Across the Hell Land

apocalypse

Post apocalyptic art by Albert Goodwin, 1903 – a work in the public domain

Gray-haired, burnt-skinned Santos had forgotten the number of times he had appealed to the Glow for an end to his journey through the hell lands. He couldn’t fool himself with the placebo anymore, and so as he put out the campfire and slipped on his rucksack, the dull pain in his right knee became his rough companion with each step, thanks to the oblique scar left by the direwolf last Fall.

The old woman he encountered in one of the shelters reclaimed from a flatlands hell crater had tried to minister to him, but the scar tissue had already formed, and her potions were far too weak to repair damaged cartilage. Being maimed didn’t bother him as much as the fact that having to leave her alone again, she died two days hence, probably by the same pack that had struck at him, as evidenced by the sign of the carrion birds circling above her hut.

But heartstrings weren’t something he could afford. She had refused to go with him when he asked. The reluctant ranger told her the plague to the East was spreading by rats and sand hares, had consumed his community, and that the only safety was his destination, the half-mythical city beyond the western foothills. But she said she’d made her peace with the high desert and the hell lands. Her husband and five sons had died during the first disaster, and being of prairie stock, she chose to stay, to tend their graves, living off of a meager garden, wearing sackcloth and ashes.

She never said her name or how long she’d been alone, but he kept seeing her face, cut and grooved with wrinkles like a river delta as step by step, limping, praying to the Glow with each gasp of pain, he kept walking.

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Dueling Holidays

christmas wordle

Image found at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

“Oh come on, Dave. Certainly during this Yuletide holiday you can celebrate with your family a little, put a present or two under their tree, herald the coming of your Savior. I’ll even wear mistletoe on the front of my waist tonight the way you like it.” Suzanne, winking naughtily, was pulling out all the stops to get her husband out of his recliner in front of the smoldering fireplace in the cozy living room so they could drive the fifteen miles to his brother’s house.

Instead, he just looked up at her with a forlorn expression on his forty-five year old face. “We sent Bob’s family a card, and they know we don’t celebrate Christmas. I mean, they do the whole Santa, reindeer, stocking thing.”

“Get up.” She grabbed his arm forcefully, and he let her pull him to his feet. They both were already dressed for the festive meal his younger brother and their family had every Christmas Eve, so it was just a matter of her getting him to the car. “I don’t care if they put Christmas pudding in the ears of all their elves on their shelves, we’re going.” The forty-two year old software developer gripped Dave with all the strength her gym weight training produced.

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Oh Captain!

spacecraft

Image credit: iStock – Found at numerous sources including thepromiserevealed.com

Vanessa struggled to climb out of the Salubrious Pod, sickly yellow and greenish jelly oozing off of her smooth, dark skin. She rolled over the low rim of the tub onto the cold metallic floor of the eight-by-twelve foot featureless chamber, her nude body dimly illuminated by the few flickering light tubes in the ceiling ten feet above. She shivered as the gel evaporated, and she watched a thin mist rising overhead from her body, though some of the goo clung to her short-cropped black hair, and she blinked as one drop fell from her lashes into her left eye.

“Good morning, Captain Chapman. How are you feeling?”

They’d made Sophia’s voice feminine, but the echoes coming from multiple speakers  in the ceiling still made her sound inhuman.

“Like shit, Soph.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” The AI’s reply was meant to communicate concern, but of course, as a machine, she felt nothing at all. “It is important you recover from hibernation quickly. There is a situation.”

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The Chiromancer

palm

A diagram of the palm of the hand from Magnus Hundt’s Antropologium de hominis dignitate (1501) – Found at Wiktionary

For the first time in her career, petite, forty-five year old Sheryl Valdez regretted being a chiromancer. Like the Prophet Joseph from the Bible, she had correctly interpreted a person’s future, but instead of being made a dominant ruler, she was on the run, at the moment, trying to blend in with the other evening commuters on the BART train approaching San Francisco International. Her only hope would be to grab the first available flight out of the country and then try to disappear.

“I want to know how my trial is going to go next week.”

His name was Rico Nguyen and he had been accused of being the financial manager behind the Hình Su gang, which was notorious for the flood of home invasions and mass transit robberies the Bay Area had suffered for the past two years.

“I’ve been wrestling with whether I should try to fight this in court or just get out of the country. No one else has been able to give me any input that helps me figure it out.”

He was effusive and thanked her repeatedly for the uninterrupted hour-long session, which was far more time than she needed.

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What Lies Beneath the Icy Depths of Pellucidar?

arctic depths

katatonia82/iStock

It wasn’t his fault that Eduardo Phillips suffered from that damned ictus, or whatever the doctor called it, and died. Yes, they’d been arguing by the kitchen’s coffee machine, having randomly encountered each other, but Joshua had never laid a hand on him, not that he didn’t want to at times. The paleontologist was incorrigible, insisting that some form of humanoid had actually lived and thrived in the depths of Sorth 662 B’s primary ocean, called “Pellucidar” by Roxanne Sims, the team’s marine biologist and resident romantic, sometime within the past 10,000 years.

At the height of their raging, mutual diatribe, Phillips dropped his Styrofoam cup of tepid Sumatra, clutched at the sides of his head with both hands, an expression of profound anguish on his toffee-colored face, and then collapsed into a heap on the floor, his salt-and-pepper hair soaking up a pool of what one of the Marines called “Java.” Captain Marcus Fink and most of the rest of the team had already been running into the galley in response to their shouting match, and were just in time to see 28-year-old Josh Munoz, astro-geologist, and the youngest member of the expedition under the planet’s north, arctic wastes, standing over the elder scientist, his fists and teeth both clenched, staring at a corpse at his feet.

Doctor Beth Holloway, 61 years old, through as active and intellectually keen as someone half that age, pronounced Phillips dead on the spot. Fink and Patrick Simmons, the Gunny Sergeant heading the small complement of Marines attached to their operation, icily escorted Munoz to his quarters, disabled his comm, and locked off the door mechanism after leaving.

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Seven Weeks of the Devil

hell's kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen in the 1920s – This file is licensed under a free license.

I was working as a printer’s devil for old man MacPherson, me, an Irish boy of only sixteen, but it was good pay, through my hands became black as night as I sorted the cast metal type in the hellbox and put ’em back in the job case. I’d gotten used to the noise, but in order to kill the monotony, Grady Owens, the chief printer, set up a radio so we could listen to music and the news, though he had to turn the volume up pretty high.

I figured I’d do my hitch at MacPherson’s, learn my way around the trade, then move up to something more substantial. Occasionally, he’d have me move heavy reams of newsprint, but I didn’t mind. Gave me a chance to wash my hands, then have a smoke with the other boys and men on the dock before putting my back into it. Even the older Joes respected me on account of my bouts at Clancy’s on the weekends. Clancy says I’ve got potential, box like the devil, which is another reason they call me that name.

I’ve always been big for my age, which causes Ma fits because she keeps having to let the hem out of my trouser legs.

For a long while, I didn’t have a clue that what I was hearing on the radio was different than everyone else. While they were listening to “Cow Cow Blues,” “A Gay Caballero,” and “Sonny Boy,” I was hearing nothing but the news. That wouldn’t be too unusual, but I’d get all kinds of news, from different days, and weeks, and months, all in the same hour.

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The Emulation of Keekik

garlic farm

Rows of garlic on a farm. (Photo: Gary Weathers/Getty Images)

The other local farmers had an easement agreement with Straen so they could cross his land and water their herds, but Keekik’s passionate desire for emulation put him above the law, or so he believed. True, he had no herds of his own, being only sixteen, and a stable hand on Logi’s farm, but now, crouching behind a tree at the edge of Straen’s property, he felt that ownership was inherently evil, and that resources should be available to all who desired access.

Experiencing an almost ethereal since of giddiness at his self-assigned empowerment, the excitable lad sprung from his hiding place, across the artificial boundary between Logi’s and Straen’s farms, and ran with enough vigor to clean his employer’s stables for a week (though he loathed the task).

Racing past the soil enhancement equipment, he knew exactly what he was going to say. His words would be exoteric when he arrived at the lake where all of the caretakers for the farmers were watering the herds of cukol.

Finally, he passed the last open gate that gave him entry to the gathering at the water. The thin, pale skinned boy climbed up a dozer machine that was sitting idle for the moment, took a wide stance, raised his arms above his head and cried, “Brothers and sisters, hear me,” as loud as he could.

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Odd Bedfellows

cougar

Found at Outside Magazine

Sex with Rafe was a cervical pain, even though she always cried out, “Deeper! Go deeper!”

“I’m…going…as…deep…as…I…”

“No, not yet! I’m not ready!”

But it was too late. The callous putz had finished inside of her, sending countless tens of millions of sperm cells searching fruitlessly for a fertile home in which to invade.

“Get off. You’re crushing me.”

“Whatever you say, Babe.”

Bonnie felt his now flaccid member slipping from between her moist thighs, and then her lover’s hot kisses descending from her neck, lingering over full, sweaty breasts, and then continuing down her body.

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The Blacksmith’s Well

time vortex

Time vortex as it appears on the television show “Doctor Who.”

Sever the Smith hardly ever thought of himself as Sean Watson anymore, unless he was staring down into the bottomless abyss left behind by the Tesseract Effect. Far in the future, he had been experimenting with exotic matter using a particle accelerator in his small, private lab outside of Leeds. Yes, he could still remember. Was it five…no, it was six years ago subjective time.

There was a reaction of some kind. Reality went berserk. Billows of strange energy shot from the accelerator’s ring engulfing the chamber and the labs beyond, and the scientific breakthrough the physicist and entrepreneur had anticipated, became his unending nightmare. Had everyone else been translated to another time or just been killed? He would probably never know.

“Say, ísensmiþ, mi friþhengest…” The voice came from the entrance of his shop. Sever quickly closed the lid over the well and stepped into the main work area, shutting the door of the antechamber behind him.

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The Next Soldiers

nuclear winter

Depiction of the effects of a nuclear winter” – Found at the New York Times

Abracadabra,” enchanted fourteen-year-old Elazaro Motyka as he sat under an almond tree overlooking the Port of Haifa, but the sea breeze blowing into the park overlooking the old University was still too cold. Even the magic word his American neighbor taught him didn’t work against the last vestige of nuclear winter, but he hadn’t expected it to.

It had been thirty years since the last war. He managed to avoid most of the stories his zayde told him of whether it was India or Pakistan that fired the nukes first and then pulled in the Chinese, Europeans, and Americans, blah, blah, blah. It was bad enough that they taught about it in school. The present worried him a lot more than the past.

That made him rather atypical among his classmates, since most of them loved to listen to any of the people who were alive during the Third World War. It was a reminder of the last time that even in stupidly killing millions, humanity had been free.

“Hey, Elazaro!”

He looked down to see Inaya making the arduous climb up the hill to his lookout. She was a grade behind him but liked to brag that she was more mature than he was, as if that made her better than him.

“Hey, Inaya. Did you bring lunch?” On days when they didn’t have school, they met in the park to eat and talk.

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