This is the opening to a new novel I’m working on called Ancient Things. It’s a look at the lighter side of the End Times. Feedback always appreciated.
Something malformed and dark flapped awkwardly past the window, but no one looked up.
Robert rubbed the dark stubble on his thin, pale face as he stared through, rather than at, the monitor in front of him. This project to replace the Circle line was going to be huge, and the finished numbers were required by the end of the month. He looked up at the calendar. It was open on November, but someone had crossed out the month and written ‘The End Times’ instead. Robert thought that was a fair assessment.
He allowed himself a moment of contemplation, starting out of the office window. It was dark outside, his reflection stared back at him in his cubicle, looking a lot like Robert felt.
“Would a fifth coffee help?” he asked. His reflection nodded.
Somewhere behind him, someone was losing their temper with a computer.
The moon was out tonight, casting it’s lurid eyes over the city. The man in the moon had a crooked smile these days. When gibbous it was a disconcerting leer. When full it was positively terrifying; a sea-swallowing maw with mountainous teeth that nobody like to contemplate. On the brightest evenings his laughter drifted over the rooftops. No one went out on those night.
NASA had quietly dropped their plans to return to the moon. They didn’t want to risk offending him.
“This bloody computer!” exclaimed Sophie, casting her mouse away, “I wish it would-”
She stopped mid-sentence, blue eyes wide and hand over her mouth. Robert spun around in his chair and nodded at the ‘No Wishing’ sign on the wall, right beneath the ‘No Smoking’ sign. Something had taken it upon itself to start granting wishes, but only the most ill intended ones. Robert quite liked their improvised warning sign; it had once warned against pacemaker wearers approaching too close to the office microwave. The red bar across the heart seemed apt.
“Time to call it a night I think,” said Robert wearily. Sophie agreed. The coffee could wait for another day.
The flapping shape was back. It pawed and hooted at the glass. Someone looked up for a brief moment, then looked down at their work again. It gave one final hoot and with a flap of its sinuous wings was gone into the night. A greasy smear on the window marked its passing. Robert paid it no notice as he pulled on his coat and made for the exit with Sophie.
“Goodnight, Danger,” smiled Sophie as they left the building, flicking her blonde hair mischievously. When the gods had come amongst them there had been every reaction imaginable. Months of blind panic, outright hysteria and reckless abandon. Many had thought the last days of the world were upon them; inhibitions had been forgotten, passions indulged and caution thrown to the wind. Robert had changed his middle name to ‘Danger’, something he’d always wanted to do. It seemed trivially stupid now, but he’d never really been one for uninhibited spontaneity, or danger, now he came to think about it. He wished he told Sophie how he really felt about her instead. Everyone else in the office had.
Not all of mankind had given in to long suppressed desires. Many had simply gone mad. Millions more had taken their own lives and others had even fallen to the worship of their new masters. Still more had gone to fight. Three years humans had made war on the gods. Three long, bitter years in which the armies of mankind had dashed themselves against an enemy that did not know the limitations of mortality. Vast tracts of the fertile American heartland were now ash-blown wasteland, the Eurasian Steppe was a grizzly carpet of bleached bones and the Mediterranean was a haunted graveyard of iron and rust. Everywhere they mustered the armies of humanity knew only defeat. But the gods and their minions were magnanimous in victory. The did not desire the annihilation of man, merely his adoration.
“Night Soph,” answered Robert, walking in the opposite direction. He kept going past the entrance to the tube. He used to take the Circle line, but something had moved into the tunnel that was all tentacles and teeth. Walking was safer.
A line of hooded acolytes strode passed on the other side of the street, the rune of the Thaumaturge stitched into their robes. The Thaumaturge was the only member of the pantheon who had taken residence in the United Kingdom, far to the north in Scotland. A dark tower of dark slate and impossible angles pierced the sullen highland clouds. No-one ventured there except his acolytes, and none of them ever returned. It put an entirely different spin on the question of Scottish independence.
The Thaumaturge ruled the British Isles through his acolytes. After the three years of war all of the country’s officials and high ranking public servants who were still alive had been revealed as acolytes, or had been quietly replaced by those who were. There was nothing that could be done about it really.The military were reduced to bones and echos and the acolytes could wield ferocious elemental powers that appeared to be magic. The phrase ‘a wizard did it’ had soon found its way out of geek circles and into common parlance.
The reign of this magical god wasn’t as terrifying as many feared. Sure, the acolytes crushed all dissent, and yes people did go missing with alarming frequency, and it was true that the shadows were filled with strange and terrifying creatures, but society still mostly functioned. The wheels of industry turned, taxes were paid and the trains ran on time to the new 13 hour clocks.
Robert unlocked his front door and walked in. His one bedroom flat was in darkness. He flicked the light switch, but the darkness remained. Things got darker still when the bag came down over his head.
Robert flailed in wild panic, but strong arms pinned his limbs in place. He could offer no meaningful resistance as two – maybe three – people bundled him out of his home and into the back of a vehicle.
So this is how I die, thought Robert, a wizard is going to do it.
“What’s going on? Who are you?!” demanded Robert, panting for fresh air as the bag was pulled from his head. The car journey had been claustrophobic and terrifying. It couldn’t have lasted more than ten or twenty minutes, but in the dark soup of panic it had felt like a lifetime.
Two men stood in front of him dressed in dark clothes, although they were not the robes of acolytes. One of them was holding a ‘bag for life’ that they had pulled from Robert’s head.
“We represent the Atheist Alliance,” declared one of the men in a deep, care-worn voice.
Atheist. That was a word you didn’t hear much these days. It had fallen out of use now that the existence of gods couldn’t be argued against.
“Atheists?” spluttered Robert, “How’s that non-believing working out for you?”
“Our oppressors aren’t gods,” said one of his captors defensively.
“Really?” laughed Robert, “because you know, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and wields terrifying unearthly magic like a duck…”
“Remind me to stay away from duck ponds in your neighbourhood,” growled the first man.
“They’re not gods,” repeated the second man, “they’re extra dimensional creatures of unusual power, but they’re not gods.”
“I see…” mused Robert, “and how does kidnapping me fit into the atheist philosophy?”
“We plan to destroy the Thaumaturge; and you’re going to help us” said the first man, “My name is Duncan, by the way.”