The Waiting Room

Somewhere between the unknown and reality there’s a waiting room for souls. Their expressionless faces reflect the rigors of their lives.

The souls have different expectations about their fate. Beliefs of a lifetime wait to be validated. Hopes of being reacquainted with loved ones go unspoken in the silence. 

When the doors of justice open they go inside. A panel of life forms from throughout the solar system waits to judge them according to universal laws. 

Good and evil is balanced upon scales based upon what they did in life. There’s no lawyers to plead their case – just their deeds.

The King’s Search For Meaning in Life

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King Sith lit the funeral pyre and watched the smoke waft heavenward joining the gray sky in a sad goodbye.

Without his wife he had no taste for life. His was devoted to her, and although they never had children, they were happy. Like him, Astoria was a warrior of renown. They ruled the small kingdom of Dashtorium on the coast of the great Sammian Sea. Under their benign rule there was prosperity and no wars. People of all races mingled peacefully in the busy trading port.

But a sudden chill took his darling wife Astoria one day to the kingdom of the dead. The people grieved with their ruler, as she was universally loved. Sith was so distraught that he stepped down from his throne and urged the people to find another ruler. He was committed to wandering all of Tanus in search for a meaning for his now empty life. Taking his staff, sword, and a small bag of supplies he mounted his favorite gray Stallion “Thunder Walker,” and went east into the unexplored world beyond Dashtorium’s boundaries.

With no kingdom to look after his thoughts turned to subjects he seldom spent time on before. He recalled stories of mysteries like the singing trees of Lastoic and enchanted forests where men disappeared, never to be heard from again. Of the endless deserts of Terrost, where strange creatures survived in the blazing temperatures and would eat anything that moved. And the frozen mountains of Airon where giant hairy creatures walked upright and formed communities in the frozen tundra.

He rode until the sun grew weary and started its descent. He stopped just short of a dense forest in a grassy meadow. Dismounting, he saw something slide through the tall grass parting it slightly, as it moved away from him. The mages told him of many fantastic creatures on Tanus that no man had yet encountered. Through their magic they conjured images of them for him. One was massive creature than slithered on its belly and had no legs. It’s diamond-shaped skull was packed with rows of sharp teeth used for tearing apart its victims. Sniviets, as the mages called them, could get up to 20-feet long and their body was thicker than a man’s torso.

Sith watched the blue grass ripple in the opposite direction with relief. He suspected that he almost got to meet a Sniviet. Getting back on his horse he rode around looking for a clearing. Darkness had almost settled on the land when he found what he was looking for. A defensible position with a clear view. There were several large boulders and he made his camp with them to his rear. Nearby there was a small river that flowed south. He led Thunder Walker to it and dismounted. As the horse drank he stood there with his staff of light scanning the banks looking for any movement. After both were refreshed they went back to the camp. Sith slept lightly with his inner senses on alert. He woke up twice during the night after hearing blood-curdling screams come from the direction of the nearby forest.

Sith was awake before the sun rose. By the time he ate some bread and cheese, darkness was in retreat and a glowing red and orange ball was climbing upward into the gray sky of the new day. Thunder Walker was nibbling on a patch of grass when he mounted him and headed for the forest. Once they were under the full canopy of trees he dismounted and walked. The forest floor was uneven with scattered rocks, thick undergrowth, fallen trees, and unexpected depressions disguised by blankets of colorful leaves.

The further they went the darker it got until no sunlight could struggle through the dense canopy overhead. Their only light was his staff that glowed brightly, its aura surrounding them in a protective yellow glow. Thunder Walker snickered nervously as they plunged further into the unknown.  With his staff pointing the way they carefully made their way into the soundless interior. Hours passed before they heard a strange melody above them and a gentle breeze whispered between the trees. Voices sang his name softly…invitingly.

A warning went off in Sith’s warrior brain, and he held his staff over his head and spoke the spell of protection. Just in time. The tree limbs that were wrapping around him and Thunder Walker suddenly uncoiled and retreated back to their source. A screech of anger split the night! They wasted no time and left, eager to get beyond the deadly embrace of the trees of Lostoic. Hours later, Sith saw the light at the end of the forest and his spirits improved. It was past the days zenith, but still light enough to look for a place to camp in the valley before them. Thunder Walker sensed his mood and eagerly picked up his pace.

A riot of color greeted Sith’s eyes as he marveled at the shimmering red, green, blue, and purple plants and ground cover before them as far as the eye could see. Gentle hills covered in orange flora with small caves surrounded the valley. The sky was still a bright blue in spite of the gathering dusk. A sweet scent wafted on a gentle breeze as they ventured forward. With night rapidly descending Sith sought out a campsite and settled on a cave tall enough for them to stand in. Being new to the area he wasn’t going to let Thunder Walker out of his sight. After strapping on his feedbag with a ration of grain in it, Sith dined on a hunk of spicy Curbra jerky. He washed it down with water. By that time Thunder Walker was done and he took the bag off.

“Stay alert tonight, my friend,” Sith warned him while petting him affectionately. “I too, shall sleep with one eye open.” Wrapping his great cloak around him, Sith lay down on the hard ground and quickly fell asleep.

The morning light was accompanied by birds happily singing about the new day. They came out of the cave and into the blue sky blinking at the brilliance of the morning light. As Sith looked around he felt a presence. Then he saw them. They were half his size. Little naked humanoids. Male and female. There were thousands gathered outside the cave. All patiently waiting for Sith and Thunder Walker. One of the little people stood in front of the assembly. This spokesman tried a couple of languages before settling on Sith’s native Orzath. He was slightly taller than the rest and a darker green.

Greetings Lord, we have been expecting you,” he said while bowing before him.

Who are you?” Sith inquired.

“The Amsoest. We are the last of our kind and live peacefully in this valley of our ancestors. We have been waiting for you to deliver us from our enemies mighty lord!”

“What enemies? Of whom do you speak?”

“Everyone who comes into this valley to hunt us for sport. In recent times we’ve suffered terrible casualties as they kill and enslave us for their amusement. Our elders have been predicting a champion for many years. When they sensed your noble and honest aura, they also sensed your sadness.”

“This is so?” Sith wondered.

“It was ordained,” the speaker solemnly said.

Sith looked up in the sky and saw white puffy clouds appear directly overhead. As he watched the clouds formed into a figure he recognized, Astoria! She smiled down at him and her lips parted in greeting. Thunder Walker pawed the ground as Sith smiled back and shouted, “I love you!” 

The people looked on in awe.

When the cloud melted away and the sky was clear again, Sith addressed the people. “You’re right. This is my destiny and I gladly accept it. Henceforth, a long as I live, I will be your protector against those who would do you harm.”

And, so it was.

As It Stands, we all need to have some meaning to our life.

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.

Interview With A Werewolf

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I double-checked the padlock on the cage while waiting for the werewolf to appear.

It took over a year to arrange this interview. As you can imagine finding a werewolf is one thing. Getting a werewolf to talk is quite another. A footnote prior to the interview; werewolves can talk. Who would have guessed?

Full disclosure. I’m a writer for International Horror magazine. I’ll be taping this interview to make sure I record it faithfully.

Since I’m just waiting for the prearranged time, I might as well give you some back story information. For starters, my connection to a friend of the werewolf’s, Conrad Standish, is what made this possible. I met him quite by accident while traveling in the West Yorkshire area of England. My rented car broke down and I had it towed to the nearest mechanic’s shop in Blackshaw, a little town of less than 900 people. Conrad was the only mechanic in town.

My Renault Mégane sputtered and died as I was driving on a country road towards a friend’s house. As I waited for Conrad to even look at it, I decided to get a pint at the local pub. After ordering a Guinness, I took a seat at a small table near the north wall and people-watched while I sipped on it. It was noon and I was hungry, so I ordered some bangers and mash. By the time I left at 2:00 o’clock, I was feeling the effects of the three beers I drank.

It was a short walk across town to Conrad’s shop. I was relieved to see he was looking under the hood. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I stood quietly nearby and waited. I could hear him grumbling about something, but couldn’t quit make out what it was. When he popped his shaggy head out from underneath the hood I suddenly felt a shiver down my spine. It made no sense. It wasn’t because he was so big. The only thing I could think of was his eyes were strangely bright and golden in color.

He said he had to wait for a part tomorrow and closed up his shop. I asked him where a good place was to eat dinner?

“That pub,” he answered, pointing at the one where I had lunch.

“Will you join me then?” I asked, expecting to be turned down.

“Will ya be buying mate?” he asked with a big smile.

We started with a couple of Guinness’, moved on to some quality Irish whiskey and stayed until the pub closed and we were as drunk as a couple of lords. We talked about everything under the sun, including werewolves. I told him about my job writing for the magazine. He found the subject of werewolves to be fascinating, so much so, that he shared a secret with me. He knew a werewolf!

I poured us both another tot of whiskey when he told me that. My excitement grew as he shared the werewolf’s tale.

“He was once a proper English gentleman,” Conrad explained. “But he was bitten by a wounded werewolf when he went outside his house one night to investigate a racket that woke him up in alarm.

“He shot the beast with his double-barreled shotgun and it howled in rage and attacked him. It was a friend who saved his life when he plunged a silver candlestick into the werewolf’s back and it came out in front – piercing it’s fierce heart. Sadly, the beasts’ bite made him a werewolf.”

“Pardon me mate,” I injected, “but is this werewolf, nearby?”

“Aye,” Conrad assured me.

He poured us both another shot and went on with his story. It turned out that the werewolf was his boyhood friend.

“We didn’t talk about his affliction after the attack, but every full moon he asked me to chain him up in the cellar of his house. This fateful attack happened many years ago. There were times when he either forgot to ask me to lock him up, or he chose to roam free as a beast for his own reasons. But we have remained mates through thick and thin.”

Hoping against all hope, I asked Conrad if there was a way I could interview his friend without him tearing me to pieces? More importantly, I wanted to know if werewolf’s could talk?

“Aye, they can talk all right. I’ve never had trouble understanding him when he was chained up and we were having a conversation. I always keep in mind however that he’s part beast, and like any wild thing he could turn on a dime and attack if unshackled. It’s part of his terrible affliction and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“Can I ask you for a favor? “I’ve nowhere to stay tonight. Might I sleep on your couch?

“Aye! I’m a bachelor and don’t have some missus to break our balls when we stumble through the front door!” he roared, laughing so hard that his face turned beet red.

I admit that I have some trouble remembering everything that was said last night. Conrad was up early and having a cup of tea when I rolled off the couch and stretched. After greeting me he went to the stove in the kitchen and broke a couple of eggs into a frying pan. Our breakfast of fried eggs, black pudding, and baked beans was accompanied with orange juice. 

As we walked over to his shop I asked him how soon he could set up an interview? He informed me that tonight was a full moon and he could set something up at his place if I wanted. Of course, I eagerly agreed. That night he revealed how the interview could be safely conducted. Long ago he built a steel cage in his root cellar so that his friend could visit him on full moons for a change of pace.

Which brings me to the big night. After checking that the padlock is secure, I’m ready for the interview of a lifetime. My cassette is loaded with a three-hour tape and is recording now. That should be more than enough time.

Wait! Do you hear that? (deep growl) The trap door is opening. My God! Look at the size of that beast! (The werewolf approaches the cage)

“So, you want to talk with me?” it growled in barely audible English.

“Yes, I have so many questions to ask…what’s your name?”

“Conrad,” the werewolf snarled as he slipped the key into the padlock! “You’ve already had your interview, now it’s play time.”

As It Stands, some writers will do anything for a good story.

The Taxidermist’s Dream

 

 

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Bodie Hank was a taxidermist and an artist with a dark dream.

He dabbled in unorthodox forms of traditional taxidermy such as anthropomorphic mounts and composite mounts where two or more animals were spliced together. When friends and visitors asked him about his odd exhibits, he explained that he was a follower of the Rogue Taxidermy art movement.

His studio, and personal museum, in Cactus, Texas, took up half of the small city’s main street. Everyone in town knew Bodie. Not everyone liked him, but he did have some friends. His artist’s ego was hard to be around unless you did like him. If you could set aside the fact he only wore a worn sleeveless leather vest (that did serve to show off his tattooed torso), and ragged cargo shorts all the time, he was a good conversationalist.

For those that were interested, he explained his art was a form of mixed-media sculpture and not necessarily figurative. It could be abstract and didn’t have to resemble a real animal. Of course, a good part of his work was figurative and done by using the traditional skin-mount method (it paid the bills). His more artistic pieces had a cult following who collected his works.

His dioramas of weasels, squirrels, and Norwegian rats, dressed up and put in scenes like pool halls and factories, were very popular. His attention to detail created an eerie alternate world where things were similar to reality, but just coming short of it. Let’s face it, not too many weasels know how to operate a drill press, or to play pool.

Half of Bodi’s museum was off-limits to the public. The other half was sparingly shown, and then only to a few friends. He kept his most controversial work there, where he used synthetic materials combined with animals to create fantastical creatures. Some standing ten-feet tall. Some were even animated – a new hobby he took up over a year ago and that he was catching on to fast.

He was almost finished with what started out to be a grizzly bear, but now looked more like a mythical werewolf that writers have used to scare readers with for centuries. It was his tallest exhibit to date, at twelve-feet high.

The material he used for the teeth and claws was a synthetic bone he painstakingly carved himself. After going through his marble eyeball inventory, he settled on a pair of pale green orbs that would give the look he wanted. He lengthened the arms and legs by using baling wire and wood and covering them with fur. He was able to keep the original skull and sculpted it using potter’s clay to resemble a traditional looking werewolf.

In order to keep the business running, Bodi had two assistants. They handled the business end; from taking care of the studio and other half of the museum’s sales and shipping, to walk-in customers. Their names were Jack and Gary, and they were brothers. They worked for him for more than a decade, proving themselves trustworthy and hardworking.

They were familiar with the whole museum. Little was kept from them. Only Bodi’s dream. He didn’t share that with anyone. Over the years, his dream seemed to become more intense. His desire to realize the dream began to interfere with his daily activities. He was having trouble staying focused on his projects.

One day, after closing up the studio and museum, Jack and Gary were walking back to their house just outside the city limits. They didn’t have to walk, they had a perfectly good truck, but prefered to walk the two miles for the exercise. They made exceptions when the weather was bad. But this night was cool, and the clear sky twinkled with a million stars. There was no traffic on the road coming and going into town. It was past time for most of the city’s work force to go home. Businesses closed up early in Cactus.

The only places in town, beside the restaurant and the two fast-food joints that were still open, were the two bars. One had exotic dancing with an admission fee. The other was just a bar with two pool tables and a juke box. A burly bouncer threw out an unruly patron into the street from the bar with nude women. His was drunk and mean, but didn’t have enough guts to take on the bouncer who was a foot taller. He staggered to his old Pontiac Firebird, and somehow unlocked the door and got in. He had to sit for a few minutes before his head stopped spinning.

Gary and Jack were getting close to their house and were engaged in a deep conversation when the Pontiac Firebird hit them from behind! It didn’t have its lights on and the men didn’t have a chance. They both flew into the air and came down like rag dolls on the cement road. Dead on impact. The drunk driver from the bar got out and looked at them. He saw they were both dead. Looking around, he didn’t see anyone. Without a word he went back to his car and drove away as fast as he could.

When the news hit the town the next day, Bodi was shocked, stunned, and saddened. Because the brothers had no family that anyone knew of, he handled their legal work and took care of their funerals. The coroner released their bodies to Bodi, who said he was taking them to Abilene where other family members were buried.

But Bodi didn’t take them to Abilene. His desire to fulfil his dream was going to happen. He respected Gary and Jack. Now he would honor them, and make his dream come through.

There was a spot in the secret museum that Bodi had worked on for years. It was replica of an old Western town complete with saloon and jailhouse. It only lacked two things. A pair of gunfighters dueling in the street. When Bodi finished preserving Gary and Jack’s bodies he dressed them up in western outfits, complete with drawn guns and fancy holster rigs. He sighed with satisfaction as he looked at his work.

His dream had come true.

As It Stands, this tale shows how dreams can come true under the right circumstances. No matter how dark they may be.

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.

A One Way Ride To Lawless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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