The Line

Storm clouds gathering as the endless line disappeared in miles of concrete jungles surrounded by crumbling buildings.

The edge of reality and civilization. 

The line’s inhabitants dumbly moving forward, like lemmings on a mystery tour. Rumors of food and shelter passed up and down the line, giving some hope. Most were skeptical, having been in the line for an eternity.

The storm clouds never seemed to go away. Always looking like they were going to burst any second, causing a catastrophic flood where they would be no safe places.

No one knew if there was an end to the line.

(Author’s note: I continue to experiment with telling a story in 100 words. What do you think about this format?)

 

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.

A Hung Jury at Brimstone

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Badlands Billy stoically waited to be hung.

He was wanted for stealing souls in Brimstone, and was captured in a saloon there by two zombie bounty hunters. Not without a fight however.

One of the zombies lost his hand when Badlands Billy hacked it off with his hatchet during the melee. Saloon patrons tried to stay out of the fracas, but there were still some injuries from errant bullets buzzing around like mad bees in the increasingly smoky saloon.

When it was over, the two zombies had Billy hogtied and drug him to the sheriff’s office where he was thrown into jail. The Sheriff, a second-level demon, paid the zombies their bounty then unceremoniously kicked them out of his office.

“Next time take a bath you smelly bastards!” Sheriff Bodi shouted, “You’ve stunk up my jail again!”

He turned to Billy and looked him over critically.

“You don’t look stupid,” he mused out loud. “But anyone who thinks he can get over on the Master has to be an idiot,” he firmly declared.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it lawman.”

“I have. But the difference between you and me is, I’m smart enough not to. That really pisses Lucifer off, you know.”

“Why don’t you let me go Sheriff? You know my gang is going to show up soon and there will be hell to pay.

“Another level, here or there, doesn’t particularly bother me Billy.

A day later, while the sheriff waited for the judge from Tombstone to arrive, Billy’s gang rode into Brimstone on black horses. They trotted up to the jail house and got off their silent steeds without exchanging words. All five of them were pulling out their pistols when the towns inhabitants opened fire! They were expected.

Bullets rained down from porches. Every window and door had a shooter busily firing at the gang. Like Billy, they were all level one demons and were dropping like fetid flies. When the firing stopped they lay scattered on the dusty street in front of the jailhouse. Their riddled bodies seeped blood that trickled down into the dirt in little pools.

Level one ghouls bid on the bodies afterwards. Their flesh sold for far more than beef. It was one of many reasons why Brimstone didn’t have a coroner. When Billy learned of his gang’s fate he howled like a wolf all night.

“I guess that’s it for you wise guy,” the Sheriff later mocked him. “I expect the judge tomorrow so you better get ready to be served up on someone’s plate when the death penalty is handed down.”

“What? No jury, or trial? I thought even level one demons had some rights.”

“There’ll be a jury, and you’ll get your trial. But at the end of the day, the devil always wins.”

The trial was held at the saloon. The judge arrived with two officers of the county court who immediately set up rows of chairs and constructed a crude platform where the judge would sit on an old stuffed chair from one of the upstairs whores room.

When the sheriff escorted Billy into the saloon cheers broke out. Apparently Billy did have some supporters in the crowd. The jury consisted of level one demons that weren’t too drunk to sit upright for an hour. Billy’s peers.

The judge slammed his gavel on a little desk in front of him and called for silence. He looked down at Billy with undisguised disgust. Even a stupid soul-stealer like Billy knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“You stand accused of stealing souls from humans who are the Master’s playthings. By poaching on Lord Satan’s subjects you have crossed the line of no return. Your fate now lies with this jury,” the judge said indicating a group of 12 demons sitting unsteadily in two rows of rickety chairs. “How do you plead?

“I’m as innocent as a new-born babe, your honor.”

Rolling his eyes in scorn, the judge called on the first witness. A parade of previously paid witnesses spent the next hour testifying against Billy. The jury bravely tried to stay awake during their testimonies, but occasionally one of them would slip off in his chair, only to waken startled and blurry-eyed before regaining his seat.

“It’s time for the defense to state their case,” the judge declared.

Billy’s lawyer slowly stood up. His rumbled jacket had vomit stains on the front. Blood-shot eyes searched the room before settling on Billy. “You my client?” he asked Billy after letting out a long belch.

“Yeah,” Billy admitted in resignation.

The lawyer, Travis Goldblot, turned to the judge and bowed. “If it pleases the court my client begs for mercy and a lower level of hell. He didn’t mean to do it.” 

The judge dismissed him with a wave of his long skeletal fingers, and turned to the jury. “All right you lazy bastards! You go over to that room behind the bar and make a decision on what we should do with this piece of scum.”

The decision only took ten minutes.

When the jury assembled before the judge, ten of them looked pale with fright. The eleventh jury member appeared to be unconcerned. He was casually chewing on a wad of tobacco and talking with the twelfth juror when the judge asked for their decision.

The forlorn speaker for the jury stood up and mumbled a reply.

“Speak up damn you!” the judge groused.

“We have a hung jury, your lordship,” he admitted.

The saloon broke out in roars of laughter! This never happened before. The accused in any trial was always declared guilty. That was part of being damned. The situation was so unique that the judge sat there in shock during the chaos.

One of Billy’s supporters in the crowd shouted, “Free drinks on me!” causing a stampede to the bar. The judge and the two county officers seemed to shrink in stature as they slithered past the revelers and out the batwing doors.

As It Stands, even the devil’s minions get out of line sometimes.

The Ladies of the Lake

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Not far from Lake Minnetonka, in Minnesota, there’s a smaller lake east of it that few (if any) tourists have ever seen. The locals say it’s haunted by three women, and avoid going there. If the lake ever had a name, no one knows what it is now.

North of the lake, a 30-mile trek away, is White Earth Lake. A young man born on the Indian reservation that surrounded it, desperately wanted to see the world. He was part of the White Earth Ojibwe Band, and expected to live his whole life there. But the urge to leave coursed threw his veins, and his blood boiled for adventure.

His native name was Niimi (He is dancing). His white name was Roger. In school, everyone had to answer to their white names. Afterwards, the moment they left school, they went by their “real” names.

Niimi was a reader. It was why he was so smart. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge and was able to retain what he learned. He loved mysteries and studied stories that were passed down by the Ojibwe elders. Tales from the ancient days when the People lived in harmony with Mother Earth.

One day he had an epiphany. He’d tell his family and friends that he wanted to go on a vision quest. It would give him the reason he needed to leave the reservation, and it could provide direction for his future. He was ready to seek his guardian spirit, who he could call on for protection and guidance. It had been many years since someone in the tribe set out on a sacred vision quest, and the elders were pleased that someone so well-schooled in their culture was undertaking it. Although they felt he should be a little older, they agreed to hold the ceremony.

When the rising sun-kissed White Earth Lake’s surface the next morning Niimi set out on his quest…for adventure. He was dressed in leather britches and jacket. He wore a pair of beaded moccasins with good luck tokens sewn into them.

Two days, and 30-miles later, Niimi came upon the nameless lake. When the locals told him it was haunted, he felt a thrill of excitement. This was a challenge he decided, and made a crude camp by the lake.

That night he had weird dreams. He was talking with a woman who was promising him crazy things like immortality, and the ability to fly, or to stay underwater for as long as he liked without having to breathe air. When he awoke in the morning his clothes were wet. Not damp. Soaking wet. He scrambled to his feet and jumped around shaking himself dry under the newly arrived sun.

Instead of being worried about why he was wet, Niimi recalled the stories the locals told him. He didn’t remember anything about water witches though. Just that there were three women who guarded the nameless lake. Unlike most men in his tribe, he didn’t fear the unknown.

The next night he tried to stay awake, but succumbed to sleep by midnight. His dreams were chaotic and violent. He was flying over the tree tops looking down at a herd of buffalo being chased by hunters with spears and arrows. He could hear the cries of the hunters as they brought a big bull down. The swirling dust made his eyes gritty. The thrill of the chase increased his heartbeat…and then he woke up in his campsite next to the lake. His eyes burned as he looked around.

Afterwards, he walked along the lake’s shore wondering what his dreams meant. As exciting as they were, he longed to know if the lake was really haunted. Thus far, he hadn’t seen any ghosts. Yet, the locals insisted they were there. He’d gone five days without food, hoping it would give him a vision. His body was so weakened he quit walking and sat down by the lake, staring out at its shimmering surface with glassy eyes.

That night as he lay barely conscious by the smoldering fire pit in his camp, three woman came to him. They wore diaphanous dresses that accentuated their lithe bodies as they walked across the lake, and on land to his camp.

“How much longer before this human dies from lack of food and our nightly bloodletting?” one of the women asked the other two.

“It’s hard to say sister. This human has a strong spirit.” another one commented.

In spite of his condition, Niimi heard their voices and struggled to focus his eyes as they peered down at him. His first thought was they were beautiful. They all had full red lips and pale faces that were expressionless. All three had pale blue eyes that watched him struggle to sit up.

None of them wanted him to die…and least not until someone else came along. Human blood was the ultimate intoxicant for them. They seldom got visitors because people feared the place. When they did, they tried their best to make the experience last as long as possible before draining the victim’s final lifeblood. It had been decades since the last victim stumbled into their domain. Niimi’s blood was a special treat after that long drought.

In spite of his weakened condition he recalled a tale one of the elders told him about supernatural beings. That if he could drink their blood he would be strong enough to banish them to hell where they belonged. Summoning up the last of his strength he spoke, “Ladies of the Lake, I am Niimi your loyal servant. If you could each give me a little of your blood, I could continue serving you longer instead of dying right now.”

The three were startled by the request and argued among themselves for a while before coming to a decision. When they did, each one used a fingernail to slash their own wrists.

“Come, drink then human,” one offered as she held her bloody wrist out.

Without hesitation Niimi sucked on the proffered wrist. When she stepped aside the second offered hers, and by the time he was sucking on the third’s wrist he felt a hot powerful surge course through his veins! Night turned to-day. He could understand what the animals in the nearby forest were saying.

Power incarnate made his bronze face glow. The sisters, sensing something had gone wrong, hurdled together and watched his transformation with their pale blue eyes. When he finally turned his attention on them they could see the mistake they made. In their eagerness they ignored the law of blood. Their mixed blood took him to another level of awareness. And power over them.

He slowly stretched. Never taking his eyes off the three women. They turned in fear, as if to go back in the lake, when he clapped his hands together and sent them straight to hell!

As It Stands, evil is meant to be destroyed by heroes in all cultures.

A Murder On Cloud Nine

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Looks like another sunny day on Cloud Nine folks!” the weatherman said while showing a hologram of the busy city at noon.

Since the gravity-defying technology of 2993, Earth’s cities were built high in the sky to avoid the widespread pollution on the planet’s surface. Only the poor, and cast-offs roamed earth’s filthy highways to nowhere.

The rest of the people lived in Clouded Communities that required vigorous vetting to join. Cloud Nine had the most exclusive lodging and the best food and drink in the United Association of Cloud Communities in America (UACCA). Only the super wealthy and well-connected could afford to live and do business there. There were no violent crimes or murders.

At last count, there were twenty-eight cloud communities in the northern hemisphere.

Cloud Twelve had white-collar workers who were employed by the city as computer techs, accountants, lawyers, and copyeditors at publishing firms. They exported their expertise to other UACCA communities in exchange for their goods.

With the New Science of the age people were able to breathe normally at 10,000 feet in the air. The protective shield around the city was a standard model used by nearly all of the other Clouded Communities.

Cloud Seven was known for being a haven for blue-collar workers who enjoyed assembling machines from Aero Cabs to elevators. The people worked hard on assembly lines during the day, and partied hearty at night watching air hockey games between the Clouded Communities pro teams. They enjoyed being a thriving export/import member of the UACCA.

Down on the ground.

Rogun resented being a cast-off. Going from the luxuries of Cloud Nine to the massively polluted world on the ground was hard. More worrisome however, was the fact that there were no laws on the ground. Roving bands of armed thugs fought one another in the crumbling cities.

Life was boiled down to its simplest element; survival in a hostile world.

He was here because he didn’t follow the rules on Cloud Nine. Now he lived where there were no rules. The irony wasn’t lost on Rogun who now lived for revenge. Physically, he was in the prime of his life at thirty-one years-old. He hoped it would be the difference in surviving while plotting his revenge.

He was sent to “the ground” without any weapons or clothing. It took a full day of patiently waiting in hiding before he was able to take care of his most immediate needs. He set up an ambush inside of an electric station building. It was still functional and there was a chance others knew this.

He found a three-foot long steel pipe to use as a weapon in a small storeroom. He heard voices before he saw the old aero car pull up outside by the charging tower. A man wearing black leather got out of the car when it stopped. He was about the same size as Rogun. Maybe a little heavier.

He watched the man hook up his vehicle and throw a switch. There was no charge for getting the charge. The station was still functioning after one-hundred years. An impressive achievement but not appreciated by Rogun who was circling around the building to get a good angle on the man.

He waited until the man walked a few steps away from his vehicle and was relieving himself, before he ran up behind him and hit him in the head with every ounce of his strength!

There was a sickening thud and the man fell face forward. Rogan watched his body twitch a couple of times before going limp. He quickly went about stripping the body and dressing himself. Feeling a little more confident he walked over to the vehicle. He checked the meter. It read FULL.

The aero car was so simple even a kid could drive one. Inside, Rogun found a laser rifle with a scope. He rustled around the back seat and found some food and water. Famished, he greedily stuffed down the stale bread and drank the cool water. Feeling refreshed, he pushed the start button and pointed the aero car north, the same direction it was heading before he hijacked it.

A day later.

When Rogun saw the city he grinned. It appeared to be thriving with numerous merchants selling goods on the streets. Most of the aero cars he saw were parked near a large casino with a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, “The Star Humper Casino.” He parked and watched people go in and out for a while.

One thing he noticed. Everyone was armed with rifles or hand guns. He checked his laser rifle out and decided to take the scope off. There would be no need of it up close. He rummaged around inside the car until he found a small bundle under the passenger’s side seat. It was the tender used by large organized gangs who took over cities.

He peeled off half of the little bundle and stuck the rest back under the seat. He pocketed the rest. It was time to meet and greet whoever was in charge of the street. He suspected he’d find who he was looking for in the penthouse suite of the casino.

No one seemed to notice him, with his rifle slung across his back, as he stepped into an elevator and hit TOP FLOOR. Surprisingly there were no guards there when the elevator opened and he stepped into the vast penthouse apartment.

He looked around and was surprised at how nice it was. It almost looked like something out of a Cloud Nine room. It even had its own bar. That’s where he saw a tall thin man wearing a golden jacket hold up a bottle in his direction.

“Irish whiskey? the stranger asked conversationally.

“Thank you, I will,” he answered.

“Straight up, or on the rocks?”

“Straight up.”

“And what shall we toast?”

“How about revenge?

“Ohhhh..” the stranger purred. “Tell me about it.

“I shouldn’t be down here. There’s a judge on Cloud Nine who was out to get me. I’d like to personally kill him with my bare hands.”

“But how will you get back on Cloud Nine to do it? You know that planes can’t get past that security shield without authorization.”

“There must be some way to get inside,” Rogan said.

“There might be. What would you say if I were able to get you inside to extract your vengeance?”

“I’d say, why would you help me? You’re a complete stranger, and I don’t see wings on your back.”

The stranger chuckled at the comment. “For good reason, sir,” he grinned.

I need a spy on Cloud Nine. Someone who will eventually help me, and my crew outside, gain access to that privileged community. You seem to fit the bill nicely.” 

“But how will you get me in?” Rogan wondered.

“There’s one product that those wealthy people still want from the ground. Bodies. Apparently they make some – forgive my pun – killer compost for their beloved flowers. We quit burying our dead decades ago because they just dug them up. Now we dump all the bodies at the end of town and they take them away and leave potable water in exchange.

“Are you suggesting I lay among those foul and stinking corpses?” he asked.

“Have you got a better idea?” the stranger challenged.

A day later.

“The two-man crew of the plane from Cloud Nine wore white biohazard suits as they tossed bodies into the rear cargo hold. One of them wheeled out a fifty-gallon plastic container with potable water. It was mind-numbing work, and the men went about their duties daydreaming they were somewhere else. Somehow, Rogun didn’t scream out in horror as the bodies were thrown onto him.

The plane had no trouble re-entering the safety shield. It landed on a runway next to a public warehouse where citizens could come by and get all the rotting flash they needed. When all the bodies were transferred to a waiting area, Rogan saw his chance to slip away when the crew left.

The assembly line was turned off. He cringed when he saw the meat grinders and the massive presses that pulped the bodies. When he left the warehouse, which was located on the east end of town, he walked into the city under cover of night. When he got to the center of town, where the hall of justice was located, he broke into a parked aero car and waited until sunlight.

Rogun woke up in the morning just as the streets were coming alive with traffic. He watched pedestrians walking into the Hall of Justice for a few minutes as he woke up. When he saw his target, Judge Lee, walking up the steps he got out of the car. The judge was getting into an elevator when he came into the large lobby. He watched the floors go by and the red light settle on the sixth floor.

Rogun pushed the DOWN button and waited.

He stepped out into a hallway and looked down the corridor at the signs above the doors. He opened the door that said Honorable Ralph H. Lee. The room had a receptionist’s desk and leather chairs lined up on one-side of the room.

There was no receptionist yet. Apparently it was too early. He opened the door behind the desk and stepped into the room. The judge was sitting behind his desk, reading some paperwork when Rogun entered. Their eyes met. Fear in one. Rage in the other. Then Rogun lunged across the desk and attacked the judge!

Afterwards, he drug the judge’s body into a closet and shut the door. He was looking out the window at the view when he heard a door open. A minute later the door to the judge’s office opened and the stranger with the gold jacket entered…smiling.

“Well, you did it,” he told Rogun. “Your murdering this man has opened the gates of hell to invade Cloud Nine!”

As It Stands, the devil always gets his due.

The Quest For The Key To Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flights of Fantasy

1-passengers-boarding-early-morning-dehaviland-twin-otter-light-aircraft-flight-to-grand-canyon-at-bou-joe-fox

“The next flight will be in one hour,” a man’s voice blared from the speakers in the small airport’s lounge.

“How did you find out about these special flights” a young woman asked the elderly man sitting next to her. He straightened up in his seat, and said someone – a stranger – gave him a free ticket when he was wandering around the streets looking for eats.

“I’m a traveling man,” he said, as he ran his thin fingers through the silver wisp on the top of his head. “Been there, and done that,” the old man claimed with pride in his voice.

“That’s funny,” the young woman said. “A stranger gave me a free ticket too.”

After that they sat in silence as more passengers slowly arrived. The plane only held twelve passengers at a time. They were all there when a green light above the outside door – leading to the tiny runway that led to the waiting plane – blinked on and off.

An airline employee opened the door and gestured for the group to come over and hand her their tickets. This was done quickly and efficiently. Fog was settling in as the group followed a waiting guide with a flashlight towards the plane. They could hear it’s props whirring in the growing dusk.

The passengers approached the temporary stairs leading up into the plane. Two workers stood on either side with flashlights, waiting to roll them away after the last passenger boarded.

One-by-one they walked up the steps and disappeared inside. There were no stewardess, or stewards. The pilot’s voice came over the inner com and asked everyone to buckle up their seatbelts. A moment later he appeared from the front cabin, closing and locking the passenger door.

“Seems odd that we’d take off this late and in the fog,” the young woman said out loud.

Someone in another seat said, “Don’t worry about it! It’s better than the alternative. Am I right?” he asked the passenger next to him, a frail man with nervous eyes.

“Yes…I suppose so,” the thin man meekly agreed.

“Doesn’t anyone wonder how we ended up here?” the young woman asked the old man next to her.

“Most know,” he replied. “Some are slower to accept what happened, however.”

“What happened?” the young woman demanded.

“That chap that gave you this plane ticket was death granting you a final fantasy before taking you forever into his gloomy realms.” 

“I still don’t get it. What’s my fantasy then?” she asked.

“The same as all of ours. To escape death even though we know we’re going to die someday. These flights of fantasy help keep us grounded up here,” the old man said, while pointing at his nearly bald head.

As It Stands, I think we all secretly harbor the fantasy we won’t die.