Couch Potato

 

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My name is Mignon Celestia, and I am a Twenty eight year old neobotanist in a human colony on a planet called Arkellia. I’ve been here for the past five years, but before that I lived with my father on an Arkellian space station. I still live with my parents, which is amazing after all I put them through as a teenager. But after my experiences back then I learned to appreciate them, as well as a lot of other things.

Until I was 12 years old we still lived on earth. My mother and two thirds of the neighborhood called me minion because they claimed I behaved like the spawn of the devil. I was bossy, brash, rude, disrespectful, and a bully; and those were my good qualities. I was a glut, a couch potato, and like many of my human counterparts, I was addicted to carbohydrates, sugars, violence, and media. I preferred my video games, my computer, and my television to live company any day, sitting and consuming junk food.

“You had better stop eating like that or one day your stomach is going to burst.” my mother would tease.

It’s a wonder that I somehow managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average in school. I wasn’t a dummy. I was mostly just bored out of my skull.

My father was a Neocryptologist. For those of you who don’t know what that is, don’t worry, I didn’t know what he did either. But apparently when I was fourteen years old he spent a lot of his time deciphering communications between alien arrivals (Arkellian) and the scientific community; which was a trip, because during that time no one had known that there was such a thing as alien arrivals. My dad’s primary job was keeping it that way. The government couldn’t be trusted with the responsibility, and the general population was too afraid of everything to even comprehend the importance of the Arkellian’s arrival at that time.

The Arkellians were there to determine if assisting earth with space travel was prudent since humans seemed to have the nasty habit of polluting and destroying their own environment. Species like that usually ended up as nomad class, little better than parasites moving from planet to planet because they couldn’t be trusted to stay on any one world too long for fear that their abusive habits would destroy the host planet. There were others, whom the Arkellian and other important races of aliens kept strict control of every facet of their lives, everything from breeding to eating.

The Arkellians were a very conservative race, they didn’t believe in any form of waste or debauchery. For every ounce of energy used or resource gathered it was required for there to be a replacement. You couldn’t just cut a tree and plant one, you had to have a plan to regulate the level of oxygen replacement while the new tree grew, calculate the solar damage being done to the surrounding area, and even account for the use of every part of the tree from the leaves to the trunk. Everything had to be used. They were this way about everything; water, fuels resources, power and energy, even food.

The Arkellians had come to monitor our behaviors and attempt to teach us to improve our interaction with the planet. They knew it would be some time before we were able to develop the technology necessary to leave our own solar system so they ventured to our world to attempt to augment our thinking to a more planetary one.

It was during this time that I had decided to become a nuisance at school and began spending the majority of my days in the principal’s office. My mother’s solution to this was to send me to live with my father. They were still married so I didn’t understand the need for them to live separately. I loved my father, which might have explained some of my behavior. On the day selected for my move my father sat me down and explained that I would be experiencing something new and that it would be necessary for me to be on my best behavior. In most cases my best didn’t measure up to even the worst of others. I didn’t know what he expected of me.

Twelve hours later I was escorted to a very clinical looking facility. I was given a complete physical, a series of inoculations, given a uniform like my father’s to wear. The suit was made so that all of my bodily functions were monitored.

“My god,” I said, “You’d think they were prepping me for space travel.” I laughed.

My father held his comment until we had reached a room that looked like isolation chambers. He opened the tube and walked in. I followed innocently. When he stood facing me in the tube opposite and had closed the doors he said, “They are.” It was the last thing I heard.

I beat on the glass and screamed, but the effort was wasted. The tube filled with an almost foam like substance which later solidified to a gel like consistency. I could breath but I could not move. He couldn’t hear my screams, his own tube was preparing for departure. In moments we were both in a sleep like stasis preparing for real space travel. In the ship in which we traveled the trip would take months. It was not necessary for us to hurry and the Arkellians would make the best use of the time teaching us and retraining our bodies.

When I woke on board one month later, my body had already been readjusted to the change in atmosphere, but the thing they had not adjusted was my attitude. I was angry and screaming. The young attendant, or at least I took her to be young, communicated my state by computer and moments later my father was escorted to my quarters.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were taking me into space, and who or what are these people?”

“They are Arkellians and they are here to teach us how to make better use of our planets resources.” He went on to explain the state of our planet, our predicament as a planetary race, and how imperative it was for us to change our way of thinking.”

By the time he was discussing our behavior I had nearly tuned him out. I was not going to spend the next six months letting alien creatures tell me what to do. At least that’s what I thought.

The first week I was belligerent, but there was nothing in the room if you wanted to call it that, that I could break. Everything was made of a soft indestructible material. It was comfortable to sit on and to sleep on, yet it was firm enough to serve as a table for my food and drink. Because of my behavior, that was all I got. Three meals with all the necessary elements of things required for taste, aesthetics and nutrition. That meant I hated everything, or at least I thought I did until I tasted it. After which I had a moment from the story ‘Oliver’ asking “please sir may I have some more.”

The Arkellians interpreted this as an insult. They had calculated what was necessary to sustain my ideal body mass, trim off my excess bulk, and provide me with enough energy to maneuver around the ship if I was ever lucky enough to be allowed out of my quarters. They could not fathom that I might want more than this. My meals grew smaller, diet smaller. Though they did not say anything they had made their point.

My father visited me on the second week awake and told me about the Arkellian protocols and way of life. I looked at him in amazement.

“You can’t possibly believe I’m going to deal with this for six months.” I said not wanting to overstep my boundaries too far. It was one thing to backtalk my mother and quite another thing to jeopardize my father’s job.

“I don’t see where you have much choice. Of course you could have behaved at home and not had to be here at all, but since that isn’t the case, I suppose you’ll have to make the best of it.” he responded.

It was like him to throw a jibe in at me when I had to suffer a mess of my own making.

“We are guests more than anything up here, if it’s possible can you try not to say or do anything else that might contribute to the destruction of the earth.” he smiled.

I kept hearing all this talk about wasteful species and failing planet, and all I could think of was how great it would be to watch TV and sit and have a pizza. It showed up, TV for an hour and a single slice of excellent pizza. It had never occurred to me that I had mentally called it up, or that my room was designed to provision me with whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t ask for more than was necessary. I learned this by accident.

“I’m bored. I want something interesting to do. My attendant arrived carrying a computer; powerful unlike any I had yet seen. She showed me how to use it and left. It’s desktop had four icons; develop your skills, cultivate interests, historical archives, and challenge your mind. I was intrigued by all except the history section, at least for the moment.

I didn’t have any skills yet, and I wasn’t in the mood for what I thought might be games, so I clicked on ‘cultivate interests. The ceiling became an amphitheater which displayed information about every item I wanted to investigate. When it discussed the cultivation of new plant life for developing planets I was struck. What was a developing planet? I watched as world builders created planets and different species beings worked to create plants to suit the atmosphere and provide for the inhabitants. I watched until I could barely hold my eyes open. The computer shut off automatically, announcing it was time to relax and allow my brain to regenerate.

I was too interested to be angry, and instead instinctively laid back, and asked for a blanket. In moments one was provided. I asked for dinner and it was delivered. I asked for apple pie and was given a slice. But then I pressed my luck requesting ice cream, chocolate and whip cream to put on top. The sensors simply responded that this was not a necessity. Like everything else the Arkellian designed, it understood the difference between a need and a desire. It accepted the idea that dessert might be an acceptable request, but would not allow me to exceed my daily bodily requirements. I could ask for whatever I wanted as long as it didn’t surpass too greatly what I needed but I didn’t get that lesson.

For the moment I decided I would behave so I might see the ship. No point being confined indefinitely to my quarters. I apologized to the attendant, and accepted what was given to me. I participated in requested activities, which they tried to keep interesting, but when it came to food I was never satisfied though I never asked for more again. I tried asking for snacks, but there was nowhere to stash things.

I was slowly diminishing in size. If my father noticed he didn’t say anything. The Arkellians were not fond of vanity, so there were no mirrors around for me to see just how tight and tone I was actually getting. By the time the ship reached the Arkellian space station I had lost the equivalent of 40 lbs which I might have noticed if the gravity on the station wasn’t slightly less/greater than earth atmosphere. Of course the uniform also covered a great deal of what used to be sins.

On the space station we were allowed our own quarters and my own things had arrived. I was stunned to see that none of my own clothes fit. My father suggested I learn to sew, or wear what they wore on the station. I didn’t think sewing would be a quick enough solution though I was not now adverse to learning new things, but I objected to the station uniforms thinking I would look fat and unattractive. All zipped up they were sleek and attractive and though I had not been concerned about it much before I felt pretty.

I attended school with the Arkellian children. They were smart and strong. Though I had no difficulty keeping up, which seemed to amaze them, my tendency to bully did not sit well. Arkellians could be fierce in a fight and I found myself pinned to the floor. The younger Arkellian boy bared his razor sharp teeth and said, “If you had done thus in the history of my people, I would have torn out your throat, but we are civilized, if you plan to stay here I suggest you learn quickly to adapt, or your survival may be shortened.”

I didn’t fight again, but after that I was sullen and ill tempered.

“When can I go back home?” I asked my father when he returned from work one evening.

“It will be some time before I go back, but your mother has asked if she may come here. The Arkellians have agreed to let her visit for one month. If you wish to go when she goes back you may.”

I didn’t like it at home when my father wasn’t there, but things were too different for me to stay here much longer. It took four months for my mother to arrive. She had brought a trunk of my favorite junk foods, but when she saw me she said, “Oh my, look at you so pretty, maybe I should have left this back on earth.”

I couldn’t wait to sit and consume everything she had brought with her. My father was concerned.

“That may not mix well with the way her chemistry has been altered here, maybe you should wait until I can check to see if it will be a problem.” he said.

“Oh for goodness sake, quit tripping dad,” I said reverting back to home behavior. I stuffed my face nonstop watching TV, then more while playing on the computer. I had adjusted to the time limiting of the technology, and found other ways to spark my interests, but food especially junk food was one thing I missed, and I was going to get my fill.

“I keep telling you, you shouldn’t eat like that, one day you’re going to explode.” said my mother

I stopped momentarily, her choice of words felt in some way ominous, but I did not stop eating for long. After an hour I began to feel ill. When it didn’t subside my father went to fetch the station doctor, but before he could return there was a loud rumble in my stomach and an explosion like a small explosive had been ignited and gone off inside a wet enclosure. Never mind that the enclosure had been me.

By the time my father returned I was unconscious. Bits of food and flesh covered everything. My mother was in shock; I was hurried to a stasis chamber and stabilized. My mother and father were both heartbroken. I was their only child and it did not look as if I were going to make it. The Arkellians felt sorry for me and made my parents an offer. They could return to earth and leave me on the station in stasis until such time as they could find a suitable way to let go of me, or they could take me to Arkellia and use available technology to save me. If they made this choice, I would never be able to go back to earth. Sufficient technology did not exist there to repair and maintain what would need to be done to save me. On Arkellia there would also be many other like me who had been in accidents or obtained injuries during conflicts and such, so I would not feel like an outcast.

My father could not bear to leave me. So both my parents sold everything they had, liquidated every ounce of financial holding they had and purchased materials and goods valuable to Arkellia, seeds, metals, medicine, and fabrics and in four months returned with everything to collect my body and travel to Arkellia.

A procedure was performed to give me a cyborg middle. Though I can taste food, I can no longer eat large amounts. I no longer have a stomach or digestive tract, I have a processor which breaks down small amounts and converts them into enough energy to maintain all my functions and the remaining flesh and blood parts of my body. Every day I am required to hook up to the mainframe in our home and allow it to run diagnostics on my systems to make certain they are running correctly.

I finished high school early and went to college with Arkellian girls to become a neobotanist. In the five years I have been on Arkellia I have learned and done more than I ever thought possible, but I sometimes miss the earth. In the history program on my computer I learned the fate of earth, which would in a very short time be destroyed during a galactic war and the survivors would be moved to a series of developed worlds which will have plants I have grown for it.

I looked up and grabbed a fruit from the small tree I had been pruning; I tasted the sweetest apple pear I had ever had. I cut the remaining pear in many slices and handed it to my co-workers. At home I would never have eaten any fruit with such relish, or at all if I was prompted, but now if I could I would finish the entire pear

Though the earth that I have grown up on will never exist again I will have the pleasure of knowing that I have grown plants that may one day make someone look back and long for home, or taste a fruit and think back to a time when they had a world that provided them with everything they ever wanted but gave up everything they had trying to get something they never really needed in the first place.

I guess someone should have told them if they didn’t stop what they were doing they were going to explode, but even if they had, they wouldn’t have listened, I never did.

Couch Potato © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Night Terrors and the Bears Who Abet Them

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“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” 
― Plato

Achilles, Teddy Bear Extraordinaire, Esq. stretched, feeling a bit of a cramp from the tight hold his little girl Alison had on him before she went to sleep.

He managed to escape her death-grip and bounded toward the head of the bed. Reaching under her pillow he found his sword and shield. He sat down and waited for the Dweller-in-the-Dark to arrive.

It wasn’t long before the room grew cooler than the warm London winter outside. The closet creaked open and shadows danced as if they were alive, heralding the arrival of… “Hello?”

Achilles looked around the room and saw the shadows dancing everywhere but no sign of the actual source of the voice. Bouncing to the end of the bed, he looked over and saw a pool of inky blackness slowly spilling from under the bed. “Back from whence you came, spawn of darkness.” Achilles liked to open with classic lines when he could.

“Now that’s just hurtful. True, I am a spawn of darkness, but it sounds so wrong when you say it.”

“Ach.” Achilles put his sword down on the bed and threw his shield over his head.

A new one. Why did he always get stuck training the new ones? “Get from under the bed, newbie and try not to wake the kid.”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I was only recently assigned to this neighborhood from Darkness, Inc. I understand you are going to be my training bear?”

“No, I’m not. I didn’t get any paperwork. No one informed me you would be coming. What happened to Eugene, my previous dark-spawn?”

The darkness on the floor began to reform itself into a towering monstrosity covered in claws and teeth. It’s squeaky voice belied its terrifying appearance. “He got a promotion. He had done so well here, he was assigned to work in a war zone in the Middle East. I think your paperwork was sent but to the wrong address. We had some computer problems recently, our programmers were frightened when they dreamed they were routed by the MI-6. Major glitches after that, I tell you.”

Achilles stretched his right leg, noting an old injury in need of new thread. “I told them no more newbies. I am too old to be taking on apprentices. Look at me. I am almost six years old. Worn out in the seat, one of my eyes has been replaced with some cyborg machine part. I have low-grade stuffing that crinkles and stays that way. I am trying to go into retirement quietly and happily. Alison is almost seven, soon she won’t even need me to keep you away.”

The Dweller leaned forward and stared at Achilles from the top of his furry head and ears to the bottom of his dirty white soled feet. “You look great to me. Still strong and vigorous. I asked for you, you know. I had heard how you single-handedly held off an entire wave of Fevered Nightmares when she was only four. For three nights you fought brilliantly and when it was done, you emptied every stable of Nightmares from as far as the West Coast of the Americas. People are still having good dreams out there, or so I’m told.”

The Terror whispered quietly with a voice filled with admiration. “I knew I had to be trained by you.”

“I still have a limp from that night. Damn near tore my leg off. Never did get it sewed on right.”

Achilles got his sword and picked up his shield. “Okay, new kid, here’s how its gonna be. I will train you. God knows adults need their fears to be robust and vigorous and this is the time when kids take their fears into adulthood. You will learn how to invade their dreams, undermine their self confidence and prey on their fears. Once we begin training, I will not be taking it easy on you. You will have to fight like hell. Don’t do a good job and I may be forced to destroy you. Got it?”

The Night Terror drew itself up to its maximum size, nearly six feet tall. It flexed its mighty claws and leaned over the bed exuding menace. Achilles bounded back to the pillow right below Alison’s head. “Got it. If I want to graduate to terrifying adults I have to survive here. No holds barred.”

Spines formed along the back of the Terror and its eyes glinted with an internal fire. He continued speaking as his voice deepened, becoming more frightening. “I chose you because Eugene left more notes on you than any other Teddy he had ever worked with. He had incredible respect for you. He told me all your weaknesses.”

Circling around the bed, the Terror reared up and its voice became like thunder. “Like your left eye was nearly blind and you were vulnerable there.” The Terror swiped high and wide from the left, trying to remove the machine eye Alison’s brother sewed on one night after the Nightmare Incident. Achilles met the attack with his spirit sword slicing deeply into the Terror’s flesh.

Vaulting over the sleeping form of Alison toward the Night Terror’s face, and with a flash of his sword, he attacked drawing ichor from over one of the Night Terror large reptilian eyes. “School’s in, new kid. First lesson: never believe everything you read. Second Lesson: Old Bears are the most dangerous.”

Alison’s fear of night noises would one day alert her to a burglar in her home, saving her life. This was the circle of fear and awareness fostered in her childhood by forces unseen.

The Night Terror and the Teddy Bear’s battle would rage into the night until she was ten and her fears firmly grounded.

Achilles retired and was laid to rest with honors when Alison went off to college.

And what of the The Night Terror?

Surviving Achilles, he was promoted from Night Terror to a Complete and Utter Terror and crossed the Pond. Almost immediately he found work at the Pentagon promoting the Cold War in the early 1980s.

He became one of the most successful Fears in modern history.

Night Terrors and the Bears Who Abet Them © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

written-for-30 (3) copy

Sun Kings

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Strange extraterrestrials offer humanity an extreme means of escaping a devastating gamma ray pulse capable of destroying all life on Earth.

The giant robotic structure could not be accommodated within the halls of the United Nations building. Nor did it want to be.

The robotic body was twenty-five feet tall, squat and low to the ground, a massive cylinder surrounded in materials making it repel the forces of gravity, holding it above the Earth.

A mighty container for the being held within, there were no holes for entry or exit, nor would any human dare to. The container, made with rock harvested from the lunar surface was altered into a polarized material, capable of blocking radiation.

The creature within still shone with a soft white light. Without the protective shielding, nothing living on the surface of the Earth could withstand its presence. It’s ability to control that polarization made it possible to be in its presence without fear.

The setting was an outdoor courtyard with an oversized tent, made of netting to block the direct and unpleasant radiations of a sun on a world with a weakening ozone layer.

The meeting was held out of doors since the entity held within its containment field complained of claustrophobia inside of buildings away from the light of the sun. The seating arrangements which would accommodate eight hundred people, as comfortable as could be found were arranged with tables, place cards, microphones, and servers who would be waiting upon these envoys of the world’s nations.

Security personnel who did not even bother to hide their presence or their countries of origin swamped the site sweeping for bugs, bombs, and anything that might be a threat to their country’s representatives. Though many of these countries expected to be represented by their countries finest, a few nations feared to send their leader to the event expecting some form of treachery from the alien guest or guests of honor.

But none of these men were as important as the photo of a Black man at the podium today. While the many men here could say they had the responsibility of a nation, Dr., and professor of xenobiology from MIT, Winston Harrison represented a planet to an alien species. He was the scientist responsible for deciphering the alien transmission. How he ended up in the containment field with the alien intelligences representing the Earth was still unknown.

The aliens spent a few days on the moon and then came to Earth on the White House lawn in their containment fields. Dr. Harrison explained what they wanted and set a date and location for this gathering. The containment cylinders floated away without mussing the White House lawn. By the time the F-22’s were overhead the aliens were long gone.

The representatives slowly filed in, looking for their seats. The seating arrangements could not be seen from outside the tent and it would act as ballistic mesh, preventing bullets or bombs, with a series of concrete bunkers around the tent preventing a car-bomb from being driven up.
Not that any of these precautions were necessary, so assured the Professor and his alien hosts who had been dubbed in the media, the Sun Kings. The aliens didn’t seem to mind, so the name stuck. They assured us they came in peace.

As the UN representatives milled toward their seats, their hushed tones and fearful glances toward the unmoving structure revealed their discomfiture. It was only when the US president and the Russian president arrived did the room quiet down.

Both men wearing dark power suits were flanked by aides who they whispered to frantically before the monstrosity moved and indicated it was ready to speak. There were attempts to bring microphones to the object before it responded very quietly, that it didn’t need them. The techs shrugged and ran away.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.” The voice boomed across the audience and a sound man in the back waved indicating something quieter was in order. “Three months ago, I was chosen as an envoy to a group of extraterrestrials who entered our solar system and requested asylum and respite in our sun.”

The guests looked around trying to discover the source of the voice. “I am within the container you see before you. I am riding in tandem with one of the Sun Kings.”

“These aliens who appeared to be forms of radiant coherent gas clouds came to our attention while they were moved at superluminal speeds through our star system. One of their members broke away and came to Earth sending a stream of prime numbers until we were able to detect and translate the signal.

“The aliens were remarkably intelligent and could learn most of our languages in under a day. Once we were able to communicate we offered them the opportunity to come to Earth and meet with them, discussing the terms of their asylum and path through our solar system. They were stopping here in order to use our sun as a temporary respite, hoping to refuel and recharge within. The second reason for their visit was far more germane to our survival.

“They were moving through our star system in order to warn organic sentient life of an impending gamma ray burst which is due to pass through our solar system in under five years. For those of you unfamiliar with gamma ray bursts, suffice it to say, they are a threat to anything along the path of their radiation stream. The burst which we are to expect has taken place some eight thousand light years from Earth. Two small unstable binary stars now orbit each other at a percentage of the speed of light. Both are small but massive and theoretically, could generate a gamma ray burst of the type described.”

Hands go up in the audience but the robot continues. “According to the Sun Kings, this has already happened, but the light and radiation from that event had not reached us yet. Since you do not appear to be patient people I will take your questions now, with the understanding you may not like the answers you receive.”

“Cody Nadier, DNN Colorado. Professor, can we still call you that?”

“Yes, Mr. Nadier. What is your question?”

“Why should an event that is eight thousand light-years away be of any concern to us, professor. I understand that the speed of light means we won’t be aware of it for another eight thousand years.”

The polarized surface of the robot created a representation of the professor’s face. “Mr. Nadier, what you said would be true, that we would have eight thousand years to worry about this event if the two stars collapsed together, today. What the Sun Kings inform us is the event has already happened seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, point five years ago.”

The carapace of the robot began to glow and a three-dimensional display was able to be seen over the entire courtyard. It showed the perspective of the Sun Kings who were both in the path and outside of it. Tens of thousands of dots move into harm’s way, attempting to rescue species very different from themselves.

“To our human telescopes we would still see them as they were back then because light may be the fastest known phenomenon in the universe, the Sun Kings are able to move faster and communicate far faster than the speed of light. From their perspective, this collapses has already occurred. They have been on a mission of mercy to talk with intelligent species along the radiation path in an effort to save them if they wanted assistance.”

“Benji Crocker, Reuters News Service. Do we have any information to confirm what they have told you thus far? Is it possible they are not telling the truth?”

“While we cannot directly confirm what has been said, we can see features of instability built into that system. Using a projection, we are able to determine with ninety percent accuracy, that in the next two to four years, give or take, something will happen to that binary star that we will be able to see. Our initial estimates say it will be the brightest supernova since the Crab Nebula was formed in 1054 AD.”

The President rose and spoke before even being recognized. “What assurances do we have these aliens are not seeking to take over the Earth?”

“The fact they could have simply taken up residence in the sun and not bothered to tell us anything at all. Once they refueled they would be on their faster-than-light merry way, leaving us none the wiser.”

The president’s assistant whispered in his ear and he continued. “What do they suppose will be the result of this event? Why should we even care about an event so incredibly far away? My team of scientific advisers says it is unlikely to be a threat at that distance.”

“No disrespect to your scientific advisers but when an alien species with the capacity to alter matter at the atomic level, move at faster than light speeds through a universe where as far as we know, the speed of light is the speed limit, can learn every language spoken on Earth in a day and move my living body into mental communion with one of their greatest scientific minds, I am going to err on the side of the species with the most advanced technology in the room.”

The President of Russia stood up before the US President could even get his thoughts together and asked, “Do these beings offer us any solution to our problem or are they just space canaries telling us we are going to die soon? What will happen to the Earth when this gamma ray pulse sweeps over the planet?”

The Professor answered trying to explain this as clearly as he could. “The exact effects vary from planet to planet. But what the Sun Kings are certain of, is our ozone layer already weak and depleted will likely be obliterated within the hour of the radiation sweeping the planet. Any life on the side of the planet where the radiation strikes may receive strong doses of gamma ray radiation capable of killing everything exposed. But that is a short-term problem. The true threat is the long-term loss of the ozone layer. Without it, plants and animals all over the globe will receive lethal doses of radiation from our sun. Plants die. Animals without food will die soon after. Food crops will perish and soon after starvation will sweep the planet. This is certain to be an extinction level event for Humanity.”

The room exploded into chaos. The professor tried to regain control of the room but shouting, arguing and fighting began to break out.

The crystalline structure of the cylinder began to change and soon blazing white light filled the tent, so bright it was impossible to ignore.

“Please be silent.” This voice was omnipresent, filling every corner of the space in a way the professor’s hadn’t. “We understand you are distressed. We have noted your technological level and realize you will be insufficiently prepared even in the five solar years before the event. We are partially to blame and beg your forgiveness. We had not considered there would be organic, intelligent life in this corner of the galaxy. Most of the life we have seen thus far has been inorganically-based and immune to the radiation of the gamma-ray pulse. If your scientists are correct, life on your world will be impossible to sustain. We come bearing a solution but we will only offer it to those willing to participate. Will you hear our offer?”

Everyone returned to their seat hoping the offer being presented would be better than the news they had received thus far.

The more human voice of the Professor returned. “I am being asked to explain the idea because I was, in theory, a proof-of-concept. You see, I was dying. I had an inoperable brain tumor and had only a few more months to live. The Sun Kings offered me the chance to ascend into a form of pure consciousness and become part of their collective of minds.”

The murmurs began but stayed below the threshold of the Professor’s voice. “They are prepared to take the entire human race into their collective mind. It would take just under five years to convert us all, but once they were refueled, we could continue on, trying to warn or save as many organic species as we could.”

The president raised his hand to speak. “Our choices are: die, starving and cold on a rock that will, as my advisers warn me, eventually return to life a few million years from now, or become part of an alien civilization we know nothing about, to leave the Earth and never return to a corporeal existence. Stop me if I said something incorrect.”

“No, Mr. President, you summed it up quite nicely.” The Professor’s voice had dropped to a barely audible whisper.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, the President continued, but I will live and die as a human being. Humans are resourceful. With five years, who knows what we might accomplish? You have already made your choice, professor, the rest of us still have one to make. Can I speak to the Sun King?”
“Certainly,” the great booming voice returned.

“Can you selectively take Humans who want to go with you? Or is it an all or nothing proposition?”

“We can take any one or all of you as you see fit. It is not being forced upon you. Only those who wish to accompany us need do so. We will designate areas where your people can choose to go to be converted. Those of you who do not, may stay with your planet and accept whatever fate befalls you.”

“What if I decide to tell my people not to accompany you? What if I tell them you can’t be trusted, we know nothing about you or what your true motivations may be?”

The Sun King was silent for quite some time before answering,”That is your prerogative. However, we will still offer the same service to any who wish it. We will offer this until twelve hours before the pulse sweeps your world.

Then we will enter the Luminal Space and leave your world behind. You can tell your people whatever you like. We will still offer the service to anyone wishing to leave. Please do not make this decision. Your people deserve to make a choice independent of any social conflicts your perspective may place upon them. Millions may perish that did not need to.”

The meeting ended soon after. World leaders returned to their countries. Some revealed the truth. Others colored it. Some lied outright. The Sun Kings said nothing. They retreated to the sun to recharge their powers with some returning to Earth taking up geosynchronous stations high above the planet barely visible from the ground. Humanity busied itself with the mission of preparing for the end of life as they knew it.

This was the most productive the human race had ever been. Wars dwindled as resources were rerouted into research and development. Vast construction projects took place boring into the surface of the planet’s mountain ranges creating underground caverns and cities. Once the construction began, the Sun Kings dropped digging machines capable of using their powerful energies as boring beams into the mountainsides facilitating the building of these underground cities.

It was clear even with all of these amazing efforts, it would only house approximately thirty percent of the human population. No world leader would relent and tell their people they should go. With less than a year remaining, the Sun Kings returned to Earth and took over every form of media on the planet. Their message was simple.

“Your leaders have done everything possible to save and protect your species and your way of life. That life has come to an end. We can now accurately predict the arrival of the gamma ray pulse down to the second. Though your leaders have done what they think is best for you, we offer you a final alternative. If you desire to live beyond the gamma ray energies arrivals on your world, you have the option to give up your human form and live on as beings of luminous energy within us. You would still be individuals, with your own distinctive characteristics.

But you would also be part of a greater whole, a part of our civilization. We will not force you to do so. You must choose. We will place one thousand and twenty-four of these cylinders on your planet. If you wish to leave with us, travel to one in the coming year and a half. Each cylinder will have a clock capable of telling you how long you have before we leave. No matter where you live on the planet, we will leave you with the choice of escape no more than ten days travel from anyone. If you choose to stay, we understand and wish you well. Be mindful of the time, we shall leave promptly twelve hours before the arrival of the pulse. We will not delay one second beyond that time.”

With their message sent, modern media spun the story as little more than hype until the cylinders arrived all over the planet. They could not be moved once they landed. They could not be damaged or even scratched in any way. All a person had to do was walk up to a cylinder and say “I am ready.” There was a flash of light and a still body was all that remained. If families preferred to take a body away, they were able to, if a person came alone, nothing was left to clean up.

A quiet exodus began. Entire cities cleared out over the remaining year, with fewer and fewer flashes taking place until everyone who wanted to leave was almost gone. The Professor had taken to manipulating his own much smaller cylinder into cities trying to convince the last holdouts to leave the planet. He had the Sun Kings create a more sophisticated cylinder for him, something that could be transformed into a human-like appearance. With this, he traveled to MIT to see his wife who refused to leave.

He found her working in her lab, researching new seed strains which were much more radiation-tolerant. His new body was clearly not Human but articulated enough to move as a human might. His footfalls were unable to be silenced but he wanted her to know he was coming. He had made several attempts already to convince her.

“Hello, Dr. Harrison.” He had spent many months working on the voice modulation, hoping to sound more human than before.

“I told you not to come back.” She appeared to be packing up the last of her samples. “I am heading for the Cheyenne Mountain facility tonight.” Two young soldiers were helping her with the last of her equipment. She waved them off and they wheeled the rest of her gear to the makeshift helipad on the campus.

“Karen, please reconsider. I have seen the energy-wave with my own eyes. The Sun Kings were right. We don’t have much time. We can still be together.”

She turned and walked over to the eight-foot tall man-shaped machine. “Eyes, huh? Do you still have eyes? Do you still have the capacity to see visible light the way I do? Leave me. My husband is dead.”
“I’m right here, baby. In a new body, but I have never left you.”

“How do I know you aren’t some alien trick. You know the government says the Sun Kings are killing people. None of them ever come back to see their loved ones. How do you explain that?” Karen stood in front of the roboform and looked up into its eyes.

“Most people take quite some time to adjust. It is hard to relearn all of your senses, how to think in your new energy state. Most of them will be months or even years before they are able to fully integrate with the Community.”
“How did you manage so quickly?”

“You always said I was a fucking genius, remember? It’s what you hated about me when I was your student. Your young and impressionable student. You remember the time…”

“Don’t do that. You will never be able to do that with me again. You aren’t my husband, anymore. You’re this, this, thing.” Karen began to weep uncontrollably. “You promised me you would never leave me.” She began to strike the robotic body, flailing wildly against it. Its structure softened becoming softer, like a clay.

Winston took his wife in his malleable arms and held her. “I never would have left you. I would have died on schedule without them. They saved me. Let me save you. Tonight is the last night. By dawn, they will be gone.”

“Will they ever come back to Earth?” Karen began to regain her composure. She wiped her face on her lab coat and took it off, putting some space between her and the now kneeling robot.

“They said it would take them some time because there were several other Organics they knew about and wanted to warn along the way. They told me we could be back in as little as thirty years.”

“My husband died five years ago. I know you think you are Winston but you aren’t. Winston was a body, not a machine-created consciousness. He was flesh, given human frailties by God and you are not him. Please see yourself out.”

“I could make you come with me. Transfer your consciousness even without your permission.”

“I suspected as much. Winston would never do that.”

“You are saying, if I loved you as Winston might, I would leave you to die here on Earth, starving and cold on a planet barely able to support life in thirty-six hours, right? You know what, you’re right, I am not Winston. Winston might have been a genius but he was a human genius with all the failings and frailties a man could have.

“How could he have known an alien race would come to Earth and say ‘Sorry, your lease is up’ and transform his dying body into an immortal god-like one. How could he have known he would one day race a beam of light and win, see radiation and all the hidden mysteries of the Universe? He couldn’t. You are right, your Winston Harrison is dead. But I love you, and if I told you this was the right thing for us, once upon a time you would have believed it and never questioned it.

“Why would you do that now? We still have time. We can get you to the local cylinder in Boston and you can still join us. Join me. Until death do us part. I didn’t die, Karen.”

She looked at the machine, its inorganic lines and nearly featureless face. She listened to the words, the sound, the cadence and the rhythm of its voice and she knew what she had to do. She turned and ran from the building.
Winston did not follow.

No need to walk, he floated down out of a window and down to the ground. He watched the last of the crews and helicopters going up. They were racing daylight. Most would get to their bunker cities in the Appalachians just under the wire. The pilots knew this and flew as fast as they could. The emptied streets spoke in the same voices as a cemetery might, of longing, of hopes long dashed against the shores of time. Winston rose into the sky and began his final flight to the cylinder.

In the street below him, he spotted a single person running and waving. He thought it might have been a person left behind. He had sufficient speed to get whoever it was to the bunker city before they closed the door. A last gesture of humanity before leaving, he mused.

Swooping toward the ground, he recognized the hair and suit. It was Dr. Karen Harrison. “Did you miss your ride, Doctor?”

“No, sir. I was hoping you might be able to give me a lift to see my husband.”

“I think that can be arranged. Hold on tight, we will have to be moving quite fast to beat the deadline.”

Karen smiled and held tightly onto the robotic body. “My husband was known for breaking barriers all the time.”

“Yes, he was. But there was never any place I wanted to be that you weren’t. I could’ve worked at Oxford.”

Karen chuckled, “Do these Sun Kings have an energy equivalent of coffee?”
“Nope, but once you’ve drunk from a star, coffee just doesn’t hold up.”

“Then make sure we get a cup of sunshine, to go.”

“I think I can arrange that. I know someone, who knows someone.”

The last cylinder left the Earth, twelve hours before August 15, 2034 PST. The doctors Harrison dipped through the corona of the Sun on their way out of the solar system, never looking back.

Sun Kings © Thaddeus Howze 2014, All Rights Reserved

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The Glass Dragon

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I peered at him through the glass case and wondered how and why anyone would trap a dragon under glass. It wasn’t unbreakable. I thought if he wanted to, the heat of his fire could melt it, and then he could have escaped. But when he made no attempts I ventured to speak with him to find out why.

“How can a beautiful, powerful creature like yourself be trapped in a case made of glass?” I asked.

“Foolish mortal child, do you not know how dangerous it is to speak to me. Have your senses been dulled by the breath of air out there, leaving you witless. Or maybe you do not know the power contained within the glass.”

I wasn’t sure if he was referring to himself, or if he was trying to explain to me some power of the glass case. It isn’t prudent to allow a dragon, even a trapped one to know you aren’t smart enough to understand what they are talking about. I certainly didn’t want him to think I wasn’t intelligent enough to continue having a conversation with, so I said.

“Yes there is great power, but I may brave it to know the story of how you came to be here and why you choose, if a choice it is, to stay.” I asked.

He shifted in his see through prison and sat on his haunches like a cat so he could talk to me.

“When I first came here the case was twice the size. The wizard who had invited me assured me that it would benefit mankind for men to see me and the glass would provide protection for both them and myself. After a few days he promised to release me and allow me to return to my home, but at the end of the time he refused and I grew angry. I blew a blast of fire to breach the glass but found that as it heated, the glass only shrunk. Even when I am speaking it heats the glass ever so slightly and the case begins to shrink. It will continue until I am merely a miniature and there is no space for breath or movement. I will die and the wizard will use my remains in potions and spells, tonics and treatments, magic and elixirs,” Was his answer, but not the entire truth.

The glass shuttered as we spoke. I backed away realizing that what he said was true. Each time he spoke the heat of his breath manipulated the composition of the glass and it quivered. I gathered that since he had discovered the nature of his prison that he had not spoken much to minimize the speed at which the glass continued to shrink. But I quickly came to the same conclusion that he had come to immediately, he would never escape, his destruction was inevitable. But that conclusion had flaws, of which I had no knowledge, not understanding the indestructible nature of dragons. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to speed his demise, though I had several more questions which I thought I might enable me to be able to discover a way to help him. But maybe I could ask in a way he did not have to answer.

“Can you show me where the wizard is?” I asked.

He shook his head and pointed toward the library stairs. It was a winding stair that seemed to lead to several hallways which led down hidden corridors in the back of the library. I thought he would come out if I waited long enough.

“Does the wizard come here every day?” I asked.

He nodded. I didn’t know how to word my next question so that he would not be required to answer verbally.

“How long have you been here?” I asked finally.

The bottom of the glass case was covered with a layer of gold scales. When I looked closely I realized they were still attached to skin. The dragon had molted and shed his outer skin once each hundred years. There were a total of three skins, I noticed as he fingered each beautiful layer. Despite his incredible power, I noticed a tear in his eye. I pretended not to notice. As I stood looking at him, the wizard slowly and quietly approached.

“So you would like to free him, eh?” he asked as he appeared beside me.

I jumped startled. “Well yes, if you will allow me. I had been wondering why you found it necessary to cage such a beautiful creature.”

“Did the beautiful creature tell you what he was doing when I trapped him?” the wizard asked raising a brow.

“Well no, I did not actually ask that question.” I answered.

“And I am certain that he would not have told you even if you had asked. That beautiful creature had subdued a class of young maidens and was very gingerly tearing them limb from limb. Had you been among them you would have been a simple meal for him as well.

“Is this true I asked,” looking at him in disgust.

He nodded and bowed his head.

“And you were trying to trick me into feeling sorry for you, thinking if I got you out, I would be your dessert?”

This time he answered me verbally.

“I am what I am; it would be foolish to think that I would behave otherwise. Yes, if you had managed my release I would have eaten you straight away to build my strength for I would immediately have to battle the wizard, fight off any knights in the vicinity, and have strength to fly away. It has been three hundred long hungry years and though starving me will not kill me the shrinking of this glass surely will.”

I understood his logic, but I felt betrayed nevertheless.

“Dragons are very powerful and see things quite clearly. It is why I chose a trap which is already clear and magically made in such a way so as to trap him further upon the use of any of his capabilities. Even his strength works against him. As his scales grow stronger so grows the strength of his prison.”

The glass had been fired by the breath of dragons, made from the sands of scales, crushed by dragons themselves. Infused with a spell of attraction, the scales sought to become a part of a dragon again at each heating but the quantity of sand grains used reconstituted to a scale which was only enough in the end to reform a dragon of minute size. Heating also redoubled the strength of the glass as the strength of his own shed scales was added. The more that his own scales combined to the glass the more the glass case was programmed to again become a part of the dragon. Soon it would mold to his form and shrink to the size of a house cat. The intense pressure would cause his skeletal structure to implode leaving a hollow glass form remaining, filled with his liquid essence. But the dragon was not ready to become merely a tool to provide the wizard with endless wealth. He had one more trick up his golden sleeve.

“But how once I have passed away will you penetrate the glass? Think you that you have the strength to bore threw a glass that I myself cannot penetrate?”

“Ah, but there is a secret that bears no telling, that is if I wish to keep you there until the end has come.” answered the wizard.

It was an old game, and the case was half the size it had been at the beginning. Each opponent seemed evenly matched and neither could trick the other into revealing their secrets. Both knew well what was at stake and vied constantly to discover some flaw or weakness that would give the other the advantage. The dragon had told too much to the girl, and not of the right things. If he had played the role of a convicted sinner he might have at least earned her sympathy. Now she was merely a spectator of the wizard’s intentions. She knew not his secrets, and now that she felt betrayed would not be assisting with his release.

But what that dragon had not told was that though his body would indeed liquefy, he would not die. His essence would remain trapped inside of the glass, and the dragon-shaped vessel would become a magical void, similar to that of a black hole, pulling in the magical energy of any powerful being able to breach the glass and combining them with those of the dragon. It could however do no damage to mortals with no magical energies. A single drop of the golden brown liquid would be worth a fortune, and could be used to produce healing potions, powerful spells, and a myriad of other magical uses. The glass vessel would never be empty.

What the wizard had not told was that a collar of the very same glass particles had been placed about the end of his tail and that the pressure from the shrinking would break the glass at that joint leaving quite a tidy opening through which to pour his essence. The remaining piece of his tail would serve as a suitable cork that would prevent the essence from spilling out.

“Why if you will never be free do you prolong this game? Think you that in another three hundred years I will be too old to benefit from your valuable essence. Think again, by then I will be the most powerful wizard in the land, with all of your virtues at my disposal.” bragged the wizard.

The dragon grew angry and spouted flame at the glass in a last great attempt to breach the glass before it was too strong. The glass molded to him and in the heat shrank further. The pain of the pressure caused the dragon to release one final burst of flame and as he did so the glass enveloped him and the particles of scale condensed until a glass miniature etched in gold stood where the case once stood, mouth opened poised to breath flame.

The wizard approached him and touched the end of his tail. A perfect ring around the neck of his tail broke clean and exposed the liquid inside. In an attempt to keep from losing any of the valuable liquid he put his index finger on the tip of the broken tail to cover the small opening that now existed there. Suddenly he gasped and a shriek the likes of none the young girl had ever heard escaped from the wizard’s mouth.

A pain like nothing he had ever experienced began to reverberate through his entire being. The tiny glass dragon was absorbing his entire being into the inner space with the liquid of the dragon, and it was being done through his fingertip.

The dragon laughed aloud.

“I thought that you were dead,” said the girl.

“What know you of dragons young lady? My spirit lives in my essence. Though my body be destroyed I may take upon the physical form of another dragon if he is not stronger than me. But I cannot leave here on my own, though it pleases me that the wizard will not survive me.”

The wizard in too much pain to move or attempt to draw his hand away listened as the dragon told the girl the truth. He outlined the wizards fate and explained the possible uses of his essence as well as how to locate buyers who would neither cheat her nor be a threat. It was a moment before the girl realized what the dragon was proposing.

She did not remark on her surprise and said rather to him, “Isn’t it funny, you would have eaten me but it is me who will live the rest of my natural life benefiting from wealth obtained by selling your essence.”

“If by funny you mean humorous, no, I do not relish having to rely on anyone for my survival, and if you mean odd that the tables have somehow turned you may be correct. I will have need to serve you in order to prevent my powerful essence from falling into the hands of others like the wizard, and so it seems we are bound to each other. But the mortal life is a not a long one, it will be necessary to make certain you have a family line with trustworthy individuals onto which you may pass your fortune including me. Soon we will be able to leave this place.”

The wizard who had not spoken for some time looked up at the girl, “Help me, do you want my death on your conscience?”

“I don’t see how your death could be on my conscience, it is you who trapped him, you who put him in the case, you who planned his destruction, and you yourself put your hand to the open glass. I shall have no regrets about a demise I did not cause. Feel you in your last moments that it would have better to allow me to have been eaten by the beautiful creature, rather than losing all the power you thought to possess? Well I won’t lose any sleep on that, you will become a part of his power, and I will be the instrument of his freedom. Though neither has gotten exactly what they wanted, you have certainly gotten what you asked for.” answered the girl.

“Well said,” commended the dragon.

As they spoke the wizard was absorbed into the vessel leaving nothing but his hat and his robes, which the girl folded neatly and placed on one of the library shelves. She then pick up the dragon’s tail and seated it nicely into the hole, picked up the glass dragon and headed home. On the way the dragon told her stories and secrets.

When she arrived home she placed him on her mantle, and all who saw him said what a beautiful creature he was. The girl simply replied, “Yes, he is.”

The Glass Dragon© DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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The Arrow

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Cupid was an odd little bug, not the lovely little cherub always depicted in classic art. In truth it was a full grown androgynous asexual pixie, a point of contention that may have been the motivation for starting all of this falling in love stuff to begin with. If it could have claimed a side it might have, then maybe there wouldn’t have been so much hostility about relationships and the way in which they were managed. But considering what each side had to offer it wasn’t certain things would have been much better if the option had been available.

Cupid hated women; fickle, unpredictable, emotional, demanding, inconsiderate, judgmental, selfish, temperamental, harpies with little sense and less enthusiasm. They had all the equipment and ingredients for love, compassion, consideration, desire, and companionship and they wasted them chasing material things. On occasions one with a modicum of the right qualities would surface, but often their abilities to make choices was superseded by their superficial nature. It wasn’t to say they had no good qualities, but what difference did that make if they were squandered, wasted?

But men weren’t much better; self important, dishonest, egotistic, noncommittal, power hungry, greedy, sadistic, philanderers. The greater majority of them were more easily lead by their reproductive parts rather than the massive brain given to them to make survival of their species possible. With all that brain power, you’d think they might have realized that relationships were an integral part of every aspect of life, and the more successful they were at them the better things would be.

But being a member of neither sex Cupid had a right to be critical. Watching these creatures botch and mangle attempts at relationships purporting to be in love, claiming to understand the concept was more than what might be considered palatable on a daily basis. Considering themselves civilized, when they were little better than their prehistoric counterparts. What good was technology if they destroyed themselves and the world they lived in?

So Cupid went to the angels and said, “Why must humans be allowed to continue to be so hateful and reprehensible without experiencing even the slightest of consequences? Do we not still have the ability to affect their choices?”

“Well, yes we do, but it is not as easy as you might think. We do not control them; they make their own choices and decide their behaviors. But here, if you wish to try to intervene, I will make you an archer. You must practice hard to become an excellent marksman, as well as a craftsman, for you will create your arrow. I warn you however, it is not as simple as just point and shoot. You will find humans complex to manage.”

 

Cupid was dedicated, practiced daily. The thought that humans needed a lesson in love was the greatest motivator in the creation of the arrows which would match the magnificent bow and quiver being made specifically for the task.492_cupids_arrow

To Cupid using the bow had come second nature, and by the time the angels were ready to commission a bow to fit the enchanted arrows Cupid had mastered both aim and shot. But the real skill was in learning what to shoot.

 

It was obvious after several attempts to guide humans to love that they were in some way greatly challenged. Even after the object of love was identified and had been pierced by loves arrow, the intended recipient often did not respond even when the person was clearly right in front of them. In fact several times the recipient ignored them knowingly. Love wasn’t blind, humans were stupid. They were literally choosing not to love, creating barriers that did not even need to be there.

So Cupid strengthened the intensity of the arrow, thinking now that resistance would be futile. But that arrow was so strong several of the love interests became obsessed and subsequently stalked the loved one. After a few fatal attractions and unnecessary deaths, the arrow was scaled back to its original intensity.

But by this time Cupid was beginning to get discouraged. Since humans insisted on choosing what was bad for themselves then Cupid decided to make bad selections for them hoping by some coincidence that they would turn toward the real love. But that expectation was also not realized. Humans simply kept the poor choice, allowing themselves to be abused, unhappy, and sometimes even endangered.

As absolute power corrupts absolutely, Cupid became possessed with the same behaviors and judgments that were found to be an abhorrence in humans, and rather than doing the duty that had been charged, wanton disregard for the safety of humans became a standard practice. Cupid decided to become a spirit of mischief, foiling the plans of mankind, confusing and corrupting their intentions whether they be honorable or no.

The angels punished Cupid, who though still an archer, was now no longer charged with the responsibility of encouraging the presence of love. But being skilled with the bow and the ability to craft the arrow, Cupid was content to continue to interfere in relationships making unmarried women want married men, and if a man wanted a woman then she would be persuaded to want someone else, and if a woman desperately wanted someone to love her would condemn her to be alone.

But humans were a victim of their own chaos, Cupid never claimed responsibility for the mess that had become of mankind, after all they themselves made the choices. For centuries mankind has looked for love in all the wrong places. Maybe they should spend some time figuring out what it is so that when they find it they will recognize it. Otherwise it will continue to evade them.

Like the proverbial forest, they are deep amongst the trees. Let us hope they will one day be able to see it.

Until they do, you may want to keep an eye out for stray arrows.

The Arrow © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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The Pyre

pyre

In many cultures both now and in ancient times a pyre was a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite or execution. As a form of cremation, a body is placed upon or under the pyre, which is then set on fire.

My best friend and I used to love to pretend we were gladiators. And when one of us would die in battle the other would then build a pyre and pretend to give last rites to the fallen champion. Of course our pyres were made of pillows, and there was no fire, but we understood the principle. It was difficult to imagine what a real funeral pyre was like but we both thought it was an excellent way to show respect to a fallen comrade.

Matt liked the outdoors a lot. He joined lots of nature groups and participated in many camping, climbing, and hiking activities. He was, in many ways the gladiator we pretended to be as children.

When we got ready to go to high school, he moved away. I still talked to him every weekend and occasionally we were able to hang out but as we got more into school our interests and our activities changed.

I was shocked to hear one day that Matt had fallen in a hiking accident in the mountains and they had been unable to locate him. They didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

On Saturday I was at home with my family and made a strange request to my mother and father. I would like to build a pyre in dedication to Matt. I used my father’s barbecue pit which he lined with fire logs and he put coals in the center to create a good heat. I brought all of the things we had loved as boys; our wooden swords, the gladiator shields we had made from cardboard and decorated with painted macaroni noodles, and contributed by my parents several of the largest pure beef sausages I had ever seen.

At first I thought they were making a joke of the whole thing then my father explained. “Matt had loved the outdoors and he would want for us to remember him through the things he loved. He would want this pyre to be a celebration of his life, for you to honor his memory as if he were a gladiator still.”

I tossed our old weapons into the fire and ate the smoky grilled meat with relish. I wished my friend Godspeed and hoped they would find him soon. That night alone in my room real tears covered my pillow. He had been my best friend.

In the weeks to come I awaited the news. Hope encouraged me to continue to believe it was possible for him to survive, but if he hadn’t I had made my peace with it.

Matt was never found.

I went on to college, graduated and went out into the world. I went on to do all of the things we dreamed about, talked about, and planned for in our youth. As an adult I tell myself still that I am a gladiator, and fight day to day for survival. I pluck up the courage to battle against inequity, to fight against wrong doing, and to save the beautiful things left on the planet, despite the fact the differences I may have with those around me. And whenever I smell barbecue or taste a smoky grilled sausage, I think of Matt.

In memory of all gladiators, warriors and heroes for whom the stories are not always written but are often told. May a pyre be lit in memory of their deeds and burn as a testament to their indomitable spirits. Lest we forget that the world in which we live continues to exist because of the contributions of those who have fought and often died to save the things that are of value to all human beings.

Raise a pyre in memory of those who have been lost, but will never be forgotten.

The Pyre © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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A Prelude to Hyde (A story of Hub City)

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I spent all morning asking myself, “What was I doing here?”  It was a 1920’s dance hall converted into a modern event center. Its’ owners had taken great pains to keep it in its’ grand original condition.  Lots of people said he had been there to remember, but most people considered that to be urban legend, nobody had ever been known to live that long despite what ancient government rumors and outdated media propaganda suggested.

Falcón Gionetti was an old world restaurateur, enamored with movie stars, high rolling gamblers, aristocrats, and Mafioso of the past.  He wasn’t a crime boss himself, but it was obvious he admired the lifestyle. Some said that Capone once dined here as well as Hollywood Stars, and dignitaries from around the world. It still boasted lithographs of 20’s movie greats and grand dances with magnificent ball gowns plumed with feathers and lace and glittering with gems and sequins made from sho-nuff real fish scales.

But that was long ago, before Hub City was built. The skeleton of the building was made of some unknown flexible material which withstood the super storms that had leveled the previous territories upon which Hub City was now built; it was safe to say that not much else was left standing, intact.

I watched the echoes of gleaming light from the crystal chandeliers bounce off of the bubbles in the sparkling water as I poured them into plastic champagne glasses.  It was hard for plastic to mimic the elegance of this place. As much as the clients were spending to rent it, you’d think they’d have used real glass.

Working here, it wasn’t hard to daydream about what it must have been like to attend functions in this grand relic from a past I would not have been allowed to participate in. Blacks in the 20’s didn’t attend balls in this hall. They were servers doing just what I was doing now. Only then it was champagne pouring and cocktails.

I had been working here for some months, thinking it was a non-complex way to add a couple of hundred dollars to my monthly income that wouldn’t require much brain power.  Hub city rotations had allowed me to learn many skills associated with management of staff and kitchens, though it was not directly related to restaurants.

What I had not counted on was being promoted to Maître D, and assuming the responsibilities of scheduling and orchestrating the daily activities. It wasn’t time consuming, but it was sometimes very stressful.  Many of the other staff members resented my being promoted after only being employed here for such a short time, but after months of cleaning up scheduling, reorganizing the kitchen, and actually taking the initiative to get to know everyone, I eventually grew to be liked even favored by the staff.

That is of course except for Raymond, a half-black half something else throw back from the 1950’s who claimed to actually have family once connected to the original owners of the place. Which was hard to believe since he seemed to have such difficulty both managing his money and his own personal affairs. The only thing that seemed to have been connected to the past was his way too superior attitude.  He may have been the next in line for Maître D had I not so conveniently shown up to take the position.

I had been here since 10:00 am. The reception for some big wedding wasn’t scheduled until 4:00 PM, but it was my responsibility setting the tables, ushering in the decorators, and making certain each place setting had been poured a glass of sparkling water minutes before the guests were scheduled to arrive. Timing was everything.  But in my reverie I had not noticed the time. It was half past the hour of 4:00 PM, where was everyone? A hundred place settings with sparkling water, each with one cube of ice would not stay sparkling for long.  Water and ice were expensive, extravagant especially in these quantities; fines for waste in Hub city were exorbitant, I didn’t want trouble if the guests arrived late.

I delayed the final tables and the dais, and went to make a phone call.  After a short conversation with the owner, I returned to the ballroom to resume my duties. I was assured by my employer I would not be held accountable for the delay. I filled the last of the glasses and took my station at the front to begin ushering in and seating the guests when they began to arrive.

It was 5:00 PM when the first of the guest began to trickle in. The wait staff and servers including myself had begun to get bored and irritable. I finished an opened bottle of sparkling water and proceeded to seat the first of the guests.  A middle-aged woman in awe of the magnificence of the place looked around as if to discover any item not nailed down that she could collect as a souvenir. I notified the staff to watch her.

Next to arrive were the bridesmaids and groomsmen, a collection of either very fat or very skinny unattractive women, paired with a group of unmemorable gentleman in nicely tailored tuxedos. Had I a greater experience with weddings, I would have mentally prepared myself for the Bride. However a novice in these matters, I was shocked when upon entry, she stomped up to me fuming and announced loudly to the entire room, “This is not sparkling water!”

Embarrassed by her loud unruly behavior, I managed still to feel a bit resentful, having poured all hundred glasses of sparkling water, and feeling rather disrespected and unappreciated for the care given to her tables I responded handing her the bottle, “Yes ma’am, it is, and I’m certain it would still be sparkling had your party arrived at the time you specified.”

Her reply however singed my ruffled feathers. “Look waitress, if you can’t manage water, maybe you should call the owner and see if he can find more competent wait staff.”

I held in my angry response and called for new bottles to be opened, assisting the other wait staff to replace the flattened drinks. What did I care, she was paying by the bottle and would pay the fines for the waste, the owner would make certain of that.

As I poured glasses for the guests I began to experience an intense feeling of being observed, as if two pair of eyes had been following me at each turn. One set connected to a ruggedly handsome and charming middle aged man who seemed oddly menacing below the exterior of his mild mannered countenance.  The other set obscured from view. That made me nervous, timid.

I smiled and thanked the guests for their patience, and maneuvered my way through the tables, inching my way ever closer to the piercing gaze that had continued its observation of me from the moment it set eyes on me to the present.  What was he looking at?

“You stick out like a sore thumb in here.” He said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“That’s funny,” I responded, “I thought I fit right in amongst all this old-world elegance.”

He laughed a wild magnificent sound to hear. “I meant surrounded by all these uncouth, rude and unruly people, I wasn’t referring to the building, although you seem too young to fit in to the time to which these premises belong as well, unless you’re telling me you’re just well-preserved.”

I laughed.

Moments later Bridezilla returned complaining that she had nowhere for her additional guests to sit.  “As much as I am paying, I should at least have seating and food for my additional guests.”

“I am sorry ma’am, but the arrangement was for a hundred guests, as it is we will have to cut your cake remarkably thin in order for each of your guests to have a slice.”

“Look waitress, that is simply not acceptable, I want to speak to the manager.”

“As a matter of fact, ma’am, I am the manager, also the Maître D, so, if you have any complaints you may take them up with me, but be aware, your fees cover the cost of the hall and all extra services including catering, servers, and valet are contracted extras to which you specified at cost per person, and per hour. My employer will not appreciate any breaches of contract, if there are extra guests for whom food and seating have not been arranged it is because you did not specify any in your contract, therefore they were not and will not be accommodated for.” I was losing my patience.

The Bridezilla looked tearfully at her new husband and pleaded with him to do something.  “Look here lady, you’re spoiling our day and…”

I cut him off mid sentence.

“Excuse me Sir,” and I used the term loosely, “I am not trying to spoil your day, the arrangements for your day were made by your Bride, if she had anticipated changes or additions, she should have conveyed them before today, in these economic times, we do not prepare food or provide accommodations that have not be accounted for in advance, your wife said one hundred and that is what she got, anything outside of what was contracted will not be made available.”

The Bride bounced away with veiled threats under her breath of kicking my ass. Let’s see her try it, with her fat ass in that too tight dress.  I held in a laugh at the comical vision, and turned to see what the pair of eyes viewing the scene had thought. But when I turned to look he was not sitting in his chair. He was speaking with a gentleman in the foyer.  As I looked at him, I noticed something that had apparently been forgotten.

When I went into the kitchen Raymond was sitting on a stool with his foot against a shelf. “There’s trouble here, that man upfront is the police.”

“What kind of trouble?” I asked too shocked to even be surprised that Raymond was engaging in conversation with me.  He looked destroyed, like he’d lost his last bit of cash at the horse races and was preparing to lose his house.  And then I heard it, a scream like one of those you see in those 1920’s mystery thrillers.

I turned to run out but Raymond caught my hand.

“Don’t go out there miss, I’m sorry I know we haven’t gotten along well, but this is going to get ugly, I feel it.”

Something about the look on his face warned me that what he said was true, but how he knew this bothered me only momentarily.   In my few short months working here I had learned that when Raymond said anything about the future or alluded to upcoming events it was better not to question him, he seemed always to be right. That is unless it was some scheme he was working on for himself.

I called the owner instead and warned him that something was up and urged him to hurry down here.

As I was cradling the phone I felt him before I turned to see him there. Raymond eyed him curiously, not exactly with fear, but a mixture of wonder and respect the way you might view a lion in those zoos without bars.  I looked at him again and found my mind envisioning dancing with him in the ballroom with his arms wound tightly about me. It wasn’t like me to daydream about men I saw at events, or men at all for that matter.  I reminded myself that I was here in an employed capacity and shook the daydream out of my head.  I remembered again the thing that had been forgotten earlier.

“Come with me,” he said, I’ll need your help,” and then he looked knowingly at Raymond at  said sideways to him smiling, “and you clairvoyant, you had better make yourself scarce, the agency shouldn’t find you here, they won’t know you by your employment records, but they may recognize you  despite your seasoned appearance.”

Raymond nodded acknowledging his order and returning his smile he stood, collected his things, and departed immediately.

“You should pack up your things and be ready to go when your employer arrives.” He said plainly.

“How did you know I had already spoken to my boss, and why would I be leaving, I thought you needed my help?”  I answered in response to his request, or was it an order?   I suddenly had the feeling of being naked and I could feel the color rising to my cheeks.

“Let’s just say I have a way of knowing certain things about people. Like you for instance, manage your anger well, blush when you are embarrassed, and seem to be able to instinctively read how people feel or appear.” He said in a matter-of-fact manner while looking around the kitchen.

There was that color again.

“And as far as needing your help, I do, and I’ll be leaving with you, but I need to attend to something with the police first. They should not find you back here.”

“What did you mean by clairvoyant and how did you know,” I asked.

“That will have to wait until later. Can you find a simple ball gown here on the premises to borrow?” The man spoke in riddles. Didn’t the police already know I worked here and that I was on the premises? And for whatever should I need with a ball gown?

He looked at me and answered the questions in my mind without blinking, “I meant they shouldn’t find you back here with me and the gown you will need for where we will be going.” He smiled a knowing kind of smile and ushered me out.

I proceeded to the ballroom to await the police and my employer and stopped momentarily at the desk to gather my personal things to stow in the alcove nearest the exit. I suddenly had a feeling I would later need to depart inconspicuously and I wanted my belongings to be where they could easily be reached when the time came.

As requested, I located a ball gown, a fine silk lame gown I wasn’t sure was intended for a figure like mine, curvy, voluptuous.  I also found a fabulous pair of antique slippers.  Once everything had been stowed, I returned to the front to meet the impending arrivals and noticed again that the entry hall drapes had been slightly closed.  I first noticed it when I’d seen the gentleman speaking to the police chief in the foyer, and recalled it a second time when we were speaking in the kitchen.  How had those drapes been closed again, when the staff had aired and opened all the drapes hours before the reception?

Apparently the body of Lysander Archess, a prominent alien official had been found propped up at a table in one of the other ballrooms. That nosy old woman from the wedding reception had been wandering in search of something to lift and had discovered him sitting at the table and spoken. When he did not return her greeting she approached him and found that he was not moving.

In front of him was a plate trimmed in gold, a crystal goblet half filled with what may have been champagne, gold plated flatware, and a silk napkin. When she went to touch him, the head that had been until that point staring straight, fell into the plate. The resulting scream could be heard throughout the building. In her petrified state I guess she had forgotten the lovely place setting as potential souvenirs and ran screaming into the grand ballroom.

The Bridezilla overwrought with attitude, threatened to gather up her guests and leave but at the very moment she was conjuring up enough cheep sentiment to move the hearts and asses of her guests, my boss and the police arrived and refused to let anyone leave before questioning.  I was questioned first.  Detective Peters was the questioning officer.  I assured him that the premises had been thoroughly cleaned just this morning and that no ‘body’ had been there prior to 5:00 pm when the guests began to arrive. In fact,  both the cake and the photographer had gone into that very ballroom upon arrival and the Bride and Groom had taken pictures in the entry way while the cake was being set up for display and consumption.

The police questioned each of the guests one by one. The general consensus was that the gentleman had not arrived with the guests but had been installed there in the last hour. No one admitted to having seen him come in nor were they even certain he was among the wedding guests at all.

The Bridezilla’s father however insisted that he had been at the wedding, and had been a friend of the family for many years. A business associate of Archess, he had been in negotiations with him hours before the wedding. He found it very disturbing that none of his daughter’s guests were willing to come forth with information.  How could no one have seen him arrive?

It was then that I softly mentioned to Detective Peters that someone had partially drawn the foyer drapes after the arrival of the guests.  When he examined the foyer, he also noted that the outer ballroom doors had been closed. That had been done since the discovery of the body to avoid further alarming the guests and to prevent anyone from disturbing possible evidence.

I could feel the penetrating pair of separate gazes as Carlucci entered the room.  Detective Peters nodded his salutations to Carlucci as he crossed the ballroom floor.

“Evening Detective Peters,” he responded as he returned the nod.

I could tell from his mannerisms that he greatly respected this officer. I did not get this impression when he spoke to the police chief. I did not however ponder this long, being suddenly interested in the investigation taking place.

The body’s temperature was still warm as if it had been living only moments before discovery, and despite its severed head had maintained its temperature and avoided blood loss due to having congealed to a taffy-like state. What could have caused such a condition? I was too curious to be revolted by the dead body and peered over the shoulder of Detective Peters directly into the open neck of the body.

Carlucci stared directly into my face and asked, “Ms. Spires is this room exactly as it appeared prior to the arrival of guests?”

I looked around and attempted to notice any changes in the room.  A crystal knob was missing from each of the entry way drape tiebacks, no doubt the 1st souvenirs of our busybody guest which may have answered how the drapes were suddenly closed. This may also have been why the other guests hadn’t noticed his arrival. With the drapes slightly drawn, only those seated directly in the middle of the ballroom would have seen out into the foyer.

 

But this somehow seemed too easy an explanation.  How could anyone have known someone would take the tieback knobs? In addition, the place setting was not among those owned or used on the premises, if it had belonged to the owner I had never seen nor used it and I certainly would not have set out such expensive items so openly at any table among so many questionable guests. In addition to this, no champagne had been delivered for today. Where had the champagne come from?

The police officers questioned each of the staff and made inquiries about staff not present noting several names on the staff roster including Raymond’s.  I told them Raymond had not been scheduled to work today and two others scheduled were out sick.  I wasn’t certain why I suddenly felt inclined to lie, but I had a feeling that it was important not to mention that Raymond had been on the premises, I had yet to get answers to that clairvoyant thing, and I was certain I was protecting him somehow.

I could feel those two pair of eyes watching me again and caught a sideways glance from the pair in the room as he noted my fabrication.  Detective Peters took down the names of those present and allowed my employer to dismissed the staff.  Carlucci motioned me to the door.

I rose to leave, and then turned to Detective Peters, “May I go now?” I asked.

He smiled, “Certainly Ms Spires, we’ll be in touch if we have any further questions.”

I retreated to the alcove and dressed quickly in a storage closet located behind the curtains there, stuffing my work clothes into my bag, and draping my coat gently around my shoulders before passing through the alcove exit doors. A car was waiting for me there.  Carlucci tossed my bag into the compartment and ushered me quickly in. As soon as the door was closed I wanted answers to questions?

“Alright, Ms Spires, may I call you Cassidy?”He continued without waiting for my response “I suppose some explanation is in order.”

Gionetti is rumored to be greater than 200 yrs old, and though there is no documented proof, he is suspected to be an alien that landed on earth during the 1920’s. Though he’s able to manifest human appearance, he has never been able to change the appearance of his eyes, and through some in depth research I believe there are powerful people who have discovered his secret and are interested in the key not only to his longevity but the very nature of his existence.   As for Raymond, he too is not what he seems.  His family is connected to the Gionetti family and through some strange fortune he has inherited both limited longevity and his father’s ability to view the past, the immediate present, and the possible future.

He used to work with the department to hunt down serial killers and such, but got involved with some mob scams trying to make some fast money during the early 20th century and found himself labeled as a snitch. During those turbulent times it was not an ideal reputation to have and he suddenly found himself a target from both directions. The police no longer trusted him and the criminal element felt threatened by his gift, uncertain if he was feeding information to the authorities.  He was forced to go into hiding and might have had to stay there if the super storms hadn’t destroyed this entire area.  He remained here after discovering the family business still partially standing and offered to help Falcon to restore it.  His biggest problem now has been avoiding the Agency, since they have been hunting down and destroying all clairvoyants, fearing their gifts and feeling them too dangerous.”

 

He did not explain how he knew Raymond and would only say that he had run across him during some very high profile cases.

He continued, “A criminal element outside of the city who has been attempting for some time to get into Hub City had been blackmailing Gionetti trying to get him to use his influence with prominent wealth to find a way into the city. Although he’s not directly related to crime in the city, many of the rich and powerful respect his influence. Archess was simply a negotiator but I believe he discovered the bargaining tool used to persuade Gionetti and got greedy making him a liability.”

Hub city did not tolerate criminal activity from outside. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of crime in the city, but it was regulated by criminals in the city and outsiders were dealt with severely.

“We’re here, he said changing the subject, “I hope that was a good enough amount of information to appease your appetite, it’s all I can give you for now. “

As we stepped from the car a valet relieved him of the vehicle and a door person escorted us into the magnificent high rise. “Where are we? I asked but he only responded, “Don’t ask any more questions and for goodness sake don’t answer any.”

 

We entered a room filled with stylishly dressed people, and I felt a bit self-conscious about the antiquity of my dress. Truth be told its elegance fit in nicely with its present day counterparts, and on my body itcassidydress

probably drew acclaim it had never experienced before having been worn originally by toothpick thin flappers and debutantes of the 20’s.

One young lady eyed the dress with envy and asked, “Where do I get material to copy that?”

I responded,” In the time machine,” and giggled softly to myself.

“Dance with me,” Carlucci said catching me off guard. “Having fun? Don’t be too brutal, the young rich ladies have a difficult time as it is adapting to young women their own age. It’s  probably quite difficult having someone like you come in wearing what you’re wearing and looking like you’re looking wearing it, taking all of the attention in the room.“

I blushed and allowed him to sweep me around the dance floor.   I could feel the intensity between us increase as we moved from one corner of the room to another.   Simultaneously I felt a feeling of déjà vu and alarm. A gentleman who had been watching for quite some time now walked up to us on the dance floor.

“A woman like you could lead a man around like a sheep to the slaughter,” James Ekyl said and laughed almost wickedly. “May I”, he said taking my hand.

I felt myself being swept away for a second time without having had the opportunity to even consent.  I suddenly felt like a rope during a tug of war between two evenly matched opponents, but my instinct told me not to waiver into the direction of this handsome gentleman who now gracefully maneuvered me around the dance floor.   My instincts were seldom wrong.

He eyed Carlucci and masked a sneer as a smile. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought it was jealousy that fleeted momentarily across his gaze before returning to his all too aloof stare.

“They say you are known by the company that you keep,” he smiled, ‘that makes you, mysterious, intelligent and possibly dangerous.”

From his inference I assumed he was referring to Carlucci who eyed him casually from the edge of the dance floor.

“Sheep are not dangerous,” I answered and smiled provocatively at Carlucci as we floated past his edge of the floor.

He raised an eyebrow but otherwise did not seem perplexed.  As the music changed, James Ekyl lead me back to my escort and made several contrived attempts at flirting with the women at the bar all the while keeping his eyes riveted on Carlucci and me.  Curling my arm in his he swept me from one area of the room to the next, entertaining me with fascinating commentary and anecdotal narratives of the history of Hub City.

Within his casual chatter he included discreet references to Ekyl which told me the reason for my reservations. He’d use any method available to him to establish some relationship that allowed him a greater report with Gionetti and closer access to Raymond.  I attempted to ponder these ideas when a warm sensation caused by his palm at the small of my back began to be quite distracting.

I sultrily eyed Carlucci mentally sizing him up but could only maintain the gaze momentarily foiled by an intensity I had not expected to be there and suddenly I felt flushed.  He smiled acknowledging my failed attempt at seduction and lifted my face to meet that intensity head on. Smiling again he whispered against my cheek, “Careful little lamb, I am not a sheep.”

My head was spinning in circles the entire evening as I was pulled back and forth between the two gentlemen.  I began to notice a lopsided competition between the two, one that seemed desperately irritating to Ekyl but didn’t seem to disturb Carlucci in the least.

“What is it with you two?” I asked curious.

“Nothing, James wants anything he thinks might belong to me, it amuses me, but it’s not serious. Never the less be careful what you say to him. ”

I could feel his hands possessively holding my waist.   I was beginning to feel a level of attraction I had not considered possible.

“Shall we go?” He said.

“Yes,” I found myself answering knowing full well what he was asking.

“Wait here, I won’t be gone long.”

He walked over to Ekyl and they disappeared behind large polished parlor doors.  A short time later he reappeared and silently escorted me to the elevator. He walked with me to the vehicle and quietly drove a short distance before asking, “You don’t mind if we go to my place?”

“No, not at all”, I answered.

His flat was in an area I had never been to in the city. Clean and organized but somewhat tussled as if he frequently left in a rush.  He took my coat then kissed me deeply for several minutes, afterward taking a deep breath.

“I’m sorry; I’ve been waiting all evening to do that.” He said when he had breathed in again several more times.

I realized for the first time this evening that both pair of eyes I felt watching me were viewing me from the same source. Scrutinizing and evaluating like a test subject in an experiment as well as stalking and sizing me up like some large predator anticipating its attack.

“I won’t let them hurt you, but you may need to take this off now,” he said lightly fingering the delicate fabric of the dress, “I can’t be held responsible for what may happen to it if you wear it much longer.” As he said this he slowly slid the straps down my shoulders.

I looked up into his eyes to find a tenderness I had not expected nevertheless it was match by a spirit of urgency that almost made me lightheaded.

I was surprised to find myself at the mercy of a man who was capable of almost anything.  Or maybe I shouldn’t call it mercy.  Had he actually been willing to give me mercy or had I actually been looking for it under the circumstances, that may have been another thing altogether.  Under the influence of whatever thing this was in his spirit, he handled my body with complete abandon.  Each controlled stroke of his hands seemed a desperate insatiable manipulation just short of clawing, had we not been so enraptured I was certain that he could have torn the flesh from my bones.

Sweat streamed from him as he lifted me over and over.  The look in his eyes nearly consumed me.  Each penetration into my physical being seemed like a desperate attempt at connecting to me on a deeper level.  What was he trying to reach, besides orgasm?  My brain was too occupied to be asking these questions, I was being ravished by a man whose spirit was just short of an animal.  As he grew closer to orgasm I could feel a power striving to control him, but whether it was a power trying to escape or him attempting to subdue it at the time I could not tell.

A single hand crept to my throat and grasped me firmly around the neck with gentle but increasing pressure.  My eyes widen and I grew afraid but he did not let me go.  I opened my mouth to scream, but the pressure from his hand increased preventing enough air to escape from my lungs to allow sound.  I clawed desperately at his shoulders and begged him with my eyes to let me go.

At that moment he was at the height of his orgasm, and from his throat came a sound that was a mixture of the howl and a groan.  The sound of it vibrated the walls.  The hand at my throat released the pressure allowing me to intake breath. I gasped and cursed him as waves of orgasm overtook me, shaking my body from head to toe.

“What did you think you were doing?” I scolded with tears running down my cheeks.

He pressed his finger to my lips, his other hand gently stroking my hair and said, “Sh sh sh,  There are many things you do not know about the man you think I am, I would never hurt you but there are limits,  watch what you say.”

This was not a chastisement, but a warning.  My inner instinct told me not to be afraid, but how could that be, how different was he from the man who had been strangling the prostitutes in the street?  What separated him from the madman that was running around murdering unsuspecting women for no apparent reason?

Still I trusted my instinct.  I knew this man was not someone for me to fear, not in the sense that he would harm me nevertheless it was important for me to be very careful. As we lay there still, his spirit now seemed calm and he casually stroked my skin and we talked about the evening, its highlights, and its purpose.

“James will likely come to see you, but you shouldn’t get involved with him.  He’s a genius, but he cannot read minds, he mustn’t see us together too often, and never tell him anything personal, especially about us. He and his brothers are ruthless and dangerous.”

“What do I do if SIX comes to the event center?”I asked in concern.

“Never call him that again, many people know and refer to him that way, but few except his brothers have ever called him that to his face. People have died just being heard making reference to him using that name. Don’t say it again.”

Thoroughly chastised I moved on.  His face wore a snide grin as he noted my lack of acknowledgement to his rebuff and continued my conversation.

To accentuate the point he asked, “Did you hear what I said?”

I obediently answered only, “Yes.”

“He will likely lose interest as long as he believes you have no interest in me.” He then grew quiet and closed his eyes. I could feel the energy growing again. Round two.

A few weeks later James Ekyl (SIX) strode into the event center.  He was wearing his charm like his well tailored suit in the manner of a cultured gentleman, and though I was aware of him I made no effort to make any recollection of him.

After speaking briefly with my boss, he walked directly over to me. “Good afternoon Ms Spires, or May I call you Cassidy?”

The staff buzzed around as if the King had just come back and had decided he was hungry. They busied themselves serving him expensive dainties and cognac in a bottle I had never seen before. He invited me to sit.

“I really do have work to do?” I attempted to decline.

He motioned me to sit and insisted in gesture saying only, “Please.”

“What can I do for you?” I asked as much without feeling as I could muster.

He began to make small talk telling me of his business and himself and at length posed the query he had come to address.  “So how long have you known Carlucci?”

“I don’t know him at all, I attended the party with him as a favor, in fact I met him on the night of the party right here at my job. “

“That’s funny, from the way you danced I assumed you two had known each other much longer and had a much more intimate relationship.”

“Oh no,” I responded,” I don’t have any relationship with him at all. Besides I’m working on my career and seldom have time for relationships of any kind,” I said.

“Really and what are your plans for the future?”

“I plan to be a manager.” I answered.

“What of the city, interested in power eh?”

“No”, I said, “an events manager.”

I could already feel he was beginning to get bored. His initial cat and mouse game had been foiled and as his intrigue waned so did his interest. His final question put the icing on the cake. “What you don’t find men like Carlucci fascinating?”He asked.

“Actually I prefer the marrying type.”

A Prelude to Hyde (A story of Hub City) © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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