How An Urban Legend Saved The Earth

Lester was an urban adventurer that thrived in the underbelly of great cities worldwide.

In some ways he was the “Banksy” of modern exploration. Like the artist, he hid his identity, only leaving behind clues that he’d been there. He was a small man, barely five feet-three inches tall, and a 110 pounds soaking wet.

His travels were legendary among explorers worldwide.

He’d explored so far into the depths of the catacombs beneath the Eternal City of Rome, it would take decades before archeologists ran across his mark.

He was the first modern man to explore the hidden underground tunnels and chambers beneath the Giza Plateau. His mark is written on the underground walls of Cappadocia, in Turkey. According to people who have made him an urban legend, he explored all seven levels in one week.

It’s also rumored that he discovered an enormous underground labyrinth in Egypt full of hieroglyphs on endless stone walls. It was said the hieroglyphs contained all of the knowledge of ancient Egypt.

But Lester’s greatest, and most unheralded, achievement was saving the earth.

He was on one of his usual one-man expeditions looking for a secret 5,000-years-old city hidden somewhere beneath Death Valley, when he discovered an underground tunnel in a cave not far from Scotty’s Castle.

The first cave he looked into turned out to be an old mine. There was still a pickax, some drill bits, and a wooden box that looked fairly modern, containing sticks of dynamite. He made a mental note to tell the rangers on his way home.

He didn’t think the second tunnel he went into was very big, but it was 120 degrees outside and the shade in the cave felt good, just stuffy. But as he went further inside he came upon a hole in the ground at a dead-end.

Shinning his flashlight down he could see there was once a wooden rope ladder, but it was badly deteriorated. Undeterred, he pulled out his rope and climbing equipment. It didn’t look like he would have to repel down too far down as he could see the bottom.

Once he was down on the dirt floor he unhooked his harness. The rope and tackle were secured by a steel spike in the floor above. He shined his flashlight down a long dark tunnel and slowly walked into the darkness.

After two hours he was starting to think he was wasting his time, but he knew knowledge never came easily and kept walking. When he saw the first sign on the wall he stopped and studied it with growing excitement.

It looked like a ball with rings around it and was carved into the Borax crystals on the walls. To him it looked like a planet. Excited, he moved on looking for more signs on the walls.

He walked for two more hours before deciding to stop and take a break and eat something. His excitement had worn off and he was hungry. As he bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he thought about the marking he saw. Was it a planet?

Feeling refreshed, Lester resumed his search. Twenty minutes later he found another hole. As he stopped and flashed his light down it he saw something metallic. There was a rope ladder which was in much better condition than the first.

He had to make a decision. He didn’t have enough rope to repel down. It was still hanging from where he anchored it. He’d have to climb back up, leave the cave and hike  back to his Volkswagen bus for more rope.

Or, he could take a chance and use the hanging ladder. It didn’t take him long to decide. Adventure was in his DNA. He cautiously climbed down the rope until he came to the bottom and saw he was in a large open cavern with a metallic floor!

It’s shiny floor gleamed in the twilight created by his flashlight. He followed it to another open area where there were rows of metal tubes as far as he could see. He went up to one and saw that it had a little porthole that displayed a yellowish light inside. Then he saw a pale face, and it blinked!

He fell back in surprise and horror!

He’d always explored the secrets of past civilizations with gusto, never dreaming that he might actually run across a civilization that was still viable, and unknown to mankind. He looked in the port-hole again just to see if it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

No such luck. The face was still there and now both eyes were open and staring at him!

Then he felt a tug at his brain and a voice inside his head said, “Let me out. The button is below the glass you’re looking through.”

Lester broke the spell and got the courage to ask, “Do you mean to harm me, or others above us?”

The thing in the tube narrowed its bulging eyes and loudly commanded Lester to let it out!

“It’s our time now! You pitiful earthlings will only be kept alive as slaves to serve us when we take control of this planet!

He grabbed his head in pain as the thing tried to get a foothold in his brain. He staggered backwards, and dropped his flashlight which spun around on the metallic floor sending tiny beams of light throughout the cavern.

It took every bit of Lester’s intestinal fortitude to fight the creature trying to take over his body. Then he broke free, and ran out of the cavern! His mind was fuzzy but he managed to reach the rope ladder.

About half way up it started tearing loose! In sheer panic, Lester scuttled up the rest of the way and laid down on the dirt floor exhausted. He hoped he was far enough away that the creature couldn’t attack him again.

After a few gulps of air to steady himself, he climbed up his rope and reached the top floor of the cave safely. Only adrenaline kept him going as he went back to the first cave and retrieved the box of dynamite.

He knew it was a risky and stupid thing to try, but he had to do something about the creatures in those tubes. He took out two sticks and carefully tucked them into his leather belt before repelling back down to the next floor.

He went to the last hole with the good ladder, and lit both sticks and tossed them down the hole! The explosion filled the cave with dust and the concussion made his ear bleed. Somehow he was still alive.

He crawled back to his rope and used the last of his strength to climb back up. He lay there in the darkness for a while coughing and trying to get his breath. Minutes passed and the dust began settling down enough to see his way out of the cave.

He picked up the wooden box outside and brought it back into the cave. He set it down and pulled out his lighter. He lit one of the sticks and laid it next to the box and staggered out of the cave as fast as he could.

He was surprised that the explosion wasn’t bigger than it was. It still made an impressive tower of dirt and blanked out the sun for a moment. He felt confident that no one else would ever stumble upon the creatures beneath the desert floor.

His only regret was that he forgot to leave his mark down there. Then he smiled, and told himself this was one adventure that wouldn’t contribute to his legend…and that was okay.

As It Stands, this story is for free spirits.

 

The Star Child

Jericho was the only person in town who could see a spook, or spirit as Reverend Ledbetter called them.

No one in Titusville, Kentucky, doubted that Jericho had the ability to see, and communicate with the dead. He was always a strange child that defied description.

For starters, no one ever tried to pick on him in school even though he made an easy target. He never bullied anyone. He tended to be a loner, but spoke with other students and teachers when he had to.

There was something powerful that emanated from Jericho. There was a certainty in his eyes that belied his age. He was neither short, nor tall. He wasn’t stupid, nor was he the top of the class.

He was every man by the time he graduated from high school. He could disappear in crowds effortlessly. Nothing in his features made him stand out.

If not for his ability to see and talk with spirits, Jericho would have gone through life unnoticed.

Instead of leaving tiny Titusville like most of the other kids did when they graduated, Jericho was content to stay in town and scratch out a living as a handyman and carpenter.

He lived with his elderly parents in the house he was born in. The house was located near the downtown district in a small residential area.

One afternoon while Jericho was repairing a neighbor’s fence, an alien from a nearby solar system trying to disguise itself as a restless spirit, approached him with a question, “When shall I go to heaven?

Jericho stopped hammering and turned around to fully face the apparition.

“Never!” he harshly replied, “You’re a fraud!

Surprised to be discovered so easily, the alien took on its true form.

“Perhaps the rumors are true,” the alien said. “Maybe you are the star child.”

I don’t know anything about a star child. The dead choose to talk with me. I’m nothing more than a sympathetic soul bent on leading a quiet life.

“Your modesty humbles me…for a moment. But I’m not here to admire your ability to speak with the dead. I’m here to warn you to stop! My master, Lord Lucan of Antares, doesn’t like it. You’ve been stirring up some lost souls that he’s collected around the solar system and they now believe they have hope.”

“Get out of here, whatever you are! Take your warning and shove it up your master’s ass!”

When the alien left, he went back to work on the fence and finished it before the sun went down. That night as he ate dinner with his parents, he sensed an underlying tension. Like they wanted to tell him something.

After dinner, they all went to the living room. Instead of picking up a book, like he usually did after the evening meal, Jericho’s father said he had a story to tell him.

It started with the fact that he was an orphan. They found him near the wreckage of a small metal capsule in the forest. He was only an infant, so they took him home and raised him.

They agreed that some day they would tell him what they knew – little though it was – when they felt he was ready. One thing that amazed them both was how much he came to resemble a little of each of them in his features.

“This is that day,” his mother spoke up.

“Why today?

“Because our time is running out,” his father explained. “Some alien-looking thing came by today and threatened to kill us if you didn’t stopping talking with the dead.”

Jericho bowed his head for a moment and tried to collect himself. “Who was he? The alien thought he might be someone called the star child.”

His parents watched his confusion with sympathy. Their world was turned upside when they first found him. Now it was being turned upside down again because they raised him. Neither, for even a moment, considered asking him not to communicate with restless spirits.

It was an ability they accepted because of their love for him. Both were ready to die for him now.

“Mom and Dad, would you do me a favor?

They both quickly nodded yes.

“Can you take me back to that place in the forest where you found me?”

There was a slight hesitation before his father said, “I’ll do my best son, but my legs are old and weak. Along with my memory.”

They drove to the edge of the forest. His mother stayed with the pickup truck while his dad picked out a trail and followed it. After an hour they came upon the partly buried capsule. Vegetation had nearly engulfed it.

“Thanks dad. Now you head back before it gets dark.

“Good luck son…if I never see you again.”

When night fell Jericho attempted to do something he’d never done before; summon up a spirit – and not just one – but hundreds! Soon he was surrounded by spirits. He discovered they all weren’t just earthly spirits, but spirits from other races in other planets too!

He looked through the canopy of trees and saw stars twinkling brightly in the heavens. It was like they all were waiting for him to speak. With the support of other alien spirits, Jericho put together a team to stop Lord Lucan’s evil reign.

When it was done he felt pain in his earthly body. It only lasted for a moment before he died and his free spirit was able to assume his destiny as the star child.

As It Stands, this tale was a twist on the superman story.

The Cuckoo Went Tick Tock

Jake was running for his life! His chest and face were splattered with fresh blood. Behind him he could hear dogs baying like lost souls. He was heading straight for the swamp when someone fired a shot!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

Jake was playing chess with Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who was also constantly paranoid that someone was after him. To his amazement, he had Bobby in a bad position.

The temperamental Fisher suddenly overturned the board and stomped out of the gallery. Jake looked up at the judges…waiting for their decision.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The time machine appeared in the middle of a grassy meadow where he’d been sleeping. Jake’s joy at seeing it again was short-lived. For the hundredth time he regretted taking the damn cuckoo clock when he transported to Germany on his maiden voyage.

He ignored the warnings of the clock maker who said it was cursed. He watched the time machine disappear and then…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The whistle blew; “Over the top!” the sergeant shouted as he led the way out of the muddy trench. He was met with a withering fire that was cutting men down like sheaves of wheat.

Jake looked at his M-1 carbine with bayonet attached, and waited for the next whistle. When it came, the second wave of Americans charged out bravely. Jake stumbled along until he heard someone scream, “Gas!

He dropped to his knees and fumbled around, putting his gas mask on just as the deadly chemical cloud came his way with the wind. Some men who weren’t as fast as he was, and they rolled about on the muddy ground in agony. A bombshell burst overheard…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The dark clouds gathered menacingly over the gallows. Three ropes. Three men. A small crowd had gathered despite the weather which threatened a deluge. Jake was standing nearby watching from a small platform.

After the priest read the doomed men their last rites, the crowd turned to Jake expectedly. He could feel their eyes urging him to give the signal. He didn’t want to send the poor sodden souls to their maker, but it was his job as mayor.

There was a loud crack of thunder, and as Jake gave the signal, lightning lashed the sky and carried their souls to eternity.

The cuckoo went tick tock. 

It was a hot muggy day in Dallas as Jake, who was part of the Secret Service detail that  ran alongside President Kennedy’s car, heard the shot and turned in time to see the back of Kennedy’s head explode!

Chaos broke out! Jake looked frantically around for the shooter and saw a silver flash in a grassy knoll nearby. The people who came to see the president were screaming and crying.

Jake looked over and one of his team pointed at a building. He started off in that direction…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

When Jake heard the cry for help he stood up on the lifeguard platform and checked to see where it was coming from. He spotted a young girl who was actively drowning past the breakers and towards the open sea.

Grabbing a small red paddle board he ran out to rescue her. Within minutes he was beside her and she was holding on to the paddle board. As he got ready to help her back to the beach he saw a large fin break the water nearby!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

He was closing in on the lead car and Jake was about to catch it when another car hit him from behind! He spun across the track, slammed into the wall, and came to rest in the inside lane.

His crew was running towards him shouting. Jake took off his helmet and tried to get out of the car, but was stuck! Two crew members cut him loose and pulled him out just as the car broke out into flames!

The announcer was calling for medical help as Jake and the two crew members all rolled on the ground trying to extinguish their burning clothes.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The men in the white coats didn’t understand. Jack wasn’t crazy. He didn’t belong here. He told them he had a cuckoo clock in his time machine, and it somehow messed up his calculations and kept disappearing and transporting him to other places.

The men in the white coats nodded solemnly and escorted him to his bed. Jake was stuck. At least for now. When the clock struck another hour, he would be unwillingly transported to a different moment of time.

Time was against him until that damn cuckoo clock died! It was an 8-day movement that needed to be rewound after a week. He was barely through the cycle, having suffered 26 trips/hours in time thus far.

He had 186 more hours to go!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

As It Stands, we all have a limited amount of time in this world.

The Strange New Neighbor

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Tad drew the front curtains aside so he could watch what was happening across the street.

He’d never seen movers do what they were doing. They constructed an awning from the front door to the back of a 24-foot moving van. It was prefabricated with side panels that attached to the awning, making it impossible to see what was being taken out of the van.

Tad’s usual curiosity shifted into overdrive as he considered reasons for doing something like that.

“Why hide your stuff?” he mused out loud.

“What’s the matter honey?” his wife Agatha asked, as she looked up from the quilt she was working on.

“New neighbors...” he mumbled.

“So?” she wondered.

“Never seen anything like it. Look at that tunnel between the van and their front door. You ever seen anything like it?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t Tad. Maybe they’re concerned about getting their possessions wet. Didn’t you say it might rain today?”

“Yeah…” he grudgingly agreed. “Still, I never seen anything like it.”

Tad Higgins was a retired accountant who was only comfortable when everything around him was in a certain order. There was a place in life for everything, he often told his long-suffering wife of 60 years. Even a toothpick has its proper place.

Anything out of his orderly existence immediately made him suspicious, and very curious. Secretly, he wished that he was a famous adventurer admired by everyone. Realistically, he knew he was anything but athletic or daring.

He looked back out the front window wondering what his neighbors looked like. So far, no sign of anyone except for the van’s driver, and the two workers who set up the tunnel.

Tad tamped the ashes out of his Meerschaum pipe into a glass ashtray and glanced over at his wife. She was busy doing her thing. Their black pug, Molly, was snuggled up against her side, snoring as she slept.

He rocked back and forth in his rocking chair while slowly packing another bowl of cherry blend. He lit it with an old Zippo lighter he bought when he was a teenager. It was getting dark when the two movers took the tunnel down.

He watched them get in the van. The headlights came on and it pulled out of the long driveway. He didn’t see any lights on in the house, and wondered if the new neighbors moved in yet?

Agatha set her quilt down and got up, waking Molly who stretched out on the couch.

“I’m going to get ready for bed honey,” she said. Molly followed closely behind.

“All right, dear. I’m going to take a short walk.”

“If it starts raining you get right back in the house,” she made him promise.

“Yes, dear…”

Tad put his heavy raincoat on, his walking shoes, and a derby to warm his bald head. At 83-years-old, he was in good shape for a man his age. He made a habit of walking at least five miles a day when he was in his 40s, and it was now second nature to him.

He’d already gone for his daily walk, but needed something to tell his wife why he wanted to go outside. It wasn’t unusual for him to go on short nightly walks that helped him sleep better.

He tapped his pocket to make sure he had the keys and locked the front door behind him. He stood under the porch light for a moment and looked at the house across the street.

Then he went down to the sidewalk and strolled along his side of the street.

After going down a couple of blocks he turned around and headed back on the opposite sidewalk. The cherry trees that lined the neighborhood swayed gently with a gathering wind. The moon was only a sliver hiding in dark clouds.

As he neared his new neighbor’s house he slowed down when the garage door opened. He quickly got next to a tree and squatted down. A black Dodge Ram pickup with an extended cab and black-tinted windows backed out slowly.

Before the door closed, and when the truck turned on its headlights, he got a brief glance inside the garage and saw what he assumed was a man standing there. He had to be seven-feet tall, Tad guessed.

It started raining outside as he crossed the street, and went back inside his house.

The next day.

Dr. Reinhart Elderidge screwed the skin-colored plastic plate back onto the android’s skull. The android came to life immediately, and asked the doctor what his orders were? Reinhart peeked through the blinds and looked across the street, before answering, “I want you to be in charge of security, Jonah.”

 “As you wish doctor. What are my standing orders?”

“Rule number one, don’t ever let anyone in this house beside me, unless I tell you otherwise. Rule two, it’s okay to answer the door if someone comes by. Just remember rule number one.

“You’re to say the owner of the house is not in, and you’ll take a message from the caller.”

“As you command doctor.”

“As for the other droids, make sure each one only does their assigned tasks. None of them are to ever leave this house. You can go about your duties now.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Jonah was the most complete android he’d ever created. And the tallest, on a whim. He was his first really human-looking android, exceeding his own expectations. His other creations weren’t as perfect-looking, or as mental acute as he was.

As a matter of fact, most of them looked incomplete because they were. They looked more like monstrosities than anything else. Some didn’t have heads. Or arms. Or legs. They moved around awkwardly.

Reinhart didn’t care that they were unsightly. They were his babies. A lifetime of work was reflected in their twisted humanoid inspired bodies.

If not for inheriting the family fortune, Reinhart could have never achieved all of this alone without any kind of financing from an outside interest. Like the government. He never took an assistant, preferring to toil away alone.

He peeked out the blinds again and saw his neighbor staring out the window towards his direction. Earlier he was outside by his mail box, staring at the house. Reinhart was uncomfortable with his curiosity, but also understood it was normal.

He’d gone through this before. It was his habit to move every seven years and to change his identity. He didn’t trust anyone. He never made friends. Reinhart was content to lead a solitary existence.

His success with Jonah gave him an unexpected confidante. It was such a new experience that he was still adjusting to it.

After a week of burning curiosity Tad could stand it no longer. He talked Agatha into making some chocolate chip cookies and taking them across the street with him.

“It’s only right that we say hello to our new neighbors after they’ve had time to settle in,” he reasoned.

When Jonah opened the door they both automatically looked up.

“Hi there! I’m Tad, and this is Agatha my wife. We’re your neighbors across the street. Are you the new owner?”

Jonah blinked his dark brown eyes and said, “No. I’m not the new owner. He is out right now. Can I take a message?” he asked, in what Tad thought was a mechanical response.

“Well…here’s some cookies and welcome to the neighborhood,” Tad said.

Jonah stiffly reached down and took the plate of cookies. “I will relay your message sir.”

“Hey! You can call me Tad. We’re neighbors.”

The door shut.

“How do you like that?” he groused as they walked back to the house. “That guy looked like that butler in the Addams Family. Remember Lurch?” 

“I do honey. He was played by Ted Cassidy, I believe.”

The conversation followed them into the house.

An odd friendship developed over the next year between Jonah and Tad. Jonah would be watering the lawn or getting the mail and Tad would see him and wave. They seldom talked.

Tad gave up trying to meet the house’s owner. He was obviously a recluse and he had to respect that.

Jonah meanwhile was puzzled. He liked waving, and, or, saying hello to Tad. He didn’t mind listening to him talk away while he was doing his outdoor chores. Was this part of his program?

He mentioned the daily contacts he had with Tad, to Reinhart one day. In one way he was glad to see Jonah was good enough to fool someone into thinking he was human, but on the other he was moving into a new realm…emotions. It was uncharted territory.

Jonah did not sleep at night. It wasn’t necessary. He walked around the house checking on things and reading books. He also got into a protective habit of looking out the front window at Tad and Agatha’s house, off-and-on throughout the night.

Almost two years had passed when one night while Jonah was looking out the front window he saw two masked men with guns, slinking around Tad’s front porch. He knew what that meant.

Tad and Agatha were in danger. The doctor wasn’t home to ask what he should do. He thought about rule one and two. There were no other rules. No rule that said he couldn’t help his neighbors.

As he opened the front door Tad stepped outside with a baseball bat. He’d heard the intruders. “Get out of here you punks!” he shouted, and took a step towards the two men.

“Drop the bat you old bastard, or we’ll shoot you!”

Instead, Tad moved forward, swinging the bat as he did. One of them fired his gun point-blank at Tad, hitting him in the shoulder! The bat struck the other man in the arm knocking his gun down.

Then Jonah was there! He grabbed the man still holding the gun and broke his arm like a twig! The intruder’s howl of pain filled the night. Jonah hit him squarely on the jaw knocking him out!

He turned on the other man and threw several precise punches, sending him to the ground alongside his unconscious cohort. Tad staggered over and picked up his bat in case either tried to get up.

Jonah came up to him, and put his big hand on the wound.

Will you be all right Tad?” he asked with a touch of emotion that surprised him.

“Yes. You saved my life Jonah! How can I ever repay you?”

“Don’t tell the doctor what happened here. Tell the police you beat them up. They’ll deny it and say I did it, but you tell them they’re crazy cowards! I don’t want people to know I was here.” 

“Anything you say Jonah! Thank you again.”

Agatha came running out of the house crying. She saw Tad’s wound and pulled out her cell phone and called 911.

Soon the sound of sirens filled the night.

As It Stands, androids are always a fun subject to write about.

Time out of Time

Something went terribly wrong with Dr. Vincent Van Buren’s time machine.

The first time he used it, in 2018, everything went well. He took a quick visit to North Kingstown, Rhode Island in 1950, the year he was born, and returned in the allotted ten minutes to San Diego, California.

There wasn’t much room in the time machine. It was basically a round ball with a seat inside and three collapsible legs to stand on outside.

Van Buren was a genius. All the technology he used was far in advance of anyone else in 2018.

World scientists were aware of some of his work, but the majority thought he was a well-educated eccentric with delusions. His papers on time travel were jeered by his colleagues.

He never let the naysayers get him down. He prepared all of his life for this moment…when he would become a time traveler. That time was now as he readied himself for his next visit to the past.

He wore a black jumpsuit that had pockets in front, down the sides, and in back. In them he carried things like a compass, a pocket knife, length of rope, dried meals, nutrition bars, first aid supplies, a magnifying glass, and an extra battery for the taser gun he wore on a utility belt.

When he sat down inside he had just enough room to put two canteens of water between his feet. All the controls were within his reach. There was a small monitor that was hooked up to a camera on top of the time machine, providing a panoramic look outside.

This time he set the controls for ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom period (2686-2181 BC). He chose the Great Sphinx of Giza for his destination point.

Then he was there.

The time machine was just a few feet away from the enormous Sphinx as he looked at the monitor. It was night, but a full moon lit the desert landscape as Van Buren pushed a button and the hatch door opened.

The interior lights profiled him as he stepped out in time for two Egyptian traders to see him. He could hear shrieks of terror as they urged their camels on to greater speeds!

“They either think I was a god, or someone really evil,” he thought while walking over to the base of the Sphinx. His studies told him that it was located on the west bank of the Nile, near Cairo, and that the sphinx was believed to be the pharaoh Khafra.

Van Buren marveled at the traditional blue and gold horizontal bands on the nemes headdress. The body was red. The face was yellow, a traditional color for men in ancient Egypt.

The Sphinx’s black beard was striking. In Van Buren’s time archeologists had just recently discovered the broken-off beard buried in the sand.

He lost track of time while walking around the Sphinx, but his wristwatch beeped, reminding him that it was time to get back. A few minutes later he settled in and waited for the auto pilot to take over.

He was still waiting an hour later!

Something was horribly wrong!

He tried not to panic. It wouldn’t help anything. He pulled out an emergency tool kit and started to dismantle the main panel when there was a bright flash and he was thrown back in his seat!

The sphinx was gone. He could see a primordial jungle outside. Then he saw a sight that made his blood run cold! A Tyrannosaurus rex was chasing a smaller dinosaur and they were coming his way!

In his moment of terror, a part of Van Buren’s brain recalled that it must be the Late Cretaceous period in what was in his time, North America. One of the dinosaurs slammed into the time machine and sent it spinning down a slope!

The Tyrannosaurus rex let out a roar of victory when it caught the smaller animal. For the first time in his life, Van Buren thought about death. He suspected he was close to it right now. He watched through the monitor – the camera was still miraculously working – and saw the bipedal carnivore rip his meal apart.

The stabilizers were still working or he would be in an even more awkward position. Suddenly the curious carnivore saw the time machine. It started moving in his direction when…there was a flash, and he was somewhere else!

It was raining outside and he couldn’t make anything out. His heart was still beating fast and he felt faint. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a nutrition bar. As he chewed on it he tried to organize his thoughts.

He was afraid of stepping outside in case the time machine decided to move on. Why it was happening mystified him. Then it happened again.

This time he saw sunshine.

He was in the middle of a field of wheat. He looked at the monitor and idly wondered where he was now. He was as startled as the man who stepped into view swinging a sickle!

He stopped and warily moved towards the time machine. He was divided between curiosity and fear while looking at the camera. Van Buren guessed he was a European peasant from his clothing, pock marks on his face, and blackened teeth. The antique sickle fit with his guess.

“Sacrebleu!” the man cried out in surprise.

Then, in a flash, he was gone!

When Van Buren was able to focus his eyes again on the monitor all he could see was snow. The time machine was sitting in an arctic tundra with no civilization in sight. He was glad that the climate control inside was still working.

Hours passed this time. He quit looking at the monitor. There was nothing to see but whiteness. He wondered if this was finally it? He couldn’t get the controls to work properly, and he was at the machine’s mercy.

Exhausted, he nodded off. 

When he woke up he was in his laboratory! He immediately pushed the button to open the hatch and crawled out. His legs were numb from sitting. His elation at this turn of events was short-lived however, as the time machine disappeared again!

All of his work was gone! Who would believe him now? A sense of despair gripped him and he slunk into a depression. Family and friends couldn’t get him to leave his lab for anything.

After a while they all gave up. The courts said he wasn’t crazy and he could do what he wanted. All Van Buren wanted, was for his time machine to return again someday! He’d be there waiting.

As It Stands, time travel can be a tricky thing.

Blink If You Can Hear Me!

The huge cargo ship, Alushion, lumbered on in space, dwarfing some stars as it hurtled towards its destination.

The crew didn’t know what they were carrying, nor did most care. The majority of the 32 man-crew were old-timers who had been with the ship for years. There was one new crew member however.

His name was Gorm, and he was assigned all the shit duties aboard the ship. He was pretty sure that it would take years before he moved up enough to where he wasn’t cleaning bathrooms and grease pits.

But he didn’t plan on being a crew member forever. He was a former reporter for The World News in Gallax’s biggest city Aahorn. He quit his job because his editor wouldn’t let him write stories about state corruption and slavery.

What made him make the big move was a tip from a trusted informant. Gallax’s biggest cargo ship was carrying more than minerals and Gallaxian steel. It was also covertly carrying slaves!

Gorm was sure his editor wouldn’t let him go undercover and investigate it. So he quit and applied for a menial job as a crew member aboard the Alushion. He was in luck. One of the regulars was in an accident and they needed a replacement.

The adventure of it all appealed to Gorm’s endless imagination.

He would write a tell-all book about slavery that would catapult him to fame and wealth. Civilized Gallaxians abhorred slavery, but there was a criminal element that specialized in it.

Every city on Gallax had a problem with residents disappearing. No bodies ever showed up. The authorities seemed unable to do anything about it. There were hints of what was going on, like when one man escaped.

He was blinded and never knew that he was hidden in a building near the International Space Station. But he did hear broken conversations and shared those with authorities.

The slavers were well-organized. How they got their captives off world was a mystery. There were so many possibilities the authorities were stumped. Private ships, military ships, commercial travel ships, cargo ships, and on, and on.

There were literally thousands of possibilities to hide slaves.

The slavers would wait until they had at least 200 captives before transporting them. The captain of the Alushion was a corrupt scoundrel with high government connections. His arrangement with the slavers paid him three times his captain’s salary.

The whole scheme was the brainchild of Lancor Mey, the leader of the biggest underworld gang on Gallax. He partnered up with the ship’s captain, Kanor Olk, and for the past ten years they transported thousands of Gallaxians off world and to other planets that provided eager buyers.

The ship actually had two crews; the one that authorities saw consisting of 32 employees, and the one they didn’t see that consisted of three employees whose only job was to take care of the captives.

This was made possible by having a false hull that was converted into an area where the helpless captives were put in plastic pods that sporadically emitted sleeping gases. They were hooked up to feeder tubes which the small crew was supposed to monitor.

Gorm was so busy for the first three days that he didn’t have time to explore anything. No menial task was below him. On the fourth day he found himself with some free time. He was such a hard worker that some of the crew members were already letting up on him.

He learned that there were three decks and a hold of Galaxian steel and tons of minerals in it. He knew where the captain’s quarters was, the ship’s kitchen, the navigation deck, the crew’s quarters, and where the various supply rooms were.

A week later, Gorm was becoming discouraged. He still hadn’t seen anything suspicious, or heard any juicy conversations that might provide leads to where the slaves were being held.

He was starting to think he was a fool for listening to the tipster. He was stuck on a cargo ship that wouldn’t return to Gallax for three more weeks.

Then a break came.

He got to know all the crew members during his short time aboard, and when he saw a stranger slip out of the kitchen and scurry to a door that led below decks, he followed. He could hear the stranger’s footsteps as he disappeared down into the engine room.

Gorm looked at the small nuclear reactor that was the ship’s source of power. All eight feet of it was sheathed in steel plates with Gallaxian script engraved into them. Gorm was so close to the stranger that he had to duck behind the reactor when he stopped, and started to turn around checking to see if he was being followed.

Then the stranger put his hand on the wall and a hidden door slid open! Gorm cautiously watched where he put his hand. He had no doubt what he’d find if he went into that secret room.

He knew for sure there was one slaver, and more than likely others inside. He had no way of knowing how many of them. Nothing about the situation was good. What should he do?

He couldn’t stay here much longer before someone missed him. He considered telling the captain, but as he walked back to his quarters a growing sense of alarm told him not to. He really couldn’t trust anyone aboard.

After the encounter with the stranger he made a habit of going back to where the secret door was several times a day. His persistence paid off days before they were scheduled to land on Anterrean, Gallax’s main trading partner.

He was hiding behind the reactor which was directly across from the secret door when one of the slavers emerged. He hurried out. Gorm went to the spot and put his hand there.

At first he couldn’t see anything. The room was bathed in a soft blue light that didn’t throw shadows. Gorm saw another slaver slouched over a keyboard in front of a monitor. He was asleep.

As he felt his way around the room he saw another stranger stretched out on a bunk asleep. His luck was holding up. Then he came to a row of pods that held the captives. As he continued to search he found more rows. He stopped in front of one when he noticed a movement.

The captive in one pod opened his eyes and moved his head slightly.

“Blink if you can hear me,” Gorm said.

The Gallaxian blinked twice. The horror of the situation made Gorm’s blood run cold. “I’m going to try to help you,” he said.

The Gallaxian blinked again. Then his eyes grew wider!

Gorm didn’t hear anything until too late. A slaver slipped up behind him and put him in a chokehold. Darkness.

When he woke up he was in a room full of captives from planets throughout the solar system. He guessed he was on Anterrean. He felt like a damn fool! What made him think he would get away with going into that room?

He always wanted to experience adventures and to be a writer. Now he was a slave!

A slaver came into the room and roughly grabbed him by his arm, and led him outside to a platform before a group of prospective buyers.

“This pathetic creature,” the auctioneer droned, “...says he’s a writer. Who needs a writer? he asked the group. A couple of low bids were thrown out and the auctioneer acted disgusted, “I might as well slaughter him and sell his meat to the Zarks,” he grouched.

Finally a wealthy female Gallaxian made a bid that was acceptable. The auctioneer gave her the mobile control device that activated the shock collar on Gorm’s neck. It was standard slave issue.

Gorm followed her obediently down a series of well-maintained streets until they came to a big compound. His new master’s name was Illse, and she was the mistress of the large house.

“You’re job here is to tell stories to my children every night. If they like them, I’ll set you free after you tell a hundred consecutive tales.”

“Well… I don’t know…

“Writers are storytellers, are they not?”

“Yes…yes, you could call them that.”

“Good. Then we have an agreement?”

“Sure. By the way, what happens if I run out of stories or your kids don’t like them?”

“You become Zark meat,” she said conversationally.

Gorm gave a sick grin, and said, “When do we start?”

As It Stands, life is about adapting to situations.

A Journey To An Alternate Universe

Hector Perez was a cop in Cleveland, Ohio for twelve years, before he unwittingly stepped into an alternate universe.

One moment he was chasing a burglary suspect in the city’s eastern warehouse district, and the next moment he was standing alone in a deserted warehouse wearing some odd clothing! Beside a giddy feeling, he felt like he got off a merry-go-round, he felt fine.

Hector was a straight-forward kinda guy who didn’t believe in other dimensions, black holes, and alternate universes. His idea of a good time was drinking beer with his buddies and watching football games.

The sense of displacement made it hard for him to focus his thoughts. What should he do? Where was he? How did he get here? Was this a nightmare? Questions marched through his head like toy soldiers on parade.

He finally summoned up the energy, and courage, to explore his surroundings. The warehouse was huge, but empty. There were only two overhead lights, one on each end of the warehouse. Neither were on. But the sun shone through a skylight in the middle of the warehouse, illuminating a large area.

He went over to a row of frosted windows and tried to peer through them. Then he noticed his clothes again. He wasn’t wearing a uniform with his service revolver. Instead, he was wearing a dirty white t-shirt underneath a red and black checkered long sleeve wool shirt. He had faded Levi’s on and cowboy boots. His leather belt had a sheath for the hunting knife in it.

Looking for an opening, he found a large sliding door big enough to drive a truck through. It took all of his strength to slide it open on the rusted track. He managed to move it far enough to go through it.

Outside there were a row of small mom and pop stores, a gas station, and a car lot. He could see a large water tower at the outskirts of the small town. It said, “The Devil’s Half Acre,” in faded blue paint.

Hector was a man with little imagination. His world was cut and dried. He prided himself on his logic. He was a good cop, a great dad, and husband. Nothing in his life prepared him for this abrupt change to his world.

He walked over to the row of stores. The shoe store had a few customers inside. As he walked to the next business, a clothing store, a man outside said, “What the hell you doing here Billy Joe? You know the law is after you!

Hector stopped and stared at him. “What? Are you talking to me?”

“You know I am, Billy Joe. Cut the shit, Mom said you better get out-of-town fast!

“What? My name is Hector. Hector Perez. I’m a cop!”

“Wuuuweeee! Billy Joe! It’s me, your brother Lester! Save that talk for a loony doc if they catch you brother.”

“No! You don’t understand! I really…”

Look out brother! That’s Sheriff Tidwell’s Jeep! Run!”

Lester grabbed his hand and pulled him. “Hurry! C’mon! I don’t think he sees us.

Hector gave up and followed him. It felt weird running from the law. Especially when he didn’t even know what he did! Lester led him into a shabby neighborhood a couple of blocks away.

They jumped fences and ran across yards until Lester stopped at what looked like a deserted house. It turned out to be his home, along with his mother and sister. Lester slammed the front door behind them.

“Didn’t you listen to your brother Billy Joe? You need to leave this town pronto!” mom greeted him.

“There’s something wrong with his head Ma. He says he’s a “beaner” named Hector Perez.”

Mom moved closer to Hector and studied him for a moment. “You okay, Billy Joe?” she asked.

Hector shook his head in frustration. “No. I’m not okay, and I’m not Billy Joe. I don’t even know where I’m at!”

Mom looked over at Lester and his sister, Marley, to gage their reactions. The worry in their eyes told her they were thinking the same thing she was…Billy Joe lost his mind. It must have happened when he killed the Sheriff’s brother in the brawl at The Alibi nightclub last night.

The word was all over town; Billy Joe Baxter killed Blaine, Sheriff Tidwell’s baby brother. The little town was fairly abuzz with the news. It was their first killing in over 60 years. The weekly newspaper put out a special edition tracing the town’s history of murders/killings going back 130 years.

Hector realized these people could get into trouble if they were caught hiding him.

“Have the police come here yet?” he asked.

Surprised at his rational question, mom said, “They came by early this morning. The sheriff, and his three deputies searched the house.”

“You’re right. I need to leave. I don’t want to endanger you guys.”

Lester looked him in the eye and asked, “Are you all right brother?” 

Hector hesitated, then said, “Yeah…I’m fine. Gotta go!

Mom came over and kissed him. Ten-year-old Marylou gave him a hug. Lester gave him a knuckle bump as he went out the door.

Hector was trying to figure out how he could logically handle his situation while he cautiously walked towards a wooded area not far from town. He took off his checkered shirt and wrapped it around his waist as he walked along in the hot sun.

When he got to the woods he saw right away it was being actively logged. A swath was cut right through the center of the forest. He veered to the left of the operations and looked for a place where he could sit down and try to plot out his next move.

He found a shady spot and sat down with his back against a tall pine tree. The sun was on it’s way down when he decided he needed to go back to the warehouse. By the time he got back into town it was dark. He didn’t have any trouble locating the massive building.

The door was still partly opened as he left it. His cop radar sensed a threat and he hesitated before entering. The sheriff stepped out from the shadows with his gun pointed at Hector.

“Had a feeling I might catch you coming here tonight. Leaving the door opened helped. Are you ready to meet your maker Billy Joe?” Sheriff Tidwell asked.

“Aren’t you going to arrest me?” Hector asked.

“Shit no! You killed my baby brother you murdering bastard! I ain’t going to let some judge save your sorry ass with a life sentence. Turn around!”

Hector complied.

The sheriff slipped his handcuffs on him and gave him a shove.

“Inside. Start walking. I’ll tell you where to go,” the Sheriff assured him.

“Time’s up Billy Joe!” He shouted, while leveling his gun at him.

Hector broke out into a desperate run across the room expecting to hear the shot any moment. Then he heard it!

He was back in Cleveland chasing a burglar who just took a shot at him from a warehouse door! He pulled his service revolver and returned fire!

As It Stands, have you ever wondered if there is an alternate universe?