Into the Desert

                           Into the Desert     Ian Garcia sat on the hood of the faded green 78 Ford pick among the blooming yuccas on top of a plateau over looking Bottomless Lakes.  He huddled down in his denim jacket watching the desert sun crawl over tiny purple mountains, Sierra Blanca and El Capitan along the distant eastern horizon. The sun soaked the dessert with heat.  Joint firmly between his teeth, Ian struggled out of the coat.  Puffing till he felt light headed, he rested viewing of the lake and Roswell laid out on the flat lands below him. From up here everything seemed a lot simpler.  Maybe that’s why hermits went into the dessert, he thought.  The fag burned closer to his lips with each drag till he snatched the blunt from his mouth.  He stared at the smoldering paper and flicked the joint over the edge of the thirty foot sinkhole, Devil’s Inkwell – just a few feet from his bumper and beyond the cactus. He tried ignoring the red crater forty feet wide and thirty feet deep and tried to focus his hazel eyes that floated in a red web of veins, making everything hazy. He smiled for a desert there sure were a lot of places to drown yourself. Tugging on his little black toque with the skull and crossbones, he hooded his eyes, scowling at the nothingness west of Roswell.          From under his ass on the hood, he yanked up the letter and held it out in his tattooed hands.  The rejection letter in neat Courier type from the upscale gallery in Santa Fe gave him an impersonal brush off. Courier type, he hated Courier, to damn cutesy. He leaned forward and put his face in his hands, hiding his head in the rejection letter. “Seventy-two hours; Seventy-two hours; Seventy-two hours. Sell the paintings or sell the drugs or Pops loses it all.  If he couldn’t make the payment on the restaurant they would take the building they called home, and Aubela would be off to that hell hole, and Little Theresa can just sit in the county hospital till she dies. Just great, I know, huh?” Tears stung his eyes as he chuckled then shrugged. What was he supposed to do?  He did not want to see Pops and Abuela’s sad wrinkled faces, big eyes expecting him to be a hero. They all told him he would sell the paintings. What did they know? He drove them up there and left them for the owner to consider. What the Hell, did they think he was Don Quixote? Stupid Pops, Quixote wasn’t even real, but you could not shut him up always singing those damn songs. Ian sighed, shoulders slumping. Ian looked at the letter; He wasn’t a hero he was just a guy who worked on cars and painted some crappy folk art – folk art.  You could not tell Aubela that; she would just say, “God gave you the gift to paint a better world.” He rolled his eyes, a gift to paint maybe, but not necessarily the gift to sell. Just because Mrs. Henderson gave him some damn award for art back at good old Goddard High, they were all sure he was special; they looked at him like he was a priest. He scanned the lines on the page and read, “We are sorry we do not currently handle folk art.” He nodded at the letter.  “So much for plan-a; that leaves plan-b; smuggle the drugs – quick trip to Colorado.” He shuddered thinking of Manny’s crew – thick necked, thick skulls, stupid numbers cut in their buzzed heads, made them look like a bunch of punks, but hey, they had lots of guns and some cash. When he pointed out to Manny the gang didn’t have a 401 k-plan or insurance he got a good ass kicking.     Closing his eyes, he folded the crisp paper into a crane and looked at the little good luck bird then sent it sent sailing over the precipice of Devil’s Inkwell. It swirled around and down on the air currents to the aqua water at the bottom of the adobe colored hole.  The paper bird rested on the liquid surface sailing, making a mark on the smooth agate blue water then slowly the paper could not absorb any more and sank under its own weight. Ian grunted and shook his head. He was sure that some where Abuela prayed to Blessed Virgin for his heroic soul.  Don Quixote, man he hated that story – the guy was a looser.  Pops said he’d understand when he found when he found his Dulcinea.  That’s what Pops called Abuela.  Ian rolled his aching eyes.  Pops gave him a good smack when he asked if that meant Aubela was a reformed prostitute.  Fourteen, he was a real smart ass at fourteen.  He grimaced — still was at twenty-five.

He thought of all the hours he spent over the last few months spending all his money on canvas and paints.  He thought of the painting of Beatrice lying naked on the dry creek bed red earth, white body; he wished he could disappear into the work and her.  Stupid gamble now what was he going to tell Pops and Aubela. Ian pulled out the teonanácatl mushroom and put it in his mouth.  He grimaced at the earthy taste as he chewed and then spit — nasty tasting shit.  His mouth tingled and hung open then his mind expanded.  When he opened his eyes the blue of the sky like water-color painting, washed to a deep purple, the land – a scalding snow white.  He held his thumb up and painted in the air with rainbow tracers the curve of the Virgin’s jaw, the fullness of her lips, the seductive slant of her eyes, and fine curve of her neck.     He puffed out his cold breath the fog formed the Queen of Heaven.  He admired the heft of this blond Madonna, but she receded from him in rolling steps.  He slid off the hood and stumbled after the mirage, sand hissing under his boots with each step. “She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies…” Ian stumbled towards the wavering icon.  At the lip of the red void, the image sifted like sand and swirled in the wind of the abyss. “Reality is a real bitch,” he mumbled.  “Whoa!” The edge of the sink hole beneath his boots crumbled.  He stepped back waving his arms.  Sandy walls spiraled down to the pool; the sides gleamed with Pecos diamonds.  He teetered there on the edge.      Ian heard the park ranger’s SUV slid to a stop behind him and a door open.  He glanced back over his shoulder. Officer Beatrice West stepped out, hand on her shoulder mike that pissy look on her sharp little thirty-something face.     “Hey Bea!”  He waved at her.     She adjusted her gun belt and marched towards him.  “You sorry shit.  Get away from there!” Ian’s head spun as he wobbled back to face the edge.  He felt his blood surge in his face. “Get your ass over here! I want to know where that painting is!” She demanded. “Donny’s going to throw a complete conniption fit he finds out you got it.”            He looked down into the bright red hole at the pool some thirty feet wide.  Ian ticked off his list on his fingers – Lose the restaurant, the grandparents, the little sister, the angry, married girlfriend, and the drug dealing cousins. He thought about it, down and out seemed preferable, so he bent at the knees sprang up and dove over the edge. He smiled; this was freedom, the fall from grace. He tried to think; rocks, rocks, this time hit the rocks, but the rush of wind on his face pulled the air from his lungs and thoughts from his head. He thought to cut the water like a thin stiletto but he crumpled on the liquid plain.  His head rang like a gong as he plunged twenty feet below the surface, ears popping.  The dark spun his sense of up and down, and his pounding heart ate up all the air in his lungs.  He saw in the dark Abuela pleading with Our Lady of Guadalupe to save him, Pops gripping his chest at the news of his death, and Little Theresa flat lining in the hospital. “Too bad,” the doctor in standing over her said as he covered Theresa’s blank dead face, “If only Ian had done the right thing.”  Shit, Ian thought.  He wasn’t a hero, but he was all they had.  With the cold crushing, him he kicked towards the light. He broke the water — the cold dessert temperature slapping his face.  “Damn it!”     Ian looked up at Beatrice as she bent at the waist peering down at him. The morning sun blazed on her blond head like a halo, the blue sky almost blinding him. Ian sputtered in the cold water as her must holy voice echoed down to him. “Stupid bastard, I want my painting!”

“Its in Santa Fe! You mean the one of you naked, right?”

“What? If you don’t get it back, you won’t need to jump in no hole to kill yourself, because Donny’s going to shoot us both and plant us in the ground. Now get the Hell out of there. Shit, we’re going to Santa Fe!”

Ian smirked and looked around for the red, sage bush shores, and grunted to himself, “Of course we are.”285504_260532893962029_1679882_n

SNEAK PEAK of NOVEL THREE The Too Tall Tales of Nate Weston Outlaw and Lone Wolf

SNEAK PEAK:
Forward
1889, Harold Prescott editor of The New York Observer
Dearest Reader: This series was presented to me by a dear friend who was noted for her many travels as a journalist to remote locations across the once great frontiers of our nation. While normally The Observer endeavors to print only the most news worthy and substantive of articles, and on occasion, such works of prose, fiction and poetry as will entertain and enrich the mind, these tales were of such a singular and macabre nature as to capture my attention. Presented by my dear friend as true accounts, I took them on with some trepidation and did publish them for a number of weeks as a Western serial of the most unusual type, and so wildly successful was the serial that now I republish it as an autobiography of sorts. This character Nate Weston outlaw, murder, womanizer, and mountain man tells for you the reader a tale so harrowing that ladies and young children may wish to refrain from reading further. I would liken these tales to the bizarre and brilliant stories of Edgar Allan Poe, if it was not for the crass and natural telling of the tales in the voice of the very outlaw himself. However, I can only publish these stories as works of high fantasy for none shall be able to believe them nor turn away from the entertaining, but albeit terrifying, nature of these tales of murder, robbery, debauchery, and yes, strangely Indian lore, ghosts, monsters, and even practices of magic. I would discount all out of hand if not for the veracity and good name of this dear friend of mine who has much been affected by the meeting of this individual, to the point she needs the money from the sale of these stories, so that this intrepid reporter may find solace and recoup her spirit. Read at your own risk and enjoy the stories of Nate Weston, outlaw and lone wolf

.Nate Weston Coming Soon

Ouroboros

VG Wedgeworth

Copyright protected 10-29-15

“I suppose you would call this paradise.” The machete took off two tips of her long fingernails as it bit into a branch. As the shrubby jumba tree shook, jungle birds screamed and flew up and away from them. Gasping, Dr. Kit Collier, snatched her hand back from the tree sagging with red fruit and clutched her fist against her moist chest. Kit huffed out several times with teeth bared as she spread her fingers and grimaced at the blunted nails and then at the machete buried in the branch. She blinked her eyes and turned to look at him.

In the shadows, the thin rays of the sun highlighted the strong hand of Sam Grant upon the machete’s hilt. Kit recoiled as Sam’s other hand slid past her face and caught up the severed snake still wiggling upon the tree so close to her. Kit swallowed when six feet of shiny, brown snake slipped off a branch and fell among the ferns — convulsing. She stared up at Sam; the forest shadows painted his tan, lean face, black and green. In the scant light, Sam glistened from drops of sweat covering him. His pale eyes glimmered, liquid bright. She studied him, unsure of the man she saw there. “I promised to get you home alive,” he said, looking at her, unsmiling.

“Always the savior, Sam,” Kit mumbled and then huffed a soft laugh. Having worked for the World Health Organization in the islands south of Indonesia for four years, she knew the venom of the Tiapan and grimaced. In her mind, the dirty work would all be worth it if she published.

“Nope, not a savior.” He stared straight ahead past her. “Tiapan’s big,” he said with a cough and frowned, “but it’s the little ones, tiny ones, like the Red Jacks that kill you.” She looked up at him feeling small. Every detail of Sam, to her, seemed blindingly sharp, black stubble on his chin, moisture on his upper lip, dark straight brows. He wiped his hand over his short hair. “The smaller they are the more potent.” He frowned and slid the machete back into the sheath with a sharp clink, sweat dripping into his unblinking eyes. Something about that made Kit’s brow furrow.

“Are you feeling alright?” She lifted a hand to touch his face. “You need to be drinking water.”

He shrugged and waved her off.

Kit’s mouth formed a tight little line at his dismissal of her. “I don’t know how you convinced me to come out here?” She smirked.

“Yes you do,” Sam said. Kit felt his hands on her shoulders, but he only turned her around and gave her a slight shove to get her moving again.

She frowned focusing on her goals, her success, her need to organize a future for herself, but squaring her shoulders, Kit moved along seeing in her mind the drinks in the shambles of a bar where they talked of regrets. The sex in the dim hotel room where the slanted sallow light from the dirty windows, so like the light of the jungle, lay in stark lines over their naked bodies as they violently came together on his rumpled bed. He could not get enough of the booze; she could not get enough of him; it was hell for them both to fall off the wagon. Yes, Sam was right. She did know why she came, to make him apart of her success, to claim him again.

The Indonesian porter and her nurse ahead of them stopped and waited. “Are the little creatures far?” Kit asked. She paused in her stride and blinked hard to clear her mind of the visceral images of her sex with Sam.

“Just up a head,” Sam said, producing a GPS monitor. “Not too far now.” He wiped the back of his hand across his moist upper lip; she hoped he had not been drinking. “You’ll see,” he muttered. Kit looked up into his slightly feverish eyes.

She felt her heart racing, thinking maybe he was again the young wildlife photographer, the radical. He had been so passionate back then, fearless. He had called her a sell out when she took the job with WHO, published in journals, and spoke before the United Nations. He faulted her ambition and called her bourgeois when they legally separated, so she could climb that ladder of success. She gritted her teeth and moved forward on the path trudging along burdened by failing convictions and weighty ambition. Sam Grant said when they divorced he was dropping out because of her, but really she thought he sold out for he made money faring Western tourists to remote islands to gawk at native people who had chosen to reject outside influences. He made a buck at the expense of the culture and health of people who should be protected. “They are real, more real, than real.” Sam seemed to be talking to himself as he scanned around them. “I want you to be the one to see them.”

“Right, of course, the entire place should be made a reserve for their protection, to keep people like your tourist out of here, Sam.” Kit shook her head and pushed through the bush pulling her hand back at the sensation of something climbing up her arm, and let out a strangled grunt at the enormous green caterpillar three inches in diameter. Kit snarled and knocked the bug aside.

“I don’t see how a viable population could survive out here even on a good sized island like this one. I’m skeptical Sam; I’m not some crypto biologist, you know, but I suppose we might find Michael Rockefeller.” She smiled to herself not looking back. She frowned when he did not take the bait. It was an old joke between them about the disappearance of the Vice President’s son on a remote island killed by crocks or headhunters in the 1960’s. He loved to scare her with the story; it was a perfect ding against all things modern; a reminder nature still reigned supreme. She smiled tentatively back at him wondering if he was watching her ass and felt her heart flutter foolishly.  He stared fixedly ahead of them as they moved; she shivered. Still it was not, like Sam to miss a beat.

“Sam, I say, Michael Rockafellor?”

“Right? Right? Heart of darkness.”

She nodded pleased to have him back on track. “Well, that is all off set by your GPS, the Internet, international flights, around the clock. I suppose you do realize you use all of those things.”

“Yes.” Sam mumbled.

“Hypocrite.” She smirked and stopped to put one slim leg over a large fallen tree trunk that her porter and nurse had easily surmounted. “So short sighted. As soon as I ascertain the situation, I’ll make a report to the UN, WHO headquarters in New Deli; I don’t know how long it will take to get a response, but I want to make sure we handle things carefully. You said this island is in international waters?” Kit sliced her hand on a palm. “Ow.”

“Yes,” Sam said. She noticed he watched impassively her holding the wound.   She shook her hand and hissed at the cut. Kit frowned at him and fumbled in her belt pouch and tore the packet and began to wrap her hand. Drops of perspiration rolled down her cheek and hair clung to her face. “It’s in the middle of no where, but I suppose we should thank technology for getting us here, or we wouldn’t even know there was something here to protect. Okay let me extend a little gratitude to the Neanderthal and his plane. Thanks Sam.” She looked up and smiled at Sam, — her eyes tracking over his broad shoulders — but he looked away giving her that rugged profile.

“Sure of course,” he muttered.

“I mean I am surprised you didn’t called your buddies back at Science Times and get yourself some cash; maybe with the pictures you could get back on top. Didn’t you say there were a small string of islands out here, first discovered by the Spanish, but so isolated that…” Kit looked up and frowned as she did not see her nurse.  “Juanita, come back here with me. Don’t walk too far ahead.” Kit called out. The jungle began to quiet, and Kit spun considering the trees and tangle of vines around her. Kit hesitated with Sam close, his scent a heady thing, and his calm intent gaze on her. He seemed to have little response to her. She looked up at him a little frightened again. Juanita appeared down at the end of the path and gave a wave.

“Juanita?” Kit let out a breath and turned marching along. “When we get close, I want to make sure that everyone follows protocol. We must be very careful.” She looked at the suffocating green walls all around her which ticked with intense heat and vibrated with strange life.

“What’s that? What protocol?” Sam asked. She admired Sam’s ropey muscles as he swiped at the sweat on his brow with his forearm.

“We just put on masks, gloves,” Kit said. “It’s not complicated.”

“You won’t need that.”

“Yes, Sam, we will. We run a real risk of infecting them. I just want to observe their camp. You said they had a regular camp. I just don’t want us to be the one to stamp out the spotted owl; Humans have done enough of that.”

Sam made no comment but leaned against a tree catching his breath and was blinking sweat out of his eyes.

“I wonder…” She pushed through bushes.

“What?” Sam asked.

“Maybe we should have brought a wildlife biologist. I have a friend from the University of Queensland. I really don’t know where to begin with this sort of field work.”

“I said, they were people; not like us, but… ” Sam followed her.

“So you say, but being so close to a primate yourself, you may not be able to…” Kit snickered as she stepped through the bushes. They stood in a small clearing the light twinkled between the crisscross vines forming a living lattice of tiny trumpet flowers, not the normal coral color, but a deep glimmering red. Like millions of little drops of blood, the flowers hung suspended – the petals almost appearing a translucent liquid. Kit, Juanita, and the porter walked out under them looking up at the natural spectacle.

“Beautiful,” Sam said. His eyes gleamed though he stood only at the edge of Kit’s experience and did not move under the flowering lacey vines. Kit nodded as she marveled looking up. She knew that was saying a lot for Sam; he had spiked trees in the great Northwest, been in crystal caves in South America, lived at the International Science Station at the North Pole, photographed endangered wolves in the northern states and ridden in a mini sub to the bottom of the sea. There was not much Sam had not seen or photographed, but still, they were just flowers; she was surprised he was so awed by them.

The vines above them trembled and stirred as though they knew they were being viewed. Juanita, the porter, and Kit looked up at the shivering leaves. Kit narrowed her eyes expectantly at the blooms, and then the bud shaped flowers puffed pollen in the air that danced like gold dust over them. It fell upon them.

“Oh my,” Kit said. She heard Juanita behind her burble a laugh, and the porter spun in a circle looking up. Kit glanced to Sam leaning against the tree to share her wonder. In the shadows, he stared at her, his face a pale mask. His detachment left her guts twisted, and she shivered in the heat, her brow furrowing.

A shrill trumpeting chorused through the air shattering the moment. Juanita and the porter moved together and swiveled this way and that watching the thrashing bushes. Kit turned in a circle, as a small elephant with a shoulder height of three feet weighing maybe four hundred pounds smashed through the brush only thirty feet from Kit and her party. Kit’s heart drummed in her ears, and she spun on shaky legs. Skirting the edge of the group’s vision, they saw something pursuing, leaping, and running, small dark simian creatures that Kit only barely made out. Juanita gasped. The porter pulled his side arm and backed up towards the women.

“Follow!” Sam shoved off the tree and charged down the newly formed path of broken branches.

Kit laughed and beamed with delight at her discovery of a new species and how it would change their lives; it was like old times and might lead to a better future for them. “Wait, protocol, you idiot!”   She screamed sprinting after him, hands up to fend off slapping palm fronds. Juanita followed calling for her to stop. Kit sprinted forward, and the green world flowed around her. Moving quickly, she seemed to hardly touch the ground avoiding all the pitfalls. The sound of her heart filled her mind. The trail melted on the edges of her vision. She anticipated the euphoria of running, the endorphins, but suddenly felt weak in the knees.

Dehydration? Sunstroke? Loss of coordination suggested something else; her air ways felt tight; her skin tingled. “Pollen?” She gasped. She felt a faint coming on and stumbled to a halt trying to stand erect holding on to a sapling. She looked back behind her. Juanita and the porter were sprawled on the ground. Panting for air and drenched in sweat, she turned her head the opposite way and saw in the distance Sam. He stood alone a terrible figure, a pillar in the path, a thing out of place, but unafraid. Kit shivered violently and fell to her knees then to the ground. She lay there — paralyzed. A neurotoxin? All possible futures she conceived swirled down to this nexus in time, this moment of panting and desperate survival, as she saw Sam moving towards her. In the bushes, there were many eyes. She mumbled thickly, “Ambush.”

Kit numbly watch Sam shuffle up to her. She could make out his boots. Kit’s eyes tracked back and forth until she saw thin dark hairy legs with tiny child like feet, pad softly to her. The little creature stood above her breathing heavily through its mouth, not that Kit could make her head shift, so she could look up at it. Alone on the forest floor, Kit wanted to scream. She wished she had never come here — she wished she could leave. Kit knew Sam knelt by her from his grunt and the rustle of his clothes, but all she saw were his legs and one knee. “You never really understood me.” He struggled and huffed to finish his statement, “I am real; they are real. You were never real.” He paused and coughed hard. “They are committed and so am I to real change. Don’t fight them; they can get inside your head.” Sam’s fingers lightly brushed her temple. “They did mine.”

If Kit could have trembled, she would have. She saw another creature come out of the dark.

The small male squatted before her, the musk of the little creature intense. Sam some where above her shifted back and removed his hand. Kit could do nothing but stare transfixed in horror and wonder at the naked little being. The creature bent low, his face primitive and sloped, but human somehow. Long dark hair slipped over his shoulder as the childlike male moved in a crouch closer. Deep set eyes of black looked her over. He spit in his small palm and his hand came down over her face. The little one smeared the greasy substance in Kit’s slobbering mouth and vulnerable staring eyes. Kit made a whimpering noise as her eyes blurred.

Sam squatting next to her, whispered, “I explained to you about the human impact on the planet, right? These little ones agree with us. They are going to do a paradigm shift for us. They will get in your head and bind up your memories. They will move you as they did me at first. You always think you are so fucking smart, Kit. You think we are the only smart things on this planet?” He sneered. “They’ve been talking, these others, only they speak in their head talking about all of us out there beyond the island. They’ve been dreaming of us and the future; I don’t think we, we fit in their vision. We had a dream once, you and I, now we have to be that agent of change you so wanted.” He leaned down low his lips on her ears. “Don’t worry they have a low tech solution to the global problem.” His breath kissed her cheek, a Judas kiss.

Kit could only pant paralyzed. As the little being laid his hands on her something seemed to move from his hand like a force, a pressure on her head, and she felt her heart speed up as the creature insinuated his will upon her. Her mind was stimulated as though jungle spiders crept among her synapses and made her brain their meat, and Kit wanted to scream. She felt parts of her mind being blocked from access, why she was here? Her respiration was roaring in her ears. She felt the creature through esoteric means sift the truth of who she was from her rushing red blood cells. Where was she? Her eyes were fixed on its tiny feet. The dirty little thing made her feel as though it fingered the very marrow of her bones. This place was now unmentionable, something to be seen a nightmares but never to be communicated. One by one they came out of the verdant shadows gathering on the ground around and collectively silencing Kit’s rational mind. She felt the little male close to her violating her consciousness as his tiny hand pressed on her skull. She could not speak, but was their victim, and the world blurred as the organic matter rubbed in her eyes infected her view of the world.

“See you don’t have to protect them…” Sam muttered as he sat on his haunches among the creatures.

In her mind the little ones planted panic which promoted her desire to go on a long global trek, of airports and passports, and layovers until she journeyed all the way back to Texas. She was a thing moving on very long strings like the martinet of the dark ones, and little would she be able to say, for in her mind they perched. Her congested lungs and heart pounded as images swirled of cotton fields and wide flat plains, dusty roads, solitary farm houses, her sunlit mother with arms wide; only to step back and see her mother’s face grow waxy and proclaim, “I saw a fourth horseman…” Kit’s eyes widened understanding her function in the new order of things, and shuddered in breaths as she baked in the tropic heat, ripening.

Kit felt Sam leaned down and whispered into her ear, and all she could do was lay like a corpse, unable to scream.

Months later, the candlelight glared on the glass table as Dr. Kit Collier renowned physician, scholar, statesman, humanitarian stared down at her table with guns before her. No lights; no air conditioning; she felt like she was suffocating. An explosion somewhere off in the distance rattled the many glass windows of her warehouse apartment in Deep Elum, Dallas. She jerked placing her palms down on the table as though she could stabilize the world and brace herself. Through her tears she watched the fire gobbling up city blocks. Lifting a thin hand, she used the back of it to swipe at the sweat above her lip and then pulled at the wet tendrils of brown hair plastered to her cheeks and neck and huffed in labored breaths and coughed again until her lungs felt on fire. Hands shaking, she picked up the nine millimeter; took two deep breaths and opened her mouth testing the feel and taste of the barrel; she hesitated and wondered if her teeth would get knocked out by the slide when she bit down and fired — maybe the slide would pinch her lips. Sam had so hated guns, hunting, and violence. She smiled at the irony. He told her she looked ridiculous trying to use one because she couldn’t pull back on the slide and show the empty chamber as a guide had shown them. Angry at him, she had yanked back the slide which slipped and cut her finger; all to show him. Weak hands maybe, she thought laying down the nine millimeter, but I out lasted them all — even Sam. That made her stop. All the world was gone and Sam too, tears flowed down her face, trailing through the dots of sweat on her cheeks. They had been so wooden, hollow as she moved along under their will more powerful than her own, just a carrier.

Kit sat momentarily paralyzed thinking of how she had prepared all her life as a physician for just such a global disaster which was inevitable, and she was sure so sure she could stem the tide with personal will and technology. The fires below danced and swayed as one of the military water trucks near the triage centers at the end of the block blew up, and the windows reverberated like the skin on a drum. She knew, she alone heard it. The image of the city dying was so vital, primitive — beautiful, she thought. She picked up the heavy Desert Eagle lying next to the Px4 Storm and considered it, but wasn’t sure she could pull the trigger it was so big. She laid the weapon back down with a clink on the glass, and picked up the old fashion thirty-eight revolver. It felt right. She loosely cradled the weapon in both hands near her chest and rocked.

“All gone. All gone,” Kit sobbed. She had tried to tell people in Jakarta, and Tokyo, and LA, and Dallas, but her jaw and mind would not unclench to scream a warning, to draw attention, provoke security in airport after airport. She moved like a ghost among them, bumping them, brushing them, sneezing, wheezing, coughing on smiling tourist, worried business men, laughing children, kissing lovers. She was an instrument in a global rite of passage. She torched civilization for them, infecting plane after plane of passengers bound to the four corners of the world as she and Sam made their way home, he to Paris, and she to Texas, the other two she knew not where. Her face felt like an expressionless mask — her eyes alone looking out and moving over the devastation. The others on the island had sent her back to the world like a homing pigeon, patient zero, and not all the government money in the world could stop the disease the creatures knowingly gave her. She wondered if the CDC’s promise of sealed government enclaves existed. Politicians ranted on failing communication arrays, and armies marched in city streets. People planned, and prayed, and even limited missile strikes on large infected populations failed to halt the disease as it spread around the world. All that preparation, planning and struggle to survive, and somewhere on that remote island, in her mind, she could see THEM, the others, sitting on haunches, small and patient, waiting for the fire of man to go out, so they might inherit the world.

She remembered Sam’s final words to her in the jungle, “See you don’t have to protect them, we’re the endangered species.” His soft laugh had touched her face tenderly.

Tears rolled down her cheeks now as she viewed the world through windows framing the panorama of a new dawn which washed away the violent red night revealing the smoldering ashes of a once great city. Mission complete, her will her own again, finally, Kit lifted the revolver to her mouth and freed the world of one more human.

Nobody

NOBODY

By V.G. Wedgeoworth

People tell you that you have to have a name, something that distinguishes you and makes you real. That this moniker is who you are, that it gives meaning to your life. That’s not true. After all, how many of us actually have anything to do with the name we are given. I realize now that naming was only a way of tagging a person for tracking, evaluation, and confinement. I’ve had six different names in my life. Each one was given to me. Each was meant to mold or shape me – Dr. Mason, Victim, Pariah, Rebel, Monster, and Savior. I tried to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by embracing that last name of savior, even this restricted me from who I was meant to be, blinded me, bound me, and limited me. When we cling to labels we destroy all that we may be. It wasn’t until I divested myself of all my names that I embraced freeing humility and a selfless purpose. My final name, I will never know in this life, but I will answer to it in the next. Lose your name, and follow me, and know your true potential.

Dr. John Mason — This was the man I was, that lived before now. The name was given to him by his parents who had high expectations for him and thought it a solid good name. They pushed for that first title, profession, to give him importance in the world, and they had the money and prestige to see he got what they wanted for him. Dr. John Mason was a planner, builder, and healer. Tall and handsome, I suppose by the old standards with dark brows, broad shoulders, lean muscles, for in those days, men had time to obsess about physique. In those days, there were many men like him who thought that life was made up of the things they could hold in their hands, move, and manipulate. They thought that only hedonism was the measure of life and purpose, and thus, Dr. Mason was a collector of things — proud of all he owned. That is not to say that the ideologies that denounced wealth and property were any better, for they were just as maniacal and short sighted, but this is not their story.   Mason had wealth, health, relationships, skills, career, pleasures, renown, and purpose, all by his design for his benefit. He was a man of reason and gave little credence to faith, spiritual development, and grand designs beyond those of his own making. He thought to mold his lives and the lives of others by his will for the good as he denoted it. This is what he thought life was. I tell of this to show the change we should go through to be our true selves.

Dr. Mason believed that all things changed only slowly and by his doing, and those extraordinary moments of chaos that all physicians experience could be put right by a man of logic, and organized if things were only placed into proper perspective. A war was on the horizon, it had been a long time coming. It had been the end results of too many people competing to push their view of order and righteousness, or populations which lived in comfort and could not be bothered to see beyond their own lives. The Middle East was on fire, old tensions between Russia, China and the West arose over new issues. In every nation there was out of control debt, death of old markets and the rise of new ones, and everyone grabbing for resources. When war seemed eminent, there was little reaction by most of the people around Dr. Mason. War was a word, a thing, anticipated but never felt, or perpetrated and only seen from a distance. Such big events were viewed by men like Mason on the media outlets like a sports event. The media displayed it all — riots around the world, mass killings, domination of the weak and cruelties by petty tyrants and tyrannical theologies and ideologies. The pontificating but bloated self-righteous Western nations sat back and put out condemning and meaningless sound bites. The outbreak of war, in full came, with shock and awe when the West Coast and East Coast were hit by missiles. It was terrifying, but not devastating to those that watched the few cities that took the brunt.   Now the few thousands that died just became reasons for special theme songs on the news and endless coverage, but even though it was frightening if one was not personally impacted, well life went on as it had. . He and his family, friends, and co-workers watched in horror the approaching doom and being so interconnected in technology we could not stop emoting about our short lives. People panicked in the streets. Governments either killed communications or crooned pleasantries to fearful populations The government knowing the sagging Tower of Bable was about to topple over did all it could to prop of the monstrosity with wild economic policies and quantitative easing. This gave the appearance of a stalwart bulwark against disaster. However, all things are interconnected. Soon food and vital supplies from overseas were disrupted by the attacks on major seaports. This sent stocks tumbling. Now the public was galvanized to support anything the national government thought needed for this war effort. Mason was sure that educated bureaucrats would successfully manage the crisis, he trusted in institutions and in his own position in the structure.

A practical man Dr. Mason watched for answers, plans, to form from the institutions that ran his life and kept society progressing. There were thoughtful discussions, calls for national actions, neighborhood cooperation, and hospitals began rallying resources. Mason organized his life, his profession, his wife and children, and stock piled all that he thought defined security, but there was not as much time as he hoped, not as much order as was needed. The world was solidifying, freezing up into the way it would be when the war impacted the doctor’s life, and the outlook was not good. Some things you could not stop nor prevent and as a doctor he knew this truth, but as a proud man, he felt certain that by his very will he could make the world right. It was frustrating, for what would a modern World War look like? Where were the defined battle grounds? It seemed the most unlikely thing, but it appeared the war was coming home to his nation and nothing could be done to stop it. The world had been waiting for this moment, when Mason’s country was too weak economically to keep a military strong enough to protect itself. The nation had depended on its reputation, its good name to save it and stave off the power mongers. Stronger, foreign navies, better missiles, and technology attacks threatened all Mason knew. Along the border, enemies of all kind crossed in bringing either lawlessness or terror and sabotage. The war was like a virus spreading and weakening the host.

The war led to internal strife. The doctor had been a conservative, but he was not overly interested in politics because his wealth had sheltered him, and he had assistants to deal with overwhelming bureaucracies. However, partisan anger long simmering which had been kept cool by a life of plenty finally boiled over when minor disruptions in the supply chain happened. Now all that festering hate and name calling and labeling became protests, riots, fights, deaths. Labels segmented society, broke down communication and endangered all. Good people long unwilling to hear the angry voices of their neighbors were left aghast at the rage. He like, everyone around him, realized that all they thought was real was fragile and shattering.

It seemed that this new reality impacted even his home. The strife confused everything in the doctor’s life. Before now, he knew who he was and who his wife was. Everything was in its place. Laura, she was that beautiful woman that looked so good on a man’s arm, a charming woman, but now she just looked frayed and harried. His wife, Laura, was not supportive of his stockpiling of goods. She did not like his hoarder’s mentality. She yelled at him when he brought home the weapons, and she forced him to lay down the law and tell her how it was going to be. Mason’s ferocity on the subject of preparedness stunned his wife. He needed her now more than ever to fall in-line. It left his home a muted battleground too. This left Dr. Mason stressed, angry, lashing out at his family and co-workers and looking for relief in foolish expressions. At the hospital, he kissed a woman for which he had long lusted. In his office, he had pulled her to him and kissed her hard and felt her acknowledge his need in return. He was a practical man not given to regrets and remorse and took what he needed to keep himself going, and she gladly gave it to him, still, the encounter gave him nothing. He explained it in his head as just a need and a moment to find respite and help her out as well. It happened, but it did not take away his sense of loss of control. It did not make him happy or resolute to face what was coming. It put an invisible wedge between himself and his wife. Something’s he could not control or put in their proper place, certainly not his wife, but he could not see that yet.

The war had actually come home to them. The missile attacks moved across the sky arcing over the land that they had thought was safe. They all believed the defenses they had would save them but over major population centers EM Pulses, dropped them back to the Stone Age, overnight. There was talk of nuclear strikes as war marched forward. What did it matter if there was talk of their soldiers going overseas when they could not field a full military? Rome was burning. As the president, talked of high minded values and the need for unity and order, the people knew it was Nero fiddling away in the burning capitol. In private lives, every prayer was said, but there was a sense of finality as cities burned and communication became fragmented. Laura begged Mason to leave the city with her, to go to their country home. She had the children gathered up and their things packed. He told her they were staying, he was not leaving it, all of this, behind him. They stood toe to toe warring with each other as worldwide combat raged around them. She fell back mentally and retreated in the face of his strong opposition. He knew he had won the battle, but he had lost something in the gain; something he could not yet understand.

Proud men and women, like Mason, went to work, in factories, at military bases, government offices, and at public hospitals. Everything had changed but some things did not, the need to keep things going. Food and basics were in short supply and violence along the border increased. The bombings did not stop. At work, the other woman was a solitary figure, not in his life but passing by him, and how she chose to end her days was her business. They parted company with only and nod of the head to one another. All these things and processes and possessions were the basis of his life. The ending of them, he thought would be the ending of him.

A momentary lull in the war came. The president, in pictures, shook hands with those of other Western leaders who accommodated enemies far and wide to gain security and stability. These men of politics did not seem to find their actions as complicit with the enemies and their world-wide network of terrorism. Still the slowing of the war made everyone hopeful. The doctor looked upon his preparations and called himself wise and kissed his wife and patted his children’s heads. We thought we were reborn. How the Western men of the age called themselves forward thinking, how they would all now build a better more efficient world, but they under estimated the commitment of the despots of theocracies. In Mason’s own country, the homegrown radicals rabid for progressive change, or the angry heartland patriots went from fiery rhetoric to fire bombs. People clung to their old paradigms and group identities. As the West struggled up onto its knees, and thought it had survived, there came the silent, final stroke of the war.

Illnesses, tumors, madness, mutations, still births, and the living death, followed on the heels of war. The devoted zealots of political and theological ideologies acting as carriers crisscrossed the globe.   Cities streets, airports, docks, train stations, and borderless nations became the new battlegrounds. Bombs, aerosols, devices set off by this group or that carried deadly pathogens to kill off all their political or racial enemies; this became the new war front. For this there was no preparation, and even the CDC and WHO were left in wonder at how far the enemy would go. Designer pathogens and failing antibiotics were the spiraling horror. Dr. Mason felt sure that long hours of hard work would solve the crisis; the war had made them efficient at staving off death. After a long shift at work, I remember standing looking out over the deteriorating city with Laura. Silently, we stood like stone columns never touching, but supporting the same world. I remember the smell of her coffee as she stood sipping it. She would not look at me, but stared out over the world as if she was trapped in our apartment. Coffee was such a rarity, all I thought was I hoped she left me some. He felt alone, Mason, but resolved. The doctor was sure there would be time to fix his relationship with Laura. He would figure it out. For now, silence was fine.

TS Elliot was right, the end came not with a bang but with a whimper. The illness quietly crept up on people. Where had this disease begun? Who knew? Was it one of the many terrorist biological attacks? An anarchist’s answer for the crumbling world? The tactful notices from the newly created world-wide government went out. Doctors were called to battle stations. The government’s propaganda had vigorous and healthy people smiling in the face of death. One only had to be brave, stalwart, and do as you were told, and the society would overcome. Dr. Mason had his own cheery mantra that ran in his head – stay focused, keep on schedule, and things will be just fine. Having survived the war the doctor felt invincible; there was nothing they could not survive. Laura again begged Mason to leave now, now that the war was done. She tried to convince him to retreat with her and their children. In the beginning he dismissed her concerns even as he had his own misgivings, for hope ran high until the dying, and the waves of death swept over them: fever, pain, nodules, bleeding. In forty-eight hours of catching it, you were no one, dead or worse.

Dr. Mason stood in wards of panicked people in what was once called Dallas, Texas as the world’s national and state governments, failed. Infrastructure collapsed. Hunger riots raged. Militaries conflicted with civilians. He kept thinking if he stayed in place as he had done with the biological terror attacks he would be a fulcrum for the careening world, but that was only hubris. His paradigm shifted and the normalcy bias died along with millions. The dead piled up. They were outside on the ground. They were hauled away until there was no one to take them away. He turned to home. Long was the drive through the burning city. Acts unspeakable, pitiless crime were on every street corner, if he would stop and look, but he only thought of his own dark drama; if he could not control the world, he would retreat from it. He had to get home to Laura and the children. With everything out of control, he told himself that his family relied on him and that gave him a purpose around which he could wrap his mind.

His family came first; if he saved them he could save his sense of himself. Only then did he heed Laura’s dire warnings and they gathered at their home at the lake south of Dallas. His mother, father, wife, and children sat and prayed incessantly for the plight of others. They took solace in their label of Christians. Mason had taken solace in his label as physician and leader, but in the big house by the lake, no amount of stolen medicine, tenderness whispered, nor sleepless nights save them from the illness– father, mother, sister, brother-in-law, Laura, and his children. One by one they went down. He did not look out onto the world but ignored all calls for help. The hardest part had been looking into Laura’s eyes, beautiful grey, feverish, eyes. Dr. Mason spoke words of comfort, and reassurance, and his wife, she said nothing. Still it ended with him curled around his pale wife, holding her body, and then that of his children. They were gone and the burning world was perfectly framed in the big windows of the house on the lake. He had to finish up this part of his life and hang on to who he was.

The black smoke curled over their funeral pyres outside of the city. They died in the later waves of the illness. He stood watching the flames carry them away. Laura had been right, and he had listened too late. In the end they passed away taking his given name, John, with them, until he was just a thing.

“Dr. Mason!” At the hospital, they all cried from bed to bed until he was dizzy, but it was not a name just an alarmed that sounded. The death toll was so great that triage was a joke. Mason and the other doctors became mindless automatons wandering about patching a little here and there administrating dwindling resources. It was all quite pointless. His things were gone, his family gone. All he had left was his role as doctor.

The medical professionals had to learn quickly to think on the local level. No one was coming to save Dr. Mason and the others. It was a nightmare from which some doctors and nurses fled. Some worked themselves literally to death. One day the sound of a gunshot in the hospital shuddered Dr. Mason who ran to find a colleague had killed himself in the critical care unit where others fought for life. He had stood looking down at the man he once knew who had shattered his skull and splattered his brains all over the clean white room. I felt… I felt nothing as I looked at him. I thought that could be me. I knew why he did it; our titles made us victims of outrageous expectations. Mobs threatened us and chanted that we solve the problem or die. To save us we were imprisoned by rag tag military units that tried to form some order and control the avenues to medical care. The men in charge, dirty, crazed, uniformed men, made clear that Mason’s only value was in that title of doctor. He lived, ate and was protected because of his role. Security was an illusion and even the men with weapons knew it. He saw the soldiers up and down the hospital corridors staring out the windows at the ebbing and flowing mass of humanity that shouted for help, life, or blood. Mason was sure these men had no idea how to really control the situation. Dr. Mason felt he was becoming lost in the sea of troubles bound for nowhere and unsure he was even a man any more.

The human race seemed doomed, and after the massive death came a new plague and famine. Only the plague was a joke for it did not kill, but only left the victims a molting thing of pain and rage, corpse-like in appearance. If one caught the fever, the person either developed a dementia with homicidal rage while suffering from a regenerative necrosis (constant death of the epidermal only to be regenerated, almost) or you mutated and maintained your mind but suffered from the regenerative necrosis; either way the victim was hideously damaged and suspect. Many of these that developed the living death were taken away by pretentious government people, who appeared with armed men claiming to still represent some national authority. How could the doctors stop this? In truth the doctors could not save these infected ones. Mason considered them dead on their feet, and so what difference, he thought, did it matter if some of these patients were taken away from the hospital for testing. He would have liked to study the subjects, but he was a surgeon and not a first choice to study the virus, and so maybe it was for the best. When Dr. Mason came upon a weary nurse that had incorrectly put in a shunt for an IV he noticed the curious healing aspect of the virus the damage to the vein and arm were repaired over a short amount of time. It was as if the illness killed and rebuilt you sparking activity changing the very nature of the DNA. This Mason understood might be why the government took such people away. Maybe the government would find a cure or at least discover the nature of the regenerative process. This self-deception was the death knell of the man, for in his cruelty, knowing full well these poor souls were being taken by the government down a dark road, never to return, Mason, turned his back on them. In this way, he was already a monster before he transformed into one.

Victim — The day I grew ill, it was during the final wave of the illness. I remember I looked down and seeing the first spot upon my hand, I felt the fever roll through my aching body as I stood in one of the disheveled hospital wings. I was so angry at my own body betraying me. Moving away from others in the ward, I isolated myself and slipped off my clothes and stood under a shower nozzle in the employees’ locker room, grateful we still had water provided. I stared down at my thin muscled body at the ulcers forming on my chest which would lead to the webbed scarring as the living death transformed me. I tried to hide my condition by wearing a hazmat suit and retreated to a disheveled and unused lab. I told my colleagues I needed a break and wanted to study and understand the illness, but I was not a researcher.   It was painful, these ulcers, that appeared and disappeared leaving scars only to return again and repeat. I ached all the time. Still it had become evident that there was a promise in the illness, an interesting aspect in the webbing scars that seemed to form and regenerate. The regenerative aspect was curious. I was not sure I could fully understand my changing state. Perhaps in the illness there was the very cure to many things. I tried to be me, to be Dr. Mason still, but it was no use. I tried to take the time to study this phenomenon and send messages to the commanding officer of the hospital who was down the hall. I was told that there were studies already underway by the government, and I need not concern myself. Somehow the idea the government was taking people like me was not comforting. I worked night and day testing the virus, the chemical reactions and watched for how it interacted with human DNA. I did this study until weary I undressed and lay down on a cot in the lab, giving over to the exhaustion and the transforming power of virus.

Finally, one weary morning, after a long night of studying the amazing regenerative nature and my own mutated DNA, I awoke to the aghast look of a friend, a fellow physician who sought me out in the lab. I lifted a hand to my once handsome face and felt the first ulcer on my cheek. Friends put me in a ward alone. I hung my head, knowing the last of who I was, was slipping away from me, and that all I had been so proud of was crumbling, finally. They argued and railed against my fate. I was numb, but when I looked up they were all gone. My former lover, a stern nurse whom I had known for years, laid out a syringe and morphine. She retreated with an efficient nod of respect. They left me alone in the room assuming I would do the right thing. I considered oblivion, I did. I thought of dying, embracing death and going away, but the memory of Laura in the dark by a candle softly singing The Chaplet of Divine Mercy to my children came to me. Her soft voice, a lilting whisper in my mind chanted in song gentle words. Why this would have impacted me so, I was not sure, as I was a confirmed atheist, but this insubstantial memory of her love for life was the thin thread that kept me tethered, and so I disappointed them and lived, though I now knew what it was like to be a victim, but now I became something else, not a victim, no for victims got sympathy but the virus made me and others into something dark and alien and new.

Pariah — Once infected I was a pariah like all those who caught the Living Death, most were wholesale slaughtered. The assumption in the world where communication broke down was that even if a patient was not infectious, the infected might still become homicidal as some did. I went from being honored and prized by the fragile remaining human population to someone detested. I knew I should not get on the truck. I knew when I saw the military convoy pull into the hospital driveway. I was too numb, and was resolute to follow this final path. It felt strange as they marched the pariahs down from the wards — strange, because we stayed and did not run or fight. There must have been twenty infected persons, shambling down the long empty corridor. Heads hanging down, shoulders slumped and moaning we moved along with the men in mop4 suits. I never saw a friendly face in the hospital. We passed by windows in the hall looking into wards and offices. I saw only the backs of people that had once stood with me. It was the longest walk of my life. With every step, I was altered. I was sure they would execute us, and I just did not care as I had decided I was nothing, just a thing marking time until the end.

Out of the remnants of the city they drove us. The sun was bright and hurt so that those in the back of the tarp covered trucks huddled together away from the end of the truck. Lines of military vehicles full of we waking corpses were driven by armed men far into the countryside. When we stopped by a burnt down farm house, the authorities and their uniformed minions argued as if orders from above were garbled and suspect. I remember how one thin young soldier with his face wrapped in a scarf turned his bright eyes on me. He looked like he was staring at the devil. Separated out, labeled and sorted, that was how I felt. To my surprise, we did not drive to some ditch in a field but to a camp. We climbed out to face the fences and wandering rag tag guards. How many times had this very scene been played out in human history? We entered into non-existence. The soldiers did not feed us nor house us. We were corralled in what appeared to be a storage unit facility with all the garage doors open wide. The storage units had been rummaged through and there was an odd assortment of human debris everywhere along the narrow black top roads between the units. It was a strange place to be, there with all the cast offs of society. Hundreds at first then a few thousand were stored here for some reason. At first we ran in groups here and there looking to escape, but the poor excuse of a military that did surround us would open fire on any of us near the fences. Most were only wounded or ran for cover. We learned quickly we were expendable. Why did they let us live, we asked ourselves?

Milling monsters, a strange thing to see, as daily we wandered moaning and snarling at each other, it was a miserable existence. We wondered if there would be relief. Once in a while a military convoy came and took some of us out. We watched hoping it meant they were being saved. I was sure they were saved for a fate worse than ours. We set up anything that would hold water and prayed for rain. Our individual pain, and sorrow left us mute. Seeing one day a truck arrive, we all ran and hid, but I realized it was a trash truck. We clambered out of hiding and watched as the soldiers dumped the trash from their military base on the ground in our compound. The foulest stench came to us. I remember a female monster standing there sobbing, and I felt as if I had been hollowed out. We realized they had decided to feed us. Some, with their will to live gone, wandered away from the depressing sight. Others attacked the pile of refuse. I remember standing there stunned and empty, the wind blowing my hair in my eyes, and I felt like a thin paper creature with no power.

At night there was no gathering. There was no hopeful banter. We sat alone. I never saw anyone touch another. I wandered aimlessly as we all did. Sometimes I saw someone suffering, but I mostly ignored them because if they knew that I was a doctor they would beg me to save them, to stop their pain. They were dead and just did not know it yet. Their pleading would drowned me, and so I pretended I was not alive just a plodding broken machine. Eventually, the guards came and led some away from the camp in long lines. They shot those that refused to go and for some reason they took the time to terrorize the rest of us by bashing in the heads of the wounded monsters. As for the others led away…? From our hiding places we watched them leaving, and far away the swirling clouds of smoke told us of their fate. That was the answer to our hopes and dreams, death or so I believed.

One day at dusk, I heard a child singing in the camp as I shuffled by aimlessly looking for food. It was a little monster child. I stopped. The voice was so sweet and lilting, I thought of my own daughter as the little one sang, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” I paused and listened. She had wisps of golden hair on her head, and her little body was covered in the lacey scars and ulcers. She was small, just bones really. The song softly and insistently echoed in my head. The song filled me with a curious sensation, a lightness that jarred with my reality.

As the last light of the sun’s rays lay a thin slice in the dark wounded night, some fellow monsters seeing the child alone took out crude implements, hobbled together weapons, and made for the child. I was sure I knew what prompted them, all-encompassing hunger. I tried to ignore them as I picked through a pile of trash. I watched as one monster, a huge brute with a thick brow and thick body took her by the arm lifting the little thing up to wriggle like a fish. She was so weak that she made no sound, any more. I gritted my teeth, hard and closed my eyes and then… I don’t know, I was moving walking head down towards them. A simple two by four was like the jawbone of an ass, and I took it up and wielded it with a viciousness. I killed, one, then another, then the other three took their turns on me, as I was out numbered. One lanky monster, sliced at me with a shattered board, one battered me with a pipe while the biggest, the brute leader, bludgeoned me with a broken, jagged brick. They growled and snarled and overwhelmed me, and I fell over the child to shield her. They stood over me winded and grunting. I lay at their feet in agony, bloody and shaking. They were so weary they could not even celebrate. They moved away from me, our altercation roused the attention of guards in a tower.   While my assailants argued among themselves, I realized the full advantage of the regenerative necrosis. The wounds I received healed almost instantly, faster than anything I had witnessed in the lab, reforming the intricate scarring. In moments, the monsters and I recovered. As I rose from the ground and the child too, the creatures, our attackers, stood staring dumbfounded. Even two of the ones I had beaten rose. Only the one I beat in the head did not come back. This sparked some thought of more, something more we could be. The beastly leader stared at me, and I smiled at him. “Saul,” the brutish thug said to me as a way of introduction. I put one hand around the child’s small shoulder, and I stood opening and closing my wounded hand that healed.

“Pariah,” I jokingly said of myself.

Saul’s twisted oozing face smirked. “Aren’t we all,” he quipped.

I then realized that I was not a nothing, I was a something, and I convinced them that their rage should be directed at one of the humans, and if they would but look around they might find better meat. We all looked to the guard towers. Saving one child, Girl, might well have saved us all.

Rebel— With this new found realization that we regenerated rapidly, I began to think what glorious potential we had. A shot to the head would kill us, but other than that, we seemed to recover. It was then as I looked on that little child I had saved that I became the rebel. I saw only suffering and most of it was at the hands of humans full of cruelty and prejudice. I thought I had found my righteous purpose, and finally began to talk among the damned, the Living Dead of looking to the world as not the end but a new beginning. I and Saul found other angry monsters, former cops, soldiers, monsters of action in the camp willing to throw themselves against a black future. They were willing to ambush the next patrol that entered the camp, even if it was with only the hope of revenge.

They followed me and surprised the guards, our tactics were crude, but it gave me a visceral joy to see the shock on the guards’ faces as we charged them. They fired; we went down, but we rose again. The guards fell back; they tried to aim for headshots, for they obviously seemed to have been informed of our unique nature. These raw troops could not manage lining up the precise shots and deal with our full scale attack. We were in among them before they knew what to do. The little rebellion became a camp wide revolt their firing did little to halt our onslaught, a few of our number were killed. Saul took control of weapons and held the gates. I looked back over the streaming hordes of my fellow monsters as they hurried along out to freedom. The guards fed our little mob. A part of me thought that seemed wrong, this killing and eating of humans, but the ethics of it were lost in the nightmares and swirling memories of the past and the full blown potential of the future.

In the rush and thrill of having a life again, and filled with enthusiasm, one of our motley companions opened the pens of the homicidal Living Dead — the beasts that raged and mindlessly killed. Even we monsters fell back as the homicidal ones loped forward growling, seething and hungry. These bestial beings were bent with hunch backs, slack jaws and their fingers had in the course of confinement taken on claws long and sharp. Their dull eyes held little intelligence though they moved with a pack like mentality circling and looking for the weak among us. It was then that I discovered I had the gift.

All we monsters moved close huddling in groups as the beasts moved around us. I could smell them, feel them in my bones. I knew them, in some strange and intimate way. I sensed where they were moving around us. I stepped forward, and Saul and the others gasped and growled for me to not step out from the mass of our people, but somehow I knew these beasts. I moved forward a strange thrumming in my ear. I did not know what possessed me to walk forward towards them and lift my hand. Maybe it was inspired by some greater power; I don’t know. They halted in their advance on my companions and squatted down as if faithful hounds. I remember the stunned look on the twisted face of Saul. I shook my head unable to explain. They were rudimentary creatures but could carry simple bludgeoning weapons and could climb move and hide when directed. They stood by my will, and moved by my will, and understood my basic commands. They trailed along behind us, Norms — normal monsters. We called them the Hounds. I was moved that none of the Norms wanted to kill my “Hounds” but maybe they had been pariahs too long, as I had been, and a monster was a monster, and family somehow in the end. We had only to find our place in the world, and begin the age of monsters.

Monster — The world was destroyed according to mankind, but we saw the wreckage as a place to build a new world. The lives of humans were in disarray. Radios we found chattered about nuclear power plants going down and going up, power grids were gone and urban centers wastelands. Fires in cities gave way to towers of smoke and ash and eventually the chatter died away into silence. The violence that men did to each other waned as they grew exhausted and crawled away to die or try and reform into bands and villages. As the humans huddled in angry knots, we became to those in the world the things of nightmares.   They created us, for we were once apart of them until they labeled us, set us aside and isolated us with words, and then because we wrecked their perceived notions of humanity, tried to exterminate us. I was filled with righteous indignation. With no identity other than this label of beasts, we became what they asked us to be — monsters and scapegoats –for all their fears and angers, a shambling parade of distorted flesh wreaking havoc. We moved along in packs at first. Hunger drove our growing numbers, and as we moved across the open areas from burnt out town to burned out town, we gathered to us other creatures, ransacked homes and searched for weapons. Saul was content with being a horde. He had a lot of anger and felt himself justified in the nightmares he dealt out to humans, one village at a time. Even in the chaos, I felt a purpose which I built into a mission, to lead them to a promised land. I did not encourage the child, Girl, to follow me, but she did. She was like a conscience for what had motivated me to move forward through a landscape as twisted and rotting as we all were. Abandoned and burnt vehicles packed the highways. It was a night mare landscape perfect for us.

In our wanderings, we witnessed what the humans did to our kind through death and by altering our perceptions. I remember sitting on horseback with Saul at my side, under the vivid blue sky and looking out, over low, rolling hills, sparse forests. The wind swept over our company, my long black hair whipped around my face and stung my eyes, the smell of the burnt out monster camp, offended my senses. Corralled by the posies of humans, our twisted brothers and sisters were skewered on sharp poles as signs to the rest of us to avoid paths, roads, and lands held by humans. There was silence, no monster that witnessed this said a word. High above us, carrion birds clung to the dead that dangled there. They stripped the malignant flesh from the bodies of our brothers. This vision stayed with me. I had tried to be rational, measured in my response as a counterbalance to Saul, but this cruelty filled me with burning fury for any who were not like me and dared to label me. I let their hate define me and name me. It took away I thought the last of the humanity in me and made me a new thing, terrible in my resolve and hardening the mask of… The harbinger of death that was what they said of me. I sent forth the hounds to shred the bodies of our tormenters. I sat on horseback listening to the screaming humans as their homes burned.   In these days Saul and I were of one mind, brutish. They thought to wipe us out, and so I felt it only fair to cull their numbers and keep things fair and even, as I judged it. I was hardened by these dark doings, and, in the fire light, there was only one among the unwholesome host that did not look upon the destruction with a steely gaze. I would see her here, and there, Girl, watching me with those perfect blue eyes. Only she, gave me a moment’s pause, but I did it all for her. I said it was to secure her future and to set right what was wrong.

Shots fired, teeth-chattering, gun fights left us breathless and running in units through a labyrinth of urban destruction or rugged terrain, killing as we went. We met resistance that sometimes came down to hand to hand combat and death up close and personal. I think now as I reflect, that to the average human we must have seemed like a tidal wave of darkness, a force of nature to struggle against and stop. However, I felt a ripple of fear rolling through me when on occasion we were ambushed and even though we were extraordinary, landmines, a 50 cal and grenades were enough to put down swaths of our people. We rose again and again in battle willing to brave all things if it meant we had a chance to live and build some kind of future. We took their lives, and they took ours. We always succeeded because unless we lost limbs or where hit in the head, we survived. I stood on an open field with trees stretching in the distance and an old highway behind me and power lines, reminders of the past, and looked out over a battlefield with the mounds of twitching and writhing bodies, and though I had once been a surgeon, I could watch my fellow monsters sitting on their haunches eating our enemies, and not blink an eye. I had let the perceptions of others shape me into the monster they feared.

This blood drenched life left me often numb and suffering not only from the constant low grade pain of my transforming body but also the emptiness of it all. Still, having humans trying to kill us made us want to live no matter the pain. Fortunately, for us we did far better than humans in combat, and over time, I calculated we would out number them, if only we could survive for a while longer. The old mores and airy philosophies that espoused peace gave way to the natural and visceral struggle to live. Life was a potent salve for any potential remorse. At night, I took to sitting with the child. She stopped singing somewhere along the road but she sat with me. Girl would hold my big hands and turn them over tracing the lines of webbing as if she could read my fate there. I did not resist. She was the only one I let close to me. Others came to see me as something curious to watch; I sensed my people whispering about me. I sat pondering the meaning of this new existence while the child searched for fate in my palm. I made my plans to secure a future for us both, of my own making.

We monsters unified becoming death’s minions and an army. There was comfort and bonding in our terrible oneness.   However, we needed security and resources, but in this time we bought them with the only true currency — violence and blood. The humans we encountered were often mainly men, angry, animals who could not imagine sharing this world with us. It was not enough to kill and terrorize these rag tag human militias, or their villages, as we had begun to do, but there would come a point, I knew, when we would need better weapons, sustainable and long range weapons. I had come to think there was no point in talking to a human any longer. I had given up communications with them.   The hulking Saul scouted a head of our cavalcade and reported seeing a small group of people unmoving on the side of the road. Our long black line snaked back and forth over the hills to see by the side of the blacktop a burnt out truck and a badly beaten man with three young women that had been brutalized. My monsters loped around and around the knot of survivors, but they did not move at all.  Saul raised a rifle sighting down on the humans. I pushed his weapon off target and shook my head at him, and I waved off my riders. I looked back at the long line of walkers, riders, and wagons with me, and the lightening units of mounted cavalry. I rode out to the man and his daughters. The dark, muscled man sensed the silence that accompanied me. He glanced up at me, and then he slowly rose to stand with broken nose, contusions and face swelling. His one good eye swept over the monstrous multitude. He had several superficial knife wounds and bruising around his wrists. I stared at him and saw a man before me hollow and empty, and I knew I could do with him as I pleased. “Who and what are you?” I asked. Just talking to this man could challenge the unity of the horde, but there was something in him, something undefinable in the moment, just as when I met Girl.

His tortured expression did not change, but his mouth barely moved, and he moaned out, “I am, Elijah. I was a blacksmith.” Behind the man, like ghosts, the girls – lanky, dark, and silent – and even I, could not help but feel dread. I felt some strange sense of some great moment happening here. It disturbed me because, in the past, events were just events and men just men, but here was something about those three girls that sat with heads hanging that put a shiver of awe through me. “Who are you? What are you?” I asked the girls.

“We are no one. We are nothing,” they said. I heard a murmuring behind me from my fellow monsters. There was a terrible power in such simple statements. By becoming nothing they seemed untouchable. I stared at the girls with their wild hair and blank faces, and realized the girls had been viciously blinded, and their dark hollow eye sockets seemed to stare at me. I realized in that moment that I was altered from the man I once was, for now I saw beyond the surface. Now I felt the movement of things unseen in the universe, and I was aware of meanings before me that I could not quite fathom, but I could not dismiss — first the little child and now the girls. Was I losing my mind or was my perspective changing as my body was?

I sat up tall in the saddle and considered Elijah and his three daughters, and chose to change my pattern of murder. I dismounted and walked to them. It was good they did not see me, for during those days, I was tall, lean with long black hair.   I wore lose black robes for the heat of the sun warmed the aches in my body. Most of my face was covered in a black scarf, and what you could see of my body, some of my chest and forearms were covered in lesions, bandages or the intricate scars. I had seen the look of fear in humans who looked into my pale green eyes. I moved around the girls inspecting them, as they stood still with the hot breeze moving their tattered clothing.   They seemed to sway like trees in the wind, poor battered, bruised things.

I moved to the middle-aged, black man and stood before him looking him in the eyes. When he finally, focused on me, I saw a man like me, a builder and mender of things. “Elijah, follow me and live.”

“You may not want me. I tell the truth where ever I go. Many men don’t much like that. You one of them men?” Elijah asked.

“There is nothing more honest than death,” I replied. “Ride with me and say what you will.”

Elijah nodded to me his assent.

“Take these,” I said to my monsters regarding Elijah and his daughters. “I will tend to their wounds.”

“God remembers hospitality to strangers,” Elijah said as he was led away.

I looked to my second in command. Saul shook disapprovingly his head at me.

Strange days and curious life and things unimagined, as Elijah took to riding at my side, and the three sisters cared for Girl, and Girl for them. Our numbers grew and so did my need to gain the advantage on the battle field. We, no I, had things to protect now. Looking back over the hordes and to Elijah and the girls I knew I had to make a bold move to secure our lives.

Saul and I planned to move some miles north to a National Guard armory, and see if there was anything worth salvaging. I had my doubts about that after so much fighting and disruption. As we made for that objective, I found among the living dead ones capable like me of directing and strategizing, and we moved up to over watch the area. We had plenty of weapons and ammunition, but there would be no way to do some full frontal attack, but my hope was to infiltrate the facility with stealth. This became unnecessary. The soldiers that had once been the defenders of all now only defended themselves and to our surprise they were like us.

I had embraced my role of monster, killer, healer, and leader, but at that base I was challenged in ways unimaginable by the one in charge. Judith was a soldier in the before and now a commander of monsters. Grim and terrible, She was in a way beautiful. A pragmatic army officer, she had kept together her unit of rotting soldiers. Judith rode to the gates of the armory grounds, standing up in an APC, her long dark hair flying loose. She was a tall female, broad shoulders, broad hips, a glorious monster to see. It was a strange meeting the one -time physician, now rebel killer, and the one-time soldier now level-headed peace maker. We made an accord and shook tattered hands. Her people joined our number. Supplied and well led we began our march to nowhere.

Judith gunned down our enemies, ran them threw with our make shift swords, clubbed them and beat them down with the hooves of her horse or fists and when they ran for their vehicles or horses, she shot them with a compound bow, or her side arm, piercing them through and through. She was fearless death and when she yelled out over the fighting there arose such a noise of monstrous voices chorusing and echoing her vicious battle cry that it rang in my ears. The violent world would slow down during such moments, so that I could turn slowly and watch it all happening like a great mural of destruction. I never saw anything so inspiring and frightening in all my life as Judith putting down our enemies.

It seemed Judith moved constantly here and there working and I watched her, even admired her. When the evenings came, we ate and sat exhausted and tended her wounds and lesions. I remember her in the firelight. Her mind was so often preoccupied when I touched her arms, long neck, shoulders cleansing her sores, but she was forming the fine curious web-like scarring. Our eyes met and she stared at me. I saw my hideous face reflected in her pale eyes. Judith always left me speechless. Long into the night, she poured over maps studying them, and when I leaned over her, she would look up at me with bright eyes and smile with full lavender lips, oozing. Strange to find a companion in these days. It made the fighting the enemy all the more satisfying, but in all those long days so close to Judith the thing that separated us was our titles: leader and commander. It put a wall between us.

Together we pushed forward through a terrible landscape stripped by the locus of humanity after the fall of civilization. I did not stop my comrades from raging and hating the humans. We were a horde moving on foot and horse back across silent plains. It seemed like endless days of trekking to where? I did not know. Home – we were looking for home, a place to call our own. How would we ever settle in a world so violent?

We took a page from history, Alexander, as we conquered our surrounding world.   We met some armed resistance as we moved along sweeping up dwindling supplies from small human groups. If they offered no resistance, then we taxed them a portion of their foods and goods, but left them in place making them swear allegiance and sometimes taking a valuable hostage or craftsman to assure compliance, but other times…

One village, I remember so well, because the people had in a cages hanging from chains our monster brothers and sisters. Riding with the scouting party, Saul, Judith, and I watched with binoculars with horror as the villager tormented the monsters in the cage. The humans shoved spears in at them knowing that the packed cage of creatures would suffer but not die. How long had they been there? It was hard to watch the humans venting their ugly rage on the helpless monsters. The doughy, unassuming human leader of this town and his toadies lowered the cage and prodded the beasts to come out and to terrorize his own people or entertain them he beheaded one monster after another. Judith spurred her horse and men into actions.

With all the villagers occupied with the pontificating leader and his slaughter of the monsters. Judith gave directions quickly and we rode off the hills to the side streets of the small town. We came along the backside of buildings along the main street, down dusty alleyways, and some of her undead soldiers dismounted and took to roof tops with rifles. Now the rest of us, adapt at mounted combat, knew we could shoot from galloping horseback. The cheering for the death of the monsters became shrieks of terror as we appeared like the riders of the apocalypse bearing down on them and firing on the town’s folk. They returned our fire. I only remember being knocked off the horse. It was like molten lead went through my shoulder. I sat up as my wound healed. Winded, I struggled up onto my feet in the middle of the running gun battle. Judith leaped with her machete drawn and took off a man’s arm. She spun and sliced down a woman with a pitchfork. She was amazing and distracting.

I turned and seeing the mad leader beheading the cringing and bound monsters, I pulled my revolver and walked towards him firing. Normally, I had a steady hand, but the fall from the horse left me shaking. I missed, and the man killed another monster on his knees. I fired as he shot a young monster who fell. I felt rage searing through me as the man stood over the writhing monster boy. I could feel my heart beating in my chest the blood pounding in my head, I had to control my breathing. One shot, I would get one shot. I blinked as a bullet stung my arm. I glanced in that direction to see who the person was that was shooting at me, only to see Saul gun down the shooter. I snapped my head around and sighted down on the leader’s head and pulled the trigger. My weapon discharged with a flash and deafening sound. Not far off a grenade exploded. Smoke, dirt, and rubble rained down on me. I was almost knocked off my feet. I wince and was unsure if I killed my target, and I ran forward to make sure the bastard was dead and to find if the boy lived. A young teenage monster lay under the sagging bag of flesh which had been the town leader. The boy blinked up at me, big brown eyes wide, blinking at me through the long shaggy hair. I smiled at him as the last of the dying screams of the humans echoed around me. I took my boot and rolled the bastard off the boy. I offered him my hand. He stared up at me and finally took my offered hand, saying, “Jonathan.” I don’t know why but I hugged the young monster to me.

Jonathan was fourteen years old at the time, and he rode with me learning how to lead people. With farmers, I was especially lenient, but unfortunately, it was the farmers and ranchers that oft put up the biggest fight. Some groups we wiped out, if they fought us, but others I offered life if they would submit. It was all a blur, the smoke, the fire– it was then they began to murmur a new name for me, but it was so disturbing I would not hear of it, and growled when Judith teased me with the title. It was Jonathan that gave me the name of savior.

We rode up one day upon a low hill and in the distance a river and something more but almost imperceptible, but we found our place in all the world. It was not what I expected.   On the flat plains of Kansas, we founded our home of New Bethel – a missile silo. The renovated silo was to be a home for the rich, a private panic room from the world, impenetrable, but it could not house apparently their ego and foolishness. The doors were open, some of them were dead of illness, some self-inflicted wounds, and some murdered. In the end, nothing could save them from themselves. Cleaning it up we looked from the past to some new horizon, but what it all meant I could not know, but I was changing once again. I kept hearing the name murmured about me among the monsters settling here.

Elijah sang out a prayer over all those that stood together the day that the young monster, Jonathan, erected a sign – New Bethel — population 4, undead population 4,400.

Savior — Safety, order, work, and prosperity, these were the things for which we fought. We built defenses, a perimeter of cars and busses, to hold while we built concrete walls. Within the second ring would be food and housing.   I developed a sensible plan for sanitation and the chores needed for collection of refuse. Other monsters with agricultural backgrounds, helped create a layout for planting, and ideas about the storage of food. The work was ceaseless, so much to do. Old visions of what life was about, leisure and accumulation, fell away, and now it was the priceless things like food, a future, hope, noble things really, worth any price in which I placed my faith. If only this was all I had to deal with, but I had to sort all kinds of internal strife. How to “humanely” corral the hounds and keep them fed and satisfied. Some stood with Judith and me by the firelight and in heated debate called for the death of the hounds now that we were building a stable life. The monsters feared the hounds.

Even now I saw around the fire in the dark knots of comrades forming personal units that wanted to protect each other. I saw how they clung to their lives as precious even in this twisted form. Kill them! They are too dangerous! The words rang in my ears. Maybe they were too dangerous. Maybe they should be put down for our safety, for only I controlled the packs of hounds. I remember I felt a sad dread a sort of deja vu. Had the same not been said of us? Did I have the right to condemn them? I remember looking from the angry faces and arguing monsters to the gates of the hounds. “No,” I said, “We will not begin the building of a new life on the bones of our brothers. If they must one day die let it be with a purpose not like cattle slaughtered.” I had embraced the name Savior, I wanted it to be true that with my mind, will and body I could save us. Every monster had his or her place in the scheme of things, and we all took great comfort in that. I began to find among our members those now in place that revealed they had skills. Here the criminal had a chance to be a hero, the weak man could be a brave man, the meth lab workers were now energy engineers, the meek given manual labor and respect for building. Those once rejected in the past world now could find acceptance and purpose. I gave out quiet speeches of creating an earth friendly new world, one built upon principles from an early form of a republic where the common farmer and tradesmen participated in the government, and would vote and sit on juries. We had a council and senate, and well, they picked me to lead. I told them I would only act as a final arbiter in conflicts. I said to my people, stay simple and close to the earth and the trade of your hands. People liked this. It gave we monsters hope, and we called each other citizens. Each man ruled himself unless he violated his neighbor’s property or life. Laws were to be kept at a minimum unless it affected the general defense or health of the population. I made rounds among the citizens and listened to them and helped them where I could. I was building a better new world.

In these days, families were made. I know it seems unlikely that we, such as we were, could feel these things, but we did. New definitions of beauty began to slowly emerge. Hair seemed to be a defining factor for many. It was the one thing strangely that we monster, citizens, kept that was the same as before. It became strangely intensely important among many to care for hair and arrange it in elaborate fashions. Clothing and decorations became important too. I encouraged people to do this, to feel good about themselves. I remember the first day I saw a monster shambling along holding another’s hand. I stopped and stared. I swallowed hard and stood transfixed. A deep emotion moved through me; it caught in my throat. It should not have been possible to love something, so deformed, but there they were, the hunchback with pealing skin and the blond female bubbling with blisters — holding hands. I realized then that I was still at times, the man of old seeing through vain eyes. After that day, I saw things differently. Long into that night I stared across the fire at Judith, the commander. She was like me there around the communal fire eating from the great stew pot, but I, like her, was separate from the people in some way. Her function as a leader had her sitting alone, separate watching the smiling at the milling monster citizens. Her eyes fell upon me and the contact was startling and powerful. I knew then that the people needed each other deeply and something more. I came to her tent in the night, so little light. We were strange beasts under the stars and moon drawn to each other. She was long, lean, mysterious, and cast in a blue light her body was mesmerizing covered in the fine lace of scars, our long black hair mingled as I came and took her. There were no words, only two creatures that came together, and it was visceral, breath taking and bound us together that night, but was there such a thing as forever?

I felt the power in me growing as I saw homes, farms, an orderly military, council meetings and content citizens. I formed a family with Judith, Girl and Jonathan the boy. We were a strange family to say the least. Two powerful parents and two lost and strange children. A silent family that needed no words, but we found comfort in each other’s company. I saw that I had regained all I lost and more. I had a sense of nobility, purpose and devotion I had not known in my pride. I looked for meaning as I had not before now. I sat in the presence of the three sisters and Elijah and listened in the dark night to them softly sing of God. I watched as Elijah was taken by the spirit to speak in tongues. I found elation in this and asked citizens to attend services to enforce a common culture.   There we listened to the sisters preach on the basic ethics and morality of an older religion with simple commandments. I used this religion as a basis for government. I saw in this away to forge a better world. I told them we were God’s agents of wrath cleansing the world of wickedness the fore runners of great change and like the plagues of Egypt and the agents of the apocalypse in Revelations. We were here to punish the wicked and lift up the righteous. The monsters lifted up hands and were all enthralled by my words and passion, and we became zealots of a new faith, where we were special, better, more insightful and capable than the common humans that had brought so much pain and sorrow. I think preaching infused us with a fervor to put right things, in whatever way we needed to do that. Elijah grew more distant and stayed at the edge of the camp. His daughters grew quiet and stood like silent sentinels or sat often at potter wheels working. Elijah had been my touch stone, but he became remote. It did not escape my notice, but I did not want to ask him why. I did not want to hear his thoughts. Somehow I knew I would not like his message. One day he was just gone. His daughters remained, but they were but shadows of their former selves.

I was proud of our accomplishments. With ingenuity of our mechanics, the lights of the little city went on, and we drove vehicles and amazed ourselves. Our numbers grew, and we developed secondary villages. We now wore uniforms and insignias of our faith. Our numbers spread so did our complete domination of the area. We demanded respect from our human neighbors, and I continued to elicit this through taxation. They feared us for we were far more prosperous and at times seemed invincible. I wore their fear as a badge of honor. As I saw it, we were far more generous and merciful than their kind had ever been to us – they lived; they were unmolested; and were free to leave if they wished. If they stayed, if they lived in our areas than they would submit to us and acknowledge our rule in all things. They would bend a knee to those that were better than they were. Who could harm us? Who could stop us? Were we not now superior to them? The humans brought tribute, and knelt before me, it fueled our expansion and exploration. We reached what we thought was the pinnacle of our new world order, and all was well until Elijah immerged from his desert sabbatical. He came walking across the flat lands with a hot wind vibrating around him.

How I hated the appearance of Elijah. I sat there on a dais beside Judith, my children at my feet with the council members and citizens in full discussion of military objectives when he came to me. On their knees were those human leaders that came with tribute to witness the republic’s might and order. The prophet came like a lion into the inner most chamber, his hair a wild mane, long robes, and gears and gadgets on him, and his eyes blazing. He put all to chaos with his fierce appearance. “Fool, you had it all the chance to build something better, but you build yourself another tower of Babble, claim yourself rulers over others. You place pride upon a throne. Who sits upon the proper throne of peace? WHO?” He bellowed. The monsters fell back muttering. I stood outraged. “How dare you come here knowing all we have been through, the mercy we showed and restraint, and we the superior creatures. See all we have done, and all who have been spared.” I stood motioning to the humans. “Would they have done the same for us? We are their superiors. They are fortunate we share the earth with them.”

Elijah shook his head. “Tried! Tested! Failed!” He said of us all. “You did nothing different! Nothing! God help us all… The world ends as we know it in fire,” his voice trailed. off. “Now will come the culling again and make of you nothing. Nothing at all and then we will see if you learn anything. Woe be to him that sits on a throne of pride, and gain, and rules his fellow man and sees others as less deserving of freedom.” He pointed at me, and I felt a dread.

“Shut up! Shut up! GET OUT!” I cried pointing him out of the council meeting. “Your words are not to be heard hear.”

Elijah turned to go but paused. I can still see his face when he turned back to me. That look was not of this world. It was like seeing some other face there, one I did not then know but feared. “Once you showed mercy to me,” Elijah said. “Now I show mercy to you in this warning. Take your loved ones and go, for this place will not be spared.” He turned to leave and said, “This is your only hope, to be humble, or cling to pride and die.” Saul stepped forward pulling a weapon, for he had never liked Elijah. I held up my hand to stop him. Elijah swept out of the tent, disappearing into the night.

Confusion erupted around me in the council room. The horror and hate bubbled over from the council and civilians watching the proceedings.   The council members slung accusations at the humans that knelt before us. What evil had the humans devised against us? Was Elijah a mad man? I stood very still and thought how my perceptions had altered and deepened. I was never quite sure if it was some spiritual awareness or a heightened state of mental acuity that made me sense danger. I knew something was wrong, very wrong and did not need the evidence of it. Judith, on the other hand, was livid and turned on the humans. She pointed a finger of judgment at the human captives and had them bound and marched away to certain torment and questioning. I became distressed and begged her not to do this. I felt some moment, a nexus approaching, and it demanded I take a higher road, an escape passage before blood made that path slippery. I was no longer just a person of cool reason but one that saw into another world of deeper insight. I for once did not have to struggle with facts. I moved along with the prisoners and told her that this was not the way. A crowd began to form as we went along with the prisoners in the dark. Judith shook her head. “I won’t let them be killed outright, but if you think I will stand by here and let them do this to us all over again…” We dropped them off at the jail, and the crowd was already murmuring about the warning. I turned and saw in the eyes of the monsters the flow of the torches and electric lights of the world we had built. How cold their eyes had become.

She had military commanders up in the middle of the night, communications to far forts going and special units of scouts dispatched to find out from the human communities if there was an imminent attack. I told her there was something more going on here. As I followed her from place to place, I stopped leading monsters citizens and told them of this dire warning. “We have to get out of here; we must leave everything and go. Tell any who will listen. I would not say this if I did not believe it with all my heart.” The news was spreading fast. I saw the city galvanized around us. Monsters-soldiers and citizens came out of their homes, talking, and arguing. I was stopped and accosted repeatedly with questions. What was it that mattered most to me? My position? My power? This place? Our sense of security? These people? My Family? Judith?

Finally surrounded by so many questioning monsters, I climbed up on a derelict car. I waved my hands as hundreds gathered around me. The muttering was so loud, but they quieted. Under the stars I looked out over the creatures so many now standing stronger and healthier than I had ever seen them. I took a deep breath. Just saying these things I knew could undermine all we had done together, but I could not do otherwise. “I have been called savior and teacher, healer and leader, I tell you now all of that, all of that no longer matters. Today Elijah came to warn us. He came back from his long trek saying we were all going to die if we stayed here and clung to this place. Maybe, maybe we moved too far, too fast. Maybe we forgot the lessons of the old world, and its corruption. Maybe, maybe we are no better. I believe Elijah! Why? Is it because he speaks to God? Is it because he is human and may know something we don’t? I can only tell you what I know in my heart. Something is coming. My whole life I thought through everything. I was logical and full of worldly reasoning, and nothing I did saved that world or even my own family. Now, I do not dismiss this part of myself, but I feel and see more than I once did. I sense it coming. We have little time. We follow our feelings and instincts to move, or I fear we may well die in place. I am going. I am taking my children and going. Do not trust in me but search your own heart; time to…” I looked out over the upturned faces of the monsters. “… To listen to your instincts. No, no you listen to the voice in your head, God maybe, and let’s move!” Some nodded and began to move off with their families. Some actually ran off in different directions. Many stood murmuring and then the angry yelling began. Judith, the commander, my mate, was walking in long strides her long dark hair flowing out behind her as she headed to our home. Maybe she would leave with me, I thought? Saul looked furious at me. He more than any other monster had made a life for himself here, and become something new. As I looked into his murderous eyes in the sallow lights of the city at night, I knew now how much this new life meant to this monster. Here he had become something greater than he had ever dreamed, and I just toppled the tower. I backed away from him with my jaw set.

I followed Judith back to our tent and grabbed at her, turning her towards me. “Judith, Judith…” As we entered the tent I grabbed her arms. “This is something greater, happening here. We must go. We must take the children and any that will listen and go. Something bad comes.” Her teeth were clinched at me. She bucked in my grip. Jonathan and Girl, stood back watching, their faces were stricken.

“Coward!” Judith railed at me. “You would run and hide, abandon your post, and all we made here? You would run because of the words of an old man! If there is a threat we’ll wipe it out and all that are a threat to us. Do you hear me! I won’t run. I won’t, I won’t. I won’t do it!” She grabbed on to Jonathan. We struggled as I forced her to release the boy.

“Elijah is not like other men. Something comes this way. Something wicked. He wouldn’t say these things if it were not so, maybe he heard it in his travels, maybe it is from Go… I won’t stand by and die in place. He is right, our lives are what matters. I, I have been wrong in the way I did things in the past. I…” She was gathering her personal weapons and a radio. “No time to fight,” I continued. “No time to figure out who is an enemy, no time to kill. We follow this path, or I think we will die.” I grabbed at her, and we fought. Judith slapped me, and I grabbed her arms again. Girl began to shriek and cry as Jonathan held the little one. I hit Judith hard. My mate went down, and in the brief moment of her going down, Jonathan bent to tie her hands with surprising efficiency. Judith muttered incoherently.

“We just take her with us,” Jonathan said.

“No, if she will not come we cannot make her. This is her choice. Come Son, take your sister…” Jonathan stood and balled up his fist and looked at me full of hatred. Desperate, Girl wrapped her thin arms around Jonathan who held his place staring bitterly at me.

I looked him in the eye. “Come with me.” Our eyes were locked. He did not move. I stared into his eyes. Jonathan seemed to process this and though I only half believed it said to him, “We follow God’s call to walk away. We are going to walk away, run if we need to do so.” Jonathan stared back at me with his sister clinging to him. “I won’t force you.” I waited for even the children, I realized had to choose for themselves. In that moment, which stretched on forever, I felt a strange rush of energy in my body, like a breeze or cold fire. Truth is all I can call it. The truth flowed over me. They nodded to me. I patted their shoulders, cupped their heads in my hands and kissed their brows. I motioned for them to grab their runaway packs. As we gathered a few meager possessions, we three looked down on Judith who slowly roused

“Fuck you,” Judith spit out at us. “You run away. You abandon, your post and there is no coming back. You are damning us all.” I was overcome with grief, but letting others make their own decisions was something I now understood I had to do. We had to go, now before fate descended on us.

“Go on Jonathan. I follow.” The boy nodded and was gone with Girl in tow. I turned back slowly to Judith. Her glare tore my mutated heart from me, but I knew the path I was bound to follow. As, I looked at Judith, I knew for the first time what real love was as I felt it slipping away from me. Felt it all in a rush a love that was knitted to the bone and marrow. I loved her, the children and all of them, but too often I realized that love was not love but possessiveness, just power trip. This was something more. “I love you,” I said, and I knew she heard the husky break in my voice for she looked pained as I turned from her. Love meant letting people go and not living their lives for them. I felt every footstep as I walked away from her, the fear, doubt and the sense of being guided by something bigger than myself. Jonathan dragged his sister and lifted her up to his horse and climbed up behind the thin child as I mounted my own horse. I ran through all the possible things we would need, I had a medical pack, food, tools, weapons, but I knew we did not have enough to survive long out there, but… I saw her watching me from the tent. It was agony. It was then I saw the gathering.

Here now were the monsters one by one gathering near the stockyards. They came with babes in arms, children, young male monsters, warriors, and old ones. A good number, a ramshackle procession of mules, horses, pack animals, a cart and wagon. I began to doubt myself. I began to think myself mad. I closed my eyes and felt grim, and weary of the leadership responsibilities. It was hard to walk away from the world we knew and to lay down our sense of order, our power, and our names, and make a decision each of us for our own selves. Each beast was his or her own master, and his or her choice at that moment would have the consequences for each one. As I looked back, we were hundreds strong maybe a thousand. In every side street of the town, the other citizens watched our departure procession with contempt or perhaps awe. It was not until we got to the outer gates that a group of warriors well-armed on APC’s and horseback blocked our way. The men that previously would have taken my orders brought weapons leveled at our group.

Saul walked out shaking his head at us. He was grim. “You leave it all falls apart. We have something here; you think you just walk away from that?” He hefted his M16 in his hands. His frown was bitter.

I glanced to Jonathan and Girl. I felt all those that were giving up everything to follow that drawing of the spirit. The call of their intuition, to heed that inner voice. “Get out of the way Saul. This is bigger than both of us,” I said.

“It’s a fucking madness. That is what this is?” Saul spat back at me the words. “You held me back. You reigned me in always saying be logical. Now you go off your nut and think you are taking horses, vehicles and people out of here. I been backing you all the way, my muscle, my dirty deeds, and you let that old man get in your head. You, the big fancy Doctor. You listen to all that religion, and let it get to you — fuck you up.” He pointed out over the departing assemblage. “All of you owe me. All of you gonna lose all you built to go starve in the wilderness. Just human tricks, that’s all this is.”

“I invite you, Brother to come with us. We are right stronger together, but we are leaving. Elijah has told us…” I felt, heard, and then saw the shifting of his armed men and felt the tension rising.

“Screw that Elijah!” Saul shouted. “He’s human, crazy, and trying to tear down what we got. They are just insects to swat. Time to slaughter them all.” Saul lifted his weapon over his head waving his arms slowly to my people. “Ain’t nobody going no where! You fucking sheep need ruling.” His men lifted their weapons, and we were in a standoff. I heard the murmur of my frightened people. I saw out of the corner of my eye and heard my men bringing their own weapons to bear. I lifted empty hands to Saul and narrowed my eyes. As my empty hands came up palms. My people stilled. There was the soft whisper of wind moving through the company. It chilled me. The moment stretched long, I turned my mind outward searching. “There is a reason for everything.” I sat impassively watching him. I felt that coolness of my surgical mind ready to slice away this problem. Saul looked into my green eyes, and I saw the fear run through him.

Our eyes were locked, Saul and I, when all heard the sound of a many thundering feet in the streets and the growl and howls that rolled around all of us. From every street and alley came, my hounds by the hundreds, who ran on all fours leaping and soaring through the air to take down Saul’s supporters. The sharp staccato of weapons fire filled the air. The hounds were running wild through my people, past them, leaving them untouched. My people ran for cover. My horse reared, and I looked to Jonathan and Girl who galloped round an old bus. The hounds were shot down, but their numbers over whelmed the armed men in a vicious wave. I felt nothing for it had to be this way. The wicked tried to enslave us to their will and there was only one will that ruled, not mine and not Saul’s. My men ran forward and opened the gates and began to drive out of our way the vehicles, even as Saul,and the others fought for their lives with the hounds taking them down and devouring them. I murmured the answer to it all, “God.” I stood up in the saddle and called back. “Let’s move!” I sat back down in the saddle. “God be with us all.” I looked back and gave a mental command to the hounds to stay, there.

We rode out of the gates into the dark night and the unknown following a path not of my own choosing. I sat a long time and watched the city and heard the screams as the hounds terrorized the citizens and they in turn fought back. I sighed heavily, and as all my people passed into the night I waited, but Judith did not come. As the dawn rose a couple of hours later maybe, we snaked our way over the hills. I watched Girl asleep but clinging to Jonathan.   I was weary, and now I can admit heartbroken thinking of the chaos I had left for Judith. I closed my eyes, I was so very weary and I worried about her and felt things deeply. I reigned my horse around shocking those around me, and frightening Jonathan and a sleepy Girl.

“What are you doing?” Jonathan cried. The others up and down the long line pulled up to a stop, and I began to ride back the way we came, past them all. “Stop! Stop!” Jonathan called after me. He loped up beside me and Girl was crying. “Don’t go back. What are you doing?”

“I have to go back for her. I can’t leave her.” I turned and looked on the Jonathan’s pale face and brown eyes. “I can’t.” I motioned to one of the more responsible citizens. “Keep them moving.” I saw the shock and dismay in the faces of the travelers. “I am sorry!” I called out to them. “I, have to go back for Judith. I have to try to bring her with me.” It was irrational, but I was a new being with strange deep feelings.

“Father…” Girl said softly. What a beautiful word from a child that so rarely spoke.

“I have to try. What kind of life would we have to begin without her,” I offered to my son and daughter. Others near us young and old on wagons, horse back and in vehicles nodded. Maybe they understood, maybe they didn’t, but none would deny my right to make my own choice.

Jonathan looked grieved, and Girl cried, but they nodded in agreement. I gave them a twisted smile and kicked my horse into a trot, but as I moved off from them far in the distance in the golden glow of morning I saw a distant rider dark on a hill top, and I knew, I knew it was her. I kicked my horse into a gallop and felt light, incredibly light. As I came at last to the end of our convoy, I pulled to a stop and saw her more clearly, sitting, tall, and proud. She gave a wave and with her came several riders who approached me. I smiled at her, and she smirked at me. We said nothing, for her loyalty in the face of my turning away from Bethel said it all. This was a new beginning.

My eyes lifted from her pale mask of death so beautiful, her face to some strange sight in the golden morning. Above us in the bright sky something with a trail of fire behind it flew over our heads. All turned faces up to follow the progress of a missile in flight. “My God…” I looked to Judith. Her face turned up to mine, her long hair blowing back. The sight of her with lavender lips parted in awe entranced me. I had no idea what we were facing. If I was going to die it would be looking at her.

There was a flash, so bright I felt like the sun had exploded before us. I sucked in a breath and gasped, closing my eyes, and felt the rumbling in my bones as if all the world was trembling. The great thundering and constant sound of the massive destruction made it, so I could not focus on much. My horse reared up as did the other horses around me. We fought to control our mounts as in the distance a boiling cloud of fire and smoke rose up in a great double mushroom. How far? I tried to think, how far we were, but there was little I could do, fifteen miles maybe away from… Bethel. It had to be Bethel they hit. You could see the big blast rolling towards us like a wall in the distance but it dissipated by the time it hit us but I knew, I knew only too well that there would be radiation. Fire and brimstone, came to mind and I thought as I felt the nuclear bomb’s effect rolling in the hot wind that screamed past me. An all-encompassing white noise of the bomb blast deafened me as I tried to keep on my horse. I felt my skin react to the blast wave. I knew the caravan would be affected by the radiation as well. I felt so small, in the face of such power. I don’t know if I was thrown, or if I leaped off. I hit the ground. I thought I burned and felt my whole body vibrating with energy. The pain was maddening. It was happening again a change. I was racked with tremors and convulsions, until I lay still, in the deafening silence that followed the bomb. Nothing, just nothing. I was deaf and felt blind, and as I lay breathing in and out and my mind rebooted, I turned my head slowly to see many horses dead, rider on the ground and some vehicles moved or on their sides. I lay on my back looking up at the blue sky and the vapors and clouds of radiation moving above us. When the sound began to come back to me I heard the moaning wind. I stood up and felt my hair flying around my face, closed my eyes, and slowly opened them to the new world. I was shanking, I thought I was alone, and that I had lost it all, family, lover, home, pride, and name. How relieved I was to see them stirring by cars. I saw Judith, on the ground her companions and back along the caravan others sprawled out there. I smiled to see her and my eyes swept around to find Jonathan standing up with his little sister Girl clinging to him. I knew I need to move along the convoy checking people for any injured. I should have been worried about the radiation, but for a happy moment, I was glad we were all alive, but then I felt my mind come unhinged as I saw them one by one, friends, neighbors, my son, my daughter fading away before my very eyes, disappearing. How was it possible? I could not being to imagine. I turned stepping towards Judith. I reached out a hand to her. She lifted her arms, staring, as her limbs began to grow transparent. I sucked in sharp breath as her hand became clear as glass only reflecting here and there the light of the morning sun. I could only barely see her. The sunlight flowed through us, like crystal beings. I saw the light of the new dawn glimmering off the gathering of my friends and my children. Who were we? What were we?

I know you must have all asked yourselves that very thing over the past few months. I know you lost your own communities to missile attacks as we lost New Bethel and that many of you were lead to leave your homes. I know that you here at this gathering know what I saw that day. I know you understand, those of you who had your settlements hit too, when I say to all of you at this gathering that we upon these open plains and hills have no names, no homes, no real possessions.   Now in the eyes of the humans, we are nothing. They cannot see us or hear us. They live in ignorance as we once did. We are the Unseen.   Now we in our new nature have found in the final mutation our destiny. Look out at each other and see the will of God. I see the clear and shimmering forms reflecting the humble servants of God who lost all things to become what we are now. We are the invisibles, we who shall forever more walk without pride. Some call us now angles, or demon acting unseen, but I remind you brothers and sisters that with titles come pride and with labels limitation. Let us be pure in our action and devout in our service to God. I shall act as a humble servant to those humans that remain. I will receive no praise nor accolades from them. Let it be this way. I am nobody, but stronger in heart for it.  Forget your names and earthly pride and follow me.

Copyright 10-17-14

Fiction writing: Create a Consistent Character.

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Yes, the fictional characters above represent my personality. (Benard Black the angry reclusive, John Watson the loyal, stalwart and brave companion, and Abby, from NCIs, the quirky, brilliant woman/child.)

To create a consistent fictional character in your writing ask yourself a series of questions about the fictional character.  Investigate every aspect of their life and record it.  The more detailed the analysis the better though you may not include all details in your writing.  To create the consistent character, I suggest you do the Myer Briggs personality test.  All the aspects of the personality and how it changes under duress and how that personality relates to others will help you stay true to the personality.  What personality type are you.  I have consistently tested INFJ my whole life.

The Devil’s in the Details

The Devil’s in the Details
VG Wedgeworth
©2014 copyright

Cops - web 1.1

 

“The cavalry ain’t coming to save you,” Jack muttered in the half light as he bent over the computer in his disheveled home office. “Besides, when the government says we’re here to help is when you should be afraid.”  The mantras rang in Jack Dawson’s head from so many visual memes on the Internet.  He made many of them into banners for his social media page.    Jack smirked.  Having just woken up in his chair at the desk, he rubbed his face and smacked his lips.  In his headphones crooned the patriotic play list of instrumental and country music.  It blared in Jack’s head.  He realized he must have been listening to it all night, but he didn’t remember turning the music on.  He sat forward and puzzled on all the sites before him on the computer screen.  He wrinkled his nose trying to remember if he been looking at this when he fell asleep.  Jack’s hand hovered over the touch pad on his computer as his eyes tracked over the options.  Should he pick the Glock long-slide model 41 or the 1911 compact? He considered all the choices and the .45 APC ammo.  The array of weapons was dizzying.  All he had to do was click.  there was a little message bubble from MaryMagdaline7. He paused.He frowned a little feeling a pang of guilt.  How many guns did he need?  He thought on that and realized he had a back-up piece that was not registered.  It was a gift from his father which the old man had gotten from an uncle that passed.  He kept his pistol hidden.  Maybe he would get a new weapon and finally get his conceal and carry. Blinking icons on his taskbar from below the images of handguns called to him; scrolling past were knives, gleaming and tantalizing. His eyes lusted after the cold metal.  He could strap one of those on his leg.  He did not think he could achieve security, but he was not going to be caught off guard.  It was sensible, really, after all he had trained in knife fighting, so he was not some urban-wanna-be-warrior like so many he’d met at the gun range.  Not that his skills were still worth talking about now a days. Shifting in his desk chair, he realized he needed to pee, but the screen suggested a video about self-defense he really needed to watch and a news feed told him there was something called the knock-out game, just more acts of random violence.  There was so much to hold his attention.  He glanced to the letter from his father.  It sat unopened.  His heart felt heavy in his chest.  The old man just did not get him, try as he might.  Times were changing; things were getting pushed forward, but what the old man did not seem to get is all that his father held dear was going to get rolled over by the government.  Dad was just too unplugged to see it.  You just couldn’t see the danger unless you were plugged into the net.

It had been so easy to come back from overseas and just hide in here, in the computer, and not go out there anymore.  Everyone he met seemed so damn stupid; Americans had everything and didn’t appreciate it at all.  Jack was not like some guys that came back, the kinds that buried their dicks in every woman, the kind to toke and drink their troubles away.  He had principles, missed the military, and the mental challenges.  He missed being a man with a purpose, and it had been hard over there and coming back to this wreck of a country where no one saw you was even harder.  Jack felt at times like he was made of glass, and people looked right through him without seeing him really or understanding his pain. He felt disconnected from everything.  It had taken its toll and left him mute until he found a voice in here, in-world. Jack ran a hand over his mouth, so thirsty.  His hand ran across the rasp of the dark stubble on his jaw and chin.  He tried to blink his eyes, but they were so dry from staring at the screen.

A big man, Jack sat hunched over the desk in the dim light.  His shoulders and neck ached from being bent over in such an unnatural position.  He kept his eyes locked on the screen even though his eyes blurred from time to time.  Running his hands through his thick dark hair, Jack sniffed his finger.  He figured his hair could use a washing. He looked to the letter from the IRS.  He’d filed on time and answered every question.  Grunting, Jack knew he had not intentionally done anything wrong.  He wondered if a few days off from his on-line business, was a help or hindrance.  Still, he had to be on-line to help Mary.  She was going through something again.  Just the other night he had listened to her frustration with her husband Wayne spending money out of control.  Jack knew he had to be around the computer.  He blinked and looked up and tried to remember when he had last gone to the grocery store.  His lips were parched, and he was quite sure that they were cracked as he pressed his lips together and pulled them apart feeling the dry skin.

So many messages blinked at him on screen demanding answers. So many ways to communicate, but still he felt gagged and bound.  One was his brother’s e-mail bitching at him and asking if he was alright and trying to get him to come visit up in Montana.  They worried because he was an army vet, recently divorced, and his business was having a down turn.  Well the whole economy had a down turn, didn’t?  He ran a hand over his eyes.  He was ashamed to tell his brother or his parents about the fight.  His buddy Morales had taken him to a sports bar to talk it out about his divorce. He felt his guts clinch to think what might have happened if he had seriously hurt the guy that came out of nowhere.  The man smug man hassled him repeatedly about his army t-shirt.  The guy kept pushing his opinion and anger on Jack and when he got up next to Jack, almost nose to nose… It happened in a flash, broken furniture, frightened faces of bar patrons and the guy on the ground banged up.  He had felt like a monster looking at all those people staring at him. He felt like he was defending himself, but the judge had him in anger management counseling at the VA. It had been humiliating to have to sign the PTSD form.  Maybe he was on edge, but that guy, he just kept coming at him.   In the damn sessions with the shrink the guy kept saying don’t isolate yourself, but the humiliation of being sent to the sessions did just that – made him feel he like a freak. Now the IRS was after his business.   He just couldn’t answer friends and family, he had no idea why he was being audited again; he always obeyed the law.  Jack was not even middle aged really, and he always felt tired and old.  After all he had been through overseas it just didn’t seem fair.  He closed his eyes feeling empty.

The bleep from the computer made him open his eyes.  The social network messenger flashed from his friend Martin Morales of The Free Sons of Texas, or as Jack first new him, jedimaster123.

Jedimaster123: Heard you were struggling, Brother.  Hey did you see the rallies in Houston, Austin and Dallas, going to be today, might even get to be nationwide.  We got to stand together.  I had some guy watching my house this week, same week my ammo arrived from the gun shop.  Did you ever by that pistol off that fellow you knew?  I know you still got that 9mm right?  We are screwed.  You heard about them social workers that picked up a kid in Arlington because the family had weapons and wanted to home school the kid.  Times are getting bad.  Get back to me.

Jack typed back to Martin Morales as his on-line personae – SaintMike1

SaintMike1:  Rally, right sure.  I want to go to that, but have stuff to do. No never did buy that guy’s gun.  You know I got one, but might get another, but I’ll buy it through a shop.

Jedimaster123:  I heard you were having a hard time.  These bastards in DC need you to lie down like a little girl, just like that little girl taken from her parents by social worker in Missouri.  We got to stick together. Jack the noose is tightening, and we all got our necks in that noose.  You feel me, Brother?  You want I will come get you. Pick you for the rally? Come on, Man.

SaintMike1:  Will let you know.  Busy. Get back to you.

Jack closed the window and for a moment thought he should get up. Maybe he should go out on the porch with his tax papers and work on them in the sunshine.  Maybe get things organized when his eyes slid to the side of the computer screen.

Jack, this week Shopper’s Best Buys recommended for you:

Gold is your best bet.

Buy a gun, get the holster free.

Prep your house, with solar power, water filtration, and rations.

This video will save your life; fight, fight, fight for your freedom.

A baton book of tactics for one on one contact.

The Terrorists Cookbook.

The net, the information giants, gathered data on everyone, on him.  The web thought it knew him, and he snarled at the automated assumptions about him.  Jack frowned at the last suggestion that pulsed on the screen, and he tipped his head a little. Terrorist?  He looked over the page in brief at all the suggested items, and frowning bitterly.  He shook his head dismissing them.

Jack closed his eyes and weaved ever so slightly.  He frowned as his bladder ached, and he wished he could just get up and move around, but he was sure the twenty-four hour news cycle would come around once more to the former Soviet Block where the revolutions were spreading or maybe it would go back to the White House and that damning smug DOJ woman in her red suit, saying again no comment to violations of the 4th amendment.

“Nothing to see here; move along,” he sniped out loud to no one.  He glanced to the tool bar at the bottom of his screen, and his instant message chirped at him some helpful short message from some like-minded soul in his political rant group.   He liked to tell himself that he was a good person still, and that he was fighting the good fight and defending truth, justice and the American way.  It was true, he thought, and there were times he surrounded himself with hopeful slogans about man’s freedom which he shared on his social media site.  There were times he tried to call for compassion and peace, but then he found himself enraged at some on-line person that spewed irrational slander and vile condemnation of all he held sacred.  It was why he took a second look at the flashing ad about weapons.  Just a few blocks over, there had been a home invasion, and a man he remembered from the home owners association saw his wife raped in front of him, and the poor man was put in the hospital from the beating he took from the attackers.  He knew only too well some traumatic events never left you.  He would not be a victim. Closing his eyes, Jack wanted to pray to God.  His Catholic mother and Baptist father told him over and over again how important prayer was.  He was so tried, but God took so much effort — mass, church groups, getting dressed, and going outside his home. His father had been a farmer, a good honest man; he knew his father would be disappointed in how far he had back slid.  He wasn’t even a back-row Baptist any more. He tried on-line mass.  That seemed kind of weird.  He tried listening to the rosary on-line.  For a moment, he missed his mother, who was still alive but never charged her cell phone and had no e-mail, so he filled his life with things with which he did connect.

The icon on his computer desktop of Dystopia, the semi-pornographic on-line video game, beckoned to him.  He stared at the little ball of fire on his screen, and with one click he could be in the game and playing.  He frowned trying to resist the temptation.  He knew the flashing icon would mean his on-line friend, MaryMagdalen 7’s avatar would be in the game, calling like a damn mermaid, um, a siren to him to come and play, and to lose hours, and days in there with her.   Mary, as he called his unseen friend, was so beautiful, well her avatar was.  In reality, she was patient, so kind and yet so damn demanding.  He frowned because somehow without even seeing him, MaryMaggie7 worried, truly worried for him being on-line too much.  Ironic since she never got off her computer or so it seemed, she always told him to get up, go outside, to live his life and do real work with his hands.

Jack had not divorced Karen for Mary7.  No, no he and Karen had been falling apart a long time ever since he came home from his tour of duty and gotten out of the army.  Karen complained and complained at him that he was not happy.  Why could he not be happy?  He wasn’t unhappy he just felt like he was gagged and watching his life go by him.  His wife made clear that she just couldn’t wait any longer for him to be the man she expected.  Karen started her on-line charity work and women’s empowerment group – forums, chat groups, tweeting, twittering, blogging, photo-sharing and self-publishing.  She built a life for herself like a wall building up brick by brick, an invisible wall between them.

In the game Dystopia, MaryMagdalen7 role played a reformed prostitute, and the sultry secretary for his character Jack Dash, detective and former, burnt-out cop.  She was his friend at 6 AM and every afternoon for the role-play games like Dystopia, Nova Wars, or Dragon Lords of Walmord.  No, he would not blame MaryMagdalen7 for his problems with Karen.   Marymaggie7 was a nice person, and after all, an older woman.  She said, she was in her 60’s, 30 years or so older than he was, and married with her own life, but like him often alone.  She never made demands to meet him, even though they lived in the same city, or to pursue anything other than game play, but still, there was nothing he would not do for Marymaggie7.  It little mattered to him that she was a lot older than he was or that he had never seen her, they were friends, maybe more.  In that world of virtual reality, they had experiences even if they were virtual and expressed real emotions to each other, something he had trouble doing in real life.  In the game, faceless and disembodied, he could say things and whisper them through the long dark night that he was too ashamed to say to anyone else, nothing perverted, just things that kept him tied in knots about his time in service.  Meanwhile, Karen had bailed on him, and he on her, what with the modern pace of life, the long hours of jobs, and the decision to delay kids to get that bigger house, the constant parade of divorced family members, and finally, the time on the computers.  Their self-imposed isolation and hectic schedule with faceless friends on the net had been the lynchpin that had driven him and Karen apart.  Hell, they had separate rooms for their computers and only interacted to message each other and bitch back and forth.  No, it was not MaryMaggie7’s fault.  No, it was all his fault, and Karen made sure every day since he returned home that everything was his fault, and he was not living up to expectations and didn’t play his role right.  He had come back broken, and he understood that he had used the wrong things to try and patch back together his life.

Jack knew he was a mess, but fighting with Karen yesterday when she stopped by the house had left him looking for relief.  Weary and his thirst screaming at him, he glanced around his desk littered with food wrappers, plates, and glasses and spotted an unopened energy drink; there were several empty cans there on the desk from his all night game session. Got to keep moving mentally.  He was so tired and hungry, but he glanced along the side of the screen where advertisements for porn rolled down along his screens side bar.  No delicate or taut body part was too dark, moist or private too avoid being flashed at him unbidden.  It was his own fault.  Curiosity led him down that path, just hapless stumbling around in the cyber world, and it was all presented and laid out spread eagle for him.  Even though he had long stopped idly pursuing those images it seemed they stalked him now.  It was like being sexually assaulted every time he sat down at the computer.  Still, he was no prude and did not feel enormous guilt because what were a few flashed tits and the like.  He ran a hand over his mouth thinking on how much more enticing the on-line game and sex chat of Dystopia’s fantasy world of drug dealers, cops, prostitutes and innocent victims needing his help had been.  There you could play any role, and for fun, he had been a detective in a corrupt world and every alley way and dive in the game offered a real person roleplaying their need for the handsome gumshoe to save the day.  He had a real advantage over all the wanna-be guys in there writing their story because he had actually lived combat.  He could do more than parrot tactics from google searches as most on-line gamers did; he knew death and killing.  The escape into Dystopia was fun, creative and had eaten a few years of his time.  He rubbed his head feeling so out of it.  How many times had Morales/jedimaster123 called him last night when he tried dozing on the couch to tell him about some damn story; another outrage.  That was why he so needed Mary at times to escape.

Marymaggie7 had been his friend in there, his partner in crime, and he had to admit they had steamed up the stories with some hot scenes.  It was all for fun, just stories.  He was a good man under all the foolishness and respected her boundaries when it came to her real life.  They talked as friends about game play.  He never turned on his camera when they chatted on-line, but he sent her pictures of his dog, his truck’s new paint job, and pictures of the mountains from his trip to Colorado.  He never asked to see her; he just let it be what it was a friendship, well at first.  They made other virtual friends in the game, but friendships on-line seemed real only to become elusive and slip through his fingers and left him with nothing, or people you met on-line lied and were not what they seemed.  Only MaryMagdeline7 seemed real.  Hadn’t he heard her grandson, Sam, sing happy birthday to her, and heard her crying when the dog died, and comforted her when things went wrong with her husband and job? Hadn’t she told him sad stories of pain and loss to rival his own war experiences?  Mary was a neo-pagan, kind hearted and funny, and she snorted when she laughed.  She could listen and spin brilliant conversations about art, music, and philosophy. Marymaggie7’s grandson and even her sister, June, knew him, and said hi to him over the computer’s mike. They were all more real to him than Karen ever had been.  He hated that, but it was true.  In the end, Marymaggie7 encouraged him, kept him honest, and loved him as a friend, just for who he was, screwed up and all, and that was something.

Between Marymagdeline7, his on-line business, and his concerns about the country, he never got off the computer.  He brought up his groups on his social media page.  Their icon-faces scrolled by him, and he logged on to the site.  Jack had chosen his patron saint as his moniker, Saint Michael the archangel patron of soldiers and cops.

SaintMike1: Heard about the freedom rallies?

Jack watched for a response, but then let his eye crawl over the posted videos suggesting further violations of the fourth amendment and the arrest of a citizen journalist filming a beating and illegal search.  He frowned deeply offended as the cops in the video lost control, and beat a handcuffed suspect charged with illegal possession of a weapon.   The cops repeatedly used over-handed swings of their batons to beat the suspect and took the guy down while other officers, in the background, kicked in a door to the house.  Jack grimaced as the police officer, sweating and baring teeth, turned on the person with the camera shouting. The image froze on the red face of the cop with eyes bulging.  Jack had been an MP in the army.  He wondered if he had ever seemed so out of control.  He stared into the eyes of authority run wild.  He closed his eyes and looked back to see the scrolling replies of his on-line friends.

EagleEye:  Sure Saint Michael, we been talking about them all day.  There has been a rallying cry going up for protests after news anchor, Jeff Welsh, was arrested today for revealing supposedly classified information about government spying on journalists.

Anarchyslittlesister: What?  They arrested him?  I mean I hate the media guys but… What are we going to do?  0.0  I mean we got to do something, NSA, CIA, secret courts, assassination of accused US citizens abroad?  I have been getting hit up all day about going down to the rally, here in Dallas by Cristero1. He is saying we got to stand up and protest.  The Liberty Movement is saying they are backing the protests.

Patriot13:  What the… typical.  Just freaking typical!  Welsh should have run like Snowden, but they are prepared for that now, can’t fly, can’t post, can’t run anywhere they don’t GPS track your ass.

Mother of Two:  Watch the language Patriot13.  I am getting fed Twitters about these rallies.  I got a ping from JordanRiver saying they are going to include Welsh’s arrest in the protest; they are making signs here in Dallas.  The Liberty Movement says the whole thing is going nationwide today at 6 PM.  I am going down there, but I just remind you to please, please remember to keep cool heads if you go out to one of these events.  We are good people; we don’t want to let things get out of hand.

Oceaniaenemy#1: What the hell, Man?  It is out of control already! WE JUST GO DOWN THERE and go to the federal building and go toe to toe with those SOBs.  They got a media talking head arrested, so that means we might get covered, and people will see what is happening.  We take camera’s laptops, and we up load everything they do – stream it around the world.  My camera does that now quick feed video.  It worked in Cairo, right?  If we sit back, they will have us in pens, and you can just shred The Bill of Rights.

Jack watched the fear and discussion rolling by him as he watched people he had known for three years, who had been mildly concerned, now spinning out of control.  He closed his eyes tight.  Once he had been the voice of reason in the group but now… He swallowed hard.  He shook his head.  He wanted to get up and move off.  He was in pain, cramped up and tired, but then he saw Jedimaster123 posting — Jedimaster123/Martin Morales his friend.  Jack had met him on-line and then at a The Liberty Movement get-together in Galveston.

Jedimaster123: I am going to go to the one here in Dallas.  I got to stand up when there is so much corruption.  I don’t give a damn about some anchorman, but it is time.  Too many abuses to ignore.  I hear they are having a rally now in Pennsylvania and on in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it looks like one in Denver also.  You going to the Dallas one, Mike?

Jack hesitated at the question.  He sighed.  Get up?  Drive downtown?  Fight your way back home after, but he liked and respected Jedi, well most of the time, so he typed back.

SaintMike1:  I don’t know I will have to wait and see.

EagleEye: Kansas I am seeing Kansas too and Ohio.  Look Mother is right.  We have to be peaceful.  I know you agree right, SaintMike1? I mean you get hot sometimes, but I know you are a good guy.  We can’t let anything detour us from a peaceful path.  I mean we may have to face being arrested and such, but come on, guys…  Each of you and those that come on throughout the day need to make a commitment in your heart to follow the non-violent path.  We have to win hearts and minds, and this is how we do it.  We just remind people that being an American is about the constitution.

Jack typed up as SaintMike7:  Maybe.

Motheroftwo:  Eagle’s right.  You listen to Eagle.  They need us to be angry.  They need us to mess up and give them an excuse to come down on us.

Anarchyslittlesister:  Please, nothing is going to happen. That is so much pity party melodrama.  I don’t do drama.  We will show up do our thing, but you know nothing will happen, Man, and I hate to say it, but nothing’s going to happen or change.  Sometimes I don’t know.

Patriot13:  Lexington and Concord!  Things do change sometimes dramatically.

EagleEye:  We can still find common ground or at least explore options for reinvigorating state’s rights and maybe each state does its own thing.

Jedimaster123:  Wrong analogy, Patriot!  Those were battles, know your damn history! 1917, that’s what we are talking about here! Time to do something drastic instead of getting gunned down, and you, Eagle, just keep calling for hand-holding and singing Kumbaya around the campfire, and its progressive conservatives like you selling out that will get us all in Mao suits.  I bet you even voted for Senator Drakeson and that SOB squashed automatic weapons sales in his state, and even limited the number of bullets in the magazine.  Some good people better start seeing things for the way they are and dealing with reality or guys like you Eagle will end up in a cell saying, I just wanted to compromise!

Jack watched the rhetoric heat up and frowned as Jedi got going.  Jedi like himself was once in the military, and he had liked Martin Morales/Jedimaster123 right off. They communicated on the net all the time and had even met up in reality.  It had felt good to have a guy that got where he was coming from.  He stood up to go to the bathroom and saw Anarchy light up the screen, and there was a little message bubble from MaryMagdaline7.  He paused.

Anarchyslittlesister:  Uh don’t crap on Eagle, Jedi, cause talk about bad analogy, 1917?   They were communists!  What the hell kind of analogy is that to us.  I would have said Boston 1770!  In the end all the same — Czars, Kings, strong man dictators and their suck-up minions, or in our case, capitalist cronies humping the leg of big government while they stomp anyone trying to change the world.  They will kick the crap out of the little guys, so that citizens can’t rein in power and secure rights, so don’t talk down to Eagle, Jedi! I mean, lay off him.  He is a damn pacifist, but he is our damn pacifist.  He means well.  If it were up to me, I would burn the whole damn thing down to the ground.  Less is best!

Jedimaster123:  Would you?  I don’t think you got the guts to even stand up from that computer and actually do anything.  All you do is whine about being in debt from school, your crappy job and your blow hard boyfriend.  I bet you don’t even go to the rally.  You will just sit around and wait for another bill or another beating and bitch.  Aren’t you tired of being an arm chair participant in your own life?  Stop pretending to be an anarchist.  That is a cop out.  Stand up and start being a patriot!  Fucking do something.  Shit, show up for a change and stop phoning it in. Get off your ass and quit being a victim. Saint Mike is going to go to the rally?  Right Mike?

Jack watched the message bubble from MaryMagdeline7 blinking incessantly at him but he cut into the conversation with Jedimaster123/Morales.

SaintMike1:  Sure, Sure going maybe.  Jedi, come on now.  We all got to work together. Don’t ride the kid.  You know how down I am with all of this and how we need to take some action, but Little Sister is righteous.

Motheroftwo:   That’s enough Jedi.  I could ban you and Anarchy, as the monitor for our group site, but instead I am going to ask you to both back off and take a break.  Remember: we all are good people here, with a common good goal to monitor the government and hold them accountable when they violate civil liberties.   Stay positive.

Jedimaster123: Sorry Anarchy, I know you are trying; but words are not enough.  I know you see it in all areas of your life.  You have to just do something.  Maybe you ping me, and we talk about going to that rally. Sorry, Little Sister.”

Jack waited and watched for Anarchy’s come back.  He knew Anarchy, met her at a speech down town once.  She was a twenty-something, short girl in Goth clothes.   Her bouncy, angry, enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air.  She was an edgy, funny, little Libertarian who smelled of pot and cherry lip gloss and was the outer edge of his political spectrum.  Anarchy was just as likely to swing left as right. She had been attracted to him, but she was too young, and he was still married back then. He rubbed his eyes waiting for her and Jedi to patch things up.  He did not like the descent among the ranks. For a moment, he flashed on EagleEye’s words about peaceful unity.  He stood up and stretched and then stared at the bright screen, waiting.  Along the side of the screen scrolled bright images of angry Muslims, The Knock Out game video, and a graph of the sliding US GDP.  He touched a tab and watched his few investments in stocks slipping.  The computer flashed gifs of angry crowds at protests in parts of the former Soviet Union and Middle East.  The images of riot cops hung in his head.  He squinted and rubbed his eyes hard.  The images flashed in his head even with his eyes closed.

Anarchyslittlesister:  It’s okay.  Np.  NVM.  It’s all good, Jedi.  I know you’re right.  You’re right. Ping me, Man, we can talk. We can get it together.

Jack smiled to himself, sighed with relief, and flopped back in the chair.  He was a big man, not fat, just big, and the chair felt too small. He noticed he had mail, personal and business flashing away at him.  There was a flashing video image of cops in a major city on the East Coast doing a house to house for a terrorist suspect.  He watched unsure how he felt as he saw the cops sending a family out of their own house to stand in the yard.   In the background, you could see it was happening all up and down the block, families turned out; what upset him was it felt like just common place now.  He closed his eyes and then slowly forced himself to tear his eyes away and stood up.  He finally walked away from the screen and went into the office bathroom and stood there finally getting some relief.  He closed his eyes trying not to think for a moment when he felt the damn phone in his pocket jiggle, and he spritzed the toilet as he jumped at the sound.  “Damn it.”  He stepped back and wiped the seat and flushed as the phone played the ringtone for Marymaggie7 — a hopeful little tune from a romantic comedy.  He grunted and washed his hands and pulled out the phone.  He had missed her.  Then there was a chirp from the phone and he saw on the screen that he had a text message.

Mary:  I am in world. I need you.

He frowned seeing the number on his phone saying he had e-mails.  There was a voice mail too.  It was a number he did not know.  He shook his head.  You couldn’t escape contact.  Social media, e-mail, texting, GPS maps, TSA scans, warrantless searches, you were never alone.  Nothing was private, and everyone was expected to share and stand naked before their neighbor, and now it seemed before the NSA and any other damn government bureaucrat high or low.  Maybe it was just this fact that made him feel like rebelling and kicking down the walls closing in on him.

Jack sighed, nodded to himself and walked over to the computer.  “I can’t even pee by myself.”  He sat down and brought up the game Dystopia.  He paused and looked into the kitchen full of dirty dishes and considered his life but went to her instead. As he waited for the game to come up he watched a blond woman from one of the news agencies interviewing the leader of Liberty Movement, Jethro Dawson, a pale faced man with a beard and wild hair that looked a bit like a well-dressed homeless guy, but was in fact, the political strategist and leader of The Liberty movement in America.    Next to him sat Senator Stone of Kentucky a grim faced man of forty that did not try to look pleasant and accessible but instead leaned forward speaking firmly about his support of Dawson and The Liberty Movement.  They both vigorously condemned the state for any number of egregious examples of corruption. They were not alleged acts by the government but now facts.  The terrible thing was, Jack thought, that the government had some time back given up on denial and covering up corruption and mistakes.  Why deny them when a shrug of the shoulder would suffice as a defense with no one to challenge them in the media.  The corruption felt like chains and weights hanging off of him.  Maybe that seemed stupid, but he had taken an oath to defend the constitution, and unlike many modern men, oaths, and signs, and damn it even faith still meant something to him.  He hated it, but such things were apart of him down to the marrow.  He needed a break.

Dystopia came up on his screen, and he sighed in exhausted relief, escaping into the game if only for a moment.  He logged on and the virtual world appeared on the screen.  Jack appeared in the game world in the seedy detective’s office of his character and avatar which he had named, Jack Dash.  That was his name in this world, the game world.  He used the controls to spin the view around to look at himself.  He was transformed now into the video game character, tall, dark, rugged and dressed in a slouchy suit and a growth of stubble on his face.  Jack smiled seeing his on-line personae.  He gave a little chuckle that the character looked a little like him.  He then turned the camera angle in the game so he could see where his character was.  The garish light from the flashing neon sign, XXX, just beyond his windows lit the dingy office.  The game was a harsh world that tipped its hat to the black and white, film noir, well that was what Marymaggie7 said, and she knew a lot.  It was a place where ethics were a cheap, disposable commodity, and violent acts on the streets of the fictional city were the point of the story.  She was not there.  In the game, his character moved to the hall and peered out.  Nothing, it was just the dark hallway and the stairs leading down. He went to the window and looked out over the cops harassing a working girl and down the way some kids hanging out by the bar.  He worried about her in this game.  It was a dangerous place, and while it was not real, people could still make you feel like shit with their abusive horror stories.  He was her partner in storytelling, and though it was just fiction, he worried about her in here.   Smooth talking on-line guys and devious characters could tempt you into dark alleys and into acts seductive and dangerous. Jack had been protecting MaryMagedeline7, in their story, from a corrupt city official who wanted revenge on Jack for exposing them, and so the bastard in the game had threatened Mary.  It was strange how the game reflected real live.  It left him on edge and even though it was a game, a story, it kept him up at night.  Jack checked his screen and fighting hud for his weapon and looked over the Desert Eagle that flashed in the half light of this virtual world.  How many times had Jack had to wade into the on-line story to save MaryMagdalene7 from herself?  He had been beaten, thrown in jail and even killed a guy for her in the game.  He stowed the weapon in the shoulder holster.  He worried about her in the computer world and in reality.

In his headphones, Jack could hear the virtual world where cars honked and someone was yelling outside the imaginary building, and then he heard the soft tap of someone coming up the stairs and sighed with relief when Mary sauntered into the detective’s office with her wide hips rolling and a too tight 1940’s, red dress with take-me-to bed, red high heels.  Her blond hair was coiled up smooth and pinned in some fancy knot at the back of her long neck.  Her bright eyes sparkled, half hidden by the wide fashionable hat. He smirked, for she might not be real, but she could get a rise out of any man, he thought.  In this world, in this story there was nothing subtle about Mary.  She removed the hat and gave him an automated smile produced by the game.  Jack brought up the local chat box on his screen.  In this game you wrote your actions and posted them and only resorted to game fighting when you had to do that.  It was a place where you wrote your own story, and where anything was possible, but more often than not, people still opted for the darkest most painful and degrading existence, still, there was Mary, and she made the play all worth it.

JackDash:  You need me, Mary?

MaryMagdeline7:  Now Jack, that is a loaded question, isn’t it?

Her computer, smile flashed at him, and she shifted her hips and pursed her lips at him. He pushed the button in the game to flash a smile back her.

JackDash:  No, seriously Mary?  It sounded urgent.  Is this about that ridiculous crime lord that’s been stalking you in here, or the guy at the bar — been hitting on you again?  Did the Mayor send that police detective, Jamison, by here to threaten you, or is this about real life?

He smirked and then frowned because even in the virtual world he was constantly harassed by people that were vile, cruel, and corrupt.  It was like there was no place he could go to escape.  Sometimes he felt like in life and in virtual world too, he was being pursued by dark forces trying to drive him crazy.

JackDash: I am sorry, but I’ve been kind of distracted; I am having a hard time lately, but this was about you, right?

MaryMageline7:  Hard?  A hard time?  You keep it up with the jokes Jack, and I won’t be able to say what I need to say to you.

Her little character flashed a wicked smile at him again.

Jack shook his head and typed back.

JackDash: No, I am serious.  I am stressed out and feeling ragged.

MarryMagdalene7:  Sorry, sorry, Jack.  I’ve been having a hard time too in real life too. Oh, is it Karen again?  Your father in Montana?  Work? Pick up your mike, and I’ll call you. We can talk.

JackDash:  IRS… news and things.

Mary looked up at him with brilliant blue eyes that glittered.  She was so close, and damn she was beautiful, with a figure out of this world.  Yeah, he would have liked to chuck everything and just role play in here with her, forget his troubles, and go off and fight the bad guys or make love to her character. It was all fantasy but even in this terrible virtual world, it was better than real life.  At least in here, he thought, you could kill the bad guys.

MaryMagdalene7:   Not kidding, right?  You mean the IRS is actually after you Jack? OMG.  Seriously… You been through so much lately.  Why?  Was it just a random audit?  Did you talk to your VA counselor about this extra stress?

Jack Dash:  The IRS is out of control Mary.  Does it matter?  I mean they’ve been harassing me all week asking for more documents about the business.  Now they say they will audit my personal tax returns too.  I don’t know after the IRS political scandals and harassment, I just don’t know. I am struggling right now, and things are off the hook in the political world; things are bad.  You heard about them arresting Welsh, the anchorman, right?  They were doing house to house searches for a terror suspect, and that might seem okay, but it’s in a state where they have restricted gun rights, and they are using this to go in and confiscate guns during the sweep for this guy.

MaryMagdalene7:  Sure there is trouble and corruption, but I don’t want to talk about politics.  It’s bigger than us both; you know how I feel about all of that stuff. It gets you all crazy, Jack.  It’s not good for you.  It’s consuming you and your energy. Are you listening too much to your political groups?

Jack sighed and his brow knit.  He loved Mary, and she was a brilliant woman, but they were polar opposites in political views.  She was the classic liberal, help the little guy, save the world through helping hands, but also a progressive, regulate-if-you-have-too type, but also she was a defender of man’s freedoms and rights.  He often found her views contradictory, but he never doubted her sincerity or good heart even though she had voted in what he thought was paramount to a totalitarian regime.  God, he loved talking to her.  She knew everything from dying wool and natural medicines to philosophy, but sometimes he ranted at her about his politics, and she tolerated him.  He was distracted by the news alert in a window near the bottom of the screen.  His brow furrowed, wondering what the upset newscaster was saying.  He shook his head and looked back to the game.

MaryMagdalene7:  Jack, Jack you still there. Maybe you should call me?  Pick up your headset.  I need you.  I need to tell you something, and you need me.  You need me to keep you grounded in all of this.

JackDash:  We are in a virtual world Mary, grounded is not an option and kind of ironic.

He made his character on the screen laugh.  He smirked and started to type more to Mary when he noticed again the frantic behavior of the news casters in the video feed at the bottom of his screen, and he realized there was a national tragedy.  Eyes widening, Jack leaned forward and sucked in a breath.  He minimized the game to watch the real news.  The stunned blond woman on the news with a hand to her ear was obviously so distraught she was being directed by the producer.  The flashing words on the screen said it all.  He desperately flicked news window back down and typed rapidly to Mary.

JackDash:  Mary on the news, the real news. Look at the news.

MaryMagdalene7:  No Jack I need you to hear me.  Pick up the set.  I have something important to say to you.

JackDash:  Someone just shot Senator Stone and Jethro Dawson just outside news studios in New York City!  Gunned down! Those are my people!

Jack stood up at his desk in the real world.  “Damn!  Damn!”  He was so angry, and there was no place to put all that mad.  He normally hated politicians but these guys were pushing his agenda and been fighting everyone including his old political party to make things happen.  He turned and swept his arm out and knocked books and tax documents from his desk to fly scattering, and then he turned and shaking with rage, kicked the wall a few times.  He stared at the dented and cracked drywall.  Panting, Jack turned to the computer.  He was shaking when saw that Mary was typing away to him, but he taped the computer to lower her and the game on his screen.  He instead brought up the news feed.  He felt the world tipping.  Assassinations of political leaders, he thought, was an attack on the followers of, of…  It was an attack on him and all he believed. He did not want to be rash.   Shaking, he fell to his seat at the computer.  The stunned newscasters talked of the impending rallies of the Liberty Movement and the chaos at the network.  Camera crews in the area showed the police, and special units swarming over the streets and blocking off key areas looking for the suspects. Jack leaned forward with a hand over his mouth, and his breathing was erratic. “Who did it?  Who did it?”  He blew out a breath as they showed ambulances and evacuated workers running in business clothing.  He blinked and sat up and flipped up the window for his political group.  Jack logged in as SaintMike1.

SaintMike1: Did anyone hear about this shooting?  Do they know who did it?

He watched for answers but minimizing the screen he followed a news scroll.  Stunned news anchors babbled back and forth.  Three dimensional maps of the network appeared with red arrows pointing to the streets and then blocky three dimensional layouts of the front of the building where the major news network was and where Dawson and Stone were killed.  Displayed were the routes they walked and the point of contact with two gunmen, yet unidentified.  He paused the image and ran a finger over the placement of the victims, the gunmen, and their assumed route of escape. Jack ran a hand over his mouth and looked to the screen.

Motheroftwo:  I don’t know.  Two white guys is all I heard.  I am just numb.  I met Jethro at a Liberty Movement event.  You met him to Mike.  I remember you shook Jethor’s hand.  I can’t believe this. St Mike, you were in the military.  Was this an assassination?

Jack stood up and began to pace.  He looked around the room and went to the dark closet and paused as if struggling with something. He let out a breath moved back to the computer.

Motheroftwo: St. Mike?

Jedimaster123:  Yeah, it was.  I already got reports that some police were pulled off their security positions by an incident in the hotel across the street.  A critical route for the police and EMT support on the road was blocked by a wreck.  The hotel is situated near major freeways.  Yeah this looks professional to me. Damn, fucking, liberal, radical, nut jobs.

Motheroftwo:  Jedi, calm down.  We need to be calm.

EagleEye:  Maybe the rallies should be postponed.  Maybe people should just stay home.  Bound to be some crazies out there.

Motheroftwo:  I’m on my phone.  Already down here at the Dallas site – federal building – with The Liberty Movement.  We have too much in place to shut down; no way to call it all off.

Patriot13: I am going down there.  I think this stinks of an assassination.  Screw that. I am going to bear witness.

EagleEye: Mother you need to get out of there. Things could get ugly.  We need to reschedule.  Go up and tell the leaders there we can do this another time. Someone will get hurt. Mother? OMG, Mother listen to me, will you.

EagleEye:  Maybe she is not there anymore.  Damn it, Saint Mike? Mike?

SaintMike7: Here.  I’m still here.

EagleEye:  Mike, Mike they should postpone, right?  You going there?  Are you going?

Jedimaster123:  No way Eagle, we have to take a stand and defend our beliefs.  We stand up now and say no by the millions in different cities across the nation, or things will change in a dark and drastic way.  Anarchy and I are ready to roll.   You sunshine patriots can just sit on your asses.  Progressive-conservatives can just ride it out and hope for the best, sell outs.  What about you, Mike? We need good men.  It’s what you swore to defend.

Jack slumped back into the seat and put a hand over his mouth and tried to think.  He glanced to the ads along the side of the news feed, one showed a black and white gif, security footage, of a guy going up and punching an old woman in the face.  Another vid showed two men dragging a girl away, followed by a number for a company offering low cost safe rooms.  A small video displayed an ad for the US Army where men in uniform carried a little girl out of a war zone.  Next, he stared fixed on the ads for a light weight holster for a hand gun.  He closed his eyes trying to push the images away as he heard the beep of messages rolling in and calling to him — the group, e-mails, the game, messages.  He felt it all swirling in his head. He felt the anxiety he experienced before he went on a patrol back in Iraq; the jumpy nerves and racing adrenaline.  He opened his eyes and saw the bright ad for the energy drink.  It replicated itself all over his screen like a virus.  He grimaced as the ad wildly spawned, and he slowly reached for can of the stuff sitting on his desk.  He realized that the can was in his hand, and he stared at it.  His gaze swept over his desk at all the empty cans littered there. He feverishly tried to get all of the ads turned off, only to reveal something that made him suck in a breath.

A paramilitary group of federal law enforcement agents in black appeared on the set of the major network where the killings took place.  The agents with side arms motioned for the news casters to get up and move off the set of a live broadcast.  The blond anchor, a lawyer, refused and shook her pretty head.  An agent near her stepped up and tried to grab her and drag her off.  Her cohosts raised their hands in surrender to the group of armed agents.  The pretty talking head slapped and hit the agent.  She pulled away from the Fed that grappled with her, only to be tazed by another agent.   Her body went taut and rocked violently.  Her blond hair flipped around her distorted and grimacing face.  She went down hard to the stage floor.  One male cohost yelled and bent trying to help her.  The other cohost, the senior anchor, was pointing at the camera crew, obviously telling them to keep rolling.  The anchorman was red in the face and shaken as he was pulled off screen by agents.  Jack’s mouth fell open, and he stood up.  The scene vanished replaced by a network logo.  “No, no, no way.  Fuck!”  He was breathing hard when he heard the sound of a call coming in over his computer.  He frowned and picked up his headset and hit the talk button.  He was breathing hard as he adjusted his earpieces.

“What? What do you want?!” Jack yelled.

“Jack, what on earth?  What has gotten into you?”  Mary snapped.  “Calm down.  I’m sorry.  Are you okay?  I see the news now. I see it.  I do. I know you‘re upset, but I needed to talk about Wayne.  Please listen to me.  I need to tell you a few things about what’s been happening.”

Jack paced back and forth.  He couldn’t think clearly.  “Mary, I want to hear about it all, but I got to go down there.  I just have to get down there.  Something bad is happening.  This is, is bigger than any problem you or I have.  I swear I will be there for you, but I am going.”

A window on the computer appeared filled with images of a history documentary on Hitler with jack-booted thugs goose stepping their way down the street full of adoring Nazi admirers.  BANG! BANG! BANG!  Someone loudly knocked on his front door.  He turned in his office at the back of the house and listened. He heard more knocking.

“I have to go.”   He could not think clearly.  “Mary, I want to hear about it all, but I got to go down there.  I just have to get down there.  Something bad is happening.  I promise to listen, Mary I will.  If it is about your husband, just take your laptop and go to your sister, June’s place for a while.  I’ll get back to you later.”

“Where Jack where are you going?  Just sit with me, Jack.  Just sit down.”

Jack heard someone banging on the front door of his house.  He turned in his computer and listened. There was more knocking.  “I have to go.  I promise to listen to you, help you, just got to do this.  I can’t leave them all down there by themselves at the protest.  They’re just civilians.”

“Tell me where you are going?  I thought your pickup needed repairs. “

“No, no got that done. Someone’s at the door, but then I am heading out.  I am going down there to the federal building, downtown.  Big rally.  Shit, I guess I will have to park over on Commerce.  It’s going to be packed.”  The beating on the door grew increasingly louder.  “Got to go.”

“Jack wait, this seems all wrong.   It strange. I got a bad feeling.”

“Love you.  Got to run.” He took off the headphones and dropped them on the floor and padded barefoot towards the front door.  Jack hesitated.  He felt his phone ringing, jiggling, and it buzzed. . He pulled it out and saw a text message from Martin Morales/Jedimaster123.

Morales:  Downtown Dallas.  Crowds gathering, opposition rally forming against us, Feds got us surrounded too.  Where are you?

Jack looked up from the text, and stood frozen.  “Who, who is it?”  Jack asked.  He could just make out men in suits through the curtains.

“Federal agents, Mr. Dawson, open the door, please.  We would just like to talk to you.”

Jack looked around the living room and thought for a moment.  He took a few steps back and dropped the phone in the little trash can by the sofa.    Through the window he saw what appeared to be three SUVs beyond sheer curtains.  “Mr. Dawson, please don’t complicate this situation.  We just need a moment of your time.  If you would please open the door…” The lead agent shouted to Jack.

Jack paused near the door.  He felt his heart beating hard.  Jack’s eyes went wide and he looked down at his pajama bottom and t-shirt. He looked all around his simple bungalow house as if he was still in the game Dystopia.  “This isn’t happening.”

“DAWSON!”

Jack was breathing hard, but he opened the door.  He squinted and blinked at the bright sun and at the ten men and one woman before him.  The oldest agent, a pale man, slightly balding with a retro mustache, and as big as Jack at 6’2” smiled and slowly pulled off his shades.  He flashed a badge.  “Thank you, Mr. Dawson.  I’m Agent Carson.  We’re with the IRS and just need your help in a matter.  May we come in?”

Jack stared at all the efficient, little government monsters on his doorstep, staring expectantly at him.  He pushed the door closed slightly and shook his head. “No, you may not come in.”  He saw a few neighbors in their yard eyeing his house.

“You got a warrant?” Jack asked, his voice husky and tight. He knew he must have looked angry and anxious.

Carson’s eye twitched just a little, and his perfunctory smile faded.  “I see; do we need one? We are here to gather any documents on your business and personal finances.  We tried calling.  You said before you’d be cooperative.” He stepped up closer to the door.  Jack’s eye’s went wide as he realized in a flash of clarity how this was about to go down.

“Yeah, you do.  Get off my porch,” Jack said mechanically realizing he was almost reading off a bad script handed to him and that scared him more than anything.  They were writing the scenario for him.  As Carson stuck his foot in the door and started to insert his body, Jack felt as if he was in a bad movie, and he couldn’t do anything but follow through on the instinctual response to throw his weight on the door bouncing it into the man and stepping him back. In response to their colleague being assaulted, the other agents slammed into the door.  Jack stumbled back and felt their hands on him and saw angry faces, squared-jawed and up close as he was driven into the wall near the front stairs.  Grunting with pain, he struggled unable to believe it was happening.  “I didn’t do anything.”

“Oh now Mr. Dawson, everyone has done something, it is just a matter of time until we expose it,” said Agent Carson as he straighten his tie and windbreaker.  Jack’s eyes went wide at the words from Carson.  Men and women entered his home with boxes and no expressions.  They moved up the stairs and to the back of the house.  Breathing hard, Jack felt a bitterness over take him, and he refused to protest what he could not stop.  He stood with his shirt in the grip of one man and another holding his arm twisted behind his back.

“Do you have any firearms on you or in the house, Sir,” the young blond agent snapped.  Jack did not answer but only glared at the man. “I said do you have any fire arms…”

Carson waved his fellow agent off that line of questioning.  “Now then, Mr. Dawson, I am sorry it went this way, but thank you for letting us into your home.  Have a seat, and we’ll overlook that you assaulted a Federal agent.” Carson nodded to his men. The agents dragged Jack to the sofa and shoved him. Sprawled on his own couch, Jack watched the men go to work and heard above him things in his bedroom being dumped.  Jack watched helplessly as men passed through his kitchen moving to the back of the house to his office.  He sat up hearing movement from his office.  Grimacing, Jack wondered what the agents were shoving around back there.  Jack’s heart raced, and his breathing was erratic.  He felt violated and looked up at Carson who gave him a contemptuous half smile. Carson’s phone rang, and the agent blinked and pulled out his cell.  “Carson.”  He listened.  His eyes flicked to Jack.  “We’re on it.  Checking that now.  Everything is as we planned.” Jack stared into Carson’s eyes as he clicked off of the call.

Men came trundling down the stairs with the precision of cogs in a machine.  They carried away things that belonged to him, bits of his life, bits of his privacy and sense of control, and Jack could only watch it all happening.  Frowning, Jack noticed one young woman with slicked back dark hair in a bun pause and stare at him with some expression he tried to identify.  Jack squinted at her, and she saw his gaze and gripped the carton of his stuff tighter to herself.  Was she embarrassed — feeling remorse?  She heard another person coming down the stairs and moved out sharply.  Jack felt a sudden jab in his mind as he thought of searches he had to do in Iraq and suddenly felt a curious deja-vu and guilt.  He squeezed his eyes closed.  The searches and the frightened faces of the families.  He remembered their dark eyes on him as he stood in uniform over them.  Had he seemed like a monster to the people whose homes he had searched, not always with clear probable cause?

“Sir, got something,” the heavy set African-American agent said to Carson. Jack glanced up and noticed something undefinable pass between the two men, some look.

“Let’s see it.”  Carson pointed to an agent coming down the stairs. “Watch him.”  Carson walked back to Jack’s office, and the tall lanky agent holding a box looked around a moment and then moved off to the porch to say something to a colleague. Jack heard the faint buzz of his cell phone on vibrate.   Jack leaned forward watching the agent on the porch.  Quickly, Jack pulled his phone out of the trash.  His hands shook as he brought up a new text message.

Anarchyslittlesister:  Where are you Jack?  The Red Brigade is here and Student Equity goons.  This is bad.  It’s all coming together. Too many cops, so many people.  Tasers and riot gear.  I lost Jedi.  Help. Bleeding.

The lanky agent returned, and Jack’s eyes went wide and without looking up pocketed deftly the phone.  Men marched back from his office with more boxes and his laptop.  “No,” Jack said trying to get up off the couch, but Carson walked up to him and pointed a finger. “You stay in that seat there, Dawson.  Don’t make me put you in cuffs.” Jack shook, and he clinched his teeth so tightly he thought they would break, but for the sake of Anarchy and Jedi, he held his place.

Carson reappeared from the back followed by the agents. The older agent took a moment to sign off on some paperwork on a clip board that an agent gave to him.  Handing it back to his fellow agent, Carson turned back to Jack. “Fine, let’s head out,” Carson told the men. Carson gave Jack a pleasant smile as the last of the men left his home.  “That wasn’t so bad now was it, Mr. Dawson?  Don’t worry about the laptop, we’ll be in touch.  I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about.”  Carson went out the door.

Jack sat for a minute in shock as the men beyond his front window loaded up their vehicles.  He looked around at the empty silent house and the few papers scattered on the floor before him.  He stood up and paced with heart hammering in his chest and his breathing rapid and ragged.  He opened the phone. It was full of texts:  Mother, Eagle, Patriot, Anarchy, and Jedi.  He saw another voice mail from MaryMagdalene7, and his father.  With shaking hands, he texted back to Anarchy.

JackDawson:  Anarchy where are you and Jedi?

Jack climbed the stairs two at a time.  He stopped in the doorway to his bedroom and stood in the fading light of day staring at the mattresses tipped up, his papers and personal belongings thrown everywhere. He walked over and picked up a picture of his unit in Iraq, smiling faces of men, brothers in arms, now in a smashed glass frame.  He felt the vibrations of her answer.

He looked to the text message but his brow furrowed.  He did not know the number.  It was not Anarchy and what he saw was a disturbing image of some young guy with his fingers spread in a v-shape, and his tongue sticking between the fingers and behind him the street filled with people and cops and some other guy holding Anarchy in his grip.  She looked banged up, scraped face bloody.  The fear on her face gutted him.  Jack’s face twisted at the threatening selfie.  “Fuck.”  Someone had her; Some sick fuck had Anarchy down at the protest. Who were these guys?

Jack turned in a circle and went into the closet and came out with his jeans and a t-shirt and for the first time in two days he got dressed.  He hopped around getting into jeans, socks, his shirt and boots and then he slipped on the shoulder holster and a jacket and headed down the stairs.  In his office, Jack went to the dark closet when the phone went off jiggling.  He brought out the phone.  Seeing another unknown number he stared at it a moment and confused he answered, but hit the speaker and dropped on his knees.  “Go ahead, If you are the sick fucks that…” he said as he started to pull up the carpet in the bottom of his closet where he kept his fire arms and extra ammo.  He paused seeing the carpet had been disturbed and not put back right.

“Jack, its Mary.  I see that things are getting really bad out there.”

“Mary?  Mary? You never called me on the phone. I mean 5 years…  You never used my number.”  His eyes were wide, but he was on a mission and could not stop.

“The news, Jack, shows people gathering in cities around the country.  They have a riot going on in Ohio over this, and it looked bad — fire, shooting and people running.  It looks bad Jack, and I know this is not the right time to bring this up but…”

Jack puzzled on the miss laid carpet.  He tipped his head, bent down and pulled it back to reveal the hatch and opened it.  He saw there his 9mm Glock. It was there.  He frowned for a moment, but then he checked the magazine and satisfied slammed it home.  “Yeah Mary, I am sure it is bad. I can’t talk right now.”

“You don’t sound good Jack.  What is that you are doing?  I need to meet up with you.  You mean the world to me.”

“I am going down to the federal building.  You hang tough, Mary.  I will get to you in time.  I promise.”  He hung up on her.  She called back, and he gritted his teeth.  Anarchy was in trouble.  He hated to cut Mary out, but history was being made.  He had friends down there in trouble, and even more than that, it was a long time coming the stand against the erosion of the constitution.  Jack let the phone ring. He took the weapon in his hand and stared down at it.  He swallowed hard. Was he really going to go down there and wade into that mess?   Rubbing his head hard, Jack closed his eyes.  He felt weary. What was his mission op?  He looked at the weapon again.  He did not want to carry it if he was not clear under what circumstances he would draw the weapon and fire it.  This was not a war.  This was his home and his people.  He felt the weight in his hand.  What was his SOP?  Draw weapon if a weapon is drawn on me?  Draw if about to be overwhelmed?  Draw to defend the life of himself and his friends?  Would he shoot a cop?  Would he shoot a federal agent in defense of the lives of others?  He flashed on the cops in the Ukraine shooting the civilians there.  A hundred violent images of worldwide protest ran spliced together in his head, angry screaming faces, and clinched fists up lifted, fire, dead bodies, and riot cops.  He put a hand over his eyes.

Jack glanced down and saw the letter from his father on the floor.  He stared at it feeling something, undefinable that prickled along his senses, and finally, he picked it up.  Jack tore it open and read:

Dear Son,

I know you got your worries about the world, but I got my worries for you. You think Mamma and I can’t understand you, but that is because you live in a different world.  You’re getting closed off to us, and we feel your anger when we talk to you.  We know you are a good man and carry in your heart the right answers.  We planted the seeds of God’s truth and personal honor in your heart.  We believe these things will bring you home again.  I know you got to stand up, just be careful.  God keep you, Son.  Remember this verse and pray it.  Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men.

Dad

Jack sucked in a breath grimacing at how poignant the letter was and set it on the desk; it struck home.  He knew now he was going down there, find Morales and save Anarchy.  He felt his phone go off, and he pulled it out of his pocket and looked to a text message.  It was from Martin Morales.  There was a message box but it was blank.  He stared at it.  The fact that Morales sent a blank text message, made a chill go through him.  Was Morales cut off before he could type out a call to arms?  He frowned staring at the phone, but moments passed – nothing – no follow up from Morales.  Jack typed back.

JackDawson: You still there, Morales?  You okay?  You got Anarchy?  Situation on the ground?

Morales: I got troub…

Jack stared at the phone.

JackDawson:  Morales?

“Fuck.”  Jack felt a sense of anxiety spike in him.  He tried to remember what he was doing – getting ready to move out.  He rummaged around on the floor of the office for his cell phone charger.  He went behind a chair and grabbed up his rucksack.  He held it a moment staring at it.  He was never supposed to need a bug-out bag.  He blew out a breath and unzipped it and went back and loaded up the rest of the ammo into the bag.  Jack turned and pulled out of the closet his silver coins and a wad of cash. He stared at the money. It was the unthinkable scenario he had thought about repeatedly. Karen had called him crazy.  Maybe she was right.  He squeezed his eyes shut and wondered if she was right.  He huffed in and out a shaky breath. He pulled up on his phone maps of the area around the federal building.  He moved the map in different directions.  He had been there plenty of times, but now he looked at alternate routes in and out of the area.  His mission was to get in there and support an orderly removal of close friends.  Maybe he should have wanted to stand there and let the authorities beat him, arrest him, shoot him in protest, but he had this bad feeling they were past the point of non-violent protest.  How would he respond?  His first priority was his friends. He pulled out of the bottom of a book shelf a map, a good old paper atlas, and a map of the city.

As he walked out into the living room, He glanced once more at his phone.  He punched the number for Morales and held his breath.  No answer came back from Morales; it went to voice mail.  “You have reached Martin Morales. Leave a message.”  Jack closed the call.  The silence around Jack felt cold and grim.    He stared at his shrinking communication lines.  Feeling a heat and anger, He started for the front door.  In the dwindling light, he slammed his door behind him and was walking to the truck, when he grimaced at the sight of the neighbors who stood in a yard down the way looking at him.  He felt embarrassment rush over him and anger.  Getting into the truck he started up and was backing out of his gravel drive-way when one of the neighbors, Jim Ingles, waved desperately at him and ran forward. Jack slowed and rolled down a window.

“Jack trouble everywhere? Right? What do you think we should do?”  The timid, pale-faced man was holding his cell phone out to him with a blaring news feed showing fighting flashing in every city.  Jack’s eyes locked on a descending nightmare, and he looked to Ingles.

“Get your weapon, your supplies and hunker down and hang on to friends and family, or if you have a place outside of the city, figure a back-road way out of the metroplex for a while.”  Jack felt bad when Jim’s face went slack, and the man pulled the cell phone back to himself.

“You don’t think it is that bad do you, Jack? I mean it will blow over, right?”

Jack felt a terrible resolve harden within himself, and he could only nod. He lifted a hand, and a stunned Jim lifted a hand slowly in return as Jack pulled out leaving the neighbors in their little knots of confusion. Jack raced along the major highways thinking of all the ways he would position barricades and support around the protesters.  He tried to think of how far back that would be based on the map.  He figured with it being a federal building he might see FBI, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement.  He roared along the highway noting the heavy traffic was slowed going the opposite direction from the city.  Eyes wide, Jack became concerned and brought up the map watching the traffic patterns blinking on his on-board GPS.  Red lines depicted that most of the major routes out of the downtown were clogging up, and he figured he better start thinking of the alternate routes out of the area.  He was so tense it was painful and gripped the wheel hard in his hands.  “Just can’t be happening, just can’t be happening.” He knew it was and was better prepared than most for this civil disruption, but it felt like he had to say it. The phrase came tumbling out of his mouth repeatedly.

He turned on his radio and frowned as it blared out a patriotic tune at him.  He winced and tried to turn it down but the swelling epic music reverberated in his bones and felt like it was galvanizing him into action. He gritted his teeth and tried to turn off the radio and barely missed the car directly ahead that had slammed on its breaks for a slow down at an off ramp. He had moments to put eyes on the mirror and seeing no other car near cranked the wheel swerving around and clipping the car.  His mouth dropped open as the music crescendo to the shriek of metal when he barely escaped a violent brush with calamity.  He growled and beat the dashboard. “Fuck!”  He straightened out his wheel and glanced back at the mirror to see no great harm done to the other car and driver, but he realized that he could not stop and be responsible.  He had to keep going.  People were depending on him.  The instrumental music’s beating drums and martial brass was setting a mental scene of what he might see downtown, and it was not good. As he approached the heart of the city, the glass towers glowed golden from the setting sun.  Black smoke hung in the air and choppers soared overhead moving in towards the city, a news chopper and two Blackhawks.  He felt the beat of the blades in his chest.  It was a familiar feeling that made his skin go cold.

Blinded by the golden glare on the glass towers of the city, Jack almost missed his exit and pulled off entering into the tight urban landscapes of long shadows.  What struck him was the gangs of roving young people that darted across the first intersection.  Some of the young guys had sagging pants, tats, and bulky jackets, the normal uniform of the irregulars of the urban landscape.  Jack watched their hands and faces wondering if they were carrying weapons.  The young guys darted out in front of the cars. The boys didn’t care that they were moving against the light.  They shrieked and leaped in the air feeling the energy from the trouble ahead of them, obviously wanting to get in on the action. He glanced around at the other vehicles and stunned drivers, and in the distance, he thought he heard voices projected loudly by bullhorns or sound systems. Downtown Dallas was a confusing maze of narrow one way streets and skyscrapers.  He glanced down at his GPS, and when he moved out into traffic, he turned on a street leading to the federal court building.  He grimaced to see anxious office workers and shop keepers standing on sidewalks in groups talking.  Half of the people were looking at their phones the other half animatedly discussing the trouble down the way.  He wanted to tell them to get back inside their buildings, but he knew it was human nature to want to see even a train wreck, and it was a train wreck.

He saw busses in a big, packed parking lot, and just beyond that were streets blocked off by barricades where the Dallas police in riot gear stood.  He watched a crowd of jogging civilians in the distance leaving the area where the choppers circled and black smoke rose in a thin column even as the guy in the car behind him began honking.  He could see that cops a few blocks down formed a corridor allowing some of the people out of the troubles while corralling others.  He had been to many Liberty rallies and never seen such a thing.  He stared wide eyed at the chartered busses where middle aged people were standing around in t-shirts proclaiming their allegiance —  Red Brigade, a hard core communist action group and a few of the Students for Equity, a well-meaning if not misguided socialist group, but both funded by the same billionaire, self-serving, global opportunist.  Jack frowned with his lips drawing back thinking that they had been brought here purposefully to instigate.

The liberty folks were supposed to be protesting peacefully in that huge parking lot opposite the courthouse.  He could not see that area from where he was at on this street.  Even before he got to ground zero, Jack heard the stunning sound of a din of people, screams, music, chanting, and orders given by some officious sounding bastard echoing off the buildings.  The sound energized him, and his fear spiked.  Jack sighed and shook his head because many of the parking lots were full already.   He noticed a parking lot where cops motioned the media vans to enter. It was only a few blocks away from him, and though it meant driving the wrong way on an empty street, he gunned his engine and went for it.  Jack rolled up alongside of a line of media vehicles he leaned over watching a policeman direct the media vans.  Even though his vision was partially obscured by the courthouse, Jack could now see the chaos of several thousand people ebbing and flowing waves of angry humanity just a few blocks down from him. There was the strong stench of smoke and air horns blared commands.  The distant cacophony of violence that he heard left him feeling suddenly small.  This was strange; for him, fights in Iraq had been more often than not a few guys against a few guys, or spontaneous protests of a few dozen, and as terrible as that was, this was something beyond his understanding.  The fearful unknown prompted Jack to drive up and force his way into the line of media vans and heard the driver behind him slam on his breaks.  The driver in the van that he cut off blew his horn.  The cops on the sidewalk along the parking lot waved and pointed at him to get out of the line, but they knew, and he knew he could not simply turn around in this situation.  All he could do was shrug at them.  Pissed and afraid, he turned his wheel sharply and went up and over the sidewalk and curb into the last empty row of the parking lot.  What were they going to do come and get him?  He glanced in his rearview mirror, and two cops broke off from their duties. Jack frowned.  Fuck, they were coming, he thought.  He parked on the last parking space at the end of the area facing his truck out of there, so he could do the same thing, drive over the sidewalk out onto a street again, if he had to do that.  He climbed out shaking and grabbed his backpack and grunted at the weight from the silver and looked down the parking lot to the two cops walking his way pointing at him.  Jack had become a law breaker in what he thought had become a lawless time.

He had his backpack out and turned to run from the cops, when he heard the sharp echoing report of a high powered rifle followed by the thunderous screaming of a multitude of people.  Both Jack and cops dropped down behind separate cars, and the cops pulled their weapons.  Jack fought the urge to pull his sidearm.  Not in front of the cops, he told himself.  He and the officers looked in the direction of the federal courthouse and those structures just ahead of them past the federal building.  They were too far behind the federal building to see much.   He scanned for shooters on the roof tops and windows of the buildings, but he was at the wrong angle to see the vantage points overlooking the courthouse and huge parking lot where the rally had been taking place. With them occupied, Jack took off at a run down the sidewalk heading for the side of building on the street leading in the direction of the rally.  There were people trying to leave the area, coming up the streets running in little groups of four or five, those that had slipped the net as the officers took cover.   The groups were going in the opposite direction that Jack was going.  He slowed along the side of the building.  So many people ahead of him moving in waves of chaos.  He blinked as he smelled tear gas on the wind.  Jack felt like he was in a nightmare, but he moved along to the side of the building slipping around some officers fighting with panicked citizens wanting out of the area already.

Coughing, Jack stood on the street corner hugging the building  near the barricades where he now saw homeland security’s white SUVs parked along the street in front of the federal building, and many more federal agents, sharp efficient men dressed in dark uniforms and well-armed.  There were a lot more of them than he expected.   The agents were backing up the local cops.  The officers and agent were either behind cover communicating on radios or trying to direct civilians that were now panicked and fleeing.  The ranks of riot police with shields were falling back from the angry crowd.  Jack shook his head as a ragged of line of maybe two hundred liberty protesters near him locked arms.  Jack ran his eye over the hundreds in knots.  He thought as the protesters bunched up that they might be protecting leaders of the movement or fighting arrest.  There seemed to be no strategy or reason to the actions of the protesters.  He moved around the street corner to a gap in the line of law enforcement.  It seemed with the gun fire, they let some fleeing civilians pass out of the area.  Some protesters had already been grabbed up and were corralled screaming, crying and arguing with armed officers that bullied them into a ragged line processing them back to the jail busses somewhere back behind Jack.  Some of the civilians of varying ages and modes of dress, soccer moms, grandmothers, red neck in a baseball cap, a well dressed woman, maybe Hispanic, all stumbled along in zip ties. Still, large crowds ran for cover.  Somewhere at the far end of the parking area beyond the protestors Jack could just make out the light of a fire.  As the thousands in the crowd began to chant again, the police that had fallen backed lobbed tear gas into the crowd.  Jack’s eyes went wide.  He hated tear gas. The screams of the people near the grenades emitting the gas ran wildly in every direction, some falling.  The wind blew the gas away from Jack, well some of it, and he took that moment to move out.

He was glad that there was no consistent policy about dealing with the civilians, not now at least, it gave him a chance to get into the area.  As an EMT unit rolled up with lights flashing in the last rays of the day, he was able to slip past the cops that were banging on the hood of an ambulance not to enter yet.  What he saw as he moved along, fighting with his bag to get his respirator, so shocked him that he stumbled to a stop along side of a van in front of the federal building.  There two Dallas cops in riot gear were standing with helmets off and respirators on and were shoving back and forth with a Homeland Security agent. Jack finally saw that a fire engulfed two cars far beyond the crowd in the parking lot opposite the federal courthouse.  Jack looked up as choppers raked lights over them all. Dallas cops tried to reason with the agent on some point when a sniper picked off a man fifty yards away from Jack.  Gunfire, small arms, all around them forced Jack to go low by Homeland Security SUV.  Jack slipped on the respirator.  He grimaced as it limited his sight and made him feel like he was in space suit.  Jack wondered who was shooting at this point. Jack tightened the straps of the mask.  He took a breath. There was more gunfire, and one of the windows of the SUV shattered where he was hiding was hit.  Glass rained down around him. The cops and agent bent down to the ground and looked back behind them. They pointed high to a building.  Around the cops and agent, fallen civilians littered the ground, a dozen, lying dead or wounded.  It was madness.  Some of the civilians were hunkered down behind sound equipment near a stage and a few vehicles for the rally.

Jack, with shaking hands, took out his phone and dialed Anarchy’s number.

“Jack?” She mumbled out in a ragged whisper he could barely make out.

“Where are you?”  Jack shouted and wondered if she could even understand him in his mask.

“Look at the link,” She said.

“Anarchy?  Melissa! Where are you?” He shouted at her.  He glanced up to see the two cops and federal agent had set aside their differences and moved off to render aid to a woman who was shot but alive.  They seemed to have made a decision to break ranks from the other law enforcement and help the civilians. He was distracted and then realized the call from Anarchy closed off.  He felt a cold shiver and he gritted his teeth and shook the phone growling, but stopped when he felt it buzz in his hand.  He glanced to the screen and there in a text message was a link to a video site.  His hand were shaking as he hit the link in the text message.  It was a quick load video the new kind kid journalist used.

In one of those live phone broadcasts, he saw Anarchy with her face beaten and blood on her mouth.  She stared into her phone, and then she turned her phone from herself to scan around and show him that she was in a parking garage.  He could read her lips as he mouthed help me, the video ended.  Her almost-live video gave him the clues he needed. Jack leaned out to see the end of the block and spotted what appeared to be the most likely place for her a parking garage on the same side of the street he was on.  Jack considered the movement of many people and police officers near him.

There were more shots fired, and Jack heard more screaming.  He looked back again to the two local cops helping a woman on the ground.  To his surprise, the Homeland Security agent they had argued with covered the Dallas cops by turning on his knee and aiming up at the building roof tops and fired at where the muzzle flash of the sniper had been.  The loud crack and reverberation of the sniper rifle in return shuddered Jack, and the agent tumbled back with his brains knocked out.  The two cops flinched and hunkered down on their knees, and pulling themselves together, they seemed to agree to move.  They grabbed up the woman they were helping and ran bent over for better cover behind the stage.  The fearful civilians seeing the officers helping a protester gravitated to them and ran to them for protection.  Jack let out a shaky breath relieved to see the two cops motioned the protestors behind them.  Jack felt a moment of pride in the local cops protecting people from the violence, only to watch a man in black and wearing a ski mask shoot one of the officers and then turned and shot down three more running protestors.  Jack felt a sheer terror like being drenched in ice water hit him.  It was efficient the way the man in black moved and scared Jack in a way other combat had not.  The dark killer moved along quietly slipping in and out of confused civilians that did not realize he was shooting people.  0Jack popped up over the van he was near drew a weapon and aimed at the mask man when he realized, as more shooting took place, that there were other masked men moving in the crowd causing chaos with seemingly random acts of death.  Yet there was a method to their madness, something automated in their behavior.  He might avoid the protestors and cops, but he had no idea what to make of the killers. He pulled back.

He kept an eye on the assassins in black and looked again to the parking garage, and bounced on his toes and puffed out a few breaths, and finally, Jack sprinted out of cover.  As he ran passing some cops.  He got too close to one of their mobile headquarters parked in front of the federal building.  A few cops turned on him. One stepped out to stop him and was yelling. He ran down the side walk and elbowed a cop out his way.  The deafening pops of handgun fire made him dodge and weave. He juked left to get around a screaming girl and spun to avoid being knocked over by a big cowboy only to feel a smack and fire in his right shoulder.  He had no idea who shot him. He stumbled on the sidewalk and went down on his knees.  He could not move for a few moments.  Jack was knocked back and forth by people running almost over him.  Gasping in air, he stumbled up to his feet and felt along his left upper arm where the jacket was ripped to feel a wound oozing blood, making his fingers sticky.  He trotted forward through the fleeing people.  Making it a few more feet, Jack came around the corner of the parking garage and saw some urban bad boys bent beside a comrade that was wheezing and gasping and behind them by a car sat Anarchy looking disheveled and battered.  Frowning and spiking on adrenaline, Jack still had his weapon held low but brought it lifted it, and quietly moved around the preoccupied thugs to Anarchy. She seemed to be breathing normally, so he bent and slipped the respirator up onto his forehead.  “Melissa, Anarchy, it’s me, Jack.”

She looked up with her eyes wide at him and then as he touched her face, and she sobbed softy and put her thin arms around his neck. He stood up holding her with his weakened left arm.

“We got to get out of here.  Fuck this scene.  Fuck this,” rambled a scared young guy with the teens near them.  The sound of instructions to civilians rang out echoing, and directing them to lay down on the ground and stay still to avoid further bloodshed.  “You hear that?  We got to get D’andere some help.  Shouldn’t have come down here.”

“Fucking asthma!  You pussy, D’andre.” The biggest one said to their wheezing buddy. “Grab his punk ass up, and let’s try to go. Damn five-O’s everywhere.  We are going to get picked up with these crazy crackers.”  It was then that the bare chested leader of the little group of thugs noticed Jack and turned to him. “Who the hell is that?”

Jack brought up his weapon at them.  Shaking with rage, he had a mind to shoot them all, seeing Anarchy’s condition.

“Oh shit,” One of the young guys holding D’andre said.

“Whoa, whoa,” the big tough guy’s hands came up in surrender. “Fuck man.”

“No, Jack, no it wasn’t them,” she said from behind Jack.

“Yeah, Jack, it wasn’t us.”  One short kid tried to sound reasonable and gave a tentative smile.

Jack looked out to see an APC roll down the street, and the roar of choppers again. “You better get out of here,” Jack motioned the young men to take off.  They nodded and tried to run with their ailing friend between them.  Jack backed up into Anarchy.  “Go, go on over to that exit over there.”  “Where is Jedi?  Have you seen him? I was supposed to meet him.”  As they came to a stop at the other exit from the garage they watched civilians streaming by them.  Jack holstered his weapon and took off the mask and put it in his bag.  They looked back and saw one of the masked men walking calmly down the street a pistol in his hand.  Jack noted the other masked men spread out evenly in the crowd moving ever forward in a sweep.  They made him think of some of the shyster private contractors he met overseas — operatives of what?  The government?  Jack drew down behind the half concrete wall, pulling Anarchy with him.  He watched people crying, screaming and running in the street and through half-filled parking lots. He glanced back to where the APC’s began to off load paramilitary law enforcement.  Jack looked down at his phone and dialed Morales.  He heard a phone near them go off.  Confused, both he and Anarchy looked over the half wall of the parking garage to see one of the masked men looking down and pulling out a phone.

“Morales?” Jack said softly into his phone.  Anarchy stared at Jack wide eyed, and they both glanced cautiously over the wall again.

The masked killer standing still in the middle of running throngs was speaking into his phone.  “Jack that you? Where are you buddy?  Time to take down some Feds and their goons.  Time to stand up against these bastards. Something bad has happened to Anarchy.  Some of those Red Brigades took her. Time to step up Buddy. Where are you?”

Jack looked with wide eyes to Anarchy.  She shook her head no.  “No, no not Red Brigade.  Three young guys and, and …,” She whimpered, her lips drawing thin.  She looked back with tears in her eyes to the man in black.  “… a man in a mask.”   Jack had a sinking feeling as he watched the man on the phone.

“I can’t understand you, Morales, you’re muffled.”  He watched holding his breath. The one on the phone pulled off his mask and began to walk along in the stream of people as his work here seemed done.  It was Morales on the phone, he was the guy in the mask.  Jack felt fear thrill through him at the sight of his friend there like some evil thing out of nightmares.  Jack wanted to shoot him, shoot him over and over again and kill his ass, but he knew suddenly in a flash the truth.  Morales, the friendship, the long talks, the pushing and pushing him down this road, and the computer promoting him with every radical temptation and the constant bombardment of paranoia, hell, even the guy in the bar, and finally the IRS harassment.  He gasped in and out, the terror threatening to drown him.  He turned his head away and muttered, “Manchurian Candidate.”

“What, Jack?  What was that?  Where are you, Buddy?  I know you brought your piece, got to defend our people. Tell me where you are?” Morales/Jedimaster123 asked.  “We need to hook up, you and me.  Got to get this shit sorted out.” Morales was looking around for him. He sensed his presence and to Jack’s horror Morales hung up and seemed to fiddle with his phone.  Jack was about to say something to Anarchy when Morales looked up from his phone and snapped his head in the general direction of the parking garage.

Jack felt a cold rush of adrenaline spike in him.  He dropped the phone and crushed it under his boot heal.  “We got to go.”  Jack grabbed Anarchy and bent low and pulled her along with him to the opposite side of the garage.  With a grunt of pain, he climbed over the half wall and helped Anarchy over as well. They moved off down the back street and they paused at a parked police car.  They looked to the parking lots.  Down a block near the riot, he saw lined up people being processed into the busses to be taken away.  “Stay close.”

“What does it mean, Jack?” Anarchy asked him.

“Set up. We trust no one.”  They ran between cars, and he felt acutely the weapon in his holster bouncing there against his ribs.  The cops down at the end of the block funneled civilians into lines, but so many had run down the opposite way just past Jack and Anarchy, that the system had fallen apart and the shield line had not held. Jack pulled her up, “Can you run?”

Anarchy nodded to him, and they moved quickly along the back street to the corner and looked at the street that had parking lots on either side.  Down one block passed him in the direction of the city was where he parked.  The people parked too close to the court building would soon find their way blocked off by federally-gifted, police APCs that jack could see about 4 blocks over in a line with men around them preparing for something, but Jack was at the far end of the farthest parking area away from them.  Far enough away, he thought, that he could simply drive over the sidewalk and be gone.  He stood now and jogged along with Anarchy holding his hand.  He saw in another row of cars running parallel with him a young man and woman in pink Students for Equity shirts.  The young man had blood smeared through his hair, and the girl was pale.  They glanced at Jack and Anarchy, and he was struck by the thought that those in the status quo had effectively begun the silencing of any voices outside the bloated corrupt system.  He saw in their young faces the fear and recognition too.  He moved past them towards his pickup.  He was horrified to see that another block out from them in the direction of down town was a secondary barricade being set up, and cops were there to ring them into the net.  He was at his door fishing out his keys when he stared at them.  He was breathing hard. “GPS tracking, damn it.” He looked around anxiously and backed away from his truck.  He looked around when an old 74 Trans Am, Classic white with blue stripes roared to a stop, rubber smoking.  Coughing, Jack stared at the cute blond woman behind the wheel and another woman in the back and a child about ten years old.   The small curvy blond with big hair popped up out of the driver’s side her cheek slightly swollen and darkening.  “That’s it.  That’s it.  I knew I would find the truck with that damn patriotic theme, big eagle, I remember that,” She chirped. “Jack?”  She asked, but she seemed positive it was him.

Jack’s eyes went wide as MaryMagdeline7’s voice came out of the buxom blond in a zombie t-shirt and jeans.  She was no grandmother that was for damn sure, and was the spitting image of her on-line avatar. “Mary?” He asked incredulous.

“Jack we got to get out of here,” Anarchy squeaked and tugged on his arm, but Jack could not look away from Mary, Sarah Goodman.

“Sarah! Will you come on, damn it! We got to get away from here. This was stupid,” the other woman yelled from the car.  He knew immediately it was MaryMagdalene7’s sister June and the child in the back Sam.

“You’re…” Jack stared at her.

“Jack, I will explain really, but she’s right we’ve got to go. I am Sarah Goodman, MaryMagdeline, just get in the car I knew you would be in trouble, and I knew that damn pick up anywhere, just get in…”

“You’re not a grandmother?”

“No, Jack.” She smiled at him.

Behind them cars streamed way, and down a block back in the direction of the riot, there was a screech of tires and a fender bender.  The place was chaos as cars tried to exit the parking areas, but the cops did not seem to do much to stop the fish that missed the first netting.

“Jack!”  Anarchy yelped.

Jack turned in the street to see not far away Morales/jedimaster123 on the corner opposite them holding a pistol at his side.  As their eyes locked, Morales lowered the ski mask looked around himself and stepped off the curb heading their way with the pistol coming up.  Jack backed up going for his own weapon but knew that this was not going to end well.   He knew right then that this was what was supposed to happen.  Morales and someone, something had created a perfect profile of him for the evening news, angry, vet, failing business, divorced, with IRS trouble, goes crazy.  Maybe, maybe there were other guys just like himself scattered around the whole protest area dead and perfect scapegoats as well.  “Get Down!” Jack ordered the women. There was the sound of a chopper.  It was all happening so fast.

Jack blinked rapidly from the swirling wind of the chopper as he heard the loud echoing clap of a high powered rifle, and Morales spun and fell in the street.   Jack looked up squinting at a Dallas cop leaning out of a police chopper. It seemed the cops had chosen sides.  Morales was not moving, and Jack froze and put his hands out dropping his own weapon to clatter in the road. The chopper banked away going after what he saw on the street, half a block away from him.  It was another masked man running.  Jack fell forward on his knees hitting the pavement and was shaking.  He felt hands pulling him up.  He wobbled around taking in the city, smoke and darkness descending on them.  Mary was in his face and Anarchy too calling is name.  “I’m okay.  I’m okay.” He looked around for his weapon. Where was his weapon?

“They killed Morales!” Anarchy yelled.

“Here it is,” Mary said pointing the pistol at him to give it back to Jack.

“My God!” He snatched the weapon from her. “Get in the car.”

“Sorry,” Mary yelped.

A pick up rolled to stop behind Mary’s car, and a man got out, big, shaggy hair, Cowboy jersey, and a furious red face.  Mary turned with a start. Jack came around the car and motioned Anarchy to get in the back seat.  His eyes were locked on the man who came marching up to them.  The air around them was charged.

“Oh shit!”  June yelped.  “Sarah get in the car; get in the car now.”

“Mommy!”  The child yelled.

“Jack!” Anarchy cried.

Jack looked around at the area as more people got free to try and take their vehicles and escape.  Wayne was on them, and Jack did not wait for the situation to develop, no time for civil debate or accusations.  Jack launched forward a hard right punch at the man. He felt his fist connect and the crack and snap of the guy’s nose.  Jack puffed out a few breaths shaking his hand.  Suddenly, Wayne pitched forward toward Jack and grappled with him, more to keep from falling.

“Jack be careful!” Mary yelled at him.

“Oh my God, “June shrieked.

Jack banged Wayne against the car as they tussled, and then Jack shoved off of Wayne.  Jack went in once, twice, with a punch to the gut and bounced back from Wayne.  Wayne stumbled away from them and weaved and bent over and threw up, and nose bleeding he wobbled off a few steps and leaned against the driver’s side door of his pickup.

“Oh Jack, oh Jack,” Mary, Sara Goodman, cried. “Oh no, I am so sorry.”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut hard against the pain and shook his hand, and then he motioned Mary into the car.  Wayne came forward with the tire iron again.   Stumbling away, Jack scrambled and pulled his pistol.  He leveled it at Wayne.  “Back it up! I’ll kill you if I have to.”

Wayne froze breathing hard.  Stunned from the pain, Wayne slowly backed up to his truck. “Screw you Sarah!”

“Go to hell, Wayne!” June, the sister, yelled back.

Jack kept the weapon on Wayne until he moved out of range, and then Jack quickly holstered the weapon, regretting having pulled it at all here.  He moved around quickly to passenger’s side, opened the door and fell into the seat.  “All cell phones, give them to me now!”  The women yelped and complained, but then he felt hands passing them to him, and he turned them over each removing the cards and dumping them out the window. “Let’s go.”

Jack sucked in a breath when Mary peeled out leaving the smell of burnt rubber in the air as she came around quickly to the next street and swerved around a car that barreled out of a parking lot.  Jack gave a grunt as Mary’s driving slung him around in the car.  Around them, people moved down the side walks away from the trap that had been laid for them.  He gritted his teeth as they rushed towards a barricade being erected. He saw the surprised look of the police officers who leaped out of the way.  “Mary! Mary!” Jack yelled as he braced his feet and hands for impact.  She shattered the wooden barricade flashed past the authorities.  Anarchy’s scream rang in Jack’s head.

They were gone juking and jiving through the downtown traffic and disappearing from this world.

***

Jack stood on the porch looking out at the expanse of the open pasture land and in the distance a purple mountain’s majesty and felt the warm spring breeze which was welcomed after the long Montana winter.  He could smell the bacon frying behind him in the kitchen, and he smiled when the door opened, and the lanky young man Sam joined him.  He heard the patter of little feet behind him on the wooden floor, and he glanced back at his two little daughters that joined them.  Sam a young teen grinned and was down the steps walking across the yard to the flag pole.  Jack followed.  Together they raised the flag up to snap in the rain-fresh breeze.  He stared up at the symbol of a nation he considered long gone now.  Sam didn’t say anything, but patted him on the back.  “I’ll go finish up the chores first Pop,” Sam said. Jack smiled and glanced to the herb garden, the wood shop, the sheep pens and heard the chickens clucking.  He smiled and considered the windmill and solar panels. It was a good life, unplugged.

“Breakfast!”

Jack turned to Sarah, his wife, who wore a blue denim shirt and skirt and stood smiling on the porch.  Inside he could hear June, his sister-in-law, and Melissa, Anarchy, talking.  His daughters, Martha and Betsy pulled on his hands. “Yeah, come on Pops,” Martha chirped.

“Come, come on, Pops.”

He nodded and walked that way with them bouncing on either side of him tugging on his hands.

He climbed the stairs into the simple two story farm house and glanced to his crucifix on the wall and around the home at all the little crystals, icons of a woman, and potted plants all signs of Sarah’s faith.  There was no TV, no computers only a hardwired telephone, a ham radio, checkbook on the desk with a newspaper, a magazines and lots of classic books.  He entered the kitchen to find the table set and the children gathering, and on the side board was a stack of political pamphlets, envelopes stamped and addressed to friends and supporters of the new movement to restore America.  He grinned as Sarah went to the mimeograph machine and continued to crank out the newsletter of hope for freedom and a return to the constitution.  Sarah smirked at Jack as she churned out his political philosophy.  He walked over and lifted the pamphlet in his hand and stared down at it. Jack looked up as he heard the screen door open and close.

“Read it, Pop,” Sam said.  The boy fell into the chair at the table and began to fill his plate and his mouth.  June punched her nephew in the arm.

Jack stood there looking over the words and shook his head feeling embarrassed and humbled.

“Go on Jack read some of it.  What is it about this week?”  Melissa, Anarchy, asked.

Jack heard Sarah stop chugging out the pamphlets.  She came up beside him, warm and soft.   She hugged him tight.  He glanced down into her face and smiled a little when she nodded.

“We are the people. We have not left our nation.  We have not rebelled and set all to chaos.  We have, instead, knitted our hearts, minds, and purpose to that of the founding fathers and each other.  We are resolved to continue to live by the principles that all men and women are created equal and are endowed with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that we will continue to support free speech, freedom from religious persecution, the right to privacy and due process under the law when it can be shown the laws are fair and just.  We obey such laws as are right, good and which do not violate our conscience.  Those laws with which we cannot cooperate have been enumerated by duly elected leaders of the people, and if called upon, we will peacefully conduct acts of civil disobedience against an illegitimate administration which does not represent us. You see, our connection to each other, our love, charity towards all people, and a commitment to certain principles of individual liberty is the moral foundation for perhaps a new social contract when it is deemed the old one no longer can apply.”  Jack laughed softly. “And it goes on from there, meeting times, phone trees, letter writing campaigns and the like.”

Sam and the children clapped.  Jack shrugged, and Sarah just shook her head and kissed him on the cheek and went to do dishes.  He still never agreed with his wife on everything, but after 5 years on his father’s ranch making a life for them safe from the government, he realized she had the right to think of things differently at least here on this ranch a person’s conscience was sacred.  After all that had happened with calls for investigations, arrests of domestic terrorists suspects, things had been quiet, people afraid to speak, because out there, being a free thinker put many a man in prison for disturbing the peace of the nation, a nation intolerant of anything but the status quo, but here, just here, he lived free for now, and he would keep planting those seeds in his children and in his friends and strangers he met.  Here finally, he was connected to all that mattered to him, God, family, the land, and his values. “Limit power, and free the individual.”  It was his mantra now, and the strategy for a long game. It had attracted other like-minded folk to gather in this area and the connections grew in a new organic way.

Sam bolted from the table for the front door.  “Got things to do.”

“Hey, you’re supposed to say excuse me,” Jack hollered after him.

June and the girls complained bitterly at Jack’s yelling, and he smiled at them and shrugged.

“Pop,” his son called to him.

Jack hurried to his son on the front porch and stared up into the vast blue sky to see a dark object approaching. He squinted and moved down the steps only to see a drone low fly over their heads, tracking on them.  Jack glanced to his son who was staring up and frowning bitterly, and Jack patted his son’s shoulder. “Let them watch; we don’t need them anymore.” His son walked towards the barn shaking his head, and Jack watched the sky. “Deliver me from the workers of iniquity,” Jack murmured, “and save me from bloody men.”

The absence of light…

It has come to my attention that there is a disturbing trend in the world of story telling to go DARK.  I love thrillers, dark little tales, fantasy with an edge, creepy sci fi, but in all of that I always found there was often a glimmer of hope, of redemption of understanding of the human condition.  It is not that I think all stories should have some Polly Anna ending, but I find too often a lack of any sense of moral edification in some of these tales.  More and more I find that the dark tale does not serve the function it once did which was to remind us of our darkness so we can identify it, fight, reveal it, thwart it or destroy it.  Now it seems more and more that the darkness is displayed and held up as inherent, dominant and inevitable, and unavoidable.   The darkness in us and around us is not to astound and dismay us but to be shown as in every person, frighteningly common place.  There is no goodness that is presented to push back on this dark story telling trend.  All is corrupt according to these tales.  I find this deeply disturbing.  Several shows I thought might be fascinating since I tend to writer thrillers were entrenched in this dark fantasy mind set, so much so I found I could not watch them.  This is saying a lot as I am huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and other dark writers, but even in his darkest tales, I was given to believe that the abhorrent behaviors were just that abnormal.  That while we might all see some aspect of ourselves darkly reflected back at us we were never to be complacent and think oh everyone is deeply corrupt and sick.

To each his own I say.  We are all on the path together and equals in many ways, so I won’t pass judgment on someone that enjoys these stories, but I can’t watch them because well, okay, I just felt dirty afterwards lol.. 🙂 hehehe.  Oh man! Hehehehe.  Here is my short list of shows I just could not watch, even though sometimes I thought I might like them…  Heck for me these were more disturbing than Dexter 🙂 lol

Seven, The Bates Motel, American Horror Story, Good Wife, House..

Too each his own, and if you love one of these shows well, it is all good, just not my thing 🙂  That is why it is good we still for now live in a free country, and we each get to make our choices as we see fit.  Have fun out there in the dark…. 🙂