Short Story: Desert Man

How he survived no-one was sure. They only knew that he emerged onto a stretch of I-40 just south of the Mojave National Preserve. He was a ratty, shell of a man, emaciated and parched to bleeding from an indeterminate amount of time in the sun without water. One of Nevada’s National Park Rangers had found him wandering the highway a few miles from his shack. Richard Powell, the Ranger, found the John Doe just before dawn.

“There’s obvious signs of dehydration,” Powell explained to a doctor over the phone.

The John Doe sat in the tiny, air-conditioned Ranger’s shack across the room from Powell. His eyes were focused straight ahead, his shoulders and back slumped in a hunch atop the leather couch. He wore a suit, clearly tattered from his tenure in the Mojave. He’d yet to say a word, and a small trickle of blood still leaked from the cracked skin in the center of his bottom-lip. Every few moments, almost mechanically, he would lift the chilly, tin cup in his hand to soothe his sandy throat with cold water. As if autonomous, only his arm, mouth and throat moved. His eyes stayed focused ahead. His body never flinched but for the occasional shallow breath.

Powell hung up the phone, lifted his wooden chair from behind the desk, then set it down before Doe on the dusty rug in the center of the room. He sat slowly, considering his words with care and taking a long, droll look at his charge. He shook his head with confusion.

“I dunno’ how you done it, son,” Powell said. “But you clearly got your feathers ruffled over sumthin’ and I’m not sure how to go ’bout fixin’ that.”

The Doe’s eyes shifted to stare into Powell’s, but he remained silent. His eerie stillness was only normalized in the few, human movements that comprised his drinking. Either oblivious, or altogether too concerned to address it, Powell steered the conversation with glances here and there that gave more humanity to his charge than he may have possessed.

“Now I called the Doc, ‘n he’ll be here soon, but ’til then I’mma need you to tell me whatever you can remember, alright?”

Doe looked straight through Powell, a gaze that froze the desert-man’s blood. It wasn’t an easy thing to do– like most desert people, Powell was used to the two extremes of the desert; the smothering heat and the unbearable cold. Doe’s piercing look though? Even antifreeze couldn’t have kept his blood flowing. There was something alien about him, inhuman– like he’d come from another planet and could see everything inside, outside, and through a man just by looking in his eyes.

Powell’s discomfort began to rise, but he powered through it for the sake of his charge, “Look, I understand you’re prolly not in the talkin’ mood. I ‘magine your throat’s mighty soar, but you gotta’ tell me what happened to you, else I’m not gonna’ know what to tell the Doc.”

Still Doe sat there, eyes fixed ahead, mechanically drinking. Powell scratched his five-o’clock shadow with a grating of stubble on nails. He pushed himself up from the chair with both hands on his thighs, began to step away when Doe’s mouth opened with a rasp. Powell stopped in his tracks, looked at the man in anticipation.

Doe’s mouth was slacked like he’d stopped mid-speech, a word still ready to roll from his tongue, but all of his movements had ceased. Even his breath seemed to stop, likely to help muster this bizarre state of being. Suddenly the hand that held the water dropped its cup, seized Powell’s wrist.

There was a flash like a mortar’s exploded, but Powell was unharmed. He recoiled from a blinding light, suddenly found himself standing beside the man in the middle of the desert. It was near dusk, the sun swollen on the horizon as though the Earth ended somewhere in its direction and it began there. For a moment Powell swore he saw the dividing line where Sol and Earth were separate entities. He shook off the thoughts in favor of a rubbernecking back-step that included a full-circle of his feet.

He came to a rest on the face of Doe. It stared at him, more animate and human than he’d seen it yet. Powell was awestruck, ready to accuse the man of sorcery, but he raised a hand slowly to halt him from speaking. For some reason, it worked. A trickle of complacency coursed through the Park Ranger all the way from his chest to his brain. Something flooded his body from its presence, and he felt content.

For the first time, Doe spoke; his voice was old, hoarse, as though it came from a man hundreds of years older than the vessel that possessed it. “I… do not know my name. It has been… far too long since I began my journey.”

Powell’s breath weighed on his chest, “Wh-what’s going on ‘ere?” He whipped his head left to right, “We’re… Where are we? Where’s the shack? What’ve you–”

Doe’s hand went up again, and Powell felt endorphins leak from his brain, “You… don’t worry. I… won’t harm you. Something… wonderful. I wish to show you.”

He presented his hand to Powell, as if to take it to be led somewhere. Indeed, once more compelled by the curious force, Powell took Doe’s hand. The land around them began to morph, by the looks of it, to a late-prohibition era town. The distant sunset disappeared to form brick and mortar buildings. Trees and freshly-paved street intermingled with the fanciful colors of painted homes in the distance. Long, hand-molded steel fenders and chrome bumpers appeared on exquisitely manufactured Fords and Chevys along the streets’ edges.

Doe’s voice sounded over the change in scenery, “It began here, when I was a young man. Though my appearance does not reflect it…. I have been here a long time. On this Earth.”

Powell glanced around to see a couple step from a nearby speakeasy. The woman was clad in a fur stole. Enormous diamonds glittered around her neck above a flashy, red dress. Beside her, Doe was unmistakable, truly unchanged since the era. Powell watched as Doe maneuvered to the vehicle to open the door for his mistress, his gray fedora and suit freshly-pressed. The angle of his head, and the loud laughter of the woman covered the sound of a slowly approaching vehicle.

Doe opened the door, and the car’s engine revved up. It skidded to a halt just as two men popped out the passenger windows. A hail of Thompson machine-gun fire exploded through the night. The sounds were so loud and near that Powell jumped in fright. One of the men yelled something about Timmy the Fish “sending his regards” as Doe and his mistress were gunned down.

The scene suddenly changed to Doe once more in the desert. This time, he wandered through the Mojave alone. As if Powell followed him with each breath, he kept pace with Doe’s past-self in real-time.

The man’s now-disembodied voice spoke to him over his aimless wandering, “I’m not sure how I survived…. alas, I did.” The walking Doe fell to his knees, exhausted and panting while the elder one continued to speak, “I had been shot four dozen times by Timmy the Fish’s wise-guys. They murdered my beautiful Mary, but I survived… I didn’t even bother going to the hospital. I … I think that was why I wandered out into the desert. I wanted to know if I could die.” He seemed partially amused by his next thoughts, “I left because there was nothing left to stay for. My Mary was gone, and Timmy didn’t trust me anymore. If he’d known I was alive, he’d’ve tried again. If I didn’t die then, he’d’ve just exchanged my shoes for cement ones and I’d be stuck at the bottom of the ocean– maybe for eternity.”

The images morphed back to Doe standing before Powell. The sun sat once more on the horizon. Doe was now animated in response to Powell’s insane look of scrutiny. The former managed a weak smile, his eyes tired and glassy with tears and cataracts from the desert sun.

“I’ve not aged a day in almost a hundred years,” he said with a heavy heart. “And I think on the day my Mary died, I did too… or a part of me did.” He heaved a dreadful sigh infected with grief, “Problem is, the rest’a me’s never quite gone with it.” He took a step toward Powell with the sadness of a man long-past his expiration date, “I started walking the day she died. First, to escape the police, then Timmy. Then, ’cause I didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t stopped… not really anyhow, ’til you picked me today. Somehow, I’d managed to wander for ages, never dying, never stopping. I like to think that… now, I’m more desert than man. Like a dune in the wind that’s just carried between locations, but never really leaves the desert.”

Doe went quiet. Powell was flabbergasted. He wanted to call the man a crook, a liar, but he couldn’t. He had a peculiar effect on the Park Ranger, reminded him of something from home. It was as though he was part of the desert, somehow had managed to embody it in all those years he’d supposedly wandered it. Being a desert-man himself, the Park Ranger felt at home, couldn’t help but be placate the bit of that Doe embodied.

He shook his head again, focused on the task at-hand, “I dunno’ what’s goin’ on here, but I’d appreciate it if we could return to the shack now. Otherwise, we’re gonna’ miss the Doc.”

Doe gave a few, solitary nods– they were small, presided over by a sad smile. In a blink, the Ranger’s shack re-materialized around them. Powell found himself standing just as he’d been, ready to return to his desk. Doe’s arm retracted back to his body.

He cleared his throat with a slosh of water, then rasped out a few words, “I just wanted you to know my story, Sir.” Powell turned to eye the man as he continued, “All those years I been searching for death, but it still ain’t come. I dunno why. After today, I almost glad it didn’t, ’cause now you know my story.” He took a long, slow drink from his water, then smiled with teary eyes, “She sure was somethin’, my Mary, wasn’t she?”

Powell couldn’t help but be affected by Doe’s sorrow, be it from one man to another, or one desert-man to another.

Powell gave a small nod, his voice quiet, “Sure was.”

Doe nodded back, relaxed on the couch and closed his eyes. Powell sighed, stepped for his desk to lift the phone. He gave Doe one last look, and as if he were a dune, a wind kicked up and the man blew away like grains of sand. What was left of his body after the gust dissolved into sand-grains.

Powell lunged for the couch, felt around it. He drew his hand up with a pile of sand that leaked through his fingers. Powell’s eyes were wild, but somehow he knew: the desert-man had returned home.

Short Story: The Hub of the Wheel

The Hub of the Wheel

The first moments of the great epoch of were witnessed by one being and one being only; I. In the depths of reality, amid the finite but innumerable universes, and beyond the ten dimensions, do I dwell. I am the hub of a wheel of never-ending, cyclical, energy conversion. For those that do not understand, they will soon enough.

In the vast infinities of which I occupy, there are but two orientations with which to build reality and all within it: positive and negative. I am that which cleanses these orientations– returns them to their original bearing, hereto called polarity. My ever-present, omnipotent arms, stretch and unfurl beneath all that is, was, and ever shall-be. They ooze cleansed polarities to form the fabric of all existence.

I’ve no need nor fear of life nor death, for I am that which turns them upon themselves. As life is born unto each universe in the cosmoses, and carries on its futile, inexorable existences, their polarities shift. They become tainted with inverse charge. As those that live must inevitably expire, they must also be cleansed. I devour them whole, digest them with purifying acids that return their parts’ polarity to the universe once their forms and consciousness have decayed– passed, beyond eternity’s reach. These exchanges ensure my eternal existence, for I am and am not. I exist, but am beyond existence, surpass it. I am the beating heart of all reality, and its inevitable vacuum of death; that which both stays and balances its hand. For I am all that is, was, or ever shall-be.

The wheel that turns for eternity, and of which I am but the central part, is that of which I shall speak. The wheel is a principle of life, necessary to the process of living, dying and death, and the re-birth of matter, energy. The particles, waves, decaying and emerging organic matter, are to their natural inclinations and excreted once more in diminished quantities upon ever-expanding planes of reality.

But take heed this warning; do not mistake my explanations, nor my eternal existence for arrogance or foolishness. I speak the turning of the wheel upon its bearings as the hub that keep it steady upon itself. I balanced it so that it may spin forever more without fear of it coming of its lugs. This process, ingrained in me by the very fact of existence, must be carried out by one who is chosen for the greatest burden of responsibility.

As for my origins, I can tell little, nor do I remember much. Blinked into being at the very microcosm before reality’s birth, and before time, space, or combination thereof was conjured. I do not deal in uncertainties, and for those whom wish absolution for theology or theories, I cannot provide it. I am. There are no others. I was drawn from nothingness into the void. It was there that I begin, to ever-more balance the wheel as it began its first phase of turns. As time grew, I hungered, and so I feasted on the ever present imbalance on polarity requires. When I was full, I excreted the cleansed forces. I knew then that it was for these reasons alone that I was brought forth.

What began at my emergence will last eternities longer than any life, universe, or space itself. Perhaps one day, an endless void will expand ever outward; growing, perhaps, from the very bearings the wheel turns upon until a fire swallows all, myself included. For now, there is no smoke, no spark, and in that there may never be– For the Wheel is well-oiled, and I balance it well.

I am all that is, was and ever shall be. I am the hub of the wheel who shall know nothing else, but the eternal procession of polarity– of each division of existence, oriented as it is, then swallowed by my limitless arms, to spewn forth once more into reality.

Yes, it is I who keeps the wheel spinning, makes possible the actions of a deftly physical and predictable fabric of time and space. Not god am I, nor man, nor any other of the countless species which identify themselves. For I am the hub of the wheel; the perpetual motivator of its spin, a tree of reality whose roots draw sustenance from every mathematical position, drawn about and combined, in the billions of universes and beyond. I am the keeper of all that is, was, and ever shall be, for I am the hub of the wheel.

Dedicated to Tony Jay.

Short Story: What Once was, is no More.

What Once was, is no More.

It began innocuously enough. Sometime in the early 2000s a group of scientists in a corporate lab, discovered a set of proteins and enzymes in the genetic code of the wide-spread lab-rat. Rattus Norvegicus, the common brown rat, had been used for innumerable studies in everything from psychology to cancer research. It was only then however, that their true power was unlocked.

Latent genes in R. Norvegicus showed promise for the wildest dreams of Humanity were they to be activated. Of course, this meant further understanding them. After hundreds of new rat generations, a proper sequence was compiled. What began then had no end, for how could it? How could one bring about an end to something ended, or worse still, something endless? Through those hundreds of generations of rats, the scientists shifted, their corporate masters changed, the research waxed and waned but ever carried-on.

The cure for all disease came first– human disease at least. How could one do such a thing? That would depend on the ailment. Then, how would one cure cancer, specifically, in an entire species? It seems an insurmountable task to even create a cure, let alone distribute it to an entire populous, I know, and it nearly was. But those higher-ups and their bright ideas found a way.

Despite mass-protests, riots, and burned cities, the world’s governments launched the first in a series of non-violent chemical-dispersals over their countries. Civil wars lasted days, until, with the help of the internet, the media-propaganda-machine took over. For once, an entity used solely for suppression of disparaging citizens, rose in defense to communicate a collective message of altruistic action, hope, astonishment. Mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, and other familial nomenclature, rose to chorus in unison that no longer did their knees ache, their joints creak, or their lungs burn.

In time, the riots died down, the embers of the burned cities extinguished. With the doused fires came news of cancers cured, Huntington’s, ALS– which even the great master, Hawking, praised– Parkinson’s, MS, even the common cold, and flu.

From there on no human was again afflicted by the ailments that had so long dogged our progress as a species. They still existed, as evidenced by scientists and their microscopes. Both heralded as kings, Gods among men, and their instruments respectively. For a time, to speak for the name of science, carry out its whims, and deign its inner-machinations was the greatest act any creature could see fit to take-up. In-time, even those zealots who’d ever-decried the discipline went silent.

Ah, but alas, a crucial law of that most wondrous discipline known as physics has wider-spread affirmations than any surmised. There is a law, one nearly older than time itself at this point; each action must have an equal, inverse reaction. The positive to the negative, yin to the yang, the life to death– or perhaps that is no longer apt. Of course, digressing as I may, we found we’d approached a cataclysm– a singularity of human hubris.

This event began with the loss of biological warfare. In and of itself, when executed by humans, it was not a fitting act for such intellects as our. As such, its loss in the world hardly seemed an issue. It was a good thing. Now, not only were we humans cured of our ailments, but we were unaffected by them. We were steel of stainless stature in the face of oxidation. The breath in our lungs un-threatened by the toxins in our air. We might have collectively inhaled in the very vacuum of space, so enlarged were our heads.

Would that we had! Oh woe is us. For you see nature– science’s harsh master, mistress– is a fickle thing. She is the yin to its yang, the positive to its negative.

As relayed, the cataclysm began with the loss of biological warfare. But it was not ours loss that threatened the world. Rather, it was hers. A little overlooked fact by those Godly men– those scientists whose lives it was to study, understand, and harness Mother Nature– a simple fact. Some called it growth, others progress, the once God-King himself Darwin, called it evolution.

Evolution! How could we have misled it? Without humans dying to disease or fighting to cure it, plagues came faster, more numerous. They ravaged our world. But what did we care? We were invulnerable. Those chemical-dispersals had rewritten our DNA, made us more rat than man, woman, or child could ever want to be. The very fabric of our nature had been changed, our sight destroyed.

Mass-extinctions killed off species in the millions– perhaps billions– at a time. Plagues, epidemics, pandemics ravaged our world with such death it became contaminated. World governments scrambled, corporate interests toppled, scientists hanged, answer-less.

Once more, riots, civil-war, death. Then… that most frightful of ideas! Oh woe is us, how could we have ever thought it? But how could we not? The rats were dead, as were the birds, the fish. We had no cattle or meat, barely enough plant-life. We had no options! We were choice-less to the machinations of cause and effect, spurned by our own mistakes, our existence bulldozed to the precipice of extinction as our world withered around us.

Another chemical-dispersal, came quickly, contained something so heinous I beg not to think it.

No-one wished for immortality. For who could? Who could look so fondly upon themselves and inconsiderately thrust title of God upon them-self? Who could so desire an eternity, waiting for nothing more than the heat-death of the universe? Why could we not stop to consider the simple pleasures in the act of danger, hunger, sorrow– for if we do not die, and we are all that is left, where then do those great virtues come from?

We may fair seas that are slowly drying, and rise through skies whose colors shift as the atmosphere dies, but what of them? Should we not care? Perhaps. But we, collectively, do not. Though we may begin the fairing of space with time as our only guide, and the hope that we might find a place, or a cure for our damnation, we know of no fear, no exhilaration, no anxiety. For now we can withstand an inhale in the vacuum of space, the destruction of our ship upon it vastness. And our only angst in such an event wake? That we might drift ever-more through the Great-Beyond.

What we may embark upon in the future, no one knows. We care not. For what once was, is no more. We have no death, no fear, but neither doe we have no peace, love, serenity. We’ve no eponymous downs to give the rising ups their meaning. We have but one, atrociously-long life. We have no goal but to await the Big-Crunch, and perhaps, our own, eventual ends. But then again, perhaps not. Our lives’ only end is so far beyond us that we are lost. Without it’s threat, what goals could man, woman, or child have will to accomplish? We do not know. For that matter, perhaps we never will. For what once was, is no more, and neither are we.

– Departure Speech of Captain Ramius Severus; First Drifter-Class vessel of the Earth Fleet.