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 Town That Learned Not To Discriminate

(Author’s Note: I’m bringing this story back by popular demand. A lot of people have been telling me it’s a good story for the times we’re in. I wrote it about a year ago under the title: FEAR.)

Cafe on Centre Street (the Main Street) in downtown Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Florida, USA

They met during the night like thieves panning a robbery.

But they weren’t thieves. They were some of the most prominent people in Elsdale’s population of 1,623. Community leaders led by the small town’s mayor, Jasper Corning, a corpulent man who found walking difficult.

Ever since the family of strangers moved in, people talked about how different they were. Of particular concern, they were Muslims. The two women wore hijabs that covered their head, hair, and necks.

The three men wore traditional Taqiyahs (round caps) and had long dark beards. To the white majority of Elsdale it was like being invaded by a foreign country. They spoke another language and lived by Sharia Law, which the townspeople feared would somehow take over the American system of justice someday.

The two women, Manahil and Eshal, went to the general store, and the post office, once a week. Every purchase they made at the store was scrutinized by the owners who shared their observations at the VFW bar every evening.

The postmaster worried every time a package came for the Muslims that it might have bomb-making materials inside. They got lots of letters in their post office box. It was always packed tight by the time the women came by for their weekly visit.

The Muslims lived in an old two-story house just outside the city limits. When they purchased the house – with cash – word quickly got around town. Very few people had actually talked with the Muslims. Mostly Manahil and Eshal when they were on their weekly errands.

Hector St. George, the towns only banker, talked with the three brothers, Aaban, Rayyan, and Zayan Azimi, while handling the transaction. The bank had repossessed the house years ago, and no one seemed interested in buying it.

Until then the Azima brothers appeared with lot’s of money. They even opened a bank account, which secretly thrilled St. George (he didn’t want the others thinking he was getting chummy with them) who worshipped money more than any god.

The towns sheriff, Roscoe Winters, a Vietnam veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, spends most of his time on a computer reading about conspiracies in America, and drinking too much at the VFW bar.

As the weeks turned to months, the rumors surrounding the Muslims grew like a malignant cancer. They held orgies; the men were secret ISIS members; there was a stockpile of weapons in the old house, and on it went.

Fear replaced curiosity in the little community after six months. When the women came to town they could feel the tension, as accusing eyes followed their every move. As the stares seemed to grow more malignant they told the men what was going on.
The three brothers were dismayed, but not surprised. They seen this kind of thing before when they bought their first house in upstate New York after immigrating to America five years ago.

When their parents were murdered by extremists in Iraq they took the family fortune and fled. Two of the brothers, Zayan and Aaban, were married to Manahil and Eshal. The eldest brother Rayyan never got married, because his childhood sweetheart was viciously murdered by thugs before they could.
Fear finally materialized into action.

That’s why the community leaders were gathered at night in the mayor’s house. The rumors had some of them fearing for their lives. The sense that one day they would attack the town with automatic weapons shouting “Allah Akbar!” swirled among the group, sending shivers down some spines.

“Okay boys…settle down. What are we here for?”

“Because you asked us too Jasper,” Larry Henderson, the general store owner, replied.

“Thanks Larry. Now that that’s established, what are we going to do about the Muslims?
“I think we ought to search their house and see what they’re up to,” John Baker, the postmaster said.

“There’s one problem with that Johnny, it’s called a search warrant. I don’t have one,” Sheriff Winter said, after downing a shot of 20 year-old Scotch.

The group broke out into a babble of suggestions that were going nowhere when the mayor shouted, “Enough! We ain’t getting a damn thing done here crowing like a bunch of roosters with no hen in sight!”

The room settled down to inaudible grumbles.

“Here’s what we can do. Larry, you can say you overheard the two women talking about making bombs. The sheriff can go to the county judge tomorrow and get a warrant to search their house. How’s that sound?” Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room.

“I’ll leave before noon tomorrow to go see Henry (the county judge) and get that warrant. Right now I’m going to have a few beers. Anyone with me?”

Everyone in the room, except the mayor who was sitting in his favorite office swivel chair, followed the sheriff out the door and into the night.

The next day.

Sally Yates, a waitress at the only restaurant in town, “Chuck’s,” was the first to hear the roar of motorcycles. The noon crowd had thinned down to two old customers who were known to spend most of the day there drinking coffee and talking.
The loud intrusive roar made her look out the window. Her pulse quickened in fear as the riders of six motorcycles dismounted from their Harley’s. They were all members of the Mongols, one of the most feared motorcycle groups in America!
Sheriff Winters had a shot of bourbon with Judge Henry Goodnight in the judge’s library. The judge had signed the warrant without question.

Back in town.

The bikers took over the restaurant and chased the two old men away. They were having fun baiting Sally who gamely tried to pretend everything was all right while taking their orders. The fun and games finally stopped, and their leader assaulted Sally!
Later the bikers roamed around town looking for more trouble. They went into the general store, and when Larry tried to stop them from helping themselves to whatever they fancied, they beat him and left him for dead!

Then they helped themselves to the hand guns behind the counter in locked cabinets. They broke the lock off with ease, and the leader passed them out to the others. He located the ammunition and gave each a box. Armed, they went back out and headed for the VFW Hall. By now, people had seen them and were running for cover. The main street was deserted by the time they reached the VFW Hall.

The patrons inside didn’t have a chance. They were caught unawares and herded over into a corner of the room, while other gang members looted the bar. The group settled in for some serious drinking.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Winters didn’t even notice the main street was deserted. It was getting near dark and his first thought was to go to the VFW Hall for a quick drink, or two.

The room went silent when the sheriff walked in. Someone dropped a bottle on the floor and the shooting began! Rosco was hit immediately in the left arm, but he manged to draw his service revolver and return fire!

One of the biker’s spun around and fell to the floor, bleeding from a chest wound. Bullets sprayed the room like angry bees as everyone tied to get out of the line of fire. Rosco was hit again in the right side of his chest but kept moving and somehow got out the door and into the street.

A lone biker followed him and popped off two misses. Rosco turned and calmly fired back at him. One of the bullets found its mark and the biker staggered back inside the VFW Hall, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Rosco summoned up the last of his strength and headed towards the nearby general store. Larry lay near the doorway, battered beyond recognition and barely alive. Rosco went to him and looked for a pulse. He was alive. Rosco’s wounds weakened him so much that he passed out.

Manahil and Eshal felt more uneasy than usual when they got to town. The streets were deserted. They went inside the general store and found Larry and Rosco passed out on the floor. Larry’s wounds soaked his shirt with blood.
The women quickly checked them out and found gauze, band aids, and tape, and treated them both right there. Eshal was looking at Larry’s wounds and easily recognized them as bullet holes. She had seen her share in war-torn Iraq.
Manahil went to the phone on the counter but only got a buzzing. Someone had cut the phone lines. Making a bold decision she told Eshal that she was going for the men. She knew Rayyan would know what to do.

He had fought in the Iraqi armed forces until Saddam Hussein took over, and he had to run from the purge that followed. He was a captain in the special forces. The other two brothers had no military experience, but grew up in hard times when they had to use weapons to survive the government’s attacks.

Rayyan listened calmly as Eshal told him what she found. Nodding he turned to his brothers and said, “We cannot let these people be slaughtered by those men. Allah would never forgive us.”

The brothers both nodded, and the three of them headed for town.
When they got to the general store they found Manahil listening to the sheriff’s heart. She looked at Rayyan and said, “He’s barely alive. We must get a doctor.”
Meanwhile Zayan and Aaban were behind the counter picking a lock on a chain that covered a row of rifles. There were repeating Winchesters, hunting rifles, and two AR 15’s. They took the two AR 15’s and asked Rayyan what he wanted.
“The Winchester is fine,” he said as they rummaged for ammunition.

As the three men set out to find the bikers Rosco woke briefly, “The VFW building,” he croaked and passed back out again.

The biker’s Harley’s were still parked in front of the restaurant. Rayyan started one up and gunned the engine! He drove it down the street and sat outside the VFW Hall. Zayan and Aaban both pulled up next to him, and they all three revved their engines.
Inside, the sound immediately caught the biker’s attention. One of them was dead, and another was badly wounded. Three innocent hostages were killed by errant bullets. The remaining four Mongols roared in anger and charged out the front door…into a hail of gunfire!

The next day.

Sheriff Winter’s got help in time by the town doctor, who was able to stabilize him and have him transported to the country hospital in nearby Turnsville. County police and the FBI were all over the town talking to witnesses and processing the crime scenes.
Mayor Corning was visiting Rosco when he handed him a piece of paper. It was the warrant.

“What about this,” he asked.

Rosco took it, and tore it in half.

“It’s about time we quit letting fear rule our lives,” he said.

As It Stands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

An Incident Under A Waxing Moon

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Seth and Eli had no choice. They waited until nightfall to make their break.

It was a waxing moon and they felt exposed under its bright light, but if they stayed where they were the Yankees would eventually find them. The union army under McClellan had split the Confederate forces in half that hot afternoon in July, seizing a decisive victory by capturing or killing half of Lt. Col. John Pegam’s men, and routing the rest.

Seth and Eli were among the many Confederates who were escaping to nearby Beverly, and on over to the Shawnee Trail. They were separated from their unit in the chaos of retreat. Seth was wounded. A Yankee mini ball hit him just below his right knee, shattering the bone. It was bound up hastily by Eli who helped him walk by supporting his wounded side with one brawny arm. Seth was weak from loss of blood and they were hiding in a thicket near a farmhouse.

They would have to cross an open field to reach the forest that led to Beverly where the Confederate forces were fleeing. Eli looked up at the sky and cursed the bright moon.

“Time to go Seth. We’ve got to find a place to hide before the sun comes up and McClellan’s boys catch us.”

The two men awkwardly walked towards the tree line. Seth had his loaded rifle in his free hand. It seemed like forever before they entered the forest. They pressed on for two hours before Seth had to rest. Eli scouted around and found a small cave. He helped Seth inside. It was barely big enough for both men and smelled like bear. Eli sat up with his back against the rear, and rifle across his lap. It left enough room for Seth to lay down. He was in obvious pain, but didn’t complain.

They were best friends and were raised in the same small town in Virginia. As boys they hunted together and spent lazy days fishing. That all changed when the war started. They signed up to defend their home and state like the rest of the boys in their community. It was a year since the War of the States broke out and both young men had seen their share of fighting in numerous skirmishes, leading up to the Battle of Rich Mountain.

Eli was starting to fall asleep when he heard a strange noise and simultaneously smelled something rank. Like a skunk. He leaned over to the narrow opening where he’d pulled some bushes in after entering the cave. He peered through the brush and saw something that scared the hell out of him! It was at least eight-feet tall, and looked like a giant hairy man. It was standing mere feet away from their hiding place and sniffing the night air like a great hound.

The moon was bright enough to slash through the forest canopy exposing the creatures face. It was the stuff nightmares are made from. It’s head looked too small for its huge body. Protruding fangs and lifeless eyes, like a sharks, stared into the night. It’s grunts sounded similar to a boar.

Eli was afraid to move a muscle, and hoped Seth wouldn’t wake up and start moaning. He saw the thing bend over something and gradually became aware that it was a body. A flash of blue uniform under the moon’s unforgiving gaze, told him it was a Yank. Streams of light filtered through the trees around the creature as it bent over and casually tore off the mans arm and started chewing on it!

Nothing in Eli’s life prepared him for the horror he was witnessing. He saw men die on both sides off the battlefield, but their violent deaths paled beside the nightmare unfolding in front of him. The thing had plucked the other arm out like a chicken wing and tossed the bones of the other in his direction. Eli flinched. He forced himself to remain calm. Wild things could sense fear. He learned that as a boy growing up in the hill country. The man-thing tossed the other arm bone aside and bent over the body again, coming up with a trail of intestines in it’s large mouth.

At that moment Seth woke up, and groaned out loud!

Eli quickly put a hand over his mouth and prayed it didn’t hear him. Seth’s eyes opened in surprise and Eli put a finger to his lips. The grunting outside stopped. He could barely make out the beast’s movement. It was amazingly stealthy for something so large. The creature suddenly hunched down and looked in the opposite direction in time to see a Confederate soldier with fixed bayonet charge it!

There was a terrible roar of rage when the bayonet pierced the beast’s breast, but it didn’t go down. Still standing, it slowly pulled the bayonet out, to the soldiers horror. It grabbed the rifle and threw it down while reaching out with his other massive arm for the terrified soldier.

Eli was already moving and scurried out of the cave and took aim at the beast’s back and fired! It kept plunging forward and grabbed the soldier with a scream of anger and tore his head off with it’s bare hands! Turning, it saw Eli standing 20-feet away and roared with increased rage. Eli barely had time to fix his bayonet on his rifle when it charged. Bracing himself, he thrust his rifle forward and stabbed the creature’s bloody breast before it knocked him over!

The force of it’s charge sent him backwards several feet and he tumbled roughly on the forest floor. As he scrambled to his feet he saw Seth crawling out of the cave. He calmly leveled his .36 caliber Navy revolver and fired six shots at the beast. It turned away from Eli and turned on Seth. Eli screamed “No!” and pulled his hunting knife out and started to take a step when more gunfire broke out!

Three Union soldiers appeared and were firing volleys at the beast! It let out a terrible scream of agony and finally lumbered away in the opposite direction. They could hear it smashing its way through the deep forest for minutes afterward.

Eli looked over at the Union soldiers, who lowered their rifles, and cracked a wry smile, “I never thought I’d be so damn glad to see some damn Yankees!” he said, as he held his arms up in surrender.

As It Stands, you never know when you and an enemy might end up on the same side one day.

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.

Paladin: Enemy of the State

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You’ve probably seen wanted posters with my photo on them.

The state police have them posted everywhere. I went to a 24-hour laundromat the other day and saw myself stuck on the communal poster board surrounded by business cards. Of course I no longer look like that photo. I wouldn’t be talking with you right now if I did. Someone would have turned me in for the reward.

I dyed my brown hair blond, cut it different, and grew a straggly beard. With the help of contacts I changed the color of my eyes from brown to blue. I also lost a lot of weight. Running will do that to you. Before I forget, my name is Paladin. Just Paladin, with no first name.

I use to be a professor at Cal State University in Fullerton, California, back in 2024. But I lost my job and almost my life, when I became a public activist for Free Speech on campus. Bad things were happening in our government and most Americans lived in fear. How we digressed from being a democracy to an authoritarian state is a long story. Suffice to say, that where we’re at today.

Back then I thought there was still hope that the America I grew up in would return someday. That good people wouldn’t be afraid to stand up to racists and evil ideologies. I even thought (what a fool) that if we voted the bad guys out in elections, the good guys would win and restore democracy. I wasn’t aware that elections were rigged at the time.

When I later found out that a secret coup had taken place in the White House, my natural response was to speak out. I warned my students that America was in a crisis. Some responded, but most sat there with dull eyes and waited for me to change the subject. They were the sons and daughters of the new regime, whose parents blindly followed the new masters out of fear, or they were brainwashed by the constant government propaganda.

It was a lonely feeling watching our freedoms slip away after generations of Americans had fought and died for them. I quickly recognized that the media was under government control, like everything else in America. I wish I could pinpoint a day, or even an incident, and say, “This is where it all began.” I can’t. There’s so many things that happened right under our noses. It was like an infection; getting worse all the time.

In private discussions with my colleagues we tried to narrow down the road we took to get here. Some suggested that President Donald Trump was the turning point. Even though he was impeached 28 months after taking office, his legacy continued with the next president who defeated incumbent former vice president Pence. She was a Democrat who turned the clock back to the bad old days of Dixiecrats. After one term she lost to an Independent who restructured the government, giving him complete power. He, the bastard’s name is Bork, is still in power, and thriving.

It was his goons, when he took over our Republic, who came for me years ago. If it wasn’t for a loyal student, they would have caught me as I walked out to my car after class. Instead, I called a friend and he picked me up a block from campus where I was waiting by a bus stop. That’s the day my career as a Professor Paladin ended, and I had to go underground.

The days of public dissent against the government are long gone. I try to keep track of the numerous resistance groups, moving from one to another, as I go from state-to-state encouraging people to organize and reclaim their freedoms. I’m physically slowing down at 83-years-old, but my mind remains as sharp as ever.

Everywhere I go people plead with me to be their leader. It seems I’ve earned a reputation. President Paladin sounds odd to me though. I’m an organizer. Not a leader of men, I tell them. I encourage them to select a brave and honest person that will capture men and women’s hearts. It would be my honor, I explain, to share my knowledge with that special person. After years of being on the run across the country, I learned many valuable things. Like information about weaknesses at city armories, and how to cripple computer communication centers in every state.

One of the things I was able to do and keep myself somewhat grounded in academia, was to hold underground classes in several subjects. My favorite was literature. Listeners never got tired of discussing George Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984″ and Ray Bradbury’s classic, Fahrenheit 451. It was no wonder, however. They were living in a time that rivaled those two dystopian books.

I wish I could say America will be saved someday. I wish I could tell you that in my travels I saw the unity it would take for people to regain their freedoms. It’s not reality. What’s currently happening is a terrible irony.

The new regime under Premier Bork has completely sealed off the country’s two borders with massive walls (north and south) and armed security guards patrol them day and night. No one comes in, and no one goes out without permission. Passes to leave the country for any reason are scrutinized by Bork’s minions. Few are granted. Only those with connections to Bork are allowed to travel – and then for no more than three days.

By writing this journal I hope it will inspire people and help them understand what’s happened in this once free society. It’s important to document the disease that infected our politician’s minds to understand the road they took to get us here. I’ve got a stash of videos showing how far our fall was. Some go as far back as WW II. I carry the key to the hidden vault that holds those videos.

My biggest regret, before my time comes, is that people never got organized enough to turn the tide of history and restore democracy in our once proud Republic.

LAST ENTRY

They’ve got me surrounded. I’m putting this journal into the vault with the videos. Hopefully someday they’ll be discovered and possibly inspire a new generation. Until then, this is Paladin, enemy of the state.

As It Stands, democracy must always guard against authoritarian regimes – here, and abroad.

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.

One Last Chance

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

A trio of men in white lab coats were talking earnestly with the president of the United States. Nearby, a man reclined in a chair surrounded by a clear glass wall. He was semi-conscious.

The scene was unfolding in an underground bunker below the White House. The country was in a state of chaos. The government was fighting two wars on different continents and was running out of money trying to maintain supplies for its beleaguered military. The economy was staggering, and sinking into an irreversible depression.

The world was at war. No continent was spared. Local, national, and international wars were being waged with no end in sight. Thus far no nukes were used, as all parties knew that it was an endgame move with little chance of survival for anyone.

That could change at any moment as China was becoming more unpredictable…threatening the US with a nuclear holocaust. It was during these desperate times that a secret government project was being developed; a time machine.

The lab, a mile beneath the White House, was so secret only the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House knew about it. The dozen scientists involved were all sworn to secrecy and were monitored by a special FBI unit created for the purpose as a backup. There were four people in the covert unit. Two men, and two women.

“We can’t wait any longer Mr. President,” the vice president said.

“Has this time machine been tested yet?” the president asked one of the scientists.

“Not with a human, sir,” the scientist admitted.

“With what then?” the president pushed.

“A monkey. A chimpanzee to be exact, sir,” said the scientist.

The president, who was a compassionate, but realistic man, asked, “Does Major Reed know this?”

“Yes, sir. He still volunteered.

“Why does he look so sleepy?” the vice president wondered.

“He’s on a little twilight to calm his nerves and relax him before the journey. We have to put him completely asleep when it’s time for him to travel. My colleagues and I believe that the sensory shocks that would come from being conscious might drive him crazy. We’ve calculated that he only needs to sleep for forty-two minutes during the time slippage and he’ll wake up in the year 2035,” the scientist assured him.

“Plenty of time to reverse some bad things,” another scientist spoke up.

“Does Major Reed have his hit list?” the President asked.

“All programmed into the mini-computer implanted in his skull,” the first scientist said.

“Would you like to say a few words to the major, sir?”

The president went up to the glass and looked at the major who was hooked up to various tubes leading into what looked like a round steel ball encased by clear digital components that blinked on and off rapidly. The chair he sat in was equipped with a safety harness and had an electronic keyboard that popped up in front of him when he hit a button on his arm rest.

“Good luck Major Reed” the president said into an intercom. “Your country will never forget what you’re doing here. Your service, and sacrifices, are beyond the call of duty. You are a true patriot.”

“Thank you, sir...” Reed responded. “An honor…” His head dipped down for a moment. It popped back up. “Sorry, sir…sleepy.”

“No problem major! Thank you!

He turned away and looked over at one of the scientists who was standing by a large control panel. By the look on his face he was ready to go. First he typed something into a master computer and they all watched Major Reed fall asleep.

A beeping sound in major Reed’s right ear woke him up. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the room. He was still encased behind thick glass and sitting in the chair. As he unbuckled his safety harness he noticed a pile of bones near the main computer panel.

After entering the code with the help of his personal computer, an opening appeared in the glass. He went over to the pile of bones and scrapes of clothing. He guessed it was one of the scientists. But what happened?

As per his instructions, he went over to a small closet and opened it. Inside was an assault rifle and automatic pistol, boxes of ammunition, a k-bar knife, a field First Aid kit, a canteen of water, and vacuum-sealed food packages. There were also a pair of jeans, underwear, a t-shirt, a heavy long-sleeve shirt, and black watch cap.

Following the program in his head, he opened a door that led to a long tunnel. Instead of going up the elevator and alerting authorities when he came out in the south lawn of the White House, he took the tunnel. It was big enough to stand upright in, and there were LED lights strung in the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the concrete and steel walls.

The tunnel was ten miles long and came out in a wooded area of a community forest and park. As Major Reed walked along he couldn’t help think something was wrong. It was the bones. They didn’t add up.

Just ahead he could see a row of yellow lights and a stairway. It led up to a trap door. He took a deep breath and tapped out the code to unseal the door. A bright shaft of light blinded him as he crawled out. A foul stench hit his nostrils and his stomach heaved involuntarily.

“What the hell“, he grumbled.

As his eyes adjusted his jaw dropped in growing horror. The devastated landscape before him looked like a photo of Berlin in WWII after the allies reduced it to ruins. The bleak and rugged horizon in front of him looked endless.

There were no signs of life as he walked through the debris. He walked for two days without seeing a trace of life. Man, nor animal. The blazing sun burnt the wounded land and the remnants of a once great civilization.

Finally, Major Reed sat down on a pile of rubble. He realized what must have happened. His trip wasn’t successful, and this is what the planet would look like in the future. He went forward, instead of back in time. His sacrifice was in vain.

He looked at the bleak tortured landscape around him and sighed. He only had enough food and water for a week – if he stretched the water. There was nothing left to do but keep walking…hoping for one last chance.

As It Stands, like Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”