The Last Patriot

CIA-Agent-Building-Rapport

Prologue:

Walter waited for a year for just the right moment to kill Captain Karl Gisborne.

One long year of huddling in bad weather outside of buildings, restaurants, and sky scrapers. One year of following him in taxis, and rental cars around the world. One year of trailing him when he walked in Central Park, and down the sidewalks of New York. Watching. Looking for that perfect opportunity to murder his mentor.

Today, would be that day.

Five years prior.

Camp Peary, Virginia, also known as “The Farm.

After graduating second in his class at CIA University, Walter Molter, did his finishing school at The Farm where he was taken under the wing of Captain Karl Gisborne. He saw something in the young man that he liked. Unquestioning loyalty. Walter felt like he was a patriot, and was honored to serve his country in the best way he could. The thing he liked the most about Walter was he did what he was told without question.

Captain Gisborne personally shepherded him around the international spook community introducing him to contacts in foreign governments and underground groups. He accompanied him on his first assassination attempt.

The target was a German politician suspected of plotting a coup against the current government with the Russian Mafia’s help. The current Chancellor was aware of his adversaries and didn’t want any of his men involved in an assassination attempt. Instead he called on his CIA connection, Captain Gisborne, to eliminate his enemy.

That task became Walter’s assignment. Two days later the German politician came staggering out of a local beer house with two friends after celebrating his birthday. It was dark and there was no one on the street as the three men laughed at their efforts to walk. They never noticed Walter step out from a dark alley and come up behind them. The silencer on his custom 9mm pistol made a slight puffing sound three times. Each bullet striking its victim in the back of the head.

Afterwards, Captain Gisborne joked about getting three for the price of one. “We must have standards,” he chuckled over a shot of Scotch. In that way Walter understood that “collateral damage” could happen, and it would be all right.

One thing Captain Gisborne recognized early on with Walter was he truly believed he was one of the good guys. One of the chosen to protect democracy wherever his country, and Captain Gisborne called on him to go. In order to keep him thinking that way he constantly indoctrinated him – assuring him the country was safer because of his efforts; and how lovers of freedom throughout the nation prayed for men like him.

Walter lost count of how many men, and women, he killed after three years. He lost touch with his parents and siblings and lived alone in a hotel. He had no possessions other than necessary things like clothes and hygiene products. He didn’t read magazines, or books. He seldom watched TV, unless there was a news event on he was interested in.

In Walter’s profession, there was always the chance things could go wrong and he’d get killed. It was a given he lived with. The law of averages finally caught up to Walter, but not quite the way he would’ve guessed.

He found a hand-written note that was slipped under his door when he woke up one morning. He recognized the script as Captain Gisborne’s. It instructed him to meet him in Central Park that night at eleven o’clock. Walter’s inner radar buzzed. This was the first time he ever contacted him with a note under his door. It was out of the norm and his suspicious mind chewed on it like a dog with a tasty beef bone. Up until now, it was always a phone call that summoned him.

He arrived at Central Park at six o’clock, giving him time to explore the area before the meeting at eleven. He was dressed entirely in black with a black watch cap that could be pulled down and had eye holes to see out of.

When he was within seeing distance of Cleopatra’s Needle, a red granite obelisk that stood 69-feet tall, he hid in some dense bushes without anyone noticing. There were just a few people lingering in the cool evening. A man and woman sat on a bench, staring in awe at the mighty obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt around 1450 BC.

Lying down, he made himself as comfortable as possible while keeping a sharp eye out for Captain Gisborne. The note troubled him. He tried to think why he chose that instead of calling. “Calls can be traced,” his suspicious mind suggested. It was after ten o’clock when Captain Gisborne showed up with another man. They stood in front of the obelisk and talked quietly. No one else was around. Beneath the old-fashioned street light at one corner, Walter could see their faces…and read their lips. A skill he picked up years ago.

“Why now? The stranger asked Captain Gisborne.

“He’s become a liability.”

“How, so?” 

“The Russians are on to him. I’m told they have enough information on his assassinations to start a couple of investigations with the French and the Saudis governments. They will try to put him on public trial, and it will be very bad if our “special unit” comes under the scrutiny of the American people.”

“Can’t we hide him? He’s a true patriot and doesn’t deserve this.

“A true patriot,” Gisborne mocked the man, “You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no patriots nowadays. Just specialists. That bullshit went out of fashion decades ago. You just need to do your job, Clancy.”

Walter saw enough and got up on all fours, pulling out his 9mm sans a silencer. He watched the man called Clancy go over to a tree and hide behind it. He circled around him and shot him in the head before he knew he was there. The shot brought Gisborne to his feet. Clancy was supposed to have used a silencer. When Walter stepped from behind the tree Gisborne didn’t hesitate. He popped off a short series of shots and hit Walter twice! He returned fire and stumbled off into the nearby forest. He almost died that night. If it wasn’t for a Park Patrol officer finding him he would have bled out.

He only stayed in the hospital for a day before leaving despite doctor’s orders. He had one slug removed from his left shoulder and another passed through his chest without hitting a vital organ. A police officer was stationed outside his room, waiting for the doctor’s okay to interview him. He knew it was just a matter of time before someone came looking for him. Despite the pain, he got up, unhooked his IV and got dressed. The officer was talking with a nurse down the hall when he peaked out the door. They were still talking as he casually walked out and went in the opposite direction. He went unnoticed by the busy staff, and made his way out the front door and into the growing darkness.

As he was healing he stayed in a small motel outside New Jersey City. It gave him plenty of time to think about getting his revenge and what being a patriot meant in the 21st century. He thought about all the things Captain Gisborne had told him over the years about what it meant to be a true patriot. He found himself, to his utter disgust, comparing his unquestioning loyalty to Gisborne to the Germans who fought for Hitler in WW II. He thought about the Nuremberg Trails. He grew up believing in the American way. He was a boy scout. A quarterback for his high school football team. So much promise. Then he went into the CIA.

But today was the day he would get his revenge. Gisborne dismissed his bodyguard, a former Seal, and joined other mourners gathered at Arlington Cemetery to honor a former CIA chief from the Bush administration. After the ceremonies Gisborne went to his car, but the driver wasn’t there. Once a spook, always a spook. He realized at the last second that something was wrong as Walter slid out from beneath the Black SUV and pointed a gun at him.

“For America! For honesty and decency!” he shouted while pumping Gisborne full of lead. Before he died in a hail of bullets from the Washington DC police, he cried out once more…”For America!”

Newspaper headline the next day:

“CIA Legend, True Patriot, Assassinated By Rogue Agent.”

As It Stands, the question of what patriotism really means can become muddied by history and reality.

What Happened to ‘Popskull’ Watkins?

3449583706_9022b00836 (3)Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Sheriff “Popskull” Watkins was a poster boy for corrupt southern law enforcement in Georgia during the turbulent 60s. His good ‘ol boy charm was only present when he was around Whites. The genial smile disappeared when dealing with Blacks, who in his beady mind, were dumb brutes to be kept in line.

One morning ‘Popskull” whose birth name was Dewey, was driving his official police car down a rough country road when his front right tire blew! He bumped along on the rim for a hundred feet before finally coming to a stop in the middle of the crude dirt road. Because he seldom got any exercise (and ate like a starving black bear), he was overweight and had high blood pressure.

He grudgingly got his girth out of the car, took off his straw Stetson, and wiped a river of sweat from his forehead while looking at the flat tire in utter disgust. He was a long way from town. At least a two-hour drive. There was no way around it. He’d have to change the tire. Something he hadn’t done since he was 17 years-old running moonshine with his cousins. It was during that time he earned the name “Popskull” because he always delivered the best moonshine in the valley, and he could out drink an adult.

As he opened the trunk to get the jack out someone said, “Can I help you, sir?

Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.

“No need of that. I’m just offering to help you,” the Black man said.

Relaxing, Popskull asked, “What you doing out here boy? No one lives in these parts.”

“Did you bump your head on the steering wheel when the tire went? Sounds like your vision isn’t quite right. I’m, no boy. I’m an adult college professor.

“Don’t you go sassing me now boy! Where did you get that fancy suit?”

“It looks like it’s time to give you an education, Mr. Popskull Watkins. You may call me Professor Lincoln.

Popskull moved angrily towards the professor who took a small device out of his jacket and pressed a button. That was the last thing Popskull remembered before waking up wet on a well-trimmed front yard with sprinklers noisily doing their job. He looked over to the front of the house and saw the professor sitting on a chair and drinking what looked like Long Island tea in a tall thin glass.

He awkwardly got to his feet and looked around. The professor held his glass up and gestured for him to come over. He walked up to the porch and sat down on a chair near the professor who acted like it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there soaked to the gills.

“I trust you’re okay? The first time someone goes through the transition it can cause disorientation and even a bad headache.

Where the hell am I? What’s going on?”

“Yes…I understand. So many questions, and so little time to answer them all. For now, you’re in the future. It’s January 2008, and the country just elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“African-American? You mean Black? There’s no way this country would let a darkie run it!”

The professor sighed and handed him a copy of Time Magazine, and a current newspaper. Popskull looked at them skeptically, but the professor could see the mounting panic in the corner of his eyes as he looked them over.

“Please, step inside, and I’ll get you something to drink and you can watch the TV.”

Groaning, Popskull stood up and stretched his aching bulk and followed him inside. There were two leather lounge chairs in the living room directly across from a big screen TV. The professor told him to pick one while he got him a cup of coffee. When he returned, Popskull was watching the TV with his mouth open in obvious awe.

Look at the color! It looks real! Is this something I can look forward to getting in the future?”

“That, and much more. I’m glad you know where you are now. There’s more things I want you to see. But drink your coffee right now, and we’ll go to breakfast after this news segment is over. 

When they got out of the professor’s new Cadillac, and walked up to a restaurant, Popskull stopped outside the front door.

“I reckon there’s a side entrance for you.”

The professor opened the front door and a white maitre d’ meet them with smiles. Popskull couldn’t believe his eyes and numbly followed the waiter they were assigned. He suddenly felt terribly out-of-place in his sweaty sheriff’s khaki shirt and pants. He had no idea what happened to his hat. Looking around he could see people of all races dining comfortably. The meal was the best food he’d ever had. When they returned to the professor’s house he was full and relaxed.

“We’ve only got one more day, and there’s still a lot I want to show you. I suggest we go to bed early. You can sleep in the guest room downstairs.”

That night Popskull had nightmares. He saw men in white robes (his fellow Kluxers) hanging a black man from a tree and setting him on fire! They were dancing around the body like devils frolicking in hell. He was glad when morning finally came.

The next day they went to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professor gave him a tour, like the ones he given to many others, and explained how the world changed from 1960. He realized that he was a racist because it was all he knew. He was raised that way. He grew up with stories of his ancestors fighting for the South’s rights. He grew up in a black and white world where there was no respect for people different from him.

When they went back to the professor’s house Popskull was conflicted. He didn’t think he was a bad man. But after seeing the things he did with the professor, he realized he couldn’t keep living a life degrading others, and told the professor that. The professor smiled and pulled out the same device he first saw him with…and pushed the button.

After Popskull changed his front tire he pulled out a sealed mason jar from under the front seat and took a few healthy swigs. His world was turned upside down. When he got back to his office he saw an old black man sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously being ignored by the staff.

He went up to him and asked, “Can I help you…sir?”

That was the day his staff, and folks in town, thought Popskull lost his mind.

As It Stands, awareness of other races history is one way to fight bigotry.

You Better Watch Out!

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CNS Reality Show – You Better Watch Out

Episode 10What an Ugly Surprise 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As It Stands, the devil is in the details.

Hunting for ‘X’ In All The Wrong Places

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He watched the government agent loitering outside the bank. Waiting for him. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the agent’s private number. When the agent answered his phone there was a loud explosion!

A CIA bunker somewhere in Virginia.

“All right! Listen up! As you know you’ve been selected to be a part of a task force to take out X. I will tell you that you’re not the first team we’ve sent out for him. Two others have failed.”

“What happened to those teams?” one of the new members asked the instructor.

“They’re dead. Does that scare you Adams?”

“No, sir. Just curious.”

“Good! Now that you know, keep your trap shut and listen to the intel I’m going to be giving you, and the rest of the team in the coming weeks. Your lives depend upon it. We’ve learned from our encounters with X. He’s an international player with no country or cause that we can tell. He kills, and steals, for huge sums. He’s a master of multiple martial arts. Speaks dozens of languages, and has no family or friends that we can find. I hate to admit it, but we don’t even know what he looks like.

“How could that…?” Adams started to speak, then saw the instructor’s frown and stopped.

“Our quarry is a master of disguise, even going so far as to using mechanical exoskeletons to change his height and body size. We were able to confiscate one of the exoskeletons when we discovered one of his hiding places in Germany. No manufacturer’s marks. Our tech team thinks he built it himself.”

In the ensuing days of training the instructor, Major Jim Langhorn a longtime operative himself, put the recruits through their paces, challenging them mentally and physically until they were exhausted by the end of each day.

The major taught them all he knew about CIA spy craft tricks and inventions. There were code classes and classes on criminal psychiatry. Every crime that could be traced to X was studied intently. Hours were spent with profilers. They learned that no clue was too small. Above all, they were taught to never underestimate their quarry. He managed to elude authorities worldwide for over a decade. He was a legend in the spook communities.

The six-man team consisted of volunteers from various Special Forces units from the Army, Marines, and Navy. They were all in the top of the classes. The most-outspoken was Army Ranger, Jason Adams. He was the de facto leader of the team. After six weeks of intense training the team was told to be on 24-hour standby to respond to any intelligence the CIA or other US agencies might come up with.

A week passed and the men were becoming bored and listless. Then the call came. Major Langhorn told them they had a tip X was going to assassinate the new prime minister of Bulgaria. They were briefed on the flight over and arrived at a government airfield in Plodiv at noon local time.

Adams met with the local law enforcement who went over the prime minister’s schedule for the rest of that day and the next. He was due to attend a gathering of friends and family for his birthday at a private country estate the next evening. By the time Adam’s team deployed around the perimeter and joined the local special security units, it was starting to grow dark. Whoever thought that X would appear, took all precautions, including bringing the American team in.

Every person at the estate, including servants, were heavily vetted. No strangers were going to crash the prime minister’s party.

A black shadow flitted from tree-to-tree silently. It snuck up on one of the American team and engulfed it! The shadow kept prowling and killing for hours. Walkie talkies and phones didn’t work. Frequencies were blocked. When the shadow broke away from the tree line and ran up to the house, no one was there to see it. The guards were dead. Loud music played inside the large estate building. People could be seen dancing on an ornate ballroom floor made of marble.

The prime minister was in the center of the dancers, happily waving a goblet of wine and trying to dance himself. No one noticed the red dot on his forehead. But when the bullet went through his skull the woman behind him noticed and screamed when she was splattered with blood and brains! Pandemonium broke out as the guests charged for the doors.

The sun was slowly rising in the gray sky as authorities flooded the estate grounds the next morning. Adams escaped the night’s carnage, but four of his team didn’t. They were murdered at their posts. That just left him and the Navy seal, Gary Stevens. As they flew back on a government transport the two men talked about what happened. It was a classic X hit job in spite of the extraordinary precautions that were taken. It seemed almost supernatural the way he eluded his pursuers every time.

“It probably won’t make you feel much better, ” Major Langhorn was saying, “but you two are the first team members that X didn’t kill on a mission. We’re not sure why he bypassed you. Do you have any theories?”

“I’m not sure,” Adams replied, “but Stephens and I had changed our initial positions to adjust to the terrain better. We both felt exposed.”

 “Meaning...?”

“I think someone knew where everyone was going to be deployed,” he suggested.

“That’s normally the case. You’ve studied the others enough to know that.

“Yeah…I just can’t figure out how he does it. I’ve never been part of a more secure operation than this one, yet it went terribly wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.

Major Langhorn, Adams, and Stephens stopped talking and sipped their coffee.

“You know, coffee usually wakes me up,” Stephens said, breaking the silence.

Adams was having a hard time hearing Stephens. His words seemed to be slurred. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open and an alarm finally went off.

“Something’s wrong with the coffee!” he stammered, and tried to stand up.

Stephens was already sinking to the floor unconscious. Adams tried to focus on Major Langhorn’s face but it was blurry. He seemed perfectly all right. Unaffected by what was happening to him and Stephens.

“I’m sorry. I’m usually more efficient than that. You two escaping made me look sloppy. I’ll hand you that. I must be getting old. Maybe it’s time I retire, ahead of the game I’ve played all these years.

As It Stands, maybe there is really such a thing as perfect crimes.

When Shapeshifters Invaded New York

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Luigi Martello stopped turning the crank on his organ-grinder and stared in disbelief as a fire hydrant morphed into a man!

His monkey, Bobo, didn’t seem to notice and kept dancing despite the absence of music. Luigi wiped the sweat from his brow and watched the man disappear into the busy New York crowd. It was lunch time, and the hot sun beat down on the small umbrella attached to his cart, affording little shade. He wondered if the sun was getting to him, and took a well-used handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his whole face. He got a drink of water from his little ice-chest and considered going home for the day.

Part of his brain refused to admit what he saw. It was just too crazy. Unreal. He knew fire hydrants couldn’t turn into people. So what did happen? His thoughts were diverted when a group of adults with children approached. He broke out into a merry tune and Bobo’s frenzied dance moves soon had everyone laughing. Coins rained down on the plate sitting on the sidewalk in front of Luigi. The rest of the day passed quickly.

That night, over dinner, he told his wife Maria what he saw that afternoon. She clucked over him like a mother hen and said that he was just working too hard. He hadn’t taken a vacation in years. Not even a day off.

“The grind is getting to you,” she said, smiling at her own pun.

He smiled back at her and held up his glass of wine for a toast, “To my beautiful wife who always looks out for me!”

Bobo, who was sitting on a little stool by the table, clapped his hands and chattered happily. He felt much better when they went to bed and had no trouble sleeping. Tomorrow was a new day.

The next day he set up on his corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. It looked like rain, but he decided to stay and see what happened. Bobo was wearing a little red jacket and matching hat. Luigi wore his usual suit and a heavy trench jacket with a brown fedora. As he considered putting his gloves on he saw a stray dog morph into a man!

He froze, eyes riveted on the stranger. The stranger stretched, and then looked over at him and waved. Instinctively, Luigi raised a hand and waved back. In all of his years working the streets he saw plenty of strange people, some obviously crazy. But this madness…maybe he did need to take some time off. It went against his grain, but something was straining his brain and he had to be seeing things.

Normally a jovial person, Luigi had trouble coping with what he saw and grew morose. An hour later he went home and told his wife he didn’t feel well. She was surprised because he gave no inclinations of feeling sick that morning, but didn’t question him about it. She was concerned because she couldn’t remember that last time he didn’t work a full day, or said he felt sick. She gave him an aspirin and tucked him into bed. He closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep.

The next morning he woke with a new determination. He decided to change his routine and go to another street corner further downtown. He put on a happy face for Maria at breakfast, and she was immensely relieved to see him doing so well.

The new street corner had more stores and less apartments than his regular spot. As soon as he set up he had customers gathering. Bobo danced to his lively music to everyone’s delight. The coins clattered down into the tin plate. And nothing strange happened. After a week at his new location, with no one shapeshifting right before his eyes, Luigi settled back into his comfortable existence. Life had returned to normal.

Curiosity can be a good thing, but sometimes it leads us to places where we’d rather not go. In spite of things going so well, Luigi began wondering about his old street corner. It was closer to home. He even knew some of the residents who lived in the buildings and began missing them. Feeling slightly defiant the next morning, he set up on the corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. Some friends stopped by to say they missed him recently. It was getting late in the day when a stranger came by and asked him, “Is this the shapeshifting portal area?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about pal. Maybe you should move on and ask someone else. I’m just a simple man, and I don’t want any trouble.”

“How rude! I was told people on this planet were cordial if you were with them.”

“People on this planet? C’mon now! Your starting to scare me.

“Wait a moment…I’m starting to feel it!” the stranger said, while turning into the same kind of monkey as Bobo.

“Oh, mother of God! What’s going on here?” Luigi moaned.

Bobo looked at his twin and bared his teeth. The twin yelped and ran off down the sidewalk. Luigi was still sputtering when he saw a well-dressed woman turn into a sleek black cat that went off after the fleeing monkey!

Luigi sunk to the curb and sat there next to Bobo who was still chattering angrily.

“Can I help sir?” a young man asked.

“I doubt it pal. I’m just not in a good place right now.

“I’m afraid I may be responsible for that sir. My name is Glennet, and I own the rights to shapeshifting portals on earth and two other planets. I’ve been getting complaints that the portal on 33rd and 3rd Street has been experiencing operational problems for a couple of years now. In my defense, I’ve been so busy with my other properties that I overlooked this one. It was never a high performer.”

“Did I die? Am I dead? Is this real?” Luigi groaned.

“Reality is a construct. Be assured, you’re in the right time frame. I’m sorry for whatever inconveniences I’ve caused you. I’m correcting that…right now!”

It was five o’clock and time to go home. Luigi bragged to Bobo, “You see. I was right. Nothing strange happened here today.”

As It Stands, as Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

The New Age of Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Life of a Bat Man

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It was a hot humid night in Decatur, Georgia, when Sage Turnbull  bashed his neighbor’s head in with a baseball bat.

The first officer at the scene was stunned to see a seven-year old boy with a bloody baseball bat standing near the prone victim in his bedroom.

His parents were out partying, he told the social services worker who interviewed him. They partied a lot he explained. When Geoffrey, his 34-year old neighbor, opened the front door at midnight he was wide awake and heard someone enter. Not hearing his parents, but someone else moving around in the living room, scared him and he picked up his baseball bat to defend himself.

“Then what happened?” she asked him.

“He opened the door and came in. I was standing on my desk and brought my bat down as hard as I could! I hit him a lot to make sure he wouldn’t get up. Then I called 911 and waited for you.”

“Did you recognize that he was your neighbor?” she asked.

“It was too dark.

What struck the social worker about Sage was his calm demeanor. Most seven-year-old’s would be pretty freaked out by what happened. She looked at his frail frame and the blood spattered all over his pajamas and face. It was unnerving. He asked if he could have a drink of water? As she went with him to the kitchen she wondered what was going through his head. His dark brown eyes were serene and unreadable.

Later, when she talked with Sage’s parents, she shared her concern that he was bottling the incident up and should get some professional help. They agreed and sent him to a child psychiatrist for over a year.

To everyone’s surprise he acted like a normal kid and had a social life at school. His teachers all said he was a good student, but needed to focus on the topic at hand. He was caught day-dreaming numerous times. He participated in sports and student government. He wasn’t the most popular kid in his class, but he wasn’t an outcast either. He did his best to fit in, but not stand out.

What he didn’t tell his counselor, or parents, was he enjoyed beating Geoffrey to death!

It was the most exciting moment of his life. The feeling of power, as he repeatedly hit the dying man, was incredible. It changed his life. He realized that he couldn’t tell anyone about his feelings or they’d think he was sick in the head. He amazed himself with how easily he masked his real feelings. It was gift he decided, by the time he hit his teens.

His favorite sport was – no surprise – baseball. He was considered the slugger on his Little League team, the Dodgers. He was also a fan of comic books, especially DC’s Batman series. Unlike most of the super hero’s fans, Sage was not interested in chasing bad guys and seeing the good guy prevail. He just liked the many gadgets, and vehicles, Batman used. He loved his costume.

The urge to swing a bat and make contact with human flesh, came and went over the next couple of years. He eventually began trolling for victims at night, wearing a crude black mask and black clothes. One night he wandered into a new neighborhood, west of where he lived. He had no idea that it was gang turf.

A group of Mexican homeboys were sitting on a porch in front of one of the houses. Strains of No Me Chingues La Vida by Espinoza Paz, carried clearly in the night air. They were drinking and laughing. He considered turning around and going back up the block when he heard a wild whoop and turned around in time to see two of the gang members coming at him with broken beer bottles!

They must not have seen the black baseball bat he casually held by his side, because they ran right up to him cursing. He brought the bat up in one swift movement and smashed the closest man’s face in! The other drunken assailant barely had time to raise his bottle before Sage’s bat bounced off the top of his head! Two women screamed from the porch as Sage teed-off on the prone gang members. Lights starting coming on in the neighborhood. Shaking off his blood rage, Sage turned and ran into the night.

Rewards for “El Hombre Murcielago” who killed two of their members, were posted all over the barrio. No one knew who the new player was, but everyone in the hood felt it was a stranger. A loco one, at that.

Sage peeled his mask off as he ran home that night. The exhilaration from his encounter had his heart beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. The sheer ecstasy he felt from pounding on human flash and bones far exceeded any other thing in his life. He didn’t know if he killed the men or not. It really didn’t matter. He had no moral code that he lived by. Despite loving parents he turned to the dark side a long time ago. Even before he killed Geoffrey.

After his success pounding two men with his bat he knew he’d have to go out again. Just in another neighborhood. The voice in his head, the one he shared secrets with, encouraged him to be careful while cheering him on. He had to be careful who he picked for a victim. So he decided that he would prey on gang members and other street thugs though out the city. Their deaths attracted a lot less attention than picking perfectly innocent victims. They were societies throw cast-offs. Just like him, but no one knew it.

He loved the irony of being compared to the Batman in the comics. El Hombre Murcielago who was no better than those he hunted, unlike the justice-seeking superhero. Irony was his spice in life. No one would ever think to go after a mild-mannered cub reporter thinking he was the notorious Bat Man of the barrios.

As It Stands, there is no right or wrong, only primeval feelings when we get right down to it.