CITIES OF THE EAST

by

Michael Edwards

A few still remembered the strange things that had brought their way of life to an end; but most only knew from word of mouth, each man in possession of tales indigenous to his own part of the country.  One told of a lake in upstate New York that froze solid in a single afternoon; another of a mountain in Montana that melted before his very eyes, engulfing an entire town.  Yet another had seen the ground open a mile wide just outside Atlanta; a thousand people - he swore on his mother's grave - were swallowed whole before the ground closed again.  In Washington state an earthquake offshore sent a tidal wave careening through Puget Sound; in Washington, DC, the sky turned green one night and all the lights went out in a single surge that electrocuted half the city.  From every part of the country, tales of catastrophe were related over three days in the hold of the fog shrouded ship, each stranger, more horrific than the last.  But only one sent a chill down the spine of everyone who heard it.

It was late the third night of the fog when Captain Clark, who had remained aloof from his men, came to them to announce that the fog was beginning to lift and they would set out for the mainland tomorrow.  Before he could get gone, his men drew him into the tales they were weaving out of their memories and their parents' stories.  He was asked if he had any stories of his own of the time when the world looked as if it would end.

"I lived in west Texas," he said. "Not much happened - not until the stories of a fabulous city somewhere in the panhandle started coming our way.  I was twenty-eight then and Eagle Flat, Texas didn't hold much promise; so when I heard some travelers telling about El Dorado, I left home to go find it.  I worked my way to Amarillo; it was deserted by then.  Almost every night fireballs rained down from the sky - sometimes the whole day long.  But I managed to find this El Dorado.  The day I came upon it was the day the whole southwest shook.  I still don't know what caused it.  I got to the rim - the whole city was in a narrow valley that stretched as far as I could see.  I looked down.  The valley was lined with corpses - thousands of them, surrounding the buildings.  The buildings were oval, like an endless row of eggs all connected by covered walkways.  When the ground shook, the walkways came crashing down; so did all the walkways leading to the rim overlooking the valley.  I hung around, waiting to see if the people in the buildings came out, but no one ever did.  Till one night a helicopter flew over.  And a wall of lava came pouring through the valley, about halfway up the buildings.  Then there was a huge explosion, off to the south; and the buildings began exploding one by one.  And the helicopter reappeared, and hovered over one of the buildings.  They rescued three people from the building.  Three fell out of the helicopter.  One was carried back up.  The helicopter flew off.  And when it did, the building exploded; but that was the last one that exploded.  I followed the valley north, through the panhandle, up through Oklahoma into Colorado.  I decided to wait it out, to see what would happen.  Eventually the lava cooled.  I expected to see the people coming out, if they were still alive; but no one showed.  Then the lava started to harden.  And all of a sudden, in a single day, it began crushing the buildings, twisting them into a thousand strange shapes, gouging the walls like giant claws.  That was when I got my first sight of the people inside the buildings.  Only they weren't trying to leave.  They were being crushed and squeezed and twisted into the shapes surrounding them.  I could hear them screaming, and see blood spurting through the cracks in the walls, and bones and flesh seeping up through shafts no bigger than water pipes.  I could see eyes popping out of heads, which were being squeezed till they exploded.  A whole day I watched, till there was nothing but a twisted mass of shapes left of El Dorado.  Then I moved on."