By VERNEAL MAZE
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It was a year to remember. The comet had appeared bringing with it destruction. Earthquakes, numerous flood and volcanic eruptions plagued the earth. Millions of people perished and many were left homeless.
The comet, some had predicted, foretold of strange occurrences such as the fall of a leader, the coming of the Messiah and the end of the world. The scientists were silent on the matter of the comet; they didn't want to cause more hysteria. They were too busy trying to find a way to keep the remaining population calm.
Occasionally they would speak on the radio or television in soothing voices telling the people the soon things would be back to normal. The people listened silently; their faces betrayed their thoughts, for none of them believed the scientists anymore. They'd been told the comet would cause very little destruction.
They had been betrayed; the scientists had known the truth all along and were frantically trying to cover it up. The lack of electricity and other conveniences were difficult for many of the people, but a few had battery radios they used to keep contact with the little news they heard. Many of the television and radio stations had been destroyed, but some had managed to survive.
In one part of the country, one of the plains states, there were a lot of caves. Some had previously been opened to the public, but now served as shelters for the homeless and were sufficient since they maintained a fairly steady temperature winter or summer.
Several groups of people lived in one large cave eking out an existence by catching what game they could from the countryside and using what little food they had managed to save from their destroyed home and the stores. One group of people, the tribe of Rueban, found shelter in one of the larger caves, they along with several other families. They had been aware of their ancestry for years and believed they were one of the lost ten tribes.
One family in the group that had found shelter here had been born and raised not far from this part of the country. They consisted of a mother, Jenny about fifty, her three sons and two daughters, along with their spouses and children. Jenny's parents, brothers and sisters and their families were also there. Their ancestors had migrated from Scotland and France many years ago, coming to America. They had been cruelly persecuted by the ruling monarch in France for their religious beliefs.
Religion was the main factor in this particular group of people, but they weren't fanatic about it. Their leader was a young man called Josh; he was the eldest son of Jenny. He was about twenty-seven years old and had been an alcoholic causing himself and his family a lot of grief, but the event of this year had caused a change to come over him. He had served in the air force a few years before and had not been able to adjust to military life. Although his superiors had said he would make an excellent leader, he left the service under a cloud that resulted in less than an honorable discharge.
For several years he drank, got into trouble with the law several times and almost lost his wife and children. Jenny had never given up on Josh when the rest of the family predicted he would never change and couldn't be trusted when the going got rough. But things were as bad as they could be now with the world the way it was and the comet's appearance causing so much destruction.
The children thought it was great fun to live in a cave, but Jeremy the next youngest son of Jenny, growled that they would soon become prehistoric and completely idiotic. He skulked around, hunching his shoulders like a Neanderthal man, his long curly hair hanging in his eyes. The children screamed with glee when Kyle, His younger brother sneaked upon him and kicked him in the rear, which caused a big ruckus, big brother chasing little brother, bent on revenge.
Their foolishness took a lot of worry from them and they welcomed a little horse play from the boys. Jenny laughed with them her dark eyes sparkling; she had real good kids. All of them were married, but Kyle, who was in no hurry to get married. He saw no reason to hurry the prospects of matrimony. Although he dated a lot none of them were serious.
The two girls were so different that they hardly seemed to be sisters. Angela, the eldest was tall, slim and dark-haired with a serious manner. Jennifer, the younger, was short , bubbly and blond and slightly chubby, which resulted in a lot of teasing from her brothers; they kiddingly called her "Crisco". She's a rattle-brain too, Jeremy said teasingly; they liked it when it made Jennifer so furious she would chase them.
The boys were quite different too. Jeremy was tall, slim and had a round boyish face and long curly hair that was golden brown. Kyle and Josh were more similar; they were both dark-haired, dark eyed and heavier in built.
Suddenly one of the children came running up. She had been out playing. They had been cautioned not to venture too far out from the cave, for there could be danger from animals or strangers. Jenny was startled to see the child pale with fright; her eyes were dark with fear as she pointed to the entrance of the cave. All of them looked to where she was pointing and saw a tall bearded man swaying in the doorway.
He had a long staff in his hands, which was holding him up. He resembled a fierce Moses,; his hair and beard was long and streaked with grey and his clothes were filthy and ragged. On his feet were old worn army boots. He stood for a moment, his eyes burning into the crowd of frightened but curious people. He took one step forward and almost fell. His strength was almost gone, but he still remained standing as though he was determined not to be embarrassed and to fight for the last bit of strength he had.
Josh went quickly to him and caught him before he fell. "I saw your child," he said in a surprising strong voice that carried into the cave. " I didn't intend to frighten her, but I had no place else to go and I'm so tired." Josh led him to a box to sit on; the man sank gratefully, still clinging to the staff.
" Who are you?" Josh wanted to know. "I'm James," the man said simply. He leaned toward Josh. "I've seen so many disasters, but more is to come, and its not going to end before it gets worse. Dear Lord, when is it going to end?" He sat quietly for a moment and spoke so quietly that Josh had to lean forward to hear him.
"Be ye ever watchful, for the hour draweth near; I'm here to warn you, all of you, It's almost time for him to come."
That, Josh heard clearly; "Who?" He asked curiously.
"The Messiah." Was the quiet reply.
Josh looked around to see if anyone else had heard James, but they hadn't.
"I know," He said soothingly as though to a child. "Don't patronize me, young man. I know what I'm talking about." James eyes gleamed as though he knew a big secret. "That terrible comet was one of the signs." he continued. "More is coming; the evil one is going to make things very difficult for. us. He paused for a moment. "You should know, Rueban."
He leaned forward, looking directly into Josh's eyes. Josh was so startled he almost fell back "How?" he started to say.
"The ten lost tribes will discover their true identity in the last days." James said so quietly Josh could barely hear him and he was hoping James would change the subject, for he was religious to a point, but he wasn't sure he wanted to hear a prophecy of doom.
James accepted the food given him silently and said no more about his predictions.
The children sneaked as close as they dared to inspect James for he was a strange sight, but he ignored them, as though he was used to people's stares and curiosities. When he finished eating he hobbled away to a dark corner and sank down and fell into a deep sleep. The children soon forgot him and continues their play.
He slept for a long time. So long, in fact, that everyone feared he had died. But soon he awoke and sat up looking more refreshed. He never spoke but sat watching the people as they went about their chores. He studied them for a long time, his face sad, but his eyes fierce and burning.
He got to his feet, picked up his staff and walked to the entrance of the cave, looked back ,his eyes boring into Josh's, but said not a word as he walked out, disappearing from sight.
Josh hurried to the entrance to look for him, but he could find no sign of him. He could sure move fast for an old man, Josh thought as he went back inside " Oh, hell, just a crazy old coot." He muttered to himself.
The shades of twilight began to descend, bring strange shadows on the trees and hills. Night creatures begin to come out in search of food, their eyes glittering brightly in the soft light. As it got darker, a few clouds drifted close to the moon, partly covering it. Far off a coyote wailed mournfully, and soon another answered him. The peacefulness of the approaching night gave no hint of the previous havoc caused by the comet, it was as though the world had never experienced the holocaust. Six months had gone by since the first appearance of the comet, everyone had known it would be visible and were excitedly awaiting its coming.
Jenny and her family were all settled in their jobs and home life. Children going to school or to the dentist or to the doctor. Band concerts, school plays, and other things kept them occupied. Unemployment was high in the country, but so far Jenny's family had been pretty lucky finding work. There were a few times the boys had trouble finding jobs, but everyone stuck together, helping each other when things got difficult.
The first sign of anything unusual, except for the strange weather, was an unusually violent tornado exceeding three hundred miles per hour in one of the plains states and a few minor earthquakes. More than a century ago, a large quake had hit in one of the surrounding states and had caused a lot of damage, but when the small ones came there was little concern. There had been several small ones over the past few years, and as the comet came closer with its appointed destiny with earth, more strange things began to happen.
There were reports of huge tidal waves in New York and California. Then, a little later, off the coasts of the Carolinas.... Large tornadoes struck in places where there had never been records of tornadoes before.
There were several volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, Mexico, and Mount St. Helen's had erupted viciously in the early nineteen eighties. In Northern California, Mount Shasta was groaning and rumbling again from time to time. The people living nearby were a little alarmed, but not enough to evacuate. The heavy rains in other parts of the country caused a lot of grumbling, as did the extremely dry weather in other parts of the world. The rains caused flooding and a lot of people evacuated their homes temporarily then returned to clean up the mess as they had often done in the past.
One day a motorist was driving past Mount Shasta. He stopped his car and got out to observe the volcano. As he was watching it he noticed it was smoking; little wisps of smoke were lazily coming from the top. As he started to get back into his car, the ground began to tremble slightly, and the mountain groaned as through it were in pain. Startled, he got into his vehicle and sped off.
Days later the mountain increased its strange groaning and belched out more smoke. The people in the nearby town watched it with some alarm, but went about their daily activities. Finally it was silent again and they soon forgot about it. One bright sunny day the small town was busy with their usual duties when the mountain began to smoke again, but this time it was a little thicker than before. Still, the people weren't too worried. A few watched it curiously, but they too soon forgot it. As the day wore on and the evening approached, Mount Shasta grew quieter, a strange, ominous silence.
In other parts of the world, extinct volcanoes were coming to life; their moaning and grumbling increased as the days passed. Back in California Mount Shasta remained quiet, but on the eighth day all hell broke loose.
The town was sleeping when it happened.
Suddenly, in the midst of all the quietness, the mountain exploded with a furiousity that shook the town and countryside for miles. The sky lit up as though hellfire itself had arisen from the bowels of earth.
Those living in the vicinity never knew what hit them. The lava flowed furiously, covering up the entire town. In the central states, the earth began to tremble violently as a gigantic earthquake struck.
Then more came in various parts of the world. California, New York, Colorado and Japan, even places where earthquakes were unheard of. The people lost all reason and panicked like frightened cattle. Medical centers and hospitals, which hadn't been destroyed ,were so overcrowded the doctors and the rest of the staff could hardly all of them.
Thousands were dying in the streets without medical treatment; it was a terrible sight to see.
Jenny was home when it happened, Some of her family were with her, They felt the first jolt of the quake as it struck, literally destroying the small where they lived. Miraculously, very few were killed, but some were seriously injured.
The red cross set up an emergency center and the people tried to calm each other. Their reaction to the earthquake was astonishing. Most of them had lost their homes, yet they were more concerned about their neighbors. The pouring rain added to their discomfort, but doggedly they continued helping each other.
Eventually, Jenny's family got in touch with each other and all congregated to decide what to do and where to go. The town had been destroyed, and they could no longer stay there.
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