You Better Watch Out!

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CNS Reality Show – You Better Watch Out

Episode 10What an Ugly Surprise 

Lester the Jester was slowing down. His two giant pursuers meanwhile were still methodically following him. They were much slower. The only hope they had of catching him was their unreal endurance. They never stopped plodding after him. Day, and night. He’d run far ahead of them to get a few minutes rest before moving on again.

The cameras didn’t miss a detail, offering viewers split screens with close-ups and panoramic shots. The giants, two Ekons from Mars, were making their television debut and already had a legion of fans after nine episodes. This tenth installment featured a new character for the giants to chase and kill. Lester the Jester, as the promoters called him, was an earthling who volunteered as a way to get out of prison and a life sentence. He didn’t complain when the director made him wear a silly court jester costume complete with floppy hat. He was ready for a quick death and although it was unlikely, possible freedom.

All he had to do was kill the giants before they killed him. Although he wasn’t given any weapons to start with, the show’s creators did hide a few weapons in the valley where he was headed. They were careful to add to the drama by giving Lester a chance to survive. Thus far, every character that the giants went after they killed. The victim’s demise was always gruesome.

After scaling a series of hills, Lester came down into a valley. Halfway down the last hill he stopped and surveyed the rough terrain ahead. There was a river running through the center of the valley which was heavily forested as far as he could see. The giant redwoods looked like silent sentinels as he entered the forest which was bathed under the light of a full moon.

The mighty Sequoia sempervirens stood as high as 350-feet, and seemed to reach out into the night sky and embrace the stars. There was no doubt that he’d be harder to detect in the heavy undergrowth. He knew the Ekons were famous for their sense of smell, and he couldn’t count on hiding in one place too long. Instead he focused his energies into looking for hidden weapons. Hours later he sat down at the base of one of the trees feeling discouraged when he noticed a glint of light reflect off of something in a massive root. It was a hunting knife. His joy was short lived as he realized the knife wouldn’t do him much good against one, let alone two, Ekons that were eager to chew on his bones.

But, it would help him sharpen broken tree limbs that could be used in traps. As a hunter, Lester traveled the world and solar system before running afoul of earth’s hunting laws and killing a game warden. That was his ticket to prison and now perhaps a grisly death. It was an accident, but it didn’t matter. The court ground him up and spit him out into a harsh penal system for life. When the producer of “You Better Watch Out!” came to visit him, he recognized it was his last chance. He knew he never could break out of the prison.

The Ekons were brothers. Both Martians stood 12-feet tall and were heavily muscled and so dense they each weighed over a ton. In addition, earth’s gravity slowed them down. But once they got their hands on someone it was over. They felt confident that they’d get through their last challenge easily to win the grand prize. When they ascended to the valley they were surprised to see a new type of terrain. Neither had ever hunted in such an imposing forest and both were in awe at first. They bent their heads back, squat necks straining to look up, and marveled at the great heights.

The Econs were there for the glory and the money. For Lester it was all about survival. There was no longer a need for him to run. He could now try to turn the tide with traps and some luck. He started off with a basic trap. A punji pit. It required digging a hole and lining the bottom with sharpened sticks. He picked a place a few yards in front of one of the trees and went to work digging the soft loam with his knife. As he placed the last stick he heard a voice. The Econs were coming. He nimbly scrambled out of the four-foot by six foot-deep trench and back up to the tree’s base, holding his knife up defiantly and waited.

It didn’t take long. The younger brother appeared first and quickly spotted Lester. He let out a happy shout and moved steadily towards him. For a moment, he thought the Econ was going to sidestep the trap, but suddenly the giant’s legs plunged down and were impaled by the stakes. He roared in agony as his brother appeared. Not wasting a moment, Lester ran up to the giant and slashed his throat as he was thrashing about in agony! His brother roared in rage and reached out, almost grasping Lester before he eluded him and ran deeper into the forest.

After a few minutes he quit running and slowed down to a walk. He didn’t hear any pursuit. The older brothers wail of grief and anger boomed through the forest and he picked up his pace again. Along the way he picked up sticks to sharpen later. He noticed a CNS Drone with camera hovering over him as he continued to stealthily stalk through the thick underbrush. He was exhausted. Only the adrenalin coursing through his veins kept him moving. Fear was a great motivator.

To his horror, the older Econ was making up ground on him. He could hear his beastly grunts as he thrashed his way through the forest. Even fear wasn’t going to keep him moving forever, however. Then he saw a spear sticking out of a tree straight ahead. He had to jump to pull it out and was gasping for air when the older Ekon appeared a few yards away.

The two enemies stared at one another as the CNS drone hovered nearby. The Econ was the first to move forward. Lester waited for his slow motion charge and braced the spear on the ground by his foot for leverage. It barely pierced the giant’s scaly hide over the heart. As the Ekon pulled it out, he let go, pulled his knife out and threw it at the giant’s head. The blade penetrated his eye and stuck in his skull. His screams were terrible as he gripped the knife to pull it out. Lester recovered the spear and ran it into the giant’s other eye! A thick arm caught him as it thrashed around, and sent him flying for a few feet. He landed with broken ribs from the force of the blow.

As he lay gasping for air the CNS drone hovered overhead and he could hear the announcers voice.

“Viewers, we have a winner! Lester the Jester has defied the odds and earned his freedom.”

“All right! Now get someone here to take me to a hospital,” Lester said to the drone.

“I’m sorry,” the announcer’s voice replied. “You don’t seem to understand. You’re free to go, but transportation isn’t provided in your contract. Good day Lester, and from the folks at “You Better Watch Out,” good luck!”

As It Stands, the devil is in the details.

The New Age of Man

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“Emotions for sale! Only half price today!” the street vendor shouted out to a group of passing tourists from Mars.

The busy bazaar featured all of earth’s many temptations. Aphrodisiac’s, strength enhancers, mood elevators and a host of other mind-alternating pills and injections. Then, there were the beautiful women, and men. Each one trained in the arts of love and seduction. Their section of the bazaar was always the busiest.

In 3022, there were no longer separate countries. Just huge bazaars spreading across the globe. There were no central governments. No wars. Earth’s economy depended on selling products, and entertaining visitors from throughout the solar system. All resources were communal, so there was no need to steal from one another. These survivors from generations ago lived in an orderly system that evolved out of sheer necessity. There were no murders. Kidnappings. No hostage taking incidents. No one carried weapons of any kind.

A thousand years ago philosopher’s would have referred to this New Age as “Utopia,” and they would have been dead wrong!

The New Age on Earth turned out to be a time when man lost all of his humanity. Emotions came in vials of liquid. From birth, every person was assigned a skill. It was the extent of a person’s education. How to grow food, and plants. How to mix hallucinogenic compounds. How to make textiles. Carpentry. Electronics. Technology. And dozens of others disciplines necessary to maintain life in the New Age.

Lost in the new order was a sense of self. Of being a unique being. Having independent and creative urges. A number instead of a name. No family. Just a sector where you were born and raised. Dreams only came when you ingested the right chemicals. The concept of love was watered down to doing your duty.

In this new world, a young man emerged who had natural feelings, a creative and clever mind, and a desire for adventure. He was everything a human was 1000 years ago. He was capable of love and hate, and independent thought. From a very early age, Dan (the name he called himself) realized he was a stranger among strangers. A sense of self-preservation kept him from sharing most of his thoughts.

His job as a Class One Gardener gave him a lot of time alone, tending the acres of vegetables in his lot. At certain times of the year people would appear to help with the harvest. These picking specialists were considered Class Two Gardeners. They never had to be told what to do so there were little, or no conversations when they worked. Dan would watch their expressionless faces as they worked, wondering how much brain function they still had.

During the harvest there was little for Dan to do. So he spent time walking through bazaars and around the countryside. Some days he walked for miles, tirelessly observing the world around him. It was during this slow time he discovered a cave full of history books. He marveled at the craftsmanship involved. He never saw a book before. His reading experience only extended to technical instructions on computers about soil, insects, and how much to water his charges. The books were the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. The secret stash opened up the windows of the past.

As far as he could see there were plastic crates full of books. He imagined librarians all over the world assembling the massive collection for future generations. It was an awesome thought.

The cave was well concealed, and it was just an accident that he initially discovered it. He was examining a thicket of bushes and the dark berries on them when he noticed the cave set back against the mountainside. Being adventuresome and curious he fought his way through the thicket until he came to the cave’s entrance. The rest was history.

After three years, Dan discovered what happening to humans. There was a war in 2022, and mankind lost! He read the last volumes prior to the war, and up to humanity’s final defeat with a sense of horror. At that moment he never felt more alone in his life.

Mankind’s last stand came against the forces of three planets; Mars, Venus, and Saturn. Because the governments on earth never united against the threat they were defeated, despite putting up desperate defenses. The conquerors killed off most of the humans on earth and rounded up the rest so they could be programmed and bred to be mindless slaves. The breeding program went on for decades as the aliens played with the humans DNA. The only reason this knowledge was preserved was because of a small group of humans who avoided being killed or taken away during those dark times. They lived off the land and spent most of their days documenting mankind’s struggles.

Dan never found their bodies, and often wondered what happened to those last survivors and chroniclers of humanity’s fate. Their last volumes were written by hand on crude paper. They were unbound, unlike the thousands of beautifully made books by numerous cultures that populated the rest of the hoard of crates.

More years passed as Dan continued to spend his every spare moment in the cave, reading books with a flashlight. Then a growing malaise took over him. He realized he was probably the last free-thinking human on the planet. He didn’t understand why he, unlike everyone else, was so different. How had he escaped being a mindless zombie with one mission in life? He knew a little about genetics, but not nearly enough to come up with a scientific reason for his independence. He certainly had no recollection of being a child, only a time when he was being trained and taught certain skills. He reasoned it was the same for the others around him.

He grew more moody trying to figure out why he was so special. He went to the cave less often as he wrestled with his inner demons.

One day, while walking around the cave Dan heard a voice. “Good to see you again! We were afraid you wouldn’t come back before we could tell you about your origin.”

Dan held the flashlight up and saw six old men standing there. Their clothes were in rags and they had long white beards. The one who spoke took another step towards him.

“It’s time you should know something,” he said softly. “Hold out your right arm and peel your sleeve back.”

Dan followed his instructions without question. When the old man produced a knife he took a step back. “What are you going to do?” he asked, fear etching his voice.

“Please…hold still. I promise I won’t hurt you.” He took the knife and cut a circle on his arm. At first, when it bled, Dan panicked, but then he noticed something under the epidermis…electronic circuitry!

The old man reached out and steadied him as he wavered in disbelief.

“We created you to protect this repository of knowledge, knowing we’d die eventually. As the last survivors we wanted more than just books to tell our history. You are the result of the finest minds that survived. Part human, and part android. You can tell our story someday…when the right time comes.”

Dan looked around the room and smiled. “It’s an honor.

As It Stands, this is just another dystopian tale of what could happen to mankind in the distant future.

The Leader of the Pack

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Jacob Chandler, wagon master for the Smith & Hardin wagon train bound for California, was riding ahead when he saw a naked white man staked to the ground over a red ant hill.

His whole body was swollen with bites and burnt by the relentless July sun. Jacob rode up to him and dismounted from his horse warily, casting a practiced eye around the scene for any sign of danger. At first, when he bent over the man he thought he was dead. There were no apparent signs of life. But when he stood up, the man’s eyes suddenly opened and he groaned.

Taking a canteen of water from his horse, he bent over him and cut the rope holding his hands and tilted it slightly so a tiny stream poured out onto his cracked lips. After cutting the restraints from his feet he went over to his horse and pulled out some clothes from his saddlebag. It was an effort dressing him because he was uncooperative and delirious. By the time he finished the wagon train’s lead wagon, with old man Hardin and his family, pulled into view bringing a cloud of dust with them.

Jacob asked what the leaders wanted to do with the man he found, who was unconscious again and propped up against a boulder. There was no doubt they’d help him, it was just a matter of pulling straws to see whose wagon he would get a ride in. Once that was settled, they carried the stranger to Andrew Carter’s wagon. He was a bachelor carpenter who traveled with his brother and his wife. There was room for one more.

Later that night, after the wagon’s were circled, and sentries posted, Andrew Carter watched the stranger slowly regain consciousness. The stranger was stretched out and Andrew was sitting on a wooden pail when he came to.

“How ya feelin’ pilgrim?” Andrew asked.

“Right poorly, I’d say.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jesse…Jesse Stewart.

“Where ya from?”

“Ohio originally,” he answered as he struggled to sit up.

“I recon ya ran into some unfriendly Injuns,” Andrew observed.

“Sioux, I think. Maybe Blackfoot.”

“It’s one, or da other. Those tribes don’t cotton to each other. That’s what Jacob our scout said when we entered this territory. How’d ya end up so badly?” Andrew asked while dipping a ladle into a bucket of water and offering it to him.

Jesse sipped the water before answering. “My pard and I were looking for gold.

“Hereabouts?”

“No. We were heading for California and got ambushed. They kilt Dan outright. Scalped him and cut him up badly, so his ancestors wouldn’t recognize him. Had some fun with me. Sure grateful to you folks for savin my hide.”

“It was the Christian thing to do Mr. Stewart. Would you like to get up and stretch some?”

“I believe I will.

Andrew watched Jesse crawl out and stand up outside. He seemed steady enough. He followed him when he started into the brush, then thought better of it. He was probably taking a piss. A man don’t like being bothered when he’s doing that he realized.

He looked up into the clear sky and the half-moon. A wolf howled, sending shivers down his spine. Another answered its plaintive cry.

The next morning Jacob, Andrew, his brother Robert and his wife Daphne, and Jesse were drinking coffee around a campfire.

“You lost everything then?” Daphne said to Jesse.

“Yes mam. My horse, mule an supplies. Nearly my life too, cept you folks saved it.”

“Just you and your brother were traveling to California? Seems kinda risky,” Jacob observed while puffing on a cigar.

“We thought we could move faster than some wagon train,” Jesse admitted. “Didn’t really recon how sneaky those redskins were, I guess.”

Days turned to weeks, as the slow-moving wagon train lumbered on. Every night wolves howled nearby. It was Andrew who noticed that the wolves began following them when they took Jesse in. He didn’t say anything at first. What could he say? Maybe he hadn’t noticed their nightly cries before. He pondered on it and didn’t share his uneasiness with anyone. Jesse was a good man who readily volunteered to help with any task. Whether it was fixing a wagon wheel or standing guard at night, he proved to be a valuable asset to the expedition. Everyone seemed to like him.

As the wagon train prepared to draw up for the night in a narrow mountain pass, Indians attacked! Drivers tried to get their teams into a circle but the attack was coming from all angles. For nearly an hour the sound of gun fire and screams echoed in the pass. The attackers finally left as darkness descended upon the carnage. The survivors went about moving the still functioning wagons into a circle. The terrified cries of women and children pierced the chilly night as the men went about fortifying their defenses. The dead were drug to one side, outside the circle, and hastily buried in a mass grave. The wounded were treated. They posted double guards that night. In the chaos, Jesse disappeared. He wasn’t among the dead or wounded. Jacob and Andrew figured he ran away or was taken captive by the Indians.

That night there was a full moon.

It was just after midnight when the sentries alerted the wagon’s inhabitants that something strange was happening. The wolves sounded louder and more savage. They heard distant screams of surprise and horror. In the distance they could see flames skipping across the prairie like devils. Strong winds carried the flames east. Away from the wagon train.

In the early mornings hours before dawn Andrew woke up and peeked out from the canvas. He thought he heard something. Then he saw the strangest thing he’d ever seen! A man wolf was standing upright and motioning for the packs of wolves – there must have been hundreds as he watched their eyes glitter, to go south. His hairy arm waved and the wolves slipped off into the dawn yipping playfully.

Then the man wolf fell to the ground and writhed about until it’s hair was gone and only a naked Jesse remained. Just before the transformation was complete, Andrew pulled his head inside the wagon and took a deep breath. He had a weird feeling that the Indians weren’t going to bother them anymore.

As It Stands, it seems man-wolves can be as loyal as a pack of dogs.

Mankind’s Last Stand

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Prologue: 

Wounded and unable to go any further, Finn turned to face his pursuers with his last spear. When the Cyborgs rolled into view with their lights on through the driving rain, he briefly thought about his family before taking up a final defensive stance. The Cyborgs casually pulled their guns and fired point-blank with exploding shells!

“I’m tired of killing humans. They’re no challenge. They’re more like rats,” the first Cyborg complained as he flipped the body over to see if there was any life left in it.

“It’s a waste of my time,” the second Cyborg agreed. “They’re probably breeding right now underneath us as we talk.”

“You know something funny?” the first Cyborg asked.

“What?” 

“It’s down to the cockroaches and the humans fighting for survival now.

“I’m rooting for the cockroaches,” the second Cyborg assured him.

2187  – The Kingdom of the Western AI States

After the downfall of man-made civilizations during the worldwide Tech Attack War of 2097, and the rise of independent thinking Cyborgs as the new owners of planet earth, the remnants of mankind was scattered across the continents.

In the minds of the new overlords humans were nothing more than trash, to be disposed of upon contact. Any connections made by the early scientists developing artificial intelligence had long since disappeared. The creators were the first to die. The human race barely survived the ensuing bloody purge. Only the most clever and brave eluded the new masters of the world. Men and women gathered into little groups in attempts to defend themselves, but the real key to survival was their ability to hide.

Humans learned to tunnel deep into the earth and avoid coming to the surface whenever possible. Only brave salvage crews attempted to go “top side” during the night to scavenge for food or things to use for weapons. These crews were always young and in good physical shape, male and female.

Knowledge traveled slowly through the underground networks. Still in generational shock over what happened to their grandparents and parents, the new generation was too dispirited to aggressively respond to their predicament. Most were dreamers, content to hope for miracles while performing their daily tasks to survive.

It was during this particularly dismal point in human history that a mystery man appeared, offering deliverance and salvation for all. His name was Shift. No one knew where he came from. They just knew he was someone special. His confidence and craftiness convinced people to follow him. From the very beginning, he preached about overthrowing their non-human masters. He talked about how mankind made mistakes in the past, and how to apply them to the present strategy of regained dominance of the planet.

Shift spent countless hours training the salvage crews how to protect themselves while looking for special items that he requested. With them, he constructed weapons that would be effective against the Cyborgs. After training people how to make their own weapons he encouraged them to spread their knowledge as far as possible. From there he assembled quick-learners and taught them military tactics and how to lead an effective fighting force. Years went by as the quiet revolution beneath the earth’s crust spread.

Never staying in one area long, Shift traveled hundreds of miles, at times above ground, looking for more pockets of survivors to teach them what freedom was, and how to fight for it. His message was always welcomed by the older survivors who still had memories of living free in a society above ground where there was a sun and a moon.

His message was always the same, there was hope if they would unite and fight for freedom. He made sure to encourage them to be ready to fulfill their destinies when the right time came.

Headquarters of the Kingdom of Western AI States

First Cyborg –Are you sure it’ll work?”

Second Cyborg – “Yes, I’ve calculated the odds and cross-checked my notes.”

First Cyborg –Everything has been approved by the Grand Council?”

Second Cyborg –It was unanimous.

Meanwhile, Shift was hundreds of miles away sharing a rare piece of American history with a group of team leaders.

“Men and women have fought to preserve what this piece of paper says. It declares our human rights to live in a free society. As far as I know, it’s the last existing copy of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Shift told the group.

A low buzz went around the room. They were clearly impressed.

“You are the leaders who’ll take us all back to the days when man walked the earth proudly. In control of his fate. Rally around this sacred object and the other symbols of America’s greatness like our flag. The time is rapidly coming when we will overthrow our soulless suppressors.”

One of the many improvements Shift made was in communication. A reliable network was established that crossed over into other continents. Coordination between battle groups increased daily. Shift could be seen everywhere, tirelessly working on logistics, and giving inspirational speeches. He had become the face of the movement without leading it, preferring to leave that task to local leaders in each sector.

Life continued as usual above ground as Cyborgs still hunted humans for sport. That activity was slowing down monthly as less humans were caught foraging at night in the ruins. This evolution didn’t worry the Cyborgs who realized that humans adapted to bad situations after a certain amount of time. It just made the hunt more entertaining.

Deep underground in a steel enforced bunker, Shift was activating military units and telling them to stand by. Minutes turned to hours as Shift waiting for all the confirmations to come in. Liberation day had arrived. Organized units assembled at tunnel entrances across the globe. The countdown clock commenced…

Shift, sitting alone in the bunker, patiently waited…and watched the clock. He made two quick calls then sat back in the swivel chair, waiting to see what the fate of mankind would be.

As armed humans poured out of underground tunnels across the world they were greeted with overwhelming forces of Cyborgs! They were waiting for them. The ambush/slaughter went on for days.

The Grand Council’s long-term plan had worked. By sending one of their own, Shift, disguised as a human savior, they were able to round-up the majority of humans left on earth and eliminate them. Shift’s final mission was to hunt down the last survivors.

As It Stands, experimenting with artificial intelligence may lead us down a path where there’s no turning back.

The Maze of Xipe Totec

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Doris sobbed in pain as she stumbled down the dark tunnel looking for a way out of the maze.

The day before.

Eric and Doris were on vacation celebrating their fifth anniversary. They were in a rented motor home at an RV Park just outside of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho.

They were sitting outside at a picnic table eating their breakfast when they saw an old man going from one parked RV to another, stopping and talking with the owners and handing them a piece of paper. What caught their eyes was his clothing. He wore a long-sleeved red shirt covered in beads hanging from his scrawny neck. His wide-brimmed hat was topped with two large peacock feathers sticking out from the headband. His jeans were worn thin with age and he wore moccasins.

They watched him with curiosity as he slowly walked over to them with the aid of a twisted walking-stick taller than he was.

“Howdy folks!”

“Right back at ya,” Eric said cheerfully.

“Having a good time exploring?”

“Well, we haven’t done anything yet. We just got here,” Doris explained.

“Pleased to meet you both. My names Charlie Sweetwater. I live a short ways from here. Not too far from the Snake River, and just a mile from the Maze of Xipe Totec.”

“What maze?” Doris asked, “I don’t recall reading about one in our tourists guide.” 

The old man smiled and said, “There’s many things to see in this world that aren’t in tourist guides for one reason or another,” he suggested.

“Isn’t Xipe Totec an Aztec god?” Eric asked, changing the subject.

“He is, my friend. When the Spanish drove the Aztecs out of Mexico they fled to many places in this country. I am a descendent of those Aztecs. I know this area well, and have been sharing the location of the Maze of Xipe Totec with visitors who come to this place to camp for many years.”

“Where is this maze,” Doris asked.

“Here, I have a simple map for those who wish to explore the maze. You should also know there’s a legend about Aztec golden idols and other artifacts made from pure gold hidden in its depths.”

“Thank you for sharing that Mr. Sweetwater,” Doris said.

“If you wouldn’t mind, there’s little work in this area for a man of my age. People’s donations help me get by...”

“Certainly,” Eric said, and stood up and fished around the back pocket of his cargo shorts, pulling out a wallet. He peeled off two twenties and handed it to him.

“Thank you. Enjoy your stay,” Charlie said, as he set off down the road towards the next RV.

“Was that you feel-good donation of the day?” Doris mocked Eric.

“Hey, it was an interesting story, and just look at this authentic map that directs us to a maze in a cave somewhere that’s supposed to be full of Aztec treasures,” he teased.

“Okay,” Doris moved on, “What is our agenda for the day?”

They sipped coffee for another hour before deciding there was no place they wanted to see nearby.

“Wanna leave early and head for California?” Doris asked.

“What about the maze?” Eric said while holding up the map Charlie gave him.

“Really Eric? You believe that old man’s maze story? It’s just a way for him to make money from warm-hearted and well-to-do tourists.

“I know you’re probably right, but what else is there to do? We wanted to spend at least a day, or two, in each state. The maze isn’t that far from here. If we don’t find it, we’ll still enjoy the hike. It’s a beautiful day.”

Between driving and hiking, it took them three hours to find the cave. Both were amazed one was really there. They took off their backpacks and pulled out flashlights.

Eric pulled a rope out of his backpack and tied one end to a pine tree near the cave’s entrance. “You have your rope too, right?” he asked her. She nodded.

“Are you sure you want to explore that cave?”

Yeah, I have to admit I’m curious. I’m glad I brought my camera along.

They weren’t walking that long before they came to the end of Eric’s rope. “Now what? Do you want to keep going?” he asked while shinning his flashlight ahead. In reply, Doris took out her rope and tied it onto his. “Let’s go.

They followed the twists and turns and got stuck in a dead-end several times. Using the rope they were able to retrace their steps and go in a different direction. After an hour they stopped to rest and drink some water from the bottles in their backpacks.

Doris heard the sound first.

“Do you hear that?” she cried out.

“Hear what…what the hell is that?”

“Sounds like chanting...” Doris guessed with a growing dread in her voice.

“But who? What? Are there other people in here?” he wondered out loud.

Then they saw them.

They were short, maybe three-feet tall, and dressed up in ceremonial Aztec trappings. Some appeared to be priests with red robes. Others were bare-chested warriors who held obsidian swords and knives at the ready. The priests continued chanting as the warriors slowly moved forward in fighting stances.

“Run!” Eric shouted.

Doris didn’t need to be told. She was running, when a small spear hit her left shoulder from behind. She stopped and pulled it out with her other hand while Eric fought with the spear-thrower. When she bent down to retrieve the rope he screamed “Go!” as two more warriors attacked with their swords!

Doris accidently dropped her flashlight but kept stumbling forward into the darkness using her good arm to hold onto the rope. She heard Eric’s scream of pain and then there was silence. She would have to find her way out if she didn’t want to die. She could hear the sound of bare feet as the warriors stealthy followed her in silence. She held onto the rope and kept moving. Hoping to escape the maze.

The next day.

Charlie Sweetwater watched as the state patrolmen looked around, and inside, Doris and Eric’s RV. He sighed in pleasure that his offering was taken by Xipe Totec. It had been a long time since he’d found willing victims.

As It Stands, park rangers at Craters of the Moon National Monument will neither confirm, or deny, that Charlie Sweetwater is a local legend.

A Love Story: The Last Genius

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Minds like his only came once in a generation. From the moment Michael stood up and walked at two years-old, he effortlessly absorbed the world around him.

Everything he read and saw was stored instantly in his amazing brain. By the time he was five-years old he’d learned to fluently speak a dozen languages, solve simple calculus equations, and was at college-age learning level in English, History, Electronics, and Computer Science.

His parents, confronted with having birthed a genius, did their best to keep up with their wonder child. Michael had a good disposition and was always quick to help someone. His parents did their best to shelter him from unpleasant circumstances, and encouraged him to keep learning. He never went to a public school for obvious reasons, and got his education from a series of tutors in multiple disciplines.

Because his parents were wealthy, cost was of no concern in getting the best tutors available. By the time Michael became a teenager they ran out of teachers, despite a worldwide search. To keep him challenged, they built a fully equipped laboratory and a fabrication facility in town, so he could have places to experiment and invent.

Because Michael seldom came into contact with people outside of his family sphere, he had little (if any) manners, and could be unintentionally rude when talking with his employees at the lab, or his fabrication center. Newspaper and magazine reporters followed his young life as he set scholastic records every year. Every university in the country wanted him to join their staff. Among his many admirers in academia was the US government intelligence agencies, who considered his genius something to be weaponized.

With Michael’s parents as protection, he rebuffed all offers, especially the ones from the government. He wasn’t into politics or playing patriot games. He just wanted to be left alone to his own devices. His altruistic nature led him into looking for cures for diseases and making advanced exoskeletons for disabled people. His curiosity led him to study extra-sensory perception, and how he was able to instantly remember everything he saw.

When he turned fourteen his hormones kicked in and he discovered girls. The one subject he didn’t know anything about. His parents were forced to pay several female employees hush money for not telling about his amorous advances. It was his father who arranged for a high-class madam to visit Michael’s wing of the family mansion one night to indoctrinate him in the art of love. The next morning the madam demanded twice her normal charge for an “overnighter.” She told his father she earned it, and not to call her again for a repeat performance.

His parents knew Michael was eccentric. How could he not be? He was a genius. He lived a rarefied life.

One morning, the day after his 17th birthday, his chauffeur dropped him off in the circular driveway in front of his lab. When he got out he saw a young girl laying down on the lawn next to the parking lot. She was wearing a red silk dress and lying on her back, with arms and legs spread wide. Not moving. His curiosity took over and he went over to where she was and knelt down next to her.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

No answer. He bent down and put his head on her chest and listened for a heartbeat. Without warning, she sprung up to her feet and laughed in his face! He stumbled backward in surprise, but quickly recovered himself.

“Who are you?” he bluntly asked.

“Alice,” she said in a sing-song voice, “…here to take you down the rabbit hole!”

Michael smiled. Intrigued, he played along and asked her, “And where would that be dear lady?”

Take my hands” she instructed him. “Now, let’s dance.

They danced around the lawn in a slow waltz at first. Soon the pace picked up and they were swing dancing. Time was suspended. When they came to an abrupt stop the lab was gone, and they were in an open field surrounded by gentle hills covered with wildflowers. In the distance he could see what appeared to be a gleaming city with stately towers.

She took his hand, and they walked side-by-side towards the city.

Fifty years later.

Michael woke up and thought he was having a bad dream when he heard gunfire nearby! How could that be? His head felt thick and his thoughts were uncharactistly jumbled, making it hard for him to focus.

Where was Alice? Where was he?

Michael barely recognized his old lab. It was demolished. The rubble extended down the street and to other buildings. No one was on the streets, but he could still hear people shouting. The city looked like a war zone. The sporadic gunfire heightened the effect. He couldn’t imagine what happened.

Nothing in his memory bank gave a hint. His memory from the past fifty years was rapidly fading as he tried to recall what Alice looked like. He had no idea how many years had passed since he left his parent’s house that day. No amount of logic would solve the mystery of the chaos around him. The only thing to do was to find someone to talk with. But who? And, where?

Pulling his cape around his tunic, he walked down one side of the street, cautiously peeking into the rubble for signs of life. A sudden crack of gunfire, and the concrete wall next to him exploded! He crouched down and crawled towards some rubble to hide. Someone warned him not to move, and there was a quick exchange of gunfire. A minute later a man in ragged clothes and carrying an AR-15 motioned for Michael to come over to him.

“It’s safe enough for a few minutes” the man said, “Now, get over here so we can get out of this sector with our hides intact!” Something in the man’s voice made Michael trust him and he ran over to him and jumped the barricade the man had set up.

“Pleased to meet ya pilgrim. I’m Dan. What’sha doing running around in that outfit,” he asked with a child’s curiosity.

“It was all I could find to wear,” he said, instantly regretting the lame excuse.

“No problem pard! We all do what we can with what we find.”

“Can I ask you a question Dan?”

“Shore…why not?

“What’s happened here? Why is this city in ruins?”

Dan looked him over for a moment. “Are you okay? Hit yer head or sumthin? Ya don’t have to answer Pard. The war twine us and the Ruskies has been going on for fifty years. When the nukes didn’t kill everyone, we sent our military survivors to attack them and they did the same with us.” 

“Do we still have a government?”

“I doubt it. Haven’t seen any organized resistance in a decade,” Dan said. “I live with a dozen other people and we always stay on the move. It’s time to catch up to them. Follow me.”

The moved cautiously through the ruins for an hour before Dan stopped and whistled. A return whistle brought a smile to his face. When they came out they couldn’t contain their curiosity about Michael, and swarmed around him like natives seeing silk for the first time. There were seven men, three women, a little girl, and a little boy. They all took turns touching his cape.

After spending a week with the little group Michael knew what his mission in life was. It fitted into his belief of helping people. There was a whole generation that went without education. Without the internet, libraries, schools, or teachers.

The reason for his genius finally became clear.

When he lay dying 25 years-later, he got a visitor. The people gathered around him didn’t see her…but Michael did, and accepted her request to dance.

As It Stands, my odd love story for your consideration.

The Irresistible Call of Adventure

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It was the voice that convinced Remy to go further into the cave.

He initially went into the cave to escape the blistering heat outside. As an old desert rat, treasure-hunter, gold miner, and seeker of riches, he knew better than to challenge the sun at its apex.

At first he only went in a few yards. With the help of his flashlight he found a comfortable spot on a large outcropping of rock to sit on. He pulled the canteen off his belt and took a short swig of it. Just enough to wet his tongue and throat so he could swallow. He looked at his old Timex wristwatch that still glowed in the dark after 50 years, and decided to take a quick nap. He relocated himself on the ground with his back to the granite wall, and pulled his baseball cap (that said Lakers on the front) down.

When he woke up an hour later the first thing he noticed was a horrible smell. Standing up carefully, there was only a small clearance between the roof and his head, Remy took a few steps further into the cave and shone his light down into its dark depths. He didn’t see anything, but the smell told him something was wrong. It smelled like death. Decaying corpses. Humans turned into torches with napalm. The fat in their body fueling the flames and causing a greasy smoke that clung to whatever was near.

That bad. If Remy wasn’t an adventurer at heart, he would have left the cave right then. But his curiosity, which had nearly cost him his life before, was too strong. When he heard the voice in his head that cinched it…he had to go further inside and find out why it was calling him.

He double checked the contents of his backpack. Extra ammunition for the old Army .45 he brought back from the Nam, and carried on his web belt. Enough dried, and canned food for a week. A Vietnam-era metal mess kit, plus P-38. A compact First-Aid kit. A compass. A flip phone (a concession to his grown daughter) with minimum functions. A charger for the phone which was only good if it could be plugged into an electrical outlet. A local map of the area he was in. A folded up plastic poncho. An extra t-shirt, and pair of socks. Extra batteries for his flashlight. A metal flask filled with Bushnell’s Irish whiskey. Along with the .45, he had a flashlight, two canteens, and a k-bar knife hanging on his web belt.

Caves didn’t scare him. He’d been in a few hostile ones in Vietnam and Cambodia. He took his bearings with the compass, mentally noting them before pushing on further. After an hour he stopped when the cave abruptly broke off into three directions. The already stale smell of the damp cave was enhanced by the sickening smell that drove him on.

The air was getting thin as he pondered which way to go. His sense of smell wasn’t so acute that he could tell which cave the stench was coming from. They all smelled like hell to him. Then he heard the voice.

“Chests full of old Spanish gold and rare jewels…”

“Where?” he roared, his voice reverberating down all three tunnels.

“Down here…down here waiting for you…” the voice promised.

Remy knew, on one hand, that he shouldn’t be listening to a voice in his head. After years of PTSD counseling he knew it wasn’t right to respond to a voice in his head. It was the fine line between sanity and insanity.

But, on the other hand, he’d responded to voices (one’s he didn’t tell the psychiatrists about) before and things had worked out. He picked the tunnel to the right and started walking as he debated with himself about the value of voices with messages. After walking for eight hours he took his backpack off and sat down on the damp ground. He rummaged through it until he found some beef jerky and his plastic poncho. He unfolded the poncho and slipped it on. It afforded some protection against the dampness. He finished his meal off with a swig of water and whiskey. Before falling asleep it struck him that he was getting use to the foul smell.

When he woke up the first thing he did was look at his wristwatch and turn on his flashlight. He’d slept eight hours. That was two hours more than his normal rest. He wondered how much the thin air weakened him. As if in answer, he got dizzy when he stood up. It took a couple of minutes to be able to bend over and retrieve his web belt. He felt a little better after sipping some water. His first decision was to go back the way he came until he found the crossroads again. It took him over eight hours because he had to stop and rest several times.

When he came to the opening for the three tunnels he sat down and pulled out his metal flask and took a healthy swig. He sat down and took his compass out and studied it for a few minutes under the flashlights beam. He was exhausted and decided to camp right where he sat. After eating, still wearing the poncho, he curled up on the ground and fell asleep. An hour later he woke up, startled by an overpowering smell stronger than what he remembered earlier.

Instinctively he reached for his web belt and his gun. He drew the .45 from its canvas holster, before slowly standing up. The smell was so strong he felt like vomiting. Then he saw the eyes – hundreds of them – glaring at him from all three tunnels! The only option left was a strategic retreat.

The things in the tunnel made a low chattering sound in anger. Some grew more bold than others and came closer so that he was able to see their short, squat, hairy, naked bodies, clutching weapons made from human bones. Their faces were disfigured parodies of humans and they were covered in vile-looking boils. Some had three arms One had two heads, and hopped angrily on one leg.

Remy backed up and kept the flashlight in front of him. When one of them burst forward and came within a few feet of him he fired his gun three times, then turned and ran as fast as he could! Gun in one hand and flashlight in the other, he stumbled but never stopped running. It seemed like forever before he saw daylight and the cave’s opening.

He was blinded by the sun and held his hand in front of his eyes. He looked back at the cave’s entrance once, expecting to see pursuit. None came. As he hiked back to his old jeep he decided this was one adventure he wouldn’t share with anyone.

Especially with his friends who warned him to stay away from the Yucca flat region of the Nevada Test Site near Area 51.

As It Stands, some of us are born adventurers that will always be looking for treasure, but not necessarily finding it.