We continue our ride through Wild Frontiers with an extract from Stephen M. Coghlan’s ‘Such is the Nature of the Change’, a tale not of the West That Was but of a West That Might Be where gunslingers stride the edge of civilisation again.
The massed choir was rough in tone and agonized in note, but their passion was pure and was reflected by the strength that the dying sang their final hymns. Saint Dismas wished to join them, but The Rads of the nuclear desert had long since rotted away his voice, until he could only speak in little more than a scratched whisper.
Such was the nature of The Change; the single day, the single hour, where two superpowers, one fading in glory but desperate to remain important, one rising, young, vibrant, with something to prove, had engaged each other in thermonuclear warfare. The exchange had lasted a single salvo each, but the results had altered the entire world. For most, it had been a brilliant moment, a bright flash, a blinding light, an evaporation of flesh and bone, a superheated cooking of blood.
Governments collapsed under the strain of the global fallout. Countries isolated themselves or hid deep inside the earth. Relief to the two powers who had fought the war was refused out of vengeance for the pain their conflict wrought. The lands and peoples were ostracized and ignored as their final curse killed those who had never been involved in the feud.
Salvation could only come from within.
Salvation could only be found from The Order of the Saints of the Apocalypse.
To them, The Change meant purpose, meant duty. It was a calling to a higher and nobler good. The Saints took it upon themselves to spread peace and tranquility through order and faith. It was their oath to bear the weight of the dead upon their shoulders, and to end the suffering of the dying survivors.
They offered relief, free from the sin of suicide.
Placing the barrel of his pistol against the first of the flock, Dismas listened as the final notes hung in the air, faded, extinguished. The Saint looked into the woman’s glassy eyes, scorched blind by poison, saw the parchment-thin flesh. The blisters and sores, the lack of hair, the blood that came from her mouth and ears, and the smile of gratitude that broken her lips and twisted her warped flesh. She was not long for the world thanks to The Rads that still blew about, irradiated, toxic, which had signed her death warrant. It got into everything, food, water, air, and where it entered into flesh, the body rotted from the inside-out.
She muttered something through her toothless mouth, spoke nonsensical words to the higher power.
“Your confession,” Dismas whispered, his own words whistled sharply, because his teeth were long absent too. The bombs’ blasts had rattled him, shook him to the bone, but it was the lingering radiation that had rendered his mouth into swollen gums and twisted tongue, not the moment that had altered the world. “Has been heard.”
Salvation is a powerful comfort for the doomed, but what of those who want to make a better world in this life? Who else will join our daring author on his journey into uncivilised places? Tune in tomorrow to find out.
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