TRAVELER — PART III, Adrift With the Space Cowboy

TRAVELER — PART III

Adrift With the Space Cowboy

“Sensi—no you idiot, I’m just grasping what’s before me and not thinking with my pecker in the Afterlife!” I couldn’t handle it anymore. If he wasn’t already dead, I might’ve strangled him.

“Whoa easy there, Tommy. It’s cool. We’ll worry about women later. What do you want to do?” He asked while turning his baseball hat backwards.

I had to stop and think about that because I rightly didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know what my existence was now, aside of the obvious fact that I was dead and everything I’ve ever known was obliterated. It was a lot to process for anybody…except Earl. We’re dead and the first thing he can think of is girls. That of course drew me to my next question.

“Wait a minute. How would you even know where to find other people? I mean, ghosts?” I asked while looking down at my feet and baffling at the fact that I could see thousands of stars beneath them. If it weren’t for the fact that the situation was so hopeless, I’d be awestruck right now.

“Well, I found you didn’t I?” He stated with a matter-of-fact tone. “I dunno rightly, I think I sensed you. You know, like one of those Jedi!”

The thought of Earl wearing that Tennessee Titans hat with Jedi robes and a lightsaber made out of a beer can and a flashlight suddenly snapped my gloom in a burst of laughter. “I…you know that feels right.” I said finally.

“Sure does!” Earl offered with his usual ability to state the obvious.

If we could sense other ghosts, we might be able to find others and perhaps find some answers. The most predominant issue I was grappling with was, since the Earth was destroyed and ghosts usually haunt a particular area, did that mean I was damned to haunt the remains of the planet like some sort of galactic graveyard or could we roam?

Wordlessly I tried pushing myself forward with a swimming motion and unsurprisingly, I managed to only make it look like I was imitating a swimmer and in doing so, only mount further confusion with Earl. Further attempts seemed to fall flat, which spurred my new companion to comment.

“No, you just have to think about the direction you want to go. You’re dead, dummy! You don’t move like a person no more!” Earl stated with some authority.

I looked at him skeptically before quieting my mind and trying it. I think it was with the immediacy by which I shot forward that I was surprised; it was entirely effortless. I remember reading some time ago about how ghosts were thought to be electromagnetic shadows of ourselves. Echoes of energy imprinted on the world. If I was essentially sentient electromagnetic energy, that meant with some limitations, there was literally nowhere I couldn’t go.

“We can go wherever we want, as fast as we want…” I stated to Earl for confirmation.

“Reckon so.”

“Except I have no idea where to go.” I stated in muted frustration. Perhaps that’s why ghosts haunt places, they can’t think of anywhere else to go. The very thought of it sickened me.

Hangman’s Tree [Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge]

 Hangman’s Tree

By T.A. Saunders

“We’re all dead.”

“We tried to save you all.”

“There’s no one left. Just you and me.”

“You can’t be too sure of that. You never leave the area around your house.”

“Anything that lived isn’t human anymore. They’re…well, they’re not human.”

“If you brought one here, we might be able to study them.”

“I won’t. No good you can do anyway.”

These were the kinds of conversations I had every day with my only companion. I’m not real sure how it started. He called it a ‘pandemic.’ Not sure if that means it started with panda bears in China, but I know it ended with a whole lot of dead folks and nobody held accountable. Except for my companion. I hold him accountable every day, for all the good that it does. He tells me he almost has the cure worked out, but he needs some infected people that have gone and changed. Never had much use for racism or bigotry, but I sure do have a problem with folk trying to tear my arm out of my socket to beat me with it. Fine with my arms where they are and my companion is fine not meddling with Nature more than Mankind already has. Dang fool.

“You have to trust me. You might be saving the whole human race if you help me.”

“Who says the human race is worth saving? Haven’t seen much worth saving here.”

“That’s a very jaded outlook.”

“Consider myself realistic. Most people aren’t worth the dirt they walk on.”

“But what about the people that are?”

That got me thinking more than I normally do about doing what he asked of me. For every self-entitled, smart phone-addicted dimwit out there, there’s probably one decent sort that doesn’t much deserve this fate. I’m fine here on my farm. Food’s still good and my water comes from my well and that’s still clean. Even have my own gas pump with a few hundred gallons still left in it. I don’t have much need to go out looking for them diseased folk. But my companion has a point. So I give it further consideration.

“I don’t trust you, but tell me what you want me to do. I’ll think about it.”

“Capture somebody with the infection and bring them here, to this tree.”

“Right. Not sure how I’m going to manage that even if I agree.”

“The soldier hanging from this tree has an air taser. Take it and his sidearm.”

“Better shot with my .30-60 but fine. Suppose having a pistol won’t hurt.”

Didn’t much like handling folks that have been exposed. That’s why the soldier that was hanging from my old oak tree was still there. Some of those diseased folk caught him on the way to the city with a truck full of other soldiers. Stayed in my house and locked all my doors and windows, then drew the blinds rather than risk going out and helping him. He was a soldier. He knew the price he could pay. So they hung him and beat his corpse a while with bats and axes, howling something fierce through the night. No idea what they did with his friends, but they left him hanging from this here oak tree.

“You haven’t much time.”

“Begging your pardon, I have all the time I want these days.”

“How long do you think you’ll last out there, on your own?”

“As long as I need to. Told you before I’m on a farm.”

“If they were there once, they’ll come back.”

“Haven’t done so in a few weeks. They’re probably killing each other in the city.”

“You can’t be sure.”

I stare down at the walkie-talkie I’ve been talking to my companion through. It’s hitched to the soldier’s belt and I can’t get the confounded thing undone. When those diseased crazies were swinging away at this poor boy’s body, they must have smashed the buckle. I don’t exactly agree with my companion, but he makes a strong argument. I can’t be too sure they won’t come back. I decide it’s wiser to go board up my house, rather than standing out here in the open waiting for something to happen. I gather the gun the dead soldier has but I leave the taser. Would probably electrocute myself with it anyway.

“Are you still there?”

“Yep.”

“Are you going to help me?”

“Why don’t you send more soldiers?”

“There aren’t any more left to send. They’re elsewhere, or dead most of them.”

“Sounds like it would be wiser for me to not help you. I like living.”

“And if they come back? You won’t be able to stop all of them yourself.”

“…”

“Hello?”

He probably hears it. The heavy breathing of the one that crept up on me while I was standing here talking and bit me in the neck like a wolf would. He’s staring at the walkie-talkie on the soldier’s belt, while I bleed out. As wild as this disease makes a person, he probably thinks its the tree talking. Ugly cuss looks like he’s taken to cutting on his own face or survived somebody doing it to him. Still not sure if I would’ve made any difference if I had chose to help. But I’ll make a difference now in the seconds I have. I’ll make the difference a single bullet can make.

“Hello? Are you still there? Please respond?”

I last long enough to see the muzzle flash from the pistol. Heck, hope I didn’t miss.

END

The Good Works of Aloysius Woodward

The Good Works of Aloysius Woodward

by T.A. Saunders

My laughter is the sound of a mind fragmenting with terror as I look upon the incomprehensible thing writhing in the dark. There is little comfort in knowing that it has arrived at my beckoning as I watch the multitude of long spidery appendages reach out for my sacrifice. Miss Eva Thompson truly did deserve to die, but I wonder as I watch it draw her screaming body into itself, envelop her and silence her ear-splitting shrieks of fear, if I have perhaps gone too far. It is ridiculous that I should have such doubt, given all that has come to pass. Yet, I am compelled to reflect upon it as I silently observe the great gaping maw, filled with millions of needle-like teeth grind away at the unrecognizable meat and bone of the woman that humiliated me with laughter and mockery for asking her to coffee. Alas, even a thing called up from primordial darkness cannot digest hair. Miss Thompson did so have a lovely flaxen mane.

I feel I am justified, even if such an end is horrified and grotesque. Were people a bit kinder to their fellows and most of all me, I might not have had to call upon black craft and science to avenge myself of wrongdoings. Before this, I was a mild man, a quiet man and a man content to read good books, tutor those in need of learning and pleased to live out of the way of those who would frown upon me and my intellectual pursuits. No. I am not brutal. People are brutal. People who cannot help but to take those more anxious and fearful than themselves and find ways with words to break them or by closed fist demean them. The awful thing before me is a justice born of the very deeds that I have suffered and it is a means of cleansing them from the world.

“Mister Woodward,” my next victim called out, “There is really no need for such theatrics. I understand now that you are quite serious. If you let me go, I will most certainly revise the grade on your dissertation on Magic and its Relation to Space-Time!

Professor Eldridge the fat, pompous goat. I regret that I ran out of duct tape because I used too much to bind that brute, Matt Brosman. Now, because his mouth is free the good professor obviously feels this is an invitation to simper like a mewling kitten about his fate. Most unfortunate.

“I believe your words were: ‘This insane, unsubstantiated tripe has no business being in print anymore than you deserve a degree from our fine university for writing it.’ The only grade I require is the ‘A’ for the effort to drag your corpulent mass of arrogance here for proof of my discoveries.” I replied while hooking the rusty, but serviceable chain to his back. I had to use an abandoned pig farm for my purposes. It was the only location I could find that was both reasonably close to the university and remote enough that nobody would hear the sounds of death that were sure to grace the evening. It also had a manure pit that could serve as a means to safely contain the creature for my purposes.

“You cannot possibly expect you’ll not be found out, Aloysius Woodward!” The portly educator howls at me, “The police will discover this place and lock you away! See reason before it’s too late.”

“Reason, yes.” I reply with clear derision as I haul his weighty form over the maw of teeth, long, insectoid appendages and black, shapeless mass. “I saw reason when I placed before you a notebook full of calculations that proved the symmetry of what we understand as magic and real-world mathematics that allow for barriers of Space-Time to be breached. Now, I see you feeding the findings of my science. Good evening, Professor Eldridge. I pray you are not difficult to digest.”

The garbled symphony of the professor being broken apart in the saw-toothed confines of the indescribable thing’s maw combined with the putrid churning of its digestive juices both sickened me and enthralled me.

In what world would such a creature exist? What evolution would require a thing to be nothing more than an a voracious eater of flesh? It seemed to almost have a dog’s intelligence; it knew when a meal was coming and it understood that that clank of chains meant that the meal was close. When it salivated, a yellowish substance seeped from the corners of its mouth and its pincered, wiry appendages clacked eagerly to express its desire for food. While my ability to call forth such a horror through the marriage of ancient magic and bleeding edge technology was a most profound discovery, I am quite sure that I would never want to visit the place that my monstrous avenger comes from.

“And now for you, Mister Brosman,” I said with a most pleased tone. Matt Brosman and I went to high school together, where he delighted tormenting me with daily humiliations in front of classmates that were paired with daily beatings. He always smiled with this savage, unchecked malice when he brought his meaty fist against my body. We also had the misfortune of attending the same university, though his presence was by the blessing of a football scholarship, whereas mine was through hard work and academic excellence.

Mister Brosman had little to say, on the account of having his mouth duct taped shut. When the drugs I used to knock him out wore off, he had far too many threats to offer to my liking, so I mummified his mouth much like the rest of him. He is a rather strong fellow and I couldn’t take any chances for his escape. His was the most deserving punishment of the three and the most difficult to arrange. Imagine my joy when I discovered he was involved with Miss Thompson? It made capturing both of them so much simpler.

“I want you to remember every day that you decided to treat me like common filth, Mister Brosman,” I implore my former tormentor. “I want you to remember every bruise and every moment of laughter you had at my expense. They are your eulogy, Matt Brosman.”

He mumbled something, I know not what. Given his crude vocabulary I couldn’t expect it was much to hear anyway. As before the chain was hooked to him at his belt loop and with a bit of effort, I pull him into place. The nightmare fiend was eager and seemed to grow more hungry the more I fed it, said the excess of yellowish saliva and the loud click-clack of outstretched, pincered limbs.

While the temptation was there to draw out the bully’s death, I thought better of it and simply let go of the slack and allowed Mister Brosman to plummet into the creature’s waiting jaws. Sadly, he didn’t scream as he died. He growled at me like some rabid thing and kept his hateful blue eyed gaze upon me, even as flesh turned to liquid and bone came undone. Alas, the willful bastard has robbed me of the savoring of his death. At least I have the joy of its finality.

I turn to replace my equipment back in its cases and replace my journals in my briefcase. My work is done for the evening and while I cannot consider myself a dietary expert on inter-dimensional fiends, I must conclude that the glistening black horror in the manure pit behind me has taken in enough food to survive till the morrow, where I will have more of my tormentors to feed to it.

As I move to depart, I feel a snag at my pant leg. Thinking it nothing more than a metal latch that I’ve caught upon I turn to remove it, only to find the creature has extended one of its limbs over the edge of the old manure pit. Before I can simply tear it free, the clever horror locks its pincer wholly around my ankle and hauls me up into the air. I should be horrified beyond reason, but I find that I am left in wonder of the spectacle of its open mouth. The rows of teeth are endless and it has a star-like configuration of barbed tongues that I had not seen before.

My good works of science and vengeance it seems, are at an end.

End

Meeting God (Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge)

Meeting God”

by T.A. Saunders

My companion and I had no idea what to expect when the Temporal Rift Generator came to life in a yawning bloom of crackling azure and white. The light had danced off my skin in such a way that it reminded me of how water looks from below, when sunlight shines upon it. I only knew the sight from holopedias, but it was enough for me to appreciate what I was seeing. My companion, Hadley likewise was held in silent awe of the spectacle the scientific wonder before us had made. She and I were about to make history among cheering comrades, scientists and other officials that had interest in the mission to breach temporal space, in order to garner knowledge of our lost, distant past.

Hadley crossed the threshold first. It was like watching somebody walk into a blue sun and be consumed by its flames. I was struck with a sense of apprehension as the tendrils of energy abruptly drew her from sight, but left the long shadow she had cast for a moment or two longer than her actual disappearance. The thought she might have been torn asunder through 4th dimensional space and there was no way to know for certain was in its own way, completely horrifying. I looked back at the smiling faces and clapping hands and allowed myself the brief luxury of wondering if they had any such fear for me? Probably not. I stepped through and prepared to meet our past or my destruction.

Crossing into temporal space was like being cast onto an ocean of softly glowing white water. I could see my past, present and future simultaneously, reflected in the waves and ripples that flared outward from me. There was no pain but there was incredible disorientation; I had no sense of up or down or if I was falling or sailing upward. The hazy images collided and mingled together in such a way that it was impossible to focus on any one thing and glean a significant truth. It was knowledge of all existence, but no way to comprehend it in a manageable way. The blurred sea of light and jumbled tangents was short-lived however as the temporal displacement actuator strapped to my wrist beeped three times, signaling that where I was about to disengage from 4th dimensional space.

I hit a hard surface with an abrupt jarring. The light was much brighter than I was used to so there was a few moments that along with my continued disorientation, I was stuck blind by the glare in my eyes. Dillon. I heard the name Dillon being called out quietly in my haze and I realized that it was Hadley talking to me and we had been deposited in an alley way. I didn’t recognize her at first, thanks to her appearance re-imager. Her hair had been turned long and dark, with eyes to match and her skin was a soft brown color. She had also imaged a charcoal colored dress suit with a white blouse and black shoes.

She nudged my shoulder with her foot and told me to re-image myself before somebody mistook me for a killer alien robot. I remember seeing some of the old pop culture references to robots from archives of the 20th century and I cast my companion a disgruntled look, before finding my footing. After muttering about liking my shiny, golden skin I activated my own appearance re-imager. There was a flash of green light, as the re-imager cast a grid across my metal body and calculated the parameters required to render a three dimensional hologram over the surface. I don’t think my outfit was quite as nice as Hadley’s. While I enjoyed the darker skin and the long, dread-locked hair it gave me, I’m not sure what I thought of the little olive green hat and the brightly colored shirt that followed. The pants and the sandals at least matched and I offered my smiling cohort a shrug, before setting forth to figure out exactly where we had ended up. We would be here for only two hours, before our actuators recalled us, so we had to work quickly.

The first thing I noticed was how immense and noisy this city was. I never expected that the world of our creators would be so loud and for that matter, filthy. I nearly stepped on a discarded cylinder crafted from aluminum as we walk down a cement pathway crowded by people. None of them were smiling. Nobody looked at one another; they either stared through one another or down at some sort of device, Hadley and I could only assume was for communication.

These were our creators? These people would eventually build our progenitor and imbue us with life? I felt as though I was walking amongst ghosts rather than the brilliant minds that created the first Synthi-Sapians. As we walked down this path of apathy Hadley commented that perhaps our creation was originally meant to augment those of humans, to give them the joy they were missing. As I looked up at a flashing red sign that said WOMEN FOR YOUR PLEASURE I began to wonder if the truth of Hadley’s statement was something less uplifting. This city felt like a dirty little maze, meant to slowly kill off the uncaring souls that wandered it.

These were our gods. These people, who lived only for their own self-fulfillment would eventually create us in their image. Yet I know of no Synth that behaves like our gods. As we watched two of them fight on a street corner we passed over something one of them referred to as crack, Hadley and I came to a realization. In all likelihood, we had been created for their fulfillment, their lusts and not out of some noble purpose, as we have believed for thousands of years. It became quite clear why our gods died out. Our actuators couldn’t send us back fast enough.

END