“The Black Marker at the End of Time,” by Amazon Bestselling Dark Fantasy writer Ron Collins, is presented here for free on a limited time basis, but can be purchased at most online booksellers. It is also available in “Beneath the Waves,” a bundle of stories featuring fantastical creatures of the oceans.
The Black Marker at the End of Time
It began to rain.
Big drops cleansed the beachy air of its dark tang, prattling against his wide-brimmed hat and soaking his torn jacket. Behind him, to the north, black smoke marked the city where the concussion of stray bombs still fell.
He adjusted the hat. Then, with the same scar-lined hand, pulled his jacket tighter around his neck, an act that brought another chemical-laced noseful of the burnt buildings and spilt blood that had ground themselves into the fibers of its lining. The jacket was denim. Like him, it was burned, cut, and scrubbed ragged in too many places, but also like him it clung to its past and did its job.
With the other hand he gripped the spent plasma rifle he still carried.
Its trigger guard was warm and comfortable even if the rest of the weapon was as cold as the beach he was trudging across: The short-nosed barrel that unleashed its energized bullets, the sighting scope with its digital readout and its intracortex connecter that he would never use, the rounded stock that had been customized to the lucky bastard of a soldier who had been the first to die wielding it—all these things were cold now, all silent. The black-charred barrel swung back and forth like a pendulum as he limped down the beach.
Sand and shells crunched under his waterlogged boots.
He thought about them as he walked through the rain. The boots and the sand.
How long had it been since he slept?
He needed a beer, he thought. He would give his left hand for just one beer.
He cleared his throat and spat onto the ground as he walked, looking occasionally out over the surf with a searching gaze. His lips were numb. His cheeks burned with chill.
The steady presence of the wind, low and blustery on the open sweep, carried the clean scent of clotted brine. The sound of waves scrubbing the shore met up with the whine of the wind to build a sound that felt like a church hymn in the otherwise pervasive silence.
His legs carried him across the beach with autonomic strides that made him feel like they were programmed: Left before right, right before left.
He couldn’t really feel those legs anymore. Or, perhaps it was better to say his legs felt stiff and crusted, filled with a dull ache like they were made of hard rubber and inflated to ninety-five PSI like the tires he once kept on his truck. The muscles of his arms burned with the kind of pain he came home with after double shifts at the plant, only worse. When he gripped anything but the gun his fingers screamed in agony.
The rain slipped through rips in the jacket to spear his shoulder with a cold touch, then rolled down the small of his back.
He shivered despite himself.
Even the muscles of his jaw hurt where he had clenched them so often.
The ocean is big, he thought, as he scanned its horizon again and watched spray come from white tips that crashed together even out past the breakpoint. Big and cold, full of sharks and orcas.
After three days of raids and firefights, just being alive made him feel hard.
He gripped the gun and laid it across his chest.
He had seen combat before, both on planet and off.
He’d dealt with survivor guilt like a pro.
You did what you had to do. Sucked your ass up like everyone else did.
A long time ago he promised himself he was done with fighting, but now the world had fallen apart and he had let the animal part of his mind out of its cage again. There wasn’t a choice now. Not after the guns. Plasma bombs that coated entire city blocks in acid fire. Bleeding. The smell of fear. Seeing Jimmy and Dean get blow away before they even got out of the plant was a thing he wouldn’t forget as long as he lived.
He licked his lips and tasted salt in the rain.
The marker was right where Nickel said it would be, five miles from the city and out past the receding tide. It was some kind of post, thick and round, black as the night and anchored to the ocean floor like a spike. Waves crashed over it to tumble up the beach, but the black marker stood unmoving and resolute against the pressure of the assault as well as the insidious backlash of the undertow as waves swept silently back to the desolate sea.
“You’re so full of shit,” he had said the morning she told him about the marker.
Was it only a week ago she had found him?
That was exactly what had happened, of course. He realized it now. There was no chance to their meet-up. It was no kismet that brought them together, no random roll of dice or any other act of whatever new-aged quantum crap he might want to see twisted up and outlined on some video blast he picked up for free off the bitpool.
Nickel had found him.
Recruited him, nicked him, or whatever other term he wanted to try out.
She had hunted him down that night, though he still couldn’t say why.
All he knew was that it was Friday and that he had been on the line for sixty-five hellacious hours that week. He was lucky enough to have a job, so he wasn’t complaining about the pounding racket of the plant that might be stealing his hearing, or the back-breaking work it took to set the stampers or get the wireup pads to be just right as they knocked out another thousand circuit suits.
He had done worse work. Far worse.
He would endure and he would move on.
So that night, instead of complaining about his throbbing knees or a strained back, he was standing outside the doorway of the bar he often stopped in, thinking about whether to go in and watch the Hawks play, when she called to him from her perch, leaning at a casual slant against the brick wall, appraising him with an interested gaze.
The shadows of twilight covered her, but even then he knew she was attractive.
There was a sense of danger around her, too, but he had seen that before from women. The auras some put on like others donned wigs, or eyelashes, or even their daily makeup, were no different from the masks men used. They were armor, mostly, shells to hide under or shields thrown up to protect a soft underbelly.
He saw something different about her, though.
Rather than as a shield, Nickel wore her mask like a cloak.
He didn’t think she was here to hurt him.
“What can I do for you?” he said, stopping an arm’s length away from her.
She was younger than him.
Her lips gave what might have been a smirk, and her dark hair moved as she motioned the space beside her.
He dug his hands into his jacket pockets and leaned back against the brick. This close, her aroma was impossible to ignore, sweet, but not too sweet, more like an open field than a perfume factory. It felt like calmness, or like eternity. It made him want to close his eyes and breathe.
“Want to see a film?” she said after a bit.
She was beautiful in a way that was different from his usual fare of women, her skin smooth and ageless, her face heart-shaped after she smoothed a cascade of dark hair off her forehead, which she did often. Her eyes showed she was older than she appeared, as did the corners of her lips when they moved, twisting upward at his wry jokes in a way that said she had heard them all one too many times. The sound of her voice caught in his ear and traveled into regions of his brain connected with the whole of who he was.
The next morning he woke to find her dressing.
“You’re leaving?” he said.
“Find the marker,” she replied, pulling on a boot that, in the light of day, appeared to be more like snakeskin than the leather he thought it had been the night before (though having seen his share of snakeskin he was certain the boots were not made of that material, either). “When it’s over,” she said, pulling on the other boot, “find the marker.” Her tone was direct now. The warmth of last night was replaced with a firmness that felt like a knife to his brain. One night, he thought as he tried to figure out what she meant. You were only with her for one night.
She told him about the beach, the waves, and the marker that would be there.
A black column, she said with an expression etched in something he would later consider to be passion but may well have been some other affliction.
The marker would save him, she said. It would protect him.
“You’re so full of shit,” he said.
She kissed him, then said goodbye and walked out his doorway.
He would never see her again.
He knew this from the empty sound of the door as it closed behind her. He knew it from the tone of her voice and from the sense of loss she left in her wake. There was no promise in that last kiss of hers, no heat like the night before, only something he would call a warning, a silly, bat-shit-insane warning that matched her raving lunatic advice.
When it’s over go to the marker, she said.
Her departure left him in shambles.
It made him angry.
It hurt to even laugh at her because the night before he had thought the world had finally tilted his way. Nearly forty years of living, two deployments, a pair of almost-wives, a string of hard-assed jobs, and he had finally run into someone who could make him want to be wherever he was. When he woke up that morning he had been thinking about how amazing it would be to live an entire day thinking it was going to be a good one.
He had been to the beaches where she told him to go, though, been to that place in the ocean she pointed out. There was no marker there. He knew that. Only water and sand and huge piles of driftwood that served as target practice for gull shit.
The woman was crazy, and now she was gone.
He got out of bed and went for a long run, alone, feet pounding against the flat asphalt until his legs were too dead to respond.
The rockets came three days later.
Then the planes and the tanks from other countries, the soldiers from his own, the waves of armed militia come down from the mountains and the hills and the craggy desert plains. Men and women with discarded weapons. Children with sticks and bones. He had no idea who really started it, but it was clear how it would end. The last three days had been nothing but fire, plasma rounds, and explosions. Chopper blades and debris had filled the air like the rain that was falling, even harder now, on this vast beach he walked across.
He stared out to the marker, thinking about Nickel.
Waves crashed against the pole, sending trails of foam streaking through the air.
Screams came inside his head. Voices of men and women caught in buildings. Voices of children incinerated in buses and cars, of soldiers advancing, chattering into radios and screaming as they blasted fire into killing fields. The wind became screaming jet engines. The sound of the waves hitting the marker harbored the sound of buildings as they crumbled and fell into clouds of concrete dust too thick to see through.
A line of pelicans skimmed the wave tops.
He had seen this before, but it wasn’t supposed to happen here.
Not at home.
He gripped the empty rifle, and focused on the marker standing strong in the slate cold surf. Its blackness pulled at him with a sense of strength so deep and so firm he used it to keep himself from glancing back at the city that would never again be a city. The power of the marker raised waves of hair along his arms and neck, reminding him of Nickel, her body flowing with the motion of the beach, covering him, moving the sands of who he was, rearranging him, taking him away from his bed and away from the crappy little room that was all he could afford, away from the memories of his life—which maybe he had wasted or maybe not, depending on how you looked at these kinds of things. He was older, but not old. His body was scarred and beaten down, but still not done.
He glanced at the weapon in his hand, then focused on the marker again.
He threw the rifle down, and stepped toward the surf.
Entering the ice cold water was like stepping through razor wire.
Waves cut into his ankles, then his calves and thighs. Each crush of water was like his legs had been hit with a blowtorch, like it might feel to press his skin down on a stove of red-hot coils. The idea brought him the smell of burning flesh, which then made him gag into the brine around him.
He almost turned back. Almost gave up.
But the essence seeping from the marker spoke of open waves and a yearning for something more necessary than breathing. He thought of Nickel again, her body pressing so firmly against him, and he moved forward.
The water came over his waist, and he gasped in pain.
A wave crashed into his chest, and he gasped in agony.
Undertow ripped his feet from under him, and he suddenly found himself tumbling backward in the surf, losing ground as tumultuous waves tossed him back toward the shore.
He dug his legs into the murky silt at the bottom of the ocean and braced himself to stand in what were now thigh-high waves. Salted water rolled off his hair and his four-day beard, his hat was gone into the surf and, despite the clothes that now clung to him in clumped layers of dead weight as he stood panting for breath in the surf, he felt naked.
“You can’t stop me!” he called to the open air. “You can’t stop me!”
There was nothing else to do here, he realized. His world was buried in a coffin of combat, strangled by death and destruction. No place was safe anymore. He had no place left to go. The marker stood, though, still tall and still firm, a cold beacon out in the iron ocean.
He ground his teeth, clenched his fists, and fought the current.
He spit water that wedged past his lips. He wiped astringent foam from his eyes. As he drew nearer to the marker, he learned to use low points in the waves to proceed, and found ways to brace himself against the power of the crests as they crashed overhead.
Water came to his chin. His teeth chattered and his fingers turned a pale shade of blue.
The marker’s power grew stronger as he came near. This close, the column was bigger than it seemed from the distance, thick and staid, as big around as a sturdy oak.
Two steps away. Then one.
His hand reached out.
His finger grazed the surface. The column was warm, its contour grainy and easy to grip. Another half-step and he could get his whole hand around it.
Twisting through the current, the man pulled himself forward.
Grasping the marker felt like he was lifting himself onto a boat.
He wrapped his arms and his legs around it, linking his ankles and grasping his wrists with his hands, pressing his cheek to its surface, panting now, feeling his chest bend around the cylinder. It welcomed him like it was his home, like it was a utopia, a nirvana, as if nothing could exist beyond it. For that moment, the marker was his beginning and his end. An overwhelming sense of belonging filled him. He clutched it closer, harder, digging his hands and his arms and his legs into the surface so hard he thought the bones inside him might crack.
Tears rolled from his eyes then, mixing into the ocean.
It was too much.
Everything was too much.
He closed his eyes, and held onto the stake as if it was the only sane thing left in this world, clutched it to his soul as if it was the only thing he could ever imagine wanting to do.
The air calmed. The sound of the waves faded into the distance.
The power of the water settled.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the woman.
If Nickel had been beautiful, this woman was Nickel magnified a hundred times.
Her skin was dark-toned, more indigo-blue than brown, her lips more black than red. A metallic essence danced in her eyes, which were rounded and wide, and burned with the same deep fire Nickel’s had, but with intensity again a hundred times warmer. Dark hair—shimmering with the wet incandescence of a rainbow in the overcast of the day—cascaded to cover her body. Droplets of ocean clung to cheekbones and shoulders that were both formed to perfection. The ropey strands of her hair fell down her arms and over her breasts to pool in water that came up to a tapered waist defined by flowing musculature that would make a gymnast weep.
She stood in the surf as firmly as the marker did.
She raised a long-limbed arm and proffered a hand so majestically formed he was afraid to take it for fear he would break it.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said.
It made him laugh.
“Are you ready?” she said.
“You are marked,” she replied as if that answered his question, glancing to her open hand. “Are you ready?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready again,” he said.
The fervency with which he clutched the marker left him embarrassed. He did not want to let go of it, but he couldn’t not reach out to take the woman’s hand.
The pairing seemed incongruous at first—her hand perfect and supple, his hand scarred and stained by years in the military and on the production line—but, once made, the coupling became as right as anything else left in this desolate world.
She stepped out into the surf, and the currents rose up over their heads.
Water encircled them, but he wasn’t cold.
He drew water into his lungs and found his breathing came easy and free.
The sound of the current became the beat of a drum rather than a scouring of the sand. He was disoriented and uncertain. Had she taken him back through the marker? Inward, maybe, rather than away? Was he still on Earth? Still in his own body of flesh and blood, or maybe some astral projection built only his mind? Was he really dead on a battlefield someplace? Was this heaven? Hell? Some madly twisted Valhalla, or maybe a strange land of Limbo?
When he became fully aware again, the two of them were walking along deep ocean floor with a motion that was as graceful as a dance. Silt and sand billowed with each swaying step. The current pressed against them like a stiff wind, but the woman’s grasp kept him calm. As she led him farther over the ocean floor, her hair flowed in the currents to reveal the rest of her body. It was as if he had found poetry.
Was she some kind of mercreature?
An underwater Amazon?
Was this God?
To him religion had always been for fools, but the calm that surrounded her made him question himself more deeply than before.
The weight of the ocean reflected silver from far above. There should be a shark, he thought, the silhouette of a shark should be jackknifing itself sideways and back, but instead there was only open water and the cold overcast of the daytime sky distorted by the churning seas.
“Where are we going?” he said, impatience replacing wonderment.
The woman smiled and led him onward.
“Why am I here,” he said. “You owe me that much.”
“What makes you think I owe you anything?”
The question froze him. Why would she not answer?
What was she hiding behind the cold perfection of that face and the prosaic calm of her demeanor?
Was this a trap?
What was she going to do to him?
Nothing made sense then. What was the marker? Why go through this if her intent was simply to destroy him? Was Nickel involved? The questions stuffed up the pipework of his mind and helped him ignore the inherent absurdity of his initial demand. He was a military man, after all. He was familiar with having things withheld from him. But he was tired now, worn down to bone-on-bone. The pressure that came from being without answers was like a toothache in his brain.
“I want to know what you’re doing to me,” he said.
When she didn’t reply he stopped so abruptly she had to use her opposite hand to stabilize herself.
A cloud of suspended silt twirled up around them.
She was curious, he saw. She reached a finger to trace a line down his cheek, a line that was the scar made from a knife blade years ago. The wound had bled heavily when it was first made, but now was just another unconscious part of him, like an ear, his nose, or the mole on his wrist.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s happening,” he said.
“You are marked,” she replied. “You have power.”
He laughed. “Somebody screwed up, then, because I’ve got nothing.”
“Not all power succeeds,” she said.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s happening.”
She added force to her pull.
He ripped his hand from hers, and suddenly the pressure of the depths collapsed on him with the force of a thousand daggers of ice. Pain became so sharp he thought his ears would burst. The cold of the depths froze his lungs, and what was once bathed in light was suddenly nothing but inky blackness broken only by the glow of a luminous jellyfish or some other such indistinguishable creature. He opened his mouth to scream, and thick, silt-laden water froze his tongue.
A stream of bubbles gurgled from his lips.
Water filled his lungs.
He knew the truth of panic then. It came to him with the vacant eyes of the dead boys he dug out of Karney’s Sporting Shop when he was looking for weapons, with a memory of the frail woman with the wire-mesh halo of thin white hair who was wrapping her bloody feet in rags made of her dead husband’s shirts, her hands shaking as she tried to tighten the cloths.
It was the firm grasp of what it meant to die.
The lifeline of the woman’s grasp returned a moment later, like a reprieve, like a warm beacon in the night, and he was on one knee, gagging, coughing, and spitting bile, but blissfully able to grab lungfuls of sweet life despite still being on the bottom of the ocean floor.
The current tossed his hair to and fro as he gathered himself.
“Do you truly wish to die here?” the woman said.
“No,” he replied, meaning it. “I don’t want to die.”
She led him onward.
They walked for hours, or perhaps days, crossing flat bottoms and skirting reefs of rocks, driving deeper and deeper down the slant of the shelf toward the blackness of the abyss. At one point they came upon the rotting bones of a wrecked ship, complete with echoes of voices and faint touches of what the man imagined were its deck crew and captain.
Eventually, they came to a tall field of kelp, its frondy waves waving so thick in the current that no diver in his right mind would have entered.
The woman waved aside a pathway.
A short distance later the bottom became rocky.
A shorter distance later they arrived at a gaping hole of blackness ringed with toothlike formations of rock. The darkness loomed deeper here than any darkness he had ever felt. The cavern led farther downward. Tentacle arms of squids and octopi waved from its walls, and a patch of big-mouthed clams lay across the ground waiting for him to put his still-booted foot into their muscled maws. From dark recesses of crawlways and adits came eely gleams of bright eyes and stark glints of sharp-pointed teeth. Overgrown crustaceans clacked their claws nearby, and poison-spined fish floated in the center of the entry chamber.
She walked him forward until a doorway blocked the path.
The portal was polished bronze and etched with a tapestry of arcane symbols: The sun and the moon, bulbous whales, forked lightning, a strange twisted figure wrapped around a stake that might or might not have been a marker standing in the crashing surf.
He found himself growing angry.
The woman pressed on the door.
The gate opened to a cavernous chamber lighted with a ring of photo-luminescent bulbs that gleamed with a brilliant purple that reminded him of plasma fire.
Inside were three creatures.
Two were part seahorse, part lizardy eel, but somehow not repulsive or strange. They flanked the third, a globular, cloudlike thing that emitted light so bright it was impossible to see exactly what lay underneath its murky shell.
He felt examined then, felt focused upon by each of the three.
For the first time since entering the ocean, his fingers itched with a need for his gun.
“Be well,” his guide said as she slipped her hand from his.
The portal closed behind him.
“What is this?” he said.
“Welcome.” The bulbous light flared and a voice came as if it was spoken inside his head. “I am happy to find you here.” The voice seemed light to him, perhaps feminine. He thought he saw movement inside the gauzy nature of its presence.
Only then did he see the men collected in a chamber to the left, and another set in one to his right, both barricaded off by dark crosshatched iron bars. The men stood against those bars or lay sleeping on the floor—some floating in the stagnant waters of their jails.
“I don’t understand,” he replied, anger rising.
The jacket, waterlogged and heavy, lay hard over his shoulders, and his boots felt suddenly out of place. He clenched his fists.
“I’m not going to your prison.”
“This is no prison,” the creature replied. “You are a survivor. You are here to see things no man alive has ever seen. Or, if you prefer, you are here to save the world.”
The fiery skylines of the city flashed through his mind. “I don’t understand,” he replied.
“This is the natural end. Man is born and builds his glorious civilizations, but he is a carnivorous beast by nature and a cannibal at heart. Don’t be afraid, though. It’s happened before.”
“This isn’t the first time?”
The creature gave a sound that felt like laughter, but let him know his question was farcical. This was not the first time. Not the first time at all. The creature’s laughter said it had seen hundreds, if not thousands of such endings, each different, but each the same. The idea weighed on him, but his response was anger rather than despondency.
“You are tribal and unable to stop yourself,” the voice replied.
“Why am I here,” he said. “Why are you telling me this?”
“The next cycle needs survivors.”
The meaning of her words seeped into him. “You expect me to be rootstock?”
He looked at the other men in their cages. They stared back with gruff, caustic expressions that spoke of the same battlefields he had seen and the same heartache he had lived through, yet he felt apart from them, felt different from them.
“Man’s nature is to build and destroy,” the creature said. “Woman’s is to protect and nurture.”
The man set his jaw and planted his feet. “That’s ridiculous,” he said.
“Human nature does not change.”
“You haven’t seen the chick marines kick ass.”
He grew more resolute as the moments passed. The nature of man does change, he thought. He knew that was true because the passage of time had seen him change himself.
The creature pulsed with a timeless patience that grew to condescension. “It always comes to this,” it said.
“You’ve got a lot of goddamned nerve,” he replied.
The two seahorsey guards fluttered their fins and approached, their scaly bodies curling up in coils and then releasing with springlike actions. They each extended fleshy protuberances toward him.
The man knocked one away, and dodged the other.
The light from the creature changed, and he suddenly understood a deeper truth.
“We can change,” the man said. “But you don’t want us to.”
This truth became even more firm as he fought off another tentacle. “You’re breeding us this way,” he said. A fleshy tentacle whipped around his wrist, and he fought its pull by digging into the ocean floor. Silt rose around his boots. “You’re marking men who will fight because otherwise you’ll have nothing to do.”
“Men who fight are survivors.”
The man used his free hand to pound at his tentacled wrist, but the second seahorse snared it away and he found himself restrained with both arms extended as the seahorses stretched him, drawn with pressure he wouldn’t have expected he could stand, the joints of his arms pulling apart, the flesh of his muscles straining with a burning pain that made him think they would tear apart at any moment.
He pulled his arms in against the strain, feeling his biceps and triceps flex and burn as he leaned forward, feeling the muscles of his stomach, neck, and shoulders steel themselves as he dug boots into the silt and sand to brace against the seahorse’s efforts to bring him to a pen. He pulled his arms forward and managed a half step closer to the central creature, feeling the truth of its existence in the stagnant odor of its light as he neared. The creature needed this. It needed men to be horrible, to fight each other. In some strange fashion, it lived off energy born of humankind’s fear of each other.
He took another step, then, letting out a scream that might rip the core of the Earth itself, he dug his legs into the ocean’s bottom and leaned hard against the ropey arms of the seahorse guards. His thighs burned hot, and he wondered if the muscles on his arms were flaying themselves. He bent his head down, and thought about mules, thought about slaves pulling weight up mountains and alongside rivers, about legends of John Henry dying as he drilled a hole through a mountain. What part of John Henry lived inside him, he thought? What part of him was mule-slave?
Another step brought him to the edge of the creature’s light.
Being this close felt like looking down from a cliff.
Colors spilt from the white cloud, swirling into prismatic flashes that reminded him of the dark woman’s hair as it flowed wetly over her skull. A citrus taste came. The smell of an animal, the aroma of Nickel as she moved over him.
With one more surge, he pulled on the restraints, lifting his hands toward the outermost halo of the creature’s light. His muscles tore, but as his hands crossed into the light, the seahorses gave their own wails of pain and the tentacles snapped away. The man, teetering on his toes, fell suddenly forward, tumbled headlong into the depths of the creature, fell into the column of light that surrounded him, turning, twisting, screaming, wailing, watching as time itself flowed past, and feeling the burn of existence scrub against his wounded flesh. The colors darkened, and his ears popped. The sound of a jet engine filled his being.
Then he was bitter cold.
A wave crashed into him from behind and he coughed up water that tasted of salt and brine and seaweed.
His arms, still burning, were wrapped around the black marker, hands over wrists, his legs, too, burned with exhaustion as he hugged the thing as tightly as he could.
Breath raged into and out of his lungs as the rest of his body shivered in the cold.
Another wave crashed over hm.
It was still raining.
He saw no sign of the dark woman this time. No sign of Nickel, not that he would ever find her again.
In the distance, the beach swept its way toward the city where smoke still rolled up into the gray sky and the sound of bombs still echoed over the horizon. Driftwood piles littered the sandy upper reaches. Husks of cottages where people once vacationed looked vacantly down on him, their windows dark and reflective.
He pushed away from the marker and swam a few beats until his boots hit the ocean plate and he could walk, which he did, staggering out of the ocean like some primordial Frankenstein, his sloppy footsteps falling against the sand and rivulets of surf running off him like it was the ooze of new life itself.
His eyes stung from salt.
Rain battered his skull.
When finally he arrived at the shore, he stood still, panting and groaning with the pain of his all-too-mortal body.
The gun was where he had tossed it, partially covered by the wave’s use of shifting sand. He felt its heft and the way it settled so naturally into his hand before he grasped it by the barrel and sent it cartwheeling out over the surf to splash awkwardly into the waves.
He straightened, then, and pulled his jacket closer around his collarbone as he made his way toward the city.
As he walked, a dark spotappeared in the shallows ahead of him.
The hat he lost to the surf earlier.
It was a good hat, he thought as he picked it out of the surf and shook it off.
He liked it.
It felt good as it settled on his head: Kept the rain off, helped him see into the distance when the sun was out. He looked at the sky, pushed the hat harder onto his head, and stalked off toward the burning city.
Behind him, a small fold opened in the clouds.
* * *
Thank you for reading “The Black Marker at the End of Time.” If you enjoyed it, you might consider telling someone about it via reviews on your favorite book sites (or any other way, for that matter!).
Copyright © 2017 by Ron Collins
First published in Beneath the Waves, June 2017
Published by Skyfox Publishing
Cover and layout copyright © 2017 by Ron Collins
Cover image: © Kevin Carden | Dreamstime.com
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.