Climate change is man-made, but caused by just a powerful few known as Druids. When successful meteorologist Mason Griers is recruited to consult for a mysterious environmental firm, it's the perfect chance to put his lifetime obsession with violent weather to practical use. Solstice Inc. promises a new technology that can accurately predict, and possibly control, catastrophic weather events around the world. Too late however, Mason learns that Solstice is made up of high ranking and powerful Druids, and he's become an unwitting tool in the firm's dark plot that could remake the world on a scale not seen since the last great extinction.
David Sakmyster is a former student of mine from the Writers of the Future contest and workshop, and he's contributed several titles to my other storybundles. I'm pleased to publish two of his books at WordFire—and one of them, FINAL SOLSTICE, is a unique global climate disaster novel. Yes, climate change is man-made…well, caused by DRUIDS. And if that isn't a hook… – Kevin J. Anderson
"Sakmyster spins a thrilling tale of action, intrigue, and the occult. You'll keep turning pages late into the night!"– David Wood, author of Atlantis
"The old masters, writers like Heinlein and Clark and Anderson, never did it better."– eBook Reviews Weekly
"I have read many of Sakmyster's works and each time I am never disappointed. Couldn't turn the pages fast enough."– Bookshelf Reviews
7:30 PM, just as the engorged sun bled out over the Laguna Mountains, Senator Robert Aickerman went for a late jog. He left his Sunset Hills estate outside of San Diego, waved to the night guard at the gate, and planned to get a quick lead ahead of the two secret service agents, trailing in a black limo should he need a break, a drink or mainly, should there be an attempt on his life.
He was the last to admit it, because of the drastic change it implied in his life, but it was time. After all, he was now the current front-runner in the Republican race. Forty-percent of the delegates, miles ahead of his flailing, scandal-wracked opponent. Very possibly he would be sitting in the Oval Office this time next year.
Aickerman was nothing if not safety-conscious, but the increased attention had grown tiresome. So bad he couldn't even read the paper in the shitter alone without having them check every few minutes on his continued safety.
He picked up the pace, determined to reach the bottom of his steep hill and enter the park before the daylight fled for good. Orange vest, blinking lights on the back of his sneakers. He was certainly careful enough. Plus, those headlights at his back, keeping pace.
So intrusive, Aickerman thought. Before he had thrown his tattered hat into the ring, he had enjoyed the solitude of this park, away from the lights of the multi-million dollar homes on the neighboring hills, the sweet scents of sycamores, black sentinels against the night. Some nights he'd be out here all alone with just the bold constellations keeping pace, monitoring his time.
Glancing up, Aickerman could see Venus, or some other planet, but that was all he could make out in the spreading inky dusk that pushed away the meager violet remnants of the day. Ten minutes later, as the sycamores took on almost colossus-like size, humanoid in shape, two new lights, small and crimson, appeared against the night. High up on the hill.
Aickerman wasn't the only one to notice. Behind him, the headlights flickered, the signal to stop. Cursing, he slowed, panting heavily.
"Senator?" Secret agent Tom Reynolds was standing in front of the car, a film-noir silhouette, just missing the '40s-era fedora and the cigarette. "Come back a moment, there's something…"
"Up there on the hill there, I know." Aickerman scanned the area up there, dotted with brush, speckled with juniper. "I think I see them." He squinted, trying to get the headlights' afterimages from his sight. "Sure it's just kids screwing around."Like my former opponents, lucky them. At least somebody was having fun. And at least now, with the spotlight removed, they could enjoy their pastimes in private without people snooping in. Without agents following their every move.
"You might want to get in the car, sir."
Aickerman heard it before he felt it: the wind, picking up, rustling the sycamores, which swayed now, their heavy branches signing out a warning. He looked up, and his frown grew deeper.
"Sir, come this way.…"
It took a few moments to realize what was wrong. Venus—it was gone. And the sky, a different shade of color.
His attention turned back to the crest of the hill, those two flickering lights. Torches? Their holders were just barely discernible. This is what the agents must have seen, without the hindrance of the headlights. Outlines of two figures out of place. They wore cloaks—or dark robes with hoods—and their torches were the lit tips of long sticks.
Aickerman had the sudden flash of a B-movie he had seen as a teenager in a drive-in movie, something about robed priests of darkness, spells and human sacrifices.
He shivered, took a step back toward the car.
"Just to be safe, sir." Agent Reynolds led him inside as the wind abruptly shifted and drove at them, swirling, and turned to a roar as the sky burst in a searing flash of light—clearly outlining the two robed figures on the hill.
Their torches winked out simultaneously, and the ensuing darkness swept over the world, just as the roar of a sudden storm commenced with pounding thunderclaps and stinging hail.
"Inside!" Reynolds slammed the door shut and slid in, his body protectively leaning toward the senator. They sat cringing as the rock-sized hail hammered the roof and chipped against the windows.
"Jesus, where did that come from?" Aickerman jumped at another explosion of thunder. This time of year, even during an election year, the one constant you could count on was the weather; every day as beautiful as the last.
Although, if you believed the rhetoric of his opponents, critics and detractors, such a thing was exactly what they expected. The latest bill he had spoken out against, blocking it at every turn, was an environmental protection legacy plan. Riddled with earmarks, sponsored by fear-mongering Democrats and laden with catastrophic tax burdens. With heavy lobbying from environmental alternate energy firms with deep pockets, the bill had implied just such doomsday scenarios if we didn't act, or in this case, enact this legislation.
For Aickerman, it wasn't a matter of lobbying, and wasn't a question of loyalty. It all came down to common sense—and science. That was the fact of the matter: the science wasn't compelling. Weather was not significantly changing across the world, their tricked-up charts and Al Gore's nonsense aside. Even if it could be definitively proven that temperatures were rising and carbon concentrations were so much higher, the cause and effect wasn't consistent. If the environment was a murder scene, the evidence was far from air tight, circumstantial in fact, implicating man as the culprit. Other suspects, such as solar radiation, tidal forces, volcanic action and the natural cycles of the earth, were far more likely. Aickerman had his feet firmly in the camp believing that no matter what, now wasn't the time to force-feed problematic and impractical solutions on a world that could be further thrown into chaos and poverty by overwhelming regulation and controls.
More pounding hail, another clap of thunder and a burst of supernova-like lightning.
Agent Reynolds leaned forward and said something to the driver; something lost in the shrieking of twisted glass and tortured metal. A grunt, and suddenly Aickerman was on his side, staring at the broken windshield and a mass of dark spikes protruding through it, branches that had slammed instantaneously through the glass—and through the driver who was still twitching, coughing up blood. His hands, gouged with splinters and broken glass, feebly worked at dislodging a telephone pole sized branch from his ribcage.
Reynolds made a choking sound and threw his body over Aickerman's just as the roof collapsed in a shower of shattered metal, branches, leaves and hailstones.
The headlights faded.
In the dark, Aickerman tried to move, to free himself. "Reynolds?" He pushed, twisted, struggled against unyielding weight. "Reynolds! I think… a tree landed on us. Can you…?"
A tree, Aickerman thought with a silly laugh. A goddamned tree landed on us! In a hailstorm, in—
The pounding of hail had stopped, he realized, only to be replaced by a deep and constant wet driving sound, an epic thunderstorm. The heat had returned, dragging humidity along with it. Rain fell into the car, driven sideways with the wind. Aickerman grunted again, and in a flash of lightning, he saw Reynolds—his head twisted around impossibly, vertebrae jutting out from his neck; blood dripped from his nostrils, his eyes, his ears.
Aickerman turned from Reynolds, turned to his side, seeing the world mixing with the pooling rain and…
Mud. Mud, seeping into the car from the shattered doors.
How was that possible?
The tires! He realized they had been flattened with the tree's impact for sure, but the ground…Softened, turning to mud, the car sinking. Rain falling so fast, so powerfully, turning the land into mush, and—
Another flash of lightning, and Aickerman could see out the gap in the door. The hill was moving. The entire hill and everything on it in motion as if the land itself was melting. Trees slid down gleefully like ungainly skiers. Bushes, shrubs and boulders, all swept along. Everything tumbling, slipping, surfing down the waterfall of mud.
Toward his car.
Aickerman screamed. He kicked, flailed, jarred a shoulder free, then his upper body. Slipped into the seat well, face down in a rising pool of mud and water.
He tasted the earth, a bitter, gritty taste like choking on embalming fluid. The sound of his vomiting was drowned out by another thunderclap, and the storm raged even harder, its volume snapping another octave. A raging, relentless onslaught. The water rose past his knees. He saw a gap in the door. Tried it, but the door wouldn't budge, trapped by three feet of rising muck.
He tried the window, which miraculously descended. Halfway. Good enough, he thought, and squeezed through it carefully. Pulling himself up, balancing on the window and climbing up to the roof where in the darkness he could just make out the shape of the monstrous tree that had flattened his car.
He stood, awed by nature's ferocity, fighting to stay upright against the buffeting winds and the raging of the storm, feeling like he stood under a raging waterfall.
Another flash, and he could see the hill descending toward him, rolling like a tidal wave. Boulders, trees, bushes—a garbage can and an old bicycle, a ten-speed like the one he used to ride before his jogging kick.
The wave of mud and debris rumbled toward him.
Then the blackness descended, but not before he caught a flash of movement at the top of the hill. Two figures, apparently isolated from nature's carnage. Their cloaks unruffled, their cowled heads bowed.
In the resurging darkness, he tried to brace himself, but the car jolted with the impact. Jolted, and flipped, tossing Aickerman on his back into the mud. He gagged, got to his feet, just in time to see the movement—the black shape of the car tumbling side over side toward him.
He turned and tried to run, but his legs were stuck, the mud holding him fast. Tried to scream, but his throat was full of rain and muck. Tried to dodge, but the car slammed into him, pinned him back down and drove him deep into the earth where the trees and the mud and rain voraciously crushed his lungs, tore his flesh and drowned his soul.
O O O
Moments later, the rain stopped and the clouds blew apart, scattering in all directions; Venus and her children took up their lofty perches over a hill now bereft of sycamores. Below, only the trunk of the senator's car remained visible, propped up from the hardening muck, a metallic tombstone with its license plate his only epitaph.
Atop the hill, one of the shrouded figures pulled a sleek black cell phone from his sleeve. Punched a number, and waited, twirling the gnarled staff in his free hand.
"It's done," he said after a moment, as a starlit smile emerged from the shadowy cowl. In a gentle easterly breeze, he snapped the phone shut, nodded to his companion and walked out of the quiet grove, leaving behind only a crudely-erected circle of stones.