Bonus Short Story: Lake Morton

The town of Morton, Indiana wasn’t backwoods hickville, but it wasn’t a paradise either. It didn’t have the population of places like Chicago or Indianapolis, or even their high-earning businesses or high-priced residences. It did however, have lake Morton; a four-and-a-half mile wide, twelve mile long, natural lake with all manner of beach houses and cottages along it. These weren’t the typical million-dollar beach-homes, but rather modest, meager places of refuge from the greater part of the world.

In winter, Lake Morton would freeze over deep enough to attract the ice fisherman, skaters, and cold-lovers alike. Conversely, summer brought the regular fisherman, boating enthusiasts, and more than a few getaway seekers that only wished to hide from the work-a-day world they came from.

Nowhere in the town profited more from this duality of attraction than downtown Morton. In the decades since post-World War II growth saw America’s great boons of all types, Morton had grown from a literal one-horse town to a full-functioning modern city with all the usual amenities. Where once there had been nothing more than plains, a few forests, and Lake Morton, now there were supermarkets, suburbs, and even a strip-mall or two. None of those things would’ve been possible if not for that duality; the lake brought the people, the people brought their money, and others followed.

The people of Morton were no different than the town itself, most of modest means that had somehow found a living working the pair of farms, the handful of businesses, or lake-related jobs seasonally and year-round. Some people became city officials, police or firefighters, or took jobs in the comparably small medical field, but it was important to their heritage that each of them care for the lake that had brought them so much fortune.

Enter a company– a small corporation, in fact– that wished to procure a plot of land on the outskirts of town. The CEO, a man in his mid-thirties, pressed and dressed, personally met with the municipal government officials to ensure the transition went smoothly. He wasn’t much different than any of the other types that found refuge on Lake Morton’s beaches. Sure, he had a sort of smart way about him that nearly exuded condescension, but so did most like him. None of them though, he included, ever made those they spoke to feel outwardly offended. The people in Morton just took them as “that kind” of folk.

So of course when the CEO offered them massive sums for the small plot of land, overvalued as a charitable donation, they took it– especially with the promise of more and more jobs to come. No-one was quite sure what the company did, but they knew it promised more stimulation and stability to the local economy. The paper-work was signed, ground was broken, and the small, five-story corporate office was built in less than a month.

Truthfully, it was a kind of an eye-sore on the well-known horizon of low shop-fronts and trees, with only their one, tall hospital to rise above them. Even so, the people couldn’t help but welcome the corporation with open arms. The CEO had promised wealth, more neighbors, and with them, the expansion of Morton’s downtown district and economy. It was a sort of kindness the CEO had granted them, and if Morton’s people were anything, it was grateful for their “blessings.”

The first whispers of something wrong came from fringe-folk learning about the company’s work. It was called Dump-Corp, a waste-management purveyor rented out by large cities when their own, governmental waste-management couldn’t handle their trash-loads. The regular people thought the fringe-folk were out of their minds to be suspicious. Everyone needed to rid themselves of trash, and it wasn’t difficult to understand the need for a company to help.

And it wasn’t as if they were dumping garbage in Morton. The town was, and always had been, clean and well cared for. It was their civic duty, civic-pride even, to keep Morton the getaway-refuge it had always been. Unfortunately, all the goodwill in the world couldn’t change the trucks that started appearing on the highways just outside town. It wasn’t long before the fringe-folk gave the rest a big “told ‘ya so.”

Still, the trucks didn’t mean anything, and in fact the CEO made a very public presentation to keep the people calm, tell them everything was alright, and that those trucks were just driving a caravan of trash to a land-fill a few towns over. That seemed to work for most people, but the fringe-folk weren’t satisfied. They kept their eyes, ears, noses too, sharp for danger or treachery.

The first signs– or rather, scents– of something seriously wrong came the summer after Dump-Corp’s office opened. There was an unusual influx of people that summer, drawn by the advertising campaign the city could now afford. All the same, that influx only helped to spread later rumors.

It was with a swift wind that kicked up from the South-East that people finally began to see the error of their ways. The scent of trash was so foul it burned their nostrils, made more than a few people retch from bile spurred from their guts.

It was quickly discovered the “land-fill” a few towns over was actually only a few miles away– where county and city-lines converged in a kind of dead zone for several towns. Morton was one of them. That time of the summer, those southern winds always seemed to kick up and through that dead-zone.

But who could’ve known that? Even that CEO couldn’t have. No-one could have anticipated that a freak occurrence of nature that most took for granted would shift the winds at precisely the wrong time– and in precisely the worst direction– to rocket the stench of countless people’s refuse over the natural lake and the town it served.

The next few events happened almost so fast there was no time between to realize it. Someone had left a warning on a travel-review website for Morton about the stench. Then others added their comments and warnings. People pulled their reservations left and right, and in less than a week, Morton’s summer was ruined. Without their main source of income the people panicked– both residents and government officials.

Once more the CEO came to the rescue though, only everyone was so busy being scared they didn’t realize the grand plan he had in the works. When someone on the city-council signed a new agreement with the company, the others followed without thinking or reading it. Half weren’t even sure what had been promised to them, the other half didn’t care to know, they only cared to fix the town. With a final, billowy stench, Lake Morton was simultaneously drained and filled with trash.

Most headed for the hills, took the losses on their once well-valued homes just to escape the stench. The rest shook their heads and plugged their noses and tried to trudge on through life despite the muck. Together, they knew the truth; that the lake had always provided for them. Even now, it is adulterated form, it does just that.

In less than a year, the people of Morton learned not only the value of kindness, but also prudence. They lost their way in an odorous panic that escaped no-one, and when they weren’t sure what to do, they closed their eyes and made a leap of faith– right into a corporate mound of trash.

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.