*1st Edition published by DarkFuse.
Back Cover Copy:
When a meteor hits the Earth, dirt and dust fill the air. Only a few people remain under the setting skies, and those who still live find it's not God's England, not anymore.
Now, it's the Devil's turn.
Lines are drawn between the dark and light. On the side of dark, James Finley and his cult for the end of days.
On the side of light, Paul Deacon, the lost policeman, and Dawn Graves, the last mother.
To survive, they must put their lives in one man's hands...Frank Liebowicz, a killer with a soft spot for lost causes.
And come Armageddon, God won't choose his champions.
They'll choose themselves.
One Chapter Sample:
'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.'
Paradise Lost/John Milton
'And the Lord replied: "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I have carried you.".'
Footprints in the Sand (Authorship disputed)
Kindness can be deceptive, like a steaming mug of coffee on a cold day. You never know how hot it's going to be until you pick it up.
So, when the man sporting nothing but a pair of stained pants offered a cigarette to the man in a stinking coat from a charity bin, the man in the coat was understandably suspicious.
It wouldn't be the first time someone had held out a kind hand, only to follow it through with a hard boot to the ribs. The man in the coat was a few teeth shy of a full mouthful. Scarred lips from a punch, a wheeze from the cold and neglect. He had a heavy limp - three youngsters had given him such a kicking one night about seven years before that they'd managed to break his thighbone. Him, an old man. Homeless, shit out of luck, stinking, yes. But a man, still. Always a man.
The man in the coat was named Ed Bright. He was the man who would not bend.
Ed sniffed unsuccessfully and wiped his dripping nose with his right hand. He wore a glove on the left and didn't want to get snot on it - the glove was nearly new.
'No trick, Boss,' said the man in the underpants. He still held out the cigarette pack, like he could do it all day. Like it wasn't snowing up above their little perch in the shelter of the subway.
Ed sniffed again.
Bugger must be freezing, Ed thought. Shit, he was wearing a coat and three jumpers (if he remembered rightly) and he was still cold. Cold like the kind that you couldn't get out in a couple of hours sitting around a shop's heating vents. The sort of cold that wouldn't go until the first month of spring, and even then, your bones would remember it.
Bones don't forget the cold so easily when you're an old man.
He did really want a cigarette. He had a lighter, too. There was a bit of gas left and the flint was still sound.
Carefully, wary as always of the kind hand, Ed Bright took the proffered cigarette in his bare hand (snot hardening on his skin in the cold air already). He didn't look at the brand, because he didn't care. A cigarette was a cigarette, he figured. It didn't matter to him who made it.
He fumbled in one of the large pockets of his stinky coat and brought out the disposable lighter of which he was so proud. With a nod to the man in underpants, Ed lit his cigarette and took that grateful first hit all the way down into his tattered lungs. He could feel the warm smoke, the tar, the nicotine...working their magic straight off. The kind of magic any junky feels after a fallow spell breaks.
'Been a while,' said Ed Bright, warming to the stranger sitting with him, weathering the mid-winter cold...in his pants.
Ed meant to ask about that. It just didn't seem polite, right now, while he was enjoying the man's cigarette.
'Mind if I join you?'
'Nope,' said Ed with a largely toothless smile. Ed hadn't shaved in a while, and when he smiled the corners of his moustache went into his mouth.
Shifting around on his perch - a grubby briefcase that Ed had found and been using as a pillow - Ed watched the man tap out his own smoke and rolled it expertly across his knuckles before popping it into his mouth.
The stranger flicked his own lighter at his own cigarette. Same brand as Ed's. Basically, an identical cigarette. Like might happen for rich people when their cigarettes came from the same packet. People with money smoked whole packets. They had a brand, rather than homeless people who smoked whatever was left on the ground outside shops and pubs, or in the wall-mounted ashtrays that adorned Britain's walls since the indoor smoking ban.
Ed didn't notice where the stranger kept his cigarettes or lighter. He did wonder, for a moment. Not long enough to bother himself, though. And he was enjoying his smoke. A bit giddy from it, too, like a virgin smoker, even though he'd managed to scrounge up three butts the day before.
Hasn't been that long, he thought. But he didn't let that strangely powerful hit he was getting from each puff of his cigarette bother him either. If anything, he felt pretty fucking grateful, all told.
'Please excuse my lack of attire,' said the stranger. A well-put together older man. One to whom the years had been a little kinder, maybe, than they had to Ed Bright, with his sandpaper skin and sawdust lungs.
Ed shrugged in answer to the stranger's comment. He might have been curious as to the lack of attire a moment before, but oddly, he didn't seem to care anymore.
He could do little more than shrug.
And smile. He felt happy. Getting a hell of a buzz off a mere cigarette.
Ed kind of swayed a little when he took the next hit. Reminded him of the rare times he'd picked up a roach, thinking it a butt, and smoked it. Similar hit, this, to those leftover drugs he found on occasion.
Oh, thought Ed. Oh. Fuck.
He threw the cigarette down as the first wave of sickness hit him.
'What...what the fuck?' he managed. His head wasn't buzzing anymore with a harmless smokers' high, but thumping like a fucking great big drum.
'Flunitrazepam, my friend,' said the stranger, merrily smoking his own cigarette without any sign of ill effect. 'Roofies? Rohypnol? Ringing a bell?'
Each word Ed managed was slurred. Confused. The next time he tried to speak, he couldn't.
'Tip was soaked in it. Warmth of the smoke released the vapours. Not a big dose, but you're undernourished, freezing, run-down and worn-the-fuck-out, aren't you, buddy?' The man in the underpants didn't sound happy, or sad. Just matter of fact.
'I'd give up if I were you, Mr. Bright,' said the strange man with kindness.
Ed didn't register the oddness of this man, this pusher, knowing his name. He coughed and followed through with a small spurt of foul vomit on his coat. Then, unceremoniously, slid to one side and cracked his head against the cold concrete of the subway's floor.
Out, cold. Not dead, though. No, thought the stranger. Dead wouldn't do at all, would it?
Gently, the man closed Ed's glazed and staring eyes. The stranger's fingers and hands were soft and clean.
He finished his own cigarette, crouched over Ed Bright, watching the worn old man dream. He dragged Ed to one side and rested the man's head on his briefcase-pillow. He wasn't especially gentle, or rough. It was just a gesture, and like most gestures, probably empty. Then, flicking his cigarette butt end over glowing end into the murk, the strange man walked away from Ed Bright. He left the old man curled against a piss-stained wall with a children's mural on it.
Ed Bright lay unconscious, in the darkness of the subway. It was the middle of the day in the middle of a cold winter in the middle of a cityscape like so many others.
The stranger walked out of the subway as the first of the meteors hit.
The prelude to the big one, small fragments, outriders, striking all across Europe, before the big one and the reign of fire.
Before the setting skies.
He'd saved the old homeless man's life with a cigarette and a little liquid loving. The strange man smiled at that thought as a rock the size of a hatchback car hit the entrance to the subway, sending hot shards of rock through the air, concrete and meteorite alike.
The stranger didn't flinch, nor did he duck. He wasn't thinking about the meteors and the destruction raining down from the sky, but of the old, broken man he left beneath him, safe from the coming storm.
He hadn't saved him for nothing, though, but Mr. Bright and the briefcase were more like a deposit in a bank, he figured.
'Work to do yet, Mr. Bright,' he said as rock after rock tore into the city all around him. Not like I can do everything on my own, thought the man as he lit another cigarette from a smouldering piece of wreckage he passed. Ed Bright might not be the sharpest tack, but he'd do just fine.
'Just fine,' he said.
He began to feel the heat already. Snow fell, but flames were licking at his heels as he walked and he was breaking a sweat. The tarmac melted from the heat of the fires throughout the city. Ball sweat was dampening the man's pants. He stopped, shook his head and laughed.
He dropped his pants on the hot ground and they caught fire in the heat.
He walked on naked while the city burned and the people screamed. He looked up at the skies with their rain of fire, beyond the sky to something above, beyond.
'You had your turn, buddy,' he said. Nodded up at the sky, then walked on with a big grin and not a lick of clothing.