Sherlock stood at the window of their roadside motel room, staring out at the lake. "Something's in the air tonight, John."
"What do you mean?" John Watson wasn't in the mood for riddles that sounded like song lyrics. He had slept a total of six hours since he and Sherlock arrived in America three days before, and judging from the poor quality of the twin beds, he would be lucky if tomorrow's grand total was six and a half. Why did they have to take a case that required them to chase a fugitive hacker into the American backwoods?
Oh, right: the same reason why they did anything. Sherlock had been bored.
"Come here. Look at that cloud."
Sighing, John tossed his newspaper aside, got out of the creaking wreck that passed for a recliner, and joined him.
"Holy Christ!" he exclaimed. "What is that?"
The airborne mass that Sherlock had called a cloud unfurled across the night sky, like a huge flag expanding in a lazy wind. Stars in its path sank from view and its edge extended slowly, menacingly, toward the moon.
"Got to be smoke from a forest fire," John said, although he couldn't smell anything burning. "Look at the size of it though!"
Sherlock bit his lip. John had never seen him look so uneasy. "I think I know what it is. And God help us if I'm right."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the headline in the newspaper you were reading."
Both men looked over their shoulders at the item in question. John had folded it neatly in half before discarding it, leaving the lead story's title clearly visible.
The Reaper Cometh.
"Sherlock," John said slowly, "you don't seriously think that Reaper bloke is anything more than some closeted lunatic making empty threats."
"Closeted lunatics are a penny to the pound, John. They don't get headlines unless they're capable of doing a lot more than threatening."
"But he claims to have access to nuclear weaponry! And no one even knows what he looks like. Anyone with that kind of firepower would be more notorious than bin Laden."
"Not necessarily. Moriarty was only known to those he had business with. And look whathe nearly pulled off."
They remained at the window, watching the stygian darkness spread. A faint chemical odour was now detectable. The city lights still twinkled in the distance, but their glow seemed desperate, like a last stand against the final dying of all light.
"Let's check the telly," John said, fighting down a rising discomfort. "There's bound to be something on the local news."
He hurried over to the silent television set. It was too old a model to have a remote control and only three channels were accessible the first time he'd turned it on. Now there wasn't even one. Every flip of the switch brought a fuzzy, crackling screen.
"Whatever caused that cloud must be interfering with the reception." John finally shut it off and went to the kitchenette table, where his laptop sat. "I'll look online."
Feeling sweat break out on his brow as the temperature suddenly rose, Sherlock took out his mobile and sent three texts: one to Mycroft, one to Lestrade, and one to Mrs. Hudson. The latter two didn't always answer their messages immediately, but Mycroft never took more than a few seconds. Ever.
Two minutes went by. Nothing.
"What the fuck?" John exclaimed. "I can't get online. Says 'Server Not Found'."
Sherlock glanced down at the mobile. Still no response from Mycroft.
That was when –and how- he knew.
The highway lights wavered as they fought extinction. On the horizon, their city counterparts fizzled out one by one, briefly clinging to life as glowing embers before yielding to the artificial night.
Transfixed by the sight, Sherlock wasn't aware of John's presence beside him until a hand grasped his arm.
"Sherlock… Jesus… what's happening?"
"I don't know for sure. I only suspect." He tore his eyes away from the dying world and faced John. Around them, the lamps and kitchen lights blinked and dimmed. "If my suspicions are right and we want to survive this, we have to get out of here. Now."
Author's note: Thanks to Michael Poeltl, author of the fantastic Judas Syndrome series, for an enjoyable post-Apocalyptic tutorial and permission to use his characters in this fic.