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The Last Dawn.

5.47am

The Sun rose to greet the new day, shining on the early morning dew, which glistened and twinkled like tiny diamonds dancing in and out of the warm rays. A medley of flowers opened slowly, reaching out and turning their faces up to the welcome light. From everywhere could be heard the sound of the songbirds sharing their tune with the world. The trees whispered together as a gentle wind toyed with their glorious autumnal leaves. Vibrant clusters of red, russet and amber tones cloaked the branches as they swayed. The milk floats trundling down various streets were, so far, the only noise breaking the serenity of this dawn.

It would be a few hours yet before the people of Cottrill knew anything was wrong.

                   **************************

Although called a town, Cottrill was nothing more than an oversized village. It was nestled in a great valley, away from the noise and bustle of the big cities. It had grown over the past few decades but progress had been slow and it was still far from being an average sized town.

The people were proud of the town and fought tooth and nail to keep the hot shot developers away from the beautiful countryside and rolling hills. A state of the art golf course was something they could do without.

9.25am

Rosa walked into her bathroom, hurrying to get ready for work. She noticed how dark it was and flipped the light on. 'The Sun's changed it's mind then', she said to herself. She preened in front of her mirror and fluffed her auburn locks, mentally hoping it wouldn't rain. 'That's all I need', she thought. 'A big date later and I show up looking like a drowned rat'.
Twenty minutes later she headed for her front door, remarking to herself how much darker it had become.

10.03am

Pete pushed his bike angrily to the ground. His six year old temper getting the better of him. His dad had taken the stabilisers off three weeks ago and he still couldn't ride it. He gave it a frustrated kick and decided to leave it in the garden to get dirty. That will show it, he thought.

Pete headed towards the house, meaning to find his mum and get a biscuit. He didn't like the funny smell out here and it was also getting darker. Before he got to the edge of the neatly manicured lawn, he saw something drop to the ground to his left. Curiosity making him forget his biscuit for the time being, he trotted over to investigate.

Laying in the grass was a small bird. Pete looked at it with interest wondering why it had fallen out of the sky. Gingerly he prodded it with his trainer clad foot, expecting it to fly off again. It didn't move.

As he stood wondering what to do he heard a soft thud from behind him. He swung round and saw another bird lying lifeless on the patio. Now he was getting scared. He raced towards the back door, making sure he gave the dead bird a wide birth, and shouted for his mum.

10.12am

Helen turned the television set on hoping to catch the last few minutes of her favourite talk show. It always amazed her how they found anyone to go on these shows. Why anyone would want to air their problems on national television was beyond her. At least it took her mind off her own problems for a short while.

As she flicked through the channels (she could never remember the d*mn numbers), she saw a weather report. It only caught her eye due to the number of bright garish suns tacked all over the representation of England. 'Yet again those met office people don't know their arse from their elbow', she said as her gaze flicked to the gloomy scene outside her window. If it gets any darker the electric company bigwigs will be pleased, she mused.

11.35am

Andy glanced at the ever growing mountain of papers in his 'in' tray. 'I'm never gonna get through this lot in one day', he grumbled. He was already having the day from hell and things were not getting any better. Andy was way over his head in debt. He had a stack of final demands and numerous letters threatening visits from bailiffs. It had got to the point where he didn't even bother to open them anymore. He just shoved them in an already overflowing draw and pretended they were not there.
His girlfriend of 2 years had recently found them and after numerous rows, had walked out.

Andy sighed and felt the urge for a cigarette. He stalked out of his office ignoring the questioning look of his P.A.

A 'no smoking' policy had been enforced some months before. A decision which had grieved Andy more than all of his personal problems. Now he had to traipse down six floors to get to the car park. 'Fuck it', he thought. 'It's their time I'm wasting'.
Walking down to the lobby of the building, he thought about Shelly. She had told him she'd had enough of him hiding things from her. He knew she meant more than just the debts. What he didn't believe was it was over for good. There had to be a way to sort it out.

He was still going over their last conversation in his head when he pushed through the heavy smoked glass doors to the car park. The sight that met his eyes whipped away his breath as if a sudden gust of wind had rushed at him. His cigarette craving momentarily forgotten. He stared up at the sky with a growing sense of unease.

Heading towards the buisness district from the west was a huge cloud. From where he stood he thought it had already covered the residential end of the town. Andy was no expert on cloud formation, but something about the way it moved and the sheer size of it was very wrong.

12.22pm

Claudia heaved her corpulent frame down Brook Street, anxiously eyeing the heavens all the way, fully expecting a lightning bolt to strike her down at any moment. True, there was no storm yet, but God did not need thunder and rain to show her the error of her ways.
She held on to her rosary, twisting it through her fingers relentlessly, wondering what was to come next as she entered her home in a breathless panic.

1.00pm

The cloud was not moving over the town, as many of the residents first thought. Andy had been watching it for some time now.
During the course of seven cigarettes, he realised that it was not moving. It was spreading, growing almost.

He had now been joined on the street by a huge crowd of people from the various office buildings around.

           *********************************

4.30pm

Almost everyone had now gathered in the streets. There was a deadly silence. Nobody could believe what they were seeing. There was no Sun at all now. It could easily be mistaken for night time but for the absence of the moon and the fact that they all knew it was only afternoon.

The swirling haze enveloping the town had completely occluded the Sun and not one ray was able to penetrate the strange phenomenon.
The odour that had been faint earlier in the day had since become much stronger. It resembled the smell of sulphur, but there was also an underlying cloying fragrance which nobody could put their finger on.

Scattered over the streets and pavements were the bodies of birds and squirrels. Sparrows, magpies, crows and pigeons lay with broken wings splayed. Small pools of blood surrounded many of them.

Even as they watched, a confused owl flew over the heads of the people. Before it had a chance to fly out of sight, it screeched as though in pain and plummeted to meet its death on the unyielding concrete.

Household pets had met with the same fate. All over the town of Cottrill, dogs ceased barking and tail chasing as they dropped in a heap where they had stood. Cats, rabbits, hamsters, all fell dead in a split second.

The panic that had been slowly building now swept through the crowd of onlookers, reaching fever pitch at the sight of the strange glow eminating from the cloud. At first it was a dim glow, a pale sickly yellow colour, that seemed to pulsate as they watched.
Children began to wail, clinging to the nearest adult, parent or not, trying to draw comfort from the touch of a grown-up.
The adults just stood dumbstruck in abject terror, waiting to see what would happen next, and knowing that they were powerless to stop whatever it may be.

4.41pm

As the clock struck the forty first minute after four, a blinding flash of brilliant aqua blue light flared over the town, and in that instant the people of Cottrill vanished.
The blue light continued to flare for a few more hours, as if seeking out anyone left behind. It then receded back into the grey hazy cloud as quickly as it had appeared.

There was now nothing but complete silence. 

             ********************************
Cottrill now stood empty and abandoned. Shop doors still remained open, trolleys and baskets still piled high with groceries, some of which were now unrecognisable.
Many of the houses were left with front doors wide open. The first signs of dinner preparations still sitting on worktops.
Cupboards and fridges were still stocked with food, much of it in various stages of decay since the power had been cut.

Some six months later, after the failed investigations and numerous attempts at explanation, the roads to the town were closed off. No one had been able to venture into the town. It was as if there were an invisible barrier that could not be crossed. The surrounding areas had undergone various tentative tests to determine whether it was safe. It was concluded that there were no toxic substances in the air or nearby water supplies.

The cloud had remained over the town for a couple of months before disappearing slowly each day, gradually closing in on itself until there was nothing left.
The plants, trees and flowers, starved of sunlight, had long since withered and died. After a few weeks of the cloud arriving the town was a desolate place. Not even the lowliest of insects had survived.

Although the authorities seemed happy that the phenomenon caused no apparent undue affects anywhere else, and were content to forget Cottrill ever existed, the real truth was they were scared and bewildered. They did nothing to ease peoples' fears. No explanation had been offered and this left them free to find their own.

No one dared to say it out loud, but the fear they all shared was that someday soon, they would be next.

              ******************************

On a quiet spring morning in the empty town, once known as Cottrill, grew a solitary new plant. It was unlike anything that had ever grown there before.

In fact it was unlike anything that had grown anywhere on Earth before..................................
 
(by Jessica Lark. )
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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