Stuck Between Science and Magic

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

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

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

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

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

But no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know what…”

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

“What can I do?” he pleaded.

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

“A quest?”

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

“Where should I look?”

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

“Hello” Dean called out as he approached.

The old man looked up from his book and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Blink Of An Eye

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

A Month Before The Explosion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three friends gulped down their beer amid laughter.

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

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

The First Sign Something was Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

“It was Harold,” Ludwig replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two weeks later.

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

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

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

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

Ludwig awoke abruptly when someone pulled on his leg!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a Time and Place For Everything

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Time, and time again, the man failed to force the door open as the beast closed in on him. He looked over his shoulder in time to see the monster open its shark-like mouth, with rows of razor-sharp teeth, closing them on his arm!

His screams echoed through the ruins of the city long ago destroyed by nuclear war. His cries for help went unanswered. Those that heard his tortured cries stayed hidden, hoping the monstrosity wouldn’t find them.

Huddled in a row of nearby buildings, Leo stayed calm, and listened. His younger brother Joe sat next to him, patiently waiting for the sign that it was safe to move. Like most of the survivors in what was once, Los Angeles, California, the men used sign language to communicate. Talking was too risky. The monster that preyed upon them had extremely good hearing, and a bloodhound’s sense of smell. Minutes crawled by, turning into hours before Leo felt it was gone, and gave Joe the safe sign. They crawled out of their hiding place and stretched their cramped limbs while keeping alert eyes peeled for the nameless beast that stalked them.

The only reason the men went into the ruins, and didn’t stay in their forest stronghold, was they had to forage for food. Canned food. Dried food. Sealed food that wasn’t contaminated. It was too risky eating the remaining wildlife because of radioactive contamination to their systems. It was generational, causing hideous deformities. Food was finite. Someday there wouldn’t be any to scavenge.

It was in this dystopian nightmare that Leo and Joe were raised. Their parents, long gone, taught them basic life lessons like where to find eatable food. Their generation did not have the opportunity to learn how to read or write. The last world war saw to that. People were forced to fend for themselves in small groups. There were no large communities or gathering places where humans could put together the framework of a new society. No organizations, or armies. No governments. Just scattered survivors trying to avoid the monstrosities that roamed in the ruins they were forced to scavenge in.

The brothers decided to call it a day. They both had found a few cans of food. Enough for a couple of days, so they headed back to the forest. On their way, a strange thing happened. A man dressed in a strange-looking suit and hat, suddenly appeared out of thin air right in front of them! His white hair stuck out from beneath the brown fedora he was wearing. He didn’t see them at first, and stood there tinkering with a small device in his hand. They watched in stunned amazement as he talked to himself. Finally he looked up and saw them.

“Good day gentlemen!” he said in a cheery voice, “I’m Professor Thistwhistle. Who may I ask, are you two?”

“Leo.”

“Joe.”

Not very talkative chaps, I dare say. Just as well. You do understand what I’m saying, right?”

They both nodded, and said, “Yes.”

“Very good. I was hoping the English language had survived. I’m not sure I recognize what type of animal skins you chaps are wearing?

“Wildcats and big rats,” Leo said.

“They look a bit odd,” the Professor suggested.

“How are they supposed to look,” Joe asked, his curiosity aroused.

“Well, for starters both species are only supposed to have four legs. Looks to me, the blighter’s you skinned had more than that. But forgive me, I’m sure you’re curious how I got here?”

They both nodded affirmatively. Eagerly.

“This device in my hand is a Time Machine,” he proudly declared.

He quickly realized their blank looks meant they had no idea what he was talking about. “Do you chaps read, or write English?”

“No…our grandfather told us about things like books and writing down things so everyone could read them. We never got to see any books though. It was just talk about them. We know they were powerful things once,” Leo replied.

“Quite so…” the professor agreed. “They are repositories of knowledge. But, I digress. Would you chaps show me around? I’m going to write a book describing what the world will be like in 2102. That’s now, by the way. I don’t suppose you chaps use a calendar do you? Days of the week, and all that?”

“I don’t know anything about a calendar,” Joe said, “but we follow the sun and the moon.” 

“It really doesn’t matter right now. Just being conversational. Would you show me where you live,” he asked.

“Not much to see, but we’ll show you,” Leo agreed.

The brothers led the professor to their home which was forty feet above ground in a tree. Leo scrambled up the tree and when he reached the platform he tossed down a rope ladder. He watched as Joe and then the professor worked their way up, one rung at a time. There was a crude shelter built on the platform and they all went inside it. Serviceable, but crude, stools and a table were in the center of the room. It was all the furniture they had.

The professor spent a short time examining the construction of the furniture then plopped down on one of the stools.

“What is a time machine?” Leo asked.

“Good question. Put simply, it’s a device that allows you to go forward or backward in time.

“How is that possible?” Joe asked.

“I don’t mean to sound condescending chaps, but you wouldn’t understand the science behind it. How could you? You’re living in the end times for mankind. Without access to knowledge there is no hope,” he firmly stated.

The brothers exchanged looks.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Leo said, “You have knowledge that could save us.”

The professor, caught off guard by the remark, hummed and hawed for a few moments trying to form a suitable reply.

“I can’t help you,” he said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

“Why?” the brothers both demanded.

“Because it goes against the rules of time travel.”

“Rules?” I don’t understand Leo said.

“There’s certain scientific rules we time travelers have to obey, or we’ll upset the natural order of the universe, turning the solar system into a never-ending chaos.”

“So why are you here?” Joe wondered.

“As I mentioned earlier, I’m writing a book.”

“A book on us?” Leo asked.

“Yes, you and the world you live in.”

“So you can’t help us, but you expect us to help write your book?” Joe suggested.

“That’s putting it a bit sharply lad,” the professor retorted.

Leo got up from his stool and walked over to a corner of the crude hut. He picked up a club that was resting against the wall and walked back over to the table.

“There’s something you should know professor,” Leo said, “we are survivors. It’s the one positive thing in our miserable lives. We never pass up a food source.”

Before the professor could respond, Leo swung the club savagely, crushing the professor’s head in one practiced blow! Afterwards he tossed the bloody club to his brother.

“You get to tenderize the meat.

As It Stands, time travel presents many dangers.

What Happened to ‘Popskull’ Watkins?

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

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

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

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

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

Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Chance

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

A trio of men in white lab coats were talking earnestly with the president of the United States. Nearby, a man reclined in a chair surrounded by a clear glass wall. He was semi-conscious.

The scene was unfolding in an underground bunker below the White House. The country was in a state of chaos. The government was fighting two wars on different continents and was running out of money trying to maintain supplies for its beleaguered military. The economy was staggering, and sinking into an irreversible depression.

The world was at war. No continent was spared. Local, national, and international wars were being waged with no end in sight. Thus far no nukes were used, as all parties knew that it was an endgame move with little chance of survival for anyone.

That could change at any moment as China was becoming more unpredictable…threatening the US with a nuclear holocaust. It was during these desperate times that a secret government project was being developed; a time machine.

The lab, a mile beneath the White House, was so secret only the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House knew about it. The dozen scientists involved were all sworn to secrecy and were monitored by a special FBI unit created for the purpose as a backup. There were four people in the covert unit. Two men, and two women.

“We can’t wait any longer Mr. President,” the vice president said.

“Has this time machine been tested yet?” the president asked one of the scientists.

“Not with a human, sir,” the scientist admitted.

“With what then?” the president pushed.

“A monkey. A chimpanzee to be exact, sir,” said the scientist.

The president, who was a compassionate, but realistic man, asked, “Does Major Reed know this?”

“Yes, sir. He still volunteered.

“Why does he look so sleepy?” the vice president wondered.

“He’s on a little twilight to calm his nerves and relax him before the journey. We have to put him completely asleep when it’s time for him to travel. My colleagues and I believe that the sensory shocks that would come from being conscious might drive him crazy. We’ve calculated that he only needs to sleep for forty-two minutes during the time slippage and he’ll wake up in the year 2035,” the scientist assured him.

“Plenty of time to reverse some bad things,” another scientist spoke up.

“Does Major Reed have his hit list?” the President asked.

“All programmed into the mini-computer implanted in his skull,” the first scientist said.

“Would you like to say a few words to the major, sir?”

The president went up to the glass and looked at the major who was hooked up to various tubes leading into what looked like a round steel ball encased by clear digital components that blinked on and off rapidly. The chair he sat in was equipped with a safety harness and had an electronic keyboard that popped up in front of him when he hit a button on his arm rest.

“Good luck Major Reed” the president said into an intercom. “Your country will never forget what you’re doing here. Your service, and sacrifices, are beyond the call of duty. You are a true patriot.”

“Thank you, sir...” Reed responded. “An honor…” His head dipped down for a moment. It popped back up. “Sorry, sir…sleepy.”

“No problem major! Thank you!

He turned away and looked over at one of the scientists who was standing by a large control panel. By the look on his face he was ready to go. First he typed something into a master computer and they all watched Major Reed fall asleep.

A beeping sound in major Reed’s right ear woke him up. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the room. He was still encased behind thick glass and sitting in the chair. As he unbuckled his safety harness he noticed a pile of bones near the main computer panel.

After entering the code with the help of his personal computer, an opening appeared in the glass. He went over to the pile of bones and scrapes of clothing. He guessed it was one of the scientists. But what happened?

As per his instructions, he went over to a small closet and opened it. Inside was an assault rifle and automatic pistol, boxes of ammunition, a k-bar knife, a field First Aid kit, a canteen of water, and vacuum-sealed food packages. There were also a pair of jeans, underwear, a t-shirt, a heavy long-sleeve shirt, and black watch cap.

Following the program in his head, he opened a door that led to a long tunnel. Instead of going up the elevator and alerting authorities when he came out in the south lawn of the White House, he took the tunnel. It was big enough to stand upright in, and there were LED lights strung in the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the concrete and steel walls.

The tunnel was ten miles long and came out in a wooded area of a community forest and park. As Major Reed walked along he couldn’t help think something was wrong. It was the bones. They didn’t add up.

Just ahead he could see a row of yellow lights and a stairway. It led up to a trap door. He took a deep breath and tapped out the code to unseal the door. A bright shaft of light blinded him as he crawled out. A foul stench hit his nostrils and his stomach heaved involuntarily.

“What the hell“, he grumbled.

As his eyes adjusted his jaw dropped in growing horror. The devastated landscape before him looked like a photo of Berlin in WWII after the allies reduced it to ruins. The bleak and rugged horizon in front of him looked endless.

There were no signs of life as he walked through the debris. He walked for two days without seeing a trace of life. Man, nor animal. The blazing sun burnt the wounded land and the remnants of a once great civilization.

Finally, Major Reed sat down on a pile of rubble. He realized what must have happened. His trip wasn’t successful, and this is what the planet would look like in the future. He went forward, instead of back in time. His sacrifice was in vain.

He looked at the bleak tortured landscape around him and sighed. He only had enough food and water for a week – if he stretched the water. There was nothing left to do but keep walking…hoping for one last chance.

As It Stands, like Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Don’t Forget To Read The Fine Print

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1636 – south-western France

“Your first target will be released at sunrise on this open plain. There are rules to this game. One of the first, and foremost, is you have to count until 25 the moment you see your target, before going after him.”

“What other rules are there monsieur?” Demonte Thomas asked as he strung his bow.

You can’t go after your prey if he makes it through the forest and to the other side of the valley.”

“So many rules,” Chauncey Girard grumbled, “I hope there’s no rules against taking souvenirs, if you know what I mean.”

“No. You may dispatch of your prey as you see fit. After all, it’s one of the things you’re paying for. Just a reminder, you have to use bow and arrow, and one knife. Guns are forbidden.”

“We’re ready to play by the rules. After paying for transportation here from the Year 2018, the last thing we want is to have this hunt called off,” Avellino Lefevre said.

“One more thing,” the guide added, “Just a reminder. Our company cannot be held liable for whatever happens on these hunts. You all signed contracts to that effect. I hope you read them carefully.”

The three hunters assured their guide that they did.

“Why did you pick this time and place?” Demonte asked Girard who was testing the pull on his bow.

“Because of the novelty it presented,” he explained.

“Novelty?” Demonte asked.

“This is the year when French peasants who called themselves croquant’s (literally, “crunchers”) revolted against their masters. It’s an extremely bad time for the French nobility who found themselves scurrying around for their lives.”

“I don’t follow?” Avellino injected.

“Our guide mentioned an option for hunting nobility during his pitch for this place. I don’t know if you were listening closely, but this is a very rare hunting opportunity,” Girard said.

After the three men drew straws to see who would go first, Girard won the honor. The guide led them to a hunting lodge where they would spend the night.

The next morning.

As the sun struggled to break through the fog on the plain, Girard was taken to a spot where he was told to look for his prey who would be released in minutes. When he finally spotted a well-dressed brightly colored man whose clothes were torn and dirty, he raised the bow and starting counting to twenty-five.

Before he could send the arrow on its way however, the man disappeared into the thick fog. Irritated, Girard lowered his bow – it would have been a shot of about 50 yards – and cautiously headed towards where he last saw him.

The fog was slowly dissipating when he caught another glance of his prey. He was almost at the tree line. Girard knew it would be more difficult to get a good shot once in the forest, but welcomed the challenge. It was what he paid for, after all. He picked up his pace.

Girard was a seasoned hunter and tracker. His prey was a terrified nobleman who was use to a life of luxury.

When Girard inevitably caught up to him he was hiding behind a fallen tree. He’d dug his way in among the leaves and broken limbs and was out of breath and panting heavily.

“Pas!” he gasped in horror when he saw Girard.

It was still daylight when Girard returned carrying a bloody scalp and two ears in his leather hunting pouch.

His comrades toasted him at the lodge that night for a successful hunt.

The next morning.

Avellino paced back and forth eagerly looking for his prey as the sun climbed up into the sky. The plain was clear with a strong wind blowing through the wildflowers and tall grass.

He spotted movement out of the corner of his right eye. Seconds passed. Then he saw his prey. His colorful clothes made him an easy target. Avellino starting counting…one…two…three…” as his target ran full-out for the forest.

“Twenty-five!” he shouted while notching the arrow.

The man was almost to the tree line when he let the shaft go. It arched high in the sky and came down into the running man’s back! A couple of seconds went by before the man rose up from the ground, and resumed running!

Cursing, Avellino broke out into a full run towards the forest. If there was one thing that really irritated him, it was a sloppy kill. He prided himself on “clean” kills. He built a reputation on being a one-shot hunter.

It didn’t take long for him to find a blood trail. A drop here, and there, and soon he saw his prey. His was standing next to a tree, one arm leaning against it for support. He was panting heavily, trying to take a full breath of air when he saw Avellino.

There was no fear in his eyes. He stared at Avellino disapprovingly. The men’s eyes locked. Frozen in the moment.

The next morning.

Demonte had a hard time staying focused on the plain. He was wondering why Avellino didn’t come back from his hunt yesterday. Girard was on a two-day drunk and didn’t even miss Avellino at the lodge last night. The guide didn’t seem concerned.

Suddenly his prey popped up in the center of the plain. He made a perfect target with his bright gold chemise, broad white lace collar, and voluminous sleeves. His scarlet breeches contrasted sharply with the gold that now seemed to shine in the sun as he ran for the tree line.

Demonte took his time counting. He watched, fascinated with the bright colors and the pace the man was running at. He was loping along easily. Not running in a panic. His lizard/hunter brain took notice as he notched his arrow and let it fly.

At almost the same time, the man suddenly stopped running! He came to an abrupt halt and looked back at Demonte. The arrow flew over his head by a mere five yards, sinking safely into the grass. This quarry apparently knew something about archery and hunting.

Demonte ran towards the still standing figure. As he got closer the man turned and ran into the forest. Alarm bells were going off in Demonte’s head. He had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be a one-sided hunt. He slowed down when he got to the tree line and cautiously stepped into the dense forest.

He decided to put the bow over his shoulder and pulled his hunting knife. As he passed a particularly large tree his quarry stepped out while swing a thick tree limb like a club! He caught Demonte on the side of his skull, bashing it in like a pumpkin!

The next day.

Girard woke up from his monumental drunk and packed his bag. It was time to meet up with the guide and to go home. When he arrived at the pre-arranged spot the guide was there waiting. His friends were nowhere to be seen.

“Where Is Avellino and Demonte?” he asked the guide.

“They won’t be leaving. Avellino no longer exists. He killed his own ancestor. The possibility of that happening was in the fine print that I asked if you all read. Whenever a hunter chooses to hunt in the country of their origin they take that chance.

“What about Demonte?” he asked meekly.

“He met up with another hunter from this time period. He was a nobleman known for his passion to hunt. This possibility was also mentioned in your contract. You hunters are always so eager to get on with things you don’t read the fine print. Or else, you do and don’t care.”

“I’m ready to go home now,” an unnerved Girard said.

As It Stands, it’s always that fine print that catches you.

The Thing In The Leech Line

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“I charge double on the weekends. Are you sure you want me to come out today?” Ollie Winters asked.

The voice on the other end rose an octave…“Yessss!”

“Well…okay then. What’s your address? Hmmmmm….you must be on the west side of town near the city limits. That’s about 45 minutes from where I’m at. Yes…I’ll hurry,” he assured the caller.

Grumbling all the way, Ollie grabbed his baseball cap and jacket and headed out. Because he was unfamiliar with that part of town he had difficulty locating the house. When he did, he quickly realized it was on the wrong side of the street to have city sewers.

The old house looked like a prototypical haunted mansion out of a horror movie. It appeared to be in poor repair from what he could see of the outside. The cobblestone walkway leading to the front porch was overgrown with weeds. Two faded wooden rocking chairs sat next to the front door, facing away from the house.

A couple of raindrops followed Ollie to the front porch. There was no light and it was getting dark.  Ollie was already regretting taking the job when the front door suddenly opened and an old woman came out. Her dress was something out of a Victorian movie.

“You’ve come!” she said dramatically.

“You said something about your toilet being blocked,” he reminded her.

Yes! It’s terrible! The bathroom is a mess!” she said, sounding a lot like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.

“May I come in?”

“Of course. Follow me.”

He clutched his tool box tighter and followed the old lady through the parlor and to a small hallway that came to a dead-end with a door. The odor emanating from the room was foul. She sniffed in distaste and said, “I’ll leave you to it then. Let me know if you need anything.”

Hesitantly, he opened the door and saw raw sewage seeping out of the toilet. It occurred to him that not being on the city sewer line meant there was a leech line somewhere near the house with a septic tank that must be overflowing.

That settled it. He couldn’t work on it while it was raining. Besides it would require help pumping out the septic tank. Feeling relieved, he went back out into the parlor looking for the old lady…and heard voices and music coming from the living room.

Perplexed he followed the voices. When he saw a group of men and women decked out in antique clothes dancing and socializing while an old-fashioned record player sang “Bird In A Gilded Cage,” he became confused.

How could this be happening he wondered? As far as he knew, it was just him and the old lady. Where was she anyway? And what was with the period dress? Nothing made sense. No one seemed to notice him standing there with his white jacket that said “Ollie’s Plumbing” on the back.

He carefully backed out of the room and headed for the front door. Just before he got to it the old lady suddenly reappeared in front of it. She saw the look of mounting terror in his eyes and tried to soothe him, “It’s going to be quite all right good sir. Just a little case of time shifts. Happens all the time,” she said reassuringly.

Ollie tried to say something. Instead he let her lead him up the ornate stairway to the top floor. He felt like a zombie. Part of his mind said this wasn’t happening. The other part was panicking because it recognized a line in reality had been crossed.

She led him to a window and pointed down at the yard. A flash of lightning lit the yard up for a moment illuminating a giant tentacled nightmare with large baleful eyes crawling out of the sludge from where the leech line was.

“There’s the problem,” the old lady said conversationally, “That thing is mucking up my bathroom. I have a hunch it’s going to take more than one of those snake things I saw in your ad in the phone book, to get rid of it.”

Ollie dropped his tool box and backed up against the wall. The thing down there was something out of an H.P. Lovecraft tale.

“Why were you leaving when the job wasn’t done?” the old lady interrupted his thoughts.

He found himself explaining to her that he had to get a special truck to pump out the waste in the septic tank, and that it wasn’t  a one-man job.

In the blink of an eye they were back in the living room…alone. No signs of the party remained. He heard the rain increasing in intensity outside.

“Damn time shifts!” the old lady groused. “Oh! Pardon my language sir! Allow me to show you out.”

Ollie dumbly followed her out to the front porch. His eyes scanned the yard fearfully as she spoke, “I do hope when this rain stops you’ll come back and help me kind sir,” she said.

He nodded, and tried to speak, but she was already back in the house. That was the moment Ollie decided he was going to retire early.

As It Stands, have you ever wondered how you’d react to a supernatural experience?