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: Blind and Bound

She stood in her shower, half-cradling a breast. One arm draped upward and around her, finger resting at her lips. The other worked to soap herself. Her eyes, stared: quite literally, dead-ahead. Their milky blindness told most of the story, but even her own circumstantial birth could not account for all of their current damage.

Something had happened. It was obvious and she knew it. What, she wasn’t sure– No, she was… but it seemed a dream. Someone else’s. It couldn’t have been hers. She’d been dreaming. A nightmare. Taken advantage of, but not. Caught off-guard, really.

She’d been blind since birth, born with a defect that kept the optic nerves from forming properly. Cataracts came later. She couldn’t help either, but as she’d known nothing else, she coped, adapted: to both life and circumstance, it was never a question of bothering her.

Until today.

Her senses were acute enough she’d never needed her cane outside the most populated areas; shopping malls, boardwalks, city-centers and the like– places where Humans couldn’t fathom that the rats and roaches scurrying about were actually people. People like them. Each with their own lives, memories, minutes and moments lived until and beyond their passing in the amalgamated haze of life.

For a five-five blind woman with less muscle mass than a proper steak, it meant nobody paid any attention to where you were or going. Short of having an attendant, she’d never have been able to walk city-streets without the cane.

She’d resented it her whole life. Not for any, one, irrational or emotional reason, but because she knew it made her appear outwardly vulnerable.

Her only feelings on the matter were that no-one knowing made it easier. Confidence alone held the facade of equal power in the streets. It allowed her to be one of the other cockroaches when needed. Otherwise, gave her strength to carry on day-to-day, despite her slightly more-unique set of challenges.

But if the equal-power perception were upset things change.

In other words, she remained a roach with her cane, but now one hanging from a candy cane on a dead Christmas tree. The conflict was obvious. She needed to be a chameleon using its color-changing to hide itself in plain-sight. Not a fucking clown.

At least, that’s how she’d always thought of it. Now, it seemed that wasn’t true. She’d been attacked without it, just another unlucky woman in the hands of some sick pseudo-human creature.

She’d screamed as soon as she’d felt his hands.

The smell! Something like motor oil and gasoline mixed with brill-cream. The smell of Human gone bad. Or old fruit too long rotting in sunlight. No good for liquor or anything more than decomposition.

She’d smelled it almost as soon as it hit her peripheral. As a deaf-dog smelled its owner in a garage from a second floor bedroom. She knew someone was near. An off-rotted someone. Were circumstances different, she’d have thought it a dead body.

The sudden rush of steps gave her pause, but the kind that didn’t hesitate in her step. Then, from nowhere, she was on the ground. Something struck her head, dazing her. Making her unable to scream. The world was spinning. Its motions unnatural, sickening. Dread burst into her limbs, doing its best to compel them onward.

It was too late. She felt cold air. Body heat. Stinking, Human-badness. Something pathetic and erect seeking violent, grotesque bounty. Before she could scream, he was inside. Then, she was screaming… but her mind was floating, drifting as if a sail-barge set adrift mid-storm and now consigned to float forever, alone.

Then, she was alone. Her limbs flailing, her tears ran.

It had only been moments. The little-pricked psycho couldn’t even last more than a few seconds, proving it was only the rush he got off on. She’d never gotten to touch his face. If she had, she’d have a good description, but her body’d been too heavily restrained.

Cooling water centered her on reality, pulling her back from a brink. Enough to warm the water, anyway.

Heavy. He was heavy. Not muscular, not obese. Heavy. Like the darkness of his soul was a lead-weight that kept her still. Part of it was herself: still too shocked to know how to think or act outside flailing. Utterly understandable, no-one would deny that. She’d managed a couple good scratches and a hit before her forehead hit concrete and she was dazed again, too.

So, he was heavy. And smelled. He’d have some scratches, and probably a bruise.

It wasn’t enough. She needed more, could only get it by revisiting that horrible memory. Over and over again. The way he slid inside with a kind of practiced-precision: he’d done it more than once. Nobody got that lucky on the first try of anything, especially not this.

Serial rapist. Heavy, but not fat. Smelling of badness and poorly endowed.

Still not enough. Better, but not enough.

He’d come at her from the side, along Fifth. Out of an alley. He’d have struck in the area again. Serial-anythings were predictable once identified. He’d hit her with something blunt, but not metal. She knew it from a thunk on the ground beside them. Wood on asphalt. The sounds replayed in crystal clarity. Clearer even than when they happened– for now, she had some grasp on their order of action.

Something wood and round. It had begun to roll, stopped and scraped when lifted. As if broken at its end. It was light, but precise. He hit her again.

Wood. Dense. Rounded but too small for a full-size bat. Not strong or heavy enough to break bone or skin. She was guessing it had been a scale-model one; the type kids picked up as souvenirs at their first attendance of a real game.

She had an idea of the weapon, but what more could that help? How many of the things were there in the world? Let alone in a city with a Major League team? She couldn’t know, but it was another detail.

She’d begun to move again. The last of the creature’s vile poison leaked off her into the pooling warmth, suckled away into nothingness down the drain. Her body gave an involuntary quake, but her arms worked to clean herself. Her feet warm, soothed.

He’d been wearing sneakers. He’d gotten the drop on her only because he was lost in his spring. The steps had been heavy, confusing at first. Incapable of immediately registering themselves as boot or shoe. But now, they were sneakers at full-tilt. He’d have worked out a method, a serial case: probably repeat offender.

No belt either. He wouldn’t have worn one. It wasn’t his first time, after all. That was obvious still. She’d heard no zipper but had felt the press of thin material on her legs as his knees pinned the backs of hers.

Pants. No zipper. Synthetic Fibers. Athletic-wear.

It was the only conclusion. With his weight, he was probably in disguise– that is to say, his dress wasn’t usual. He’d have abandoned the dress of a so-called day-to-day job, its presence evidenced in the brill-cream scent between the gasoline and motor-oil. He wouldn’t have left work just to do this. He’d prepared to do it.

Meaning the car-scents were hobbiest scents. Probably, the brill-cream an identifying trait. People that knew him would know it. That too, would connect him with his likely hobby of auto-repair– or if not hobby, necessity. Which meant he either had enough money to work cars for fun, or none at all and against odds, did it for pay.

Compulsive gambler was also a possibility. Such was the case in cracked eggs.

She didn’t know any mechanics though. While a few gear-heads in the ‘burbs knew her, none would remember her. Certainly, none with that scent of badness.

She twisted the shower off and stepped out. Groping for the towel and careful of her steps on the slick tub. It needed to be cleaned. Like she’d been…

No! She wasn’t unclean. It was him! He needed to be cleaned: Scrubbed from society while facing his crimes head-on.

She’d already taken a sample from the homemade rape-kit she’d fashioned from cotton-swabs and airtight tupperware. It wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t about to walk into a police station without having some idea of what to say. She wanted him caught, not to have herself coddled. The last thing she wanted was to be coddled.

No, what she needed was information. As much as possible before going to the police. If she could figure out who it was, she could act.

Statistics said a victim was more likely to know their attacker. It wasn’t much to go on, but it could temporarily narrow the field. All she needed was to connect the right dots so she could turn the guy over, let detectives handle it from there.

It was as decent a place as any to start. She made the call.

A half-hour later she was meeting in her living room with a cop. She didn’t particularly like the idea, given the reputation they’d gained, but it wasn’t that difficult to choose between the Detective’s presence and letting the tiny-pricked bastard do it again. She gave what information she could muster:

Heavy, taller than her. Sneakers. Sweats. Wooden mini-bat. God-awful smell. Probably a serial. Scratched and bruised.

The detective hadn’t bothered to question her. She could hear the disbelief in his breath. Not the kind that would write her off. Rather, the kind that said he was ashamed how he’d squandered his senses. She gave him the homemade kit, which he handled as if a fearful student given a task by a mentor, to be taken with all precautions and properly handled.

He asked if she wanted a ride to the hospital, offered it. She accepted, though mostly for efficiency’s sake.

Two hours later, her he calling: he’d found someone she should, “Erm, take a look at…” She chuckled in earnest. His relief told her he was equally in earnest.

She was guided into a room. “The DNA will confirm,” the detective said. “But he fits the profile. Make the ID, we’ll hold him for interrogation.”

She stepped in, immediately overwhelmed by the scent of badness. She didn’t need confirmation, her gut affirmed her feelings. Her senses screamed. Terror rippled chains over her body, threatening to rip her back to that horrible series of moments. She shattered them with a breath.

Stepping over, mind focused, she connected a few, choice aspects of the attack she’d missed before. He had a strong right hand, dominant, but a stronger than usual left arm. Probably, from driving. Racing, she guessed. It fit with the stench of motor-oil and fuel.

And, he’d had a certain way of breathing. A huff-puff beneath a wheeze. He smoked. Excessively. He smelled of it even now. Smoke and sweat. It poured from him. Not fear sweat, no. Junkie sweat. The kind that came from craving fixes. He didn’t believe she could ID him; she was blind, after all. So, he wanted her again. He thought he could get away with it. Again.

That cinched it.

She stepped before him, senses screaming and gut knotted. The smell of badness floored her. She took off her sunglasses to stare him in the eyes with her milky-blind blues.

“You didn’t think I’d catch you.”

His breath stuttered. Imperceptible to anyone but her. He remained silent, but he was caught.

“The DNA will get you, but I want you personally to know, you won’t be seeing daylight for a long time. If you do, and you’re not changed, I will know. I will always be watching.”

The detective needed no further confirmation. He one, then the other, from the room: the former to sit and file paperwork, the latter to holding. Even as she boringly recited information for a proctor to fill out, she knew she’d never again fear walking the street– cane or not.

Short Story: Snowbound

Tufted fur of an emaciated snow hare tousled in cold wind, its slow half-hop betrayed its own hunger and exhaustion. It had been a lean winter. Made leaner still by the utter lack of break between driving and falling snows. Even if the hare didn’t know, it was currently three-feet taller than it should’ve been.

It hopped a short distance to the edge of a tree trunk. Tension stiffened it. Its ears twitched and tuned like parabolics. The muscular kneading of all small creatures pulled and dropped at its face to sniff the air with foreboded curiosity.

For a long moment, all was still.

Instinct passed and the forager returned its face to the snow to will something from nothing. Background wind ensured it never heard the whistling shaft. One minute, it was living: the next, dead. Its hunger forever sated by the nothingness left over.

Izrik didn’t breath. He let the last of the bow’s vibration dissipate through him, admiring his shot with a professional pride. He had true skill as an archer. Shame it alone could not guarantee him a meal.

He eased from his knee, slinging his bow around across his chest and starting for the carcass. It lay, leaking steam and blood into frigid snow. If nothing else, he’d have a new wrap for his sword-hand. The last was frayed from hiking and walking sticks, rather than battle. He’d almost longed for battle. It was practical: he’d been crossing the tundra-wastes over a week now, each day signs of habitation growing sparser.

The birds had disappeared first. Even the Winter Raptors hunting wider-ranges were gone.

Izrik recognized the encroaching of a no-man’s land. The Tundra held no life beyond a certain point, but he was determined to cross it. To reach the lands beyond in search of food, Humanity… anything. He’d rationed just enough meat to get him through a few days of would-be hunger, was already used to sleeping in the permafrost after perfecting the art of iglooing.

Yet, the waning game and growing hunger in his belly nagged him. He knew he could not eat more than enough to sustain himself. Beyond wastefulness, it was dangerous to become fatigued from a full belly, but it made him tired not to eat too. Worse still, it made him weaker. Barren land or not, that was unacceptable. He’d need all of his strength to make it through.

He set camp for the night to eat what he could and preserve the rest. In the morning, he rose, leaving the igloo as he’d built it for someone or thing to find it useful. He picked a petrified limb from an ages-dead Hickory, more than adequate for its purpose and solid enough to give even an acolyte’s staff a run for its money. Then, used it to test the deepest drifts and set out.

Especially in clearings, there was no telling whether snow had formed coverings for pitfall traps of old-era buildings or machinery. He couldn’t say for sure of any around, especially given the snowbound terrain, but the petrified trees led him to doubt it. His usually-acute instincts were proven wrong moments later.

Izrik poked his hickory into a drift, felt it sink a few feet and thunk. Satisfied, he stepped into it, felt his legs sink the two feet to the hardened under-layer.

He’d not walked a half-step when he heard the crack! He leapt on instinct, sensing his mistake. His reflexes were good, but not enough. He fell downward, twenty or more feet, banging along smooth, thin metal with the violent ruckus of a bag of hammers poured over an anvil.

He tumbled downward through enclosed nothingness, fighting to right himself and keep his legs beneath him. The echoes were deafening, leaving him even more spun than lost gravity. He was soon sliding downward at impossible speeds, darkness swallowing him.

His senses sharpened. Leathers worked on order of muscle to slow him down. In a moment, the slope leveled out. Izrik was moving too fast. He burst from slatted sheet-metal that covered the shaft’s terminus. He burst out, catching himself on its edge with one hand. The other dangled, jammed with inertia over distant, clanging metal in pitch-blackness below.

His plight took only a breath to confront him. Straining groans of metal forced his arm up. He felt the shaft flex, scrambled to climb too-smooth metal. He’d only just clasped the edge again when a metallic snap cut the air. Gravity jerked downwardwith folding metal. The shaft’s underside slammed a concrete wall, looking distantly likea wilted metal flower touching its own stem. Izrik’s body followed through, slamming the wall front-on.

Wind knocked from his lungs, he lost his grip and fell into darkness.

He landed on his side on something heavy, coughing and scrambling for breath. On his hands and knees, gasping, he finally looked around: The darkness was thick, but the thing beneath him was heavy, wooden, smooth but unnaturally so.

Izrik managed enough of a grip on himself to stand. In a flash, he was blinded by a sudden, intense, light as which he’d never seen. Thousands of lamps and overhead lights flickered on. With them was the obvious whirring of something neither man nor animal. Machine, he guessed.

And in a moment, he understood the machines were all around him, connected to glowing panels.

His attention however, was drawn to one side of the room. A massive stockpile of metal cylinders spackled with pristine, colored paper lined the wall. He knew what it was without having to guess; food. Canned food. Old world, but good forever. His feet carried him with ethereal disjointedness but a large, colored emblem on the floor caught his eye mid-way.

He’d yet to grasp the whole of the room, but there on the floor, words he could read but didn’t understand; “Seal of the President Of the United States.”

President” was the only word that made sense, but it suddenly struck him. All of the Empires’ lies: from the Rebellion’s so-called pseudo-evidence. It was real. He alone had proof. Now, food enough to last in relaying it to another.

He circled a small gait, viewing the damage of the serendipitous– rather than unfortunate, tumble he’d taken. It was only then that his mind stopped swirling, and the immensity of what lay before him locked him still in the symbol’s center.

He could only breathe, “Woah.”

Short Story: The Treatises

And on that day, the skies thundered and the Empires’ death-machines soared overhead. And on that day, came rest to millions; dead. And on that day, the post-Human dream; bled. And on that day, arose a great evil incarnate from its bed.

Man, but not man. Human, but inhuman.

But too, on that day, was born something greater; a seed tempered in fire. Though lain dormant in the cold despair that followed, it awaited only a spark to ignite.

And so, it did.

She held it as if precious, but sentimentally so. Its covers were worn, but for certain, it was the fabled Treatises on the Empires’ Rise. A collection of so-called “heretical” works outlining the laborious details of the rise and fall of previous civilizations, their way-paving for the Empires’ rise.

The last, true-history book known to Human-kind. Likely, the last printed or distributed before the Empires’ rise, it was beyond myth. Afterward, information was too closely-guarded and censured for any truth to be printed or distributed. Since then, things had only gotten worse.

A lot worse.

Myna knew Humans could adapt to adversity, it was the only reason she– or they– were alive. It was as simple a principle to her as stepping over a fallen, petrified limb blocking one’s path. It was an inevitability. Yet, nothing had prepared her for this. She’d only been on the scavenging run two days now.

Over the century, people’d been working themselves ever outward from the Empire’s main settlements. They trickled out, thronging this way and that like water through weakened stone. Smaller villages and settlements were appearing here and there, but nothing substantial enough to be permanent in the way the Empires seemed to be.

That was important; so close, yet so far.

Treatises was a direct contradiction that the Empires had been formed as believed. History went that the Empires came of lands once in chaos and madness, to aid in bringing them order. After civil wars tore the world apart, there was little more that could be done than try to rein in the madness.

No-one was sure what had really happened anymore, so far as Myna knew. She doubted even the Emperors knew what really happened. What’d it matter anyhow? The damage was done, the past, past. All she or anyone else knew was what lay ahead.

Now, what lay ahead was utterly shrouded in mystery.

The book had already decided that. She wasn’t sure how she’d first heard of it, but she knew from whom. That fact alone caused her to wrap it in a fur pelt she’d been working with after dinners and before sleep. It would keep the book safe from the elements while she decided what to do with it.

She spent the night meditating on what she knew of Treatisesand roasting the day’s large hunt. She’d have to start rationing soon with the land as petrified as it was. The game,disappearing with it, was thin as it was. It would only get worse. Soon, she’d reach the barren lands.

Her mind wandered, inexorably drawn to the book’s mystery: Myna first heard of Treatises as a child. Her mother and uncle were arguing about something.

“It doesn’t exist, Turel. This is an obsession!” Her mother hissed in angry hush.

“Treatises does exist, I have the proof!” Turel argued, thrusting something in a hand at her mother.

Myna remembered little else, save that her mother tore the object from his hand and immediately cast it into the fire-pit. He’d wailed something angrily as the page formed ash, then stormed away.

Myna couldn’t recall the last time she saw her uncle, but she knew it was sometime around then. He went missing not long after, and although Myna’s mother assured her he was fine, had never returned.

Through the years, there were times when her mother would stare blank-faced into the fire, hypnotized by it. It was different than the usual hypnosis of a full meal, or sickness, or fatigue. It was deeper, pained, as if guilt seized her.

Myna was determined not to wile away her days in that same despair.

She broke camp for the outer regions the next morning, managing to procure more game than she should rightfully have found. A day and night thereafter, she returned home with little more than a few, old-world trinkets barely enough for a week’s bread. Next time, she would have to choose a better direction.

Until then, she was preoccupied.

She stood beneath the hanging candelabras forming the poor-man’s chandelier over IzKie’s table. The woman had evidently not expected her back yet, else-wise Myna doubted she’d have found her in such a state. Papers and books were always strewn across every surface– of which there were an inordinate amount in IzKie’s home, but never before had Myna seen her table so piled.

Usually, it was set for tea, dinner, or any of the number of activities the two had planned.

All of it would have been frightening to an average person, so much so-called seditious materials, but IzKie was authorized them. Apart from making her incalculably smart, it also made her a pariah among most villagers. Myna’s association put her on the fence herself. Even leaving her worse-off in negotiations at the bazaar, for fear too much haggling might kill a sale.

When trading for food and survival, that was unacceptable.

Yet Myna’d never have it another way. She admired IzKie too greatly, had learned to read by listening to her quote passages from memory while following along in silence.

But she had not opened Treatises.

It was dangerous. Not knowing what lay within, no matter its power, meant it could not be properly handled… but it was also dangerous to know. If only because it might make her disappear– like Turel.

IzKie offered her tea to soothe her aches after the recent journey. She accepted, but remained distant, speaking little.

IzKie noticed, her voice soft and sweet, “Are you unwell, Myna-bird?”

It took a moment to respond, IzKie’s words contending with a fog, “Hm? No… Yes. I’m… not sure.” IzKie’s walnut-dark eyes brightened in the excess light, turning to warmer woods. Myna could have lost herself in them, wanted to. Instead, she sighed and sipped tea, “I found something I can’t do anything with.”

“On your run, you mean,” IzKie assumed, settling into her listener’s-role; perfect-posture and pointed shoulders relaxed but disciplined, like Empire Guards at-ease.

For a moment, Myna hesitated; she loved IzKie. Probably more than she should. There was something intoxicating about her. As if her intelligence enthralled certain types, Myna’s most of all. Probably, Myna guessed, it was the intelligent ones themselves– or, those capable of it. Like how every had various uses, but only some made for proper bows or arrow-shafts.

But… how much about IzKie did she really know? Was it enough to trust her with this? Could IzKie disappear her? Would she lead someone else to? Or, would she disappear herself? Myna didn’t think she could handle that. She was too attached.

But, IzKie had appeared around the same time Turel disappeared. Was it coincidence or design?

Now IzKie was looking at her, watching her. Expectantly.

Myna reached into her pack. One of IzKie’s brows twitched, ready to rise, but held before it could. Drawing forth the fur-wrapped tome, Myna set it upon the table and began to unwrap the corners. IzKie’s eyes widened, then narrowed shrewdly; the left-one half-squinted as an archer’s mid-aim.

A powder cask lit behind them. They exploded to triple sizes, confirming Myna’s fears: she had procured what she believed. IzKie was up, shutting her windows and drapes, locking her doors and windows. It all happened so fast Myna was still trying to catch up when IzKie whirled and grabbed her shoulders.

“Whom have you told of this? Where did you get it? Who saw you? Does anyone know of this!?”

Myna was stunned, thrown for a loop, wishing to answer but spinning. IzKie’s bony fingers dug into her shoulders. Apart from hurting, it grounded her. She attempted to find her voice, seeing the walnut eyes now almost deep-black in the new darkness.

“I– I…”

“Speak, bird. Speak!”

“I told no-one,” she swore. “I hadn’t even opened the furs until now. I swear it, Iz! I swear it!”

IzKie straightened, slowly releasing her. She was swept away by a mental whim and began pacing the kitchen’s open length, swaying the racks of drying herbs with each passage. A long while of silence passed beneath the rhythmic tamp of IzKie’s feet. Then, on compulsion, Myna sighed desperately.

At that instant, IzKie appeared beside Myna, kneeling, “Myna-bird, you are my angel and Humanity’s redeemer. You know it not, yet, but I love you deeply and what you have found is a treasure for all.

“But I must go. And you must stay.” She began wrapping Treatises with the fur. “Keep it hidden and avail yourself of my home. Or if you desire, return to yours. I only ask that you do as you have done thus far and keep it hidden.”

“Where are–”

“No time, bird,” she said firmly, halting any further conversation. She wrapped herself in a light-cloak and draped a pack across her breast, immediately setting out. “I will return soon.”

She pecked Myna on the cheek as she bustled past and out the door, shutting it with speed. Myna sat, spinning again, this time from the kiss radiating along her cheek and IzKie’s hurried departure. Wherever she’d gone, Myna decided, wasn’t worth knowing. Not yet.

But a very real dread was inching along her spine, decidedly sourced in the book beside her. Already, she wished she’d never found the damned thing…

Short Story: Ar-Mur of Ganymede

Arthur “Ar-Mur” Martin was the angriest-looking Chimpanzee the Evolved had yet to produce. Like most species, Contact had forever altered Ar-Mur’s people. Mostly for the primates, it just pissed them off– after mutating them into super agile, ultra-intelligent murder-machine adrenaline junkies.

They weren’t all that way, of course. Ever were the outliers– though even they were afflicted, however carefully restrained or reserved in their demeanors otherwise. The plight of the Evolved was really that most were still coming to grips with their own existences. To say nothing of the chaos of finding places in Solsian society.

Still, few were forced to come to terms with what their own cousins had done to them.

Humans had exacted the most terrible, irreconcilable and awful horrors imaginable on every species in their environment– and the environment itself at times. Everything from cannibalism to enslavement, with no modicum of depravity missed en-route. Their only saving grace was that they’d done all these same horrible things to themselves.

There was comfort in that for some, if not all. None would have entertained it in Ar-Mur’s presence. Even the most blithe, belligerent idiot would’ve gone silent with respect.

Ar-Mur was a chimp not to be fucked with.

Like similar-minded Evolved, Ar-Mur dwelt with a subset of dregs in one of Sol’s least orderly communities; Ganymede. His hard-won respect, wealth, and power there, stemmed from extensive mercenary and smuggler work. Highly skilled in martial combat, he’d procured every luxury one could desire– to say nothing of the vast necessities stockpiled for health and occupational-hazards.

Ar-Mur’s little corner of the Ganymeden skid-row was a compound disguised by foggy, sweat-lined streets and the general obscurity of poor infrastructure. It was anything but, and prepared for war by any whom might try take it. Whether the Cougar-fuck Saffron’s anti-wank goons or Emperor-Asshole himself, Lord Snow; he’d fight for what was wrongfully his.

Yet presently, a punk-kid stood before him. And wasn’t going away. Worse, a Human.

His tattered leathers said he knew all about the darker-side of Sol’s social necessities. And, Ar-Mur postulated correctly, knew all of the rumors about himself and likely many truths, too. The smug fuck was just standing there, grinning smugly.

A scarlet and teal mohawk stabbed the air with short, lethal-looking spikes. Ar-Mur’d hated the disproportionate state of the human-head already, never knew he could hate it more. Plus, the punk’s black-mirrored lenses hid his eyes, meaning– Ar-Mur guessed, he was technically blind.

The elective kind.

He’d have had his optic nerves re-geared for neo-vision. For punks and hackers, it was like seeing the world through a 3D matrix-space. The punk would see as a bot-might; digitally. Ar-Mur didn’t like it, but cared only that the punk had breached security. He’d made it in undetected.

That was bad. Catastrophically so.

Ar-Mur refocused; the punk’s hands were bound pointlessly behind his back. Ar-Mur’d already caught the gleaming chrome beneath the leather overcoat. More electives. The scent of new, illegitimate money was the only reason Ar-Mur hadn’t immediately killed him. He was up for hire.

Hiring was always better than murder, if only because it decreased turn-over.

“You gonna’ say sumfing?” The punk asked.

Ar-Mur’s head tilted sardonically, a corner of his mouth rose to bared a few disgruntled teeth. Enough to shut the kid up again.

He waited a few more minutes to say anything, allowing himself to indulge in a drink in the meeting room. It was a throne room, really; though Ar-Mur never called it that. Everyone else did. Probably, because it contained a single chair embedded with countless screen projectors, function switches, and plain ‘ol comfort.

It wasn’t a throne, Ar-Mur knew. Nor was Snow or his rivals’. They were simply the command-chairs for their armies’ compounds. From there a Commander was scanned, their genetic markers verified, and access granted or authorized. The actual workings were technical, and unimportant to the Chimp or Wolf commanding them.

The less he knew needlessly, the more he could devote to important matters. Chief among them, how the fuck this pip-squeak pissant creature’d found his way in completely undetected. He knew he had, too; that he’d only been caught from dumb-luck. Shianni would still be howling if a medic, hadn’t drugged her to sleep.

Lucky bitch.

Simple curiosity might have been enough to indulge in an interrogation– advanced or not. Curiosity came second to security though. He found his in. He’d get the truth out of the kid one way or the other.

“Perimeter sensors encircle our entire block, from sewer-to-sky. If an ant sneezes a thousand feet above me I know it.”

He rose from the throne on lean-muscled limbs, their speed and agility obvious even through the layered clothing, armor, and cloak he wore.

He stopped just before the punk, “I will ask only once or I will kill you; how the fuck did you get in here?”

He grinned from ear-to-ear, “Li’ kis.”

In a blink he was gone. Ar-Mur stiffened up, listening. No sounds. Only a vague, mammalian scent. Foreign. Nearby. Ar-Mur closed his eyes. A not-quite light enough step. Ar-Mur spun, grabbed the punk by his throat and threw him against the floor. Still invisible, the kid’s astonishment was mired beneath a choking fit and groaning pain.

Ar-Mur drew his plaz-pistol, leveled it on center-mass, “Shut it down.”

The phantom coughed and choked, but reappeared in a blink– as he’d left.

Ar-Mur began to circle, examining the kid as if seeing him in a new-light. He knew the kid was a hacker, had gotten past security by hacking it digitally or physically. All of it, and there was a lot, layered like clothing one atop the other, atop more, and so on. Each layer scanned for specific parameters; body heat, odor analysis, power, motion– so many in fact, Ar-Mur had lost track.

That had been his mistake. He knew it now.

“You’ve come all this way and survived. So, speak.”

“E’re comin’. Alluv’em. The Zelphod, the Anti-Humanists. Lackeys.”

“To Ganymede,” he surmised, circling back to his throne to stop before it.

The punk nodded, “Comin’ to take it. Know it’s a clutch. That Sol relies on its mines. That it may not soon, but this’ the best time to weaken it.”

“So these… intruders,” Ar-Mur crossed his arms. “Want it for themselves. They’ll have to go through me first.”

“They will,” the kid said, recollecting himself and rising once more. “Already got agents on-site. Been workin’ for months.”

Ar-Mur’s brow lifted, “On?”

“Puttin’ ‘emselves next to power-centers– you, Snow, gangers, HAA and ISC. Everyone.”

“And this intel, it is credible?”

At that he produced a small disk from beneath a sleeve, offered it to Ar-Mur. He took it, slotted it in his chair, and an encrypted communique opened to play to the almost-empty room. The holo-image immediately strained the Chimp’s self-control. His fury visible enough that even the punk cringed, stepping backward.

“Snow, Emperor-Asshole in the fur.”

“Ar-Mur, as my emissary has informed you, we have a problem.”

“I’m talking to it.”

Snow sneered, “We’ve never seen eye-to-eye on anything, save that maintaining Ganymede’s sovereign anarchy is best for us–”

“You’re about to propose an alliance,” he anticipated.

“I am,” Snow replied without missing a beat. Ar-Mur laughed aloud. “No matter what trickery you may think I’m playing at, bear in mind I am known as brutally and bluntly honest, even in murder.”

Ar-Mur said nothing, his silence agreeing and allowing Snow to continue.

“Ganymede is being infiltrated. Contact may have ended, but the war wages on where we cannot see it. Until recently, it was a pot warming over fire. Now, its contents are rising to a violent boil. If we’re to have any hope for Ganymede or Sol, Evolved or not, we must join together and prepare ourselves for what is to come. Only afterward can we return to civil matters, else there’ll be no home to fight over.”

Ar-Mur bared his teeth again, but remained silent.

“I bear no ill-will for your presence on Ganymede. Else we would war. Thus, this presents us an option; the enemy of my enemy is my ally, if not friend.”

“Or the one to put the knife in second,” he remarked.

Snow tacitly agreed, “Consider my offer, if only for your people’s sake. The Zelphod would see us all exterminated to take what is rightful ours. The same is true for all of Sol. I ask you humbly, consider my offer. I will return to Ganymede within the day to begin preparations. I hope you can put differences aside and aid me. If not, we may never survive what’s to come. Any of us.

Snow winked from existence. The Human watched Ar-Mur carefully, expecting an outburst. Instead he found a tired, Evolved Chimp running on less steam than even it realized. He needed a top-up.

“Why send you?” Ar-Mur asked finally.

“Knew a ‘uman would stay your hand long ‘nuff to lis’en. You torture, not murder ‘em.”

His upper lip curled satisfaction, “Very well. But I require your assistance and name.”

“Suus,” he replied.

“First, Suus, reply affirmative to Emperor-Asshole.” Suus nodded. “Then, show me everything you did to bypass my protocols.”

The hacker’s jaw clenched, “I can’–”

“Your only choice in this matter is whether you wish to be hired as a consultant, or murdered and burned to dust like a lame horse’s carcass.”

Suus swallowed hard, but he liked the sound of payment. Especially against death.

Ar-Mur closed his eyes, resigned to cleaning yet another bullshit-pile dumped on Evolved by Humanity. If it came to it though, Ar-Mur of Ganymede would die defending his home, his people. Obligated or not, his duty to his world and people was too central to his being to walk away.

So, they started off to retrace Suus’ actions… at least they wouldn’t be bored.

Short Story: Forsaken Nightmare

Sunlight fired like pulse-beams through patches of a missing roof. It ricocheted off shattered remnants of a former med-cabinet and splayed itself across the grime and dirt of an old bathroom. A once-white-now-black cast-iron tub edged the room, half-covered by glass doors inexplicably better-weathered than the room.

Grime was smeared like liquid feces across fixtures and walls; the floor a half-inch taller than intended from piled dirt, piled wherever possible. The bits of ceiling still remaining appeared dangerously contaminated, while something piled and rag-like in the tub appeared permanently oil-drenched.

Yet, this was a kind of civilization. A so-called natural one at that– certain as the sun shifting exposed rafter-shadows before altogether tripling its rays across the tattered and oily rag-pile.

It gave a tired groan, stirring enough to resolve itself into the small form of a female Human. She yawned deep, instantly regretting it, then hacked and spit a wad of something. A moment later, she was scrambling for a more-suitable place to vomit.

Or, one that wouldn’t worsen her vomiting, anyhow.

She tripped from a bathroom into a bedroom over a warped threshold. Cool air blasted her face over blinding light as she fell toward a dilapidated corner and wet-heaved. The former bedside table’s remains became the receptacle for her expulsion– to what would’ve been its one-time owner’s dismay.

A cross-wind blew from the home’s open front-face, doing its best to soothe her. She heaved graciously, if that were anywhere near possible. The rubble she’d seen coming in confirmed a few explosives had detonated nearby– probably IEDs from the war, she’d guessed before.

She wasn’t guessing much now; retching with bilious acid, tongue ablaze despite leaking pools of saliva. Gut-punch heaves left her on trembling arms, knees bent beneath her and whole being shivering from flash cold-sweats. Even through layered rags, it cut through her like knives.

She wiped her mouth with a quaking hand, still propped feebly on the other, and clawed her way up rotted lumber. It stank and felt slimy, making her stomach lurch again, but with nothing left inside it, she stilled herself. For now the slime anchored her mind to reality. Mixed blessing that was, it focused her.

Get up, Mal.

“No,” she said aloud.

GET UP, MALAYA!

She was on her feet. Somehow. Her legs were rubber and the rest of her numb, like the moment of death before the mind goes, but she was moving again. Slowly. Deliberately. Had it not been so dark when she’d reached the ‘burb, she might’ve searched the nearby homes for better accommodations. What that might’ve been, she couldn’t imagine, but in daylight, the place was worse than she’d thought.

Of all the former homes, only one other remained in any recognizable condition. The environment made the rest of the rubble obvious as homes, but the most that remained of the least-damaged was a lone, I-beam half sunken into a former basement.

It was as if the whole area’d sustained a direct hit with some sort of planet-sized hammer.

Really, Malaya knew, it was just conventional weaponry. The whole planet might’ve looked the same but she couldn’t be sure. What little she’d seen of it was never so bad physically, but neither was it anywhere near the concept of “good.”

Mostly, it was just “different.”

Malaya rummaged through the last two homes for anything of value but left the ‘burb empty-handed. Her belly roared beneath her soiled layers, wishing to know food as the ruins once had. Nevertheless, she started off on her rubber legs, half-limping from premature aches and an old wound.

She’d left the place she’d called home days ago, never to return. She’d hold herself to that no matter what anyone said. No-one wanted  to be there  anyhow; Bleaker didn’t earn its namesake lightly. It was an internment camp turned refugee shelter– and kept that way four decades too long.

What passed and was built in those intervening years, from a former concrete-walled tent-city, was nothing short of a hell-hole. Unfortunately for Malaya, that hell-hole had been her home– however equally it was also a prison.

She fished an unlabeled can from beneath brick-rubble. It’d probably expired a half-century ago, but she tore at it with the ferocity of a starved, wild-animal– had any but Humans still existed. Nobody knew what started the war anymore, but everyone knew which side lost.

Which? Obviously the one fighting to keep people from living like Malaya.

She wolfed down something stale, rubbery, and equally as frightening as the scent that’d made her vomit. It wasn’t the scent really, but that was beside the point.

She ate, trying to piece together the fifteen or so years of memory she’d collected, and search it for anything of value. A veritable lifetime already; hers. It returned in flashes. Here and there, bits emerging from the fog Bleaker’d kept them in.

They were kids; she knew that much. Too young by the old-world’s standards to be treated the way they were– used the way they were. Most times too, a few disappeared. Here and there. Faces she knew only vaguely, suddenly never reappeared. Girls. Boys. Didn’t matter which.

Now, she was beginning to understand why.

She finished her pitiful meal and began to walk again. Whatever it was she’d put into herself wouldn’t stick around. She walked harder, pieced a little more of the world together. Desolation wherever she went confirmed what little she’d heard as rumors, or was picked up from the kids or elders.

“Adults” were generations gone and more scarred than even Malaya.

Even then, she’d never have traded her life for anyone else’s. Especially when the next morning came, and with the vomited remnants of that terrible meal came something else. Something lower. In her gut, but neither of bowels nor bladder.

It was the greatest relief when she found herself utterly dripping black blood and uterine discharge.

She fell to the freezing ground outside another would-be razed home, and wept gratitude to Gods she knew did not exist. At the very least, she wouldn’t have to be responsible– guilty, for bringing another Gods-forsaken life into this nightmare world.

She wept joy, vomited blood, and fainted.