The Last Train

(158 words- flash fiction/poetry)

He waited impatiently on the wooden bench in front of the one-room train depot that sat in the middle of nowhere sweating in the high desert air, when he heard a faint whistle…

Dust devils danced gleefully in the distance, forerunners for a giant sandstorm gathering in the West, but the man was unimpressed, as he stared like he was possessed…

… into the direction of the whistle which grew louder with each heartbeat, and soon he could see a train through the shimmering heat, as he got to his feet, ready to board and take the back seat…

as the train idled and plumes of steam shrilly screamed with the whistle’s urgent blast, the man moved fast to get aboard and ignored the other passengers who looked bored…

There was no need to look back as they went down the track with their memories already fading with the light, something new was just ahead in the gathering night.

****

Strange Days

have you ever had a day when everything seems strange?

like normal routines interrupted with a sudden change?

days when nothing seems right?

days darker than night?

days when you wonder what you’re doing?

days when you feel like people are pursuing?

days when you find nothing going your way?

days when you just don’t get to have your say?

days that seemed like some sort of odd dream?

days when to your horror nothing was as it seems?

then you’re just agreeing

that you’re a human being!

Too Soon

the stirring started when he became a teen

a young buck who fell for a beauty queen

the strange sensation in his groin a mystery

a newly found interest in the female anatomy

but when the day came

to ask the girl for a date

he just couldn’t concentrate

that fateful afternoon

because a shy voice in his head whispered… Too soon.

The Scholar’s Story

Lex’s research was destroyed in a single day

what led to the discovery of his identity was a mystery

but the results were enough to betray

the trust he built up through the years

now in question

with the surprise discovery feeding fears

that Lex the scholar was an enemy spy

spying on their weaknesses

to exploit and make them comply

it was true he was from another race

however his intentions were peaceful

he was just creating a knowledge base

too late to explain

as people swarmed around

with no questions asked

viciously taking him down

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.