Read Epoch Online

Authors: Timothy Carter

Tags: #flux, #teen, #young, #youth, #adult, #fiction, #end of the world, #demons

Epoch

Woodbury, Minnesota

Epoch
© 2007 by Timothy Carter.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Cover models used for illustrative purposes only and may not endorse or represent the book’s subject.

First e-book edition © 2010

E-book ISBN: 9780738725079

Book design by Steffani Sawyer

Book editing by Rhiannon Ross

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover illustration by Ken Wong

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Introduction

This is a story about the end of the world. It is not about some hero stopping it from ending, either. There are heroes in this story, and there are villains. There are fantasy creatures and magic users. There are battles, there are defeats, and there are victories.

But make no mistake, this is about the end of the world as we know it. There will be no calling off of the end at the last minute, no reprieve, no gosh-that-was-a-close-call sighs of relief.

This is it. The end has come.

But the fun has just begun. With that in mind, let us meet Vincent.

“The rogue planet will come,” said the tall girl in the white turtleneck. “And when it does, it will destroy us all!”

The girl stood behind a table, upon which was a basketball painted to look like an alien world. Next to it stood a globe, with several natural disasters drawn in magic marker all over its surface.

Behind her on the wall was a large piece of bristol board, upon which was a detailed drawing of the alien planet’s orbit. Above the drawing, in big red letters, were the words, “Rogue Planet.”

Her name was Sandra. She was not Vincent.

“They already have agents in the White House and the Pentagon,” said a Japanese boy in a T-shirt that featured a giant, gun-toting robot. “And soon, when the bulk of their fleet arrives in orbit, they’ll take us down in seconds!”

On the table in front of him, he had displayed several alien action figures and a few plastic UFOs. He’d also placed pieces of human action figures around the display, just for effect. On the wall behind him were several imaginatively drawn pictures of aliens wiping out humanity.

His name was Pat. He was not Vincent, either.

“The world will end in ice!” said a thin Indian boy. “Weather patterns will change, and a new ice age will consume the planet.”

He stood before a table littered with drawings of dangerous weather, with explanations written in note form. On the wall behind him, his bristol board poster read “The Next Ice Age” in blue lettering.

His name was Vijay. He also was not Vincent.

In fact, most of the kids presenting their projects at Woodlaw Middle School’s 10th annual science fair were not Vincent. There were two Michaels, four Johns, and quite a few Jennifers, but only one of them was Vincent.

Vincent Drear stood behind his display in the far corner of the school’s gymnasium, right next to the big orange drink dispenser. He wore a faded, worn pair of jeans, the same pair his mother had tried to throw out twice before. His sneakers were old and grubby, not the polished dress shoes his parents had wanted him to wear, and his T-shirt was loose and baggy. His clothes did not look very spectacular, but they were comfortable. Vincent liked comfortable clothes. They helped him to deal with situations he found uncomfortable, like the snickers he got when people saw his display.

On the table in front of Vincent, he had many leaflets and tracts from his parents’ church. He also had small statues of Jesus Christ, Moses, and Abraham, the Holy Triumvirate. Vincent had placed them around a small globe, next to a stand-up sign that read, “The Act of Cleansing.”

While the other students stood and shouted out their prophecies of doom, Vincent slouched in his chair and hoped he wouldn’t be noticed.

“You’re hoping nobody will notice you, right?” said Big Tom, the smallest person in the entire school. He wore a white shirt buttoned right up to his neck, and red corduroy pants that were hideous to look at. Big Tom sat on a couple of textbooks on top of a stool, and even then he could barely see over his table.

“You know the judges will be here eventually,” Big Tom told his friend.

Vincent nodded but said nothing. His eyes were fixed on his older brother Max, who handed out leaflets from Vincent’s table to anyone who would take one. Max was a large boy, dressed sharply in a red shirt and tie. His hair was immaculately cut and combed, and his blue eyes could only be described as piercing.

As Max stuffed pamphlets into hands, he preached for all he was worth, determined to save at least one soul at the science fair.

Vincent’s family were Triumvirites, a new branch of Christianity that had popped up fairly recently on the spiritual marketplace. Triumvirites believed that three characters from the Bible—Jesus, Moses, and Abraham—had banded together to produce a text that spelled out the definitive version of God’s divine plan for the universe.

That text was the
Book of the Triumvirate
, discovered thirty years ago inside a cave outside Jerusalem. It spoke of dire times ahead, when demons would roam the earth spreading lies and deception. Only the Triumvirate could show people the true path, and save them from an eternity in fire.

Vincent hadn’t asked for—or wanted—his brother’s help. And he really hadn’t wanted to do a display for his family’s religion. He thought the whole Triumvirate thing was bunk, though he was smart enough to keep those feelings to himself.

Vincent turned his head and looked at the volcano display on Big Tom’s table. The two friends had spent a week making it out of papier-mâché, and to Vincent’s eye it looked great. Of course, he’d been the one who’d painted it. It was gray, the universal color of plain old rock, with red lava streaks and brown for trees from the mid-point on down. The cone at the top was ten centimeters wide, and filled with baking soda. On the table beside the volcano was a bottle of vinegar, which would react with the baking soda to produce a volcanic effect.

On the wall behind Big Tom was a sign that read “Volcanic Calamity.” Vincent had come up with the title, which to his ear sounded much better than “Volcanoes Will End The World Someday With Their Thick Ash.”

In Vincent’s opinion, volcanoes were not going to wipe out the world. They could change the weather, sure—he remembered the extra-long winter they’d had a few years back when a volcano in Peru dumped three mountains worth of ash into the atmosphere. However, the idea that a volcano could put enough ash into the sky to end all life across the planet wasn’t very likely.

A volcanic apocalypse was more likely, however, than the Holy Triumvirate coming down from the sky and announcing the end. Unfortunately for Vincent, that was exactly what he was supposed to be saying.

“Don’t you think it’s weird,” Big Tom said suddenly, “that everyone’s doing end-of-the-world stuff this year?”

“That’s what the school decided the theme should be,” Vincent said, his eyes fixed once more on his brother. “We had to do what they said.”

“Well, yeah,” Big Tom said. “But don’t you think it’s weird they chose that as a theme? I mean, that’s kind of morbid.”

Vincent nodded. He didn’t think it was weird at all, however. The school was simply going along with the latest fad.

Everyone was talking about the end-times these days. It seemed to have come from nowhere, as most fads did, but after two years it had achieved a kind of permanence. Not a week went by without the discovery of some new asteroid that might hit us, or a new terrorist group that might have the Bomb appearing on the world scene. Weathermen pointed to strange weather patterns and declared them the onset of something far more sinister.

And then, there were the religious cults. None of them called themselves cults, of course. They preferred the term “The One True Faith.” Every day, it seemed, a One True Faith member got his or her name in the paper by leading some kind of march, rally, or protest. Sometimes they assembled outside a doctor’s office, or the home of a politician who was pro-choice. Often they would rally at a bookstore, movie theater, or anywhere else where sinful deeds or images were on display.

And of course, all the cults preached that the end of the world was nigh. However, none preached that message more enthusiastically than the Triumvirites. Vincent’s family had dragged him to three End-Of-Day rallies since the start of the school term, and he hadn’t enjoyed them at all.

Vincent hadn’t had to do much work for his project—all the pamphlets and posters he used had been lying around the house. For that, and that alone, Vincent was glad of his family’s religion. With everyone at home willing to prepare his project for him, he’d had plenty of time to help out Big Tom with his volcano.

“Vincent, the judges are coming!” Big Tom hissed. “What do I do?”

Vincent rolled his eyes. A good friend Tom most certainly was. A smart boy he most certainly was not.

“Use the notes I gave you when they ask questions,” Vincent said, tapping one of the papers on Big Tom’s table. “Then, when they want a demonstration, pour some vinegar on the baking soda.”

“I remember that part,” Big Tom said, grabbing the bottle of vinegar. “It’s just … you’ll help me out, won’t you?”

“You bet,” Vincent said. “Just relax. It’s only a science fair.”

“Yeah,” Big Tom said, “but I want to win!”

“You won’t,” Vincent said. “And neither will I. Barnaby Wilkins will win. He always does.”

Big Tom had nothing to say to that. They both looked over at the table in the center of the gymnasium, which stood before a big billboard poster that read, “Government Conspiracy” in big red letters. Behind that table stood a tall, wiry boy, dressed in khakis, a collared shirt, and a V-necked sweater. He did not fit the typical image of the school bully, but Vincent and Big Tom knew only too well that his outward appearance was deceiving.

On the table in front of Barnaby, two laptops ran a slide show of images, complete with sound effects and narration from two large speakers on either side. The thumping musical accompaniment was, in Vincent’s opinion, a bit much.

But that wasn’t the best of it. Barnaby’s two bodyguards, Bruno and Boots, stood on either side of Barnaby, glaring at passersby. Dressed in black suits and dark glasses, they waved official-looking badges and snapped dialogue like, “That’s classified information!” or “You’ve seen too much!” at anyone who cared to listen.

“You’ve got to admit,” Vincent sighed, “he knows how to put on a show.”

Barnaby’s father, Francis Wilkins, was rich. He was not Let’s-Buy-the-Statue-of-Liberty-for-Barnaby’s-Birthday kind of rich, but he had more than enough and a bit more besides. He was a top executive at Alphega Corp., one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world, and his position paid very, very well. Every year he spared no expense to make sure his son’s projects were the best they could be. It made all the other kids jealous, and it always made the judges swoon.

“Well, what have we here?” said one of the judges as they arrived at Big Tom’s table. He was short, sweaty, and bald, and smelled vaguely of cheese.

“This is … well, my project is on volcanoes,” Big Tom said.

“Is that what this is supposed to be?” said another judge, tapping the volcano’s side. “I thought it was a smokestack or something.” He was tall, thin, and balding, with glasses so thick they made his eyes comically huge.

“It’s a volcano,” Vincent said, glaring at the thoughtless adults who had dared to put down his creation.

“We’ll be right with you, son,” the cheesy judge said.

“So,” the third judge asked Tom, “you think volcanoes are going to take over the world, eh?” She was pear-shaped, with a tiny chest above her huge thighs and enormous bottom. She had way too much makeup on her face, and her long and spindly fingers resembled spider legs.

“Um, er … well, yes! That’s my project,” Big Tom said, looking frantically at Vincent for help.

Vincent sighed, then mimed with his hands the idea of volcanoes erupting and spewing out so much ash into the atmosphere that the sun would be blocked and the planet would freeze. He really did. You can mime anything with your hands if you try.

“Um … so, all these volcanoes will erupt,” Big Tom said, “and cover the entire planet in ash … ”

Vincent put his hands in his face and moaned.

“You should be concerned with your own project, brother.”

Vincent looked up and saw Max standing in front of his table, staring pure disapproval into his face. Vincent sighed again; he’d only taken his eyes off his brother for thirty seconds, a minute at most.

“Why are you not preaching the Good Word?” Max went on, perfectly pronouncing the capital letters on Good and Word. “I’m out there distributing pamphlets for you, spreading the Message of the Triumvirate, and you sit and do nothing.”

“I’m pacing myself,” Vincent said. “I want to save my energy for when it really matters.”

“It always matters!” Max snapped. “Every moment of life must be spent spreading the Joyous Love of the Triumvirate.”

Whereas Vincent had more or less given up the faith, Max had embraced it wholeheartedly. For a while Vincent thought his brother’s belief was just a way of sucking up to their parents. And maybe that had been Max’s intention in the beginning. Now, however, it was clear to Vincent his brother was a True Believer.

Max often said the Triumvirate gave his life Direction and Meaning. Vincent thought it made his brother a major pain in the rear. Especially when that Direction and Meaning were shoveled into Vincent’s face.

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