• The year is 2523.

    The world has changed.

    The result of nuclear war has twisted our once beautiful planet into a writhing, vibrating mass of agonizing dead matter flowing with torrents of harsh chemicals and man-made oxygen. The sun had given up on shining down on the surface, blocked by malicious clouds of pollution. Like a hazardous shield, they stood silent, unrelenting, like a wall, to cast a deep shade over the land. From their bodies came the rain that destroyed the lingering visages of life. There were no flowers, no vibrant colors, no teal lakes, no scarlet sunsets, but instead replaced by the muted colors of the apocalypse. The land had turned a mucus green shade, infected with grime, crawling with the barely living vines of the stronger species; and on it's surface walked the very shadow of death.

    Effects from the radiation turned people into mutants, animals into ravenous hunters, blind with rage. The cries of their anger lapse over the wasteland that once supported a lively variety of wildlife. Standing in ruin, life drained from its veins, the pulse of its life now hardly a dull beat. The irradiated land was miserable, racked with pain, screaming out for help with all it could exhaust. The land had a certain depressing feeling about it, like staring into an endless morgue filled with the still wandering souls of the ones who had once thrived. Above them hung the dark clouds, watching and waiting for our weakest hour to rain death down upon us. Only the survivors knew the agony of the war, only they knew the real hell.

    If you were lucky, you were instantly vaporized when the bombs hit. The force of splitting atoms would run through your body for a split second and the pain would be quick. You'd be dead, gone, never to return to the horrid planet again, to have to face the wrath of the new land.

    If you weren't so lucky, you'd live. You'd be warped into a deformed, ugly pile of flesh and bone, never to be gazed at by the angels and their beautiful eyes again. Only the dead would look up to you now. Only they knew the meaning of the word hell.

    Hell, that's what the world was now, filled with the misshapen demons that wandered, rotting away with the land, older than time, to walk an endless cycle of misery. Everything was dead, the animals, the people, the land. Even if it moved, coiled, growled or writhed, chances were it was dead; or at least, partially dead. Drinking the irradiated water would rot your insides, eating the food would poison you, but you had no other resource. People were starving everywhere, refusing to take in the poison, so they dwindled away slowly and painfully as their gasp of life was taken from their bodies. The only way to avoid the poison was to take specialized medicines, which had gruesome side-effects for most of us. Lots of people died from overdoses on the medicine.

    The human race was dying out slowly, one by one, the population diminished, until only the stronger survivors lasted. Even in places like New York City or Chicago were deserted, the only things walking through being scavengers, mutants, or monsters. There were no safe havens in the wasteland; there were no good people, no trust.

    In this hell, everyone who was anyone became a thief, a scavenger, or a raider. Stealing was the only way to find anything of value, either that or you went out into the wasteland to find things, which was far more dangerous. In order to survive, you had to be a master of all things combat. This, by now, everyone had become. My father, right before the war started, taught me how to survive, how to fight, and how to salvage what I could. From day one I'd known I'd need these skills, and for sure, I was right.

    Last night, a group of nuclear bears attacked my camp. My loyal companion, Rothus, a large mutated variant of a wolverine, came to my rescue as one of the beasts decided to rip out my throat. Just as the monster's pearly whites pressed down on my throat, he pounced onto the creature's back, sending it flying to the side. As it got back up, Rothus gave a deep, snarling cry, and like a scared housecat, the bear ran away with his injured pack mate. The third one had been killed, and we ate it for dinner that night.

    Life was hard in the wasteland. Food was scarce, shelter was non-existent, so building skills were required, and there was always that smell in the air, the smell of burning flesh. Even though the war had been over for many years to come, that particular smell would forever haunt the air; and the sound of the dying Earth along with it. But I'd become all to used to the atmosphere; the smell never bothered me, and the sound was all null unless I really listened closely. A lot of people told me that I was crazy for saying that the Earth screeched, but it was just humans, they were all turned cold and heartless.

    No, not all of them, there were still some good people left. I once came along a city in the southern part of the west coast, who lived by the sea. They actually welcomed me into their town, instead of pulling out their trusty sniper rifles to score a bloody headshot. I've always felt that everyone has their crosshairs on my head, watching me, waiting for me to screw up; but these people didn't even have guns, they actually communicated with nature and made the animals calm by giving them medicinal herbs to help with pain. I too, received some herbs, but they were too strong and I blacked out after ingesting them. But I have to say, they definitely helped me sleep that night.

    After that visit with the town, I decided that moving on to explore more of the wasteland was my best bet when it came to survival. I would never last if I were always high on herbs. The people gave me a couple more of them, despite the side-effects, which I decided I'd keep for further restless nights or for poison darts. Somehow I'd always find a way to use what I had, whether it had been for my own good, or for others'. Even though they never helped me, I'd do my best to keep the last bit of my humanity in tact.

    Humanity. Sometimes the thought of it slipped my mind, and I'd go into berserk fits of rage, screaming and yelling because of the fact that everything was so… twisted. The people, back then, were so nice and kind, so happy; but now all that they showed was hatred and agony, like a trapped, dying animal. This is what we were, animals trapped underneath the falling sky, dying under the pressure of its wrath. It was only natural for us to be the least bit cold. It was sad to see the human race turning to mush, from the once rigid form it used to be in, where people helped others, where people trusted others.

    I was sure the human race would recover, eventually, even if the goal wasn't in sight, not even in the distant sunset that I so longed to see again. The last time I'd actually seen the sun was the day before the bomb hit our area. The day was sunny and beautiful, silent, calm. The news of the war hardly circulated through my small town, not even among the more sociable ones. That night it rained hell, it was like the sky was warning us for the coming of a great pain. That night I could hear the Earth screaming for mercy, calling out to the inhabitants of it with all it could endure until it stopped the next morning, when the nuke was launched. The Earth knew what was coming, so it braced itself. Too bad we didn't know about it, or maybe we could have done the same.

    If we could have prepared, maybe more of the population would have been saved… Like my family, or my friends… Or even my co-workers that worked with me in that messy pile of a factory. Now that it comes down to it, I am alone. Even if it never phased me, I still prayed for them every night, so maybe, if they were still alive, that they could die and pass on from this world; and if they were dead, for them to be free in the afterlife. I'd always believed there was an afterlife of some kind. Whether it being one where you were floating high above the atmosphere on clouds, burning in hell, or exploring your desires. I'd always believed in weird things like that even if they were sort of… unbelievable. I wished I could go there. One day, I'll make it there, to the afterlife, but first I have to redeem myself worthy by helping others. That's what we're supposed to do, right?

    I'd always asked too much, too many questions, with so many unanswered topics. In my spare time I'd think about these things, like life, the supernatural, love, emotions, dying, fearing, soaring, and anything else I could possibly think of. Of all the things that I thought of the most was being with my family again. Being with them was amazing, the good times that we had… There was no negative feeling when it came to my family. All of it was good and it made my chest burn with the despair of losing them even more. It also made my chest burn with rage when I thought about what took them away.

    Those people, the government, those ignorant idiots of politicians… They all knew of the coming demise, of the war that would disintegrate the world into a pile of dust. There would be no phoenix rising, there would be no life after us; even as hard as we tried, as hard as we pushed ourselves to stay alive through the hardest times and the terrible conditions of this hell.

    Thinking of all of this made me extremely frustrated. At times like this, I would usually go into the woods and kill animals, sometimes more than I could eat or preserve for later times… Those blind rages that took me over scared me to no end. I could never remember the events, or even feel the emotions to follow the incident. The only thing I could feel was their blood, still lukewarm on my fingertips, and the exhaustion that almost always followed, like a wave of nausea. Rothus would often run away during my outbreaks, only to return the next morning to eat the victims. The sight of the slaughter made me want to rub chemicals into my eyes, to pour acid into my sockets… The horrible feeling of remorse would fill me then, after seeing the damage I'd done. Sometimes I wouldn't even be able to devour the kill… The thought of eating the beast that I'd previously ripped apart with my bare hands made me want to vomit. Of course, Rothus had no problem finishing them off for me; though, even sometimes, he'd whimper innocently and stray from the meat. The scavengers would get the meal; at least my rage profited someone in this world.
    At first, I didn't really know why I was so mad. I'd always been a happy person, as a child, as an adult, and even now, I was mildly happy. I'd known that the apocalypse would come; I had so deeply thought it would take my life… So I suppose the reason why I was so angst-ridden was because I couldn't accept the fact that I was living in a modern day version of hell, or maybe just the fact that I was living at all. Armageddon had passed me over, looking right through me like I was made of glass as he took the ones close to me to his realm.

    So now I walked, wandering in the silence of a fallen race, looking, looking for something to kill, something to devour, or something to defile. It seemed like that's all I looked for anymore. Now I was looking for food, because last night had left me with a sickening feeling after killing a couple raiders.

    Rothus races in front of me and snarls a bit before his hair on the back of his neck starts to rise inquisitively. The darkness sends a chilling feeling that takes over my body, making all things feel cold, the hungry pang in my stomach seem like nothing. My skin crawls as the chilly wind of the early morning makes my hair stand on end. A feeling of extreme fear races through my body as I notice that Rothus is gone.

    Standing still, I slowly pull out my shotgun, made from cheap metal, a blade on the end. I hold it close to my chest and step forward into the murky black darkness, trying to feel my way around so that I don't trip. It was times like this I'd wished for matches, or a lighter; because a whole tank of gasoline would burn down everything, which was all I'd had at the moment.

    The ground sucks in my feet as I walk slowly, making sloshing noises. I try to stop them, to avoid giving away my position to any eavesdropping adversary, like a bear. Usually, I'd be able to take on a bear, but the sense of fear that undeniably shook my mind made me weak, and dizzy. I felt as if I'd pass out at any moment, but I kept walking. I thought about shouting out for Rothus, because he'd always respond to his name, but I couldn't even speak, for fear that I'd be attacked.

    My foot then feels something awkward, something… warm. I jump a bit as the object trembles, and then Rothus comes into view to my side. Instead of attacking the lump of what looks like fur, he just looks at me, asking me what to do with his eyes that shine slightly in the dim light of the moon. It surprised me that he didn't attack, which meant either it was dead, or it was… Human.

    As the realization hits me, I quickly get down on my knees and examine the object. Removing the fur blanket from the surface of its body, I notice that it's the body of a young woman, about my age or so, covered by only a layer of dried blood. She shivers as I remove the pelt, but complies, as if she has any other choice. I try to turn her over onto her back, so I can inspect her wounds. She struggles, but her weakness takes over and she blacks out after using up the last of her strength.

    At first I only notice a large cut on her stomach, but then, after picking her up as carefully as I could, I see the deep gashes in her legs as well. I stand up and start to walk away, carrying the woman in my arms and the fur over my shoulder. Rothus whimpers, picking up my shotgun in his mouth to follow. As I walk, I notice the pair of glowing eyes following me as I hurry towards Golith city.

    It seemed like I'd gotten there very fast, like I was running. The sun wasn't even up yet, so the guards didn't see me as I snuck inside. I'd already known where everything in the town was, so I immediately walked towards the medic's house. He'd been good to me, most of the time, so I was hoping he'd do the same for her. Nobody was in the streets, gladly; it would be a little awkward being seen carrying a naked woman around town.

    It wasn't dark by the house, illuminated by the streetlight hanging above. I hurried up to the door and knocked violently with my foot, almost breaking the weak door down with a swift kick. The door opens up slowly and the medic comes to the door. His head immediately turns to the side and he asks, "What did you do this time?"
    Whenever I'd halfway kill someone in my blind rage, I'd usually bring them back here for medical attention, so he knew of my "condition".

    "Mel, you need to help this woman, now." I exhale, walking inside with no permission whatsoever.

    Mel closes the door behind me and watches as I lay her limp body onto the beaten couch, "What happened to her?"

    "I-I don't know, I found her, lying in the dirt, just like this. She's still alive, but she's really hurt, so, Mel, please help her, I'll pay you for her."

    He takes a moment to think, but complies, reaching over to his cabinet to fetch a bottle of rubbing alcohol and some cleaning equipment. "This might take some time, but I'll see what I can do, okay Caleb?"

    I had no choice but to comply, so I left and decided that coming back in the day would be best. I couldn't stop the thoughts of her from running through my mind, but it didn't really bother me. I really just wondered how she'd gotten there in the first place.

    The next day came after a restless nap, and as soon as I saw the sun come up I rushed to the doctor's house again. He had her lying on the bed, dressed in some of his clothes, and hooked up to IVs of all sorts. She looked almost peaceful, sleeping there on the comfortable couch, in rest. I sat next to her for a while to see if she would wake up but she didn't. I started talking to Mel, who told me that he'd be okay, but still, I wondered. I wanted to ask her so badly, and then just as I was about to leave, she woke up abruptly.

    I sit down next to her, her bright blue eyes fixated on my dull brown ones and she yawns, stretching her long arms into the air, almost hitting the wall. She glances around and then to me with a confused expression, "Where am I?" She asks in a simple tone. Her voice reminds me of my mother, but younger and wilder.

    "You're safe now, miss, what happened to you?" I ask inquisitively.

    She puts her finger to her lip and looks around, "Well, I can't exactly remember that well, but I remember being attacked by a bear or something and then there were all of these raiders and they were the ones that stole my stuff… And then I woke up here! And here I am!" She was very enthusiastic, to say the least, but cute, nonetheless.

    "Um, alright then, miss… So what's your name?" I ask her in reply.

    "I'm Aenona, named after a meteor!" She says happily.

    "Nice to meet you, Aenona, I'm Caleb."

    "Caleb? Ah, I see, your parent's named you that because you're crazy, am I right?" The doctor gives a peculiar glance at her remark. For some reason, I thought she'd read my mind, even though I'd had no idea what my name stood for at all.

    "W-What do you mean?" I ask her, stuttering only slightly.

    "Your name means 'Rage' in Hebrew, you didn't know that?" She laughs a little. "I really like to learn a lot of useless information, just because, well, it might be not so useless in the end, you know? Like, I know this place, called Eden, out in the wasteland and its-"

    I stop her abruptly, "Eden, in the wasteland? But that's a place in the Bible, in my faith, at least."

    She smirks, "I know that, but it's really a place out there in the badlands, I swear!"

    The doctor looks over to be inquisitively and I look at him the same. "So how do you know this, Aenona?" I sit down more comfortably on the side of the couch.

    "Well, my parents told me a bunch of stories about Eden, before the bomb hit too. And then one day I thought about it, and then I decided o go look for it, because I wanted more of that useless knowledge, you know. So, I found it, up to the North, but it was all crazy and guarded by these creepy mutated lizards that tried to eat me alive! So I decided that it would be best to stay away from it. I really wanted to go inside, because it looked really nice in there, all those trees and all of those pretty flowers… Very peaceful. But I'd never be able to make it inside anyway."

    Could a place like Eden really exist? She could have just been hallucinating, you know what the radiation does to you sometimes… But, could there still be a place like that, with… Life? I tried to convince myself a thousand times over that it couldn't be real, but for som reason I believed her as if it was my family saying it to me, because I trusted them more than anything. I was tempted to jump up, walk out the door and search until I'd found it, but I decided against that. Charging in without a battle plan had always been my weak point.

    "So you're sure, a place like this exists?"

    "Honest! My little eyes wouldn't lie! I spy with my little eye, a sparkling garden with nay a worry! Glimmering under the great blue sky!"

    "The sky isn't blue anymore, Aenona." The doctor says.

    "But there, it is! It's weird, because when I saw the doors to Eden form a distance, it was cloudy, but whe I got up close, the sky above the garden was blue! A blue that was so brilliant, it almost distracted me from getting clawed by one of the mutant lizards there." She laughs a little at this. "But really, I saw it. I know I wasn't high, because... I wasn't. I know it's real." She actually sounds really serious as she's saying this, and yet I couldn't shake the fact that she might still be drugged from the doctor's medicine…

    I stand up and walk around a bit before sitting next to her again. "Could you lead me there, to the area where you saw this place?"

    She smiles brightly, "Yeah I can! Would you help me get inside then, mister Caleb?"

    "Of course!" I spout out, without thinking. I hoped dearly that she could fight, or at least, run. "First, you rest up, and then, while you're resting, I'll go buy us some weapons and some reserves, you know, for the trip." She nods enthusiastically as I say this. "And then, when we're absolutely ready, we can go. You can fight, right?"

    "I can, uh, shoot stuff!" She says with a smile.

    "Yeah! Yeah, that works! So, I'll get the guns, and you get some rest, okay?"

    "That sounds like a plan to me!" After she says this, Rothus jumps up onto the couch and curls himself into her lap. She gives him a pat on the head and looks up to me again. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go!"

    So with that, I went to market. Buying guns was my specialty; I knew how to haggle, how to trade, and better yet, how to fix things. Just because it is broken, doesn't mean it's useless to me. I can fix anything, or so I tell myself.

    After a hard day of marketing, I decided that returning to the doctor's house was the best thing to do, instead of returning to my home. During the day I'd bought weapons galore, some that needed repair, but still weapons. An old hunting gun with a knifelike protrusion on the end, a medieval sword from ancient times, and several modernized weapons were today's arsenal. It would have to do.

    Opening the door, which was left unlocked, I creep inside, sensing that everyone was asleep. I look over to find Aenona on the couch, curled up next to Rothus, who's snoring like usual. The doctor was probably in his room in the back, out of sight.

    I set down the bag of heavy weapons on the table, next to a large sculpture of a person holding something; it was too dark to see, really. Sitting down next to Aenona, watching as Rothus rolled viciously around in her lap, yet she didn't awaken, I place a hand on his head to calm him, but then awave of exhaustion overflows in my mind and I fall into a deep sleep. In this sleep, I dreamt of Eden, of how magical it was, how beautiful the flowers were inside; But then halfway through the dream, a shadow creeps towards me and my dream turns nightmarish, the plants coming to life with a malicious aura as their leaves turn black and their coils ride up from the ground in a dance of death. The shadow reaches out towards me, but I step back, and then, I fall; endlessly.

    I awoke normally, not like most dreams, where when you hit the ground, you wake up abruptly. No, I woke up normally, well, mostly, except for the fact that I was freezing. Apparently it had gotten cold.

    I sit up and look around, Aenona still slumbering and Rothus still rolling, the sky still dark through the windows. I carefully remove myself from the side of Aenona, trying not to wake her. She tossses a little bit but stays in dream, still, eyes closed in peace. I grab a blanket from a chair and use it to cover her shoulders before putting on one of the doctor's jackets and heading outside for some air. As I open the door, a warm breath of air brushes past my face. It was odd, how cold it was inside, even though we had no air conditioning or fan of any sort, but outside, it was warm. It made me think of the dream, that strange shadow, that odd feeling it gave me… And Eden. I had a bad feeling about it now; like that my dream would come true.

    Though, I was all too determined to give up on the search for this place, so I knew that my strong heart wouldn't let me give up just yet; And neither would Aenona, as she was enthralled at the fact that I'd bring her along and help her get there. Rothus was exited too, I'm sure. He'd always loved a good adventure. Just like my father.