Prologue

The New World Order


           “– and please remember, the final sirens will sound from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. If you or your family have clearance for shelter, it is crucial that you bring your identification and eligibility paperwork to the bunker for secure admittance. We will welcome the ‘New World Order’ tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. after the doors to the bunkers are closed. For those of you left,” she hesitated, “may God be with you. Signing off – this is Carol Johnson with–,” Mirain shut off the television. She stood in the stillness of her apartment, next to the window as a thundering silence consumed the room.

           Mirain looked outside the window, and stared at the vacant streets. Her gaze glided by the sidewalks and the overturned cars that scattered the pavement, to the inside of her apartment. She took everything in slowly, taking comfort in the familiar. The mustard yellow walls that blanketed every room, and the burgundy tapestry that hung against the wall, covering a crack just above the worn brown leather couch. The wooden coffee table that sat in front of the couch was engraved with coffee stains and a gnawed off corner from her last dog. The floors were scattered with blankets and papers. Stacks of CDs and old records cozied up next to her television. Receipts, yellowed with age, filled a ceramic bowl made for coins, and sat on top of the white tiled countertops in the kitchen. The eight chipped cabinets clung to the walls. Her white rusted fridge rested next to the charcoal gas stove. Sunlight crept past her shoulder, hitting the cherry wood floors giving the room a warm orange glow. The room came to life and began to fill with the sound of her own breath, and steady heartbeat. As she moved the sound of her bare feet softly striking the hardwood floors bounced off of the walls. She sat on her couch and grabbed the quilt her mother made for her from the floor – it was the last thing she had from her family since her parents passed away. She gently lifted her feet from the ground and rested them on the coffee table. She sat in the silence of her apartment for a few minutes before her cell phone started to ring.

           “Hello,” she said softly.

           “Hey there, Meerkat,” a deep voice replied.

           Mirain smiled, hearing the familiar nickname, “Hi Sam.”

           “I was wondering if you’d like to catch one last drink and wait for the New World to begin without us?”

           She trapped her cellphone in between her ear and her shoulder, dragging her fingers through her long dark brown hair, catching each strand before collecting it into a bun. “I mean, if you can keep up with me this time, sure,” she teased.

           She could hear him smile through the phone, “I’ll try my best.”

           “Where should I meet you?”

           “You up for Callahan’s? I heard from Smith yesterday that he was having a small thing with the regulars.”

           “Oh, so we’re regulars there now?”

           “Well, I don’t know about me, but you on the other hand,” he dragged on, poking fun at her. “So what do you say, Meerkat, you up for it?”

           She paused for a moment and glanced at her chipped blue toenails, “Yeah,” she sighed, “I’ll be there,” and hung up the phone. She stood up and walked over to the mirror hanging next to the door, grabbed her scuffed brown leather jacket and draped it over her cream knitted shirt. She made eye contact with the woman in the mirror. It was like she was looking at an old friend, noticing features of her own skin that she hadn’t noticed in some time. Her arched, thick eyebrows were the same color as her hair. Her hazel eyes still had eye shadow from the night before. Her face was short, with a defined jawline. She pulled a few strands of hair from her bun, resting them beside her face. Her eyes scanned the woman’s face. A small, almost insignificant beauty mark rested on her left cheek. Her lips, soft; bare. When a thought crossed her mind, ‘Is this it?’ She took a deep breath, grabbed her keys, and went out the door, locking it before heading out.

           When she left her apartment, a growing sense of melancholy came over her. The streets had been void of people for a few days now. Most people had fled to one of the designated bunkers with the hope that they’d begin to let people in regardless of prior selection. Though, she never took the time to notice how empty the streets were before today. Walking to Callahan’s Bar down the street from her apartment was routine and normally took only a few minutes. Though, today the walk felt as if she was headed down a dark hallway through a morgue waiting to identify the body of another family member. The city could have been a scene from a play set; cars flipped over, broken glass covered the streets, its body remained lifeless – ‘It’s surreal’ she thought.

           Two weeks ago the streets were filled with people going about their day–to–day lives, blissfully unaware of the decisions their governments were making on their behalf for years now. It seemed odd to her how two weeks ago, no one knew anything – yet how it only took two days to put everyone into a panic. Suddenly, survival was on everyone’s mind; New World eligibility was on everyone’s mind; ‘what do I say to my kids?’ was on everyone’s mind.

Two years ago, a secret summit was held in Sweden on resources in which every representing world leader was called to attend. The summit lasted 8 days. It was brought to their attention that resources on this planet were dwindling faster than anticipated, and that the world at the present rate of consumption would last no more than five years. 8.4 billion consumers are unknowingly taking part in the world’s final moments. Humanity was consuming at a rate that the world’s natural and artificial production could not keep up with. As a result, the governing world decided to spend two years collecting the remaining resources around the world, and created a set of bunkers that were designed with a special purpose. These bunkers were known as the ‘New World Bunkers.’ Additionally, they would accommodate a total of 350 million people, and could withstand blasts from even the most powerful nuclear warheads. With only 350 million spaces, the conversation quickly turned into who would hold a space in the New World. As a result, the world leaders created a secret selection process in which they selected candidates from different countries all around the world. This catalog paraded people of interest, including those who could help redevelop our society, but also those that had enough power and money to hold a spot. Their intention was to create a society built on Wealth, Abundance, and Power: The New World Order.

Two weeks ago, the announcement that our resources were depleted was made public. The President of the United States released this brief statement, along with the rest of the governing officials around the world:

 

           “I say this with a heavy heart. It has come to my attention, and the attention of the world, that our home can no longer sustain everyone. Regrettably, this planet no longer holds sufficient room or resources to host humanity any longer. It pains me, and the world, to say that these are among humanity’s last days. In exactly one month from now the United States along with other Nuclear Powers will be launching nuclear warheads to the polar ice caps as well as sporadically throughout the nations. This is not an act of War, but an act of Preservation. This will force our planet into a Nuclear Ice Age, hopefully allowing for sustainable climates in the future. For those of you who have been selected, we have created bunkers that will protect you. You will be notified in the next few days, and will be able to find the locations of the bunkers nearest to you on your state.gov websites. You must simply bring the proper identification paperwork and your eligibility documents. The bunkers will hold everyone for a minimum of five years and for a maximum of ten. Following this, we will open the doors and rebuild our civilization – initiating the New World Order. For those of you who were not selected, you have two options. You can visit your local hospital where government officials will be available to initiate an injection that will quickly, and painlessly terminate your life. Or you can wait for the nuclear weapons to be launched, in which the explosions will almost instantly wipe out any remaining life on the planet. We know this will come as a shock to everyone. Though, there is not much else to say other than may God be with us all!”

 

An estimated 350 million people were selected to be placed in the bunkers around the world. The rest of the 8 billion will die when the nuclear weapons are launched. Vast numbers of people have left their homes in search for private bunkers, boats in search for an isolated island outside of the blast range, or any other hope of survival. Several airlines remained open for the first two weeks and gave free travel to those who wished to visit family who lived in different states or countries. Riots covered the streets for a few days after the announcement, though to the surprise of many it quickly disbanded and left an eerily calm aura in its place. Mirain and a small group of people were the only ones who decided to stay in Litchfield, Connecticut. It was a small town with an official population of 1,600 citizens, but after the announcement only about 60 decided to stay.

As she got closer to Callahan’s she saw Sam in the distance. He waved at her eagerly, and when she reached him she gave an expected smile. She looked at Sam, and for a moment, like she had done with herself, it was as if she was looking at him for the first time again. She began to notice the small details about him that she hadn’t paid much attention to in the last few years. Sam was a husky guy, and a little taller than Mirain, with red curly hair. His skin was marked with freckles and a scar at the bottom of his chin. Though most of his family had a fair complexion, Sam always had a bronzed look to him.

           They both entered the bar and were greeted by many of their friends, though some of them were missing. Elaine and Ryone left for the bunkers two days ago, and no one knew where Lucas went off to. They filled the night with drinks, and laughs – sharing fond memories with each other, and saying some goodbyes. As the night began to wind down, Sam asked Mirain if she’d go outside with him. They stood on the deck of the bar for a few minutes without saying anything, looking at the sky. The two of them had been friends since childhood, though saying goodbye seemed like an impossible task.

           “Listen, Mirain,” he whispered into the open space. “I know we said we weren’t going to do this,” his voice shook, “I just–”

           She slowly lifted her hand and rested it on his, “I’m going to miss you too,” she mustered up a smile and squeezed his hand. “When they hit in a few weeks, I want to be together.”

           “I’ll be there,” he said firmly.

The air became stiff, and the conversation became distant. There was an uncomfortable aura between the two of them, neither knowing what to say. The years they shared together seemed to have faded away, no longer giving them any comfort. Standing with one another, it was like talking to a stranger; each incapable of coming up with an idea or something to say that could make the situation they were in more bearable. Sam looked at her with soft eyes. “Hey,” he smiled, “what do you say about getting out of here?” he asked, attempting to salvage the space. “Going somewhere crazy for the end of it?” Their eyes met and she squinted at him.

           “How do you expect us to get there?”

           “Well, my stepdad is a pilot,” he said, “and he wasn’t selected to get into the bunker so he’s been telling people that if they want to go somewhere that he’d take them!” he placed his other hand over hers, and squeezed it tightly. “What do you think?” he asked eagerly.

           She gave him a somber look. “I don’t know, Sam,” she hesitated. “I think I just want to stay here,” the space grew quiet again. A few minutes passed, both of them still staring at the sky. “I don’t even know where I’d want to go,” she blurted out.

           He looked at her, “No, no, it’s fine. I understand.”

           “I just don’t–”

           “No, Mirain,” he said firmly, “really. It’s fine,” he let go of her hand, and took a deep breath before turning to her. “I think we should go back inside.” She nodded.

When they returned they were greeted again with loud welcomes, friendly hugs, and more drinks. As the night grew old the group gave their last goodbyes and went back to their homes. Sam and Mirain were the last two in the bar and when they finally decided to leave, Sam walked her home. When they reached her apartment Sam gave her a hug. He clung to her tightly, and she could feel him shake. She felt his heartbeat as she pressed her head against his chest, and for a moment it was like everything was normal again. Mirain started to cry, and when he let her go, she wiped her tears away. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” she spoke softly. He nodded and she entered her building.

    Her climb up the stairs was like her walk to the bar – it felt longer than usual. As she continued to ascended the staircase, she paused for a brief moment when she thought she heard footsteps. Being that she was the only one left in her apartment building, she stood in the staircase listening for more movement, and when her action was met with more silence she continued her climb. When she reached her floor, and peered down the hallway, she froze. She noticed that the door to her apartment was wide open. Her heart began to race as she slowly walked down the hallway. Mirain could hear her own heartbeat filling the narrow space with each step forward, eventually drowning out the sound of her own footsteps entirely. Every time she stepped forward, the hallway seemed to grow two feet longer.

    “Hello?” she asked meekly, approaching the doorway. “Is anybody there?” she stepped forward. “If you’re in there, I won’t hurt you! Please just leave,” she pleaded. “I don’t have anything you’d want.” As she stepped into the frame of her doorway, the inside of her apartment was dark. She reached her hand into the apartment, and began feeling the wall for the light switch. When her fingertips made contact, she flipped the switch and to her surprise the lights turned on. She stepped cautiously into her apartment and tiptoed to the right into her kitchen to grab a knife. Her footsteps filled the apartment as she went from room to room, holding the knife close to her stomach. As she got back to the kitchen from searching the home she set the knife onto the counter, let out a sigh of relief and looked around her apartment. She rested her hand on her side, ‘I really just walked around my apartment like I was in some horror movie’, she thought.

    When she turned around to open the fridge she caught something shimmering in the corner of her eye. Her attention focused onto the coffee table where a small package was sitting. She walked into her stuffed living room and as she approached the package, she noticed that it shined as if it was covered in gold and was tied together with brown string. She picked it up and turned it over, analyzing its body. There was no name on the package, no handwriting, no return address – nothing. She looked around her apartment again, wondering how this had gotten here. Curious, she untied the string and peered inside. There were two sheets of paper – one was a map, and the other was a short, typed letter accompanied by a small booklet. She took them out and analyzed each.

    The map was of the Amazon Jungle. There was a highlighted route on it that followed deep into the forest. Over the top left corner was written “Only Two” and underlined four times. On the opposite corner was written “Do Not Stray From The Path” – this was bolded and underlined once. Her fingers traced the path, and she felt a rush of energy course through her body forcing her into a trance-like state. She found herself drawn to the contents inside the package, unable to look away. ‘This must take days,’ she thought. She sat down on her couch and rested the map on her thighs. She then lifted up the letter and began to read.

 

‘Brothers and Sisters –

It has come to the attention of The Eight that your world has run its course. As such, you’ve been invited to participate in what The Eight call Humanity’s Last Labor. Thirty of you have been randomly selected from around the world for this process. This invitation is good for TWO HOSTS. The booklet attached will fill you in on what you must know before arriving.

The Tower, as well as The Eight, look forward to your arrival.’

 

There was no signature left on the bottom. ‘What the hell is this,’ Mirain thought.

The booklet was covered with a variety of jewels. Writing was carved into its rib that she couldn’t decipher. The booklet was a little larger than the size of her palm; a light brown color with gold writing. Written on the front cover was ‘Creation of Eight.’ The paper had aged, retaining a yellowish-brown color, though the writing remained clear and distinct. When she skimmed through its pages, each page of text corresponded with a picture on the page next to it. The pages that did have text were still sparse.

The pages read: ‘Among the Great Forest Lies the Great Secret.’ – ‘Hidden in Mist from Every Culture Known.’ – ‘In Times of Turmoil, We House the Weak.’ – ‘Thirty Shall Come to Claim What’s Known.’ – ‘A Great Tower Awaits Those Who Believe.’ – ‘The Eight Created Your Peace on Earth.’ – ‘Masked by Eight Floors Made to Lose Most.’ – ‘Above It All is What Everyone Seeks.’ – ‘The Last Labor Awaits Your Arrival.’ Mirain’s hands began to shake. ‘This can’t be real,’ she thought. She set the booklet onto the coffee table, picked up her phone and dialed Sam’s number.

“Hello?”

“Sam,” Mirain began, “can you come over?”

“Uh, sure,” he hesitated, hearing her panicked tone. “Why? Are you okay?”

“I think someone broke into my apartment.”

“What?” he asked harshly, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. They left something here.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a book, and a map, and a letter,” she paused. “Can you just come over?”

“Yeah, I’m headed over now. I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he paused. “Mirain, are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, Sam! I’m fine, I promise,” she stated.

“Okay, I’ll be over in a second.”

When they hung up, Mirain picked up the booklet again. She guided her fingertips across the jewels and over the indents left by the writing. ‘The Great Forest,’ she thought. She looked down at the map of the jungle and traced the highlighted path with her eyes. ‘I mean, it would be hard,’ she thought, ‘but we could do it.’ Mirain set the book down and stood up from the couch. She started pacing through her apartment. ‘What am I thinking?’ She walked over to the kitchen and opened the cabinet. She took out a small glass, a bottle of butterscotch schnapps and a diet coke. She mixed the two, took a sip, set the cup on the counter, and peered over at the papers on her coffee table.

When Sam arrived, she brought him over to the couch and gave him the map, the letter and the booklet to read. He flipped the pages front and back and set them onto the table.

“Where did you get these?” he asked.

“They were here when I got home,” she stated.

He took a deep breath, “–and you’re sure you didn’t have these before and you just forgot about them?”

She gave him a puzzled look, “Sam, I think I’d know if I just had something like this lying around my apartment.”

“Well, it has to be some kind of joke from someone we know or something, I mean–”

“But no one has keys to my apartment,” Mirain interjected.

Sam looked at her carefully. “Okay–” he dragged on, “–but I mean, maybe you just left your door unlocked?”

“No Sam,” she said firmly, “I lock that door every time.”

He became slightly frustrated and picked up the sheets of paper, “Okay, but these, Mirain,” he shook them in the air, “these aren’t real.”

She looked at him for a moment and opened her mouth. She faltered and clenched her fists. “I know – I know, I do,” she gave him a solemn look, sat on the couch and picked up the map. “–But I can’t explain it,” she hesitated, “I look at this, and I don’t know. I just feel like this is something real,” she looked up at him, “In my gut, you know?”

He squinted at her, and just like at the bar, the air grew stiff. He looked at his friend who was normally the level-headed one between the two of them, and couldn’t help but feel bad. ‘She’s cracking under the pressure,’ he thought to himself. “Okay,” he played along, “Let’s do it this way – let’s pretend and say that this is real. What then? What do you expect us to do?”

“Then I think we should go!” she sat up.

“Okay – but now, back to reality, what if it’s not real and we go there for nothing?”

She handed the map to him. “–then we’re no worse off,” the two looked at each other and the room filled with the sound of their breath. “–And look at it this way,” she broke the silence, “if we go there and nothing happens then at least we’d be doing what you wanted and ‘going somewhere for the end of it,’” she smiled at him and grabbed his hand tightly. “–But Sam,” she whispered with hope, “what if this is real? You know? How did this just randomly show up at my house? And why would it show up now of all times? What if this is real, and gives us a chance? I mean, God knows we aren’t eligible for a bunker, so what if this ‘Great Tower’ really does exist? What if we have a chance to survive? Wouldn’t you want to take that risk?”

He squinted at her again, but this time it was filled with amusement. He let out a small chuckle, “You really believe this, don’t you?” She smiled at him, and he looked down at the map again. “I mean, if you really want to do this, then sure, I’ll go with you,” he gave her a stern look, “but you have to promise me something.”

“What?” she asked.

“If this isn’t real, you can’t get all crazy on me. If we do go, this is it – there’s no coming back. You understand that, right?” she nodded, and he gave her a smile. “I guess it could be like our last adventure together, Meerkat,” he stood up and set the map onto the table. “I’ll give Ryan a call and see if he’ll fly us out in a few days.”

“Tomorrow,” she said firmly. “See if he can bring us tomorrow,” he looked back at her. She shrugged, “Why wait, you know?”

He smiled, “Okay, tomorrow,” he took out his phone, and headed toward the door. “I’ll call you tonight about what he says. Pack your bags just in case!”

    Mirain gave Sam a  hug before he left, and locked the door after closing it. She walked over to the coffee table one last time and picked up the map. She stared at it for a moment and pressed it against her chest. She closed her eyes. “Please,” she whispered.

Sam called her a few hours later as she was packing and told her that Ryan agreed to bring them out tomorrow afternoon. When she hung up, she continued to pack. As she was putting another shirt into her backpack she paused for a moment. She realized that this was the first thing she’d done since the announcement that didn’t feel like it was taking longer than normal. In fact, it was going faster. She smiled, and continued to pack with excitement. After she was done, she walked into the living room, grabbed the letter, the map and the booklet and set them on her kitchen counter; walked over to the light switch, flipped it, and went to bed.

    The next afternoon she met Sam and Ryan on the tarmac at the airport. She put her hand over her eyes, blocking out the sun and squinted at the both of them. “Are you sure we’re allowed to be on this?”

    Ryan laughed, “And who exactly is around to stop us?”

    She looked around and noticed that there were airplanes everywhere but nothing was moving. It was like the streets next to her apartment – void of life. Her lip curled slightly, “good point.”

    Ryan stretched exposing his large hairy stomach. “Well, kiddos, hop in. We’ve got a long flight ahead of us.” Mirain stared at him. Ryan was a big guy, both in length and width. He was a middle–aged man, maybe in his late 50s she thought. His hair was messy, his orange shirt had stains on it, he was unshaven and had a beer gut. Though, to Mirain’s surprise he smelled delightful. A mixture of the same smelling cologne you’d find at any department store with a hint of lavender. She smiled to herself and boosted herself up into the small airplane.

    With one pit stop for more gas, the flight took a little more than 13 hours. After an uncomfortable night's sleep, Mirain woke up to the sight of the Amazon Jungle right below them – she was mesmerized. She had never left Connecticut before, and seeing this vast green landscape was nothing short of breathtaking.

    “So what’s the plan,” Ryan blurted, “you’re gonna go get lost in the rainforest?”

    Mirain looked away from the window. “Rainforest?” She looked puzzled. “I thought it was a Jungle.”

    Ryan smiled, “Jungle, rainforest, whatever. No one really knows what to call it.”

    Mirain’s gaze shifted back to the window. “Well no, we aren’t going to get lost, we’ve got a map!” she said firmly.

    “A Map, you say,” Ryan played along, letting out a sturdy laugh. “I don’t know if a map will be much help to you.”

    Mirain glared at him, “And why is that?” she said inquisitively.

    “Because,” he began, “most of that Jungle or rainforest, or whatever, hasn’t been explored.” He picked up a handful of M&M’s in the cup holder next to him. “It’s far too big,” he popped the candy into his mouth and started to chew. “If you’re going in deep, chances are you won’t come out,” the plane filled with the sound of the engines and the sound of Ryan’s tongue trying to suck out the remaining bits of candy left in his teeth. “Why are you going out here anyway, what’s the intrigue?”

    “Getting lost,” Sam said quickly. He looked at Mirain, “We thought this could be our last adventure.”

    Ryan’s face grew stiff and somber. “Well,” he said softly, “I hope you find something worth getting lost for,” the cabin was silent for a few more minutes as they flew over the jungle enjoying the views. “So little lady, how about showing me that map so I know where to drop you off at.” Mirain handed him the map. He grunted, “Well I can get you pretty close, but I don’t know if it’ll be super exact!”

    “That’s fine,” Sam blurted, “just get us as close as you can!”

    When Ryan landed the plane, Sam and Mirain grabbed their backpacks and jumped off of the side hitting the soft grass below. They walked over to Ryan to say their thank yous and goodbyes, and Ryan grabbed them both, catching them into a big hug. He let go and as Mirain took out the map again and began to look at it, Ryan grabbed Sam by the shoulders. “Listen kid,” his voice shook. “You know, your mom meant the world to me. When she died I really didn’t know how I was going to move on, but,” he choked up. “I’ve always seen you as my son,” Ryan gave Sam a tear-filled smile. “You were one of the only things that kept me going after she passed away,” Sam looked down feeling his eyes begin to swell. Ryan hugged him one last time. “You be safe out there, and know that I loved you and your mom with every last breath I took,” his eyesight became fixed onto Mirain. He nodded toward her, “And one last thing,” he began, “You be sure to tell that little lady how you feel. Some risks are worth taking,” he patted Sam’s shoulder, “remember that!”

    Sam grabbed onto him tightly. “Thank you for being there for us. You were the best dad I could have asked for,” they let go and Ryan climbed back into his plane.

He started the engine, and just as he was about to go, he stuck his head out of the window. “I got you both as close as I could. If you’re looking for the exact trail on the map,” he pointed to the right of them, “it would be that way,” he said in a chipper tone. He gave them one last wave goodbye and took off.

    Mirain rubbed Sam’s back, “You okay?” she asked.

    Sam smiled adamantly, “Yeah, I’m good,” he took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s get going” He started walking towards the forest.

    “Wait!” Mirain shouted.

    Sam hesitated, “What is it?”

    “I don’t think we should go in this way.”

    Sam smiled, “Okay, I’ll bite. Why not?”

    Mirain took out the small booklet from her backpack pocket, and opened to the first page. “Among the Great Forest, Lies the Great Secret” she read back to him. “Look at this picture. It has a yellow scar going down the trunk of this tree,” she handed the booklet to him, showing him the picture. “I think that’s where we should go in. Ryan said it was this way, right?” she asked quickly, already walking in that direction.

    Sam looked at it, “Yeah, but how do we know where that is?”

    She looked around, “I’m not sure,” she paused, “But I think it’s important. We need to find it.” She took back the booklet and put it in her backpack.

    Sam smiled, “Okay then, Meerkat, you lead the way!” he shouted, following her.

    They walked down the path of trees for twenty minutes before Mirain caught a glimpse of the yellow-scarred tree. “There it is!” she shouted. She ran over to it with Sam running behind. When they reached the tree she went up to it, and rubbed her hand against the bark. She tilted her head slightly and dragged her finger along the scar that was going down the trunk.

    “Okay, let’s go,” Sam stepped forward.

    “Okay, hold on” Mirain said again, reaching for her backpack for the booklet.

    “Mirain, come on,” Sam said hastily, becoming frustrated again. “We can’t just wait around all day for you to feel out what you think should happen next. We came all this way and we need to –”

    “Wait,” she whispered. “Do you hear that?” The wind began to blow, and a noise stretched out toward them like the creaking of an old wooden floor. Mirain took a hold of Sam’s arm and pulled it back.

    They both stepped back slightly, and looked at the forest. The creaking turned into a cracking and it was hurtling toward them. Suddenly the ground began to shake. Sam grabbed onto Mirain as they stood and watched the trees begin to move. The ground split open, and the trees separated in front of them, creating a brown dirt path leading straight into the forest. The trees stopped shifting and Mirain stood in front of the entrance with her eyebrows shifting down in awe, and her mouth hung open. Sam and Mirain looked at each other, and smiled.

    “Wow,” Sam whispered in disbelief. His heart was racing. He grabbed her hand, and they walked into the forest together.

 

§            §            §

 

    Across the jungle, another pair of two was making their way through the path. The deeper into the jungle they got, the taller the trees became – some even as tall as skyscrapers. They had been walking through the jungle for over 8 hours, and had just about reached their destination.

    “What does it say?” Travis asked.

    Nicholas looked at him, “Well I think we just keep going straight. It said ‘Don’t stray from the path’ so I think if we just keep going we’ll be there relatively soon?” Nicholas was an average–height, 21–year–old from Los Angeles, California. He had greasy, shaggy–blonde hair, and a line shaved through his left eyebrow.

    Travis nodded. “What do you think will be there?” he asked.

    Nicholas rolled his eyes, “It says the ‘Great Tower’ so probably that ya idiot!”

    Travis let out a throaty laugh. “Yeah man, I guess you’re right,” he looked up at the sky. Travis lived next door to Nicholas for the last seven years. The two became good friends in middle school. He had dark brown hair that was buzzed to look as if he had been in the military. He was much taller than Nicholas and looked as if you could snap him in half like a toothpick. “Hey, Nicholas.”

    “What?”

    “We’re pretty lucky, aren’t we?”

    “What are you goin’ on about now?” Nicholas glared at him.

    “Well, finding that map and book and stuff in the garbage of that house,” he said. “Like, if we didn’t go in there, we wouldn’t have ever found it.”

    “Listen man,” Nicholas began with his shrill voice, “rich assholes like them probably left their houses for the bunkers weeks ago. They probably threw this away thinking it was some kind of practical joke,” he said stubbornly, puffing out his chest. “I’m a believer in fate, and I think we were meant to break in and find this stuff,” he said proudly. “–And if anyone asks, we’re the ones who got it in the first place!”

    “Yeah!” Travis exclaimed, “You’re right! We do deserve it!” They kept heading forward. In front of them was a brown dirt pathway and above the trees, a cover of mist was beginning to form. “Hey Nicholas,” Travis said, “Why do you think there’s so much mist?”

    “Dude, what is up with all of the questions? Why the hell would I know?”

    Travis hesitated, “I don’t know, sorry. I just thought–” A crack came from behind them. They turned around and saw a young boy who had been following them down the path.

    Nicholas pointed at him “Hey, kid!” he shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” The child, startled, ran into the jungle. As his body disappeared into the trees, the ground began to shake. Travis and Nicholas looked at each other and saw the pathway behind them starting to quickly close.

    “Oh shit!” Travis exhaled.

    Nicholas’ eyes opened wide, “Oh my God! Run!” he shouted. The two boys ran as fast as they could down the pathway – the trees closing faster and faster, catching up to them. “Don’t stop Travis, keep running!” Nicholas screamed. The trees behind them were rapidly smashing together creating an unbelievable sound that resonated in their eardrums like an explosion. They could feel the wind from the trees colliding behind them on the back of their necks.

    “We aren’t gonna make it!” Travis screamed, panicking.

    Nicholas pointed forward, “No, look! Right there! It’s right there!” The boys continued to scream as they ran toward the edge, the trees becoming compact behind them, getting closer and closer. They ran as fast as they could, sweat rolling down their faces. The trees were only a few feet behind them, striking each other with an unimaginable amount of force, so much so that the air pushed them slightly forward, causing Travis to stumble. Nicholas extended his arm over to Travis and grabbed him. He pulled him up as best as he could as they continued to run, and they both began to trip over themselves. With one last push of forced air from the trees, they both fell at the edge of the forest, and rolled into an open square, covered in sweat, tears and snot. The roar of the colliding trees charging at them like a wild animal, and as the trees met up with them at the edge, the last of trees smashed together spewing branches and chips from its mouth. Travis and Nicholas looked at each other, and then back at the trees. They shouted with joy, and hugged each other, wiping away everything that was coming from their faces. “We made it buddy!” Nicholas shouted.

They were kneeling down when they looked at the open square. To their left was a group of about ten, separated evenly. To their right a group of six – and suddenly, there was a loud conversation coming from behind them in another opening to the square.

They stood up and walked over closer to the entrance and saw two women making their way down the path. One had brown hair that was put in a ponytail, the other had short red hair and was holding a small girl tightly in her arms. As they reached the edge, the woman with the small girl walked into the square. However, as she did this, her friend ran into what seemed to be an invisible wall. She fell to the ground startled, and when she stood, she pressed her hand against it like it was a glass window. “Rae!” the woman screamed.

The red–headed woman, presumably Rae, began to scream. “Julie!” she screeched in a panic. “Oh my God, Julie,” Rae pressed her hand against the translucent wall in front of them, “What is happening?!”

The two stared at each other for a moment in confusion, hesitating on what to do. Though their hesitation was met with an uncontrollable component – the trees began to shift back into place. Slowly the trees began to come together, moving Julie away from the invisible wall – disappearing into the Jungle, never to be seen again. Rae sat her six–year–old daughter, Alice, on the ground, covered her mouth, and began to cry, facing the trees. A few minutes passed, and everyone was watching as her sobbing began to quiet, and she began to catch her breath.

Alice sat in front of her mother, placing her hand on her gently. “Mommy, are you okay?”

Rae wiped her tears away, “Yes, baby. Mommy is fine,” she exhaled, trying to get control over herself.

Nicholas came over and set his hand onto her shoulder, “Miss, are you okay?”

Rae looked up at him with her watered eyes, shaking her head, “I should have listened to them.”

“Listened to who?” he gave her a concerned look.

“The note said only two,” she whispered, “I didn’t think that would include a child!” The both of them went silent. When Rae finally calmed down, she looked at Alice who was staring at something behind her. She rested her hand against her cheek, “Baby, what’s wrong? What’re you looking at–” she said quickly, turning around. She was still kneeling when she took in the Tower.

The Tower was circular and colossal and would take at least a half an hour to walk around. It was a dark grey color with a singular sapphire blue stripe swirling up its exterior, like a vein in a forearm. The stripe had curved symbols flowing inside of it, and looked as if it was moving like a river. There were indents carved into its body that created eight platforms – the Eight Floors. Vines grew alongside the stripe, growing up the tower but never actually making contact with it. Though the Tower was intricate and stunning, it was also seemingly bare and monotonous even with the sapphire stripe clambering up.

Two large machines rested beside the Tower, one on each side – they were shaped like lemons and were implanted into the ground. The machines had ten separate strips of metal curving around its skeleton. The bottom five strips were moving up and down the base of the machines and the top five strips were extended upwards toward the sky, producing an everlasting stream of mist. In between these plates, the machines glowed a sapphire color, like that of the Tower.

In front of the Tower were two 17 foot tall white trees. Though the trees were tall, its branches were long as well and curved downward, hanging about six feet off of the ground. The branches were filled with life. Healthy Tyrian Purple leaves stemmed from its bark, and fruit hung from vines blanketed with white and yellow roses. The fruit were black with thin white lines going down its skin resembling the Tower. Picketed outside of these trees were signs in what appeared to be many different languages.

Then, their eyes shifted up towards the top of the structure. Above it sat an enormous, extravagant, floating Golden City. Unlike the Tower, the city was comprised with different shaped buildings, and machines that resembled pinwheels spinning at the top. Lights hung above the city, giving it a radiant glow so beautiful it would make even God Himself stare. Mist hung above the buildings, masking it from anything flying above. There was no noise coming from the city but the grandeur of the structure somehow had a mystical rhythm that you could inherently feel and hear.

Nicholas and Travis stood next to each other, both of them staring at the  marvelous city.

Travis tapped his hand into Nicholas’ chest, unable to look away. “Hey, Nicholas,” he paused, “What is that?”

They stood and stared at the Tower in its indescribable magnificence. Nicholas squinted, “I –” he paused, “I think that’s – Heaven.