Arcanum 1780: A New World
Tale - A Glimpse Of Gomorrah
A Glimpse Of Gomorrah
Seb was mending crab traps on the dockside of his small home port on the southern coast of Cornwall when he first noticed some of the other fishermen looking to the sky, shouting in wonder. He glanced up from his work, and sure enough there were a multitude of bright streaks in the almost clear winter sky above. The streaks were like thin silver threads across the heavens, some culminating in small bright pops of light and then puffballs of smoke or cloud. They seemed to be coming from the south-east, where the few high wisps of cloud that smeared the sky on an otherwise perfectly crisp and cold January morning were slowly floating from west to east with the prevailing wind. He stood up and raised a hand to shield his eyes against the watery but bright winter sun, low on the horizon. Yes, they were coming thicker and faster, some seemed to be getting lower before they exploded in puffs. Maybe they were some kind of new French artillery? If so, then the war was over before it had properly begun – England’s vaunted Royal navy had nothing that could match that range.
Seb turned to his friend Tom to ask him what he thought, and as he did so a light bright as God’s presence itself blazed behind his turned head. That alone saved Seb’s sight, but the shock and the amazing light itself so disoriented him that he stumbled past his now-blind old friend and straight off the dock. As he fell, he had a brief glimpse of a huge fiery column, like Ezekiel’s vision writ large as the sky and mushrooming out as it rose towards Heaven, seemingly hovering only a few miles offshore – then the freezing-cold, dark water of the village’s small harbour closed over his head. As he lost consciousness, he thought to himself happily that the water felt far warmer than it should and that there were worse deaths than drowning.
Some time later – he had no way of telling how long – the searing pain of almost drowning but instead living; and of what appeared to be a broken arm, multiple bruises and scrapes and a badly wrenched back dragged him back to wakefulness. As his eyes blearily opened his mind blanked at the scene before them. Sheer devastation had visited the tiny Cornish fishing village he’d called home his entire life. Every single one of the small, grey stone and slate cottages was ruined, partially demolished or reduced to rubble. Those higher up the steep slope of the village as it climbed to the moor above were all ablaze. The sky above had become a low, roiling ceiling of dark cloud shot through with flashes of fire and eerie multi-coloured aurorae, from which snow fell in a silent, slow drifting. He was wet through, bleeding into the sea water running back down the steep street to the sea past wrecked fishing boats lying in small gardens or strewn in splinters across cobblestoned roads! No-one else seemed to be about at all.
Grunting in pain and effort, Seb managed to lever himself to his feet and set his stumbling course into the village and towards his own home halfway up the switch-backed main street. There was still no-one about but some supernatural force had painted the shadows of people onto wet walls. His head hurt like every hangover he’d ever had and he felt he might be going mad like Old Walter, who had eventually walked off a cliff muttering about dogs in bloomers. After an unknowable time of limping agony, he reached what must be the high-water mark of a tidal wave that had hit the coast and deposited him on the dockside. Seaweed and flotsam marked the tide line, and here he found the first bodies – burned like they’d been dipped in pitch before being set alight, non-recognisable.
The tears started uncontrollably now, as salty as the seawater that soaked his clothes. Whatever had done this, God’s wrath or French devilry, had completely destroyed his home and everyone in it but him, it seemed. He limped faster, steeling himself against the pain with a discipline born of a life filled with hard work in harsh conditions, heading towards his own cottage and his own wife of thirty years. Rounding the corner, his legs finally gave way as he saw that cottage ruined, ablaze. Surely Margie was dead! He sat down in the roadway, lost to grief.
But no, here she came, along with three other womenfolk, making her way out of the thick-walled smokery where the village laid up kippers to sell to Plymouth and beyond. All were badly burned, stumbling, arms outstretched as if feeling their way. He rose to his knees as Margie came closer, and called her name. She stopped, head tilting to catch the sound – she was blind, perhaps made so by the bright light that had so shocked him at the beginning of this nightmare. He kept calling to her and she stumbled closer, then finally he took her petite form into his arms, murmuring endearments as he hugged her close – until her arms closed around his chest with the strength of a stevedore and her teeth clamped down into his throat! As his arterial blood spurted, the other women closed in on him too. Yes, their were worse ways to die than drowning.
Gasping, Sir Hayward Moore, FRC, tore the apparatus from his own head and staggered back against the siderail of H.M.S. Courageous’ quarterdeck. Of his own invention, the leather helmet with dark, smoked glass goggles and copper snailshell-shaped earpieces focused the energies of a crystal of ur-ice, the raw stuff of magic deposited by the cometary impacts which had destroyed all of Europe, into a single magical operating of considerable power. The helmet allowed Moore to perceive the last half hour of someone’s life – as long as he was not truly dead yet. In front of him, strapped and chained securely to a pallet, lay the skeleton of Seb the fisherman, still possessed with a hellish, magically-induced and ravenous parody of life. The flesh had long ago rotted from the zombie, for the Gomorrah Event had taken place almost 33 years ago, but that magic held its bones together and animated them with an insane lust for living flesh.
Moore, pale and sweating, knew he’d pay for the last half hour’s insight into the day of the cataclysm with nightmares and worse – but science must be served. He nodded to the captain of the Courageous, Crispin Uphold, who in turn gestured to his first lieutenant and some deckhands. Staying well away from the creature’s gnashing jaws for they could spread their infernal contagion with a bite, they carefully manhandled the entire pallet to the rail and then shoved it overboard. Moore sighed in relief as the pallet and its poor, tormented occupant began its three thousand feet descent from the sky-frigate to the chalk hills below, a fall that would no doubt end the creature’s misery at long last.
The frigate continued through the skies on its approach to the rubble of London, running a course that had stopped at the ruins of a small Cornish village where it had taken all the ship’s Marines to capture the zombie intact. Below, in the tangled forest that that once had been a fertile checkerboard of orderly fields, Moore could distantly hear the howls of a pack of wolves – but all the wolves of England had been hunted to extinction more than a hundred years before the Event. He shuddered again, and prayed for strength.