Bonus Short Story: The Wound Thus Healed

A great sickness ravaged a group of tribals in the middle of an angry winter. Each day that the men rose to hunt game, they returned later, most often in fewer numbers. The women would leave to gather what few nuts and berries still grew in the freezing temperatures. At least one or two would not return, their bounties lost with them. The few that managed to survive both parties, would end up confined to a pair of huts, the fires in their centers stoked by the tribe’s Shaman.

He wore a garb of animal furs, white tattoos across his face and body, and carried a walking stick to aide his hobbled gait. Each morning and night he would stand beside the beds of the ill and dying, chanting his healing magics with mantras from the back of his throat. His two apprentices would remain beside him, eyes cast downward in prayer as the guttural sounds billowed robustly over distant screams from the wind. Even so, his power was not great enough, and none of his sparse humors or poultices seemed to help.

He was forced to make a trek in search of aid, leave his apprentices to observe the rituals. Through the driving winds and snow, he planted each step with unshakable faith, determination. First, to the North, to seek the spirit of the mountain and plead with it for guidance and mercy. The mountain was high, had taken the lives of many men and women in his lifetime alone. Like his people, he knew it had a wrath and beauty that entwined in one another, was as unshakable as his own determination to find a cure.

He stood at the foot of the mountain, prayed in silence for the Great Mountain Spirit to hear him. It did not reply. Such was the nature of it that many times the mountain was spiteful toward man. The Shaman could do little more than turn away after a day’s prayers, ready to weep at the losses his people suffered. He collected what few herbs and roots were to be found at the Mountain’s feet, grateful for what little the blessing the spirit had bestowed in the lateness of the season.

He turned next for the East, trekked through the forests filled with deer, rabbits, and the occasional wolf. In the distance, each of their heads rose at him in time. The deer’s eyes were frightful. The rabbit’s spine was cowardly. The wolf licked its lips with a sniff of the air. Still not one of them found him of interest, not even enough to run from. So rotten were the stenches of sickness and death on him that even the wolf turned its eyes away in respect. The Shaman was grateful that the forest had let him pass unhindered, unharmed. His people needed him, would not survive without their Shaman’s eventual return.

The Shaman then reached the hills, where even in the gray of winter the highest peaks graced the sky with a serene bliss. Upon the highest hill, he planted his staff and knelt to pray once more. This time, he pled with the sky to repeal its harsh proclamation of winter to lessen the people’s suffering, prevent the rest of the hunters and gatherers from contracting the sickness in the cold. Again there was no reply– and this time neither herbs nor roots. Still, he thanked the sky for its past blessings, and left.

He trekked back Westward, through the forests. The animals were nowhere to be found. He found no solace in the fact, but still thanked forest for allowing him to pass unharmed once more. Beyond it, he continued West, for a river that ran even in the harshness of the winter. He followed its winding pathways to a clearing where stones were laid out for tribal meetings. In their center, her sat to face the river, and prayed that the Great River Spirit once more nourish his people with life-giving water. In it, he asked for there to be something which might heal the sick, dying. He drank of the river only to sense that his prayers had once more gone unanswered.

He wept at the river’s edge.

All of the Great Spirits had abandoned them, unwilling to aid them through the harshest winter they cast upon the tribe. Though the Shaman’s people revered him as a great healer, and master of the white-magics, he knew it to be merely the concoctions created from the blessings of these great spirits. His only magic was that which allowed him to keep the secret confined to himself and his apprentices.

When he rose from the river’s edge, he trekked back eastward only to stop where his three sets of tracks led from the mountain, the forest and hills, and the running river. There was but one pathway left to him; the South, past his own people and toward those with whom they had so often warred. Were he not in such dire need, he might have never considered it. After all, they were usually hostile, and with good reason. Were he to fall at seeking respite, with him might go any hope his tribe had. He could not bear to think of the ills that would be suffered without him. But neither could he bare to watch his people die knowing he had not done all he could.

He walked South, skirted the tribe’s edge so that they might not have the moment of false-hopes his supposed return would bring. His path continued away from his village toward his rivals’. At its edge were no guards. Even in the season it was unusual. The Shaman’s tribe had no guards posted either, but only as a result of the sickness that ravaged it. He continued into the village’s interior and found their people, like his, scattered in states of sickness. The ill, dying, and dead told a similar story to that of the Shaman’s village. The sickness was here too.

He entered the hut of the black-tattooed tribal Shaman that had, for so long, been his rival. Like himself, the other man had healed the wounds of more than a few of the injured in their fighting. He was as competent as the white-tattooed Shaman himself.

He found the black-tattooed Shaman tending to his people as he had, waited beside the fire for the guttural chants and mantras to end. Then, with a swivel, the black-tattooed Shaman met the other’s eyes over the dance of a fire between them.

“It is here as well,” the first Shaman said. The second gave a nod. The first spoke again, “I have just been to ask the Great Spirits for aid. The Mountain, Sky, and River do not reply.”

The second Shaman responded, “I too have spoken with them, been refused replies as you.”

“They are angry then,” the first Shaman surmised. Again the second nodded.

Then, with a small gesture, the second Shaman drew the first to his side, then lowered his head to pray. Unsure of his intentions, the first also prayed– if only to show his own, peaceful intentions. The dual guttural sounds synchronized in harmony over the pain of the afflicted. For many hours they chanted their prayers and mantras, neither Shaman certain of why the other kept their peaceful bent.

It was late in the evening, after the sun had sunk and the stars rose, that the first man rose from his death-bed. The black-tattooed Shaman’s-apprentices made sounds of surprise, shock, leapt back with a start. The first Shaman opened his eyes, though he would not stop his chants, to see something miraculous: The man lived. He had been near death, drawing his last breaths when the white-tattooed Shaman entered the hut. It was miraculous the man had lived this long. That he now stood beside the bed to thank the Shamans and weep, was unbelievable. Still the Shamans prayed, chanted, heads bowed and eyes once more closed.

In time, each of the afflicted once more re-took their feet, no longer ill and now reinvigorated. When the Black-tattooed Shaman’s village was cured, he followed the other back to his village. As before, they took a place in the hut where the worst of the sick and dying were held. It was not long after, that they too, were all healed. Both men thanked one another after the last of the sick once more returned to their families. The white-tattooed Shaman then asked of the second what he believed had changed the Spirits’ minds.

The black-tattooed Shaman put a hand to his shoulder, his eyes and voice level, “The Great Spirits were angry… with us. For all the pain that our peoples have caused one another.”

The white-tattooed Shaman understood, “And it was our penance to seek brotherhood in one another if we wished to heal our sick and dying.”

The second Shaman gave a nod, “We are stronger together, the Spirits know–” he put a closed fist over his heart. “Brother.”

The first Shaman bowed his head, clenched a fist over his heart in turn. The Great Spirits did not wish to spite either tribe, but rather bring them together the only way they could: through their medicine men. In healing the sick, they too healed the wounds that had separated brother from brother, sister from sister, family and friend alike. The wound thus healed, a new era of peace and cooperation could begin.

Short Story: The Islands

The Islands

In this world, an aristocracy reigns supreme. It controls everything; from food-production and distribution, to education and transportation. While the latter two may not seem as important, I assure you they are. For there is no-one educated upon the whole face of this planet, but me.

Earth as we once called it– was filled with land that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. Seven massive plots of it– continents– totaled more than one-hundred and forty-eight million square kilometers. Its amorphous beauty was rivaled only by the greatest oceans of the age, smaller then than they are now.

While this was long before my time, I was benefited at a young age with education. My family is comparatively new to the aristocracy, one of those few with unnatural luck to have escaped the destitution of invisible borders. Even so, the others like me do not know the things I know. They care little for history, science, or mathematics– or for that matter, anything beyond their mounds of cement and currency.

At the present, that once voluminous land is gone, replaced by the supremacy of oceans and a few, dense clusters of man-made rock. Though the oceans are much shallower now, their volume spread over thirty-percent more area, they remain a force of nature to be reckoned with. We’ve had to adapt to them, overcome them, and at times, contend with them as warriors of brute strength against their ironclad-will.

How did this happen, you may ask? It is much simpler explained than imagined or understood. In simplest terms, human history has created a penchant for development. It first began millennia ago when the shelter of caves and rock overhangs no longer sufficed our needs. We gathered grasses, felled lumber, began to build crude lean-tos, shacks, and huts. Our species, Man, transformed from free-range animal to primal carpenter in an amazingly short time. With our new-found journeymen skills, we created tools. Over even shorter spans of time, and thanks to enlarged brains and intellects, we grew into the master carpenter. In the scheme of the skies and stars, it was but the blink of an eye before we concocted grand designs, constructed expansive suburbs, streets, and structures of unimaginable prowess.

This is where our history truly begins to take shape. Humanity, as we knew it, suffered from the strain of those whom wished for have bigger homes, more expensive, taller work-buildings, and more money to make them. These “novuea riche” wanted a world with material things the size of their collective ego, did their damnedest to create it. In order for them to have it, these “families” of economic-thieves had to invest in the public sector– to create goods for the less wealthy. (Or as they called them, the poor.)

It worked. Masses of wealth accrued, were used to procure the bigger, better desires. What began in early, civilized human history, and was otherwise subtly hidden from the masses, finally showed its ugly face. Though there had always been a division of class, with the “haves” on one side and the “have-nots” on the other, the gap appeared visibly, insurmountable. It was seen in the cities, the suburbs, the streets, where gates or high, cement walls separated the Elite from the lower-beings. It was seen in education, with public and private schools where the former were gang-riddled, and the latter lavish, better-funded. It was even seen in the public transportation, where “classes” of seat were established for only those well-off enough to afford the newer, cleaner seats.

At some point in this loathsome history of segregation, a total of four main “families” had gained control of the majority of the wealth. The rest of the money had been spread between their closest business interests, kept from all other hands to be dealt under tables of seemly, unethical dealers. So often did it exchange hands within the small groups, that no one person was without part of its bills at a time.

Where this matters not to most, it matters most to me. This massive gap still exists between the rich and poor, and because of this aristocratic party, those on the gap’s far-side continue to suffer. They’ve no homes, jobs, or money to feed, clothe, or care for themselves properly. Many die each day without medical treatment, or even kindly consideration.

Where before this gap was merely visible, proverbial, now it is undeniable. Where the beautiful homes end now, there is no city to divide them from the poor, only the a high-wall, and water. It is pervasive everywhere, a new segregation where it is not a man or woman’s skin color that determines their worth, but rather, their pocket-book.

Again, how did it happen? It is a most curious thing to any whom may examine it. Sometime in the late twentieth century, a strange thing began to occur. The world as we knew began to change, shift. Most scientists agreed that climate change– the natural shift of the Earth’s weather from one extremity to the other– was the cause. It was understood to be a natural phase of the earth that either preceded or succeeded an ice age. The last one, ten-thousand years before, still emanated waves at us through time and weather. We had shifted to the hotter phase of the cyclical weather. There would be longer, hotter seasons, colder, harsher winters.

But it was in this precarious shift that humanity found it had made a terrible mistake. Or perhaps more accurately, the aristocracy had.

You see, the Earth’s land mass– all one-hundred and forty-odd million kilometers of it– was simply not formed to sustain the pressures of what had been placed upon it. At least, that is, not in the advent of terrible quakes and tremors from beneath its surface. These upheavals of the Earth had been ever-present, but increased by the pressures the climate shift had brought on. Coupled with the aristocracy’s bigger, better dreams on its surface, it had no choice but to succumb.

This fact became widely known by the late twenty-first century, and in the absence of foresight, a plan was devised by those ego-driven dreamers. At first, it was solely to their benefit, but they soon realized they would need their “peasants” for the phases of their scheme.

In itself, it was rather grandiose. It was based on an ideal scenario that there would be enough time between the first quakes, before enough earth fell away, to complete it. It consisted three phases; construction of cement islands, construction of dwellings upon those islands (for the aristocracy), and finally, the construction of barges of enormous sizes unmatched by any in history.

Through out the process, many questioned this final phase. Why barges, and to what end? The obvious explanation was transportation for the masses. What was not known, was that these barges were never meant to transport anything, merely contain.

A barge, for the unfamiliar, is a massive ship with a flat-bottom. Before our times, some of the largest spanned just shy of five-hundred meters. Ours can be miles long. These ships, since their creation in the ancient eons of far-gone lands, are used to transport people and cargo over-seas. In more modern recent times, they were used for mass shipments of long, rectangular containers that held everything from high-priced automobiles, to foods, to garbage that stank like hell. It is easy then, to make a connection between this history and the revelation of the last phase of this scheme.

Grand and conniving as it was, the scheme’s phases gradually shifted. The cement islands sprang up in fixed latitudes, their distant horizons soon covered by towers of stone and steel. New, hidden agendas of the aristocracy were then revealed. Upon “break-down” of one of these barges, it was learned that they were no longer meant for transportation. With massive numbers of the aforementioned containers aboard, and full parties of peasants packed upon it like sardines, bound for new dwellings upon an island, the anchors were laid by their automated systems.

The ships were meant to house the poor.

With this startling new revelation in hand, I set about a scheme of my own. It is no secret among the aristocracy (of which I have am a part) that I am something of a miser, an eccentric. In their own words, I have crusaded tirelessly for the poor. While it is true, it is wrong, preposterous even, that they should be buried beneath the aristocracy’s trash simply because they lack worthless paper, and imagined credit. It was my grandfather’s ambitious construction company that partook in a large percentage of the Islands’ creation. Our family was afforded a rather sizable wealth off these old-money men. When my grandfather died, and my father took over, they were so pleased with his manners and knowledge of his place in their world, that they took him under their wings. Fortunate as my family has been, we are below them, and they treat us as such. They let us have just enough of “their” money to makes Elite, but not enough to ever rival them.

But they are stupid, ignorant, uneducated.

It is my elite-status, that I loathe, that has afforded me the opportunity to plan schemes of my own. And it is my foresight, imbued in no small part from my education, that has allowed my father’s passing to grant me his company, supplemented my own, personal fortune to carry it out. While those old bastards could never comprehend its purpose, I’ve began to build my own island.

While they view me as an outcast, it is with respect to my ailing mother that I have yet to be exiled. Surely when she passes, I will be cast out. There is much deliberation over how though. As they wish to keep money from the hands of the poor, and I have vast sums. They seem themselves as the generals of a pseudo-chess battle against the unfortunate, the object of the game, as it has always been, is money and power. The more they have, the more secure they feel in the future of “their” kind. They long ago abandoned words like “humanity” and “brotherhood.” Now, they know only “us” and “them.”

I fear that some of this has rubbed off on me, as I have yet to refer to them by name. Though it means little, the four families are; the Smiths, Johnsons, Gregarins, and Chos. These words are like acrid bile on my tongue, and represent the descendants of once-prominent CEOs, Executives, even Politicians. You see, those of the “family” are not bound in blood, but rather in status, money. They are the products of the incestuous relations between the four, once-wealthiest groups on the planet. Since the great flood, they’ve lost reason to quarrel or quibble over blood-ties, finding solace only in their shared status. Their Islands of higher-caste are impassable to all but the other elite.

The chess-battle of which I spoke, comes more into focus when viewing the Islands themselves. Where some lands are totally impassable, the Chos seem to allow passage in and out at certain times. Perhaps they remember days when even they had nothing, find nostalgia in pitying those below their station. Even so, the rest of times, they cast out their fellow man over a matter of dollars.

Herein lies the ideology I can never understand. It is the reason I shall never truly be one of them. Though I understand the necessities of fortune, wealth, status, they’ve no merit when so many others suffer unduly. Perhaps this ignorance is what fuels my schemes. In either case, I have passed word through the barges; As many strong-backs as can be found, should be assembled by a date. Upon that date, a massive crane ship will be sent by my company to receive them. I have let fly rumors that the ship contains salvation. In many ways, it does. It is no lie. I will be there myself, to accompany them along the journey. And, when far from the range the Elite’s electronic ears, I will give my speech.

On that day, it reads thus; “As I look out among the faces today I must admit; never have I dreamed so many dreams at once. Never have I felt so many varied admirations, or fearful apprehensions, or seen so much light and hope together in once place. Never once could I imagine to look out upon all you, and loathe that which casts you out more fiercely than I have before. But I do. And I want you all to know, I feel for you. As I always have. I wish you only the best. While you are anxious, hungry, exhausted, or otherwise, have lost the zest and zeal for life, I must ask this of you; take my next words gravely serious, for it is not my future in your hands, it is yours… Humanity’s. Beginning after a mandated rest, in which we will sail further from reach of the Elite, we will begin construction of a new Island that will rival that of their combined realms, and it will be all yours.”

The apprehension that flickers over the crowd I expect. They have heard these promises before, been lulled with golden promises that were little more than lullabies to soothe them as a mother soothes a weeping babe. Even so, I continue without pause, without concern. “It is true. Though few of you would believe it over death. I ask only one thing in return for this; that you earn it. Each of you men, young men, women, young women, and children, holds connections to others whom stayed behind. Use that to influence them, to clean, maintain, and love what you are given by whomever may give it. I am fortunate enough to take on this monumental project, and I won’t waste it. I’d ask only the same from you.”

A joyous cheer erupts, and I sense that apprehension is gone.

“Excellent! Now eat, and sleep, and dream! Tomorrow marks the beginning in a long, and exhausting process that will re-shape all of our worlds. So I say, good luck to all of us!”

I leave the stage to applause, adjourn to my quarters.

At first they thought I’d lost my mind, that I was not right in the head and should be committed. They threatened to do just that, but my mother, to her dying breath, defended me, pled for lenience. With her untimely death, her reserve transferred to me. I held fast, ready to die with the truth on my lips. They were the ones not thinking right– they were not in their right minds.

And so, on the three hundredth day since construction had began, the builders poured the last ounce of cement, laid the last brick, and kicked up their feet on ledges that overlooked the mass exodus that began. Zion, the name we chose for posterity, the fabled land of unity, peace, freedom. It is a utopia, a contrast to the oppressive Babylon, a juxtaposition that most befitted the world we’d grown to inhabit. A dozen men and women met with me upon the crane-ship as it ferried materials and people to their new home. The most perspective, thoughtful, and foresighted of those “lower-beings” and I sat down, began to discuss matters of economics, politics, law and order. It was then that we put forth a question to the populous; could these twelve remain to govern, think deeply on those issues that effected us all?

Most agreed, but there was still apprehension. The twelve believed it would fade with time, each of them hand-picked from the twelve barges that had held the populous captive for generations. The people spoke then, and they do so now. I wished not to attend these meetings in the beginning, but they felt my consultation was warranted. For that matter they trusted my words, trusted me, not to lead them astray.

The four continue attempts to thwart our plans, but fortunately for us they do not command the respect of their “pawns” as I do. My people– our people, merely relay the attempts to me, go about their business as usual. It is all so simple the Elite’s ignorance amuses me. It is simply because I do not see my people as pieces in a battle, but rather as human beings in their own rights. It is this simple understanding of the words “Humanity,” and “Family” that I command their respect. I see them as brother and sister, child and grandchild, father and mother. With this, I have become the supreme winner of their pseudo-chess game. I took the place upon which only a wealthy man could have, sat across the board where they had played one side against the other unimpeded so long they’d missed their opponent as he slipped into the chair before them.

They’ve lost at their own game. It is ironic really, that they’ve brought about their own demise by forgetting the meaning of that which they designate themselves; Family. As I watch the final ships arrive, bringing future merchants, carpenters, scientists, teachers, I laugh– at the irony, and at the Elite. I laugh for all those once down-trodden, all those whom may now triumph in the face of “old money.” I laugh so hard my sides ache and a profound, incommunicable joy explodes within me, compels me to brighten the faces of every man, woman, child and grandchild, grandmother and grandfather that now have a home. And the island expands, I laugh with glee that the refugees have finally found their Zion; that wondrous, magical and mythical place, that they call home.