Category Archives: Short Story

The Antidote – short story

Hey guess what: tomorrow is October 3, and ever since I was born, October 3rd has been my birthday.  I’ve clocked 71 of those tomorrow.  71 earth orbits around the sun, that’s a lot of space miles, yes?  Or is that space smiles? 🙂  I’m not fishing for “Happy Birthday” wishes here, in fact I don’t much care for them, but I am reminding myself that I’ve made it into the company of “elders” and that gives me some leeway, as Ashley King of  https://misfitspirit.wordpress.com/category/blogging/ said in her latest post, to express unpopular opinions.  Well in my case, I call them thoughts, but they remain unpopular nevertheless because, well, they don’t come from the same trough most people fill up their minds from.

So, without further ado, here’s a short story (longer than my usual shorty shorts) or if you prefer, a parable, that expresses my life’s philosophy to this point.


The Antidote

[a short story by  ~burning woman~  told by Sha’Tara]

Quote: “Since my house burned down I now have a better view of the rising moon”― Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723)

Quote: The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” ― John Keats

It’s wrong… it’s all wrong, all so wrong!”

The old woman lies, thin and straight in the center of her retirement home bed, small bony hands clenched in tight fists pressed hard against her temples, pushing up strands of thinning grey-white hair.  She has her eyes tightly closed, as if she’s trying to see something in her mind that her physical surroundings would only confuse or cancel out.  She hears the voice again.

Please auntie Zee, please don’t make a scene or they’ll give you more pills to calm you down and I’ve come a long ways to visit with you.  Can we talk, please?” 

Zee opens one eye, slowly, deliberately, and stares at her eighteen year old grand-niece sitting primly in the bedside chair.  With great effort, she unclenches her hands, drops her arms onto the covers and cautiously opens both eyes.  With piercing blue eyes, she looks at the tall girl, scanning her attire and tight pony tail of thick auburn hair.  She lets out a deep, deep sigh.

Oh Sandi, thank God it’s you and not Jean.  I had a very complex dream last night, or was it earlier today, and I was re-hashing what I was being shown.  You probably don’t want to hear about that – Lord knows the rest of the family sure doesn’t want to hear about my “visions” and dreams.”    

Don’t lump me in with them, aunt Zee.  I’m only eighteen but I’ve always preferred listening to your “stories” than to the rest of ‘em.  They bore me to death, those people.  That’s why I left home to be on my own.  I’m fed up with the whining, the oneupmanship and infighting plus the endless BS.  You know that money you and uncle Doug gave me so I could at least get a couple of college years in?  They were trying to get their hands on it.  ‘We’ll invest it for you,’ they said.  I’m done with that bunch.  So, sure, tell me about what’s all so wrong.  Tell me all of it, I want to hear it.  Can I record it?”

Auntie Zee, known as Mrs. Zelda Mortimer to the retirement home files and Ms Zee to the staff, pushes the button that brings her bed up and leans back into a thick pillow for comfort.  She smiles at Sandi.

Sorry, again, for thinking of you as part of the family.  You were never.  Of course you can record what I have to say.  You may find some of it useful, who knows?  Could you pass me that ice water and bring the bowl of jelly beans closer so we can dig in?”

She sips her water through the straw, grabs a few candies from the dish and sighs.  “Some of life’s little but important pleasures, my dear.”

Sandi giggles and helps herself to the jelly beans also, then waits.  Zee closes her eyes, chewing slowly on her jelly beans then begins her “sharing.”

Way back when, even before I was a teenager, I used to have dreams, visions, and “encounters” which I’m sure you’ve heard about.  Maybe I should have never told anyone but it’s hard to keep such things to oneself, especially when the information is not for you particularly, but concerns so many people.  Did you know you’re never too young, or too old, to be taught, and to learn?  That even when you know you’re close to dying life remains a deep mystery unraveling itself in your mind?  That when you are thus engaged, life and death blend into each other and you don’t really mind “dying” since your mind has freed itself to wander away from your body, rediscovering an old freedom it used to know before it incarnated?  I’m telling you this because I know you have it in you to be a visionary, though what you do with this information is your business, not mine. 

Zee let out a deep sigh.  “The problem is sorting it out, the real from the fake, the truth from the lie.  I used to believe that it didn’t matter as long as I could hold the entire picture together, at the same time, in my mind.  I could see the juxtaposing of lies and truth; of real and, well, not so real, or at least, not so real in this space.  Nothing, you understand, can ever be “unreal” and there is no such thing as fiction…”  

“Stop, wait, auntie Zee.  What do you mean, no such thing as fiction?”

“Well, what’s fiction?  Is it what can’t be… or what we can’t figure out how to make it be?  What’s real, what’s not real?  Let’s take some truly dichotomous examples: a cow versus Tweety Bird.  They’re both “characters” but to the average mind, a cow is real whereas Tweety is a cartoon character birdie.  Tweety, to the average mind, does not, and cannot exist.  This way of viewing reality is what causes mankind to repeat mistakes and never actually learn anything.  It is the kind of thinking that always leads to a far wall from which you can only turn around and retrace your steps.  Listen to me, Sandi, and try not to think of me as a crazy old woman.  The wall is what isn’t real.  If you want to, you can enter a world where a cow and Tweety exist side by side and there is no dichotomy – no problem of discerning what is real.  It’s all real.

“Think of it this way: how did the cartoonist discover Tweety, and his other friends in the Looney Tunes cartoons?  They had to come from somewhere, so we say, they were imagined.  That is the same as saying that anything imagined comes from nothing, making the “imaginator” a kind of god, having the power to make something out of nothing.  How many previously imagined things have been made real through science and technology in particular? So, something “real” comes from “nothing” and no one, it seems, notices the very serious problem here, that people can actually make something from nothing.

“There is, however, another conclusion that can be made.  That would be that these “unreal” or “imaginary” things come from another dimension, another universe perhaps, but they have to come from somewhere, somewhen, somehow.  Close your eyes and walk to that boundary, that wall that claims to be the end of reality.  Walk through it.  Don’t tell me what you see there, just let your mind absorb the view without getting absorbed in the details – they don’t make any sense at first.  Have you ever heard of the 13th floor?”

“Well, there is an older movie on that topic, people traveling forward and backward in time, that sort of thing.  At the end, the main character finds himself in the future, on the 13th floor, and looking forward in time, he sees that nothing is as yet made.”

“What do you think the writer, and the movie, were attempting to portray about life?”

“That either nothing is real, including myself, here and now, or everything is, and that it is us who create ourselves and our reality.”

“And what do we use to create that reality?”

“I’m not sure.  I’d say, imagination, but that’s too slick an answer, and it doesn’t explain anything, not really.”

“I always told you you were very smart, Sandi.  Even as a young child, you weren’t fooled.  You questioned everything.  When did you stop believing in God, or in deities in general?”

“Oh, when it no longer made any sense to pray for stuff to an omnipotent deity and nothing ever, I mean not ever, happened.  There never was any sort of undeniably miraculous response to all the prayers I heard.  Those who prayed stayed in the same boat as those who didn’t and those who openly rejected and mocked.”

“When you stopped believing, did God stop to exist?”

“I think that God never existed; that I believed in a man-made chimera, a convenient fiction invented by a certain class of individuals to lord it over others, and to take their money.”

“That’s a stock unbeliever answer.  Can you do better than that?”  Zee smiled at Sandi, her piercing blue eyes now wide open and challenging.

“You want me to say that…”

“Stop!  Stop right there.  I don’t want you to say anything.  I want you to think about your answer regarding God’s reality.”

“Oh, I see.  Fiction.  If God is a chimera, fiction, that means He exists, no matter what I think.  That means God has existed on man’s world from the beginning that man began to “see” God and will continue to exist here as long as someone believes in Him.  God is eternal and omnipresent, but not omnipotent because his creator, man, hasn’t evolved into that dimension as yet.  But God and Man are essentially one and the same, though most people would hate to face that, not being willing to take on the mantle of responsibility they continue to drape God with.  So, because of belief systems, God exists, is real, and does whatever his believers or followers ascribe to Him even though it’s the people, or nature, that have accomplished what is ascribed to God.”

The old lady claps her hands, if feebly, exclaiming, “I knew you would figure it out!”

“Does that mean that “I am God” as in the sense of that New Agey teaching?  Should I think of myself as God, then?”

“Why bother with the title?  It would be a totally unnecessary burden.  The concept of “God” is so corrupted and compromised to greedy and evil corporate entities, why would anyone want to wear that label?  Why not just be Sandi?  If you called yourself “God” do you think that would help you get things done easier?  Do you think it would allow you to perform real miracles?  The most serious problem with the God concept is that it is too alien for this world.  People haven’t figured out how to be “God” and yet they have projected their “God” into this reality, hoping against all nature, science and common sense, that their character will perform acts his creators cannot.  Does that remind you of something?”

“Yes, Looney Tunes!  The characters in those cartoons can do many things, and survive many incidents that their creators could never do.  Essentially, God is still nothing more than a cartoon character at this point in time and our mental evolution.”

Zee nods her head slowly and closes her eyes.  There is a satisfied look on her face.  She is proud of her niece indeed.

“Auntie Zee?”

“Ah yes dear? 

“If we are given time, do you think that eventually we will become, you know, like God, omnipotent; able to do things that today can only be classed as miracles?

“I can’t imagine humanity ever becoming omnipotent, that being what you’d call an absolute and no mental or material reality can support an absolute value.  We can know of their existence but we could never “go there” since we chose to participate in the created orders and left Spirit.  Only pure Spirit can exist within absolute values without destroying itself.  I can however imagine us getting pretty close.  I can imagine us developing empathy and creating a utopia based on such a sense.  That in itself would be already be far superior to any of our divinities’ revealed characters.”

“Aunt Zee, when I woke you up, you were saying something scary.  You said “It’s wrong, it’s all so wrong!”  Do you remember?  Can you tell me what it is you saw in your dream, or vision?”

“Oh, that.  Yes certainly.  A recurring nightmare.  Not so unusual for dreamers or visionaries in times like these.  You see, I observed the destruction of this global civilization.  I saw the chaos, the famine, the wars, the genocides, the incineration of entire cities and death beyond counting, not only of people, but of much that remains of wild and domestic animal life on the planet; birds literally falling out of the sky, and millions of fish dying in the seas and their putrid flesh washing up on sea shores and rivers all over the world.  I saw what appeared to be the end of mankind, only it wasn’t the end. 

“In all our visions, there is always a ¹deus ex machina: either a remnant, or some divinity comes to the rescue.  It doesn’t matter to me which; all I know is, we will not be allowed to destroy ourselves completely.   Why not? I asked.  The answer is one that few, if any, ever want to hear.  We won’t be allowed to destroy ourselves completely because our real masters, which are hidden forces, powers and authorities; the puppet masters who lord it over these worlds, feed on our suffering and pain.  They lust after the smell of warm, freshly spilt blood.  They thrill to the screams of the dying: that’s where they congregate to gorge themselves and hold their macabre dances.  That is why they will not allow wholesale nuclear destruction in the coming wars.  The nuclear option is too quick, giving too short a time for them to enjoy the horror attendant to the deaths. 

“Our civilization’s end is going to be one of their great orgies, lasting hundreds of years during which billions will suffer and die in brutal, primitive ways.  But there still will be no end to the suffering.  Even as we die, they have already made plans to stop the carnage and rebuild the race so they can nurture a new death orgy in time.  It’s in our programming, you see, to never, ever, learn from our mistakes.  We don’t see them as our mistakes, but always as someone else’s.  It’s never our fault, therefore we never can truly repent and change.  So… we remain mind-slaves and victims and while we indulge our innate violence against one-another so creatively, we never discover who our real “leaders” are, and what they want us for.

“We don’t understand what it means to change our mind.  There is a joke from my time about having an open mind.  At the height of our materialism we allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into believing that our brains and mind were one and the same.  So the joke went like this: he was told to keep an open mind, so he did and eventually, his brain fell out.  But it was more than a joke, it was a deep belief that to change your mind is to express doubt; to show weakness  so that eventually we will be unable to maintain our great religious, national, race, values.  Believers and patriots are not permitted to change their minds, although they can move their allegiance between a trinity of “gods” or ruling forces.  They can believe in their religiously defined God.  They can believe in a particular type of government, or aspect thereof.  They can, if the first two don’t do it for them, switch their allegiance to Money, to some sort of powerful financial system, for example capitalism.  These three are in essence the gods of mankind. They have the power to make people do things completely contrary to their own nature, remember that, Sandi and you will not be taken by shock and surprise when you see people you thought you knew do things you know they would never do “in their right minds.”

“There is a block on our understanding so that sooner rather than later, after every war, we plunge ourselves into the manufacture of “new and improved” implements of war, ever and anon because we love war; we love the financial benefits derived from it;  we are ever seduced by the “romance,” the adventure, the thrills, that tradition ascribes to warfare.  Our trinity of powerhouse “gods” – religion, the state and money – unite, join hands, in times of war.  Without that agreement wars would not be possible.  However insane this may seem, it is who and what we truly are.  

“If you doubt this, consider how many best sellers were written about war during the episode we call ‘the Cold War’ where the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation was kept foremost in our thoughts, much as it is being repeated at this moment in time.  Religion was a very big factor in promoting, not just the cold war, but its peripheral “hot” wars that justified it.  All the world’s governments, through the United Nations, and their economies, were involved in this conflict.  Capitalism came to rule and ruin all national economies without exception, while the world’s focus was on the conflict-for it’s always but “one” conflict regardless of how many theatres it plays in. 

“Wars give us a new sense of freedom from a constraining legality and morality that we hate, all denials of it to the contrary.  We, the people of earth are not what we believe ourselves to be and our historical performance, as a species, proves it over and over.”

“Wow, aunt Zee… you’re kind of scaring me with this.  I’ve never heard you speak like this.  Is this what you were shown in your visions and dreams, or did you figure it all out for yourself?”

“Both, I think.  It’s hard now to sort it out, what I remember from my dreams, what I remember from reading and observing.  I didn’t mean to scare you, but I wanted you to know this, to have it for yourself.”

It’s OK, I can handle it now.  But tell me, is that what you meant by “It’s all so wrong?”  That we are doomed to repeat our history, however horrible, like, forever?”

“No dear, I’m afraid I haven’t told you the saddest part yet.”

“Oh!  What is the saddest part, aunt Zee?”

“The saddest part, as I’ve been shown, is that we are born equipped with the antidote to our repeating folly but we refuse to consider it, or use it.  We would rather condemn billions of our own, never mind the others, to unimaginable horror and death, than try one simple move that would cancel out this coming nightmare –“ aunt Zee snorts – “ah, what am I saying, we’ve always been in this nightmare! Only now with greatly increased population and the congregating of the largest groupings into cities, with less supporting land to fall back on, this means the coming horror must spread exponentially.”

“Bottom line then, aunt Zee, what should we do, what can we do?”

“There is no longer any “we” in this.  The “we” has been an abject failure and is about to demonstrate how terribly dangerous “we” can become. “We” is going to make things a whole lot worse than they are now as you will see for yourself.”

“What can I do then?”

“That is the proper question.  If you would practice being “God” your future is going to give you plenty of opportunity.  The antidote to Armageddon is the unfeigned practice of compassion through self empowerment, or self-reliance if you prefer. 

Oh yes, you will see people walk forth into hell on the wings of love and brandishing their weaponry.  On their faith in “God” and calling divine blessings on their weaponry.  Filled with hope in the invincibility of their weaponry.  They will see their weapons, their fears, hate, and lusts, as all aspects of their particular God.  They will not be aware of any contradiction between their beliefs and their acts.  They will pray, and they will kill and be killed.  Even at the worst of times they will not come to an understanding of how to end it.  They will choose death because that is what they have always done; it is what they are programmed to do.  

“Now listen to me carefully, this is critically important for you to grasp this, to try to understand.  The compassionate will do none of the things I have mentioned.  She will never participate in any of it.  She will stand her ground and offer whatever she has, or can, to all and sundry.  She will not take sides.  She will not defend her “space” whatever that is.  She too will die, of course, but it will be a death of no value to the vampires; it will be a poison to them.  She will be an oasis of change and if the resurgence of “man” is based on her stand, then the new race will be of no value to the predators and they will leave this world. 

“What is so wrong, is that so few will have the mental wherewithal to understand this; the vision and courage to reject all of society’s old values that have been, since time immemorial, specifically tailored to serve the predators.”

Zee showed signs of exhaustion at this point and Sandi exclaimed, “That’s a lot for me to think about, auntie Zee.  I’ve totally tired you out and I have only a half hour left to get a taxi and catch my bus at the depot and I can’t afford to miss my shift at the lab.  I’m sorry I made you talk so much.  I’ll come back next Tuesday and we’ll talk about what I’ve learned from this; what I decide to do.”

“Come here, Sandi.  Hold me…  Look dear, there isn’t going to be a next Tuesday for us; I’m going home.  I waited for you, so I could tell you.  This is my last vision and my last share.  I’m so thankful it is with you.  Let’s say our final goodbye now, then you go on and live the best life you can figure out for yourself.  Perhaps we will meet again, out there, though I’m told that isn’t how it usually happens.  You’re the life-raft I’m casting out from this old sinking ship.  Look to the stars and sail smart.”

Sandi felt like remonstrating but knew better than to argue. “If that’s the way it must be, then good bye, auntie Zee.”  Trying to put some levity in it, she adds, “And say a big and loud “Hello!” to the Cosmos for me.  You know what?  I’ll look for you, I don’t care what doesn’t usually happens.  Our conversation isn’t finished, damn it!”

Sandi wiped the flow of tears from her eyes, and cheeks, smearing make up as she walked deliberately through the door and down the hallway without looking back.  She wouldn’t be coming to the funeral: that was a matter for the rest of the family to fight over.  She had an appointment with her own destiny that had yet to be formulated.

¹Deus ex machina: The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. (from Wikipedia)  

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The Mob Wars

The Mob Wars
[short story from   ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]

What do you think, when you look upon a mob?  Or worse, you encounter one?  That had been the lesson of the day and the cadets in the class, all five of them, 3 girls and 2 boys, could barely restrain their yawns.  They really wanted to laugh at the instructor but there were rules at the Academy, and laughing at an instructor was bad business.  Punishments varied but they weren’t something you wanted to think about.

“A mob is dangerous.” droned on the talking head instructor, a short dark-skinned female who spoke the lingua franca as if she’d learned it from a computer.  Hardly surprising since she had learned it that way.  She wasn’t from the Clayborne worlds but from another galaxy altogether.  Still, she was human and you could relate to her as long as you remained totally mechanical, never betraying any emotion towards her, or her course material.  “A mob has no leader, that’s what makes it dangerous,” she carried on.  “If you see a mob coming towards you, purposefully march in another direction and as soon as you can, find a safe place to hide until it passes by.  Any grouping of ten or more individuals walking together and sharing information, or making loud statements constitute a mob by legal definition.  It is your sworn duty to the Imperium to report any observed mob activity, noting its coordinates and direction.  Anyone who observes a mob formation and does not report it is de-facto part of a conspiracy and liable to a charge of sedition.  The penalty, as you know, is ten years in the mines, the location of the punishment to be determined by the courts but always outside your home worlds.”  

We may be cadets but we weren’t born last night, or even the year before.  The Claybornes, a grouping of three planets orbiting their sun practically equidistantly, thus making each world almost a mirror image of the others climate-wise, were a relatively recent addition to an expanding Imperium.  “Space, the final frontier” boldly claimed a cartoon character from a series of funny little anecdotes that had been transcribed upon holos and would sometimes be available for viewing.  The quaint language and costumes and the posturing would bring out waves of rollicking laughter wherever they happen to be projected.  Final frontier indeed: the abysmal ignorance and hubris of our ancestors makes us wonder that we ever got off the ground of our original world at all. Too quirky.

I was writing about that line, the final frontier.  Even now with everything we’ve discovered and learned, most of it at great cost and unnecessary loss, we still cling to our ancient xenophobia and bigotry.  Once we “know” a thing, we believe that we’ve found the truth, or at the very least, some truth, something we can hang on and build upon.  Our awareness, our ideas, we believe, can be stacked up one upon another, like the modules we fabricate then build living units or space ships with.  It’s as if we choose to forget that no matter how long these modules fit together they must eventually disintegrate, starting with the oldest ones, but we don’t notice the rot and rust, and we keep on building on top.  There comes a point of attrition and entropy and whatever is, soon is no longer.  Simply put, the base collapses.  We accept that but we never see to apply the obvious lesson in it to our interaction with what can only be called the nature of things.

Which brings me back to my story about the mob.  Whatever the Cirillian teacher says about mobs, she really knows nothing at all about them.  But we Clayborners do know about mobs.  Our own societies were basically evolved from a mob mentality.  You see, the Claybornes were chosen by the Imperium as a dumping ground for all sorts of individuals who could not be coerced into the herd mentality, or group-think that serves the Imperium’s aims so well.  We are recent descendants of “deplorables” and “undesirables”  Our grand parents were those who could not be cured.  Many were anarchists.  Some were judged with criminal mentality because they openly defied and called down the Imperium.  And oh yes, we had more than a sprinkling of lower class criminals, the murderers, rapists, bank robbers, psychopaths.  As a fourth generation myself, I say good for them.  It’s here, on our own Clayborne world which we call Armistice, that you can really see the evil that is the Imperium. 

I discovered subsequently that the Imperium had hoped we would not only “break” open these worlds and extract every ounce of resources that could fuel their space economy and finance their Earth-based economy, bolstering ever-expanding wars of conquest, but that once the worlds were bled dry, that we would destroy ourselves, with a little destabilizing help from Imperial guards. Considering the make-up of our local civilization, it seemed inevitable that we would destroy each other when times got tough, a time when the resources ran dry and the Imperium ceased supporting us with the necessities of civilization that could not be manufactured locally.

Even early on in the colonization of the Clayborne worlds, that is exactly what happened.  Unwisely, to say the least, the Imperium representatives gave the game away too soon, when dreams of independence rode high in the minds and hearts of the colonizers.  Conflict ensued.  But at first it wasn’t against the Imperium.  That seemed too big a slice to tackle.  In anger and frustration, various groups, and towns led by gang lords, armed themselves by whatever means, mostly clubs, compound bows and arrows, long handled barbed spears and long knives or machetes, as well as agricultural implements which had reluctantly been allocated to them, and began to attack each other for control of the worlds.

That wasn’t according to plan since by now little or no effort was being made to mine the planets.  Everybody was too busy strengthening their defences and protecting their fields and other food supplies while attempting to lay waste to “the enemy’s” fields and food supplies, transports and storehouses and stealing resources and useful labour and women.

We could almost hear the screams of anger from stock market and “trading houses” all the way though space from an incensed earth, home base of the Imperium, as resources from the Claybornes’ came to a quasi-standstill.  Fortunes in speculation were being lost by the month, the week, even by the hour.  Action was demanded of Arch Imperator, Junes Kohlmadir.  She did what her kind do best: responded by massive force of arms against the wayward planets.

The Imperium intervened  with iron fist and jack boots.  Martial law and a general ban on every sort of weaponry was declared.  Walls around fortified towns were dismantled, sometimes with explosives, more often with slave labour from those arrested for disturbing Imperium-mandated peace; those that is who hadn’t been publicly executed in the first reactionary wave of the new military dictatorship.  They executed thousands of individuals, including women and young children – as an example.  As any thinking person would know and expect, more violence ensued, now directly aimed at the Imperium troopers and subsequent governors sent to negotiate and re-establish a working peace.  Adding insult to injury, the Imperium representatives decreed that any existing facility that could produce a space-faring vessel was to be utterly destroyed, not simply mothballed.  The Imperium set up its own space station to repair and upgrade its own ships.  All merchant ships had to have (and pay for) a complement of Imperium troopers on board, and an Imperium representative to accompany the captain at all times whenever it landed on one of our worlds.

This is the tipping point, where the Imperium, instead of subduing us, only succeeded in uniting the entire planet against the Imperium.

These people, my people, learned through bitter and bloody experience to hate the Imperium with passionate fury and vowed never to let the predators get their resources as cheaply as they had in the past.  We vowed to fight the Imperium to the last man, woman and child on our world.  There would be no free interference in our affairs.  Autonomy or death, was our slogan and war cry.  In the morning the call to arms and resistance would show up, painted on walls, fences, and even on the side of Imperial armoured personel carriers and tanks.  So the people began to organize; to create larger and larger political groups and legally challenge the Imperium’s manipulations.  We lived in wave after wave of bloody crackdowns and brutal repression but any talk of surrendering resulted in another body hanging from a pole, or tree, for the troopers to cut down and dispose of.  We would no longer be the Imperium’s “hewers of wood and drawers of water” forever, or until our worlds became unable to sustain life due to heavy extraction of natural resources and unchecked man-made pollution and we were abandoned to perish in the depths of space, with no hope of ever seeing rescue transportation off our dying rock.

Whenever the Imperium landed a detachment of Guard troopers, mobs formed and there was the inevitable bloodbath.  It is said that half of the population of Armistice died in the anti-Imperium “mob wars” that had already lasted two generations when, at sixteen, I found myself fighting for freedom.

So, ask me, do we know what to do if we encounter a mob?  Sure, if it’s from our side, join in.  If it’s from the enemy side, slink away and report its movements to our side, then form our own defensive counter-mob and attack.  To hesitate is to loose.  Now we are solidly united with our own spilled blood against the Imperium.  There would be no quarter from our side, for we are the legitimate people of this world.  

“Let me repeat:  a mob is a leaderless group of ten or more people bent on destruction and murder.  Report any mob to the nearest Guard post.”  Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am and why don’t you pack up your stupid course materials and return home by the first shuttle, with no due respect, ma’am?  Take some Star Trek holos back with you and base your next history course on them.  Maybe your students won’t turn into zombies on the first day. 

Meanwhile, what’s the real mob? There can be but one answer to that: it’s the Imperium.  The real Mob is always the largest, most powerful predatory group, for a mob takes what it wants because it has the power to do so.  Smaller groups, or “mobs” serve but to justify the real Mob’s oppression, or to do some of its dirtiest “wet” work.  Think “terrorists” as the vanguard of the Mob.  Oh yes, I have read quite a bit of the home world’s history to understand why here, on Armistice, we do what we do, and why we call our world by that meaningless term.  A mob, leaderless?  Never, no such thing.  The “leader” may not be a human being, it may be injustice, hunger, oppression, enslavement, but oh yes, a mob always has a leader.  In fact such a leader is the most powerful and motivational if it isn’t human, but an irresistible force, when choice is no longer choice.  Where, or when, anger and hate fill the collective vat of despair and feet begin to walk; hands grab sticks, stones, anything defensive or offensive, and charge down the street.

There came the inevitable bloody clash between Armisticians and troopers.  I was wounded in it and captured.  I was then seventeen earth years of age.  I am now an old but still strong woman from the hard labour I have performed my entire captive life.  I survived the mandatory torture and gang rapes, solitary confinement, sub-standard food fare and damp, cold, filthy accomodations.  Today, from my life imprisonment cell on Rebus, one of several Imperium prison planets, I write this for the “counselors” to read and ponder: “Down with the Imperium!  I still hope to see its final downfall.  How dare you call yourselves “civilized” and us “savages” and “terrorists.”   You are nothing but cowards who starve and kill women and children so your elites can wine and dine, get richer and brag.  Your lives are as hollow as the insides of our tiger reed.  I could almost pity you but will never: I vowed eternal hate and enmity between us and so it shall be.

Signed:  Selinia Armstrong of the free world of Armistice

Benny

[a short story, by Sha’Tara]

Benny sat by the river that flowed past the house, just beyond the back yard.  He was tossing small twigs in the water, watching them float away and he was trying to remember so he’d know who he was.  

His memories were all a jumble in his head and they usually frightened him.  He thought he remembered a couple, a man and a woman who were very loud and made him scream.  He remembered hurting and feeling guilty for that.  Then the woman would hurt him more but he never understood why.  He remembered being cold, dirty and hungry.

One day when he was alone in the yard and crying, hurting and hungry, a nice smelling woman came to him and picked him up.  She took him away from the bad people and he never saw them again.  Then an old man came to see him where he played with other children.  The old man took him away from there to a house that had trees around it, green grass, and at the back of the house, water flowed.  The old man would hold his hand and let him lean over the water.  Leaves and twigs floated on the water and down below the rocks shimmered and danced, changing colours.

Benny liked it with the old man.  He grew up and the old man said he was his maternal grandfather.  He explained about his daughter, who was Benny’s mother, how she was addicted to drugs and drank and how she liked running around with bad men.  One of those men was his father.  He explained that it was that man who had hurt him and that he was in prison.  Benny tried to understand all that when he got older but he liked the water better.

The old man, his grandfather whom he learned to call “granpa” taught him about the water.  “It’s called a river” he’d say, “it is very pretty but it is also very dangerous.  Even for a good swimmer, it’s a fast running stream and a person can easily drown in it, do you understand that?”

Benny had learned when only a baby to agree, no matter what was asked; to do what he was told or there would be consequences.  “I understand granpa,” he dutifully replied. 

But the water was more alive than anything else had ever been for Benny.  It would sing to him in a language he could understand.  It didn’t scare him like people did, or make terrible noises like street traffic.  It never hurt him and it was even more gentle than granpa.  If he felt thirsty, there was a log that dropped down into the water.  He could carefully walk down to the water, then scoop the cold water into his mouth.  It was so easy and simple, he’d laugh whenever he did this.

There were very large trees that grew by the river’s banks that bent their heavy, luxuriant tops over the water and swayed in the wind.  During the warm seasons the leaves would come, then slowly at first, when still green, they would fall in the water and speed away.  Benny liked looking up into the green canopies waiting for a leaf to get tired of hanging on to its branch, let go, and flutter down to the water to be swept away.  Later, as the leaves changed from green to brown, yellow or even red and green, more and more of them would fall away from the branches and float down to the water to also be swept away.  If a strong wind came up there would be cascades of leaves falling, covering the ground and the top of the water.  That thrilled Benny as he stood under the falling leaves with outstretched hands. 

Some days when he was really happy, Benny imagined himself a leaf floating down to the water and being swept away.  He knew granpa meant well to warn him about the water but if the leaves weren’t afraid, why should he?  He though of asking granpa, but that would be like disobeying and Benny remembered what that meant.  He felt the deep fear of the pain he had been given when disobeying the man and woman who were his parents.  If he questioned granpa, he knew he would be beaten and locked up and made to go cold and hungry.  I mustn’t say anything, but if I float away then no one will hurt me.

A leaf fluttered down noisily, landing for a moment at Benny’s foot then sliding down into the water to spin away.  Benny followed the leaf and the river took him away. 

We’ve got our Backs Against the Wall

                                            [short story, by Sha’Tara]

James Macken closes down his netbook and goes looking for his daughter.  Twelve year old Ellie or “Elle” Macken is leaning on the railing of the cabin’s small patio, looking intently into the night sky.  There is no moon and the stars, this high in the Coast Mountains, shine brightly.  Despite a light breeze blowing from the west, the summer night remains warm. 

His voice breaks the night’s silence, “Elle?”

“I’m over here, dad.”

James walks over to her and leans on the railing, his face following where she was staring.  “What’s up there, Elle?”

“ I don’t know, dad.  I just feel so funny, so detached, all of a sudden.”

“Funny, like how?”  He isn’t joking or pretending.  He’d learned long ago to take his daughter very seriously or else.  She was already a very deep thinker, or perhaps more of a thinking machine.  Her thoughts are her reality.

“Well it’s like this.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, mostly about my future… well really, the future of this world, and however I extrapolate my thoughts on it, I don’t seem able to picture any sane, safe, comfortable or desirable future.  OK, so here we are, out here almost by ourselves in these mountainous wilds and it’s really nice.  Don’t get me wrong, dad, I love it here, and I’m very grateful that you got us this place where I can spend some of my summer vacations, and I wish mom was alive and with us now… but this is an illusion, isn’t it?  We’ve got our backs against the wall, haven’t we?”

“I should understand you by now, Elle, but what exactly do you mean?”

“I mean, dad, this planet has no future as long as mankind, as “we” continue to take over and basically eat it alive.  We are a disease, dad, can’t you see?” 

James Macken is no fool.  He knows exactly what his daughter is saying and he’d be the last person to contradict her observations.  In a purely technical sense, she is correct: man is destroying the world, the only world he knows, or can have on which to live.  Man is destroying his own living space without the least hope of gaining access to another should this one become unlivable.  But he’s a forty-two year old research scientist while his child is but a twelve year old who has yet to commit to any discipline.  She’s expressing her emotions about what she sees, hears and reads.  He’s thinking that perhaps with puberty in the offing she’ll give more attention to another side of life: romance, and girl stuff.  But then, some never do, and based on her IQ scores it could well be that Elle may not pay much attention to that side of life.  

“I’m not certain you’re giving us a chance here, Elle.  Not everybody is a destroyer of nature.”

“Of course I know that, dad.  Most of my teachers are quite keen on making us aware of the problems this world is facing in the immediate future – that being my future – but you know?  Most of the kids just smirk, or laugh, or ask really dumb questions, especially when we discuss climate change, for example.  People really don’t care, dad.  And you know what’s the saddest part?  Those who make the laws, the politicians; those who sell stuff, the corporations, it’s the “don’t care” crowd they rely on for votes and consuming!  So, how can anything change?  How can anything get better?”

“You care, don’t you?  There must be others like you in your school?”

“Not many.  What if we were one in a hundred – what sort of balance is that?  We can talk but then we’re made fun of and ostracized.  Most kids can’t go it alone, dad.  They need friends and they’ll do almost anything to have friends.  So, statistically, the “don’t care” crowd, being the vast majority, forms the winning pool and those who care stop caring to fit in.”

“Sometimes when I listen to you, I think you were born old, Elle.  I love you, you know that, don’t you?” 

She puts her arm around his waist and looks in his face; “I know dad.  I know.  But I’m growing up fast and soon I’ll be on my own, having to live with myself.  I’ll be the product of my own thoughts and I’ll have to confront a world that is totally alien to the way I think.  You know what dad?  I’m truly scared.  So scared that often I think I should just, you know, call it quits and leave…”

“Elle!”

“I’m being totally honest with you dad.  When mom died, I nearly did it; I wanted so to follow her.  But you were there, as you’re here, and I didn’t want to leave you behind and I knew you wouldn’t come after us, so I stayed.  But for two years I haven’t been able to shake the idea that perhaps I would be much better off if I died.  How can I really live if I can’t see a future for myself?  What’s to live for, dad?  All the things I love and care about are being killed and destroyed.  The world, my piece of the world, is becoming noisier, dirtier and more dangerous all the time.  Something’s so wrong.  There’s what they call “degeneracy” happening all around and the more of that there is, it’s like stepping in swamp mud, you don’t know how deep you’ll sink or if you’ll be swallowed whole.  On top of that you’re getting older too, and you will die and then I’ll have nobody, nobody at all.  That’s not a challenge to me, that’s a nightmare.”

“You’re not alone in that, Elle.  But I think you’re both, over-thinking, and under-thinking this whole thing.  Isn’t it possible that in a couple of years you’ll fall in love with a boy who is really nice – can’t imagine you falling for some cretin – and he’ll become your world for a while?  Then you’ll go to college and find some subjects you really like, pursue a career and then meet the man you will want to marry.  Likely you will have kids and you’ll have your own family, make your own world.”

She sighs and leans into him.  He can feel her vulnerability, wishing he had something better to offer her.  “I’ve thought about that dad.  It’s soothing sometimes but it changes nothing.  When I speak of the future, I mean “the” future, not just something I’ll carve out and struggle to keep for myself.  How could I, in conscience, have kids if I can’t give them a real future?  That would be horribly irresponsible of me.  I have to be sure and what I’m sure of isn’t conducive to a peaceful and safe life.  There’s something seriously wrong with all of our lives; with our life as a people, and I really hate it that I’m one of the very few who can see this, and actually cares about it.  I don’t like being alone but I have no choice, see?  And what if I found someone who thought like me, was like me, how could we ever have a happy life knowing, and living with, what we know?  What would be the point of trying to live together if we decided to spend all our time fighting for causes that take us away from each other, or worse, that land us in jail?”

“I’ll be totally honest with you too, Elle.  I truly don’t know.  I know that I love you deeply.  You’re all that I have left of Amber, of your mother, and you’re so like her in many ways, but so different in others.  I admire your intelligence even though it makes it very challenging for me to keep up with you.  I think I’ll stop trying to do that, just try to be your friend for now.  What you say about leaving breaks my heart, but I know you know that.  So instead of panicking about what you may decide to do with your life… I’ll make a friend’s pact with you.  Hear me out and let me know if we have a deal.  If you come to the end of your road, and you are convinced it is the end, I promise not to stand in your way.  You can even tell me that you are leaving, and I’ll let you go.  I won’t help you, and I don’t want to know the details, but I promise to honor your choices, your decisions and most certainly, your memory.  In this, our private world, Elle, you are no longer a child.  Make your own choices and I will support you as best I can.  Deal?”

“Oh, dad, no one can ever have had a better father.  I love you too; I can feel that so deeply.”  And in between deep sobs, she finally managed to say, “We have a deal, dad.  Thank you for giving me my freedom to choose.” 

 

 

Listening in Time

(short story,  by Sha’Tara)

“I know you are keen, and willing.  Good traits in a researcher.  But you are missing the key ingredients.  You must sit quietly, by yourself, for hours, maybe days, and listen in time.  Listen to the voices of the dead, and the pre-incarnate.  They are in the voices of “others” and in the sounds of the earth: the wind, the cracking soil, the moving grains of sand, the patter of the rain on scrabbly hard-pan soil.  They come on the heat waves.  Sometimes they get playful and paint mirages which tell stories from within your own heart and soul which your tired and bleary eyes will translate into images of desires.  

If you do not learn to listen, all you will accomplish in these places as you sift through dirt and rubble is collect garbage.  It will be recognizable as works of the people but it will reveal no stories, no myths, no history.  These you will have to create from your own imagination and trust me on this, it will not be the same stories as what was, even if the entire world should buy your interpretations.  Honest archaeologists are a rare breed but there is nothing written, either in this desert or in mountains, that says you can not be one of that small group.  When you teach yourself the secret of time listening the people who made and used the objects you unearth, they will tell you their stories.  Some will seem strange and some will be, to your modern understanding, quite unbelievable, but just listen.  It is not your call to re-interpret the lives of others according to your current knowledge: that is sacrilege.  Let the ghosts speak; let them tell their story, and accept it at face value.  It may be that they lie to you, but let it be: do not add insult to injury by adding to the lies.  After all, as you will discover in time, all of your history is lies.  There is no truth to be found on this world, or in this universe.  We know, we’ve been looking for millions of your years and there is no such chimera.”

I was young then, and I’d been experimenting with the local flora under the auspices of a would-be witch doctor who called himself George but whose real name was an unpronounceable Mexican word that sounded like apple-cotle or aptly cotli.  This particular drug induced “time dreams” he had told me, and… “You should only smoke a small amount at sunset.  Sit against a rock, or a tree if you can find one, and set your mind free to roam.  Do not try anything, just let it all go.  It is the time of the spirits and sometimes one of them will notice you and approach you with a story, or some advice.  Just listen and do not try to make any judgment about what you hear, or think you hear.  Put your own thoughts aside and just absorb.” 

I smoked slowly, not eagerly, trying to practice “wisdom” in my folly.  How long I sat against the rock that dug into my back, feeling the sand getting cold beneath me, I don’t know.  Darkness came and the sky exploded with myriads of pin-points of lights: star, planets, meteors, even satellites and flashing lights of planes.  Time passed and I no longer felt the cold, nor the loneliness or that deep fear of the dark unknown.  I “slept” with eyes open, hearing and learning to listen.  I heard small animals squeaking to one-another, some unrecognizable insects repeating endless calls; owls, even one loud shriek of what could only be some wild cat, cougar perhaps.  It didn’t matter.

It seemed as if I’d become a part of the landscape, an extension of the rock I leaned against.  I felt a deep well-being; a thoroughly unfamiliar certainty.  I was “here” and “here” was where I belonged.  This was “home” like nothing had ever been.  “Here I sit, and here I remain,” I thought, against all common sense.  I felt the cold, hunger and thirst but it did not matter to this “me” that was being absorbed by the land, the air, the sky, the universe, the cosmos.  In that time I was no longer a body-centered, or physical being.  I was a member of the cosmic races, with a part of me resting upon a planet called earth – a very small, very strange planet. 

That’s when the voice came to my mind; when I heard the words I quoted above. 

I have been digging up history in this part of the world for almost fifty years now.  I’ve become old and bent.  My skin is like that of a lizard, dry and scaly, with brown spots.  I’ve loved being naked in the sun and it has left its marks on my body but I don’t care.  He was my lover and I cherish his touch still.  I haven’t become famous.  No best seller came from my notes; no following.  People came here to dig with me, and left to seek fame and fortune.  Some managed it, returning to tell me about it.  Some even provided funds so I could remain here, on my wind-swept plateaus digging up ghost stories; me, the crazy Canadian who should have been more at home on the snowy wilds of northern Canada, than here. 

To the local people, I am “loca perdida” or the crazy one, though many come just to be with me, or to listen to my stories.  They come to get me sometimes, either with a jeep, or even a donkey, and take me to a village feast so they can hear some of my stories about their ancient peoples.  They seem to have no difficulty believing me, and I have wondered about that.  Do they also listen in time? They “pay” me in food, or in new blankets for my tents or shelters.  Good people, all of them.  I’ve always felt safe here; not sure I could have managed that in cities where people crowd unhappily together, hardly ever getting to know each other though rubbing shoulders every day.  How sad is that life, I think.

Here I remain.  Here I belong for my body’s time being.  Here I taught myself to listen in time and it is here that I will die so another archaeologist, another time listener, can find bits and pieces of my presence in this place and unearth my own story – a story that will have meaning only to her and the few who carry our vision of living in time.  

How I wish I could express, in words, how blessed my life has been and how much I look forward to new digs out there in the stars, knowing that when I sit down and look up I will see more stars.

The Edge of Human (Borrowed title from Blade Runner 2 by K. W. Jeter)

[Voice from  ~burning woman~   by Sha’Tara]

In the beginning was the Past.  Father God stood alone, last remaining Titan, proud in his quasi-Omnipotence gained from the overthrow of his enemies.

 
He created Time, the lever with which he would reach across eternity and weigh all life.  And he stood at one end, holding it, fondling it, loving it.  Then he created the fulcrum, which he called the Present and which history named the Christ.  Then he created the human, the man. 
 
But the man was cold and afraid in the dark and cried.  And she heard his sobs in the darkness and drawn by compassion, came forth to comfort him.  She came from Spirit, without father or mother.  And she made herself human for him and called herself Eve.
 
“Be not afraid” she said, pressing herself against him.  But the man was provoked by her naked truth and violated her.  Then she saw the emptiness of his soul, the ugliness of it.  She ran away from him but could not go far.  She became heavy with child as she walked down the time ramp hoping to find its end.  She bore her child in pain and horror but also in love.  It grew heavy in her arms and took the life from her as it suckled greedily and painfully. 
 
Father God felt the presence of her weight and that of her child upon his lever and in his quasi-Omnipotence, pushed down to force her to come to him.  He sensed a great fear and hatred of her, as if she could somehow put an end to his self-delusion of Omni-grandeur.  Eve struggled along the incline of the lever, intent on finding the end.  She knew if she surrendered and went back she would be swallowed in the anonymity of slavery and her child would die.  But her humanity pulled her down.  Exhausted, she dragged herself upward, splinters entering her hands and knees.  On and on until finally she could go no more and collapsed.  She put the child down and waited.  
 
The End, my End, will find me here.”  She reasoned.
 
“Why have you stopped, Eve?” Came a gentle voice from the darkness before her.
 
“I can’t go anymore.  I am empty.  My child is starving.  This is my end.”
 
“It never is, Eve.  You have travailed throughout the history of humanity and you bore the future in your womb and in your arms.  You suckled it from your spirit.  It surely will not die.  And neither will you.  Listen carefully — It is always the darkest and coldest just before the dawn.  You are not dying, you are changing. 
 
You’ve come to the edge of human. 
 
Look at your child – it’s not like you, nor like its father.  It is all that you ever wanted for your world and yourself.  Let it stand on its own.  It will take your hand and lead you into a new world.  The world in your mind.  For that is who this child is: your world.  You created it, from your hopes, dreams and feelings.  From your sufferings and pain.  From your dignity and strength.  From your walk that refused to surrender to any man, demon or God.”   
 
And her child stood beside her and picked her up.  With one blow, the curtain of darkness was rent in half and she saw a shimmering light beyond, at the end of the coarse wooden ramp she’d walked on for so long; where she had left a trail of tears and blood.  The great hell of time deflated like a balloon behind her and she walked forward, knowing that she was now more than human, more than god or goddess, something entirely new. 
 
But she remains Eve. 

“Follow the raven into shadow and you will find the light”  (medicine man saying)

The Times After (conclusion)

   [Short story, by Sha’Tara]

For some time, Lon watched Reuben as he disappeared, then a cry from the orphanage made him turn and run to the ramshackle building.  Two of the adults were already there, calming the children and bending over one three year old lying on the ground, the little body thrashing, if feebly.  Sweet little Amri.

“What’s wrong with her, does anyone know?”

“Maybe something she ate.  The children are chewing on anything they can eat.  They’re all in terrible pain, Lon.

“I know, Maggie.  I agree, we need to move, no more delays.  We’ll get started right now, pack what we can, hide what we can’t carry and go.”

“Where?”

“Ruben said he’d go north if he was free to do so.  He walked west when he left, but you know Ruben – he’d do that automatically just to confuse anyone wanted to follow or track him.  I know he’d turn as soon as he was out of sight, but which way?  I wish now we’d gone with him.  We’ll have a quick meeting in about an hour and decide our direction, then we’ll just go.  We cannot stay here, there’s nothing left to eat, and the water is no longer safe to drink.”

Soon the miserable camp was stripped and obliterated of recent human habitation as much as was possible.  The children were lined up and given a rope to hang on to.  The meeting was short: they would go east; no reason why except a secret vote turned up a majority of two for an eastern direction. 

Lon was bitterly disappointed, he’d hoped they would try to follow Ruben, though he well knew that was impossible.  He left his message for Ruben and they began their danger-fraught quest for food and water.  Already Lon had violated one of Ruben’s warnings, to only travel at night.  Adults took turns carrying little Amri and the weaker children.  The rest of the children began to lose some of their listlessness as they noticed changes along the route.

Evening saw the group drop down into a small gully, to hide and for protection.  Kamal, one of the strongest adults, went off in search of water which against so many odds, he did find.  Everybody searched for edible plants and roots and some of the hunger was assuaged for a time.  Night came and the small fire was doused so it wouldn’t create a glow.  The people slept on the ground, in their old rags.  Dried grasses had been stacked to lay little Amri and two other sickly children upon and each had an adult companion to keep them cuddled and reassured.  The stars came out, harsh and bright, flickering like cold, unseeing eyes.  Unable to help himself, Lon who was one of the sentry detail, walked a short distance away from the fitful and fretting sleepers and looked into the sky, turning slowly as he did so. 

“Where are you Ana?” he thought to himself.  “You promised and you must know we are in dire straights now.  We need your help; I need you here.  Don’t let Ruben be right about this.  I’m desperately counting on you.  You know I’m a terrible leader and here I am, leader by default.  This is too much responsibility…”

Morning came early, gray and cold before the sun could rise.  The hungry troop stood up, drank some water, and took to the land again, walking in the general direction of the sunrise.  Everybody, even the children, walked slower, looking for plants and roots to eat.  Hopelessness more than sadness pervaded the group.  Who could blame them? 

Finally the sun was high enough to beam down some energy into their wasted bodies.  Laughter even erupted from some children as they noticed a butterfly.

“Follow it,” said one of the women, “it may lead us to some edible flowers, or even berries.”  There was a bit of a chase, but the children were cautioned not to interfere with the insect’s path.  Suddenly it rose up and they thought they’d lost it but it came down again to disappear behind a dip in the flat ground.  They came to the edge and looked down upon a miracle, a regular feast.  An entire embankment was covered in blackberries, more or less ripe. 

Lon cautioned his charges: “I know you are very hungry but these plants will hurt you terribly if you wander in them carelessly.  We have nothing to bind rips and tears in skin.  Please use extreme caution.  Do not be in any hurry, we will camp here.  There are many green things here, there must be water also.”

Kamal went out on water detail again, he seemed to have a knack for finding it, and he did find potable water – warm but quenching nevertheless.  The blackberries did not give up their bounty without bloodshed but they proved adequate to ease the group’s hunger.  That was a good ending to what had started as a very dismal day.

That night Lon had a dream.

It wasn’t Ana who came to him in the dream, but his older sister whom he had watched being gang-raped and die in one of the hunters’ camps.  She stood on the open ground, away from the camp.  He walked over to her. 

“Hello Lon, it’s nice to see you again.  I’ve missed you terribly.  I’m sorry I abandoned you in the camp but my body wouldn’t hold on any longer.  I knew you had survived and escaped.  How are you?” 

“I’m so glad to see you Nan, you have no idea.  I’m OK, but we’re in a very precarious situation here, the people I mean.  We need help.  The children are weakening; some are sick.”

“I know that, but things must take their course, Lon.  In a way it’s your own fault that things are this bad.”

“How can you say that, Nan?  How dare you!  I’ve done everything I could to help here…”

“From your point of view, yes, but did you listen to those who may have known more?  Did you listen to Ruben, or were you so worried about his wild streak, his atavism, that you refused to trust his better survivalist judgment?  Didn’t he counsel to take the group away several months ago when the drought started?  Didn’t you think he’d know where to take you all if you followed him?  Did you think that he was trying to gain control of the group and were jealous of him?  Weren’t you afraid he would break your rules when he deemed necessary to save lives?   I know you Lon.  You mean well, but you have never really mined those deeper aspects of your nature: the fearful, the coward and the user – those aspects of one’s personality that become the controller; which reside in your subconscious.  It’s those things that killed Ana, and have brought you to these straights.”

“What do you know of Ruben, or Ana?  How can you possibly know what’s in my subconscious?  How can you know anything if you accuse me of killing Ana?  I loved her!”

“Of course you did.  You never realized you loved her too much under the circumstances, and you strangled her.  She didn’t know because in her own way she loved you too, but you choked her those many times when you insisted she come away from her duties to be with you.  She was conflicted; didn’t know where to stand between your demands, and the needs of the people.  Oh yes, you killed her.  She was an empath, Lon.  If you had allowed her full freedom to live her nature she’d still be here, with all of you, and she’d be laughing with you tonight.”

“It’s a dream, just a dream,” said Lon in the dream, “isn’t it?”

“If you want, but it is much more than a dream.  I’m here to help, Lon, but you must do as I tell you – exactly as I tell you – when you wake up into your real world.  You will abandon any idea of leading this little group.  Someone much more suitable is going to appear during the coming day.  Your hopes for the group will be fulfilled, but not the way you hoped they would be.  When help arrives, this is what you must do: walk away north, into the wilderness, by yourself.  Do not turn back, do not come back.  Your own redemption or your death, await in the young re-grown northern forests.  You will meet some people there and they will teach you about real love which is compassion.  I will see you again, Lon.  Goodbye.”

He watched her fade in the pale moonlight and woke up drenched in sweat.  Immediately he began to shake violently.  He got up, stretched and went on a short run to warm up, all the while thinking about his dream.

“That’s not a dream, that’s a nightmare!”  he thought.  Then he saw the possibility that it had been a vision.  “Morning will tell, tomorrow will tell.  I’ll wait until help arrives, I’ll see.”

Strange times call for strange events.  By the middle of the next day, as most of the people were busy gathering berries, eating, hauling water or keeping the children in line, the very first event of Lon’s dream came to pass: Ruben returned from his quest.  He approved of the stopping place with a few nods.  Always somewhat taciturn, he was even quieter than usual.  Lon queried him.

“What brings you back so soon, and how did you find us?”  Ruben frowned, then started talking:

“A blind man could have tracked your group Lon.  Haven’t I taught you anything at all about being circumspect?  What’s all around you, any idea?  What lurks out there?  What’s watching?  What’s scenting the air?  What’s listening?  Anyway, I saw your sign, and read your message at the old camp.  Also, I smelled your smoke – it travels a long way in this light breeze.  But that’s no longer your concern.  I’m taking over guiding this little group, for however long it takes before we get the help we were promised.”

“Say that again?  The help we were promised?  What do you mean by that?”

“I had a vision.  Saw a woman who claimed she was your sister.  She said that Ana had sent her.  She explained about your, well, character defects.  I already knew that, it’s partly why I had to leave, see?  Anyway the vision woman asked me to return to the group and be the guide until Ana and her people are ready and able to rescue and relocate those of the group who want it.  She said they’d all been waiting for you but you wouldn’t see it, so they decided to violate a bit of “prime directive” by contacting me.

You know me Lon.  You know I would not make this up – I don’t believe in any of this.  Somehow though, that woman, your sister, was very convincing. 

“Now you have to go.  Sorry, but it’s got to be short goodbyes.  Take whatever you want, or think you might need and head north.  She said Ana will meet with you when you’ve been gone long enough.  North, Lon, north.  It’s all waiting for your there.   Once my stint here is done, I’ll be tracking up myself – I won’t be going with Ana’s people, even if they’re only relocating the people to another part of this earth.  This, this land, this continent, is my world.  I belong here.

“I still don’t believe this, but irrational as it all is, I understand.  It’s not about belief, it’s the flow, just as in the wild.  All anyone needs to do is walk in the great flow of things.  The only time we must struggle is in opposition to those who do not walk in the flow of life.  That’s what gives rise to endless conflict.  I sensed your need to impose change and values.  You can’t wish, desire or impose non-violence anymore than you can stop a meat grinder by sticking your fingers in it, Lon. 

“I know this is harsh for you at the moment; you’re hurt and angry, but  you’ll learn.  The loneliness and the wild will teach you; the north, with its cold and its pristine snows will cleanse you and change you.  If you’re worried about food or shelter, observe the animals and the birds and learn: they’re the best teachers in the wild.  I’ll see you again, in the spring.”