Stuck Between Science and Magic

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“Help! A static-riddled voice pleaded in the darkness of the laboratory.

“This is Professor Dean Tucker. Can you…” the words dissolved in a steady stream of static coming from a speaker in a cubicle in the center of the room. Everyone was gone for the day and the night janitor was slowly making her rounds when she thought she heard a voice.

“Is anyone there?” she meekly inquired. “Hay alguien alla?” she repeated in Spanish.

She heard a crackling sound and walked over to the cubicle in the center of the lab. She stood there for a moment listening, then heard, “I’m stuck! Help me…” The suddenness of the unexpected voice made her jump in fright. When she couldn’t see anyone she decided it was time to get out of the room. It was obviously haunted. Like a good Catholic, she crossed herself and hurried out.

Dean watched her leave – as dimensions opened and closed – and his heart sunk. He did this to himself. He should have waited until the next day when his fellow researcher and he could have tested the Dimension Splitter together. He would have had a backup. Someone who would have been there to help him in the case of an emergency. Like this one.

But no.

There was no time to dwell on that. Dean started walking and there was a flash as his surroundings disappeared and he reappeared in a primeval jungle. As he looked around a Brontosaurus came into view. The gigantic quadruped sauropod didn’t even seem to notice him although he was less than a hundred yards away. He ducked behind a tree and felt dizzy. Thunder and lightning. Day and night. Dinosaurs. He felt like he was drifting and woke up in the middle of a battlefield. Corpses lay putrefying in the unrelenting sun. Miles of trenches packed with bodies. Some alive. Most dead. Dean stumbled through the thick muck and mud before climbing out of the trench on a blood-soaked rope ladder.

He thought about the laboratory. Then he was there again. Sitting on the chair inside the cubicle. He glanced over at the wall clock across the room. It was 2 a.m. He started to rise from the chair and…

The world exploded! He was floating in some kind of clear bubble and could see scenes of mass destruction below him. Wildfires raged across mountains and coastal shore lines disappeared beneath the wild waters of the ocean. Buildings were crumbling under seismic shocks. Volcanos erupted. And people all over the earth were trying to survive the cataclysmic events he was witnessing.

The whole terrifying panorama turned black and he looked up and saw stars and planets overhead. He was sitting beside an ancient oak tree located near a simple cottage. He got up and walked over to it and noticed a well just a few yards from the cottage. His mouth felt like cotton and an urge to get a drink of water overtook him. As he lowered the wooden bucket down the well, someone stepped out of the cottage. The glow from a lantern inside the cottage framed the old woman as she hobbled over to him.

“What are you doing here human?” she abruptly asked.

“I don’t know where here is. I’m lost.”

“Another one,” she sighed. “When are you foolish mortals going to quit poking your noses where they don’t belong?

“I don’t know what…”

“Oh, forget it. You’re here now. Have a drink. You weren’t just messing with science my boy, you were messing with magic too.”

“What can I do?” he pleaded.

“I’ll tell you what I told the rest. You’re going to have to go on a quest.

“A quest?”

“Yes. You know what that is, don’t you? Of course, you do. You’re an educated man. You’re going to have to find your way back to the real world. You’ll need a special key to do that. Hence, your quest.”

“Where should I look?”

The old woman and the cottage were gone. He found himself standing on an old cobblestone road that could have been built by the Romans during the height of their power. He chose a direction and started walking. Soon he came upon a man sitting on a large rock. Something about him looked familiar.

“Hello” Dean called out as he approached.

The old man looked up from his book and nodded.

“I’m looking for something. Perhaps you can help me?

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think,” the man cryptically replied.

“Do you know where I might find a special key?

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing,” the white-haired oldtimer claimed.

“Wait a minute! I know who you are! You’re Socrates!

“Now it is time that we are going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God,” he said.

As Dean watched in awe, a cloud enveloped them and he thought he heard music. The cloud soon grew so dense he slowed down and put his hands out in front of him. It was moist and smelled like the ocean. A seagull cried out as it spotted food on the tiny stretch of beach that opened up before him. Sand crabs scuttled out of his way as he walked over the white sand and up to the breakers and looked out at the vast sea. It was calm and undisturbed by ships. A few seagulls glided lazily in the mild wind currents searching for food in the crystal clear waters below.

Without questioning why, Dean had the urge to swim out past the waves and slip into the deeper waters. Rays of sunlight sent slivers of luminescence into the depths as he reached a bed of coral. He felt like he could hold his breath forever, but something inside him reminded him that he couldn’t. He was a human. Not a fish. After a short search he found a small metal box. A sense of sheer joy made him smile as he grabbed it and started for the surface. Once he was back up on the beach he eagerly opened the metal box.

It took Dean a few minutes to adjust. He was sitting in the cubicle again. It was still dark in the laboratory. Gingerly, he stood up, expecting something to suddenly change. He walked over to the control panel and stared at it as the first rays of sunlight snuck through the shades in the laboratory. He was back. And, he learned a lesson. Without hesitation he picked up a metal stool and brought it down hard on the control panel! He didn’t stop until he was out of breath.

As It Stands, who knows where the line is between magic and science?

The Man In The Tower

Little House Kennebunk Maine 1875 Second Empire

1865 Milford, Ohio

When Aaron was born, one of the midwives ran out of the room screaming.

The other women in attendance looked at each other grimly as they wrapped up the howling infant. The mother, Betsy Livingstone, was so weak, and had lost so much blood during the birthing ordeal, the women were worried she would die. She held on for three days. Long enough to see her deformed son’s face. She touched his cleft palate tenderly and ran her fingers over the smear of a nose (two holes actually) and traced the deep creases on the left side of his face that stretched his eye into a slit. He didn’t have ears, just holes where they should have been.

On the last day of her life she dictated a letter to her sister giving her all of her possessions and tasking her with raising the baby boy (she named him Charles after his father who was away fighting Confederates). In the event the baby’s father never returned, she would also get the deed to the three-story house built-in grand Italianate Victorian style. It was the biggest and grandest house in the county. In addition, it had a special tower that rose 5 stories from the basement to the observation room at the top.

Charles was raised away from prying eyes. Only family, friends, and servants ever saw him. As a young boy he wandered through the great house with its lavish furnishings and rooms full of paintings, playing secret little games and living in an alternate world. One where he was accepted despite his terrible appearance, and could play with other children…and things, without censor.

Private tutors taught him to read and write at an early age. He was a fast learner and quickly graduated to math, physics, the social sciences, and chemistry. His aunt Loretta saw to it that Charles always had the best she could provide for him. His father never came home from the war. One of his comrades came by one day and said he was with him when he died at Gettysburg, and gave Loretta his few belongings. She, in turn, made out a will giving everything to Charles when she died. She never considered getting married. She knew what suitors would think when they saw Charles. They’d treat him like a freak.

As the year’s rambled on in a slow but livable pace, Loretta and Charles were inseparable. She was the one person in the world who didn’t cringe when she looked at him. He always saw love in her eyes. Unlike the fear, loathing, and suspicion he noticed in others. Doctors. Tutors. Servants. They all stared at him when they thought he wasn’t looking. He’d caught them all numerous times, and it made him feel like an exotic creature that should be displayed in a zoo.

Charles’ world almost came to an end when Loretta died from the consumption. He refused to eat and had her body displayed in a coffin in the parlor for a week. Never leaving her side. When the family stepped in and took care of the burial arrangements he sat in the top of the tower until the funeral was over, and everyone went home. All but one of his servants elected to leave. Old John lived in the house when Betsy gave birth to Charles and was content to stay with him as long as he lived. Grief became a constant companion, and after a while it descended into anger and bitterness with the world that rejected him because of his looks. He still managed to find a place in his heart for his aging servant who made him meals and did light cleanup. When Old John was too weak to walk up the twisting staircase to the top of the tower where Charles spent most of his time, he came up with a dumb-waiter system that spared him from dutifully hobbling up it everyday. When the day came that Old John couldn’t get out of his bed, Charles stayed by his side and nursed him until he took his last breath. Because he had no known relatives, Charles buried him in a plot in the back of the house where Loretta, and his mother and father were resting. Only a priest attended the funeral. Two young men Charles paid to dig the grave and cover it up afterwards, stood nearby sweating in the heat of the hot Ohio afternoon.

After that, it was just Charles. He paid a nearby farmer’s 11-years-old son to go into town and get him supplies once a month. Money was one thing Charles didn’t have to worry about. The family safe contained the savings from two generations of Livingstone’s who had invested wisely and never trusted a bank. Gold bars. Assorted Bank notes. Golden Certificates backed by the government, cash, and heirloom jewelry was his insurance against poverty. And from going out into a hostile world.

The only time he left the house was at dusk when he would wander through the nearby forest for hours. Long into the night. He grew use to the animal sounds and they to him as he walked through the forest like an apparition. When the weather was too bad to go out, he sat at the top of his tower and watched the wind and rain batter the large glass panels in elemental fury. On some nights he studied the stars through his telescope and dreamed of other worlds. It was a lonely life.

It was a normal quiet day in downtown Milford when the outlaws rode into town. All three had long black dusters on and were carrying Winchester rifles. They rode their horses up to the bank and casually dismounted. After tying them up on the wooden railing they all strolled inside, still carrying their rifles. A keen-eyed deputy sitting outside the barber shop spotted the men and suspected them of being outlaws. He passed the word around to the townspeople.

By the time the outlaws came outside every able man in Milford had a rifle trained on the front of the bank. The sheriff shouted out for the men to surrender and then he saw the little girl in the arms of one of the outlaws.

“Hold your fire!” he screamed. A few shots rang out and then stopped. One of the shots hit an outlaw and he slumped in his saddle as another one pulled up alongside him on his horse and steadied him. The whole town watched them ride out of sight into the dense forest nearby. The sheriff put a posse together, but it was getting dark and impossible to track the outlaws in the night. The girl’s name was Judy and she was blind. Her parents were grief-stricken. Members of the community stayed up with them all night.

Instead of putting distance between the town and themselves, the outlaws chose to stay close and circled around in the forest looking for a place to hide out. Then they saw a light that appeared to be hovering high in the distance. On the outskirts of the forest they stumbled across the Livingstone house. None of the men had ever seen a house that big and were awed by the tower. They could plainly see someone in it. Taking their horses to a nearby barn, the outlaws lowered their comrade to the ground on a pile of straw. He’d been bleeding profusely and lost a lot of blood on the trail. One of the men stayed in the barn with the wounded man. The other, holding Judy tightly by her arm, went over to the house. The outlaw had his pistol out as they walked up the steps of the porch to the front door. It was dark inside. The only light inside came from the top of the tower and filtered down the winding stairs to a faint glow.

The outlaw, who went by Cherokee Pete, stepped inside the dark entryway, pulling the reluctant little girl along with him. There didn’t appear to be anyone else home. He looked at the grand stairway, took a better hold of Judy’s hand, and began ascending the marble stairs. Charles heard them of course. His hearing was very good, despite having no outer ears. He listened to a little girl’s whimper of fear. A man’s low guttural grunt hushing her up. Step, by step.

Charles was unarmed. He sensed whoever was coming up the stairs was armed and was going to make short work of him. All he had was a small element of surprise and the cane he used when his bad leg acted up. He stood up beside the door so when it opened he’d have a clear shot with his cane. He barely had time to react before the door was flung open and a gun, followed by a hand and arm appeared. In that instant he brought the cane down with all of his strength and heard a satisfying crack as the gun fell to the floor! Cherokee Pete howled in pain and let go of Judy to grab his broken wrist. At the same time he looked over at his attacker…and screamed! Ignoring his injury he ran towards one of the glass panels and plunged through the window, his body tumbling down until he made contact with the ground three stories below. Charles turned towards Judy to see if she was all right. He prepared himself for the inevitable scream. As he looked closer he realized she was blind.

“Are you okay?” he gently asked.

“Yes…thanks to you kind sir. My name is Judy and that bad man and his friends kidnapped me.”

“Friends?

Yes. Outside in your barn. There’s two men, and I think one is seriously wounded.

Charles bent over and picked up Cherokee Pete’s pistol. “You stay here. I’ll be back.”

“Wait! What’s your name?”

Pause. “Charles.”

“Thank you, Charles…”

He heard her innocent voice all the way downstairs and out to the barn where he peeked through the partly open door and saw the two men. One was lying down and not moving. The other sat next to him and was drinking from a bottle of whiskey. His rifle lay across his lap.

Charles watched him for a few minutes, pondering on what to do next. He never fired a gun before. He was aware the hammer had to be pulled back before firing, but that was it. Finally, as the man tossed his empty whiskey bottle aside, Charles made his move and charged through the door firing the pistol wildly at the outlaw whose eyes opened wide in terror when he saw him. Then he went for his own pistol and fired once, before one of Charles’ wild shots hit him in the head killing him instantly. The lone shot found its mark and Charles sank to his knees clutching his chest. After the initial shock he got up and slowly made his way into the house. Once inside, he called out Judy’s name and passed out in the parlor.

“Thank you, Charles…”

He opened his bad eye and saw Judy and a woman standing next to her. It was Judy’s mother. He was in a strange house. In a strange bed. And people weren’t turning from him in terror and loathing. As he lay recovering for the next two weeks Judy stayed by his side and chatted gaily about life and it’s wonders.

After a while, she convinced Charles that his life could be wonderful too.

As It Stands, it doesn’t matter how you look, it only matters how you act.

The Hunter and the Gorilla

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Avery’s passion was to kill (and mount) rare and endangered animals.

He would go to any length to hunt one for his private collection. There was never a question of morality with his hobby. He was unencumbered with a conscience. Free to think independently. He was a self-made man, an inventor who earned millions from the many patents he owned.

It took two years for his private museum to be built near his favorite mansion in Blue Sky, Colorado. He took out his previous kills that were in storage and displayed them in natural-looking scenes. He spared no expense in lighting and stage craft for each animal. He looked forward to sharing his private museum with his fellow hunters who thought nothing of laws when it came to the chase.

As he inventoried his collection he realized that he was missing a key animal. The endangered mountain gorilla. In particular, a silverback gorilla. So, he went on his computer and started to make arrangements for a hunt in Rwanda. He’d have to call all of his connections in Africa to arrange such an illegal hunt.

The Virunga Mountains, Western Rwanda

Rwanda’s largest National Park, Parc Nacional Volcans, is a haven for rare and endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. It’s home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains.

Deep in the forest there roamed one particularly large and intelligent Silverback gorilla. He was the leader of a troop of 50 gorillas. At six-feet tall and 500 pounds he was unopposed by males from other troops. Like most gorillas he could eat 40 pounds of food a day.

He preferred to eat vegetation such as wild celery, shoots, roots, fruit, tree bark and tree pulp, but had no problem eating small animals and insects in a pinch. The lordly Silverback spent his mornings and evenings eating. The middle of his day was spent napping or playing with other gorillas. Submissive gorillas groomed him until he sent them away.

The dominate Silverback and his troop claimed a territory of 16 square miles. This Silverback however, was like no other because he was highly intelligent and had the thought process of a man. He spent his life watching humans from afar and quickly determined they were dangerous when they carried certain objects that made a loud bang and killed up to a long distance. Without their weapon, he realized, they were practically helpless. Years of observation taught him a lot about hunters and the local natives. Under his leadership, none of his troop had fallen prey to the professional big game hunters. He taught them to avoid men at all costs. The big Silverback often felt lonely with his complex thoughts, but members of his troop always cheered him up.

It was raining the day that Avery showed up with two guides at the foot of the Virunga Mountains. They pitched a tent and waited for the rain to stop. When the rain subsided a blue bird with a purple comb, and a yellow and orange beak, cried out in alarm. Other birds picked up the cry and carried it deep into the jungle.

The big Silverback knew what the birds were saying. Danger. Men nearby. He got up from his nest of leaves, cutting his nap short, to investigate. Before he left he warned his troop not to come in contact with the deadly men. Then he plunged into the forest in search of the enemy. It was dark before he discovered their camp. They had barely penetrated the vast forest’s interior. There were two tents. A lantern glowed inside one of them. He could see there was only one shadow inside. Then someone merged from the other tent. A Rwandan guide. He started walking directly towards the Silverback’s concealment. He stopped just short of the tree the Silverback was hiding behind, opened his cargo shorts, and relieved himself. The smell of the warm piss suddenly enraged the Silverback who roared and went after the guide! The man tripped just outside his tent and screamed! The Silverback pounded his ham-sized fists into the guide’s face and torso. In his blind rage he sank his fangs into the man’s neck.

Another guide popped his head out of the tent, saw the angry gorilla and ran for his life. Avery stepped outside of his tent with a high-powered rifle just as the Silverback slammed into him!

The power of the charge sent Avery flying backwards a few feet. The Silverback pounded his chest and roared in rage as Avery, still on the ground, pulled his pistol out and shot him! The Silverback felt a flash of pain in his chest and realized he had to run away. Avery fired five more times at him as he tore through the bushes. Two of the bullets hit him. One in his right arm. The other in his back. His blood pumped out rapidly as he lumbered through the thick undergrowth and vegetation deeper into the interior. He knew he’d made a fatal mistake in confronting the camp.

Avery bent over and tried to get his breath as his chest pounded in pain. He suspected he had broken ribs. It didn’t matter though, he told himself. He was going to get that Silverback. It would be the crown jewel of his collection. When the other guide returned he helped wrap Avery’s torso with Ace Bandages. He had to double the guide’s fee for him to go on. Despite the pain Avery was insistent. He’d get his trophy.

Two of the young males in the Silverbacks’ troop found him sitting down with his back against a tree. They immediately knew something was wrong and chattered fearfully while picking at his wounds. Their wails of alarm attracted other members until soon the whole troop surrounded him. Some of the females cried and hugged their offspring as they sensed the severity of the Silverback’s wounds. Finally he was able to get enough strength to stand up and called for the troops attention. He called one of the larger males over to him. The Silverback had discovered this male was as smart as he was. Sparing no time he instructed the male to lead the troop into new territory. Further into the vast mountain network. The male accepted his role and herded the troop away, leaving the Silverback to die alone.

It took two days for Avery to stumble across the dying Silverback. He looked at him defiantly and showed his teeth as Avery raised his rifle to finish the job. Then a pack of angry mountain gorillas, led by the smart male, swarmed over him and the guide! They were flung around like rag dolls until they quit moving.

Afterwards the gorillas covered the dead Silverback in leaves, as the smart one, their new leader, instructed them.

As It Stands, this tale is in recognition of the endangered animals on our planet.

Back To ‘His Image’

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Truman’s dream came from an ancestral memory of when humans walked the earth. Before the great morph, and the changes in their anatomy that forced them to live under the sea.

He saw people walking in deserts, forests, mountain trails, and paved streets in massive cities. They were all able to breathe the sweet air they took for granted. It was before the gills started showing up in babies. Before fingers and toes were routinely webbed. It was in a time before mankind unleashed dooms-day bombs that nearly destroyed the planet and it’s inhabitants.

He didn’t question his dream. As usual, he just wished it was longer.

The ocean was a dangerous place, but twisted evolution made it even worse. When the first humans were forced to be water-dwellers they were confronted with monstrosities in the dark depths and quickly preyed upon. But as millions of humans morphed and banded together, they learned how to survive the terrors in seas across the planet.

Truman’s job in the colony he lived in was to provide food. He and many other “gatherers” constantly sought plants, and small forms of sea life, like crabs, lobsters, and oysters to feed the colony’s five thousand inhabitants. It was a daily job. A way of life. Part of the tapestry of their city under the sea.

After bringing back his daily quota, Truman spent most of his time exploring. Sometimes his friends came with him and they found ancient shipwrecks replete with artifacts in gold, silver, copper, and precious stones like diamonds and rubies. They would study them and admire how light danced through the diamonds as the lighting above beamed down through the depths and passed through them. They’d spend hours trying to figure out what the corroded pieces of metal were. Especially the massive metal tubes scattered near some wrecks. Without disturbing the artifacts they’d go back to their city. They were useless in the world Truman lived in.

The dreams started when he was eighteen years old.

The early dreams were like going to a school and learning simple lessons. As the years passed by, the messages became more complex and would puzzle him for days afterward. In the last year his dreams became a tour of another age. He saw humans with varied skin colors, but without scales like his. They built fantastic machines that flew in the sky and rumbled across the earth. They erected architectural wonders all over the world.

Truman jealously guarded his secret dream life. It was a wonderful escape from his dull existence. People would just laugh at him, and he didn’t want that. His temper could lead to getting him kicked out of the colony. That was a scary thought.

In the dream a man appeared and asked Truman questions. The odd thing was he was able to answer him! He temporarily felt a wave of nausea and then they were both standing on a beach. Truman started to panic when he realized he was out of the water, but the strange man reassured him it was okay. And, it was. Somehow he was able to breathe. He looked up and down the beach. It seemed endless. Turning away from the water he saw sand dunes leading to a garden. He knew what a garden was. He learned that lesson early on in his dreams.

“Do you want to explore?” the man asked.

“Can, I?” Truman hesitantly asked.

In spite of himself Truman woke up. His heart was still beating fast with anticipation. “Damn!” he muttered out loud.

Picking up his corral spear and knife, he slipped out of the common sleeping room and went in search of food. He was daydreaming and not paying attention when the mega shark appeared directly ahead of him! As fast as he was, there was no way he could out swim the massive creature. It’s four eyes, and the two tentacles that grew from its misshapen head with eyeballs on their ends, looked at him hungrily. He’d never been cornered before by a monster this large before. It’s sheer size was a horror to behold. He cleared his hunter’s mind and held the spear up and planted his web feet firmly. He held on as it pierced the largest eye on its head! The beast thrashed in agony and churned the water around so strongly he was flung to one side. His survival instinct urged him to swim in the opposite direction as fast as he could. It was an hour before he felt it was safe to come out of the cave he found in his flight. Despite what happened, he couldn’t go home yet and began looking for food.

The stranger came to him in his dream that night.

They were on the beach again. He was able to breathe air again. “How?” he asked.

“Those plugs in your nostrils and ears.

“Can we go to the garden?” Truman wondered.

“Yes, of course. Follow me.

As they walked through the beautiful garden with lush fruits hanging from trees, Truman asked where the animals were? The stranger smiled and said, “The construct isn’t complete yet. I have a lot of work yet to go. I’m reconstructing another age.”

 “Where is this?”

Somewhere between reality and the renaissance of the earth,” the stranger explained.

Have I died? Or, am I still dreaming?

“Dreaming…but some day…

Truman bolted upright and looked around the room. It was almost empty. Only a few sleepers remained. Once again he was disappointed that he wasn’t still dreaming. The stranger sounded so encouraging. He knew something special was happening and wanted to be part of it. Sighing, he got up and started his day.

Months passed by without The Dream. Truman was distraught. He no longer explored or hung out with his friends. He gathered his daily quota of food, then went off to be by himself.

The dream came back one night.

The stranger, whose white beard was longer than the last time he saw him, appeared weary, but satisfied.

The construct is nearly finished. Are you ready for a new life?”

“Yes!” Truman quickly answered.

“You still have the blood of the first man I created. And the soul of a good man. Now I give you the body of a true man,” the stranger said. “Welcome to paradise…Adam II.”

As It Stands, was mankind ready for redemption?

Another Day At The Zoo

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Like many of the other younger humans in our enclosure, I like to interact with the aliens that pay to come and visit us.

I’m a third generation captive so the novelty of being on display doesn’t affect me in any way. My father, mother, grandmother and grandfather, still have major issues with our way of life. Especially my grandfather, who we call Papa. He gets to talking about when he was a soldier in an army that fought the first wave of aliens when they invaded Earth back in 2068, and it’s hard to stop him. The old boy is still pretty passionate about losing something he calls “his freedom.” I admit that I really don’t understand what he means by that, but I humor him.

We have everything we need here. Food, water, housing, and even entertainment. The neighborhood I live in has immaculate yards and custom homes. No two look alike. My family lives in a two-story house that is said to be a perfect copy of an 1880 Second Empire Victorian home. Right down to the furniture inside.

Forgive my rudeness. My name is Thad. I’m the youngest in our house at 78-years-old. I’m in the best shape of my life and I enjoy running 5 K races. A good game of full court basketball still gets my juices going. My Papa, at 124 years-young, is still a force to contend with on the tennis court. He often talks about living longer than he ever dreamed. He grudgingly admits that something the aliens put in our diet has extended the normal lifetime of humans.

My father, an only child, became immersed in a religious book called the Bible, at an early age. He gathered followers for years sharing his belief about following the Ten Commandments in it. When I was in my 20s, he made me read it, from end-to-end. Once he told me that although it appears we live in the Garden of Eden, we were, in fact, living in hell. That we were nothing more than trained apes content to live meaningless lives. His face always got red whenever he talked about it, and his eyes lit up with a fury that was barely contained. Afterwards I would feel vaguely guilty for reasons I didn’t understand. I never dwelled for long on his passionate diatribes. Life seemed good enough to me.

I never tire of seeing new species from around the solar system stare through the unbreakable glass, full of curiosity. Sometimes I’m able to communicate with universal signing, and learn about life on other planets. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Martian. He was ten-feet tall, thin as a rail and had extraordinarily long arms. We signed back and forth for hours before he took a picture of me and moved on to other exhibits. It was an exhilarating experience learning about life on Mars. When I came home and told my father he got angry and started quoting passages from the Bible. After that, I didn’t talk about what I did during my days.

My favorite visitors were from Venus. Not only were they polite but beautiful to look at. They reminded me of a book Papa showed me once about fairies. They were only a few inches tall, and had wings. They would visit in large groups of a hundred or more, and would spell out simple words in the air, like “Hello, and goodbye.” Because my father taught me to read, I had no trouble picking out the words. It was fun. Sometimes their little bodies would light up in brilliant colors. They could put on quit a show. In turn, they enjoyed having me tell them about my life. They seemed particularly interested in our food distribution system. I explained that the zoo staff flew into the enclosure once a week and dropped off supplies in a central location – the House of Food – where a trained staff of humans distributed the food throughout our community. One of the most popular food items was a ready-made soup that was irresistable to human taste buds. My Papa says it’s that soup that’s extending our lives. Our zoo keepers called the soup Ska.

The only visitors I didn’t like seeing were the Saurins from Jupiter. Not because they of their huge scaly reptilian bodies, but because of their fierce dislike of humans. They let us know that they’d rather eat us, then watch us. Their large baleful eyes hypnotized prey before they struck. I still shudder recalling a time that I was caught up in that deadly stare. If it wasn’t for the glass between us, I would have been his next meal. After that I learned not to look into their eyes.

One evening when I was having a bowl of ska, I discovered an eyeball! I was shocked and wondered how it got in the soup. To my untrained eye, it looked like a human eye. My stomach heaved for a moment at the thought. My brain raced through numerous possibilities – none of them good. Try as I might, I couldn’t see how an eyeball got in there by accident. When my father got home that evening I showed it to him. He was silent at first, as he carefully examined it.

“It’s a human eye!” he suddenly blurted out.

“How do you know?” I asked.

Turning to me with a look of pity he said, “We’re the only animals left on earth son. The rest have been eliminated a long time ago by humans, and finally the aliens.

I was so shaken by this information that I stood there with my mouth agape and couldn’t form any words. I shuddered at what it meant. When Papa came home and confirmed my father’s opinion, I was horrified. It meant that we were eating parts of humans. The mysterious meat base to the soup had to be human flesh. The eyeball was a packing accident. Despite my family telling others about it, there was a lot of skeptism. I stopped eating the soup immeditely, as did other members of my family. But the community at large continued to eat ska.

The effects from not eating the soup became apparent weeks later as my family and I began showing signs of rapid aging. My Papa was right about the soup being responsible for our advanced ages. Somehow, the aliens had developed a way of slowing aging down considerably by using humans and a combination of chemicals.

Papa and Grandma died of old age last night. Their skin was so wrinkled I barely could recognize them. My father and mother are so frail they can no longer walk. Their days are obvisiously numbered. I can’t walk a 100-yards now without being exhausted and out of breath. I haven’t touched a basketball since that dark night of discovery. I pass my days now waiting for aliens to come visit our little community.

When they do, I give the international sign for help. It’s all I can do. Perhaps someday, another race will rescue humanity. I’ll keep trying as long as my body lets me. I’m not afraid of death, but the idea that someone will be eating my body is the hell my father has been preaching that we live in now, for years.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I think I see a group of Venusians coming this way.

As It Stands, sometimes what we take for reality, is merely an illusion.

Peter’s Supernatural Super Band

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Peter started collecting musical instruments used by famous deceased musicians when he became rich on Wall Street.

His ongoing collection was not open to the public because some of it was stolen. It was his pride and joy. Only people he trusted implicitly got to visit his Music Room, located in his 19-bedroom mansion, in upstate New York.

Peter was a mystery man with no known surviving family members. He was a self-made man, and a wizard. His ability to predict when stocks would go up, or down, or even the future, came from long years of training by the Coven that raised him.
When the witches sent him out on his own he was 21-years old and savvy in the ways of the world. Getting rich was easy. Entertaining himself was more difficult at first. Until he discovered a love of music.
It became all-consuming. He went to operas and rock concerts for years before developing a passion for musical instruments. Then one day a Wall Street trader acquaintance asked him if he would be interested in buying a rare piano?
“How rare?” Peter asked.
“It’s been hidden for seventy-five years, and it’s owner no longer wants it. It’s the last Grand Piano Sergei Rachmaninov played on Russia soil before the Leninist regime seized his estate near Tambov in 1917, ” his acquaintance explained.
“He moved with his wife and two daughters to Denmark before relocating to New York the following year. Left behind was this European-made Grand Piano hidden by a first cousin who later smuggled it into the United States, and a safe warehouse,” he added.
“It’s condition?”
“Excellent. An expert has kept it in tune.”
“Why sell it now?”
The owner is old, and perhaps getting a little senile according to his grandchildren. It seems he’s been visiting the warehouse for years “listening to Rachmaninov play,” and telling his grandson that the famous musician is the one playing the Grand Piano.
Peter smiled. the biggest smile he had for decades and asked, “How do I get this piano? Money is no problem.”

To Peter’s delight, the story was true. It wasn’t long before he was striking up stimulating conversations with Sergei Rachmaninov. It didn’t take him long to go in search of other famous musical instruments whose owners had died. He worked with all of his financial and magical connections to hunt down the objects of his newly discovered hobby.

His next acquisition was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite black 1968 Fender Stratocaster with a maple neck. Despite playing many different guitars, including some Gibson Flying Vs and Les Paul Customs, the Stratocaster was his baby. He was buried with it in 1970 after dying from a drug overdose.
It took black magic to retrieve the guitar, and to entice Jimi Hendrix to play it once again. He had to conjure up female groupies to solidify the arrangement but it was worth it. Peter never tired of listening to him play his hits like Foxey Lady, Purple Haze, and Wild Thing.

Keith Moon’s second drum kit – A Ludwick Black Oyster Super Classic – with 2 toms and a bass drum plus, the previously lost – but now found – original snare drum, cost Peter two million dollars. Moon, who died in 1978, was another restless spirit recruited by Peter, to play his favorite instrument. Peter found that he had a particular fondness of drums and managed to buy Jon Bonham’s first drum set – a four-piece Trixon in Sparkling Red. Bonham, who died in 1980, got along great with Moon, and the two played competing solos deep into the night. In fact, the men knew each other when they were alive.
Bonham would lead off with a Led Zeppelin’s song like Fool In he Rain, showing off his speed, power and fast bass drumming, while Moon would counter with I Can’t Explain, one of the Who’s first big hits.
The real score in drums came when Peter had to pay a thief to steal Buddy Rich’s original drum setup. It included a 14×24 bass drum (with a moleskin patch and a wooden beater), a 9×13 rack tom, two 16×16 floor toms, and a 5×14 snare drum.
His Avedis Zildjian cymbals, which included a 20″ ride, two 18″ crashes, a pair of 14″ hi-hats, and a 6″ splash, shimmered as Peter looked at them. The set had his preferred wood-tip sticks—slightly heavier than a pair of 7As.
Buddy (also conjured up by Peter), died of heart disease in 1987. He was widely considered one of the most influential drummers of all time and was known for his virtuoso technique, power and speed. He never failed to bring the house down with a solo performance of a medley of songs from West Side Story.
With Buddy, Peter had assembled a trio of drum-players for the ages. To him, the cacophony of noise they all made when jamming was the music of the spheres.
It took a long time to find just the right brass trumpet. He finally found one made by Henri Selmer of Paris for Louis Armstrong. He managed to entice Satchmo to stop in a couple of nights a week and jam with his supernatural band. Armstrong always opened the evening with a soulful hit that made him famous; What a Wonderful World.

As the years went by he coaxed other dead famous singers and musicians to come by his mansion and perform. Some on a regular basis, and others like Elvis Presley who only came by on Sundays. Some came by a couple of days a week like Duane Allman.
Every night stars like Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, and Minnie Riperton could be seen mingling in rooms throughout the vast mansion. The Grateful Dead’s pianist Keith Godchaux, and Sergei Rachmaninov were perhaps the oddest pair to listen to, as one would play a few notes, then the other would follow them up with his own until the two styles wove a magic that captivated listeners.

As Peter got older he finally decided to share his supernatural collection of stars and invited special friends to spend the night, to hear the poltergeist’s talk about their careers and play their favorite instruments until the dawn.

As It Stands, this tale evolved from a conversation with a friend about haunting melodies from beyond the grave.

In The Blink Of An Eye

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The last thing Professor Ludwig von Bruenstein remembered before the lab explosion was that a green fog was escaping from a containment capsule. There was a sickening sweet taste as he inhaled it, before passing out.

A Month Before The Explosion.

Ludwig was having a beer with two of his colleagues at a bar in the small town of Judas Corners. It was located near the laboratory, about two miles away, and was called The Happy Traveler.

It wasn’t a particularly large laboratory. Only 22 people worked there. It was a top-secret facility and was heavily guarded with an electric gate perimeter, and roving guards 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Because it was a top-secret compound, no one in government, with the exception of the president and two cabinet members, even knew about it.

The highly vetted staff agreed to literally give up their private lives and to live at the facility until it was time to shut down the program. After two years, those dedicated scientists were only halfway towards their goals.

The ultimate goals were harnessing time travel, and traveling between dimensions not yet discovered in the universe. The staff agreed not to ask how the knowledge was going to be used. For the good of man, or to help destroy lives with military applications. They all felt the magnetic urge to conquer time and space and were willing to set aside their conscience in its pursuit.

Ludwig raised a frosty mug of beer up high and toasted his friend’s birthday.

“Harold has hit 60,” he said, “and is still as ugly as ever!” 

The three friends gulped down their beer amid laughter.

“Hey! Maybe someday Harold will be able to go to the future and get a new face!” Blake roared, beer dribbling down his long beard and onto the table.

They’d been drinking for hours and were pretty toasty when they finally had to leave when the bar closed. They stumbled out into the street towards a black SUV parked nearby. Someone clicked an electronic key tab. The lights came on and the doors automatically opened. The engine started as they climbed in. The doors closed and they all three sat back and relaxed as the driverless vehicle took them back to the laboratory.

The First Sign Something was Wrong.

Ludwig and another scientist were studying a row of monitors when one of them showed a room where one of their colleagues, Harold, was working on opening a capsule retrieved by the US Space Force on a distant planet. He suddenly stood up when a green gas emitted from the capsule, filling the room instantly. They lost sight of him but heard a startled voice cry out “What the hell?”

Moving fast, Ludwig sealed the room off and turned on a duct vacuum system that sucked all of the green gaseous substance into another capsule and into another room for safe storage. When the gas was gone, so was their colleague! There wasn’t a trace of Harold left. Ludwig called the team’s supervisor Dean on the intercom. He, and the other man in the room, Blake, were told not to talk with anyone and to stay where they were.

The laboratory was built with numerous innovative safety features which included hermetically sealed rooms. Even the hallways were sectioned off into sealed sections. It was impossible to get into any area without proper identification. Only the supervisor had total access of the compound. Everyone else had assigned areas with limited access.

As Blake and Ludwig discussed what they saw on the monitor a door opened and the supervisor walked in, followed closely by two other staff members.

“I’m still doing a head count. Can you tell me who was working on the capsule?” Dean asked as he approached the control panel.

“It was Harold,” Ludwig replied.

“You said a green gaseous substance filled the room. Anything more about it I should know?” Dean queried them.

“It was a luminescent green and sparkled like bursts of electricity were going through it,” Blake said.

“And you said that you transferred this gaseous substance to a storage room?” Dean asked Ludwig.

“Yes. Number Three on the north side of this compound,” Ludwig assured him.

“What do you think we’re dealing with?” Blake asked Dean. “A life form? A portal to another dimension?”

“Both are good guesses. I wish this wouldn’t have happened. You know we can’t tell the rest of the staff about what happened here. Just the five of us know right now. Let’s keep it that way until we know what we’re dealing with.” 

Two weeks later.

Ludwig and Blake were swilling down copious amounts of beer and recalling good times before Harold disappeared. Ludwig was proposing another toast to their lost friend when he suddenly appeared next to them!

“I can’t blink...” Harold said before disappearing again.

Even in their inebriated state they knew he wasn’t a ghost. He was obviously being caught up in a dimensional dilemma that he had no control over. They looked at each other and went back to drinking in earnest. As usual, they closed the bar. On the way back they decided to tell Dean what they’d seen.

After telling their story to him they went to their sleeping pods and passed out.

Ludwig awoke abruptly when someone pulled on his leg!

“What the…?” Then he saw Harold standing there. His normally smiling face was angry and his eyes blazed with fury!

“We have to free the Szani and send them back to Aoqil!” He cried.

“Who are the Szani?” a terrified Ludwig managed to ask as he crawled out of his pod.

“Locked up in storage room three,” Harold said, gritting his teeth in an effort not to blink. “Damn!” he cried out, and disappeared again.

So there it was. The green cloud was an alien life form. Maybe numerous life forms. And they were being held captive. Did Dean know this? Ludwig pondered all the possibilities as he slipped his shoes on. He felt conflicted. He had no moral ground to stand on when it came the ethics of what was happening. In essence, holding other life forms hostage. He was excited about time travel and researching other dimensions, but this was another animal…literally.

Should he free the Szani? Did they have the key to dimensional travel? He had trouble trying to decide where his loyalties lay.

As Ludwig struggled with indecision Dean watched him on a monitor. He saw everything. Turning to his two guards/staff members he gave them instructions to take Ludwig to storage room number three and lock him in. It didn’t take long. He watched them overpower Ludwig. They laid him down on the floor near the capsule and left. Minutes later he regained consciousness and sat up and looked around. He stood just in time for the explosion that sent him careening across the room! The capsule had a long crease in it’s side and green gas was pouring out and filling the room! He could taste a cloying sweetness before passing out.

Harold was there when he woke up. They were somewhere else. He saw purple and gold hills and fields of foreign-looking plants.

“It’s not easy, but don’t blink,” Harold told him. “After awhile you’ll get use to it. In time, they tell me, that you can even control where you go when you do blink. Right now, welcome to Aoqil!”

As It Stands, first encounters with aliens are bound to be a messy process.