THE FIFTH WORLD
July 14, 1034, The Yucatan Peninsula
Balaam wasn’t expecting his world to fall apart that day. Of course, an apocalypse can put a dent in the best of plans.
As he passed under the sacred arch leading to the temple, the smell of carrion reached his nostrils. He wiped his face, as if to dispel the odor, and his hands came away covered with grime and sweat. His legs felt heavy moving up the weathered stone steps, and he knew it wasn't all due to fatigue from his twelve hour journey. The stench increased, his heart started beating faster, and he wondered if they were dead already. As he gazed into the central courtyard from the top step, he stopped wondering.
The bodies adorned the grassy space as if arranged with a purpose. Some were seated, some lay on their backs in a pose resembling sleep. But this was no siesta. Even from where he stood, he could tell they were dead. The signs of the great sickness were on them, the dried skin and shriveled flesh.
Balaam dropped to his knees, and his moan shattered the humid silence. The birds on the arch took to the sky.