Checkmate

Nathan Kemp opened the dusty door of the dusty little pawn shop, causing a dusty bell to tinkle dustily through the drifting dust. He stepped in and closed the door behind him, looking around as he did so. Light filtered dimly through the coat of dust on the small windows, casting a yellowish petina over display cases and odd bits of junk in the shop. The sound of the bell caused a bit of movement in the back room, and soon a curtain covering the door to the back fluttered and the proprietor came out.  He was tall, he was athletic, he was blond…and he was pasty. He looked like he hadn’t seen a sunshiny day since his first birthday…in fact, he looked like a statue in a wax museum; so much so that Nathan had to resist the urge to go over and dust off his eyelids. He grinned…a huge, fake grin full of too-perfect teeth, and he spoke.
“Hi! I’m Billy Boy! How can I make your day brighter today? See something you like?” Nathan winced at the abrasive quality of his voice.
“Ummm…not really. My car is in the garage across the street. They told me to come back in an hour, so I thought I’d wander in here and check the place out.”
“Wonderful!! Well, not about your car, but about the fact that you chose to come see me. Please…look around, browse to your heart’s content. If something grabs your eye, just let me know. If nothing grabs your eye, why, it was wonderful of you to come in!”
“Thank you.” Nathan turned away, began to wander the shop. Billy Boy stood by the counter, huge, fake grin plastered across the bottom of his head, and watched Nathan. Nathan, knowing he was being watched, looked around self-consciously and spotted something in the far corner that looked like it really needed closer inspection. He strode quickly over to it.
“It” turned out to be a chess set, covered in dust, but still extremely impressive. He reached down, picked up the white queen, and with a guilty look tossed over his shoulder at Billy Boy, politely blew the patina of dust off of it. He found that he was holding a small, but heavy, dragon, perfectly and obviously hand carved from white marble. The piece was exquisite, detailed perfectly. The dragon was sitting back on her haunches on a round base, one claw resting on her knee, the other extended, claws out, toward Nathan. The neck curved up and around, ending in a perfectly carved head with deep blue gem chips as eyes and a crown sitting on top of it. The wings were folded back, partly extended, and covering the back half of the beast. A closer inspection showed dozens of individual scales, each detailed in minute perfection. Looking at the head, Nathan noted a mouth full of tiny, razor sharp teeth, and he rubbed his finger thoughtfully along one of them. He felt a prick, and a tiny droplet of blood appeared on one of the fangs. Nathan jerked back at the hint of pain, and sucked at the finger while looking at the blood droplet, which glistened momentarily in the dim light…and then seemed to absorb into the marble, leaving it once again the purest white.
As the blood disappeared, the queen seem to become softer, almost life like, and it seemed to pulse before hardening once again to marble. This action apparently re-animated Billy Boy, who immediately glided across the intervening space, stopping just by Nathan’s shoulder and looking down at the piece. Quietly, he purred into Nathan’s ear.
“Isn’t it exquisite? The finest Italian Carrera marble, the finest black onyx from Brazil…the table made up of ebony from Sri Lanka and Weymouth white pine from England. Every square inch before you was hand carved over a period of several years. I got it from an estate sale a couple of years ago, and I’m willing to let it go for a very reasonable price. What do ya think?”
“I think it’s nice…and I’m sure that the price is reasonable. But, as I said, I’m just waiting for my car, so I don’t think I’ll be buying anything today.”
“Well…OK. It certainly was nice to meet you, and if you want anything…why, you know where I am.”
Nathan thanked him, and left the store. He walked across the street, collected his car and drove home. “Home” was a dilapidated, hundred year old, inherited-but-unwanted, looks-haunted house that sat on a large lot just outside the center of town. He went in, kicked off his shoes, grabbed a beer and flopped in a chair, hoping to relax a bit before the daily rummaging of the refrigerator looking for something edible. The relaxing part eventually gave way to the dozing off part as he slipped into a quiet slumber.
The quiet slumber worked for a short time, until the dream kicked in. The dream consisted of Nathan on one side of a large room, and a score of dragons on the other side. Nathan had a Bowie knife and a small camp ax…the dragons had…well…fangs and claws and scaled armor and…oh, yeah…flames shooting out of their mouths. He heard a noise behind him and turned, only to see the wall behind him start to move, grinding slowly toward him and forcing him to move to the dragons. Closer and closer he moved, and just before he reached the furthest reach of the dragons flames…
Nathan awoke, sweating and screaming. He jumped up, pacing around and trying to figure out the meaning of what he had just experienced in his sleep. He ran to the phone and made a call, then immediately left the house. An hour later he was back, carefully carrying in a chess table and setting it up in his study. Another trip and the chess set joined the table. A couple of minutes later, the set was up and ready to play. The only disconcerting thing was the memory of the huge fake grin, full of too-perfect teeth, that had been plastered across the bottom half of Billy Boy’s face as he accepted the money for the set.
The dream didn’t return, and Nathan spent three days looking at the chess set, examining the chess set, playing with the chess set. Now, Nathan knew his way around a chess set. After all, wasn’t he once rated by the USCF? Wasn’t he listed on page 119 of the U.S. Chess Federation Lifetime Membership (2007 edition) book? Of course he was. This didn’t change the fact, of course, that he lived alone and had nobody to play chess with. But if anybody happened to drop by, why he was ready for ’em.
About a week went by…and early one morning, Nathan was getting ready for work. He went into his study to get his cell phone, and on the way out, he stopped suddenly, staring at the chess set sitting so serenely in the middle of the room. The white king’s pawn was pushed forward one square. Nathan knew he hadn’t touched the set…there were no pets in the house to move the piece…he didn’t know what the hell was going on. He carefully replaced the piece on it’s home square and went to work.
Several hours later he came home, totally exhausted. He dropped his keys on the table by the door, drooped his briefcase on the floor under said table, took off his coat and tossed it in the general direction of a living room chair, went to the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge, went to the study, dropped in the big, comfy office chair, leaned back, drank deep, closed his eyes and sighed in relief. After a couple of minutes, he leaned forward, set his beer down (being careful to set it on the already present water-stained ring) and took the remote from his desk drawer. Hitting the button on the remote activated the TV across the room, and he leaned back and watched the news.
The news was over, the beer was gone. Time for food. Nathan got up and headed toward the kitchen…and stopped suddenly, looking at the chess set. The white king’s pawn had been pushed forward one square. Food forgotten, he crouched down, looked under the table, examined the whole thing closely. This thing have a computer built in that he didn’t know about? No…no computer components anywhere. Well…maybe a ghost wanted to play chess. The house was certainly old enough to have a couple of those. And, Nathan, well, Nathan was a pretty damn good chess player…so…what the hell? He pushed the queen’s pawn forward two squares and went to get food.
The next night, he came home and went straight to the chess table. The queen’s bishop’s pawn was pushed forward two squares. Nathan cocked his head at that. Whoever…or whatever…was playing was initiating the Van’t Kuijs Attack…what the hell? He knew that this opening was weak for the white side, and with the variant that he had played on the first move, black actually had a 54% chance of winning, whereas white had only a 23% chance. He couldn’t understand that, but OK…he’d go with it. He made a move..and moved on. This scene repeated itself over the next few days. Nathan came home, saw that a move had been made, made a move of his own and moved on.
So far, no pieces had been taken, but as the play progressed, Nathan noticed that if he sacrificed a pawn, it might be possible to set up a trap that would definitely give him a major advantage. He examined the board, going over future moves in his mind, and finally pushed his pawn forward into danger. Then he took a deep breath and stepped back, watching the board. The gambit worked as he…she…it…whatever decided to take the pawn. A knight swooped up and occupied the same space as the pawn. But then, the weird thing happened. The dragon figure that was the knight seemed to breathe, reared up and shot a thin stream of flame toward the pawn. As the flames engulfed the pawn, it quickly disintegrated into dust…which floated up and toward the white king. The king reared up, drew a deep breath, blinked it’s icy blue eyes and  inhaled the pawn dust. As it did this, it seemed to grow by about a half an inch. It then settled back on its haunches and hardened back into a marble chess piece.
Well, that set Nathan back just a bit, and he started to suspect that maybe…just maybe…there wasn’t a ghost involved in this game. So, now he had no idea what the hell he was playing against. But he did have the feeling that stopping the game at this point wasn’t really an option. With a deep sigh, he made his next move and went to bed.
The game proceeded apace. Because of a small technical error, Nathans trap failed. But he managed to hold his own, and pieces on both sides fell at a regular rate. Both the white king dragon and the black king dragon were now a foot taller than they were at the beginning of the game, as they inhaled the dust of their vanquished enemies. Nathan was in trouble at this point, and he knew it. Normally, he would have offered his opponent a draw…but there was no opponent to ask. He could only play on…or resign.
Three days later, it was over. Nathan knew it was over. He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew it. He looked down at the shattered and scattered remnants of his army and, with a deep sigh, reached out and tipped over his king. What happened next filled him with horror. As soon as the defeated king hit the board, the white king dragon came to life, rearing up and inhaling mightily. With the exception of the white king dragon, every piece on the board, black and white, dissolved into dust and drifted toward the remaining figure. And, as the dust was inhaled, the white dragon began to grow. Two feet, four feet, five feet…splinters shot across the room as the weight of the dragon shattered the table sending it crashing to the ground. Still the dragon grew, snaking across the room…ten feet, fifteen…and at this point, Nathan let out a squeak and bolted for the door, bouncing off the far wall in an attempt to turn down the hall toward the front door.
As he stumbled down the hall, Nathan heard a crash behind him and risked a glance back, just in time to see the doorway of the sturdy explode as a huge head rammed through it. The head swiveled and shot a stream of fire toward the fleeing man. The fire slammed into Nathan’s back, splashing left and right onto the curtains, furniture and walls, while the main portion of the stream continued straight, exploding out of his chest and smashing into the front door. As Nathan collapsed in a pool of flame and the curtains, furniture, walls, house erupted into a raging inferno, the white dragon, now twenty feet long, reared up in the study, smashing through the ceiling into the second floor, and let out a thunderous roar, which reverberated through the neighborhood.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Detective Callen walked slowly toward the old house, moving carefully up the creaky, blackened steps, stopping just shy of the front door and looking around.The roof and upper floor had collapsed onto the lower floor, leaving mounds of charred wood and plaster piled here and there. A couple of interior and exterior walls still stood, but they drooped sadly downward and looked like they could go at any moment. Underfoot was a muddy mixture of ash and water. He stepped carefully over what remained of the threshold and into what remained of the house.
He was met by a fire inspector who introduced himself as Inspector Jackson. Together, they slowly walked over to the charred lump of debris that was, in fact, the sole victim of this fire. Callen squatted down, examined the corpse closely. It was actually difficult to determine that this had once been human, but there were a few indications…a misshapen head, a couple of teeth poking out…indications of arms and hands, maybe legs…he stood, thinking.
“Do we have any idea of who this once was?”
“Best guess…this is probably Nathan Kemp. It is his house and, as best as we have been able to determine, he was the only occupant. He is also the primary source of ignition, by the way.”
“Spontaneously combust, did he?”
Jackson chuckled. “No, he didn’t spontaneously combust. But, we do know that the fire started with him; specifically, on his back. Maybe someone or something threw fire at him in such a way as to set his back of fire. I don’t know. I do know that there is no trace of gasoline, turpentine, or any other accelerant on him. But, while he is the cause of the fire, there is something very, very strange that you should see. Just in here, if you will.”
As he spoke, he stepped up to a door, solid oak, that groaned saggily against what was left of its jamb, miraculously still standing in the middle of a mostly gone wall. Moving past the door, to a spot where the wall wasn’t anymore, they stepped through, and into what appeared to be the remains of a study. At the far end of the room stood a desk, heavily charred, held together by sheer determination. The walls and windows were gone, the bookcases puddled piles of debris. But there, there was…
Standing in the middle of the floor, in absolute pristine condition, was a chess table. Untouched by smoke, flame or water, it gleamed in the light.  The table was constructed of Sri Lankan and English woods, with the board portion being alternate light and dark squares. On the table stood a chess set, white pieces of Italian Carrera Marble, perfect in every way. The black pieces were constructed of black Onyx, blacker than the deadest night. All of the pieces, black and white were intricately carved into dragons, perfect miniatures of the mythical beasts.
“What the hell is this?”  Callen stepped over to the set, peering at it in awe. He picked up the white king, looking at it closely. He noted the beauty of it, and ran his finger gently over the piece. He sighed deeply, reluctantly put the piece back on the door, and turned away.  He and Jackson left the study, with the mystery of the cleanliness of the chess set running through Callens mind. As they re-entered the living room, the medical examiner was just zipping up the body bag and preparing to remove the body. A small army of police and fire department personnel were combing through the house, seeking answers to the questions of how and why the fire had occurred.
Callen wandered around, poking here and there, looking for something, anything that would explain the mess in the house. But as he walked, his mind kept going back to that chess set…wondering how it could possibly be so pristine in the sooty, wet mess. Finally, he gave up all pretense of working and headed back to the study. He crouched down in front of the set, examining it closely without touching it. Nothing on it seemed amiss. It just sat there in its pure beauty. He reached out, picked up the white queen, noted its heaviness, the cool marble. The attention to detail in it’s construction was superb and the tiny fangs seemed to be razor sharp. He tentatively ran his finger over the fang, then jumped when the fang punctured it. A spot of blood appeared on the fang, then slowly absorbed into it, leaving it once again gleaming white. As the blood disappeared, Fire Inspector Jackson…tall, athletic, blond Inspector William “Billy Boy” Jackson plastered a huge, fake, full of too-perfect teeth grin across the bottom of his face…and chuckled.

 

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By Dave Stone

The Stars Shine Bright…

The convoy ground it’s way along a goat path under a lemony sky that blasted down heat only to have it ricochet back from the raw, fractured emptiness.  The convoy consisted of four armored vehicles, mini-ovens on wheels that carried several people overly dressed in camouflage and body armor, with full field packs and marinating in sweat.  Each vehicle had a hole in the top, through which there stood a soldier, peering around blurrily through sun-reddened eyes, leaning on a large machine gun, searching for any threat in the vast barrenness.  Below were the drivers, straining to see through the plastic windows, pitted and scarred by sandstorms and rocks and covered with a dusty haze.  Also in the vehicles were one or two men each, listlessly leaning against the rocking, daydreaming of home, of wives or girls, of lips and breasts, of beer and liquor, or remembering how they ended up in this pimple on the ass of the world.
 
One of these people was a sergeant by the name of Brian Epson, known only as Scar, due to the facts of his childhood, during which he was involved in more knife fights than the patrons of a biker bar, which left his face looking like a poorly sewn tapestry and his body crisscrossed in a scarred road map with puckered punctures marking the towns.  He lounged lethargically against the vehicle, half-lidded eyes staring out at the heat soaked landscape, wondering when, oh God, when were they going to reach their destination and find a wee bit ‘o shade?  He continued to semi-doze as the convoy moved into a small gulley.
 
WHUMP!!  A quarter mile into the ravine, the lead vehicle found an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) buried in the path which effectively removed the front wheels and turned the vehicle into a major road block.  Almost before the dust started to rise from the IED, a a rocket from a shoulder mounted rocket launcher slammed into the rear vehicle, turning it into a raging inferno that spewed smoke, flames and screams from the roasting flesh inside.  Immediately after, the two middle mini-ovens boiled over, pouring out men and weapons, jumping, screaming, peering wildly about, looking for the enemy as well as places to take cover from the attack.  They quickly scrambled to the sides of the ravine as withering as automatic gun fire followed the rocket, taking out three more of the party.  Two more rockets followed, taking out the remaining two vehicles, as the soldiers crouched behind rocks, looking for something to shoot at.  
 
The sun glared down, blasting heat on the small tableau below, as the soldiers looked around.  Finally, Scar began to move, sidling from rock to rock, trying to get to a position where he could crawl out of the ravine and find the enemy.  The attackers took note of his movements, and began to take potshots at him, but in doing so, had to expose themselves, giving the other Americans targets to shoot at, finally.  And shoot they did, picking off the enemy as they raised up to shoot at Scar.  Unfortunately, some of the attackers bullets also found homes, and two more Americans went down, one with a bullet between the eyes and the other when a nasty, whining ricochet sliced his thigh open from knee to nuts, ripping through his femoral artery along the way.  He bled out in seconds.  Scar finally managed to get out of the ravine, and charged in from the side, mowing down a dozen before the rest even knew he was there…and when they saw that, the remaining enemy quickly melted away into the mirages of the desert.
 
The remaining Americans, Sergeant Brian “Scar” Epson, Corporal Clifford Simpson, and Privates James Hendley and Damien Walters carefully carried the bodies of their dead back to the three burning and one crippled vehicles.  Scrounging through the one remaining vehicle, they found a couple of tarps, which were used to cover the bodies of their friends.  While they searched, the sun dipped down, and sat perched on the horizon.  During their search, they also found a radio, which they immediately put to good use, contacting their base approximately thirty miles away.  At that time, they were informed that due to the lateness of the hour, and the reluctance of anyone to go on a rescue mission at night, they were on their own until morning.  They moved away from the now smoldering vehicles and the bodies of their comrades, and set up a small, cold camp a short distance away.
 
The moon overslept that night and missed its appearance in the night sky, but the stars more than made up for it’s absence, filling the sky to overflowing with brilliance.  The soldiers settled down amongst the rocks, broke some MRE’s, ate and began to talk quietly.  Simpson wondered if anyone had had turkey in their meal, “cause after all, it was Thanks giving…and, considering their current position, did anyone have anything to be thankful about?  Walters ‘lowed how he was thankful to be from Alaska…a place where there was plenty of open spaces, nice long winters, moderate temperatures “not at all like this pit of hell”…a place where you could just toss the beer outside into a snowbank to keep ‘er cold.  Hendley started up about his family, richer ‘n any ‘o them “Housewives of…wherever”, and…  While they talked, “Scar” Epson lay back, got lost in the beauty above him and considered his own personal journey from birth to this place.
 
His Momma was a slut…a slut who readily admitted that she didn’t know which of the dozen or so “one-nighters” she had had at the time was actually the father of the child she produced.  His formative years were spent either being abused, both physically and mentally, or being ignored, the ignored part happening when she was entertaining one of her multitude of gentlemen callers.  This lifestyle continued until he was ten, at which point he figured he had had enough, and one day, he walked out the door (she was a bit busy in the bedroom at the time), and never walked back in, preferring to take his chances with living on the streets.  The next eight years took him on a circuitous route throughout the West from Central Colorado to Boise, Idaho, with numerous knife fights, multiple train hops and the populating of a half dozen jails along the way.  He finally found himself, at the age of eighteen, sitting in an office in Boise, talking with a man in a uniform and drinking coffee.  When he left the office, he was a member of the United States Army…and he never looked back.  Two tours in Iraq and currently on his third tour in Afghanistan, he felt that he had…
 
“What?”
 
“I asked what all are you thankful for, Sarge?”
 
He had to think about that one for a bit.
 
“Reckon I ain’t thankful for anything in my past…and I ain’t too thankful for the present.  Guess I’d have to say I’m thankful for th’ military…past and present.  The men and women of two World Wars, Korea, VietNam and the Gulf War…men who went off to fight in far countries, fought to keep our country and our people free, fought even though they knew they were not wanted in the countries they were in, even though the people of their own country didn’t want them there, even though they knew that when they returned home there was the possibility they would be spat upon and hated, even though they themselves hated what they were doing.  They fought and they died and they were maimed and they were destroyed mentally…because they believed in what they were doing, they believed in their leaders, even when, on occasion, those leaders were betraying them.  They were true American heroes, and without them, we would not exist…that’s what I’m thankful for.”
 
He rolled over, went to sleep.  The next morning, another convoy arrived, picked them up, cleaned up the site, removed the bodies, took them back to base, debriefed them, sent them on their way…to continue to fight, to continue to kill, to continue to be soldiers.  And, six months later, Sergeant Epson would receive the Silver Star for his actions in the fight…a medal he would toss in the bottom of his bag as he returned for his fourth tour…
 
 
By Dave Stone

Insectisorium

Chapter 1

 

The war was over, and as is usually the case in a war of this type, there were no winners.  The Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Australia lay in total ruins, while the countries of the other Alliance (The United States, China, Russia and South Africa) were basically barren wastelands.  The war was over…had, in fact, ended thirty years earlier…and yet still the radiation flowed along the ground like a stream of death, withering all it touched.

Of the planets nine billion inhabitants, five billion had died in the war.  Millions of trees had withered and died, robbing the planet of much needed oxygen.  The Amazon rain forest had dwindled down to 20% of its original size, killing millions of animals as it died.  Everything on the planet was dying…except the insects.  For some reason, the massive influx of radiation was to the insects as water is to a severely dehydrated man, and the insects flourished.  Where once there had been hundreds of millions of bugs, now there were trillions, and their taking over the earth was inevitable.

Since the plants were dying, the plant eating insects were dying with them.  But with five billion dead bodies lying around, the carnivorous insects were running rampant over the land.  Mankind, realizing that it could not cope with the overwhelming rise of the insect kingdom, had decided to abandon the planet and find greener pastures.

And so, the exodus began.  Star systems were searched out with extremely powerful telescopes, looking for inhabitable planets.  As these places were found, ships were built, supplies were cached, those people who had survived both the war and the insects were gathered…and the ships were launched.  The ships had been built in the coldest areas of the world, the areas not yet overtaken by the insects.  In this way, three hundred million humans had survived to leave the planet, and, while many would die in their attempts to find a place to live, many millions had found planets suitable for them.  Now, the last ship was preparing to leave…the ship that, by agreement of all involved, would hopefully end the reign of the insects as it left.  This ship was located high in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and the last passengers were preparing to board.

Chapter 2

Lucy was bored.  For days now, she had been processing passengers into the ship, checking I.D.’s, directing the people to their proper destinations, making sure the crew were doing their jobs.  Now, finally, the last couple of people were walking in, and the huge steel doors were closing after them.  She examined the three women as they approached, and noticed a large splash of color on the head of one of them.  That had her curious.  They finally reached her desk and she actually did a double take at them.  She quickly recovered her composure and spoke.

“Welcome, ladies.  You’re the last to arrive.  May I have your names, please?”

The first lady, a strong-looking Latina, spoke.

“My name is Diana Garcia…and this…”, indicating the splash of color, “…is Chico.”

Chico…was a parrot.  A green parrot with splashes of yellow, flashes of blue on the wings, flashes of red on the tail.

“Well, Ms. Garcia, you of course are welcome.  But I’m afraid that Chico will have to make the trip in the Vet’s quarters.  He has a good many animals down there already, as well as a large staff that will take excellent care of Chico.”

With that, she pressed a button, and a young man appeared.

“Mr. Kemp…would please escort Mr. Chico to the vet?”

Diana reached up, removed Chico from her head, handed him to Mr. Kemp, who left with him.

“He…he will be well provided for?  He is, after all, my family.  He goes everywhere with me.”

“I assure you, Ms. Garcia, Chico is in excellent hands, and will make this trip in good condition.  Now, Ma’am…you are?”

This last was addressed to the young redhead standing next to Diana.

“My name is Stephanie Burgess.”

As each spoke, Lucy spoke briefly into a small microphone, and waited to receive confirmation on the individual.

Welcome aboard, Ms. Burgess.  And you?”

The short brunette, sporting a pair of black-rimmed glasses, and obviously the youngest of the three, answered.

“Marie Frankson.”

“Welcome, Marie.  Ladies, you’ve now been processed in…please proceed through those doors there, and our staff will prepare you for the trip.”

As Diana, Stephanie and Marie headed for the doors, Lucy began shutting down her computers, put in a call to her boss and then followed the ladies into the ship.  As she approached the doors, they automatically slid open, and a wave of noise and confused chatter washed over her.  Entering, she saw about four hundred people in the massive lounge, drinking, eating, talking, looking like the world was about to end…which, of course, it was.

She made her way through the crowd, pausing occasionally to reassure a person here, greet a person there, until she reached a podium at one end of the room.  She flipped a switch, tapped the microphone to ensure it was in proper working order, and called for attention, as did dozens of others in the dozens of other lounges throughout the ship.

“Attention!  May I have everyone’s attention, please?  Please, folks, settle down…I have some things I have to tell you before takeoff.  First off, you’ll notice that all the seats in this lounge do have seat belts, and we ask that you please sit down at this time, and strap yourselves in, as tightly as possible.  We will be experiencing some heavy G-forces during takeoff.  Shortly after takeoff, you’ll be hearing from Commander Betz…and he’ll give all the details of the trip ahead.  But for now, please sit down, relax and enjoy the trip.  After liftoff, we will be orbiting Earth for a short time before we leave the planet for the trip to our final destination.  I’ll leave it to Commander Betz to explain all that to you.  Please strap in, parents, please see to your children, everyone, please relax.”

Diana, Stephanie and Marie wandered over to one of the thick-glassed windows and sat down.  They strapped themselves in and looked out the window.  As a rumble reverberated through the ship, they saw a wave of insects coming up the mountain, insects that had finally braved the cold enough to see about the possibilities of lunch at the top of the mountain.  Just before they reached the ship, there was a shudder as the engines ignited, spewing out a blast of fire and smoke.  As the ship lurched off the ground, the women saw the closest insects being incinerated in the blast, as most of the others were blown off the mountain by the strong winds kicked up by the blast.

The ships flight smoothed out as it tore through the atmosphere, until the engines quit, and they entered an orbit above the Earth at about 300 miles.

Chapter 3

In the front of the ship, and up on top of the structure, there sat a small bubble of glass and metal.  This was the command post of the ship, and it was from here that the pilots did their thing.  A mass of computer screens, buttons, switches and handles filled the space, barely leaving enough room for the two humans to work.  Commander Robert Betz and Vice Commander Juliette Kings were talking quietly, flipping switches, pushing buttons, examining computer screens full of graphs and data as they powered up the ship.

The push of a button brought a deep rumble from the ship, as metal doors blocking the exhaust ports slid back.  High pitched whines answered another button push, and the engines began to warm up.  Screeches and more rumbles were heard as outer doors closed, as shields covered all but the thickest of the windows.  The whines became shriller as the engines neared full power, and at this point Vice Commander Kings glanced at a screen showing the exterior of the ship.

“Rob…we’re about to be buried under a mountain of insects.  May I suggest we get the hell out of here?”

“Almost there…are all exterior ports closed?  We can keep them out momentarily, can’t we?”

All ports are closed except those around the exhaust ports.  They could, theoretically, get in there.”

“All right…here we go.  Ready in 3…2…1…and NOW!”  As he spoke the last word, Betz pushed one final button, pulled back sharply on a handle…and a gout of flame and smoke roiled out of the ports to a distance of fifty feet.  Hundreds of thousands of insects were instantly incinerated, and millions more blown away by the blast.  The ship jerked sharply, shuddered violently, and, reluctantly, left the surface of the planet.

The ship gained speed as the power and altitude increased, and sped toward the upper limits of the atmosphere.  With the dexterous handling of the controls by the pilots, and the precise orders of the computers, it soon rocketed into orbit above the Earth at a distance of about 300 miles.

Screeches were heard as the blast doors closed and the outer ports were opened, and soon the passengers had an outstanding view of the planet, which, from up here, showed no signs of the chaos and violence going on at the surface.  The pilots continued to speak quietly to each other, relaying information on the status of the ship, the speed, etc.  Finally, Commander Betz pulled a microphone over to his station, pushed a button, and spoke.  His voice echoed through the entire ship, easily heard by the twenty thousand passengers and 500+ crew members.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Commander Betz speaking.  I would like to welcome you aboard the last Earth Migratory Vehicle to leave Earth, known as EMV-503, or otherwise known as the “Zoltana”.  We are currently in orbit above the Earth, and will stay in orbit for about a day, while preparations are made for the trip to our ultimate destination.

That destination is a star system known as epsilon Reticuli, a system which has two stars in common motion through space and form a binary star system.  This means, quite simply, that the planet we will be landing on will have two suns, one an orange subgiant, which means it’s coming to the end of its life, and the other a white dwarf…which will be around for awhile.  When I say that one is coming to the end of its life, I don’t want to worry you…it won’t die for another 2 billion years or so…quite safe for the time being.  The planet we are heading for is orbiting that subgiant, at about the same distance that the Earth orbits our own sun…and yes, there is plenty of life there, although obviously different than that of Earth.

Epsilon Reticuli lies about 59 light-years distant from us, and I’ll explain what that means shortly.  For now, I’ll leave you to view Earth for the last time, and put some satellite images up on the screens scattered around your lounges.  The images are graphic, and somewhat disturbing.  You may want to see to your children while they are on.  They are also live…this is what’s happening at this moment on our planet.  You should know that we had to leave some three billion people alive on the planet…there was no way to get them all off.  We are hoping, however, to eradicate the majority of the insects, and allow nature to slowly heal herself and start over.

The governments of the world spent over twenty years hammering out the details for the last flight off Earth, and spent years making the preparations for that which we will accomplish tomorrow.  For now, I give you the final images of Earth.”

There was an audible click as the microphone was turned off.  A moment later, the screens in the lounges sprang to life, showing a satellite view of a large plain, complete with lakes and mountains.  As the cameras zoomed in for a closer look, writing scrolled along the bottom of the screen, identifying the location as the Serengeti Plain in East Africa.  Soon, it was close enough that everyone could see two black dots, one in the east and one in the west, moving toward each other.  The camera continued to zoom in.

Eventually, it was apparent that the “dots” were like two black carpets, waving and undulating along the ground.  Ahead of the carpets, thousands and thousands of animals were fleeing, elephants and leopards and lions and zebras and gazelles, stampeding over each other in an effort to get away.  Further magnification revealed the carpets to be comprised of red and black army ants, trillions upon trillions of them, herding the animals before them, slowly enclosing them in a trap.

Finally, the animals running east met up with the animals running west, and total confusion ensued.  They met near a large waterhole, and many of the animals ran into the water to escape.  At about this time, the ants fanned out so that they were heading north and south, as well as east and west, totally encircling the animals, which, in their terror, were stampeding over each other in all directions.  The slower and weaker animals were quickly overcome by the ants, and were immediately buried under mounds of death.  By the time the back edge of the ants arrived, these animals were nothing but skeletons, totally picked clean by the hordes in the front.

The ants reached the waters edge…and kept going.  They ran onto the water in their millions, forming bridges for their brothers and sisters behind them.  A lot of these bridges were washed away by the churning of the crazed animals, but for every million washed away, two million took their place…and the ants reached the animals.  And just as the ants arrived at the middle of the waterhole, the scene changed to…

It was almost immediately obvious that this was the Great Plains of the United States.  While a great deal of it was barren, a veritable dust bowl, there were still thousands of acres planted in wheat and corn.  A nice, tranquil scene, the tall stalks waving gently in the breeze; the only marring factor was the thick black cloud rushing in from the east.  This cloud, miles thick, miles high, was comprised of billions of locusts, and they swiftly engulfed and obscured the green plants.  By the time they had flown on through, everything was gone.  Left in their wake was a ravaged, barren, dead land.  And the scene shifted to…

A slum.  It was identified as one of the slums located in New Delhi, India, and was a vast, sprawling area filled with shanties, mud and hopelessness.  Through the mud and the muck marched an army of insects, consisting of beetles of every kind, spiders, ants.  Flying over them was a cloud of mosquitos, flies and bees.  Anything encountered that showed even remote signs of life was immediately overwhelmed and consumed.  Men, women, children, dogs, goats, whatever it was, it died on the spot.  As the picture showed a small girl falling under the horde, it was mercifully cut off, and the screen went dark.  The microphone switched back on.

“This is what’s become of our planet, and this is why we’re leaving.”

Commander Betzs’ voice was hushed.

“But…on our way outta town, we’re leaving one last present for the insects.”

Chapter 4

The microphone clicked off, and almost immediately filters of varying degrees of darkness began to slide down between the layers of glass in the windows.  As each filter reached the bottom of the window, the outside view became darker and darker, until the Earth 300 miles below appeared only as a dim orb floating in space.  The microphone clicked, and a higher, softer voice came over the speakers.

“This is Vice Commander Kings.  For the past several years, all the governments of the world have been building special computers, hooking those computers up to all their remaining explosive weapons, and connecting the computers to one massive super computer built just for this mission.  The super computer is located in a cave in the Antarctic, an area the insects cannot go, and that computer has a dish aimed at this ship.  In a few moments, we will send a command to the super computer, which will, in turn, send commands to all the other computers, and every explosive device on the planet…nuclear, TNT, whatever it may be, will detonate…simultaneously.  Even with the filters, it may get a bit bright, so please shield your childrens eyes, as well as your own.”

Microphone, off.  A short pause.  And suddenly, blasts, blasts brighter than the sun, blinding blasts even through the filters began to appear all over the planet.  Some passengers could have sworn that they saw the Earth wobble on its axis from the power unleashed, as hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of weapons detonated.  The filters began to recede back into the ceiling, and soon the passengers could see…

A world in flames.  Thousands of mushroom clouds sprouted up, obliterating much of the planet surface.  What could be seen was burning…they could almost feel the heat, could almost feel the blast of wind, could almost see the waves of radiation washing over the land.  They could see where the force of the explosions had set off massive earthquakes…huge tetonic plates were visibly shifting.  All over the globe, volcanos were erupting, adding smoke, ash and fire to the already dense atmosphere.  It was obvious to all of them that nothing living remained on Earth.  There were several more whinings of motors, more thrusts of engines, and the ship turned away from the view, pointed toward open space and began to move away from their ruined home.

Chapter 5

Microphone, on.

“Well, folks, it’s a sad but necessary state of affairs, and all we can do now is look to the future.  The staff will be circulating among you now, taking you and preparing you for the journey ahead.  Our trip time is 59 light-years…plus about 3 ½ years at sub-light speed.  But don’t worry…we’ll be sleeping through the whole thing.  Thanks to today’s technology, we will be in a state of suspended animation…our hearts and our bodies will basically slow down by a major amount.  In fact, during this entire voyage, you will only age by about three years.  So, go and take your naps, and we’ll see you on the other side of the trip.”

An attendant arrived, and led Diana, Stephanie and Marie to a large room, outfitted with about three hundred capsules, each about 7 feet by three feet.  Before entering the capsules, they were given a last chance for a bathroom break, and then lay down in the capsules.  The attendant began prepping them for the journey.  Electrodes were placed in several key areas to monitor heart rate, respiration, other vital signs.  A small non-corroding, ceramic needle was placed in each arm to provide nutrition and liquids necessary to sustain life.  The electrodes were plugged into a computer in the top of the capsule lid, which was, in turn, plugged into the main computer.  A sedative was given to each person, and as they fell asleep, the capsule lids were closed and sealed.  Once sealed inside, the computer beeped, indicating that it was injecting a deeper sleep potion.  The interior of the capsule filled with gas, and the occupants bodily functions were slowly reduced to the required point.

It took a couple of days to get all twenty thousand passengers into their capsules and sleeping.  During this time, the ship was moving away from the Earth, gradually increasing speed as it did so.  Out past the moon it sped, and on toward Mars.  The farther it got from the suns gravitational pull, the faster it went.

Once the passengers were down, the crew quickly and efficiently cleaned the ship, securing everything not needed.  Waste material and garbage was routed out ports and into open space.  Earth was gone…might as well start littering up space, right?  As things were secured, the crew members began to get into their own cocoons for the journey, and soon only Commander Betz, Vice Commander Kings and one steward (Stephanie Abbott) were left.  The ship was hooked up with the final connections to the main computer, and the flying thereof was taken from humans and given over to machines.  The final commands would be implemented after the three remaining people had been dispatched to the Land of Nod.

The commanders and Steward Abbott moved into the Commander’s Lounge, where the last three unoccupied capsules stood.  The steward got the two commanders into their pods, hooked them up and sent them off to dreamland.  Before they slept, each commander breathed a small prayer that nothing happen to Steward Abbott, who was now the most important person on the ship.  If anything happened to her during the voyage, everyone was basically screwed.

Once the commanders were settled in, Stephanie Abbott moved to her own capsule.  This one was different than all the others, in that all the computer controls were inside the capsule, rather than on the lid.  She made sure of the connections from her capsule to the main computer, and seeing that all was in readiness, climbed in.  She attached the electrodes to herself, and then to the computer…making sure all was working before she proceeded.  All OK?  Good.  She could continue.  She lay down, carefully inserted one of the syringes into her left arm.  This finished, she started working on the other in her right arm.  This was a little trickier, since she was right-handed.  Once that was done, she started and adjusted the flow rate of the nutrients, checking the computer again to make sure all was hunky-dory.  Finally, she pulled down the capsule lid and sealed it in place, breathing a prayer of thanks that she wasn’t claustrophobic.  She pushed some buttons, and the computer took over, injecting the sedative, filling the capsule with gas, lowering her metabolism.  And so, she…and everyone else…slept.

The computer trilled and beeped, almost as if having a conversation with itself.  As it worked, the oxygen in the ship lowered to the absolute minimum required.  All systems not necessary to keeping the ship going on its course were powered down…and off.  As the ship continued on past Mars, it continued to accelerate, until, ‘long ‘bout the time it passed Jupiter, it achieved light-speed, and in this way, it hurled out toward an uncertain future.

 

By Dave Stone

Dragon Brow

Chapter 1

Let’s face it…the guy was old; old and basically a wreck.  He was still 6’6”, but he had ballooned up to 280 pounds…most of it belly.  He walked with a cane, had hearing aids in both ears, thick lenses on both eyes, totally white hair, a VERY weak bladder, and, like a lot of old people, he farted a lot.  He was arthritic; he was diabetic.  And the old short term memory was pretty much shot.  BUT…he had a superpower; a superpower that very few people knew about.

Used to be, a lot of people had superpowers…but they had all pretty much died off (mostly from old age) by now.  But Dave was still around and he still had his superpower…ridiculous as it was.  You see, Dave could control dragons…with his eyebrows, and big, bushy things they were, too.  Now this, of course could only be used if two conditions were met.  He had to get close enough to make eye contact with the dragon without getting burned to a crisp, and, well, what good exactly is it to have power over a beast that doesn’t actually exist?

Oh, yeah, everybody knew that once upon a time, there were dragons once.  The Targaryens had had dragons…that was how they conquered everyone else.  But they disappeared centuries ago.  And everyone knew about Smaug, but he was forgotten after Bilbo took care of him.  So, no one had seen one for at least two hundred years…so, naturally, it was assumed that they were extinct.

Well, one morning, couple ‘a years ago…I think it was a Friday…ol’ Dave woke up early.  He got up, went in to pee, and headed to the kitchen for coffee.  But, he immediately went back to the bedroom for the robe he forgot…wouldn’t look good to be walkin’ around the place naked; especially since he never remembered to pull his blinds down.  Headed back to the kitchen, got the coffee and headed out to the back porch, picking up a book along the way.

As he stepped out onto the patio, his eyes squinted in pain.  The huge ball of Sun 2 was rising above the horizon in the north, as the equally huge ball of Sun 1 was dipping below the horizon to the southeast.  Dave cursed his ancestors, as he did every morning, for picking this particular piece of crap planet to flee to.  Just once in his life, he’d like to experience that of which he had only read: night.  He sighed, sat down, took a sip of coffee, fired up a cigarette, looked at the cover of the book.  Across the top, the authors name: Nathan Tackett.  Below that, the title, sprawled across the book in splotchy white letters:  THE.  And…the catchphrase: “Does for Snuggies what Jaws did for sharks”.  Dave sort of hoped that, at some point in the book, Nathan might actually explain just exactly what a “snuggie” was.  He knew the book would be good; after all, it was number 6 on the list of 100 All Time Best Books Written By Dead Guys, which was surprising, since it had been written 900 years previously, and on a different planet to boot.

Just as he was getting into Chapter 1, he heard a knock…well, a desperate pounding, really…on the door.  He cursed under his breath and went to the door.

Chapter 2

Opening the door revealed Jason, a man as old and ugly as Dave, who had been his best friend for 60 years.  He looked Dave up and down, noted his manner of dress, grunted, pushed his way past Dave into the house and headed for the coffee.  Dave turned and looked at him.

“I don’t see or hear from you for three years, and all I get is a grunt?”

“Yep.  Where’s the sugar?”

“Right in front of your ugly ass.  What’s going on?”

“Well, for the past couple of years, I’ve been working in Arganth…and now we got a problem.”

“You mean you got a problem.  I wouldn’t go near that place.”

“Yeah…well, you may want to.  We got us a dragon.”

“A…a dragon?”

“Yep.  Big.  Ugly.  Burning things, pillaging, landing on buildings, eating people, blah, blah, blah.  You know, doing all the usual dragon things.  Although there is something peculiar in who he…or she…eats.”

“What’s peculiar?”

“It only seems to be eating politicians and corporate heads…so far.”

“So, basically, it’s doing all of us a favor.  Why tell me?”

“Cause we need you to come down and take care of it.”

“You actually takin’ a good look at me lately?  I can hardly get from the bed to the living room chair anymore…”

“Well… your eyebrows look healthy enough.  And, that’s what we really need.”

“What do you want with my eyebrows, then?”

“You can control dragons with your eyebrows, right?”

“Where in the name of all that’s holy did you come up with that claptrap?”

“You told us.”

Good God, man…I may have said something 40 years ago when I was drunk.  And…you believed it?!?  I mean, let’s face it…no one’s seen a dragon for two hundred years; so how could you mistake my drunken ramblings for some sort of fact?”

“Well…you said it; people believed it…now the powers that be want you to do something about the dragon.  Mentioned some unpleasant possibilities if you refuse, too.  But if you kill the dragon, why, you’ll be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams.”

“I don’t know…I can dream pretty damn big.”

“And…if you fail…well…it’s not like anyone’s gonna miss you, is it?  Kids are all gone…who’s gonna care?  But, if you don’t try at all, well, if you’ve read your history books, then you may remember what happened to Steve Bergeron a hundred years or so ago, right?”

“Don’t think I wanna know about that.  It’s lookin’ like I don’t actually have a choice, innit?  I do believe I shall probably curse the day when they allowed the politicians back.”

“Allowed them back?  Didn’t know they ever left.”

“Then you don’t know much of your history, do you?  All right…let me get some coffee and I’ll tell you about it.  But, let’s go outside…I want a cig and I don’t smoke in the house.”

They got some coffee and wandered out onto the patio.  Dave lit a cigarette, looked around and plopped down into one of the cushy rockers he had out there.  Jason carefully lowered himself into the other, balancing his coffee on his knee.

“Around eight hundred years ago, when humans had finally fucked up Earth as much as was possible, mankind went into a recession, and other species became dominant on the planet.  In other words, insects took over the world.  People weren’t too crazy about that idea, and they had enough in the way of rocket power to make a bit of an escape, but only a few million got off the planet.  The rest were left behind, and eventually became food for the insects.  The few who did escape scattered among the stars, ending up in such places as Pern and Tatooine and others of that nature.”

“One ship, carrying about twenty thousand people ended up here.  The captain of the ship, some guy named…Betz, I think it was, decided that he was in charge; so he named the planet ‘Thare’…simply rearranging the letters in the word ‘Earth’, and decreed that because of the way that Earth was screwed up there would be no politicians, no corporations and no large cities on this world.  Which explains why the capital of the planet, Arganth, only has a population of about 10,000.”

“When their ship (the “Zoltana”) originally landed, this was a very wild planet indeed.  Dragons roamed freely, as did Griffins and all manner of different creatures, and the first few years were extremely hard indeed on the settlers.  They had rifles and guns, and other weapons, of course, but they were far outnumbered by the local fauna…and the flora weren’t all that friendly either.  Also, keep in mind the fact that after the bullets ran out, there was no way to make new ones.  Eventually, after a good number of years, they figured out how to make swords again.  And they’re only now getting into electricity.  But they persevered, and eventually began to tame the land they now called their own.”

“Apparently, taming the land meant the same to them as it did to the people on Earth, and within a couple of hundred years, species began to disappear.  Griffins went extinct, followed by Chimeras, Phoenix and several others.  The last dragon was supposedly killed about two hundred years ago, although you now say that’s not quite right.  And now, I guess I’m expected to do something about that…even though I’m older than dirt, and not exactly the picture of good health.  That being the case, I suppose we better leave.”

Dave rinsed out the coffee cups, turned everything off and prepared to leave, packing everything he would need for an extended hike through the wilderness.  He had no expectation of ever returning from this little outing, and it was with a heavy heart that he got into Jason’s vehicle.  Once strapped in, they headed toward Arganth, a distance of about three hundred miles.

Chapter 3

When Dave said he wouldn’t go near Arganth, he actually wasn’t kidding.  Jason told him from which direction the dragon had flown in, and he was dropped off outside the town in the appropriate area.  He immediately set off away from the town in the approximate direction of the dragon’s arrival.  Looking ahead, he saw a major-sized mountain range ahead of him, about twenty miles distant, with a forest to get through before that.

Considering Dave’s physical condition, covering twenty miles from his starting point to the base of the mountains was going to take awhile.  He had switched out his cane for a large walking stick, but he still walked very slowly, leaning heavily on the stick, and stopping to rest quite often.  In this manner, it took him four days to travel the twenty miles to the mountain range.  Then, he began to climb, which really slowed him down.

A week after he started, when he was about 35 miles from town, he came upon a small meadow, an oasis of grass in the middle of a dark, thick forest.  A small stream gurgled through it, and it was here that he decided to rest and recuperate a bit.  He had struggled through thick patches of thorny hedges, climbed over countless fallen trees, chopped his way through thickets and undergrowth, and he was, quite frankly, tired.  Muttering curses to himself, he slumped down at the base of a tree at the edge of the meadow, constructed a small fire, wrapped himself in his cloak and slept.  And slept.  And slept.  Twice Sun 1 crossed the sky before he awakened, and when he did, he wished he hadn’t.

When he woke, he did so without opening his eyes.  He stretched and yawned and finally opened his eyes…and found himself staring into a yellow, slitted eye, about as big as his head, approximately one foot from his face.  Surrounding the eye was a heavy, scaled, almost metallic-looking copper colored eye socket and brow.  Dave yelped, closed his eyes, held his breath and tried to shrink back into the tree.  After a minute or so, and still holding his breath, he slowly opened his eyes…and the yellow, baleful eye was still there, staring deep into his own wide, frightened eyes.

Beyond the eye, he heard a soft, rhythmic rumbling, an inhaling and exhaling.  Slowly his left hand reached behind him and grasped the tree, while his right hand grabbed up the walking stick, and he carefully levered his way to a standing position.  As he went up, the eye also rose, following him precisely.  He took a step to his right, followed by a step back, so that he was next to the tree instead of in front of it and looked beyond the eye to see the rest of the beast.

What he saw was a head that was as big as he was tall, covered in copper colored scales, topped by a pair of massive horns that curved up and out.  When the dragon opened its mouth, he could see fangs, fangs that had to be the size of his thighs, curving to a razor sharp point.  The body stretched out for a good 25-30 feet, followed by a tail of equal length, all heavily armored in scales.  The claws had to be the size of his forearms, and shared equal sharpness with the fangs.

Dave shuddered at the sight of his foe, the beast he was supposed to kill with a walking stick and the knife he had brought along.  He looked deep into the eye staring at him, smiled weakly and muttered

“Hi”

while at the same time waving timidly.  The dragon stared.  Dave coughed, drew himself up, looked once again into the eye, and said,

“All righty, then.  Listen, Old Boy.  It is a well known fact around the taverns near my house that I can, in fact, control dragons with my eyebrows.  I haven’t managed to prove this to anyone yet, so it looks like you’re gonna be my test case.  All I need from you is a wee bit of cooperation…so…if you please…”

And, at that point, he snapped his left eyebrow up to an almost impossible height, while his right eyebrow glowered down over his eye.  The dragon politely turned its head to the right, and burped…igniting a bush twenty feet away.  It then turned back and resumed its staring.  The first thing Dave noticed: no flames came out…just superheated air that ignited whatever it was aimed at.  The second thing Dave noticed: the rhythmic rumbling had become something of a growl…aimed at him.  He spoke again.

“OK…it seems we may have gotten off on the wrong foot here.  Let me explain the facts of life to ya.  The way this works is, I wave my magic eyebrows around, and you immediately fall under my spell and do whatever I want…K?  Got it?  So…let’s get on the same page here, and give ’er another try.  Ready?”

He stepped back, drew himself up and went into action.  His eyebrows immediately started dancing around his forehead like two very hairy lizards on two very hot rocks.   The dragon watched for a few seconds…and roared.  Dave felt himself bathed in a wind hotter than could be found in the Vulcan Desert in the southern portion of the planet, and I don’t have to tell you how hot the wind is down there, do I?  And that’s when Dave noticed the third thing: apparently, dragons could regulate the amount of heat they put out.  Otherwise, Dave would have been like the pile of ashes that used to be a bush nearby.

Dave sighed.  “All right…obviously, the eyebrow thing ain’t workin’.  So…if there’s a massacre comin’, could we at least move this to someplace a bit cooler?  It’s hotter than hell out here, and your breath certainly isn’t helping any.  Not to mention the fact that, well…you haven’t been flossing lately, have you?  A good gallon of mouthwash would do wonders for you, ya know?  So, how about it?  Know of any place cooler to continue this here dance?”

The dragon opened its mouth and went “AARRUUGHH!”, then turned and trundled away.  After a few seconds, it stopped, turned and “AARRUUGHH”ed again.

“Is that a…Am I…You want me to follow you, is that it?  Could you maybe tell me that in the common Tharian language next time?  I’m not actually fluent in dragon, you know.”

Dave picked up his belongings and fell in behind the dragon, and off they went.

Chapter 4

They moved through the forest for a good hour, climbing steadily as they went.  Finally, they came to a massive cliff, one that rose hundreds of feet above their heads.  Along the bottom of the cliff were massive trees and bushes a veritable forest within a forest, and upon seeing it, Dave sank to the ground.

“If we’re climbin’ that, then I need a rest.” he declared, and he sat down at the base of a tree, panting.

The dragon looked at him, grunted and moved toward the massive undergrowth at the base of the cliff.  Dave groaned, pulled himself up and stumbled after the beast.  As he neared the bushes, he noticed a faint path into the mess.  Following it, he wove through the bushes, until he found himself at the base of the cliff, and staring at a giant hole in the wall.

Cautiously, and with great trepidation, he moved into the cave.  Not much light penetrated the bushes, but he could see faintly into the cave for about thirty feet.  At the edge of the light, the dragon had stopped and was looking at him.  One thing he noticed was that the cave was several degrees cooler than the outside and he moved gratefully into that coolness.

As he reached the edge of darkness, the dragon moved on, out of sight.  He heard a series of soft grunts, and he saw a shadowy figure returning toward the light.  The dragon seemed to be rolling something ahead of it, and as it moved into the light, he saw that it was an egg, three times the size of an ostrich egg.  She left it by him and returned to the darkness.  Four more times she came and went, until a total of five eggs lay by him.

Dave looked at the eggs, and tentatively reached out and touched one.  It was ice cold.

“Something I’m supposed to be doing with these?  I mean…come on… for one thing, they’re like ice.  You gotta problem keepin’ your eggs warm?”  Deep sigh.  “All right…hold on a minute.”

He went out and found a few rocks, some sticks, twigs and logs, a bit of tinder.  Coming back in, he set up a rough fire place and placed the wood strategically.  He looked up at the dragon.

“Any chance of a little help, or do I have to do it all?  And…if you’re a Momma, well, where’s Poppa?”

There immediately followed a large, hollow-sounding grunt from behind the female dragon, and a head twice as large as hers snaked into the light.  The second head glared at Dave, looked down at the fire place and grunted…and the wood instantly caught fire.  Dave looked at head 2, grunted

“Thanks”

and started moving the eggs closer to the heat.  And sat there, watching the eggs, and wondering if there was any food in his future, or if he was, in fact, the main course at a future dragon feast.

As he watched the eggs, he also watched the dragons, at least for awhile.  The male, easily twice the size of the female, had moved more into the light…and more or less between Dave and the cave entrance, effectively blocking him in.  Not being able to leave, he started talking instead.

“So…hi.  My name’s Dave.  And your names are…?  I guess in all actuality I wouldn’t be able to understand the answer even if you knew what I was saying, right?  So, I guess I’m gonna have to give you some names of my own.  Let’s see…you, young lady…” addressed to the female, “you sort of look like a Marla to me; so, that’s what I’m gonna call you.  Marla.  Now you, Sir, you’re a bit more difficult.  But I think, maybe…yes…I think I’m gonna call you Tanzo.  Why?  Hell, I don’t know why.  Why not?”

As he spoke, Dave constantly turned the eggs near the fire, keeping the entire outer portion of the eggs warm.  As he did this, and as he spoke the dragons acted like complete statues, simply laying there and staring at him…and he could feel the gazes of a pair of slitted yellow eyes and a pair of slitted green eyes on him, even though he kept his head down the whole time.

“Now…as for the kids.  I don’t suppose you have any idea as to what they are, do you?  Never mind…I’ll just come up with names for both, that way we’re covered either way.  And by the way…what exactly are your plans for me?  I mean, am I lunch, am I a future nanny, what the hell am I to you?”

He was reaching for the largest egg to give it a turn, when the egg suddenly rocked on its own.  He pulled back his hand and watched intently.  The dragons also shifted their gaze from Dave to the eggs.  The egg continued to rock more and more urgently, until a crack appeared in one side.  About this time some of the other eggs also began to rock.  In the first egg, the crack widened and finally a head appeared, a miniature version of the two adults watching.

It took a good bit of time, but eventually all the eggs hatched, and all the babies were present, accounted for and healthy.  As they emerged, each in turn wobbled and flopped their way over to the fire, and dropped down in front of it, drinking in its warmth.  Once they were all there and warm, they ambled their way over to their mother, and stood in front of her, warbling and screeching.  She examined each in turn, cooed at them and, with her nose shoved them back toward Dave.

They flipped and flopped their way back, and lined up in front of Dave, who looked at them, looked at the mother and looked back at them.

“What am I supposed to do with them, then?  I got no milk…I got no food.  In fact, I could use some food myself.  And a bit of water wouldn’t hurt either.”

As he spoke, he reached for his pack, took out what little remained of his water and had a drink.  He then cupped his hand, poured a little water into it and reached out.  The babies examined his hand, sniffed suspiciously, and lapped up the water.  They then sat back expectantly.

“So, now what, Marla?  What the hell do I…Oh…you want I should give them some names, too?  OK…OK.  Let’s see.”

He picked up the oldest gave it a quick exam, and put it back down.  He then repeated the process with the others.

“All right.  You…” pointing to the oldest…”are a girl…of sorts.  So, I think you should be called…ummm…how about Angie?  That OK?  Good.  And you…” the second oldest…”are a boy.  So, maybe, Daniel?  And you are Gina, and you are Emma and you…young man…you’re stuck with Buford.  That all right with you?”

The last was addressed to Marla.  She cooed again and, reaching over, nudged Angie.  Angie wandered over, and began to examine Daves pants leg, and butted her head against it.  Buford also wandered over, gave the leg a sniff, and proceeded to bite down hard, tearing the pants and taking a small chunk of flesh.  Dave…screamed.  This action seemed to activate the other babies, and in seconds Dave was covered in baby dragons, all of whom were taking small chunks of him.  Soon, his legs were bleeding, his arms were bleeding, there were chunks of cheek missing.  Dave was squirming around, rolling around, screaming, cursing, tossing baby dragons here and there, while the adults roared…and watched the babies have their lunch.

“Dammit, people, I’m not your flippin’ lunch!  Get the hell off me, you little shits!  If you stop them, I can help protect you!  Men are going to hunt you down!  I can help!”

With that last, Tanzo roared, bathing Dave and the babies in a hot wind.  The babies tumbled off Dave, and Dave, bleeding from a dozen different places, sat up.  He aimed a look of pure hatred at Marla, shot another look at Tanzo, and spoke.

“Listen, you piece of shit!”

That elicited a response that Dave wasn’t very happy with, but he continued nonetheless.

“People have been fighting and living with swords and knives for hundreds of years.  But soon they’re gonna get their shit together, and come up with guns and bullets again.  And when they do you and your family won’t stand a chance!  What you need to do is find someplace remote…somewhere that people won’t find for a very long time.  Then you gotta hide there.  Hide and breed and make baby dragons and have them grow up and make more baby dragons.  You gotta get yourself an army of dragons; then you MIGHT have a chance of survival.  ‘Till then, you’re just a target…and an easy one at that.  So…go get some food for your kids…other than me.  While you’re at it, go get some food for me…then go find a place to hide for a hundred years or so…”

Tanzo roared and stared Dave down, but then finally turned and left the cave.  Shortly thereafter, he returned, bearing a very large, very dead deer-like creature, which he dumped into the cave.  The babies immediately attacked said critter, making Dave rather grateful that it wasn’t him this time.  Tanzo left again, returned with another such creature, which Dave began to butcher for some food for himself.  Tanzo left again.

Chapter 5

With Tanzo gone, Marla took over the feeding duties.  She led the kids (and Dave) deeper into the cave, where an underground stream rushed by.  So…water was plentiful.  Dave figured he had been gone for about two weeks by this time, and thought that he would probably be considered dead by any humans that might have known him.  But, since the dragons had been with him, the men might also consider that maybe he had killed the dragon before dying, so maybe they wouldn’t be out looking for it.

It was three days before Tanzo returned.  He stood outside the cave and ARRUUGHH’ed a couple of times.  Dave and Marla joined him.  Tanzo and Marla spoke for a bit in dragon-speak, while Dave just stood there, waiting.  Finally, they finished, and Tanzo reared up on his hind legs, grabbed Dave in his front claws, and took off.  Thirty seconds later, they were at about 10,000 feet, and Dave was remembering, vividly, about his fear of heights.  Off they went, to the North, flying steadily for several hours.  Finally, they started to descend and ended up in a small meadow, near a cliff (again) in the mountains of the far north, about three hundred miles from where they started, and about 9,000 feet up on the mountain.

As he landed, Tanzo dropped Dave with a loud THUMP, turned and took off again.  Dave rolled over, stood up and shouted curses at the retreating dragon.  But Tanzo returned in about an hour, dumped another deer-like critter, and departed once again.  Dave sighed, and looked around.  Nearby, a small stream flowed quietly down the hill.  Behind him, in the cliff, he found another cave, not so well hidden, but up here it didn’t have to be.

First thing Dave did, he took out his hearing aids and threw them away.  The batteries had long since died, and there wasn’t anything up here to listen to anyway.  Second thing he did, he threw his glasses away.  They had cracked several times in his little tussle with the dragons, and weren’t much use.  Apparently, whenever a man showed up in a place where no man has ever been the first instinct is to litter the place up.  Men had been doing it for thousands of years, on two planets at least, so why not continue the tradition? He turned, limped into the cave, started building a fire.  And then he slept.

When he woke, he found several things.  Three baby dragons were happily chewing on what should have been his dinner, and his pack and walking stick were dropped nearby.  Another dead animal decorated a part of the clearing, and Dave immediately started making some dinner. While he was engrossed in this project, Tanzo returned, followed by Marla, each carrying a baby.  They glided down, dropped the babies, started to eat.

They stayed on that mountaintop for ten years, thriving and multiplying.  After that ten years, there were dozens of dragon families scattered around the mountain, each named by Dave, each growing and going their own way…but all staying on the mountain.  A regular army of dragons it was, but some small trouble began to arise.

During this time, Dave had lost weight, become lean and tough.  The diabetes disappeared, the hearing and sight seemed to improve.  But, the arthritis was still there, and Dave, who was already approaching eighty when this thing started, couldn’t keep going any longer.  He approached Tanzo, asked him to send Angie, now a full adult and extremely intelligent, into any small town nearby, preferably when the people were sleeping, and find someone to take over for him…someone to work with and train and love the dragons.

And so, Angie left.  It took her five days, but she finally returned, clutching in her claws, a girl…young, blonde, scared shitless.  Angie landed, dropped the girl in the middle of an ever-growing circle of dragons, all of whom crowded around, anxious to see the new arrival.  The girl cowered on the ground, trying her best to roll into a small invisible ball, whimpering and crying.  And so she stayed, until she heard, through the growls and hisses of the dragons, a voice…

“Take it easy, girl.  They’re not going to hurt you.  They’re just curious, and they don’t eat people…at least not unless I tell them to.  Just concentrate on me and don’t worry about them.  What’s your name, child?”

She slowly looked up.   Before her, she saw a man, old and withered, yet lean and tough, leaning on a walking stick and looking down at her.

“My…my name is Mandy, sir.  Who are you?  Why am I here?  What’s going on?  I’m…I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re not going to die.  I was pointing out to Tanzo, here…”

Indicating the largest and oldest dragon…

“…that I’m getting’ a bit old, and maybe it would be a good idea to have someone to take my place.  See, dragons can live for hundreds of years, but us?  Well, we can’t do that…at least not yet.  So…you’re here to take my place…to train and love and protect the dragons…to keep mankind from finding and destroying them.  We’ve been hiding in these mountains for ten years.  Men have no idea we’re here, but I also have no idea what advances they’ve made.  All that is where you come in.  Sorry to say, but from now on…this is your life.”

Mandy looked around at the multitude of dragons.

“You mean to say…that you control the dragons?”

“The dragons are intelligent beasts who are quite capable of controlling themselves.  I don’t control them…I guide them, I train them, I love them…”

“But, you could…control them…if you wanted?”

“Hmmm…well, I suppose I could…if I really wanted to.  But I don’t want to.  I just want them to live in peace away from the savages that are called men.  I want them to be free and happy and not be hunted.”

“Hmmmm…”

“All right…I guess I’ll stay, since I don’t really have a choice.  So…teach me.”

And teach her, he did.  For the next year, she learned all she could about the families of dragons that populated the mountains.  As new dragons were born, they were brought to Dave, but he soon gave over naming them to Mandy…and gradually, she took over his duties.  Dave took to spending a lot of time sleeping, but when he was awake, he continued to emphasize that the freedom of the dragons was most important…to which Mandy readily agreed…or seemed to.

One day, after an arduous training session, Mandy came into the cave where Dave was resting.  He had a bed of soft furs and skins, with pillows of furs under his head.  When she entered, she carried a particularly fine fur with her.

“I’ve been here a year, Old Man.  I think I’ve learned what I can, and I think the time has come.”

“Time?  Time for what?”

“Time to strike out on my own.  Time to use the dragons as they should be used.  Time for you to go.”

As she spoke, she quickly knelt down by Dave, and pressed the fur over his nose and mouth.  He was lean, he was tough, but he was ninety.  No way could his strength matched that of a healthy twenty-something girl, And very shortly, his struggles stopped…Dave was dead.

There was an appropriate mourning time for the dragons, who were devastated at the loss…but knew that their friend was old, and readily accepted the story from Mandy that he had died in his sleep.  At the end of the mourning period, Dave was consumed by dragon fire, his ashes scattered over the mountain he had come to love…the same mountain that Mandy then climbed…up to the very top.

At the top of the mountain, she stood and looked over that part of the world she could see.  She saw the smoke in the far distance from the villages, the occasional twinkling of lights…and she laughed.  She knew the humans were still in a primitive mode.  She had studied her history and knew of the technologies of Earth.  She knew that Thare was no where near those technologies yet.  She knew that dragons…an army of dragons…could easily control the world.  And…she knew that she…Mandy controlled the dragons…

By Dave Stone

Love Storm Born

The wind-whipped branches swooshed along the roof, gathering the snow into piles and dumping it to the ground, where it landed with soft plops in the deep snow and loud whumps on the wind-swept sidewalk.  Elsewhere, where the roof had been swept clean, the branches clackety-clacked along the roof tiles.  Inside the house was complete darkness and silence, except in the living room, where a fire in the fireplace crackled and popped.

 

In front of the fireplace a large pile of blankets had apparently been casually tossed.  But, if one were a fly on the wall, one might notice that one side of the pile slowly shifted, as a small, white hand, looking to all the world like a fat, white spider, crept timidly out, pausing to check the temperature of the room.  Having accomplished its mission, the hand slowly slipped back under the blankets, and for the next few minutes all was still again.  Then, along another side of the pile, a mop of curly blonde hair slowly emerged, followed by a face whose eyes darted this way and that, peering through the darkness.

 

Finding nothing threatening lurking in the darkness, Jessica pulled herself out from under the blankets and reached for the flashlight.  Turning it on, she buzzed the room with it, and then went to a drawer and pulled out some batteries.  Walking over to a table, she picked up a radio, changed the batteries, turned it on and tuned in to a local news station.

 

“…of the storm system still moving slowly through the Boston area.  Public officials are asking people to please remain in their homes, as the streets are much too dangerous to be driving on.  At this time, several thousand people are without power due to an auto accident involving a transformer, as well as several downed wires.  Police and Fire personnel are answering calls by the hundreds, and even the manhunt for The Boston Butcher, serial killer of at least 27 young women has been put on hold for the duration.  We can only hope that this monster is holed up somewhere warm, and not roaming the city.  In other news, the Red Sox have announced that…”

 

Jessica turned off the radio and thought about a hot cup of tea.  Thank God for gas stoves on a night like this.  As she headed toward the kitchen, she heard a loud THUMP coming from the area of her front door.  She froze, listening.  Her diligence was rewarded with a soft groan.  Hurrying into the kitchen, she picked up a chefs knife and headed toward the door.  Next to the door was a small window, and Jessica carefully peeked through it, and gasped.  She saw, on her porch, the prone, unmoving figure of a man.

 

Carefully, she aimed her light through the window at the body and moved it up and down over the body.  As the light moved over his waist, she saw crusted, frozen blood and a small seep of fresh blood.  The light moved up further and settled on the face, which was beaten and…a whispered gasp escaped her lips.

 

“Jim!”

 

She quickly moved to open the door and get to him.  Jim was a neighbor, lived a couple of doors down from her.  She got to him and slowly and carefully dragged him into the house, shutting the door behind them.  Further effort managed to get him over to the fireplace, and the pile of blankets quickly went over him.  She went to the kitchen, started the water on the stove, stepped to the bathroom and grabbed some towels.  Going back to the living room, she carefully moved the blankets, pulled up his shirt and examined his wound.  It looked deep, and continued to bleed sullenly.

 

Leaving it for the moment, she went to the kitchen, got the water and returned to the living room.  She cleaned the wound as best she could, laid a towel over it.  Getting up, she proceeded to the bedroom, where she obtained the sash from her bathrobe, which she used to tie the towel firmly over the wound.  Covering him back up, she slumped down and drifted off to sleep.

 

She awoke stiff and sore, slumped against a chair leg.  Once she got her eyes open, she noticed three things: the fire was out, the power was on and Jim was staring at her.  Groaning, she sat up and checked his side.  The towel was not completely soaked with blood, but it was close.  She sat back and looked at him.

 

“Jim, you really need to see a doctor.  What happened?”

 

“I…I’m not…sure.  I was walking home…something hit me…and I woke up here.  What did happen?”

 

“I found you on my porch.  I think after the doctor, maybe you should see the police.”

 

“Yeah…although I don’t know what they could do.  Any evidence outside is under a foot of snow.”  He groaned.  “I need to get home…see how the cats are faring.  Then I’ll go to the hospital.”

 

“Do you need me to drive you?”

 

“No, thank you.  I’ll manage.  When everything is done, perhaps I could take you out to dinner..sort of a Thank You?”

 

“It’s a possibility.  Get better and we’ll see.”

 

Well, Jim got better and they went to dinner.  That led to another dinner, which led to another dinner, which led to breakfast…in bed…at Jessicas’ house.  During this time, whatever the Red Sox had announced apparently worked, as they began winning games in a serious manner.  The Boston Butcher also stepped up his efforts, and his current tally was 34 dead girls.  Things progressed along swimmingly for everyone, and after about a year, Jim and Jessica were married.

 

Life went on, as it often does, and before anyone realized it, 30 years had passed.  Jim and Jessica became very involved with their church, with their community and, after the children started arriving, with their school and PTA.  The children grew, as children do, went off on their own, ended up with children of their own.

 

As this particular 30 year period drew to a close, a couple of things happened that no one really saw coming.  The Red Sox made it to the World Series…and Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…terminal pancreatic cancer.  He opted not to have any chemo or radiation treatments, instead preferring to enjoy what was left of his life with his love.  And, enjoy life they did, for another three months.

 

There came day, however, when he could no longer rise from bed, and soon he sank into a semi-coma, and his family knew the end was near.  The doctor was called, who informed them that it was time to say good-bye, and perhaps a priest for the Last Rites would be a good idea.  The children came, weeping, to say their good-byes, as did the grandchildren.  During this time, Jim swam in and out of consciousness, and finally, Jessica told him that their local priest was there.  The good father came in, and as he did, Jim seemed to revive and awaken a bit.  Jessica slipped out quietly.

 

“Son, before the last rites, would you like me to hear your confession?”

 

“Yes, Father, I would…Skipping all the small crap…Father, I have to say…I am the Boston Butcher…”

 

“You’re the one who killed thirty some girls 30 years ago?  I’m not sure about absolution if that can’t be remedied in some way…”

 

“Father…I know there is no absolution for me…but I have to get it out there…yes…I am the killer…but you don’t completely understand…Father…I never stopped the killing.  The current and final total…is God! The pain…let me rest.  Father, I’m up to one hundred and seventy…………oooonnnneee…..”

 

The last word came out with a long exhalation…followed by complete silence.

By Dave Stone

The Writing on The Wall

Letters. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Writing. The written (and spoken) word has always been one of the most powerful forces in human nature. From the earliest cave drawings (writings) (which, by the way, probably all translate to something like “Hey, baby, do you wanna dance?”) to the modern world of high technology, words have formed, destroyed and run nations, religions, races and peoples all over the planet.

Words have created. Words have torn down. Words have healed. Four words, four syllables, have over half the worlds population believing in a creation of worlds. Four words – “Let There Be Light.” Three words, four syllables, founded a nation and changed the world. Three words – “We, The People…”. Five words, six syllables, started the healing process on that same nation 90 years later. Five words – “Fourscore and Seven Years Ago…”. The maniacal rantings of an Austrian madman (mere words!) twisted an industrious nation into a machine of destruction, ravaged a continent and threw the planet into turmoil and war. All done with mere words.

Letters. Words. Sentences. Strung together, they have torn open the curtains to reveal the dirt and soil and filth of industries, forcing change for the betterment of mankind. Books like “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair, “The American Way of Death” by Jessica Mitford or “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson have exposed corruption and enacted change in industries all across the world.

I personally began my love affair with words at the age of three, when I would sit under my mothers ironing board, and “read” newspapers to her. During those sessions, she taught me to read, taught me to understand, taught me to wonder at the power of a string of letters. Reading helped my imagination to soar, as I traveled through the worlds of the Lilliputians, the Wild West and Outer Space. I read voraciously. I read anything I could get my hands on. I read…and then I began to write…

I wrote constantly…I wrote voraciously…I collected books on writing…I took classes on writing…I majored in History and English, with an emphasis on Literature, so I could read…and write. I wrote book length papers…I wrote poetry…I wrote essays…I wrote non-fiction…I wrote fiction. Ah, fiction…the power to create, to become a god…

The power to create…to take a jumbled mass of typewriter fodder, mold it, shape it, turn it into a being…to breathe life into it, watch the lungs expand, hold its heart and see it throb, watch the arteries begin to pulsate with the lifeblood of my imagination. And then, to sheath it in an outer layer, be it iridescent green scales, or neon blue epidermis, to clothe it and release it into a world of my choosing, and to stand back and watch what it does. Quite often it surprises me, doing things even I hadn’t thought about, but I know it started because a few of my brain cells twisted and writhed, and came up with this being, probably while I slept.

The pen and paper are gone now, and the words no longer plop from my head onto them. The typewriter is sitting on a back shelf, rusting away, with the carriage and the carbon paper no longer in use. Everything today is done on a computer, a machine that practically does the writing for you (I’m dictating into mine now), and soon will probably do the thinking for us as well. I hope I’m gone before that happens, because…well…

Letters. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Writing. Strings of letters and strings of thought blending together to create my writing, and only my writing; not the thoughts of an inanimate object, but the musings of a real life flesh and blood person for whom writing is love, writing is life, writing is passion, writing is…well…it’s my True North, if you will…

By Dave Stone

Soapbox

It took me three hours to find one of them, but I brought with me two items today that may or may not be needed. The first item was buried in the deep recesses of my closet, and took quite a search to find. Here it is…and it is called a soapbox. The second item is a rope…with a hangman’s noose already tied in, as there may well be a lynching by the time I am done. I feel the need to speak of some of the most cherished and sacred of American values today, so if you will give me a hand onto the box…Thank you very much…and here we go…

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand why a man can carry a piece of leather, can toss a piece of leather, can run with a piece of leather 100 yards down a striped field, and get paid millions of dollars to do it…when the teachers that taught him and molded him and made him what he is are living below the poverty line, and often need Welfare to survive…

I don’t understand…why a man (or woman) can stroll through a park…stopping every once in a while to hit a small, white ball toward a cup…and at the end of the stroll, be paid millions…while the police of this country…the people who guard us and keep us safe, and willingly run into danger to keep us out of it, and keep our roads safe, and do it all for us with a smile, even though they are reviled and spit upon and hated by the ones they protect…the police of this country struggle to maintain any semblance of normalcy in their lives…and can’t afford to pay for that normalcy…

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how a man can take a piece of round rubber, and throw it through a hoop, and get paid millions…while the firefighters and EMTs…the ones who willingly run into the bowels of Hell to save a child, who pull twisted bodies from wrecked autos, who battle day and night to save us from ourselves…they must fight to keep the basics…food, clothing, shelter for their loved ones…

I don’t understand how a man (or woman) can tromp on the boards of a stage, and mouth some memorized words and be paid millions…while the nurses and medical techs and nurses’ aides and X-ray techs…people who care for us when we’re ill, comfort us as we’re dying, work and toil all day amongst our vomit and urine and feces and enough deadly bacteria to wipe out a species…people who do all this with a smile on their lips and a song in their heart…and courage and care and love and compassion infused into their souls…these people cannot adequately educate and clothe and care for their own children or families…because they do NOT make millions…

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how the CEOs and the Bosses and the Presidents of huge corporations can sit in their fancy leather chairs on the top floors of their buildings, and delegate the work to others, and summarily fire thousands of people on the floors below to keep their bonuses and their bottom lines, and get paid millions, and have golden parachutes worth millions more…while the people they fire are wandering the streets, looking for work, looking for food for their families, looking for any help at all…I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how the bankers and the owners of banks can sit in their offices, and decide to take homes, and decide to destroy families, and get paid millions, and sleep well at night…while the ones they displaced live in cars, and under bridges, and in bits of cardboard, and root through trash cans for small bits of rotting castoffs, left by the rich who were too full to eat more…

I don’t understand how our leaders and our Senators and our Representatives can rip the cream of our youth from their families, and send them to hot, desolate countries, and tell them to fight and to die for a cause that only the leaders understand, so that they can get fat defense contracts, and make millions…while our children are fighting and losing limbs and losing lives, and their families are grieving and mourning and crying and hating…

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand why the rich refuse to pay taxes, and make loopholes, and make more millions…while all others are taxed and taxed and taxed some more, and are taxed into poverty, and taxed into despair and taxed into depression and then taxed some more…

I don’t understand how people can invoke the name of a God, and in that name, can decide how all others shall live, and should they not live according to that code, these people use violence and murder and death and destruction, all in the name of their loving God, and they feel vindicated and justified in their violence…for their God has “told” them to do this…

I don’t understand…

I don’t understand what has happened to the America of my youth…where values and morals and love and compassion rang through the country…I don’t understand…have we become the Empire of Rome, The Sequel? Are we fated to suffer the same as Rome, The Original? Where did we turn? When did we turn? Where did we go?

I don’t understand…

And I’m tired…

And I’m weary…to the depths of my soul, I’m weary…

And I’m finished…let me step down, and cast away the soapbox…

The treason is over…The traitor is done…

And I’m tired…

And I’m ready…

There’s the rope…

Let the lynching begin…

By Dave Stone

New York Nights

The old man groaned softly in his sleep, shifted the newspapers around him, and huddled closer to the heat vent.   It was a cold and lonely night on a cold and lonely street in New York in late February.  As he shifted around, trying to stay warm, the old guy subconsciously pulled the bottle of Scotch closer to his chest, as if trying to gain warmth from the cold glass bottle.  He finally sputtered into wakefulness when a gentle snow began to fall, covering him slowly in icy whiteness.

He shivered mightily, looked mournfully at the heat vent and groaned his way to a standing position.  In a vertical position, he was easily 6’ 6” tall, with folds of baggy skin that indicated a major weight loss…and those folds were deeply ingrained with dirt.  His fingernails and hands were caked with filth, his clothes were black with grime, he smelled like an open sewer and on the odd occasion when it rained his black, matted hair actually became white.  He also had a long, unkempt beard, matted with bits of food, mud and assorted unmentionable bits of junk.

He staggered down the road, searching for an alley: in the alley he was sure to find a dumpster…behind the dumpster, he could relieve himself.  Inside the dumpster, he just might find breakfast, if he was lucky.  He found the alley, he found the dumpster.  While the “behind the dumpster” activity was easy, the “inside the dumpster” wasn’t; no breakfast there…the soup kitchen would have to do.  An hour later, he stepped out of the soup kitchen, feeling full, feeling better, ready to face the day.

As he wandered along a major boulevard in upper Manhattan, he spotted…Oh, Joy!…three quarters.  He picked them up, made his way to a pay phone, made a call.  He wandered to the curb, sat down and waited.  Thirty minutes later, he looked up as a stretch limousine turned the corner.  The limo pulled up to the curb, the door opened, he climbed in, and off they went.

 

Five hours later, the man lay back in a bathtub the approximate size of the average bedroom, pulled thoughtfully on a Cuban cigar, sipped cognac from a crystal glass.  The matted hair and unkempt beard were now cleaned, trimmed and pure white.  The dirt and stench were gone, the eyes were clear blue and very sober looking.  The door opened, and a younger man came in, bearing a deep, rich towel and a deep, rich robe, handing the former to the man and hanging the second over a nearby chair.

“Good Morning, Mr. White.  Are you feeling better?”

“Why, yes, James, I am.  Thank you for asking.”

“Did you find what you were looking for, Sir?”

“Yes, I did, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and very little time to do it.  Gather up the staff, and let’s get going.”

“Yes, Sir.”  James immediately left the room.

Mr. White put down the glass, got up and dried off.  He donned the robe, went into the bedroom (approximately the size of the average living room), and got dressed.  A bit later, nattily attired in a suit (an Alexander Amosu exclusive…$110,000), he sat down at his desk (a Parnian exclusive…$200,000) and began to write.

 

While Mr. White was writing, James went down the staircase, and began assembling staff in the living room (approximately the size of the average apartment).  They came in quietly, looking around awkwardly at the opulence, and one of them finally spoke.

“Why’s he do that, Mr. James?  I mean, he’s Sandy White…he’s worth billions.  Why’s he want to live on the streets for three months…winter months at that?”

“He does that every once in a while.  Couple of years ago, he spent the winter in Romania, living in a gypsy camp.  Before that, the slums in Haiti, slums in India, slums in Rio.  Someplace different every year.  His trips are always followed by a year of work, as you will soon see.”

As he finished speaking, Mr. White came down the stairs and into the living room.

“I’d like to thank you all for being here.  We have a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it in.  James, here’s a list of what’s needed and what’s needed to be done.  See to it.”

He turned and strode from the room.

 

See to it, he did.  James scanned the list and started giving out orders…and the work began.  Behind the house (approximately the size of the average warehouse), clearing commenced on the grounds (approximately the size of the average National Park).  Over the next few months, hundreds of tents were set up, dozens of eighteen-wheelers drove in, were unloaded, drove out.  Dozens more came in, were driven into the tents, and workers went to work on them.

This activity continued throughout the summer…Memorial Day came and went, as did the 4th of July, Labor Day, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving.  Finally, in early December, the work was finished.  Hundreds of trucks had been painted, thousands of tons of supplies had been delivered, trucks were loaded, all was in readiness.

It was on Christmas Eve that the fruit of all this work came to pass.  As darkness fell, hundreds of trucks left the White estate.  Each was colorfully painted, with the words “Santa’s Sleigh” prominently displayed.  They headed toward the City of New York, where they spread out and headed in different directions.  They went to Flatbush and Red Hook, to Brighton Beach and Harlem, to Stapleton and Gramercy, to all 59 districts throughout New York. 

Once in their respective districts, the trucks slowed down and began driving up and down the streets.  Along the way, they passed hundreds of homeless people.  When they saw a homeless person, they stopped, opened the back and escorted the homeless person inside.  Once inside, the people were given a hot meal, they were cleaned up, they were given new shoes, shirts, pants.  They were given new coats, thisck, luxuriant ones that would ward off the cold.  Smokers were given a carton of cigarettes, drinkers were given a bottle of liquor.  All were given thick woolen blankets, all were given three $100 bills.  And, for at least one night, the homeless of New York were warm, fed and comfortable.  It was the best Christmas present any of them had ever had.

 

 

By Dave Stone

Heroes

The officer stood framed in the doorway, looked over the class of cadets, and began to speak.

“Cadets, look around you at these walls.  The portraits you see are the great heroes of this country.  Eisenhower, Patton, Marshall, Grant, Jackson: great leaders all, but not the true heroes of this country.  For these people, while they led armies into battle, actually planned the campaigns, and waited for the results.  The true Americans heroes were the thousands of men and women under their command, the soldiers and sailors who fought and died, pushed forward and fell back, won…and lost battles.

Brian Jenkins, John Willoughby, Paul Stone and thousands of others fought and died at these peoples commands so that you might enjoy the freedom to do what you’re doing; choosing your own destiny in the world.  The bodies that fill the military and civilian graveyards are the bodies of our true heroes, and yet they are really nothing more than farmers, factory workers, students, people of every possible circumstance who answered the call of their President.  They fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, Korea, France, Germany, Mexico, and at places such as Shiloh, Gettysburg and Antietam.  They fought for you and they fought for me, they fought for all Americans.

Shortly, you will become lieutenants in our military.  Some of you may have your portraits on these walls.  But never forget who actually put you here…the true American heroes, the unknowns under your command.

And now, by the right flank, March!”

By Dave Stone

Fall Day

It was one of those peaceful, tranquil days that you really only see on HD television.  On the stream half a mile below the dam, dragonflies flitted from plant to plant, mayflies dipped and wove through the air and a couple of fishermen lazily cast flies back and forth, finally dropping them in the deep shadows under the trees.  A couple of hundred yards downstream, a deer stepped quietly out of the brush, turning this way and that, checking the area before finally dipping down to take a drink.  A perfect, peaceful morning…until…

Through the hazy, golden air came the thunder of a large CRACK, as if a bolt of lightning and the accompanying thunder had struck right next to the stream, mere yards from the fishermen.  The deer bolted, the men looked around wildly, terror in their eyes, wondering what the hell had just happened.  The sound was followed by another, the sound of millions of gallons of water pouring over a ruptured dam.  The men waded frantically toward the shore, but they had no real chance of reaching it, as a wall of water hundreds of feet high bore down on them.

The water churned and boiled down the riverbed, ripping out trees, rocks and earth, turning peace into chaos, beauty into destruction, life into death.  As the water ran, it spread out through the forest, across the plains, washing all away, until only a sea of mud remained, covering all of the beauty that had been there.

By Dave Stone