I remember when the world ended. The “end” fell to earth while I slept. It arrived with an ear shattering explosion, reverberating through the ground, tossing furniture, and showering shards of glass wood and concrete in every direction. Thrown from my warm bed, I fell to a carpeted floor canted at an angle that took away all familiarity.

Gasping for breath, I could not understand the maddening chaos that had ripped me from my dreams. I heard the cacophony outside my now shattered windows. Screams for help, the startled barking of neighborhood dogs and the tinkling sound of debris raining from the sky added to my growing sense of dread.

It took effort to stand, the floor was heaved up at an odd angle. I was largely unscathed. Even so, I could feel my body shaking and I took special effort to slip on my clothes while the adrenaline running through me screamed for immediate action. I stepped lightly through the hall, making my way to the front door. The force of the blast had sheared it from its hinges and thrust it violently into the living room. My shoes, normally sitting by the entrance, were nowhere to be seen.

Outside, the world was framed in smoke and fire. An orderly neighborhood with neatly manicured lawns and well-tended homes was strewn with burning piles of rubble and cars tossed about the shattered streets. People wandered lost, disoriented, keening for loved ones whose fate was unknown.

Across the street, just beyond the rubble of my neighbor’s home, a deep pit billowed with dark plumes of smoke. Numbly, I stumbled through the glass filled street towards its edge. Something soft and giving pressed against the bottom of my foot. It seemed to fold in an unnatural way and caress my bare ankle. I jumped back, unnerved. It was a hand jutting from beneath the debris. My neighbor’s hand.

The world swayed crazily and I dropped to my knees. It was far too late to help him. I knew this, but I started digging anyway.

He had been divorced and lived alone. Somewhere along the line of his life he had traded in a wife and children for a bottle. Despite that, he was kind and soft and had eyes that twinkled when he laughed. He laughed a lot to hide his pain. I wondered abstractly if anyone would miss him.

The further I dug the muddier the dirt seemed to become. The cloying scent of blood and burnt meat filled my nostrils. The stench was so thick that I only took sporadic chugging breathes to avoid inhaling it. I stopped and looked at my hands. They were caked with “mud”. Only it wasn’t. I couldn’t fit this image, this feeling, with what I was accustomed to experiencing.

A hand firmly grasped my shoulder. My eyes focused on another set of eyes looking intently into mine. The woman, I don’t remember her name, shook my shoulder again. Her mouth moved but I couldn’t hear what she said. Concern and fear were etched into her soft blue eyes. I raised my hands to show her what had become of my neighbor.

Again, her mouth moved and she shook my shoulder. The line of her face set grimly and she grabbed my hand turning it over in her own. Dismissively she dropped it and stared hard into my eyes. She pointed to the smoky crater behind me and looked expectantly. With a shake of her head she let go of my shoulder and moved on, leaving me to stare helplessly at my gore caked hands.

Distant sirens keening returned to my hearing, reviving me from the stupor. I looked up, hopeful that help would soon arrive. It was then that the depth and scope of what had happened finally dawned on me. The horizon, in almost every direction, was filled plumes of smoke. Our neighborhood was not the only place afflicted. Only to the west, where our street ended in woods and hills, did the air seem clear.

Others walked by, covered in ash and silent as ghosts. They drifted to the edge of the crater. Nestled on the bottom lay a dark, vaguely spherical object. It was half buried. What lay above the surface radiated quickly dissipating heat in subtle shades of orange and red barely visible to the naked eye.

The early morning light reflected a dark dull purple, like a deep bruise, from its surface. The rest of it was black and immutable as if no light had ever touched its surface. The imperfect sphere was dimpled and irregular. Shallow cracks permeated the surface.

The crowd gathered, in awe of the thing which had so abruptly brought our lives to a crashing halt. As it cooled and more of the surface became visible, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. It seemed no more than a large rock that had come crashing to earth. However, the longer you looked at it the more its color, that black and dark purple bruise, seemed unnatural. It appeared more rounded than it should, even though it was clearly not a perfect sphere. The cracks along its surface seemed to multiply but one could not tell by watching.

A slight breeze brought an astringent smell up from the crater. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. A thought occurred: it wasn’t so much a rock or stone but more like a shell. Without thinking, I began to back away. A few others fled the edge of the crater making a beeline for the woods. I hadn’t noticed when the dogs had stopped barking. They simply vanished.

A few of the braver souls started a nervous descent into the pit. Others called out to caution against it but most remained silent, rapt in wonder and fear. A pudgy middle-aged man in a bathrobe and armed with a shotgun led the way. He swaggered down the slope shotgun at the ready; an air of supreme confidence pasted across his face.

The man all but disappeared in its shadow. Even mostly buried it was easily half again as tall as he was. Tentatively, he reached out to touch it. Collectively the crowd held its breath.

“It’s cold!” He cried out.

Others took courage from his assessment and also started down the craters slope to investigate. My curiosity was overruled by the hairs still standing on the back of my neck. The astringent smell had grown stronger. I noticed that the surface of the object seemed to become shiny. I heard someone yell out: “Look it’s leaking!”

A few of us started to back away from the pit. Others yelled for the people in the pit to come out. Most of them didn’t listen. The man with the shotgun scoffed.

“Look! It’s no threat! It’s already cold.” He smacked the barrel of his shotgun against its surface as if to illustrate his point. There was a dull crack and little shards fell away from the surface. A clear liquid wept from the crack and spilled onto the ground. It was thick and viscous. The intensity of the astringent smell caused those in the pit to start coughing.

Like a wave, the terrified explorers started to climb up the steep slope. It was already too late. The crack widened quickly. With little warning the entire surface of the object burst open, filling the bottom of the crater with thick fluid. The man with the shotgun didn’t even have time to scream as the liquid burst over him and a couple of others that still hadn’t moved. It ran up the slopes sloshing over the others, all of whom began to scream. The coating fluid made the sides frictionless. Those caught within slid backwards, screaming in agony. Before dozens of horrified eyes, the wreathing forms grew soft and semi-translucent, clothing and all. Silence quickly followed as they disappeared under the quivering gelatinous mass.

I huddled in the dilapidated remains of my home, unable to wrap my mind around what I had witnessed. Periodically I could not help but peer out of a shattered window in the direction of the crater. Every time dread started to overwhelm me.

The walls seemed strong, even though the roof had a slight sag to it. It felt strong enough to shelter me from grim reality. It was not enough just to hide from the horror of this clear bright day. I wanted it to go away altogether. I wanted to go back to my room, cover my head and blissfully fall back to sleep. This needed to be a bad dream. Closing my eyes, I would try to coax myself awake. It didn’t work.

Instead I shuffled the tossed furniture in my living room around until I found: first one shoe, then the other. I hadn’t realized until now that I had cut my feet on the broken glass. They weren’t severe cuts but it stung when I walked. I tried my cell phone. Of course, it didn’t work nor did the lights, TV or water.

I continued to glance outside from time to time. The crater’s edge remained empty and silent. People had returned but stayed well away from the edge. Here and there a few people recorded the carnage with their smart-phones and took the prerequisite selfies. It seemed insane. Thinking back, maybe they were just trying to grasp onto any activity that would give them a sense of normalcy.

A cry drew me back to the doorway. Someone was shouting and pointing into the pit. A crowd slowly gathered to gawk. For some time, I peered from the safety of my house, unable to gather the courage to cross the street. The crowd had grown in size. It was no longer possible to see the crater from my door. Tentatively, crossing the threshold of my fear, I made my way through the crowd.

The liquid had vanished, as had the remains of the poor souls taken by it. In its place stood what looked like the sprouting bulb of a plant. The semitransparent mass, dusky rose colored, rose out of the ground from the center of the crater. A half dozen tendrils arched out and swayed in the breeze. Swollen polyps at the end of the tendrils had already risen over the edge of the crater. Bright red in color, they swelled even as we watched.

The crowd, sensing danger, surged backwards. The tendrils rapidly swelled, shooting upward. It was the undulation of its own movements; there was no breeze that morning. The polyps at the end swelled and brightened as if they would suddenly burst open. Instead dozens of vertical slits appeared across its surface.

I found myself back in my house along with a few guests. The door was quickly shoved back into place and barricaded with furniture. Outside the polyps released a spore cloud. The air was tinged with yellow. Those too slow or unaware of their danger found themselves enveloped by it.

We watched in abject horror. The screaming stopped. The running stopped. People who had been enveloped in the cloud simply relaxed. Faces slack, eyes empty, they turned and began to walk toward the crater’s edge.

The cloud drifted into the remains of my shattered windows. A scream alerted us to the danger, but for many it was already too late. The yellow spores drifted further into my home, I backed down the hallway. As if mesmerized, the people who had retreated into my home with me began to crawl out of the living room windows. They had no reaction pushing through shards of ragged glass, leaving a trail of blood behind them.

The tendril lowered itself into view. The woman who tried to talk to me earlier walked slowly to the unearthly vine. She reached out, caressing it before reaching to embrace it. The pseudopod quivered at her touch and started to glisten. The fleshy pod swelled and slowly enveloped her with a few gentle shudders.

The pod contracted and undulated, pushing her further inside of itself. At first her form was distinct and pressed outwards from within the vine, but as it contracted and pushed her closer to the crater, her form seemed to soften and then vanish, with only an odd patch of color to indicate where she should have been.

I crouched low, pressed against a wall, too afraid to move. I wanted to close my eyes but feared that in that darkness the tendril might consume me as well. The image of the dissolving lady burned in my mind. She never stopped smiling even as it absorbed her. My body wouldn’t stop shaking and my limbs grew weak.

I’m not sure how much time passed. The yellow spores had all settled to the ground and the sunlight was no longer shining in my living room. A furtive rustling noise alerted me to danger. It was in the room next to me. Something wet and heavy slid against the walls and floor. The astringent smell wafted from the closed bedroom door. The tendril had found its way into my room.

The furniture in the living room slid across the floor and the heavy door fell with a clatter to the ground. A second tendril probed blindly for more souls to absorb. I grabbed my mouth to suppress the moan of terror even as it escaped my lips. The tendril paused. Beside me, the bedroom door groaned under the weight of the first tendril pushing against it.

I jumped up and ran. Straight for the laundry room and the back door. Frantically, I grabbed the handle and shoved at the door. It would not budge. Behind me, the heavy weight of the tendril pushed itself along the floor, ceiling, and wall. I threw myself against once, twice… a third time before it shuddered and gave way. I could feel it right behind me searching and reaching. The astringent smell of its acid clawed at my lungs.

I dashed headlong into the nearby woods. Only after crossing the tree line did I dare to turn and look. A dozen tendrils had stretched out from the central mass, which had grown considerably. Folds of rosy, semi translucent leaves peeled away from the center, forming a sort of flowering shape. Just beneath its surface, dark shapes, some still flailing, drifted in unseen currents, slowly dissolving into a cloudy formless mass.

One of the bright red polyps had begun to darken. The tendril it was attached to stretched high into the air. It arched over, dropping the darkened polyp several blocks away. I was too far away to be sure, but it looked as if it in turn sprouted tendrils.

My attention was brought to my own peril as rustling could be heard close by. One of the tendrils had worked itself into the woods. I shrunk down against the edge of a tree as if somehow, I could hide from its senses. The twisted pseudopod pushed itself into a small animal burrow. I could hear the squeals of terror as whatever resided there was swiftly destroyed.

The arm of the thing swayed in my direction and paused. I watched the surface ripple as if sensing my presence. The tree and branches sizzled as the tendril turned more transparent and pushed towards me. The smell of its fluid spilling onto and burning the tree was overpowering. Covering my mouth and nose I dove away from its bulk. Still, it touched the fabric of my sweater along the sleeve. I felt the creatures warmth start to ooze through the fibers and hold fast to my flesh.

In panic I tore away from the sweater. The skin it had come into contact with tore away as well. Excited now, the tendril swung wildly through the brush attempting to encircle me. I ran, pushing through brush with a wild abandon. It writhed immediately behind, burning through shrubs and brush and violently shoving aside the smaller trees that stood in its way.

The land jutted upward abruptly as the forest worked its way up a boulder strewn hill. I scrambled up the rocky breaks ignoring the sharp stones that dug into my hands and sliced up my pants. It was only after I made the crown of the hill that I noticed the tendril was no longer pursuing me.

A few scant yards behind it had stretched to its limit. Its last desperate attempt to ensnare me was to emit its yellow spore cloud into the woods. The wind pushed it away. Gasping for breath, my hometown was visible through a break in the trees. Dozens of those things were spread out across the town, their tendrils seeking yet more victims to feed an endless hunger. The screams of the damned were a cacophony that drifted in the wind.

Scattered here and there across the hilltop a few other survivors stood watch as our home died. The chorus of screams had withered to a handful and then none. One by one, we departed, huddled together for support and each praying that somewhere, somehow there was hope to start anew.

Hope, a beautiful word. Gone now, along with so many of the “survivors”.

Yet I remain. I can hear them sliding along the boundaries of my sealed shelter. The sound never stops, even when I sleep. The power is gone, but there is still plenty of food and water. The others have gone as well, checked out. So here I sit, in darkness, waiting. The things will never get in, but I will never get out. A perfect stalemate.

I still think about that bright sunny day. What a beautiful clear blue sky it was, the crisp coolness of the morning air. I wish I could see that sky one more time… before I die.