golden brown hair and matching eyes looked up at him with an innocent smile.

“This can’t be real,” Walter whispered as tears flowed down his cheeks.

“You have to sing, Walter,” the woman said.

“Yeah daddy, sing to make the monsters go away,” the young girl said.

Walter wiped the tears from his eyes and looked down at the hymnal.

They said you would hallucinate, that you would see things. This can’t be real.

Real or not, Walter surrendered to the moment. He felt the warmth of his wife’s touch on his left arm. His daughter reached out and took his right hand. These were things he had forgotten. Things he had assumed were lost to time.

Together with his family, Walter sang with all his heart. Blinding flashes of light poured through the gaping holes where windows once stood. A foul wind blew through the church, carrying the smell of blood and sulfur, but Walter didn’t stop singing.

Inhuman screams tried to cut through the music, but did little to slow the song's march forward. Walter sang until his voice was hoarse, catching only glimpses of the horror that raged outside the stone walls surrounding him.

After what seemed like an eternity, the chaos began to abate. The priest laid down his hymnal and the pipe organ’s powerful chords dissipated into mere echoes. Outside, there was only silence. The congregation held their collective breath, waiting for the chaos to resume, but it didn't. The storm had passed.

People rejoiced, embracing their loved ones as the visibly exhausted priest made his way down the aisle. He stopped at Walter’s pew and looked at him with tired eyes.

“We did it,” he said.

Walter nodded. Just as soon as they had appeared, his wife and daughter were gone once more.

“I saw them. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I saw them,” Walter said.

“Faith, my son, is setting aside what’s possible and embracing something more. Something we cannot see, touch, feel, or understand.”

Walter let out a long sigh. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“It's okay to be uncertain. Faith is a journey, not a destination. Maybe we’ll see you here again next Sunday?” the priest asked with a wry smile.

Walter chuckled. “Yeah, yeah maybe you will.”

The priest resumed his rounds. Walter stood to his feet and walked to the entrance of the church. He felt something weighing heavily in the pocket of his jacket. It was his flask. Filled with cheap whiskey.

He took it out and threw it in the garbage can beside the door before exiting the church.

Part Three: The Eye

Image by Pawel Czerwin via Unsplash

“The world will not come to an end when the LHC turns on. The LHC is absolutely safe. ... Collisions releasing greater energy occur millions of times a day in the earth's atmosphere and nothing terrible happens.”

- Prof. Steven Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Cambridge University

Nathan O’Connell was nothing to no one, save for the barkeep at the pub that he frequented on a daily basis. Even the barkeep was gone now. Nathan sat hunched over the polished wood of the bar, hand gripping a half-pint of beer.

On the ground beside him, propped up against one of tables, was a scientist bleeding out through a gaping wound in his stomach. Blood soaked through his white lab coat and seeped through his fingers. He struggled to speak through trickles of it running down from his lips.

“So, you’ll do it?” the scientist asked.

Nathan finished the last of his beer and sighed. “Yeah, I'll do it. It's a good thing I said I'd quit drinking tomorrow.”

Nathan stood up from the bar stool and looked down to the device on the ground beside the scientist. It was a mess of wires and metal, with straps tied onto it that made it look like some sort of high tech backpack.

It weighed at least twenty pounds. Nathan groaned as he slipped the straps over his shoulders and felt the warm hum of the device on his back.

“It has to breach the event horizon. That’s the only way to trigger the reaction,” the scientist said.

Nathan nodded. “I know, you mentioned that already. Save your strength, I’m not going to pretend I understand how any of this works. I just know that this thing is the only hope we have to stop this storm. They said on the news that it would dissolve on its own, but that was a lie too, huh?”

The scientist coughed, sending blood splattering onto his pants.

“We tested everything. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. This isn’t possible.”

Nathan chuckled. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time on this Earth, it’s that, in the grand scheme of things, we know fuck all about how any of this works.”

The scientist lowered his head and let out a final breath as his body went limp. Nathan didn’t bother checking for a pulse. He knew it was over.

“Guess that’s my cue then.”

Nathan walked out of the pub and into the street. It was deathly quiet. He looked up and saw the oily black clouds overhead, churning like an ocean of ichor in the sky above.

He knew all hell would break loose any moment. This was the calm before the storm. He started walking down the street, meandering between scattered and abandoned cars as he pulled his phone out.

Nathan dialed a number he had memorized, but hadn’t called in over five years. It rang once, then again, and once more before going to voicemail.

“Hey Clara. Not even sure if this is your number anymore. Listen, I know things didn’t end well between us, but, see, I’ve got to do something today and I’m not going to come back from it.”

Bright flashes of light came from the sky above. Streaks of white, purple, blue, and shades Nathan had never before beheld came from behind the inky veil. Under other circumstances, it would have been beautiful.

“I just wanted to tell you something before I go. I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I was selfish, I was obsessed with whatever I wanted, and I let all of that stop me from being the person you needed. The person our baby girl needed. I know you’re both better off without me, but I just wanted you to know I wish things had been different. Give our girl a kiss for me. Tell her—”

A thunderous roar tore down from the sky above, sending a shock wave of sound through the narrow street that shattered all the car windows around Nathan and left his ears ringing. He hunched over, clenching his jaw through the pain.

“Tell her that I'm sorry. I know I was a shitty dad, and I should have been there for her. I was a coward. All of that changes today, though. Today I'm going to make things right. For her. For everyone.”

Nathan dropped the phone onto the ground and gripped the straps of the pack on his back. His eyes turned to the sky as the undulating clouds parted, revealing the eye of the storm. Beneath the veil was a sky composed of shining wet flesh that stretched from one horizon to the other. It was a pale color, stained with streaks of blood as if the skin was stretched far too thin.

Directly above Nathan was a swirling maw filled with layers of teeth that encircled one another like the blades of a chainsaw. At the center of the swirling mouth in the sky was a sphere of pure darkness, swirling with strings of light.

Nathan pointed up at the grotesque site above him and held out the index finger of his left hand with this thumb upright in the shape of a gun.

“Right there, that’s the singularity. I’m coming for ya, you ugly motherfucker!”

The words of the scientist in the pub swirled in Nathan’s head. Something about a black hole, a singularity, and particles that didn’t dissolve into matter as they should.

All he knew was that he needed to get into that mouth and trigger the pack on his back. The reaction would turn the storm into nothing more than a rain shower, but it would take time.

Nathan waved his arms above his head and shouted.

“Hey! You hungry big boy? I’ve got a hell of a snack for you!”

Nathan watched as the flesh above started to rupture. Globs of black ooze poured out from within the skin above, raining down onto the buildings around them. Nathan spun around as one of them landed on a car behind him, crushing it in a sea of glass and metal.

A creature emerged from within, as if crawling out from an egg. Nathan’s vision went blurry just looking upon it, like static interfering with a television signal. It was nothing more than a murky silhouette, and trying to make out its features only sent searing pain through his head.

Nathan turned away from the monstrosity and started running. He saw more creatures exploding outward all around him, joining the pursuit. Above, the singularity in the sky started to pulsate, flashing all manner of colors. Nathan suddenly felt his footsteps becoming lighter as he ran.

He watched as the buildings around him started to fracture. Windows shattered and entire rooftops peeled off from their foundation as an invisible force started pulling everything upward.

Nathan heard the ragged growls of the monsters behind him. As the force started to rip up the very ground beneath his feet, Nathan leapt onto a nearby car, clinging to the sides of the roof as it sailed upward towards the mouth in the sky.

The creatures in pursuit screeched as he sailed upward towards the singularity. He didn’t have time to think about what would happen next. He could feel the gravity starting to pull the very skin from his bones.

Nathan reached back and pulled the lever on the pack behind him. He felt it start to hum and shake as he approached the singularity’s event horizon.

There was a moment, less than a billionth of a second, where Nathan crossed over into a place no human had ever conceived. In that moment, he beheld everything.

The secrets of the universe were laid bare before him. The horrors, the beauty, the nature of existence, all funneled through the mind of a mortal in an infinitesimally small amount of time.

His mind, his body, his very soul, all shattered like glass.

Epilogue

A memorial was placed at the Cliffs of Dover approximately one year after the events of “The Storm.” Data showed that this was the location where the storm started to show signs of dissipation over the course of the following 24 hours.

A deeper investigation revealed that a device was used to stop the storm from persisting beyond twenty-four hours. Without deployment of the device in question, humanity would have faced extinction within days.

The origins of the device and the identity of the person responsible for deploying it remain unknown.

The final death toll was over ten million. The monument features a QR code that links to a digital database of all those who were lost.

Inscribed on the monument is a short message:

Let this monument be a reminder,

To always temper ambition with reason,

To boldly seek the answers to life and the universe,

To pursue an understanding of our place in the cosmos,

Always remembering, never forgetting,

That some secrets are meant only for God.

fiction

About the author

Bradley Ramsey (He/Him)

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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