July 2154

The end of the world smelled like burning – burning buildings, burning fields. Burning bodies. Smoke hung eternally over the valley, uncontrolled wildfires impregnating the air with eye-stinging haze and the stench of fire and ash.

Mackenzie Bright Runner’s world was one empty of people and full of burning. And monsters.

It wasn’t often that she took the time to reflect over lost civilization; the world had ended long before her birth, but the death throes of a planet’s population had taken decades and still continued. But as she stood here on the college campus where it had all began, she couldn’t help but wonder what the world had been like before infection had wiped out mankind.

More than  a century of autumn leaves and other debris, blown in through the empty frames that had once held glass doors, muted the crunch of ancient shards of glass beneath their booted feet. The intense heat of high summer held the air in a thick, heavy cloud; even the dust particles disturbed by their passage seemed torpid and reluctant to float.

“It’s been more than a hundred years since the Upheaval. If he’s still alive, by some miracle, what makes you think he’s going to help us? Wouldn’t he already have if he was so inclined?”

Sweat trickled into Mackenzie’s eyes, and she wiped it away with a careless elbow, not taking her eyes from the path illuminated by the wide swath of her companion’s flashlight. “Always the pessimist, Bon.” Her own flashlight cut a narrower but brighter beam than his, and illuminated the ground immediately at their feet. “Legend says he stopped killing as soon as he realized the impact, and went into seclusion.”

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