Chapter 1

Black ooze.

It bubbled up from the ground, hissing and stinking. It emerged along the gray pathways and in the gravel pits. Sending its stench up into the filthy air, it was ever present and everywhere.

A thin spiral of dust briefly touched down, swirling and twisting. And then another. Caught up in their suction were twigs and dirt, embers and ashes. Going nowhere. Landing after the whirlwinds had completed their dances, to be picked up another time.

Heat. Heat so intense the entire landscape wavered.

Trees stood leafless, their charred, withered branches reaching upwards, begging . . . pleading. Upwards, to the putrid yellow sky. The distant cumulus spat lightning, and sheets of virga fell. But no rain would ever reach this place.

Nothing was living there.

Nothing was alive.