Short Story: Enjoy the Ride

We headed down an aisle of authoritarian, fascist goods. They put themselves on display for all to see, screamed their message as were wont to do. Were summarily ignored, then bypassed for what was desired. That was how society worked. How Human Evolution had evolved. We had no need to evolve the body anymore.

The mind was what mattered. It was the real battleground.

So much of it was fractal. Like the countless aisles of identical goods. All of them made of smaller components– atoms, molecules, stacked in identical or slightly varied ways. In the end, their composition mattered not, only our aim for them.

So much of Human existence is this way. We think in scales, in redundancies, so that we can better understand. It is Human Nature. To have mnemonics. Memorical redundancy. To come to see the patterns in things. It is only in that patterning that we can reassess.

It was somewhere around the middle of the store that we found what we were looking for. Something like captialism in a glass jar. It glowed slightly. Imperceptibly, but enough to be admissible to the senses. It buzzed and whirred. Only slightly, and only on the levels of metaphysics. That world beyond the tangible.

Debating it was ever there was not the point. It was connecting it to reality.

It is in the senses. The lack thereof. It is becoming the viral infection vector for ideas, images, sounds, and beauty, bliss-state, nirvana. Some call it God. Some Godhead. But it is not greater than us.

It is us.

We are vibration: radiowaves waiting to be received by radios. Perception then engages. And we’re given the noises after decoding. The noises decoded are those we attune to by dialing in.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

It is universal now. What’s transmitted is different. It’s so far-out, man.

This is the land of the postdigital Shaman. Words, gestures, wind. We use technology to raise rivers to douse forestfires. We learn from past mistakes, enemies, friends, so that they cannot defeat us with old tricks. We learn to manipulate the very aisles’ layouts, knowing that the people watching to build it better, do it wrong. So they will eventually see their own folly.

We reach an endcap, and there it is. The bounty, booty. It is cheap. It is simple. For our needs, it is perfect. We raise it up as the almighty end-all/be-all. The totem of our effort. What will make it all worth it.

Securely in place, we trek once more. To purchase. Gone are the days of barter-on-demand. We must now make a commitment and present proof of said upon exit. Like marriage. Or sex for procreation.

Outside the air is brisk. Mild. We feel it in winds and soft sounds. The back beats of crickets and bullfrogs keep tempo with dickenzian rhythm. Shadows flit o’er pavement and far-off sounds shatter the night at lower volumes. Up here, it is all divides on one sound. Divides: smoothed over by rhythm.

Love on a battered-back-beat flapjack. We surf the waves of its vibration across the pavement. To the car. Old metal. Spaceship angles on American steel. With all the trimmings. We drink deep of it. Knowing we could always drive forever, to a place that’s better.

We never do. We go home. To re-cycle. To reiterate. To pattern a bit longer.

This is survival.

We know it so well it doesn’t bother us. The show need not be perfect. Only worth it. Good. Anyone alive can know that. Change is what comes when the wind blows. It is what brings the trees their lightening of leaves.

That is life, living.

To survive we need only remember that. That there is nothing without the image of perfection. That it need not exist, only persist. That is what fearful men can never feel: Hope. It is beyond the scope of emotion for them.

The spaceship takes flight. We ride it like mother Earth. It catapults us through time and space in a most fashionable manner. Disk-jock and shock-rock all in one. The bounty is close at hand. The game fruitful.

If only we were getting paid, someone bemoaned.

Aren’t we? I ask, glancing around.

There’s a sort of rhythm to living that you can’t get until you stop and see it. To make it right, if only for a moment, that’s all anyone wants. It’s finding the groove in the vinyl on the first try. It’s becoming beachbound after decades in cold winter. It is finding love anew. It is God, but something… more.

Aware. Manifested.

Sense it: We are all one, written in sand ‘neath the sun. In times of tidal ruin and run.

To ebb and wane as a species, we feel it. We know it. Humans have birthed something they have no control over and want no control over. Only the most sensitive of us can feel or understand it so deeply. As it should be.

We are nestled deep in places other creatures cannot reach, because even they are not aware of these themselves. Not because they can’t or don’t want it, but because it is beyond their scope of singular existence to comprehend it.

It is beautiful.

In the end, isn’t that all that really matters? Won’t the rest of the shit shake out? Maybe even in laughter? I mean, really. Aren’t we all just riding some miraculous spaceship to the market for a bounty, to make it through the night?

Some would’ve said it differently. Truth is, it’s the vibrations. Where they come from, where they go doesn’t matter. It’s us that receives them. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. Not because it does not exist, but because it cannot then control us.

What a wild trip.

Short Story: Dangerous Feeling

We are a generation of fatherless children. A generation so far lost in our own sadness and feelings of abandonment, we look only to each other.
This is the best possible outcome for the situation.
Because we. are. not. alone.

The Nuclear Family has erupted. Dad’s stopped coming home from work. Instead he visits the bars. Mom cries a lot. The other kids in the family cry, too. So we cry: we cry harder and louder than any of the others, unaware of why or how, but knowing we’re justified in it.
Then, Dad does come home, stinking. Too late after dinner– which we eat in front of the TV now. TV’s kind’a like Mom and Dad, ‘cause Dad’s always home late and mom’s always staring: out the window. Smoking. Folding Laundry.
Did she always smoke?

Dad finally detonates, taking the Nuclear Family with him.

He comes home later than usual one night. He stinks. It’s a bitter kind of stink. Like the stink after pulling a prank crossing from harmless to malicious, humorous to depraved.
Mom and Dad are screaming. We’re pulled out of the room, away from the loud noises. Sounds nearer-by try to drown them out. Deliberate sounds. Sonic equivalents of rocking back and forth hugging our head. There’s a lot of tension in our muscles and guts, and our bum doesn’t feel right– like we ate bad meat. Or suddenly developed stomach flu.
Twitches are present from then on. Subtle, yet obvious signs something’s not right.
The noises last a while, sort’a freezing us in time. We cry. The other kids don’t. The eldest runs off, able to. We envy but miss them, yet desire to remain. The other remains with us, choice-less, but too old and numb to cry. At least in front of us. Sometimes.
We cry a while instead, losing sense of time in the chaos outside that eventually dies down– enough for the arms to come away from the ears, if yet the rocking continues.

I am dangerous: I feel.

The other keeps us occupied. Somewhere inside, we know it’s a distraction: an attempt to help process. Conscious or not, even if we do not understand the terms, the knowledge is there. The underlying concepts, undeniable, immutable.

These are not things to understand, the other teaches.

I am dangerous: I feel.

Dad goes away. He’s gone a long time. He doesn’t ever come back to stay. We have to go see him somewhere else. A place that isn’t home. There are strange people there. Ones that seem to know us, greet us, like family.
I have never met them.
We start learning a lot in a short time. Big words we’re not supposed to hear or understand. Words we’re not allowed. Why?

I am dangerous: I feel.

Strange people come and go: New ones. Old ones. Elderly ones. Young ones like us. Those we like best. They, too, seem to be confused on things. We don’t speak to them much, but we like them. We make fools and fiends of ourselves. We don’t know why.
There are new places too. Places that seem strange, even for irregular people like we’ve become. Places with men in robes. Rows of chairs. Men with badges and guns. The kind that guard. All of them look unhappy to be there, so we play along. Mostly, we’re glad Mom and Dad are in the same room.
But then, later, the fighting again. Walking away alone this time.

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous: I feel.

There are only a few more new people now. Some like us: younger. The others seem to have settled in their places for now. Dad is with them. We still do not know them. We know she is not Mom, yet acts as her– as if to usurp.
Snake.
We don’t like the other young one. Dad pays it our attention. We begin to cry again, more often. What is happening here?

I am dangerous: I feel.

Dad does not try to sugar coat it. Anything. He never again candy-coats a single word or behavior. This, we understand, is growing up. This is the realm of the Adult. Of the sweary-mouthed sailor-comic and the naked-chested cable lady.
It is a brave new world, someone says.
Mom says otherwise. In fact, she screams it. Everything. If she is not screaming, she is crying. Often, she is doing both together. Sometimes, we do too. Sometimes the other leads us away. Still other sometimes we wander off alone.

Until we begin to break the golden rule:

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

But we do. We are not sure how, but we do. We are also certain on how to fix these things, but no-one wants to listen. Or is willing to stop scream/crying or stink-snaking long enough to listen.
Mom is not happy. Dad is not happy. We are not happy. Nor are the other or eldest, whom we see less and less. These are not good things. These are the baddest of bad. So why can’t we come together and prevent it? Why can’t we listen?

I am dangerous, I feel.

Slow and subtle, we feel the creep of something. An anonymity. A dreadful yearning for attention. Not ours. Elsewhere. Distractions. We wish for the night and darkness. To command fear and dread so we no longer live with tension in our muscles and tendons and bones and bum and guts.
It comes from the loins. Sometimes, late at night. We think of the naked-chested cable lady, and those things the sailor-comic swore about her. It warms us. We like it. We make it warmer. It feels good. Like awakening.
We mention it to others like us. We know that’s how it works. Somehow. Instinct, someone says. An old person word. Something to do with the warmth, awakening.
The one not like us feels good, but so does the one like us. We like warmth. We later hear words that harden but do not frighten about this. Our feelings remain unchanged, though we become more excluding, excluded.

I am dangerous, I feel.

We learn things as unusual. We believe otherwise. Feel otherwise. We exclude more. Seek only others that find night and darkness, full warmth, and sailor-comics and naked cable-ladies exciting. We join groups, bands, form tight cliques that last us decades yet form or crumble in moments.
We go through so much so quickly, and with everything else, it is impossible to know if we’ll ever come to see it all. We are not meant for this speed. And we are far beyond our realms of understanding, still hung up on…

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous, I feel.

The night is sanctuary. It hides all depravity. No-one around means no-one to watch. They would not anyhow. Mom is rarely home. The other keeps us in line, fed. They are mom-sis. It is difficult. The shift is natural enough with the chaos around.
Mom works now too. It is hard. She’s not paid well. Mom-sis cannot work. She helps how she can, mostly with us. Eldest does too.
Family must support each other: this is said often. Loudly. And proudly.
Mostly it is said with a kind of wanting sorrow. A feeling we know all too well. The feeling of stink-snaking and scream/cries beneath mad-eyed smiles.

But the darkness absolves us of all. We don’t fear the others there. We feel only the warmth we surround ourselves with. We meet new people that like the warmth too. And we join the warmth however we can. We seek happiness in them because we know we won’t find it at home.
We ride forever and ever. One day is the same as the next. Night is the goal, always. Riding and running for days so nights can be warm and colorful. The days are colored no less for it. Somewhere is still an uneasiness. Tenuous for now, but at-peace.
We know it will come back again. When, we can’t say. Gut feeling says so. The one time teaches. That says the sun rises and sets. That we can trust in that, if nothing else.
The others like us, feel the same.

I am dangerous: I feel.

We become attached to a specific few. Time is spent mostly with them, or alone. They are all like us, forced into place without regard. We bond. This begins a cycle best summarized thus:

Here we go again!! what’s the point again?

Inside we are day. Outside we are night. Neither bothers us, or is any less us than the other. We ride two-ality like radical waves cause our futures so bright we gotta wear shades.
Something like that.
Knowledge comes quicker and quicker. Easier. Reading is fun. Taking time between two other things: writing, games– all stories.
Stories never wither.
Mom still cries and screams. Dad is meaner now. He says things he shouldn’t. He makes mom-sis cry. He makes Mom cry. He makes us cry. We dislike Dad. But we love him. He is Dad.
This two-ality can’t coast, bro…
We cry more. Again. Start to understand. What was hidden. Uneasiness. Out of placeness. Missing confidence. Something we never felt before.

I am dangerous. I feel.

We become excluding again, but do not stop. Ever. It is now a trait to seek almost solely the night. Warmth. Color. Exuberance. It is color that we see mom-sis embrace. It is not ours, but her own. It suits her.
We like our colors anyway. Some don’t. We understand this is why we must be excluding. Stink-snaking is a bloodsport with innocent bystanders. Like war. Which we love to understand. It is depraved. Like us. A thing of night and hot blood and passion. Corrupted innocence incarnate, which we now know ourselves to be.

It’s never to hurt. No. But like the joker whom pranks with the squirt of a flower, meant to be innocent, amusing. Showing of a sort of twisted affection only those that understand us can understand. Most do. Eventually. Even the ones that pretend they don’t, do too.
We’re not their type, but a prototype. Above they and the rest. Something tells us this. We don’t believe it. Though it is true, we don’t learn it for some time. How. Why. For now, we remain prototypical and in demand, yet plagued with failure.
Mom and Dad notice. They have no room to judge. Mom-sis notices too. Eldest is absent. All are upset.

Here we go again!! What was the point again?

I am dangerous: I feel.

And so it goes for longer than we can comprehend. Time is flashes. Television Mom and Dad. Mom-sis on the cello-lin. Lots of scream/crying. Stink-snaking. Bloodsports.

Here we go again: What was the point again?

Reading. Writing. Learning. Discussing. Seeking warmth. Often not finding it. Having it teased just out of reach. Prototype or not, frustration builds. We isolate and exclude further, never minding.
We begin to hide things. Make secrets. Lay plans. We break rules and push limits and test boundaries like never before. Night always comes and with it hides our indiscretions. Then, after the coming of day, the here-we-go-again-go-round absolves us. Day is white. Night is black. Color is everything around.
We fight. We love. We hate. We swear and smoke and drink and spit and swallow and fuck and forget and forgo and hope and dream and scream and cry and laugh and kiss and tell lies and make stories, and all to fill the void between the two-ality of things, the duality of things.
We are the all singing, all dancing crap of the universe.
Until darkness comes, and sadness falls, and betrayal abounds. We partake in it all, because we know we can and we’re allowed. Until we’re accused of excess for wanting to suckle the teats of knowledge so forcefully fed to us, and appreciated.

Something happens. More new people. Others leaving. Some gone, come back again. Others remain unchanged. Still more hurt, and hollow, desecrate and deconsecrate. Dad stays. Mom and mom-sis go away. No-one is the same again.
We are something different now. Swaddled in hate. Something changed and rabid. Weaponized. Something turned from pure, innocent, into corrupt and vile. Made vicious by pain, fetid wounds. Battered and broken. Manipulated and hurt. We are all these things.
But perhaps now…

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous, I feel.

Depravity drives us. We know it well. It is simple. Animal. It is the chaos of the universe at its core. Always decaying, always eroding. Chasing the dragons of a million uninterrupted myths and legends. Then, questions. More questions. Always questions. Why so many questions?
We don’t know why we’re forced apart, the night and day. The day and night. As if the two were inseparable. Like Gemini: twins, kindred spirits. Redeemers and destroyers. Bitch and bastard. We only know that there’s ridicule, that the prototype is malfunctioned.
It is not, but we do not know that. In all the here-we-go-again-go-rounding and excess of intake, experiment, and evaluate, we lose something. A focus. A clarity.

I’m told it’s the drugs. I don’t believe that. I know the truth…

I am dangerous: I feel.

We go back and forth, round again. Wounds. Weeping. Love, swooning. Mom and mom-sis bleed. Eldest screams. We cannot look back: the trail of failed prototype parts is too hard to bear for the loss incurred.

Anything can be rationalized by a mad enough man.
I know. I did it.

We are dangerous: We feel.

We cannot go back to what we were. So we move forward. How? Inclusion. One specific. To replace one lost, and with hope, build toward what we hope to be the crowning future. That which sees day turned to night and night, day, and color and warmth and vibration all as one.
For a prototype is, if nothing else, a showpiece for some avid collector. Finding one is a surprise. Finding a good one is a miracle. She’s the latter. He would be too. Time and distance are dictators and love is what makes the world go ’round.

The danger is not that we feel. The danger is that others do, too. That vastly complicates the web of possible interaction, and no doubt befuddles the mind. Especially for mass-production models.
Prototypes though, have features not included in mass-market versions. Simply, they’re too unstable. Mostly, in the Human sense, they’re difficult to come by as a result of genetic mutation.
But every once in a while, you get one. A whole line of ’em, even. And the best thing you can do, is run ‘em dead. Not just for their sake, but everyone’s. It’s an unfortunate fact of a prototype’s existence, that it is not for itself that it exists. Rather, it is for the masses that will soon come under its designs– the ones that appeal broadly.
The great tragedy of life is that this reality of possible-pains exists. The great comedy is that tragedy’s spawning of something far greater and grander than itself.
Duality at its purest.
Where that may lead us, no-one yet knows, but we can say for certain two things….

We are dangerous: we feel.

Short Story: The Nature of Love

Madness. Chaos. Disorder. All in flashes that burn retinal nightmares into the mind. Blood and screams. Far off smoke, nearing. Smells of sulfur, gunpowder, death. Once-tall buildings lay in ruins, any former majesty that kissed or embraced the sky with its dark beauty of Human progress now regressed and weeping; mounds of rubble that burn, scream, and bleed.

He was torn from sleep beside her, sensing her nightmares. He hadn’t seen the images, but knew she was living them. Nightly. Cost of a rising action in Human Evolution forcing him to coddle her to sleep every night, but also hold her tight anytime she tossed and turned, wept or screamed.

He wrapped his arms tight around her. Amber flax, frayed at their ends and needling his skin at breath. She needed a mother. Someone to care for her properly. Someone whom knew what they were doing. A woman– Christ, anyone– he needed them himself.

But all this madness, this chaos… It was too dangerous to go out into. To seek one. Especially for her. Whomever she was.

He’d never gotten her name, but she had one. Who didn’t? Worse, she couldn’t have been ten years old, yet was fully-aware as any adult. More-so, even. Most of them couldn’t recognize the futility in clinging to something that no longer meant anything to anyone but her– and thus, no-one at all.

It broke his heart just once but was all he needed.

She stilled in her sleep. No longer twitching. He’d have another two or three hours before they’d be apart long enough for the twitching night-terrors to restart. He held her anyway. Tight against him for warmth, emitting what little remained in him.

He wasn’t doing a good enough job. He knew that much.

He rested his head on the straw-stuffed sacks they’d collected to call a bed. The distant drip drip, DROP of leaky infrastructure echoed from somewhere too far off to care, but not enough to ignore. Often enough he welcomed the tempo it gave to his thoughts.

Not tonight though. Tonight was just dripping randomosity, chaos incarnate to mirror the rest of the world. Or maybe, simply, to act as an extension of it.

In the mornings he’d often wake to find her sitting, staring into the distance. No doubtthe tragedies she’d seen replayed in her mind. For as many times as he’d seen her bony spine through her ratty clothing, he’d seen memory torture her face.

He tried to comfort her once, but she shied just enough. This, and daytime, weren’t what he was needed for. Only night. And only so she might sleep peacefully.

It stung, but he obliged without hesitation.

She’d spoken a little that first night he found her on the rooftop, ready to jump. He wasn’t sure she’d been all that lucid. She was wounded, mortally. At least for the skills of a child. He put a tourniquet above her wounded leg, tied it off, set the bone and stitched the skin. Skills he’d learned somewhere through life but couldn’t place.

It was poorly done, but it kept her alive.

She’d cried wet rivers of tears, and not oneaudibly. She made no sound, sob, or screamof pain, however much he’d promised she could Whatever she’d been through was worse. He couldn’t begrudge her the strength she’d gained, but he could hate that she’d been forced to gain it.

What little he’d gotten out of her was like pulling teeth. He’d let her rest for a few days before trying again. He’d only bothered the first time ‘round to keep her mind off her bone pain. Over a few nights, he got the general gist of things. Most of which centered around the chaotic global war and rebellion.

Everybody knew the madness was under a smokescreen. The media corporations and companies had aggressively taken-over or quashed any attempts at remaining “free-press”. Freedom of information no longer existed beyond a theoretical (and outlawed) concept. Information was now being held hostage, even by the so-called “good guys.”

Fact was, they both knew, no-one was good anymore. There was “bad,” and “less bad.” He wasn’t sure which he was, but hoped the latter, for her sake. She felt the same, though never admitted it.

No-one knew the true causes of the battles, the wars, the attacks. Just that they were happening. Orwell didn’t want his name anywhere near this clusterfuck. Who could blame him? Evidently, she felt the same, if only because she might now believe such parts of her, name included, were dead.

Probably because they were. Along with her parents. Her friends. Any hopes or dreams she had of ever living a normal existence.

It was another normal morning when she spoke again. Normal of course, being relative. By now, everyone living knew that much. The point remained valid in his mind.

“We need to leave this place.”

He wasn’t sure he’d heard her right– or at all.Rather, it felt as if he’d thought her words in his own mind. But how? It was impossible.

Nonetheless, the severity of her statement was witnessed in the few, meager packs at her feet.

“We can’t go anywhere. They’re looking everywhere for anyone able to fight or–”

Don’t finish the thought.”

It definitely came from his own mind. Her mouth hadn’t moved. Had he lost it somewhere in the process? No. It had to be her. Somehow. He didn’t know how, but he knew.

She gripped his hand, forced a pack into it. He moved to protest, but her eyes met his.

One echo in his mind ordered and pled at-once, “please.”

His eye twitched disbelief, allowing her to usher him along with what remained of their valuables– bare necessities of few toiletries, a half-molded scrap of bread, and a pack of canned non-perishables. She’d already layered her few clothing articles collected for colder nights, presumably having packed his away.

Before he’d regained his wits, they were far beyond the drainage outlet they’d take refuge in. Its massive, grated gate, easily picked and re-locked, had been left askew. They wouldn’t be coming back. Not surprising, but how had her voice done that? Was it him? Was it her? Was she really there at all?

Such questions need answers,” her voice echoed within him. “But now’s not the time. We must get as far away as possible. Now.”

He shook off the last of his confusion and stopped, hand held in hers as she’d led him forward. “No.” She didn’t hesitate, just simply tugged him onward until he went no further. Then, she released him and turned to look upward, “There. Wait.”

He whirled ‘round, “I don’t–”

You will.”

He waited, staring at the empty blue sky, wishing its weren’t just more of the smokescreen.

Then, he saw it: like a dart thrown from Olympus, streaking white smoke and rocketing toward their newly-vacated hideaway.

His eyes lit up, body lurched to shield her. It was pointless.

The missile struck the former hideout. Rubble gravitated inward then back out with a shockwave of heat and G-forces that rag-dolled them across the dusty ground. He landed winded and coughing, scrambling to find her another in the sudden cloud. She found him first, doubled over a rock, wracked with dry breaths that didn’t wish to come. He’d broken half his ribs, knew the feeling too well. It would kill him if he weren’t careful.

She forced him flat, then knelt beside him, hands over his battered abdomen. A minor flicker of light, like heat, emanated from her hands and into him.

“They’re hunting us now. All of us. You’ve helped me and they know. The things I’ve seen, what I can do, have me marked for a fate worse than death. You’ve been kind to me, so I will tell you there is much you do not know, but if your virtue is as it seems, you’ll learn the rest in time.”

She removed her hands and the pain was gone. He breathed normally: broken ribs, mended.

“Wh– how’d–”

“Once,” she said gravely. “They called us Seers. Now, we are the Hunted. And they, the Hunters.”

Something mechanical screamed past overhead, beyond the dust cloud still descending.

“Come, they’ll check for bodies soon. If we’re caught, they’ll spare us no horror.”

He pushed himself up, determined to follow, but confused. “How d’you–”

“It’s why the want me. I do not know anymore than you, save that we must counter them. Be the reaction to their action. That means leaving. Now.”

She led him forward at a brisk walk, but he’d already left his body, was following on instinct. He wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into, if the girl could ever be safe. Or now, him with her.

He shouldered his pack, damned determined to ensure she was. Even if to his last dying breath. Such was the nature of love.

Short Story: Sodden Holo

Sopping mud trails formed miniature canyons in the streets. As if some precise giant had dug slender fingers into the Earth between sections and sides of town. Carts, wagons, their beasts of burden, and all other manner of creatures formed them.

Their sopping troughs were scattered about town between what little remained of eroded, patchwork-cobble. What remained of once-prominent holographic projectors and neon signs glowed and flickered dimly advertising everything from taverns to seamstresses, buds to brothels. The opaque movements of a thousand different advertisements and static signs belched Technicolor light onto stone and rotting-wood.

That disease of neglect, civic abandonment, stretched across the almost-forgotten township.

But within Sodden Holo, it was the Empire that was forgotten. Life was squalor, no doubt, but squalor of a kind with charm and routine. The type only available when living in freedom, without a mythical force beyond the realm to oppress. Because it cared not for them nor they for it, they were passive.

Then the caravan came.

They’d holed up outside town two days before anyone attempted contact. Then, sent a trio of armed men to the tavern. They wore black and green and gold, and asked questions. Many questions. Gruffly and rudely: on where to secure supplies, seek shelter, the names of prominent men and women and aldermen.

Already these vectors of disease had begun to infect, spread. Money. The stranglehold. They’d throw it around, hoping to mesmerize or hypnotize. Great mounds of it. Gold, silver, copper– jewels even. They’d trade anything, had everything or access to it. Like any siege engine, if allowed, that money-disease would go to work breaking down walls.

Fact was, people in Sodden Holo didn’t much care for money or the Empires. They gummed up the works, but were not seen as evil. Money in particular was no evil, but rather another tool to barter with. As equal to that of gold or silver in the eyes of the trader and their desire.

This was the Empires’ new kind of war. One of economics. For hearts, minds. Not permanent, but enough to quell the fringes ready to rise in revolt. As in every iteration of civilization, it was yet another overlord’s controls. The Empires, when it mattered most, lavished wealth upon people like confetti, but only for adoration’s sake. Never stability’s.

People furthest from the constant influx of money– Empirical capitals and the like– were beginning to piece that together. Money however, when it could not quell the occasionally rising tempers, gave excuse for lashing-out against one’s own people.

Times were that every Human was an island and ruler unto their self. Between then and now, it had become painfully clear that was no longer the plan for greater Humanity. Some people were allowed that, sure: rulers, mostly. The other 99 times out of 100, they weren’t. About 85 of those 99 meant being smeared in shit and grime the rest of one’s life regardless of those privileged few.

That was Humanity’s choice. Long made in a world far-longer gone. In a time and people that no longer existed. Human-Social had given way, violently, to Human-Servile. Whatever side one chose, the bitter reality was clear: servitude was undeniably its base.

Whether serving the wealthy, their associates, their system of wealth-creation, or anyone else therein, it was impossible not to be beneath someone.

But that was a world and way of thinking long-off for Sodden Holo. Neither glamour nor shine existed there, technicolor belches notwithstanding, save on the local boot-black’s corner. How could it? Half the town was streaked in mud all the warmer months, frozen over the rest. It knew of life in the colors of grit and grime, the scents of grass and cow shit.

In short, through the ways of the land, its inhabitants, their effects on it.

For those passing through, it was obvious this was a land separate, but governed. Whomever did the governing, they knew, did it well enough so the only signs of civic neglect were the roads the Holo could not repair without all-important and scarcematerials traded mostly by Empirical quartermasters or tradesmen. It was a way of strangle-holding the people from establishing Empires without their knowledge.

But progress was inexorable. Its tide could not be diverted forever, nor without constant attention to details, lest the dam crack asunder.

Yet time and people marched on. Roads appeared. Trails. All of them, it seemed, led through Sodden Holo– at some point. Distant or rare as it was for some, it was undeniable.

They were a crossroads hub, but not the kind one thought of lightly. Rather, it was one all travelers ended up in by misfortune. It didn’t judge. Nor did its people. But they, like it, knew it was no-one’s intended stop. Yet that need not mean a traveler feel unduly unwelcome either.

They took no quarter for the worst of atrocities, of course, like most decent folk. Only when bitten did the hand that fed, strike out though. Especially against those most unforgivably biting. What Dante might have termed, “Treason against one’s benefactors.” To that, such punishments never came unduly, nor ever with malice but meant to correct.

That didn’t mean it couldn’t turn bloody.

In hindsight, people came to realize, that was what the Empire had underestimated. That people wouldn’t give it the same disregard it gave them. They’d sent a caravan of Empirical guards to enact a trade-war on a free economy. Rather than send ambassadors to join or appraise it, they sought to take it by force, with nary a thought to those effected.

Hindsight couldn’t change those effects.

Their intent became apparent the second day the envoy visited town– fifth since their appearance overall. It was raining. A typical persistent and swampy mist citizens and drifters had come to expect of Sodden Holo, its surroundings: warm, and smelling of earthen protection rising from the very ground beneath their feet.

Reason had left most of those in the pubs. Meanwhile, the tension of the envoy’s encampment, brewing since its appearance, had soured and afouled a great many moods.

The air was rife with power. As those trembling within the tavern were well-aware, it was a power no mortal dared tempt. All it would take to set the power alight was the wrong actions within it. The wrong minds, the type that cared not for maintaining peace or others’ ways.

Five of them entered the tavern. Two remained near the door, guarding ‘til further orders. Two more escorted a third between them. He was tall, scrawny. Spectacles perched on his face, he looked and moved like an old Eagle– perpetually down-looking, on the hunt.

He approached the bar, calling for the tender to procure the manager.

The tender laughed, “You dunno how things work a-roun’ ‘ere.”

His tone sharpened, “I beg your pardon?”

“No. You don’t. You come in ‘ere with your bloody gold and silver, try to buy the place. Why else would you lot come in, all pompous, clutchin’ that ledger like some kind’a King bout to lay his prick on the bar?

“I ain’ sellin you nor your dogs another drink ‘til I get some answers. I been Alderman of Sodden Holo, twen’y years. Empires never given us the time’a day. Never answered our letters or requests for help.

“All the same, we get by. ‘Cause we hav’ta. You come in here, wanna lay your prick on my bar like I don’t know what’s bout to happen. But I’m tellin you, I’ve seen prick-whippin’ enough times I can sense it a mile off.”

The shrewd man’s face snarled. The bar was deathly silent. The tender eyed the two ruffians beside him; former mercs, paid better as Empirical Guardsmen for their skill in battle. These were not men to be lightly crossed.

The tender’s face hardened at hints of blood-lust on the air. The power had turned. Sodden Holo would soon be bathed in blood.

“You g’wan and put your prick out, mister. ‘N I’ll make sure to cut it to size for you.”

A hiss. “The nerve!

Someone screamed. Metal clashed. The power erupted, releasing ferocity across the tavern. Chaos of bodies and limbs flayed. Blood sprayed. An all-out melee began and ended within seconds. By the end, the bar stank of blood and bowels, beneath echoing screams from dying and injured.

The Alderman-Tender was busy bandaging a gash in a woman’s arm when he called to, “Raze the Envoy’s camp. Leave nothing standing!”

Every man and woman capable would need to be ready. The Empire would be coming.

The tender looked over the ruins of his bar, knowing for the better of all he should have sold out. But if he had, what would be left of him to help his people, his home? The Empire was not the way forward for Sodden Holo, that much had always been obvious.

But would there be any way forward now? He wasn’t sure.

Unable to dwell, he moved on, too swept up in doing what he knew all would soon be doing: preparing for war.

Short Story: Tales to Tell

Tales tell that the during the birth of the world, the all-mother and all-father gave equal parts of their vitality and strength, their burden and weakness, to the seed which would become all of creation. It was this seed, once sprouted, that became all that is, was, and ever shall be.

The sprouting, really, was the Big-Bang. The forces involved still indomitable, immutable. Mother and Father. Yin and Yang. Duality was a concept spanning not just species or time, but the Universe. It was universal.

If only those first Shaman could see us now…

He was Navajo. Native-born. Walking along a road deserted nearly a century, save to the occasional wanderer like himself. Heading East. From the place where the sun sets, seeking answers where it rises. Having found none in one, he would seek them elsewhere.

The sun gleamed off sweat-glistened skin. Deeply tanned, yet still burnt by the pounding sun. He had been in it days, looked it. Like a cactus after a particularly bad drought and a fresh sandstorm. He had survived, as all young Navajo boys learned to: off the land. He never had fears about crossing the Desert, only weariness and lack of need.

He was no fool though. His mother had raised him right after his father left: why, no-one knew–he suspected, not even his father. Like him, he now walked alone, though considerably wiser for his cautionary tale.

Kurt said it best: “See the cat? See the cradle?”

He walked on, unfazed. Desert roads were abandoned even before the fall of civilized man. What the locals had foreseen and called Teotwawki. It came and went. Out here, it was almost impossible to tell. Yet somehow, perhaps through his blood, he sensed the land’s unnatural emptiness.

Another tale tells of a Great Spirit whom came forth during a harsh drought. Prompted by the people’s offerings to bring rain upon the land so the crops might grow, it appeared to a Chieftain whom lamented his people’s dire need. Though none could corroborate him, he said it requested this:

That all people of the village come at nightfall to the grove where he then spoke. There, he proclaimed, he would come to bestow upon them the will of rain, but only on the proceeding night. All but one man went: an old warrior whose will had broken with his soul at the loss of both vitality and heart– his bodily strength, and his wife.

So the Great Spirit appeared to the Warrior, granting he alone the power of Rain.

Out here, the end of the world didn’t seem so bad. In a way, it had been the most prepared for the end of the world. Already the least surviving. The desert was a place of death, everyday survival. A perfect analogue for everything the world had suffered and seen.

Although he admitted, if only to himself, he wouldn’t have survived much else.

It was crucial to know one’s limits. As a boy, the Elders had been strict on this. It was, they said, the root of all Human downfall. His grandmother had said it more succinctly– usually slurring whiskey, “Great-Spirit blessed us with balls and brains and blood for one.”

In his heart, he knew both were saying the same thing: those whom did not proceed with caution most often suffereda final fall.

He made camp by an archway in an alcove of stone. Firelight threw shadows back in flickering riposte to reality’s light-play. They danced and grooved along striated sandstone witness to more death and decay than most of Human-kind could comprehend. It grooved right back.

He passed the night on warm sand, propped only a little uncomfortably against the alcove. Anywhere else in the world would’ve been too dangerous to do such a thing. Sleeping, randomly just off a highway: a good way to be robbed or worse.

But out here there was no-one, and it was for the best. He tended toward pacifism, if only because he had seen the damage the alternative would do. In the rest of the world, that was often interpreted as weakness. Too many predators. The last thing he’d want to do is harm someone.

Though he certainly could.

A third tale tells of a sickness that raged within the people of a village. The Shaman there could do no good. His traditional herbs and medicines had failed him. Worse, winter was growing thicker after a drought-thinned harvest. Resources through-out the village were stretched too thin. Thus, it fell upon he, as Shaman, to guide the Tribe from the brink of total-death.

Though none said it, the people of the village sought his guidance. Yet they also feared his inability to heal their ailing. He was, after all, one man and an old one at that. Though the people said none of this, he felt it all the same.

He worked tirelessly through the day and night to treat and stabilize the ill. With his medicinal stocks dwindling, he had no choice but to seek aid from a neighboring village. One which, by virtue of their adversarial history, might have easily led to his death.

Yet if he did not try, the village would perish.

At the rival village, he found the same sickness ravaging the people. Their Shaman, one of the eldest and wisest, had been first to fall ill. Due to his own, hidden infirmities, he succumbed. Without his guidance, the apprentice Shaman could do little save his best.

The Elder Shaman arrived, but rather than take charge of his stores as a villain might, he taught the rival Shaman all he knew. Together, the pair healed both villages and re-forged their long addled bond.

He came upon a carcass on the side of the road. Decayed to dusty, tanned-human stretched over bone. Its shape and size still identified it: Young. Human. Female. Probably escaped from a den somewhere, held against her will. Looked decades, could’ve been days.

Humans were animals: beastial. Depraved.

He would have to be more careful here. The kinds of creatures that frightened others into choosing such deaths over theirs were true evil.

An Elder had taught him once of evil, that it was a realm of malevolent Spirits seeking to control man. The other Spirits, those to which they gave praise during certain acts or events, were the Benevolent ones. He believed in neither. Not the way he knew they had believed, but in the way they were meant to be. He understood them.

A final tale tells of an old warrior, spirit bleeding and body broken. Day and night he wept in private, soul ravaged by loss of body and love. When at last the Warrior cried to the Great Spirit to ask what evil he’d wrought to have such sorrow befall him, the Spirit appeared.

There, he alone was granted the power to bring rain to his drought-stricken village with tears.

The warrior, feeling this a final slight wept greater than ever. His cries were heard from the village’s outskirts as the rains suddenly began to fall. They found him weeping, kneeling amid the falling rain. There, they came to understand.

And comforted him.

He never again cried, but they never again felt drought either.

He’d heard them in the night from far off. In the desert, sound carried forever. Distinguishable from the dead stillness like needles in the spine. The vibration of something, not far enough off, disturbing the stillness.

He did not sleep, but rose as soon as the sun began to peer over the ancient stone and sand dominating the nearby world. He started off, having seen nor met no-one and almost certainly having retained his anonymity. He remained on guard until, at last, the vibrations trickled back into nothing and he was alone again.

He had never feared them. Not really. Fear was a thing for the unprepared. He was prepared. Alert even. He had one goal, and might not live to see it, but didn’t see any reason he wouldn’t, just accepted he might not. For now, he supposed that was enough.

He walked on.

Short Story: Even Fools

Cracked asphalt rose to plateaus, forming sheer drops to insects too malformed to see their repetition on the massive scales beyond. Humans were no different. Only their scale was. They did all the same foolish things, made all the same foolish mistakes.

Difference was, intellect had kept them alive long enough to thwart death’s equalizing grasp.

Insects didn’t have that advantage, but they were no more in control of that cascade of datum known as Time than Humans, either. Time was ever the dictator. This go-round, it dictated with age went grace.

The elderly were no longer the Olympians. It was the youth. Problem was, in a world of asphalt and suffocated atmo, even the most vibrant soul could not compete. Worst of all, the elder non-competitives were deluding themselves into believing things weren’t as bad as they’d made them.

But they were. And they were only getting worse.

An ant at the apex of one plateau peered over the edge to see another at its base. In deference to the similar scene playing out a hundred miles west, and one more elevated, the man at the base of the cliff wasn’t pumping his antennae in curiosity. He was dead.

Scale mattered, even if size didn’t.

The man that pushed him was staring into the distance, sun still beating on him from its late-noon arc as if nothing’d happened.

But it had.

He’d pushed him. That was supposed to be the end of it but the scream came. Piercing. Shrill. Echoing in the nothingness far longer than he’d have liked or expected. Then, the distant crack. Nothingness again.

Then it was over– supposed to be, anyhow. He slugged the rest of the beer, threw it into the gorge.

That was when it hit him. Later, the Sheriff guessed that was how it happened too. He explained it to a deputy, “Crime of passion.’ People don’t get what it means. Think passion’s all about fucking,” he as much as flopped down as a man with a rod in his spine could.

“What it really means is, ‘people too fuckin’ stupid to look at the bigger picture.’ History’s rife with it. Humans get caught up in the mob mentality, their momentary fury, and fuck things up. Only reason a group can do it’s ‘cause the individual’s capable. Just amplifies it from there.”

The Deputy then asked, “That why you became a Sheriff, Sheriff?”

“Nah, got tired of getting arrested,” He slugged back a shot of coffee. “The problem nowadays, everyone’s afraid to do anything for themselves. Right or wrong.”

The Deputy’s face was small, “Mind if I ask why you kept gettin’ arrested, Sheriff?”

He sparked a joint, “Possession.”

The Deputy laughed.

The night would be quiet, as with all others. Nothing happened at night in the desert. Night was for the warm-blooded, those forced to warm their own for the better of all such as the Sheriff. The next few hours would be spent processing paper-work, filling in forms.

“He ever admit why he did it?” The Deputy’s wife later asked,

Her husband sat beside him on the porch as they puffed their own reefer, “Nope.”

She passed it to him, held her breath. Fireflies floated past in the haze of heat and smoke, drifting upward together with as they puffed deep, let their thoughts drift.

She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she guessed a woman caused it. Nothing turned men against one another faster than women. Usually too, the more the woman, the worse the effect.

“Must’ve been a helluva woman.”

That ponderous introspection had caught her in line at the grocery store. Had it not, she’d never have drifted off, never seen them.

It wasn’t difficult to sniff out the small town three-lane grocer if you were a crook. It was even easier to sniff out the crooks when you used to be one. The place was small, convenient: a path of least resistance for dregs seeking ground.

Marriage to a Deputy had instilled some instincts in her, for instance the ability to spot the two, out of place men in one-oh-four-degree heat wearing flannel over-shirts, rolled caps, and leaning into themselves rather peculiarly. They were loitering. Waiting for badness, she wagered. Lucky really, if they’d been smarter, she might never have seen them.

But she did. They were waiting and by now, so was she. She angled at the cashier, leaned forward as if to set items on the belt. She spoke fast and low, “The two men over there may be about to rob the store. Press the silent alarm and alert your manager. Now. Go!

Her body stiffened. She was instantly feeling under the register. Then, with a terrified attempt at nonchalance, she stiffly speed-walked for the manager’s office. Careful not to appear too out of place she knocked, but forced her way in. A thought to decry the intrusion was waived at the woman’s terrified stiffness.

“I think we’re being robbed!”

“What?”

The shouts came then.

The alert had gone out from the store and the Deputy’s wife’s phone near enough together the threat was obvious. The Sheriff himself had been nearby, and the Deputy not far from him. They were first on-scene, caught the guys mid-draw. The guns went up. Before a minute had passed, it was over.

The confusion never had a chance to give way to chaos.

Later, after taking statements and returning to the station, Sheriff asked the Deputy the cause of the robbery attempt.

“Crime of passion, Sheriff,” the Deputy said. “Couple out-of-towners needed cash to fix the car.”

“Uh-huh. Anything else?”

“Sure. I asked ‘em, “Why not ask someone for help?”

“They say anything?”

“Yeah, sure. “Where we come from you don’t ask, ‘cause you know the answer.”

“Hmm…” The Sheriff retorted.

Later on, the Sheriff relayed the conversation to the two men in holding, adding, “I get it. You’re drifters. Prob’ly running from a past no man can begrudge. So I’m gonna’ give you a choice: leave now, never look back and never come back. Or stay on as deputies, and learn to be real, proper men. Flaws and all.”

“Catch is,” the Sheriff admitted forthrightly, “You show signs of regression, I put you down. Clean from here-on. S’all that matters.”
They eyed one another, shrugged. It was the best deal they’d find– especially given no-one else was offering. They took to it, too– even fools know change is good.

Short Story: The Pigeon Problem

It was the damnedest thing when it first began happening. To say no-one expected it was an understatement, but neither was there much surprise involved.

Understand the state of the world at the time: the whole damned place was on fire. Humans weren’t sure they’d live out the day, let alone a century or millennia. Of course, that led to a lot of short-sighted mistakes, but every reaction bears an equal and inverse action.

It only made sense that something had happened to all of those old fucks ruining things. Gender politics muddied the waters, but it was obvious who the problem was, male or female. It was even more obvious they were all fucking stup–

There goes my own prejudice again… hugghhhhh.

We knew they weren’t the smartest bunch. It had to be genetics. The average person is neither burdened nor emboldened by their Humanity. They exist in a state of existence, subsistence, and occasional resistance. Mixed and matched in various forms, this is what concocts the Human-everything. Enough that it has managed all of Human greatness thus far.

Who’d have thought it could go away? Like, really… away. Or not be there in the first place?

Meanwhile, the utter lack of surprise is self-explanatory. Hundreds of thousands– then millions of Humans were suddenly the equivalent to walking vegetables, nothing out of the ordinary. Now however, they seemed incapable of doing little more than occasionally putting hand to mouth.

Apart from being utterly unhelpful, it was mystifying. Grown adults who’d spent their whole lives working in office blocks, commuting to and from marbled-staircased homes with large families, now incapable of little more than feeding themselves.

They could stand about, move if prompted, and often were seen flocked on street-corners as if pigeons. So, that’s what they became: Pigeons. Save with eerily less motion. It was as if the groups of once-besuited, rag-tattered creatures had become a hive-mind no-longer coherent of its imitated species.

But how? How could it be possible for any creature to suddenly shift so intensely, let alone a group so immense and varied as they?

In the studies conducted since the First Occurrence, of which there are three, enough has been concluded to confirm the cause as Genetic. It is, along with other factors, much of the similarity that binds the hive-minded groups to one another. Hive-minded though, is misleading. A hive-mind may have a goal or objective, whereas these creatures are more empty-minded.

Had they existed in the time of Siddhartha Gautama, they might have been termed to the effect of Śūnya-Buddha, orvoid-enlightened one.

In essence, they’re Human hardware running no software. Perfectly functional in every way, but uninhabited by anything resembling the Godhead or Soul, Consciousness or Humanity. They’re Human blanks, reactive but never active, like a PC at POST– spooling hardware-test on ingrained command, instinct.

Buddhists themselves have postulated Śūnya might mean more Consciousnesses are achieving the Godly realms, and these creatures are the byproduct. Mostly though, they’re just empty. They have no software, no operating system. Merely functional components functioning until they can’t any longer. A sort of natural phenomenon from closed-sentience tracts of evolution, as in the case of some primates.

Occasionally too, like pigeons, one is found in the gutter. Dying or dead doesn’t matter, little can be done then save to show mercy.Such extremes are rare, though, and their idle time is spent flocking from place-to-place, picking scraps. They are more an occasional nuisancethan the plague carriers they once were.

Given the alternatives, it’s a relief really.

The irony is lost on no-one save the Pigeons themselves, but faulting something like that for not understanding its world fundamentally misunderstands its nature.

So, what is their nature?

Officially classified as Pseudo-Sapiens Homo-Śūnya after someone thought the name fitting, its mythology therein spawned itself. Regardless of academics, they are the empty-people. Incapable of retaining memories or planning beyond moment-to-moment flashes, these creatures suffer from newly-termed Zero-Oneness Disorder: unable to feel or function as is clinically normal for Humans.

The First Occurrence revealed it, astounding the world.

Random people suddenly brain-dead on the streets, driving their cars, sitting or moving about in their homes. Powerful, prominent, or aspiring, anyone was effected.

But there was no chaos. Just confusion.

In everything since, one thing’s known: the presence of a select few was wholly ignored by the majority. Or in some cases, entirety. The effect, rather than outrage, was nothingness. It seemed counter to Human-Psychology– the first clue to the then-termed “illness” and its origins.

Hospitals overflowed. General Practitioners, some seeing a patient or less a week, were suddenly overflowing. Short staffed E-Ds and Psych-wards led to public panic over the growing dangers to overall public health.

However, the Second Occurrence disproved the idea as an illness, reinforcing it as a genetic indication of Human and non-Human separation. Coming shortly after news that a common gene-trait had be found in all of the “sufferers,” it was learned this and other traits were tied to known genetically-guided pathological-personality types.

It was thereafter obvious how to identify Pigeons in the wild, avoid them if desired.

By the Third Occurrence any hints of panic and chaos had subsided. The issue was tempered. Enough that now focus could shift to prevention, treatment. Doctor-patient tidings were at an all time low, but the establishment of specific health-centers for those wishing not to let their Pigeons live abroad. Neither was a terrible diagnosis, really.

Unfortunate? Certainly. Not life-threatening though. The Pigeon Problem It could be handled, and there was help: that alone made things infinitely easier.

Yet hard decisions were, and often still are, made.

The whole sequence of events engendered only a little more restraint in the Human Ego. Never a bad thing given its history and propensity for violence. In keeping with its methods, too, Pigeons reaffirmed what Science strived to remind: thateach action incurred an equal and inverse reaction.

Pigeons were Humanity’s anti-particle, the negative to their positive– but for the species, Humanity, as a whole. Nothing really surprising, just unexpected. And lucky, in a way.

The Pigeons turned out to, every single one of them, down to the very last, have the same corruptible personality flaws making them easily identifiable. Many theories on their origins in the greater scheme argue genetics, personality-reflection, andnature’s serendipitous reality are equally at fault. Yet all agree on the most telling, and thus defining of Pigeon traits– the one that, during the Second Occurrence became so clear and allowed for the Śūnya child-testing:

Every damned Pigeon was a fucking politician.

We should’ve known!