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?

The Town That Learned Not To Discriminate

(Author’s Note: I’m bringing this story back by popular demand. A lot of people have been telling me it’s a good story for the times we’re in. I wrote it about a year ago under the title: FEAR.)

Cafe on Centre Street (the Main Street) in downtown Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Florida, USA

They met during the night like thieves panning a robbery.

But they weren’t thieves. They were some of the most prominent people in Elsdale’s population of 1,623. Community leaders led by the small town’s mayor, Jasper Corning, a corpulent man who found walking difficult.

Ever since the family of strangers moved in, people talked about how different they were. Of particular concern, they were Muslims. The two women wore hijabs that covered their head, hair, and necks.

The three men wore traditional Taqiyahs (round caps) and had long dark beards. To the white majority of Elsdale it was like being invaded by a foreign country. They spoke another language and lived by Sharia Law, which the townspeople feared would somehow take over the American system of justice someday.

The two women, Manahil and Eshal, went to the general store, and the post office, once a week. Every purchase they made at the store was scrutinized by the owners who shared their observations at the VFW bar every evening.

The postmaster worried every time a package came for the Muslims that it might have bomb-making materials inside. They got lots of letters in their post office box. It was always packed tight by the time the women came by for their weekly visit.

The Muslims lived in an old two-story house just outside the city limits. When they purchased the house – with cash – word quickly got around town. Very few people had actually talked with the Muslims. Mostly Manahil and Eshal when they were on their weekly errands.

Hector St. George, the towns only banker, talked with the three brothers, Aaban, Rayyan, and Zayan Azimi, while handling the transaction. The bank had repossessed the house years ago, and no one seemed interested in buying it.

Until then the Azima brothers appeared with lot’s of money. They even opened a bank account, which secretly thrilled St. George (he didn’t want the others thinking he was getting chummy with them) who worshipped money more than any god.

The towns sheriff, Roscoe Winters, a Vietnam veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, spends most of his time on a computer reading about conspiracies in America, and drinking too much at the VFW bar.

As the weeks turned to months, the rumors surrounding the Muslims grew like a malignant cancer. They held orgies; the men were secret ISIS members; there was a stockpile of weapons in the old house, and on it went.

Fear replaced curiosity in the little community after six months. When the women came to town they could feel the tension, as accusing eyes followed their every move. As the stares seemed to grow more malignant they told the men what was going on.
The three brothers were dismayed, but not surprised. They seen this kind of thing before when they bought their first house in upstate New York after immigrating to America five years ago.

When their parents were murdered by extremists in Iraq they took the family fortune and fled. Two of the brothers, Zayan and Aaban, were married to Manahil and Eshal. The eldest brother Rayyan never got married, because his childhood sweetheart was viciously murdered by thugs before they could.
Fear finally materialized into action.

That’s why the community leaders were gathered at night in the mayor’s house. The rumors had some of them fearing for their lives. The sense that one day they would attack the town with automatic weapons shouting “Allah Akbar!” swirled among the group, sending shivers down some spines.

“Okay boys…settle down. What are we here for?”

“Because you asked us too Jasper,” Larry Henderson, the general store owner, replied.

“Thanks Larry. Now that that’s established, what are we going to do about the Muslims?
“I think we ought to search their house and see what they’re up to,” John Baker, the postmaster said.

“There’s one problem with that Johnny, it’s called a search warrant. I don’t have one,” Sheriff Winter said, after downing a shot of 20 year-old Scotch.

The group broke out into a babble of suggestions that were going nowhere when the mayor shouted, “Enough! We ain’t getting a damn thing done here crowing like a bunch of roosters with no hen in sight!”

The room settled down to inaudible grumbles.

“Here’s what we can do. Larry, you can say you overheard the two women talking about making bombs. The sheriff can go to the county judge tomorrow and get a warrant to search their house. How’s that sound?” Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room.

“I’ll leave before noon tomorrow to go see Henry (the county judge) and get that warrant. Right now I’m going to have a few beers. Anyone with me?”

Everyone in the room, except the mayor who was sitting in his favorite office swivel chair, followed the sheriff out the door and into the night.

The next day.

Sally Yates, a waitress at the only restaurant in town, “Chuck’s,” was the first to hear the roar of motorcycles. The noon crowd had thinned down to two old customers who were known to spend most of the day there drinking coffee and talking.
The loud intrusive roar made her look out the window. Her pulse quickened in fear as the riders of six motorcycles dismounted from their Harley’s. They were all members of the Mongols, one of the most feared motorcycle groups in America!
Sheriff Winters had a shot of bourbon with Judge Henry Goodnight in the judge’s library. The judge had signed the warrant without question.

Back in town.

The bikers took over the restaurant and chased the two old men away. They were having fun baiting Sally who gamely tried to pretend everything was all right while taking their orders. The fun and games finally stopped, and their leader assaulted Sally!
Later the bikers roamed around town looking for more trouble. They went into the general store, and when Larry tried to stop them from helping themselves to whatever they fancied, they beat him and left him for dead!

Then they helped themselves to the hand guns behind the counter in locked cabinets. They broke the lock off with ease, and the leader passed them out to the others. He located the ammunition and gave each a box. Armed, they went back out and headed for the VFW Hall. By now, people had seen them and were running for cover. The main street was deserted by the time they reached the VFW Hall.

The patrons inside didn’t have a chance. They were caught unawares and herded over into a corner of the room, while other gang members looted the bar. The group settled in for some serious drinking.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Winters didn’t even notice the main street was deserted. It was getting near dark and his first thought was to go to the VFW Hall for a quick drink, or two.

The room went silent when the sheriff walked in. Someone dropped a bottle on the floor and the shooting began! Rosco was hit immediately in the left arm, but he manged to draw his service revolver and return fire!

One of the biker’s spun around and fell to the floor, bleeding from a chest wound. Bullets sprayed the room like angry bees as everyone tied to get out of the line of fire. Rosco was hit again in the right side of his chest but kept moving and somehow got out the door and into the street.

A lone biker followed him and popped off two misses. Rosco turned and calmly fired back at him. One of the bullets found its mark and the biker staggered back inside the VFW Hall, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Rosco summoned up the last of his strength and headed towards the nearby general store. Larry lay near the doorway, battered beyond recognition and barely alive. Rosco went to him and looked for a pulse. He was alive. Rosco’s wounds weakened him so much that he passed out.

Manahil and Eshal felt more uneasy than usual when they got to town. The streets were deserted. They went inside the general store and found Larry and Rosco passed out on the floor. Larry’s wounds soaked his shirt with blood.
The women quickly checked them out and found gauze, band aids, and tape, and treated them both right there. Eshal was looking at Larry’s wounds and easily recognized them as bullet holes. She had seen her share in war-torn Iraq.
Manahil went to the phone on the counter but only got a buzzing. Someone had cut the phone lines. Making a bold decision she told Eshal that she was going for the men. She knew Rayyan would know what to do.

He had fought in the Iraqi armed forces until Saddam Hussein took over, and he had to run from the purge that followed. He was a captain in the special forces. The other two brothers had no military experience, but grew up in hard times when they had to use weapons to survive the government’s attacks.

Rayyan listened calmly as Eshal told him what she found. Nodding he turned to his brothers and said, “We cannot let these people be slaughtered by those men. Allah would never forgive us.”

The brothers both nodded, and the three of them headed for town.
When they got to the general store they found Manahil listening to the sheriff’s heart. She looked at Rayyan and said, “He’s barely alive. We must get a doctor.”
Meanwhile Zayan and Aaban were behind the counter picking a lock on a chain that covered a row of rifles. There were repeating Winchesters, hunting rifles, and two AR 15’s. They took the two AR 15’s and asked Rayyan what he wanted.
“The Winchester is fine,” he said as they rummaged for ammunition.

As the three men set out to find the bikers Rosco woke briefly, “The VFW building,” he croaked and passed back out again.

The biker’s Harley’s were still parked in front of the restaurant. Rayyan started one up and gunned the engine! He drove it down the street and sat outside the VFW Hall. Zayan and Aaban both pulled up next to him, and they all three revved their engines.
Inside, the sound immediately caught the biker’s attention. One of them was dead, and another was badly wounded. Three innocent hostages were killed by errant bullets. The remaining four Mongols roared in anger and charged out the front door…into a hail of gunfire!

The next day.

Sheriff Winter’s got help in time by the town doctor, who was able to stabilize him and have him transported to the country hospital in nearby Turnsville. County police and the FBI were all over the town talking to witnesses and processing the crime scenes.
Mayor Corning was visiting Rosco when he handed him a piece of paper. It was the warrant.

“What about this,” he asked.

Rosco took it, and tore it in half.

“It’s about time we quit letting fear rule our lives,” he said.

As It Stands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

A Hitchhiker on Death Valley’s Scenic Byway

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Hardin was driving east along SR 190, also known as the Death Valley Scenic Byway, when he spotted a man in a wheelchair.

The man held up his thin arm briefly, wearily cocked his thumb like he didn’t expect anyone to stop, then dropped it back to the wheel. With both hands he spun the wheels forward at a pace a tortoise might have overtaken on a good day.

It was the peak of the day, and a brain-frying 129 degrees. Heat waves shimmered off the highway like faraway lakes. Hardin had been driving in the relentless desert for hours without seeing man or animal. He was looking for his turnoff at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, near the settlement of Furnace Creek. He had important business to take care of there.

Furnace creek consists of a visitor center, museum, and headquarters for the Death Valley National Park Service. The tiny village, with less than 20 inhabitants lived in a nearby campground. Most who lived there made a living working at the Park’s major tourist facilities, the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley. There were also few retired senior citizens living in the campground.

Hardin was so surprised to see a man in a wheelchair in the middle of nowhere, he passed him by. He went a mile before turning around and going back. After making another U-turn he was parallel with the man.

“Can I give you a ride Mr.?” Hardin called out after opening the passenger window.

“Reckon I could use one,” the old-timer replied and spat out a wad of tobacco. His long beard was stained with tobacco juice.

Hardin pulled ahead of him and off to the side of the road. He popped the trunk of his SUV and walked around to the back. He helped push the old-fashioned heavy wheelchair through the soft sand and to the passenger door of the SUV. The old man stood shakily and steadied himself with the open door. When he was securely inside, Hardin closed the door and pushed the wheelchair around to the back and loaded it in.

Driving down the road, Hardin tried to make conversation with his unusual passenger.

“Where you going out here, anyway?” he asked conversationally.

“Furnace creek.

How about that! That’s where I’m going.

After that it lapsed into silence, and Hardin refocused his thoughts on the business ahead. If all went well, he’d only spend a matter of hours in the hot hellhole. A day at the most. He prided himself on efficiency. Stopping to help someone wasn’t something normal for him. If he wouldn’t have been so surprised at the sight he might not have stopped. Plus, he was bored. But the old bastard turned out to be a lousy conversationalist.

At one point Hardin had to piss and pulled over to the side of the road. He asked the old man if he needed to go? He said he didn’t. As he got out he made sure to take his keys with him. Just in case. You never knew. He took his time and stretched his arms and legs afterward, trying to ease the dull ache of a very long drive.

It was getting dark when Hardin spotted the turnoff. He could see a few distant lights and followed the dirt road to a campground. “Is this where you live?” he asked.

“Yup.”

He stopped the car and got out. Two old men were sitting on rickety lawn chairs in front of an old mobile home. They watched him with curiosity as he unloaded the wheelchair and took it to the side of the SUV. He helped the old man out and into the chair. There was an awkward silence before Hardin finally said, “Well, here you go.”

The old man looked at him as if he were sizing him up and grunted, “Thanks.

Hardin got back in the car and drove over to the Inn at Death Valley. “Screw the ungrateful old bastard,” he mumbled out loud as he pulled up to the Inn. He’d reserved a room for the night, even though his business wasn’t expected to take him long. As he checked in the clerk gave him a sealed envelope with his name on it.

“This is for you sir,” he said, like Hardin couldn’t read or something. He went back out to the SUV and grabbed his overnight bag, and his gun from the glove department. It was all he needed. When he got to his room he opened the envelope. There was a photo with a man’s name written on it, and an address. The thought of getting a good night’s sleep was irresistible. He decided to take care of business in the morning when he would be more rested. The air conditioning in the room lulled him into a comfortable sleep.

The next morning after having a cup of coffee and a light breakfast he studied the note and photo again. The address was in the campground he was at last night. Driving over to it he thought about the old man in the wheelchair.

When he got there, the two old men from the day before were sitting on their lawn chairs, talking with his hitchhiker friend in his wheelchair. He pulled out the photo again and got out of the SUV. As he walked up to them he called out, “Hi! I’m looking for Jude Grishom.”

He held the photo out and waited for an answer. As he looked at the hitchhiker something slowly dawned on him. He imagined him without his long beard. Like the shaved face in the photo. Instinct took hold and he pulled his concealed gun out and said, “Hey, Jude! This is from Harry Connell!”

To his surprise nothing happened when he pulled the trigger! Jude smiled at him and threw the bullets on the ground by his feet. He pulled out an old six-shot Smith and Wesson from a bag hanging off his wheelchair.

“You tell Harry that Jude said I’ll meet him in hell someday, but he’s going first!

Hardin spun around as the first shot caught him in the chest. The next three shots brought him down and he died in the sand.

“Well boys, old Harry ain’t ever going to quit sending these goons after me. I’m going to get tired of trolling the highway for ’em one of these days, and I’m going to hunt him down,” he said, as he stood up and stretched his legs.

As It Stands, every good favor doesn’t always warrant a reward.

Rubber Face

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The first time Brock wore a rubber mask for Halloween was when he was five-years-old. He didn’t want to take it off after trick-or-treating so his patient parents compromised and let him sleep in it.

That’s where it started.

After that he insisted on wanting to wear a rubber mask during the day. He couldn’t during school, but the minute the last bell rang he’d pull his rubber mask out of his backpack and put it on. Needless to say, this caught the attention of a lot of people. Children and adults alike.

It was a good thing Brock was a husky kid, because he constantly faced bullies who tried to take his mask away from him. One day two boys jumped him just outside the school grounds. In the tussle one of the boys peeled off the mask he just put on. He fought so furiously that they backed off and left his rubber mask on the ground.

In school, Brock was a shy guy. He always sat in the rear of the classroom. He knew a few of his fellow students by name, but had no friends. Over his school years he got use to eating alone in the school cafeteria. He was content reading the latest issue of MAD magazine at lunch.

His parents didn’t really know how to cope with his obsession. They sent him to a child psychologist numerous times before he entered high school. He always came across, in those sessions, as perfectly normal…with the exception of his unusual attachment to rubber masks. Various theories were discussed, but no one seemed able to break his odd habit.

When he entered high school he got a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries and helping customers take their purchases out to their vehicle. He used most of his paychecks buying new rubber masks. Scary ones, funny ones, and famous celebrities were his favorites. It was no surprise that most of the student body called him Rubber Face behind his back. Some people said it to his face.

In his mind, as he explained to more than one psych, rubber masks were the height of mask making. The ability to change his appearance was very satisfying. That’s the part no one seemed to understand.

He felt safe in a mask. That it attracted attention was not his purpose for wearing it. He understood, at one level, why people thought he was odd. Personally he didn’t think anyone was odd because they strived to look different. Tattoos, pierced body parts, ear plugs, scarifications. It was all good to Brock. He just wished people would be more tolerant of those who chose to step outside the norms in their appearance.

In his senior year Brock swallowed his shyness and went to a Halloween dance. He didn’t have a date. He hoped that there would be some girls there in the same situation. He never went to any of the other dances and proms, and felt extremely awkward. It was his last chance at going to some social activity before graduating. The senior prom was out of the question. He’d never get a date for that. The fact that he could wear a rubber mask to the Halloween dance tilted the scales in favor of going there.

He wore his favorite vampire mask and a rented tuxedo. The gym was already full of costumed students when he got there. The “Monster Mash” was blaring from two four-foot speakers on the stage.

“I was working in the lab, one night

when my eyes beheld an eerie sight

For my monster on the slab, began to rise

and suddenly to my surprise…he did the Monster Mash!

Brock was filling a plastic cup up with punch when a voice behind him said, “Would you get me a cup?” He turned and saw a female vampire waiting for an answer.

“Oh…yeah! I mean…sure,” he bumbled, and handed her his cup. She stood there silently until he filled another cup for himself.

“I like your costume,” she said in a husky voice.

“Yours too. I mean, I like yours a lot.”

In the background…

“Out from his coffin, Drac’s voice did ring

Seems he was troubled by just one thing

He opened the lid and shook his fist

And said, “Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?”

They sipped their drinks in an awkward silence before Brock spoke up, “Would you like to dance?” he asked.

“Yes. It would be my pleasure kind sir,” she chuckled playfully.

They stayed on the dance floor throughout the night. When it was time to go Brock asked his new-found vampire friend, if she needed a ride home? He could see her eyes twinkling in the mask’s eye holes.

“How kind of you to ask. I could use a short ride if you don’t mind.

“My pleasure,” he grinned happily under his mask. “Which way?”

He followed her directions to the opposite side of the city to an area he wasn’t familiar with. As he drove by an old cemetery she asked him to stop. Puzzled, he obeyed. She got out of the car and walked around to the driver’s side before he could react.

“This is far enough. I’ll walk from here. Thank you,” she said and leaned over and brought her mask up against his. “Maybe next time we’ll take our masks off. I have to go now. My name is Cecile,” she shared, and blew him a kiss before disappearing in the growing fog.

“”My name is Brock!” he yelled out the window.

“I know…” her husky voice replied. “Rubber face,” she said softly and out of his hearing.”

As he drove home he wondered what her real face looked like. How would she react when she saw his rough features? Would he ever see her again? She blew him a kiss! It took all of his concentration to get home safely that night. There were so many questions going through his head.

He was taking an evening stroll in his neighborhood a week later wearing his Sherlock Holmes mask when she appeared from behind a tree in his neighbor’s yard. She was still wearing her vampire costume and mask. He stopped and spoke in pleasant surprise, “Cecile, I presume!” he said, bowing grandly.

Indeed, sir. At your service,” she said happily.

“Shall we walk, and talk,” Brock asked while holding out his arm. She took it and they walked side-by-side down the tree-lined neighborhood with its antique-looking street lights. In the half moon’s glow they talked about things high and low. No subject was taboo.

In the early morning hours, just before the sun started its slow climb upwards, they took off their masks. He saw she was no classic beauty, but her simple plain features were attractive to him. She already knew what he looked like without a mask. She admired him for years. At a distance.

“I have to go now,” she said, sadness tinting her voice.”

“I’ll drive you!” he offered.

“Not fast enough,” she countered. “Remember what we talked about. Especially the supernatural part,” she urged.

Before he could protest she was gone. It was dawn. He went into the house and wondered what he’d say to his parents who were surely up by now eating breakfast and drinking coffee. They were both early risers.

A week went by. Brock was getting desperate to see Cecile so he drove back to the place where he dropped her off the night of the dance. There had to be some homes near the cemetery that he didn’t see that night. It was foggy and he was focused on her. But as he parked in roughly the same spot, he didn’t see anything but hills dotted with monuments and crosses.

The sun set – a fiery red ball in the west – as he pulled on his vampire mask and waited for darkness to settle over the land. He was prepared to tell her that he loved her. He didn’t have to wait long before she was standing by him in her mask.

“I miss you,” he admitted. “And, I love you.” 

“And I you, dear boy entering manhood,” she replied. “But we can’t pursue this love any more. It’s not fair.”

“It’s not fair to who?”

“You. By now you know what I am. You’ll grow old, but I’ll stay young. I’m already 300 years-old. We cannot take this budding romance any further. I admit to having been enchanted with you ever since you were a little boy wearing those masks. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” he said. “We can still be friends, can’t we?

“Yes!” she cried, and hugged him. Yes, we can Rubber Face,” she smiled under her mask.

As It Stands, a case of finding love in the wrong place, doesn’t always have to be a sad ending.

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.

Dog Boy’s Dream Come True

6

You can also listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Manuel “Dog boy” Gonzales came into the world on January 15th, 1928, in Alabaster, Georgia.

His parents both took hard drugs, resulting in a rare condition for their child. He had Acquired hypertrichosis. In layman’s terms, he was very hairy everywhere.

He became a ward of the state when his parents were busted with a large amount of heroin in the car, discovered under Michael’s baby blanket in the back seat. He wasn’t in a booster seat. He was in a box, and the dope was his mattress.

Manuel, renamed Manny by his custodians, was adopted by a couple when he was three years-old. They didn’t mind that he looked like a little werewolf. Both had worked hard to retire in their early 60s, and wanted a child to dote on. But they found that it wasn’t easy to adopt a child at their age.

They never gave up trying. When they saw Manny sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll, their generous hearts melted. The fact that the staff didn’t think he’d ever be adopted, made them want him even more.

Bill and Lucy were unable to have their own children. Manny was a God-send to their way of thinking. His uniqueness touched them and they wanted to protect him from the world. They were thrilled when their application was approved.

As the years went by Bill and Lucy were faced with some harsh realities. No school wanted Manny in its student body. He was too much of a distraction. They took him to parks so he could play with other children, but were dismayed by their treatment of him. The other kids called him Dog boy, and mocked him by barking at him.

Lucy took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Bill took Manny on outdoor adventures like fishing and hiking. They did everything they could to make his life as normal as possible.

Still, it was hard on Manny who dreamed of traveling and seeing the world that he only experienced through books thus far. He was an intelligent young man, who at 18-years-old deeply loved his adopted parents, but thirsted for adventure.

One of the many things he wanted to find out was if there were other people like himself. It would help him feel less alone in the world by just knowing that.

The only thing that held him back was his parents age. They were both frail and in their eighties. He could not leave them alone. They meant too much to him. Instead, he made the best of his time with them, helping them get through the rigors of old age.

One night, Manny was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire in the house! He sprang from the bed and ran out into the hall in time to see someone come out of his parent’s bedroom and dart into the living room.

For an instant he froze, deciding if he should go to his parent’s room or give chase to the invader. He went after the invader and managed to tackle him as he attempted to go out the wide open back door. Manny, who was strong for his small size, put a choke hold on the stranger, and squeezed with all of his strength!

Minutes sweated by as the life-and-death struggle continued. It finally came to an abrupt end and he released him, pushing his still-warm body away. His heart was still racing from the struggle when he got up and ran back to his parents room.

He saw Bill first. He was lying at the foot of the bed, still clutching half of his maple cane. A pool of blood was forming around his body as Manny looked on in horror. Tears were running down his hairy cheeks as he looked up at the bed. Lucy was propped up against the headboard of the bed staring blankly into space. Blood covered her torso.

He looked around the room and saw that Lucy’s jewelry box was lying on the floor. The closet door was open, and packages were strewn about like the invader was searching for something.

Manny was stunned. He simply didn’t know what to do. Hours passed as he sat on their bed and grieved. It was daylight before he stood up and went back out to the living room. The would-be thief was still lying by the open back door. A pillow case with his pilfered loot lay nearby. The gun flew out of his hand when Manny tackled him. It was resting on the wooden porch outside.

Two days later.

After hours of questioning the police decided Manny was within his rights to kill the intruder. The local newspaper had a field day with the double murder, and Manny killing the murderer. The photo that the newspaper ran wasn’t a very flattering shot of him, but sold newspapers like hotcakes.

He buried his parents in the same cemetery their parents were resting.

Manny could no longer stand living in the small community, and sold the house which his parents had bequeathed him in their will, and set out on the road. He bought a 1941 Ford, packed up his few belongings, and hit the road.

Months later, while he was in Florida, he came across his first Freak Show. As he paid admission the show’s owner came up to him.

“You wouldn’t be looking for a job would you sonny?” he asked, assuming Manny was just a boy because of his small stature.

“Well…” he stammered nervously, “I’m not sure.”

“What? You’re not sure? Then what are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Looking. I never been to no freak show,” he admitted.

“You paid your admission ticket…so enjoy. If you want to talk about getting a job afterwards, let me know.”

Manny went inside the tent and walked from attraction to attraction fascinated with what he saw. He wasn’t even aware at first that people were staring at him as much as the so-called freaks.

It was starting to get uncomfortable and he looked around for the exit when he noticed a group of people laughing at something. He warily made his way thought the group to see what they thought was so funny.

He got the biggest surprise of his life when he saw a bearded lady! She had a beautiful flowing beard that went down to her knees. She was telling bawdy jokes to the men gathered there. If she noticed Manny she didn’t acknowledge him and went on with her act until it was closing time.

He was ushered out of the tent with the rest of the crowd.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The bearded lady and Manny fell in love and got married in a raucous ceremony that featured all of the freaks in the troop. Manny did his part and joined the show where he was featured as the “Dog Boy.”

The irony of his stage name never escaped him.

As It Stands, I believe there’s someone for everyone, no matter how they look.