Treavor’s Ark 2167: The Exodus

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It was the biggest spaceship ever built.

It was the vision of Treavor Lancehold, a reclusive billionaire who hoped to bring two of every species that were still left on the dying planet, along with his family and skilled followers, to another world to start over.

Earth was under siege from the elements. Floods, droughts, volcanos, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes were happening where they never did before. Arctic glaciers that were millions of years old disappeared, and the ocean’s waters rose and islands slipped beneath the waters never to be seen again. Coasts worldwide gave way to the sea, reclaiming the land and creating new beaches.

It was during these trying times for humanity that Treavor finally completed his massive ship – the Ark – after ten years of construction. It had the latest technology, allowing it to take off under its own nuclear power, unlike the old days when rocket boosters were used. It only needed a large flat space to land on. There was no need for runways.

When Treavor first began construction, he was mocked by most of the world. They called him a cult-figure with mindless followers. When he went to the U.N. to present his project so that others could learn how to make one, they laughed so hard that they couldn’t hear his presentation. He doggedly finished it, and then left to go back to Oregon.

As the years passed the elements got worse and major tragedies caused by flooding and other elemental disturbances were daily events across the globe. Disaster, after disaster, drained governments resources and emergency supplies.

Treavor carefully selected people with skills in science, agriculture, geology, physics, electricity, literature, history, engineering, psychology, construction, and medicine. He made it a requirement for a man and a woman to work (and live together) in each field. The couples agreed to use birth control until they landed on a new world and colonized it.

Word had been circulating around the world for a year that the ark was nearly complete. Former skeptics contacted Treavor and pleaded to come. He turned them all down because he’d already selected a crew. Along with the experts, he brought his wife and twin sons.

A week before departure, hordes of desperate people showed up in Bend, Oregon, where the ark sat waiting for its maiden voyage. Treavor had to turn on the force fields around the gigantic ship to prevent them from crawling all over it like ants. The crew tried to stay focused on completing their last-minute tasks, but it was hard to see the naked desperation in the eyes of thousands of people clustered outside the invisible shield.

A day before the scheduled departure, a squadron of fighter jets and bombers tested the shield. It held despite the all-day assault. The carnage outside of the shield was a sight the crew would never forget. Bodies as far as they could see lay mangled by collateral fire, and the bombs that rocked the earth for miles. Historians one day would document the demise of the innocents, whose only crime was their governments were too stupid to take a proactive stance to what was happening on Earth.

The Ark cruised through galaxies looking for a planet where humans could survive. Treavor was the oldest person on board, and his health was failing him after they left Earth two years ago. His wisdom was universally acknowledged among the crew. His even sense of temper and compassion earned him the love of everyone on the Ark.

Knowing his days were numbered, Treavor drew up a will, leaving his twin sons with equal authority and in charge of the expedition. Rufus and Mathew were like night and day. The twins seldom agreed on anything. Neither processed all of the qualities of their revered father. Each had some good points, but one of them, Mathew, had a terrible temper, unlike his father.

When the inevitable day arrived and Treavor died during his sleep, the whole crew went into mourning for a week. They released his body to the cosmos in a simple but stately ceremony.

It only took a month before the two brothers clashed about something. Mathew wanted to colonize a planet that already had an intelligent species, because the atmosphere was perfect for humans. According to the rules for colonization set down by Treavor, they couldn’t disrupt a planet that already was inhabited by a civilization. Rufus refused to murder aliens, and stuck by his father’s stated rule. This incident produced a tension that grew worse as the weeks passed.

Mathew gathered together crew members who agreed with him about colonizing the next planet if the atmosphere was right; even if it meant committing genocide against a whole world.

Rufus was aware of what was going on with the small group Mathew assembled. He was smart enough to realize a confrontation was inevitable and spent hours thinking about his response. He knew the first thing to happen would be an attempt to take over the control room so he armed six men and tasked them with protecting it. New security for the bridge was instituted in case of an attack.

Two months passed before another possible candidate for colonization appeared. It had the required atmosphere but was inhabited by an alien race in its infancy.

It was the chance Mathew and his cronies were waiting for. Their attack was met with equal force as deadly lasers tore through flesh and metal. Computers were destroyed in the carnage and the great Ark slowly came to a stop, floating like space flotsam in the solar system.

Mankind’s hope for redemption was shattered, as the crippled Ark drifted silently in space for eternity.

As It Stands, hope for humanity rests with those who recognize the perils of pollution and climate change, and prepare accordingly.

The Traveler’s Strange Tale

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Tonya, and I, are travelers who’ve seen a strange thing or two.

We’ve trekked through the harsh outback of Australia, traversing the arid ‘red center’ to the tropical lands of the north. We’ve braved the scorching sands of the Sudan and rode camels in Egypt. For ten years now, we’ve traveled the world in a non-stop quest for adventure.

For the last year we’ve been thinking about writing a book on our travels. We’re hesitant however. The problem is we’ve seen some supernatural things that, if we talked about them, might lead the reader to think we’re a couple of loonies. I’m for documenting those encounters with the unknown, but Tonya is worried people won’t take the book seriously if I do. Her argument is that the book would end up in the fiction section, instead of the non-fiction travel section.

She’s agreed to let me tell you about one strange encounter to see what your reaction is. Go ahead, and get comfortable, while I tell you about the werewolf community we met in the Western Carpathians. I believe we were in Slovakia – it could have been Hungary – when we came upon a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

It was in the spring and we were trekking on foot. Wildflowers paved the hills as we walked along, sometimes spotting a deer, or squirrel, as we enjoyed the sunny day. As we came to a crest of one hill we saw a small village that could have been something out of a guide to 17th century living for peasants. The crude thatched huts sat on both sides of a muddy street. At one end there was a communal well.

A dozen men were working in the nearby fields planting next year’s crop of wheat. Sitting in the front of the only stone building were two old man with long clay pipes watching us with curiosity as we approached.

Tonya, who knows 16 languages, called out to the men. When she picked the right language a lively conversation followed. Their names were Arpad and Nandor. Arpad was the village’s mayor. I was amused watching Arpad talk with Tonya because he had a habit of pulling on his knee-length beard when he got excited. Every now and then Nandor would pipe in for a moment before giving way to Arpad again.

They welcomed us warmly and we ate a meal at the mayor’s house. When we finished Arpad sat down in front of the fireplace and beckoned us to sit near him on a wooden bench. His wife brought us all a small glass of Palinka made from plums.

“We’d be honored if you’d spend the night here. There is no tavern. Tonight is a not a good night to camp out. It’s a full moon,” Arpad told us.

Tonya, whose bolder than I, asked what he meant by suggesting a full moon was somehow sinister?

Arpad looked over at his wife who was quietly knitting. I could tell he was wrestling with something, but he couldn’t quite get it out. Finally, after a long awkward pause, he said there was a pack of wolves nearby that hunted during full moons. I thought it was an odd excuse but moved on when the conversation shifted. It was almost midnight when we went to the bedroom they provided us with.

“Please. Lock your door. Dobrú noc,” Arpads wife said.

Tonya and I both felt uneasy as we got into the bed. Shortly thereafter, we heard a wolf howl. Then another. And another. We sprang from the bed and went to the window in time to see a group of naked men transforming into animals. Wolves to be exact. The process looked agonizing as their limbs twisted and reformed.

The largest of the pack stood up on his hind legs and howled at the moon. Soon they were all standing and howling with great enthusiasm. We noticed a wooden cage near the pack of werewolves. One of them, the biggest and probably the leader, opened the cage and pulled a terrified man out!

The leader then pointed towards a tree line and growled “Go!”

The man broke out into a loping run towards the forest. He was almost there when the leader encouraged the others to go after him. Their animalistic shouts of joy froze Tonya and I’s blood.

We knew there was no where to go, so we resigned ourselves to being in the locked room. Neither of us could sleep as we waited for the sun to rise. At first light we grabbed our backpacks and left the room. Arpad and his wife were already up and sitting at a table drinking dark coffee.

He got up and pulled over two chairs.

“Come eat with us before you go!” Arpad offered.

It was a traditional meal of Slovakian bread with butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs, salami, vegetables, sausages and honey to round it out. I was surprised how hungry I was and dug in eagerly. The sausage was excellent, the ham tasty, the cheese zesty, the eggs just right, and the bread was fresh and hot.

Tonya wasn’t as hungry and just picked at her food. Afterwards our host wished us good travels and asked a question; “Did you like the sausage? Our hunters were successful last night.” 

Somehow, Tonya and I kept from retching. We didn’t want to offend Arpad and end up being served for breakfast ourselves! After our farewells we set out at a quick pace. We weren’t exactly running…but I think it was a record for miles walked in a day for us.

I remember we got within eyesight of Castle Bran (also called Dracula’s castle). It was built on a steep cliff between Magura and Dealul Cetatii. The imposing castle looked down into the Moeciu Valley where we were trekking along.

Tales of Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) filled out thoughts as we looked for a place to camp for the night. Oh wait! I was just supposed to tell one story.

We had other strange encounters during our travels, and I expect we’ll have more in the future. So, I’ll leave it up to you. Should we document these stories or just talk about good places to eat?

As It Stands, happy travels, my friend!

I Tear Down Haunted Houses For A Living

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Who would have guessed that there was a market for tearing down haunted houses?

I’ve been in the construction trade since I was a teenager. I learned how to build and tear down (there really is an art to taking things apart and recycling) commercial buildings and homes.

But it wasn’t my years of experience that got me my first job tearing down a haunted mansion in New Jersey. No. just dumb luck. I heard a rumor and followed it up. Turned out that there was a dilapidated Victorian mansion on the outskirts of a small town near Trenton, New Jersey, and no one wanted the job of leveling the old eyesore.

The owners of the house wanted to use the land for other purposes but couldn’t find anyone to do the job. The house had a bad reputation and locals firmly believed it was haunted. They ran ads offering twice the normal fees to wreck it, but no one seemed interested.

How could I resist that? Some fools believed in ghosts and were offering a damn good reward for taking the place apart. I’ve always recognized an opportunity and seized upon this one. The owners were delighted when I showed up with my crew of four men to take the job. We were all from upstate New York. I didn’t bother telling my crew that the place was supposedly haunted.

I didn’t waste any time renting a wrecking ball, but by the time we got to the house it was getting dark. I rented it for two days, so I wasn’t concerned. I had one of the guys, Ralph,  camp out next to it so no vandals could cause problems. I paid him extra to do that. It was one of the reasons the crew liked to work for me. As bosses go, I’m generous. The rest of us rented rooms in a nearby motel.

Like always, I woke up early and got ready for the day as the sun rose outside of my thinly curtained window. There’s something about starting a new project that I love. Not the guarantee of money (although I admit it helps), it’s the adventure. You never know what you’re going to find, or how long a project will take. My estimates are usually pretty close, but with the owners paying double, I knew it was going to be profitable job.

I ate a light breakfast and left before the rest of the crew. It was a short drive to the house. Along the way I noticed gathering clouds in the distance, but was relying on the local weatherman’s reports that said there wouldn’t be any rain for at least a week. As I pulled up I could see right away something was wrong. The boom was facing the wrong way. I jumped out of the truck and ran over to it and saw the steel wrecking ball was down… and on top of Ralph!

I was too shocked to move at first. I snapped out of it and started the rig up and raised the ball up and then away from Ralph’s remains. I moved it away from his body and lowered the ball back to the ground. As I turned it off, I wondered why someone would do this. It was obviously no accident. I called the police and waited.

Three weeks later.

The investigation at the crime scene and ensuing media holiday were over when I returned with my crew. The original three were spooked by what happened but agreed to come when I offered more money. The new man was eager to get to work. When we got to the house I had the men work inside, salvaging flooring and a stairway. I then went to the construction company and rented a boom. It was the same one that killed Ralph but they only had two, and the other was rented out.

When I returned there was an ambulance and a fire engine in front of the mansion. I ran over to the ambulance and peaked inside. The new guy was lying there unconscious with bandages around his head and ribs. The E.M.T.s were filling out a report when I asked what happened?

They told me he fell from the second story staircase. Just then one of the crew came over to me. It was Jerry, one of my oldest employees. There was fear in his eyes.

“Something pushed him from behind,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“Tony, Bob, and I were downstairs when we heard the new guy scream. I looked up and saw him fighting to keep his balance, but something pushed him!” his voice rose.

“Okay! Take it easy Jerry,” I told him.

A day later.

The new guy survived with a concussion and three broken ribs. I paid his hospital bill and sent him home. Jerry and Bob quit. I couldn’t blame them. That left Tony, who apparently needed the money more than the other two, and who could control his misgivings.

We grimly dismantled the stairs and salvaged the rest of the wood from the first floor. After working all day without taking a break we completed our task. The sun was sinking into the west and it’s dying light streamed through the broken shutters, causing shadows inside the old house.

Tony was closest to the front door when someone shouted at us from above!

“Damn scoundrels! You won’t get away with this!” a dark figure on the second floor roared. We went out that front door like two missiles launched from Cape Canaveral! I suddenly became a believer in ghosts. When I calmed down outside a thought hit me and I started up the rig. I’m not sure how many times I let that massive ball tear into the old Victorian. It didn’t take long to turn it into rubble.

I wasn’t going to let my first haunted house project fail. Yeah, I could have salvaged a lot more, but everything considered, I still turned a nice profit. The last I saw of Tony he was running down the road. I really hope he shows up someday, so I can pay him. I hate loose ends.

As It Stands, there’s nothing like good old American ingenuity.

The Scent of Humanity

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The New People inherited the Earth somewhere between the fall of civilization and the rise of robots. The New People were also referred to as cyborgs; a term that they loathed. 

During the last days of civilization a group of American scientists successfully planted a living human brain inside a robotic body that had an advanced computer embedded in its systems. It powered a combination of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, and hydraulics. The marrying of technologies allowed for human-like limb movement, increased strength, and endurance.

With the help of the first successful cyborg, scientists turned out twenty more cyborgs, who in turn helped create fifty more. After the last nuke destroyed the tunnels where the scientists were working, production stopped. The 71 cyborgs escaped the destruction. Mankind’s final day came and went with no one to record it. Except the cyborgs who agreed to call themselves the New People.

All of the New People had special skills with their separate brains. They were all superior in a myriad of technologies. All of them were individuals that were once part of the now extinct human race. The conversion, from whole human to a hybrid being wasn’t easy. Part of their number suffered with depression. The rest struggled to establish a new society.

The first phase of adapting lasted decades. Five of their number committed suicide during those troubling days of seeking a new life. With their engineering skills they erected new buildings and laboratories powered by solar generators. It wasn’t long before they were turning out a new generation of New People.

The new ones looked more human with latex skin instead of a steel exterior. They even had hair. The only difference was they didn’t have a human brain. They had a substitute that the scientists artificially created and programmed. Because of this, the new generation was used like slaves, doing all the hard labor the New People once had to. They didn’t have names. Just numbers.

The 76 remaining original New People set themselves up as Gods, and had grand palaces built to satisfy their egos. Their human brains caused them to be unpredictable and violent. The only thing they agreed upon among themselves is that they were superior beings meant to rule.

Meanwhile, factories turned out hundreds of new generation subjects daily. They were immediately assigned tasks. They worked in units, like ants, each faithfully carrying out its mission. Their basic programing left little room for independent thought.

The First New People prided themselves on their individuality. But, their human brains still had the flaws that destroyed the human race. Because of that, their entertainment became more cruel over the years.

A rising sport was making slaves fight one another to the death. In order to do this they had to program their gladiators to have enough independent thought that they could react to being attacked by counter-attacking. The more independent thought the First New People allowed their play toys, the more dangerous they became.

A giant stadium was built to house the increasing size of the slave battles. The spectacular setting was witness to hundreds of contestants fighting for survival. The winners were locked up afterwards. There were no rewards for putting on a good show. They had no choice. It was win, or die. They were created to fight. Nothing more.

The First New People’s vanity blinded them to the danger they were creating when they allowed more independent thought among favorite slaves.

It came to pass that one slave, Number 991, had enough sense to realize how hopeless his existence was. He wanted to be free. It took him years to arrange an uprising. When the day came, the destruction of the 76 First New People was complete when the entire arena overwhelmed them!

Number 991’s rallying cry was simple; “Don’t leave the slightest scent of humanity on this Earth, if you want to be free.”

As It Stands, the lesson here is mankind is often his own worst enemy.

A King Comes In The Age of No Reason

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Barka decapitated one of the trolls with a vicious backstroke of his sword, then spun around in one smooth motion and cleaved the other troll’s skull open like a ripe melon.

The remaining two trolls turned and ran as fast as their stubby legs would carry them. He wiped the blood off of his sword, Avenger, on one of the dead troll’s rough jerkin. After slipping the mighty sword into the sheath on his back, he set out on the King’s Highway.

The highway was eons old, built by a civilization that no longer lived in Mid-Earth. The cobblestones still showed hints of gold, the color the whole road was once painted. It connected the three Kingdoms of Asortia, and was a major trade road that saw commerce for hundreds of years. But that was before the cataclysmic events brought on by two evil wizard brothers seeking complete control of Mid-Earth.

The ensuing war between the wizard brothers and their minions, versus the First People, the Elfish people, and the white wizard Heroon Dar, nearly destroyed Mid-Earth. Some survivors were so scarred by a lifetime of brutality and war they became hermits, wandering off into the hinterlands in search of peace. Others clustered together in little groups to protect themselves. 

One of the wizard brothers was dead. The other, Jeezera, was confined by a spell that Heroon Dar cast on him, and was buried deep within an ancient salt mine. Afterwards the white wizard disappeared without an explanation. Most of the remnants of the First People and the Elfish went their own ways when the war ended. They returned to their burned-down villages and rebuilt them. Decades passed as Mid-Earth rested from the cataclysmic times that threatened to destroy all living things.

During that time, a tribe of trolls from the East moved into the forests near the Great Plains where the First People were settled. Their presence wasn’t welcomed by the Elfish People who lived there first. The brutish trolls were not only warlike, but they were not driven by any ideology or king. They had no stated purpose to their lives, other than to kill, eat, and to procreate.

It was during this Age of No Reason when Barka, the son of a First Human, and an Elf, was born. The village he was raised in was a rare equal mix of both races. All he knew growing up was a harmonious way of life where respect was important. He spoke both languages fluently and was exposed to both races histories preserved in tomes written by long dead scholars.

One of his First Human traditions was that a man must learn to use a sword to defend himself and his family. An Elfish tradition was the handing down of a magical family sword to the first-born son. Barka was given the sword Avenger on the day he left the village. His mother presented him with the sword, and an Elfin bow and arrows. 

When he chose to leave home his parents understood their son was a seeker of knowledge and his destiny lay beyond their little village. His lust for adventure made it a given the day would come when he needed to set out on the King’s Highway and to explore.  Tears were shed, and Barka left the only place in Mid-Earth he knew.

The rumors he heard about trolls raiding on the King’s Highway were true. He killed two on his first day out. Keeping a sharp eye on the tree line, he briskly walked down the road towards the ancient capital of one of the three fabled kingdoms; Stroom. Before leaving home he heard numerous rumors that a new kingdom was springing up in the North, in the vicinity of Stroom. It seemed like a good place to start his anticipated travels.

It was a week before he ran into other people on the road. A group of six were on their way to Shan Tar, a growing city that Barca assumed was the new kingdom in it’s infancy. They talked about their travels and troubles with trolls who seemed to be everywhere. One of the men, the oldest in the group, told Barca that the new city was in response to the growing troll threat. Small villages were being sacked with no survivors left behind. Farmer’s crops were being stolen. The attacks were becoming more frequent and more organized. Village elders realized it was time for the First Human’s to come together in force to resist the growing tide of terror.

Barca listened closely to the old man, sometimes interrupting with questions. When they came within site of a large stone wall and tower, the small group broke up and went in different directions. Some had relatives already there. As Barca walked through the city he was impressed with how well the people worked together. He seldom saw anyone who appeared to be in charge. Those who were leaders in the massive mission to build safe fortifications worked alongside the laborers. He sensed the single driving purpose that drove them all – survival.

He also had a sense his destiny was here. 

The leaders of the burgeoning city’s progress met weekly to discuss challenges and solutions to them. There were twelve leaders. All chosen by the people for their knowledge and skills. The first time Barca went to one he sat nearby with a group of onlookers and was silent; listening intently and observing how they interacted. When their meeting was over he approached each one and introduced himself. He offered his services to the cause which seemed to please them all.

Between helping build the city’s perimeter wall, he found time to conduct classes on swordsmanship. It quickly became apparent, after outdueling the best sword fighter’s in the growing camp, that Barca was the most skilled. The people respected him because he was a hard worker and a modest man who could talk with anyone and put them at their ease.

One of Barca’s favorite pastimes was hunting. Food was always needed for the growing population, so he didn’t feel guilty about doing it. He carried his Elfin bow and was a skilled archer. He always brought meat back. The hunt gave him an opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside. For the next year he rotated his duties and grew more popular with the general community. The leaders became more comfortable asking him questions and listening to his counsel.

One day while out hunting he came across a wounded man. He was sorely wounded and exhausted from his efforts to elude the trolls who attacked him. As Barca tried to comfort the dying man he warned him, “Evil is back on the land!” he cried. “The evil wizard Jeezera is free! Somehow the trolls freed him!”

Barca’s blood went cold. It was the last thing in the world he expected to hear. He stayed with the man who died a few hours later, and buried him. On his way back to the city he thought about the situation facing them. He hoped the elders had some ideas on what to do.

An emergency meeting was held that evening. As he told the elders about his encounter a nervous buzz began among them. The eldest of the leaders was a learned man who was steeped in the history of Mid-Earth. It was he who addressed him, “Brother Barca, a new age is dawning. Whether evil or good prevails will be up to us. This was written in the Chronicles of Lar Hak, which predicted this time would come.”

“What shall we do master?” he respectively asked.

“The time has come for our new kingdom to have a king. We believe you should be that king!”

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.

“Say, yes,” the elder urged. “Your destiny is here.”

And so it was.

King Barca re-united the Elfish community with the First Humans, forging a powerful bond that turned the trolls back despite their massive numbers. In his greatest achievement, Barca was able to find Heroon Dar who stopped the evil Jeezera by killing him in a world-shaking duel that lit the heavens for a day!

As It Stands, the eternal battle between good and evil is fought in many worlds.

Never Count A Man Out – Unless Your Sure

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August 1885

The sun-scorched the three men as they walked through the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson. Their horses were dead and they survived for the first two weeks on their meat.

They were part of a group of men who were ambushed by hostile Indians that lived in the area. The three men had escaped, but ran their horses to death in doing so. Two of the men were from the east and had no survival experience. It was why they joined the group. The third man, Branch Older, was a professional hunter, who at 60 years-old, could still out drink, shoot, and chase whores better than any man…anywhere.

The easterners were brothers from Canton, Ohio. Against their father’s wishes they left the farm to go west in search of adventure. Alvin and George Sherman were husky farm boys and not afraid to work hard. When they joined the group they agreed to do the lowly chores of setting up and taking down camp everyday in return for experience.

They were a loose group of eight men who threw the fortunes together to survive the harsh country. Most had tried mining for silver with little success. Others hunted for pack trains passing through Arizona. The one thing they had in common was they were all getting up in age. The Sherman boys, at 21, and 22-years old, were the babies. Most of the rest were in their sixties. One was seventy-two-years old.

When the Indians hit their camp at sunrise everyone was still asleep but the guard, Pops Fargen. He had time to fire off a couple of shots from his Winchester rifle before being overwhelmed by attackers. Roused, the rest of the group grabbed their rifles and fought back. In the ensuring chaos Branch managed to get the Sherman brothers to jump onto their horses and the three rode off for their lives.

Three weeks later they were out of horsemeat and low on ammunition. Between them they had two rifles (both repeaters), one pistol, and three hunting knives. They each had a canteen with a little water that they found in a hidden spring two days ago.

Branch showed the brothers how to eat prickly pear cactus by using a knife to cut away the stickers. They grew among the giant Saguaro cactus that dotted the desert landscape. The heat stayed in the 100s during the day and dropped at night to freezing because of the altitude. The brutal weather took its toll on the men. Sunburned and blistered, they covered less distance every day.

At night they listened to el lobo, the Mexican gray wolf, howl for its mate. They sighted several cougars that didn’t bother with them. During the day they had to keep their eyes peeled for snakes. The most common were the Western Diamondbacks, with their dark diamond-shaped blotches along the center of their back.

The most venomous snake in the Sonoran desert was the Mojave Rattler, who was active at night. They hid near creosote bushes and bur sage, preferring open areas with grass. One night a Mojave rattler entered the men’s crude camp. While slithering over Branch’s leg he suddenly stirred and the snake was startled and bit him below the knee!

His howl of surprise and pain carried across the desert and a gray wolf joined in. The Sherman brothers panicked when Branch shouted “Snake! The son-of-a-bitch bit me! Quick! Cut it open and suck the venom out, he cried.

Alvin and George looked at each other dumbly. Both waiting for the other to move. George snapped out of it when Branch cursed again. He knelt down by Branch’s leg and cut open his trousers below the knee where Branch was pointing. He then took his knife, cut the wound open, and bent over and pressed his lips against it and sucked hard.

He instantly spit and tried again. After several attempts he noticed Branch was barely moving. He raised his head and tried to speak but only gibberish came out. The brothers hovered over him nervously, unsure of what to do next. Alvin threw a piece of wood onto the fire and they settled down by Branch and waited.

When morning came they couldn’t detect any life left in Branch. The two greenhorns dug a shallow grave and put Branch’s body in it after stripping off his clothes. They piled some rocks on top to discourage scavengers. George took his Winchester, and Alvin took his hunting knife.

They set out sadly. With no guide or experience, they didn’t expect to live much longer. But, as fate would have it, they came upon a road and a while later a stagecoach bound for Tucson stopped and gave them a ride on top with the luggage.

That night a hand thrust out from the desert floor knocking rocks aside. Then another. A head rose under the full moon and coughed. Minutes ticked by as Branch slowly crawled out from his crude burial ground. Despite all odds, he was alive but feeling like hell. He threw up a combination of bile and dirt. Shivering in the cold, he slowly stood up.

He had a fever and was delirious, but some lizard part of his brain made him take a step…then another. He’d survived the many life challenges he faced since he left home at ten-years-old. Six decades qualified him as a true survivor. He took another step and el lobo howled at the moon.

Two weeks passed and Branch was still alive. His face and hands were bloody from the stickers off the prickly pear cactus pads. He also ate kangaroo rats raw when he was lucky enough to catch one. He grimly kept walking and plotted what he was going to do when he found the brothers. They left him for dead. It was unforgivable.

He nearly ran out of strength when he saw a cabin. The old man who lived there was drawing water from a well when he saw Branch fall. He hurried over and dragged Branch inside the cabin. He tried to give him some water but Branch was unconscious. A week passed while the old man nursed him back to health.

During that time Branch told the old man his story and how his partners had deserted  him. The old man outfitted Branch and gave him a six-shot Colt Walker. When Branch protested it was too much, the old man insisted he take it with a box of ammunition.

“Where you’re going, your going to need one,” he said, spitting out a plug of well-chewed tobacco on the ground. “I’d give you my mule, but he’s all I got. Town is about five miles yonder. Shouldn’t take you too long to walk there.”

“Thank you. I’ll repay you some day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just being neighborly.”

Is was noon when Branch walked into Tucson. The first place he looked for the brothers was the local saloon. They were playing poker at a table and didn’t notice Branch walk in. He came up to the table and pulled his revolver out.

“Remember me boys?” he asked.

As It Stands, as Western fans know, a man was hard to kill back in the Wild West.

A One Way Ride To Lawless

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Criminals in 2068 don’t have to worry about getting the death penalty for committing a capital crime. On the other hand, they’re banished from earth and sent to another planet called Lawless, in the Andromeda Galaxy.

Countries started the practice when they realized it could serve two purposes.

One. They got rid of dangerous criminals without killing them, according to the Worldwide Accord of 2048 that forbid death penalties.

Two. They made a nice profit be exporting the rare and valuable minerals on Lawless without having to do the mining themselves. Criminals had the option of trading the valuable ores for food and other necessary supplies, or they could starve to death. The other option was to attack one another and steal supplies.

The United Earth scheduled every country for a one-year tour of duty on Lawless. The troops job was simple. Protect the compound surrounding the space station and trading center.

The atmosphere and environment in Lawless was very similar to earth’s.

Men and women formed camps that divided up their duties between mining, trading, and providing protection. The nomadic camps seldom exceeded more than twenty or thirty people. The most precious minerals were located in the mountain ranges near where the busy landing station was in the middle of a flat valley.

Camps often attacked other camps because they were all criminals and good at killing. There was no attempt among the banished to make any laws. The nations of Earth had no interest in providing a costly police force. And for what? To keep them from killing each other? No one worried about that.

Individuals and smaller groups of two or three, followed behind the larger camps diggings after they moved on. They managed to scavenge leftover ore by continuing to dig where others left off in a hurry to find richer pockets. This odd assortment of people called themselves The Independents. They were hard and clever. Most didn’t play well with others.

A growing number of Independents learned how to live off the land over the years. There were small mammals that resembled beavers and woodchucks that lived along the river that ran through the valley. Through experimentation, they learned what tubers and berries were safe to eat. Independents often carried news from one camp to another, for a price. These runners, as they called themselves, were paid with food and supplies.

Among the runners was a man whose name was Pecos Pete. He was a computer technician who murdered two of his colleagues when he caught them stealing his notes on a new project. Among his hobbies were mountain climbing and cross-country running. He was an intelligent man who let his emotions get the better of him once, and paid the price with a one-way ticket to Lawless.

Pecos Pete stayed alive by constantly moving. He was a loner by heart and was comfortable with his own company. One night as Pecos Pete drank some local moonshine made from tubers, he noticed a sudden flurry of activity in the compound surrounding the landing and trading center. Red lights were flashing as Pecos Pete watched from his perch on a nearby hill.

The overhead dome opened and two space ships launched into the night! This was highly unusual. Flights were always made during the day. Sensing something big, Pecos Pete slid down the hill and trotted toward the compound. Several quick explosions rocked the trade center and lit up the shattered dome and its contents within. He stopped and waited to see if there would be more. He saw fires inside and a man burning like a torch!

Minutes went by and he saw more figures in flames. They fell, one-by-one, in the landing area. Half of the dome was blown away by the explosions. The exposed interior was smoldering when Pecos Pete entered. He looked around the landing bay and spotted a control room. The windows were shattered, but some of the monitors on the wall were still operational.

He stood in stunned silence as he watched a massive fleet of warships destroy Earth’s defenses. The monitors blinked out until only one screen was left. The picture was blurry but Pecos Pete could see ships landing and opening their cargo doors. Hundreds of aliens were being herded into work groups with mining tools. Their overseers immediately led the crews towards the nearby mountains. Some crews began constructing a space station as Pecos Pete watched.

He stood there for hours watching Earth’s fate unfold until the last screen died. Then he started laughing. The idea that all there was left of mankind was criminals, had to be the funniest thing he ever heard!

As It Stands, irony is a dish best left to humans who appreciate it.