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.

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.”

The Quest For The Key To Eternity

the_key_of_eternity_by_gisaiagami-d30ohhc

Kurt woke up from a deep sleep enlightened by a vision.

He slipped out of his sleeping bag and stirred the ashes in the crude fire pit until a faint glow suddenly appeared. Taking a piece of wood from the small pile of wood scraps next to where he lay, Kurt tossed it onto the glowing embers. Moments later it caught on fire and a small tongue of flame pierced the darkness.

He was living in The Aftermath – after men and women nearly succeeded in wiping Homo sapiens off the planet. The survivors were scattered throughout Earth’s ravished continents. Kurt, who traveled alone, was somewhere in North America.

He had no sense of history. Or family. He was an orphan who managed to survive in a cruel world by using his wits, and getting help from kind people. With no formal education, he learned to speak the broken English that people used in the region, by listening to them very carefully.

Kurt’s vision involved finding a key. Not just any key however. The Key to Eternity. It would offer answers to all the questions he asked. His quest was set, giving life to his vision. The next morning he packed up his little camp and set out for some ruins he noticed yesterday when descending into the big valley.

Ruins usually had inhabitants. He needed to enlist the help of others to help him find the key. Along the way he came upon a pond. He walked over to the edge and peered into the clear water looking for signs of fish.

His rugged face and long scraggly beard and hair stared back at him. No signs of fish. He wasn’t going to drink the water from the pond. Or eat the fish if there were any. He made a habit of drinking water from flowing rivers. It was something everyone had to learn if they wanted to survive.

Kurt traveled light. He carried a rucksack with a bed roll and his few belongings. His crude clothes were mostly made from bear fur. His jacket was made from fur and skin. He had a leather sheath for his knife and a leather lined canteen that hung from the broad leather belt he wore. His leather moccasins were supple and warm with fur linings. But his prized procession was his hat. It was a Cordova Stetson that he found in the debris of a museum a few years ago.

When he got to the outskirts of what was once a city, it was getting dark. As he walked down what use to be a city street he surveyed the blackened buildings with his sharp eyes. He thought he saw fleeting shadows on the top of a two-story building. He listened carefully.

A smile cracked his sun-drenched wrinkled face when he heard the voices. He followed them to what was once a sports stadium in another century, where he saw people building a bonfire. Small groups of people were quietly coming out from the shadows of the ruins. They gathered around the bonfire and threw pieces of wood that they brought with them into it.

Men and women’s voices carried lightly in the night, nearly mesmerizing Kurt until he remembered his quest. The city dwellers who wore remnants of factory-made clothing made generations ago, were increasing in number.

Kurt looked around until he found a wooden bar stool buried under some light debris. He carried it to the bonfire and tossed it in with the rest of the people’s offerings. Then he walked away from the bonfire and looked around. Small groups were morphing into larger ones until a crowd had gathered before an elevated stage. He worked his way closer and was able to make out the fine features of two women as they asked the crowd for silence.

After a dramatic silence, there was a puff of smoke between the two women and a tall man clad in black appeared. He took his top hat off and bowed. Murmurs of approval rippled through the crowd.

“What magic was this?” Kurt asked himself. “Did this man have the Key to Eternity?” he wondered. He worked his way a little closer to hear the tall thin man’s every word. He had to keep his mind open to all possibilities.

“All you have to do is believe in me,” the man in the black clothes and red cape shouted out to the gathering. “Bring me your little treasures and feed me well, and I can assure you that you’ll never go to hell!” he roared in a mighty voice for a thin man.

The gathering swayed in unison chanting, “Where will we go? Where will we go?

“To Eternity!” the tall man shouted happily. “You’ll reside forever in a garden of delights when you follow me into Eternity!” 

Kurt was a skilled survivor with the ability to sense a con from a mile away. His bullshit meter was ringing off the charts right now. “This man was a fake! Why did the gathering even listen to him? Couldn’t they tell?”

He’d run into this situation before with other false prophets. He knew the followers wanted to believe in something. No matter how absurd. He needed to find some people to help him in his quest, but it was proving impossible. How could his vision have been so wrong?

That night he had the vision again. When he woke up he knew what to do. He went out and found the tall man in black clothes and cut his head off with his knife. He mounted it on a pole and carried it to where the bonfire was the night before. He planted the pole in front of the empty stage. Then he went about building a new bonfire.

The first person to bring wood was a woman. Soon, she was followed many another woman. Then a man. Then groups of people until the gathering was as big as the night before.

Kurt got up on the stage and raised his hands over his head. The crowd grew silent.

“Listen children, he began, ” you will rest in eternity if you go through me. I’ve been asked to lead you to righteousness. God has granted me the key to eternity to share with you!”

A growing buzz in the gathering turned into shouts of joy as the people called out to him for deliverance.

As It Stands, false prophets in a dystopian future…why not? We have them now too.