Antonio Garcia's Blog

March 7, 2023

Deadly Art

“Wow, just wow,” Sheri said, tearing up. “His art is so powerful. I can feel the pain emanating from his subjects. I would just love to meet one of them someday and ask how he was able to draw such raw emotion from them while painting them.”

Stephon stood close enough to hear and when she finished with her praise, he walked over to where she could see him approach.

“Stephon!” she exclaimed. “You did it again!”

He loved the accolades. To him, there was no bigger compliment than the teary eyes his paintings elicited.

Feigning modesty, he said, “Awe, thank you Sheri. Your opinion means the world to me.”

It didn’t but she was rich, and he knew she would pay whatever he asked for, which was a lot.

“One of these days, you’re going to have to tell me how you capture the emotion of your subjects so well,” she stated.

“Ah, a good chef never reveals his secret ingredient,” he replied.

Sheri wasn’t used to not getting what she wanted, but Stephon was known for denying art to people who slighted him, and it wouldn’t look good among her rich friends if she was one of them.

She only smiled and said, “Of course.”

They talked briefly and soon, she gave him her credit card, which he passed on to his assistant Willard to process.

After the arrangements were made for delivery, he kissed her hand and moved on to the next rich stiff to peddle his art to.

By the end of the night, he had sold three paintings, which was enough to sustain him until his next show a few months later.

“Great show tonight, sir,” Willard said as he helped Stephon put his jacket on.

“Thank you, Willard,” he said, sincerely. “I’ll leave you to tear down the exhibit and I will call you in a few days to see about acquiring some new subjects.”

“Of course, sir. I look forward to it,” Willard replied.

‘I’m sure you do,’ Stephon thought, but only smiled before walking off.

Once he was home, he poured himself a quarter glass of bourbon and stared at a blank wall in his apartment. He let his mind wonder about who his next subject would be.

A few days later, he called Willard to describe to him what he was looking for in his next subject.

On the other end, Willard jotted down his notes and at the end, simply said, “I’m on it.”

Now that Stephon had found his inspiration and set his assistant to work, he could let loose until he heard back from him.

When his phone went off, Stephon groggily woke up and climbed over one of the two male bodies in his bed to get to it.

Naked and unashamed, he answered his phone with, “Good morning, Willard. What do you have for me?”

“I believe I have exactly what you are looking for,” he replied.

A ping from the phone let Stephon know that Willard had sent him a picture.

He looked at the picture of the girl from different angles before deciding she would indeed work.

“She looks perfect,” he started. “Take her to the studio and I’ll join you later this evening.”

Without another word, he hung up.

He cleaned himself up and after asking his ‘guests’ to leave, he spent the rest of the day preparing himself to be away for a few days to paint his next masterpiece.

Feeling mentally prepared, he took one more swig of his favorite bourbon and walked out the door.

As he drove to his studio, he watched the people he passed. He wondered how Willard was able to find such great subjects for his paintings from this blob of mediocre-looking people that went through life being average.

It’s not that he thought most of humanity was ugly, only ‘Not Interesting’. He was an artist. He only worked with the exceptional. He required a subject that had a natural glow. Someone everyone else couldn’t stop staring at, even if they didn’t fully understand why they were drawn to that person.

Driving through the crowd of the average, it only increased his lust for the exceptional “One” that Willard had found.

A loud creak echoed as he rolled the large bay door of his storage unit open.

Stephon took a quick look around outside and not seeing anyone, stepped inside. His and Willard’s cars were the only ones in the lot.

The large warehouse was completely empty except for a single room built in the center. The outside of the room looked run down and if anyone were to find themselves that unit, they would find it curious, but that is all. Nothing about it stood out.

It was the inside that was special.

After closing the large warehouse door, Stephon casually walked up to the one door to the inner room, carrying with him a bag of necessities for the next few days.

He smiled when he entered and saw the girl tied to the chair with Willard standing to her side.

“Well done, Willard,” he said. “As always.”

Willard smiled, always appreciating the compliments he received from his boss. He was like a puppy every time he was around Stephon.

“You may go,” Stephon said.

As Willard walked by, Stephon pulled out the envelope of cash for Willard’s dutiful work of finding him another superb subject.

Once he was gone, Stephon turned his attention to the girl.

She was tied to the chair by the wrist and ankles. A specially made vice was attached to her head, holding it slightly tilted while not covering the terrified look she wore.

Willard had dressed her in a beautiful 19th century gown and restrained her in a custom-made chair of the same era.

Behind her was a simple fabric backdrop of an old 19th century living room that he could use for reference.

Stephon ignored the muffled sounds the girl made as he started arranging his painting utensils to begin his work.

The girl could only make moaning sounds because as part of her preparation, Willard had sown her mouth shut. They learned early on that a noisy subject was very distracting subject.

“Perfect,” he said, as he saw the steady tears fall from her eyes.

That was the emotion he was known for capturing. The utter realization that there was no hope. People would define that look to be a reflection of the sadness in their own lives, never knowing how the original look of pain had been drawn out.

The girl was slowly realizing that there was no one coming to save her.

When Stephon had first arrived, hope bloomed, but now, she saw him for what he was. Not her savior, but her doom.

Stephon began by lightly sketching the contours of her face. He spent hours on just the face. He focused on capturing the anguish in her eyes.

“What do you think?” he said when he had finished the face and turned the canvas for her to see.

Awe and sadness filled her as she saw her painted reflection staring back at her.

She wanted to plead for him to spare her, but all that came out where those moans that he easily ignored.

He moved down to her dress and painted all the detail he wanted. He only painted to the waist because he liked to reposition the legs to what he considered pleasing.

“How about one final look,” he said ominously.

He turned the canvas once again so that she could see his progress.

‘His work IS beautiful,’ she thought as she looked at the unfinished painting. Her painted self, had no hair, hands, legs, nor a background, but what he had painted was absolutely breathtaking.

If she had been given the choice, she would have gladly sat in as a willing subject, but that wouldn’t have been enough for him. A willing subject couldn’t ‘will’ the pain he sought. It had to be real.

Even afraid, she couldn’t mask her awe at his work and that pleased him.

“I knew you’d love it,” he started. “You have a natural beauty that is hard to fine.”

His face changed to one of compassion, though it was feigned. “I hope you can, at least, take comfort in knowing that your beauty will live on forever.”

“I only wish you could see the final result,” he concluded.

He put the painting back on the easel and walked to his leather art bag.

The girl’s eyes widened when she saw him pull out a very large, very sharp knife.

Without another word, he casually walked over to her, and while starring into her terrified eyes, he used the knife to slit her throat.

He continued to look into her eyes as her life drained away. This was always one of his favorite parts. To see a life slip away was something only a few were privy to. Some found it sad. He found it beautiful.

His eyes then shifted to the blood that initially poured out of her throat, but now that her heart had stopped, turned to only a trickle.

He gave himself one more brief moment to enjoy the beauty, and then used the same knife to cut the ropes off her wrist and ankles, being careful not to get blood on them, which was a detail he had no interest in adding to the painting.

After putting the knife down, he gently positioned her wrist and ankles to a position he found most eye-pleasing, taking a step back several times to ensure they were placed how he wanted them.

He then took the clamp off her head. It only added an extra distraction and wasn’t necessary now that he had finished painting her face. Plus, he needed to see her hair to truly give it justice.

Taking one final look at her position, he decided it was perfect.

He took out his paint brushes once again and began painting the rest of her body, and then her hair.

Since he had to wait for the paint to dry to move to the next layer, he always started with painting the subject first.

By the third day of painting, the body in the chair was various shades of blue and grey.

Stephon hated this part of painting as the subject was no longer beautiful, but he had to keep her there to continue adding the details and paint the background around her.

Having received the text from Stephon, Willard soon arrived to clean up.

As usual, when he opened the door, he found Stephon passed out on the floor, surrounded by bottles of wine, paint, and all his other painting utensils scattered about.

He only stayed sober when starting the painting. He needed to be sharp to capture the essence, but after that, he drank the rest of the time he painted. Being drunk allowed his creative side to take over.

Willard walked around Stephon’s unconscious body to asses the mess he needed to clean up. It was his duty to have the room spotless by the time Stephon woke up.

Taking a single deep breath, he set to work.

Several hours later, Stephon woke up.

He looked around the now cleaned room. The chair stood empty before the still hanging backdrop. The chair and surrounding area had been cleaned of any blood. The rope and the head clamp were also gone.

All of Stephon’s painting equipment had been properly cleaned and put away.

In the middle of the room stood the easel with his finished work.

He slowly stood up, shaking off what was left of his drunken state.

He walked to the canvas to marvel at his own work.

It was perfect. Another masterpiece.

The piece was the most talked about painting at his next show. A bidding war had begun, and by the end, it was the most expensive piece he had ever sold.

He had no idea how he was going to top it, or if he should even try.

“Another great show, sir,” Willard said, helping Stephon with his jacket.

“I agree,” he said. “I must say you really outdid yourself with finding that last subject. She was truly perfect.”

“Thank you, sir,” Willard replied with a smile.

“Do you think you could find another one that perfect again?” Stephon asked.

“Absolutely, sir,” he answered, wearing the same smile. “I’ve already found her.”
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Published on March 07, 2023 05:57

October 19, 2022

Yuri stepped off the plane, feeling more confident as he walked out of the airport as casually as he could.

Every few minutes, he used reflective surfaces to ensure he wasn’t being followed. Seeing that he wasn’t, he knew he was safe.

Once outside, he waved down a taxi.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

Yuri handed him a piece of paper with the address. While his English was good, he couldn’t conceal his accent and the fewer people he had to talk to, the better.

The driver acknowledged that he knew where the address was at and with a grunt, drove off.

Yuri looked with marvel at the surroundings as they passed.

He was deep in thought when the taxi came to an abrupt stop, bringing him back to the present.

Outside the window sat a very indifferent, suburban yellow house.
Without saying a word, Yuri paid the driver and got out.

After the taxi drove off, he took a quick look around and seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he walked to the front door and knocked in the pattern that he was told to.

He heard an audible click and after one more sideways glance, he walked in.

Derek was abruptly woken by a large explosion from a distance. He jumped up and quickly walked to the window to see where the sound came from.

He could see smoke rising from somewhere in a nearby neighborhood.

“Holy shit,” he said out loud.

Knowing that he personally wasn’t in any danger, he decided it wasn’t worth going back to sleep and went the kitchen to get the coffee started.

Working from home had its benefits and so he sat down at his computer, still wearing his robe and sipped his coffee.

By the time he was done with work, he had forgotten all about the explosion that woke him up just eight hours earlier.

Not big on watching the news, he instead started binge watching a show he had fallen behind on, and he wanted to get through them before all the spoilers started to pop up everywhere.

The next day, there was a knock at his door.

Logging off the computer, he went to answer it.

“Oh hi,” he said when he saw that it was just his groceries being delivered.

He paid the delivery boy and closed the door.

‘Man, is it Thursday already?’ he thought.

After he put the groceries away, he went back to work.

Derek’s life was all about routine. He rarely went out any longer than he had too. His only connection to the outside world was mostly through social media and when he wasn’t working or streaming shows, he was scrolling through his social media feeds seeing what everyone else was up to.

It wasn’t until a few days later that thinks started to take a weird turn.

At first, he started seeing posts from people that said a friend or family member went missing. That in of itself wasn’t overly strange. What was strange, was the number of posts about people going missing.

While he thought it curious, it didn’t affect his routine.

Not until a few days later.

Suddenly, his feed went almost completely silent. The few that were still on and posting were still talking about missing people, and started talking about weird things they were seeing or hearing about.

Derek noticed that the ones who were the first to go offline where the people that lived in his city, but as time went, he was seeing similar post from people further away.

Derek woke up to the sound of a car alarm going off nearby.

Still half asleep, he rolled over and tried to ignore it.

Then he heard screams.

He shot up.

‘That’s definitely not normal,’ he thought, trying to wake himself up enough to put some clothes on.

He peeked through the blinds, straining to look up and down the street to see what was happening.

Suddenly, the night erupted into screams again, but not from one specific place. The screams were coming from every direction.

There was no way to pinpoint what was happening. He could only tell it was happening everywhere.

Instinct kicked in and he went around the house making sure there were no lights on. Since it was the middle of the night, only his lamp was on, which he quickly extinguished.

He grabbed his phone to see what people were saying.

His feed was filled with almost incoherent posts. People were saying there were monsters flying around killing people, others were saying that someone had let all the animals from the zoo lose and they were the ones causing the chaos. And yet others were ranting conspiracies about the military overthrowing the government.

Derek couldn’t tell what was happening, but it didn’t take a genius to realize whatever was going on, it was bad. It was really bad.

He went back to the window.

Only darkness and screams met him.

A small relief settled in when off in the distance, he could see the sunrise peeking over the horizon.

As the sun came up, the screams subsided and was replaced by an eerie silence.

If he was a braver man, he would have ventured outside to investigate, but instead, he spent the day looking out the corner of the window, hoping someone would arrive to tell him what was going on.

Throughout the entire day though, he didn’t see a single person.

When the sun went down, the screams started again, this time accompanied by the sound of gunfire.

Derek was so focused on what he was hearing that he didn’t even notice his power go out. It wasn’t until his phone beeped ‘Low Battery’ that he realized he couldn’t charge it.

He tried one more time to check his Social Media feeds to see what people were saying, but his phone showed ‘No Service’.

“Shit!” he said in hushed tones.

With the next day came another surreal silence.

Knowing he would run out of food and water soon, it wasn’t long before he started making plans to venture out.

He was surprised when he walked out of the house and saw how empty the streets were.

Keeping his guard up, he quickly sped walked to his nearest neighbor and knocked on the door. Not getting an answer, he moved around the house, looking in each window.

The house seemed deserted, but as he was about to jump over the backyard fence, he quickly changed his mind and fell backward onto the ground.

Seeing a dead dog in the backyard had startled him.

“Shit!” he said out loud.

He picked himself off the ground and started looking into the next house. It was deserted too.

‘What the hell is going on?’ he thought, moving from house to house, searching for any sign of life.

Suddenly, the air was knocked out of him as someone, or something tackled him and pinned him to the ground.

“What the hell?” he yelled once he got his breath back.

Whoever was on his back eased up enough for him to roll over.

When he turned around, he found himself looking into the beautiful eyes of a girl who was likewise looking down at him. She didn’t seem as impressed as he was.

“What the hell are you doing just walking around?” she started. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Derek was thoroughly confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Now it was her turn to be confused.

“Did you just wake up from a coma?” she asked, looking hard into his eyes.

“Um, no,” was all he could say.

“Where do you live?” she continued.

Hesitantly, he pointed at his house halfway up the street.

She followed his gaze, and satisfied, she pulled him up off the ground.

“Okay, let’s move,” she said, turning and walking towards his house.

“Go where?” he asked.

“Are you slow?” she asked.

“Um, no,” he replied, unconvincingly.

“To your house, dumbass,” she clarified, and then continued walking towards his house.

Not wanting to look even more the fool, he silently followed her.

Once they were back in his house, she took off her hat and scarf that partially covered her face. She made herself comfortable before turning her attention back to him.

“How is it you’ve managed to stay alive this long?” she asked, impressed at how clean his house was.

“Um, I don’t know,” he answered. “This is the first time I’ve left my house in at least a week.”

Her eyebrows raised as she understood.

“So, you have no idea what is going on?” she asked.

“No. I’ve only heard screams and gunfire at night,” he replied.

“I don’t know how it started, but I suspect with a house that exploded a couple of weeks ago,” she theorized. “Soon after that, people started disappearing and these strange creatures started popping up. After seeing a few of them myself, I figured the missing people were eaten by them.

“Once I realized the pattern, I started scavenging during the day and hiding at night. So far, they’ve only been coming out at night.”
Regaining his senses a little bit, he asked, “So what’s the plan now?”
“Well, I say we stay here for now,” she said. “It looks like so far, they haven’t found you in here.”

“Yeah, I haven’t even seen one of those things,” he confirmed. “Or any person for that matter.”

“I suspect a lot of people were out when all this started happening,” she guessed. “And maybe some left to find food, or just stayed indoors and died, either from starvation or suicide.”

“Maybe I should at least know your name?” Derek asked.

“Oh sorry,” she started. “I’m Amy.”

“Nice to meet you, Amy,” he said. “I’m Derek.”

Over the next few days, they lived off the rations that Amy had brought with her. At night they listened to the screams, not from people anymore, but from the creatures that were flying around. There were a lot more of them.

“There, see?” Amy said one night, pointing to the sky.

Derek cautiously looked out the window and saw a flying creature. It looked like a large bird or a gargoyle.

“It’s starting to get dark,” Amy warned as they scavenged an empty house for food and water. “And we’re pretty far away. We should head back now.”

Derek nodded his agreement.

As the days had drawn on, they were forced to venture out further and further for food.

“I think next time we head out, we should try to find another centralized house to stay at so we don’t have to risk being this far out,” Amy suggested.

“I think that’s a good…” Derek started, when suddenly he was cut off as he fell into a small well.

Amy followed the splash to where he was.

The grass was so high, she could barely see the edges of the hole.
She frantically looked around for something to use to pull him up. Luckily, there was no shortage of large sticks for her to use.

They both struggled but finally got him out of the hole. They both knew time was running out, but they needed a moment to catch their breath.

Once they had, Derek said, “Maybe we should stay in this house tonight. It’s already getting dark. We’d never make it back in time.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said, standing up.

They were halfway to the house when Amy heard a scream behind her.

A creature had come out of nowhere and had started attacking Derek.

Without hesitating, Amy used the stick she had previously used to help Derek out of the well, and was now using as a walking stick, to attack the creature.

It let out a yelp and released Derek.

She whacked it in the head for good measure, and though it wasn’t down, it was disorientated for the moment.

She could hear other creatures approaching, but she focused on getting Derek to safety.

Once they were in the house, she slammed the door behind them.

Knowing where they went, the creature easily crashed through one of the windows, but before it could get to them, Derek and Amy ran into the basement, locking the door behind them.

The creature didn’t seem to be able to bust through the door, so they both slid down the wall panting.

When the morning came, Derek was feverish and wasn’t responding to her when tried to talk to him.

“You must be poisoned or something,” she said out loud, though Derek didn’t seem to notice. “We’ll stay here until you get better.”

She wanted to stay as optimistic as possible.

The next night, as the outside grew darker, Derek began to groan.

Amy put down the canned green beans she was eating and went to check on him.

He was curled up in the fetal position in a dark corner. He was rocking back and forth.

“Derek?” she asked as she approached.

Suddenly, she heard a crunching sound as two large wings sprouted from Derek’s back.

Almost immediately, she knew what was happening and she knew she had to get out of there. She turned to run up the stairs.

But before she could make it to the top, something grabbed her ankle tightly, and when she looked down, she saw the last bit of Derek change into a creature.

As it climbed on top of her, her final thoughts were, “So this is what happened to all the people.”
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Published on October 19, 2022 09:14

August 17, 2022


Luke, as he was called, even though he was the sheriff, sat on the side of the country road trying to stay awake.

He had long ago left being a big city cop to spend the rest of his remaining days away from the worst in humanity one could see.

Except for the occasional speeding ticket or bar brawl, the sleepy town he protected was pretty much crime-free.

It was getting harder for him to keep his eyes open, especially since the AC had gone out in his cruiser.

The town had one sheriff and three deputies. Normally, Luke would work during the day, but if one of the deputies called off, he would usually pick up the extra shift. The nice thing about being the sheriff is he could work a double and then take the next day off if he wanted to.

Even though the sun had gone down hours ago, it was the middle of summer, so it was hot and musty. All the ingredients needed for a good night sleep.

Suddenly, his car rocked as something flew past him above the cruiser.

Luke jumped up and while hugging the steering wheel, looked up through the front window to see what it was.

“What the hell?” he asked out loud when he saw a falling ball of fire.

He waited to see where it crashed, and then sped off towards it.

“Dispatch!” he yelled into his mic as he kept a heavy foot on the gas. “It looks like we have a plane crash. Not sure which farm, but it’s close enough to the Ferguson’s farm that I’m sure you’ll see it from there. Wake up Teddy and tell him to meet me there!”

“Sure thing,” Sally, their night dispatcher, replied.

Driving as fast as he could, he arrived where the crash was in under ten minutes. When he arrived, the car skidded to a stop just a few feet away from the fiery hole.

Luke coughed as approached the pit, preparing himself for the worst.

To his surprise the hole was almost empty. The only thing that he could see was what looked like an open metal box.

Not seeing anything flammable, he risked sliding into the hole for a better look.

Behind him, he didn’t notice a swarm made up of thousands of tiny dots float away towards the nearest farmhouse.

By the time Teddy arrived at the scene, Luke was already out of the hole and leaning on his car, studying the open box he had found.

“What happened?” Teddy asked. “And what’s that?”

Handing the open box to him, Luke said, “This is what crashed, though I can’t tell you what it is.”

Holding it in his own hand, Teddy asked, “What do you want to do with it?”

“Hell, I don’t know,” Luke said truthfully. If he was back in the city, he would just send it to a lab, but there in town, they had nothing even close to resembling a lab. “Take it to Ron Henderson, the high school science teacher and ask him to take a look. He’s the closest thing we have to a lab tech.”

Teddy nodded and asked, “What do we do about the hole?”

Luke looked over at it. The fire was almost out.

“When it’s done burning up, I’ll take another look,” he said. “I’ll take some pics, and in the morning, I’ll see who we can call to fill it.”

Satisfied, Teddy gave a quick boy scout salute and left with the mysterious box.

After an hour, Luke called it. There was simply nothing else to find, though he couldn’t believe that an empty, metal box could cause the ball of flames that he had seen and hole he was standing in.

While it was confusing, Luke chalked it up to just an interesting story he’ll be able to tell at the diner when he got breakfast.

Within a week, everyone had all but forgotten about the crash. The science teacher didn’t notice anything odd about the box, the hole was filled, and life returned to normal.

That was until people started noticing that all the local restaurants and watering holes were becoming more and more empty.

It was as if one by one, all the regulars decided they didn’t enjoy going out anymore.

Friends would visit the families that had stopped coming to town, but except for them acting a little weird, nothing seemed overly wrong.

But a week into the change, Luke decided something was off and he needed to check on these families himself.

“Hi Bill,” he said after he knocked on the door of the Henderson home and Bill Henderson answered.

“Hello, Luke,” he replied.

“I was just in the area and thought I’d swing by to see how you and the family were doing,” Luke started. “We’ve been missing you at church the last couple of Services.”

“We’ve been busy,” was his response.

“Uh huh,” Luke said, hoping there would be more.

They stared at each other. Luke was sure he was the only one feeling uncomfortable.

After a long moment of silence, he said, “Well, hopefully we’ll see you and Lou Anne back in church again soon.”

Bill only stared.

“Okie Dokie, I’ll guess I’ll be seeing you,” Luke said, tipping his hat and walking off.

As he slowly walked away, Bill closed the door, but Luke could hear them talking inside.

“It’s not the right time,” he heard Bill say to someone. “Almost, but not yet.”

Luke almost walked back up to the door to ask some more questions, but something told him, he had gotten all he was going to get.

As the next couple of days progressed and it seemed like more people were not coming to town anymore, Luke started driving around in the evenings to see if he could pick up any clues.

One evening, as he was about to call it a night, he saw the Henderson Family walking together through their back field. Luke could barely see them from the road, so he decided to pull up a little closer.

They weren’t walking toward their barn but into the corn field.

When they were out of sight, he parked the car on the side of the road and got out to follow them.

Before he could get to the corn field though, he quickly dropped close to the ground and hid behind a broken-down tractor that was being used as a lawn decoration.

He was almost spotted by the neighbors who were also walking into the field.

After they were all deep into the field, Luke continued to follow them.

Once inside, he was starting to feel like he was lost, until he heard some sounds off to the side. It was a buzzing sound and it got louder the closer he got.

Luke had no idea that there was an open area in the middle of the cornfield, but yet, there it was, and it was filled with townspeople.

They weren’t talking, but he could tell they were communicating. He realized that’s what the buzzing sound was.

Their mouths moved to the sounds as if they were walking fax machines.

Suddenly, they all, along with him, looked up at the sound of helicopters flying nearby.

Not wanting to get noticed and hoping the helicopters were there to help, he started backing up.

All the townspeople turned to face him when his walkie squelched, and the dispatcher said his name.

He took off in a full sprint, as the townspeople simultaneously gave pursuit.

He barely had time to jump into his cruiser and drive off before the crowd caught up.

“Shit, shit, shit!” he said slamming his foot all the way to the floorboard.

Now that he was far enough from the crowd, who had stopped chasing him once he drove off, he finally replied to his dispatcher.

“Sally!” he shouted. “Can you hear me?”

“Oh there you are,” she said casually. “There are some people here to see you. They won’t tell us what they want, but they just arrived by helicopter. Fancy.”

Not sharing her sarcasm, he replied, “I think I have a pretty good idea why they’re here. I’m on my way back!”

And with that he focused of staying on the road as he pushed the cruiser past what it could normally put out.

When he arrived at the station, he was met by no less than half a dozen agents and over a dozen soldiers.

“Sheriff!” One of the agents shouted as soon as he jumped out of the car.

“What the hell is going on here?” he replied, knowing why they were there.

Not knowing that he had run into some of the townspeople, they assumed he was just upset they were even there.

“We heard you had a crash here a few weeks ago and thought we’d give you a hand,” the agent started.

“To hell with that!” he continued. “Why don’t you instead tell me why half the town is acting weird and just tried to attack me!”

The agent looked stunned but quickly recovered. She looked from Luke, back to her comrades, and then back to him.

“I think we should talk,” she said.

“No shit!” he agreed.

She waved to her partners and led him towards his office.

Once they were in his office, she started, “I’m just going to lay it straight to you, Sheriff, but I need whatever I share with you to never leave this office.”

He nodded.

“What crashed in one of your fields was a science experiment that escaped,” she explained. “We have been experimenting with Nanobots…”

“Nanobots?” the sheriff asked, cutting her off.

“Tiny robots,” she continued. “They have a wide range of applications from being used to heal, use as weapons, etcetera.”

Baffled, he asked, “Which ones were these?”

“Well, while these nanobots were pretty advanced, their purpose hadn’t been decided yet,” she said. “They were still in the state of being programmed. That was, until they seem to have become sentient.”

“Sentient?” the sheriff asked, knowing what the word meant, but not what the implications were.

“They became self-aware,” she said bluntly. “They took over one of our security guards and used him to help them escape.”

“So the crash was their escape?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“And they have taken over some of the people from town?” he asked.

“From what you told me, I’d say yes,” she acknowledged.

Not caring how it happened, only in how he can save them, he asked, “Okay, so how do we stop them?”

She opened a box and showed him a canister.

“We use this,” she said. “It’s an EMP, an Electromatic Pulse grenade. State of the art. It should render them inert.”

“Okay, so how do we deploy it?” he asked.

“That’s where you come in” she said. We need to gather them all in one specific place, so that when we detonate it, it’ll get them all.”

“Well, I can just tell you where they are and you can drop it on them if you want,” he stated.

“There’s a good possibility that they may have already dispersed by now,” she said.

“Will the people be alright afterwards?” he asked.

“We believe so,” she said. “We can’t be a hundred percent sure. After all, we’ve never been in this situation, but all test show that they should all be fine.”

“So how do I get them all together?” he asked.

She explained what the plan was and then sent him on his way.

Not overly excited, he drove back to the Henderson Farm and knocked on the door.

“Hi, Bill,” Luke said when Bill answered the door.

“Hello, sheriff,” Bill replied, noticing the formality in his tone.

“You mind if I come in for a minute to talk about earlier?” he asked.

Seeming to be pleased with the request, he answered, “Of course. Come on in.”

Once he was inside, he was greeted by the whole family, and they moved to the living room.

While they talked, a small swarm of nanobots, invisible to the naked eye, entered Luke’s ear canal and by the time the conversation was done, he was one of them.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the swarm, Luke had been injected with pre-programmed nanobots that would seize control of the ones that entered him, and it worked.

The reprogrammed nanobots sent out instructions that the should all assemble in the field.

There were over fifty of them standing in the middle of the field. The sound of buzzing filled the air as they all began to communicate with each other.

Suddenly, there was a high-pitched squelching sound coming through some loudspeakers nearby.

For a brief moment, the nanobots were disrupted and all the townspeople were themselves again.

A moment is all Luke needed. He pulled the canister out of his pocket and pressed the button.

He became concerned as nothing seemed to happen.

But something did happen. All at once, and unfelt by anyone, all the nanobots in their bodies became inert.

The squelching sound stopped, and Luke waited for the townspeople to be taken over once again.

When nothing happened, he smiled.

Troops came rushing into the field and began gathering all of them up to move them to an undisclosed site.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Luke said, reassuring them all.

The agent had already told him this would happen. They were to be taken to the nearest safe-site and kept in rooms that would keep the nanobots inert until they were completely passed out of their systems.

As they were led out of the field, Luke pulled Teddy to the side and said, “Hold down the fort until I get back. Shouldn’t be more than a week, they said.”

“No problem, sheriff,” he replied and watched as they were all taken away.

Two days later, while Teddy was sitting on the side of the road watching for speeders, he saw an explosion off in the distance.

“What the hell?” he said, sitting straight up.

All of a sudden, his radio became alive with the sounds of screams, alarms, and cries for help.
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Published on August 17, 2022 09:26

August 11, 2022

To Stop a Madman

“Simon,” his bossed called out. “There are some people here to see you.”

“I’ll be right there,” Simon replied.

He found a good stopping point in the program he was working on, locked his screen, and walked out of his office.

As he reached his bosses office, he could see the two people that were with him. They were clearly agents from some agency.

When he walked in, the female agent started.

“Hi Simon, I’m Agent Riley and this is my partner, Agent Sizemore,” she said. Her partner only nodded. “We’re with the FBI and we’d like to talk to you,” she continued.

“What about?” I asked, wondering if I was in trouble.

“It would be best if we could talk in private,” she explained.

Curious, Simon agreed.

“This way, please,” her partner said, waving his arm the direction they were going.

Simon only became nervous when all three of them walked out of the building and he was asked to get in one of two unmarked sedans.

Not feeling like he had a choice, he climbed in the one he was instructed to.

Once all the doors were closed and the two sedans drove off, Agent Riley began. “We need your help with a very important mission.”

Simon almost laughed. “Mission? I’m only a software engineer, not a secret agent.”

“We’re aware of that,” Agent Sizemore responded.

“Okay,” Simon started.

Already anticipating what he was going to say, Agent Riley started again. “You’re wondering why you.”

Simon nodded.

“How much do you know about your father?” she asked.

He shrugged and said, “He was a software guy like me. He died in a car accident six years ago. So?”

The two agents looked at each other, but it was Riley who spoke. “What if I was to tell you that your father worked for us, and his death was no accident.”

Flabbergasted, Simon could only reply with, “What?”

“Your father was one of our top developers,” she said, reaching over and handing him a file. “He helped us design new software in conjunction with new tech for the purposes of surveillance, information gathering, and deploying offensive attacks against government enemies.”

“He was a spy,” Simon said to clarify.

“Yes,” she responded.

The agents gave him a moment to take it all in.

Once he had come to terms with it, he said, “Okay, so what does this have to do with me.”

Agent Riley leaned forward and said, “At your father’s request, we’ve been keeping an eye on your work. We were watching you even before he died. We all saw real potential in you but while your father asked us to keep an eye on your work, he explicitly asked us not to recruit you. We think he might have predicted something would happen to him and that you should be his replacement. After he died, we considered offering you the opportunity, but there was some concern about if you would use your new accesses to look into your father’s death, which I’m afraid is classified.”

Still confused, he asked, “Okay, so if you didn’t want to bring me in then, what’s changed.”

Simon could see the hesitation in both the agents.

“Some software your father was working on has landed in the hands of a very dangerous organization with plans to use it in a weapon that has the potential to be very devastating,” Agent Riley explained. “We’d like you to reverse-engineer the code, see how it could be used, and find a way to stop it.”

“Oh,” Simon started. “Is that all? You have got to have software techs that can do that better than me.”

“Normally, yes,” she said. “But your father had a unique way of writing code that was uncontemporary, and our software engineers are having trouble reverse-engineering it.

“We’ve compared it to the way you sometimes write code, not for work because you have to keep that standardized, but on some of your side projects, and we can tell your style is very similar to your fathers.”

She let him mull it over for a moment, and then continued. “Will you help us? We’ve already cleared the time off with your company.”

“Looks like you have all your ducks in a row, so yes, I’ll help you,” he replied.

He walked around the Control Center in awe. He had never seen one before. Before he was allowed to enter, he had to sign a ton of documents, and put his phone in a locker.

For the first time in his life, he felt out of his league.

Before he could start asking the thousand questions that were running through his mind, they walked him past all the screens, down a hallway, and into a room with one computer on a desk. Except for the desk and chair, there was no other furniture.

“We hope this will be adequate to look at the code,” Agent Riley said.

“Um, yeah,” he replied. “It’ll be fine. Is there any music I can listen to? I work better to music.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

She took a few minutes to show him how to log onto the computer and what he had access to, and then left the room.

He had no internet, so Google was out.

‘I guess if the solution could have been Googled, they would have already done it,’ he thought.

He started working and about an hour in, Agent Riley returned with an iPod with most of his favorite music on it. He wasn’t surprised they were able to look into what music he liked.

“Thank you,” he said. He put on the headset, pushed play, and got back to work.

Though he was able to work twice as fast, it was still slow going. Some of the code didn’t make sense. He rightly assumed that was what he was supposed to figure out what it meant.

At times, he couldn’t help but smile at some of the similarities in their code. His dad had shown him how to code. First, like everyone else. Then later, he showed him how to create his own codes that computers could still understand.

He stared at the screen for hours, took a short lunch, stared at the screen again, and then went home late into the evening. At the end of the day, they asked what he was able to figure out, but to their disappointment, the news wasn’t good.

Yet, several days in, he ran out the door and had the first agent he ran into go get Agents Riley and Sizemore.

When they arrived, he said, “I figured it out!”

“What?” Agent Riley exclaimed, clearly surprised. She had figured it was a long shot to bring him on board. She was excited that it looked like it had actually paid off.

“Drones,” he said.

“Drones?” she asked, confused.

“I was able to determine the code was written to talk to drones,” he continued. “Once I figured that out, I was able to decipher the rest.”

“And?” she asked, figuratively sitting at the edge of her seat.

He face changed from excitement to concern.

“It looks like it’s meant to be part of a doomsday device,” he said.

The agents looked at each other and then back at him.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Once I figured out it was a program to control drones,” he started again. “I was able to see that it was meant for a massive number of drones. Though it wasn’t exactly stated in the code itself, I was able to deduce that the drones were programed to release a payload in certain locations. Major cities around the world, and the only thing that made sense was a biological weapon.”

“Holy shit!” she said. “We have to get on the horn right away. We have to warn the cities that will be hit.”

“I’m afraid that’s not an option,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Two things,” he started. “One, the cities are too big to effectively evacuate before the attack, and two, the drones are also programed to change with our responses. They have a ‘Command and Control” center that they will have a live connection to.”

Seeing the realization dawning on her, he continued, “But I have an idea.”

His plan was simple. He needed to create his own code that would counter the program the drones would be using. He’d still need to figure out a way to deploy it, but he decided to focus on one problem at a time.

The agents left him in the room to get to work.

As he tested different programs, he could feel an invisible clock ticking. He knew he had to work fast if he was going to also figure out a way to get his solution to the drones in time.

By the end of the day, he had the solution. Now he needed to think of a way to deploy it.

“Are you ready to call it a day?” Agent Riley asked him, wanting to keep him going, but knew he was running on fumes.

“I’m good,” he said.

He told her he had created the code to stop the attacks, but now he needed to find a way to use it.

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Well,” he started, knowing he was going to have to keep as simple as possible. “One, we don’t even know where the drones are, only where they will be. Two, we’d have to find a way to inject our payload into the live connection they’ll be using. Finding the connection will be easy, but it’s sure to be encrypted and very difficult, if not impossible to crack.

“But if we can do that, then my code will send them into the nearest body of water, which should render most pathogens inert.”

“Easy peasy,” she said, bringing a smile to both of them.

“I’m going to stay, if that’s alright,” he suggested. “I just want to make sure all my ducks are in a row, and we’re as good-to-go as possible.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” she said relieved. “I’ll be in the Control Room if you need me.”

They said their goodbyes and he got back to work.

Suddenly, an hour later, a blip appeared on his screen.

“Can we talk?” it said.

Simon shot up and looked around. He could see on his computer that he had no network connection, so whoever was trying to communicate with him was doing it through the internal network. Simon quickly looked behind the computer to see that it did indeed have a network cable connected to it.

Not sure what to do, he typed back, “Who is this?”

“Dad,” was all that popped up.

Simon couldn’t breathe.

“My dad died years ago,” Simon typed back.

“That’s what they told you, but it’s not the truth,” came the reply.

“Prove it,” Simon typed.

He read the short paragraph story which was definitely something only his father would know.

“But why would they lie?” I asked.

There was a pause.

“It’s complicated,” his dad typed back.

Wanting to push for more, but also wanting to see where the conversation was going, Simon asked, “What do you want?”

“I need you to stop what you’re doing,” his father typed back flatly.

“I don’t understand,” Simon wrote.

“I need you to stop trying to stop me,” the reply said.

Simon froze, but not for long.

Realizing what that meant, he stood up to leave, but when he turned around, Agent Sizemore was blocking his way.

"I have to see Agent Riley,” Simon said, not grasping what was going on.

When Agent Sizemore didn’t move, Simon started to worry.
“Sit back down,” Sizemore ordered him.

Simon did as he was told.

“Why are you doing this?” Simon asked his father.

He began explaining what his motivations were, which were at the very least, neurotic. They were the ravings of a madman and Simon wished that he had never accepted this job.

He was about to call his father insane, when he heard a thump behind him. When he swung around, he saw Agent Sizemore lying on the floor being cuffed by Agent Riley after she had knocked him out with her sidearm.

“I knew he was acting weird the last few weeks,” she said.

“What?” she asked when a smile appear on Simon’s face.

“I have an idea,” he said. “I need another networked computer.”

She quickly went and grabbed him a laptop.

His father was still rambling as she logged him in, and he began scanning the network for how his father was getting in.

Luckily, his father’s reasons for trying to kill millions was extensive, so he was able to find how his father was remoting in and find where he was connected.

“He’s in France,” Simon said.

“Are you sure he’s not using a VPN?” she asked.

“Several, but since he won’t shut up, I was easily able to keep following the trail to the end,” he explained.

He typed as his father’s rants went on, paragraph by paragraph.

All of a sudden, his father stopped in mid-sentence.

“What did you do?” his father asked.

“I’m sorry dad,” Simon said with watery eyes, now that the deed was done, and he had to come to terms with it.

“Why?” his father asked.

“My father died years ago,” Simon said with tears rolling down his cheek. “And I chose to remember him as the hero he always was to me. Goodbye.”

Without waiting for a response, he turned off the computer.

“Wha, what did you do?” Riley asked.

Not looking at her, but only staring at the screen, he said, “Once I was in his network, I was able to locate a chunk of the drones that were active.”

He paused.

“And then I ordered them to release the toxin where they were.”

They both stood there in silence.

It was Simon that broke the silence. “I wish you never showed up at my work.”

He got up and walked out.
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Published on August 11, 2022 10:11


“Okay, explain to me again how an experimental monster sneaks out of our facility and is now running loose in Charming!” Ted screamed at the room of scientists.

They all took a moment to look at each other before the lead replied with, “It may not have been the best idea to make our first monster a shape shifter.”

Ted, the Director of the facilities could only look at him flabbergasted.

“No shit,” was all he could say.

He paced around the room contemplating their next move, but not before letting them all know they were the dumbest geniuses that ever existed.

“So,” he began. “How dangerous is this thing?”

This caused them all to squirm. No one wanted to be the one that answered.

Becoming impatient, he asked, “Well?”

“Well,” the lead scientist decided to be the one who fell on the sword. “Since the project was funded by the military, there were some special requirements they specified.”

Ted groaned. “Dare I ask?”

“Well,” the scientist started again after he nervously cleared his throat. “They wanted to ensure that when unleashed in enemy territory, it would not only wreak havoc on the enemy but would also be able to sustain itself while doing it.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Ted seethed. “And don’t tell me it means what I think it means.”

Moving in his seat nervously, the scientist replied, “It was designed to feed on the enemy.”

Ted fell back into his seat.

“You know,” he started. “I was told by the Joint Chief of Staffs himself to give you as much leeway as you needed. I trusted that you would know what you were doing and that you would take all necessary precautions. The few times I visited your area to inspect your labs, I didn’t notice anything that looked overly dangerous. Certainly nothing that looked alien.

“So, tell me. How is it that your experiment simply walked out without anyone noticing? I mean, even it shapeshifts, security would have noticed anyone that didn’t belong, and everyone still needs to use their badges to even use the elevators.

“So, I ask again gentlemen. How did this happen?”

Showing more excitement than he should of, the lead scientist pulled up a video feed. Ted watched as it showed the lead scientist walking to the elevator and using his card to access it. The feed changed to him walking off the elevator, then down the hallway. Finally, it showed him casually walk out of the building.
When it was done. The lead scientist stopped the feed.

“Okay,” The Director asked. “What was I supposed to notice?”

“Look at the timestamps while I play it again,” he answered.

He played the feed again and the Director saw that the footage was stamped 0815 with the current date, which was that day.

“Okay?” he asked, still not seeing anything out of the ordinary.

The scientist pulled up another feed. “Now take a look at this one.”

The screen showed the lead scientist sitting at a desk. It looked like he was taking a break and doing a crossword puzzle.

Seeing that the director still wasn’t see it, he said, “Take a look at the timestamp on that feed.”

The Director looked and turned one shade whiter when realization set in. The timestamp was exactly the same as the previous one. The two feeds both showed the lead scientist, but while one was of him sitting doing crosswords, the other was of him casually walking out the front door.

Sitting frozen and pale, the Director contemplated the end of his career.

“When I noticed my badge was missing,” the lead scientist started. “It didn’t take long after to figure out what happened.”

Still numb, the Director walked over to the wall and picked up the phone.

“Give me the Joint Chief of Staffs.”

While people in town knew about the lab and knew they had a full staff of scientists, it was rare to see one walking around in a lab coat.

Sammy the Shapeshifter, as he was called by the scientists, walked around casually as he took in all that the small town had to offer.

He started to notice that people were looking at him strangely, so instinct kicked in and knew it was time to find a new identity. First thing he did was throw the lab coat away. He tucked the badge into his pocket in case he needed it later.

After he ditched it, he noticed almost immediately that people stopped looking at him.

He walked around, looking at pictures, images on television screens, and people walking around, hoping to find an inconspicuous person to duplicate. He had been trained to use caution when assuming another role. People would notice if he walked around as a celebrity and if he looked like another townsperson, he might be asked why he was out walking around while he was supposed to be at work, or someplace else.

The scientists had properly trained him on how to assume a new identity. He had no choice but to duplicate the lead scientist, as that was the only way to walk around without standing out, but now that he was free, he knew once they discovered he was gone, they would plaster the image of the scientist all over the news.

He picked up a magazine and searched through it to find a model of a smaller brand that didn’t seem to stand out as famous people would have.

Then he found one. A man in his thirties. He had no real discernable attributes and looked like an everyday Joe.

Once he had taken a good enough look at the image of the man, he ducked away into an alleyway and emerged as a different person.

Knowing they may announce that he may go by the name of Sammy, he decided to choose a different one.

“Todd,” he said under his breath. Someone had once told him he was an Odd Todd for some reason.

Confident that he could now roam freely, he began to contemplate his next move. He had been trained to infiltrate a compound to gather intelligence, or even assassinate a target. His training always ended with him returning to the lab, but he didn’t want to return, so he had to consider other options.

He decided his objective would be to leave town and live somewhere else.

His stomach growled and there was only one thing he craved. He was torn between immediately escaping and feeding somewhere else or feeding here and risking being discovered.

The universe answered. Down the alley across the street, there sat a homeless man. He knew feeding on him there would be too risky where he was, but once again, his problem was solved as the homeless man started packing up his belongings for the night.

Todd followed him as he pushed his shopping cart down the road, ending underneath a bridge.

As Todd looked around, he didn’t see anyone else, so he knew now was the best time to feed.

Off in the distance, sirens could be heard.

A man and his son watched on as a motorcade of trucks rolled in, filled with soldiers. He couldn’t tell which branch, but they wore camouflage uniforms and carried assault rifles.

Everyone who hadn’t stopped already, stopped moving when a booming voice came over a loudspeaker mounted on several of the trucks.

“Can I have your attention, please,” the voice started.
He could see that the voice belonged to an aged soldier a few trucks up. It was clear he was in charge.

"We have an escaped, dangerous convict on the loose and we are therefore enacting a mandatory curfew beginning now!” He continued. “Please return to your homes, lock your doors, and stay tuned to the local news! Once the fugitive is caught, we will give the ‘All Clear’!”

With his speech finished, the soldiers began jumping off the trucks and splitting off in different directions.

Todd was barely able to hear the announcement, but he heard enough to know his time was running out.

Wiping blood off his face, he scanned the area for the easiest way to leave the small town. He was well versed in military tactics, so he knew the roads would be the first to be blocked and then they would begin searching for him by grids.

He began jogging at a slow pace. He couldn’t risk being spotted in a full sprint, but with all the chaos that must be going on throughout the town, someone moving quickly wouldn’t stand out as much.

He had no idea what direction to run. There were no mountains, but there were woods. The main problem with that is that he could easily lose track of what direction he was going in and end up running in circles.

Before venturing into the nearest tree line, he took a moment to look up at setting sun and decided he was going to keep it on his left as long as he could. Once the sun comes out, he would take a moment to study the stars to keep his bearing.

His heart began beating faster as he heard not only the approach of soldiers, but of dogs barking, probably leading the charge.

He couldn’t be sure if they already knew where he was, but he wasn’t going to slow down to find out.

Deciding to throw caution to the wind now that he was in the woods, he began to run at a full sprint. He was in excellent condition, but he could still tire like everyone else.

The sounds faded a bit as he ran, so he kept on the course that took him further away from them.

Up ahead, he heard more sounds of approaching soldiers and dogs, so he changed course to run away from both groups.

No matter how fast he ran, the sounds of his chasers seemed to be closing.

‘I’m being tracked somehow,’ he thought. It was the only thing that made sense.

He knew if that was the case, there would be no escape.

Off to his side, he saw a cave, so he ran to it to buy himself some time while he searched his body.

Breathing heavily, he searched every visible part of his body, hoping that the tracker wasn’t hidden where he couldn’t see or get to it.

His eyes locked on an old scar on his wrist. Whenever he shapeshifted, the scar was the only thing that stayed the same.

He began to rub the spot and could feel a discernible bump just under the skin.

Off in the distance the sounds of his pursuers were rapidly approaching.

“This way!” the lead scientist ordered. “The tracker shows that’s he’s stopped, probably to rest or attempt to hide! We’re about a hundred yards away!”

One soldier stopped running, climbed a large rock, and pulled out a pair of binoculars. If he could see the target, he could pull out his sniper rifle and take it out.

He scanned the area they were running and didn’t see anyone trying to escape. He pulled out his radio.

“When you get close, proceed with caution,” he ordered. “The target may try to fight his way out.”

It wasn’t long before he saw the small cave that they were running towards.

‘That’s where it is,” the man thought.

He pulled out his sniper rifle and looked for a clean shot. He wanted to make sure when they arrived the thing didn’t try to bolt.

“He’s in that small cave!” the lead scientist yelled. “Surround it!”

His orders were carried out and the cave was surrounded.

Slowly, he approached the mouth of the cave.

Looking at his tracker, he verified that the creature was inside.

“Let me try to bring him out!” he ordered. “He’s very important to the US Military!”

“Sammy?” he called out as he entered the cave.

He followed the tracker to where the shapeshifter was showing at.

“Shit!” the soldiers heard from inside the cave and rushed in.

When they arrived at the spot the scientist was standing, they found him alone, with blood dripping from his hand.

When they directed their flashlights at his bloody hand, they saw that he was holding the thing’s tracker in his hand.

Todd watched from a distance at all the soldiers rush into the cave. With a smile, he turned and walked away into the setting sun.
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Published on August 11, 2022 10:09

May 17, 2022


‘How long have I been here? How did I get here?’ Nick thought, finding himself alone in a small room.

He looked around the room.

It was bare, except for the metal table he was sitting at. There were two chairs. The one he was sitting and one across from him. On the table was a half ring welded to the table. On the wall across from him was a large glass window, which showed his own reflection, but he knew it connected to another room on the other side where he could be watched.

‘Am I in a police station?’ he asked himself.

If he was, he didn’t remember being arrested, processed, or put in this room.

‘What was the last thing I remember,’ he strained to think.

His mind was foggy, and he had to really focus to remember anything.

‘The last thing I remember is being in bed with my wife about to fall asleep,’ he thought.

He stood up and walked around the room. He ran his fingers along the walls to make sure they were real.

When he tapped on the two-way glass, he got no response.

He looked at the single light in the room. It seemed alive. It seemed like it was trying to tell him something.

Lastly, he walked to the door, knowing it would be locked. It was.

Was someone leaving him to sweat before coming or did someone put him in here and then just forget about him?

He knocked timidly on the door. Nothing.

He knocked harder. Nothing.

He banged on the door. It swung open.

Standing before him was a man in a dress shirt and tie. He stood there looking at Nick, taking a sip of his coffee before he spoke.

“I see you’re awake now,” he said.

They both stood there, staring at each other.

“Why don’t you have a seat,” the man said, nodding toward the table.

“Where am I?” Nick asked, standing motionless.

“Have a seat,” the man said. “I’ll be happy to tell you why you’re here.”

The man calmly took another sip of his coffee, waiting for Nick to submit.

Knowing he had no other choice; Nick carefully made his way to the chair he had previously been sitting in and sat down.

The man casually closed the door and sat in the seat across from Nick.

Everything he did was methodical. He moved with an air of experience. This wasn’t the first time he faced another man across a table.

Nick moved slightly, being uncomfortable with the way the man starred him down.

He looked at him the way a lion looks at a gazelle.

The man laid down a manila envelope and opened it.

Nick didn’t notice the man holding it when he came in, and no matter how much he strained, he couldn’t see what the contents were, even as the folder laid open.

“Nick Anderson,” the man started. “Age, 45. 5 foot 6 inches. Works as an accountant and was married to Elizabeth Anderson, age 43, also an accountant.”

With a confused expression, Nick corrected, “Am married to. Elizabeth and I are still married.”

The man didn’t dispute, only stared at him.

“You two were married for sixteen years,” the man said.

Slightly annoyed, Nick said, “Have been. We have been married for sixteen years. As in ongoing.”

“Did you love your wife?” the man asked, keeping his stoic appearance.

“Do,” Nick replied. “I do love my wife.”

“Then why did you kill her?” the man asked.

Nick’s mouth dropped open in surprise while the man sitting across the table studied his every move.

“Wha, what are you talking about?” Nick asked finally.

“I’m Detective Andrew Nicholai,” the man started. “You are Nicolas Anderson. You are in an interrogation room, and I am the one who is interrogating you. You are charged with killing your wife, Elizabeth.

“Now, are you ready to tell me why you killed her?”

Nick was speechless. He wanted to run, he wanted to kick down the door.

‘Elizabeth is dead?’ his mind raced. ‘What is going on? Why am I here? Elizabeth can’t be dead. We were just in bed together. What’s happening?’

The detective watched as Nick came to terms with what was going on.

After enough time had passed, he started again, “Mr. Anderson. Nick. Why don’t we start from the beginning?”

Nick looked up at him, wanting, needing answers.

“I didn’t kill my wife,” was all he could muster to say.

The detective took out a notepad and a pen.

“You said the last thing you remember was falling asleep next to your wife in bed,” he said.

“Yes,” Nick whispered.

“When was that?”

“Last night.”

“What is the date today?” the detective asked.

“February fifteenth,” Nick answered.

“What year is it?” the detective followed up with.

“What do you mean, ‘What year is it’?” Nick said, becoming frustrated. There were more questions than answers.

“Humor me,” the detective said.

“Fine, it’s 2020,” Nick said.

Without missing a beat, the detective pulled out his cell phone and slid it to Nick.

“Take a look at the date,” he said.

It read: September 12th, 2021.

“Bullshit!” he spat, sliding the phone back. “What game are you trying to play.”

The detective took the phone back and put it in his pants pocket, before jotting down a note.

Nick was starting to sweat, and he didn’t know why. He knew he was innocent.

“Let’s start with what you remember,” the detective said. “You said the last thing you remember was falling asleep next to your wife. Why don’t we start with what you both did before bed.”

Frustrated, he answered, “We watched TV.”

“What did you watch?”

“I think the last thing we watched was an old episode of ‘Cheers’,” he said.

“And before that?”

“Dinner,” Nick answered, wringing his hands.

Seeing that he had gotten the wheels turning in Nick’s head, the Detective said, “How about we now go the other direction.”

Nick looked up, briefly making eye contact with the Detective. He couldn’t help but notice, he looked familiar.

“Okay,” Nick said timidly.

“What time did you wake up this morning?” the detective asked.

Nick strained to remember. He could almost see the alarm clock, but it was too blurry.

“Seven,” he said, lying. That was the time his alarm always went off, so he just guessed that’s when it was.

The detective wrote something in his notepad.

“What did you do then?”

Nick couldn’t answer. No matter how much he tried to remember, everything was blurry.

The detective could see him struggling.

“Did you eat breakfast?” he asked.

No answer.

“Did you go to work?”

No answer.

The detective decided to let him stew a little more.

“I’m going to step out for a bit,” he said. “Why don’t you keep trying to remember what you did today?”

Nick stared down at his hands, which were shaking, as the detective stood up and walked out of the room.

The room was spinning. Nick tried to focus, but his whole life had become a blur.

After a few minutes, he started to become a little more focused and he noticed that the detective had left the manila folder laying on the desk.

Like a child trying to sneak extra food, he looked around the room, stared at the two-way glass for second, and then looked back at the folder.

He took one more breath, reached over, and snatched up the folder.

He opened it and spread the contents around.

‘What the?’ he thought.

All the pictures were blurry. He couldn’t make out what they were supposed to be.

He took out the documents to read, but they were in Lorem Ipsum, that weird text you find in templates.

‘None of this is real,’ he thought.

Fueled by anger, he pushed back his chair, marched to the door, and began to bang on it.

After just three bangs, the door opened, revealing the detective on the other side, holding another cup of coffee.

“What the hell is going on?” Nick demanded.

The detective calmly took another sip of coffee, while staring down Nick. He didn’t seem the least bit surprised or concerned.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” the detective said.

Nick wanted to push through him, but an invisible force was filling him. It was a sense of dread. A bead of sweat ran down from his forehead.

Feeling powerless, he walked back to his seat and sat down.

The detective casually closed the door behind them, walked back to his seat, and sat down, staring into Nick’s eyes the entire time.

Nick felt like the detective was piercing his very soul.

He let Nick start off.

“What the hell is all this crap?” Nick half yelled. “The pictures are all blurry and the writing on these documents are all fake!”

“Are they now?” the detective asked calmly and took another sip of his coffee.

“Yes!” Nick shouted and picked up one of the pictures to show the detective.

The detective didn’t even blink. He only took another sip of his coffee.

“And look at this!” Nick said, picking up a piece of paper and throwing it at the detective.

Detective Thompson didn’t even flinch as the paper bounced off of him and floated to the floor.

Nick felt like he was going crazy. He sat down hard and covered his ears with his hands as if he was trying to block out unknown voices.

The detective gave Nick a few minutes and then his features softened a little.

“Nick,” he said softly.

Nick slowly pulled his hands away from his ears and brought his eyes up. It was as if he had just weathered a storm and had survived.

The detective slid one of the blurry pictures over to him.

Fear rose as he picked it up and held it in both hands.

“Tell me about your wife,” the detective began.

“What do you want to know?” Nick asked nervously, staring at the picture.

“Well, anything,” the detective said. “Let’s start with what she looked like.”

Nick’s hands visibly shook as he started.

“She was beautiful,” he said. “She had long brown hair, beautiful deep brown eyes. She had a smile that would light up the room, and a body that made every man want her.”

“And what was she like?”

The picture vibrated in his still shaking hands.

“She was caring, loving,” he said as a tear escaped his eye. “Everyone loved her. She had a laugh that was contagious and a hug that healed any wound.”

As he talked and his eyes filled with tears, the picture he was holding began to focus. It was so subtle, he barely noticed.

“And how was your relationship with her?” the detective continued. “Did you two get along?”

Still staring at the picture, he answered, “Of course we did. We loved each other.

“I mean, I worked a lot, but she understood. I was sometimes distant, but I never stopped loving her.”

The detective took notes while Nick continued to stare at the picture.

His description was becoming a confession.

“I often found myself working late,” Nick continued. “If we ever fought about anything, it was about how much I was working.

“Well, that was almost all we fought about.”

“What else did you fight about?” the detective asked softly.

“She had this guy friend she was close to,” Nick said.

The detective could see a hint of rage in Nick’s eyes.

“Sometimes when I would get home, I would see them on the couch drinking wine,” he half growled. “She said it was innocent, but I didn’t buy it.”

The picture grew more into focus until finally, Nick could see it clearly.

Seeing the image of his mutilated wife and her friend sent him into a breakdown, but he couldn’t stop now.

“I came home one night and caught them in bed together!” he yelled, pacing back in forth in the room like an angered tiger.

The detective walked casually out of the room as Nick went into a rage, tearing up all the pictures, flipping the table over, and throwing the chair through the two-way glass.

In the padded room, Nick screamed.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” the new nurse asked, seriously freaked out by what he was seeing.

“Meet Nick Anderson,” the nurse explained as they both tried to hold him down. “When he killed his wife and her lover, it was so traumatic, that they say it split his personality.

“When the psychiatrists talk to him, he’s either Nicolas Anderson, or Detective Andrew Nicholai. If they’re really lucky, they’ll get both in the same session.”
They both half-laughed as the head nurse plunged the sedation syringe into his arm and he went limp.

‘How long have I been here? How did I get here?’ Nick thought, finding himself alone in a small room.
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Published on May 17, 2022 07:12

April 12, 2022


“Max, can you hear me?” Roger asked his newly created robot companion.

Slowly, as if waking up, Max’s various lights began to glow. When his bootup was complete, the two circles of his eyes lit up and he looked upon his creator with childlike curiosity.

Pleased with the bot’s reaction to his voice, he asked again, “Can you hear me, Max?”

“Yes,” Max replied in a child’s voice.

A tear drop rolled down Roger’s cheek at hearing his son’s voice for the first time in over a year.

He had lost his eight-year-old son the previous year to a rare disease. Knowing his son’s time was coming to an end, he began recording every second of his life, trying to capture the very essence of his being.

When his son passed away, he began building this little robot. While the mechanical design was basic, he had spent most of his time writing the algorithm that would become its personality.

The robot itself was only a few feet tall and stood on three wheels. He looked like a miniature R2-D2, but with two basic robotic arms. At the ends were clamps instead of hands.

“How do you feel?” Roger asked.

Max’s eyes glowed as he seemed to ponder the question.

After a moment, he answered, “I feel fine.”

Roger’s main focus in Max’s programming was that he had the capacity to learn. He hoped that as they spent more time together, Max would behave much like his son had and continue to grow as his son would have if he hadn’t died.

“Why are you crying?” Max asked, studying Roger’s steady flow of tears.

With a happy chuckle and in a choked voice, he said, “Because I’m so happy you’re here”.

Max had no facial expressions, but Roger took the increased glow of Max’s lights as a happy response.

“Come along,” Roger started. “Let me show you around.”

It wasn’t long before the small cabin, alone in the woods, was filled with a child’s laughter once again.

“But I’m not tired,” Max said as Roger plugged him into the wall next to a small bed that he ‘slept’ in every night.

Trying to think of everything, he had put a sleep cycle in Max’s programming so at night he would go into a kind of sleep mode.

He had also put in parameters that if he didn’t get enough ‘sleep’, it would affect his mood the next day.

“I don’t want you grumpy tomorrow because you didn’t get enough sleep,” Roger explained.

Almost immediately, Max let out a yawn as his lights slowly dimmed for the night.

“How come there are no other kids to play with?” Max asked as he sat watching Roger eat his breakfast the next morning.

Roger stood frozen for a moment while he thought about the question.

After some thought, he said, “Honestly, it’s because we live kind of far from where other kids do.”

Roger could see the disappointment in Max. All his lights dimmed a little and he leaned forward, as if he was putting his head down.

“I’ll tell you what,” Roger started. “When I feel it’s the right time for you to go out and meet other kids, we’ll go and find some for you to play with.”

Although Max perked up a little bit, he asked, “When will you feel the time is right?”

Roger smiled.

“It won’t be long, I promise,” he said.

“Are you ashamed of me?” Max asked, his lights dimming once again.

Hearing the sadness in Max’s voice, he couldn’t help but feel bad. Max was his son, asking him if he was ashamed of him.

“Of course not,” he said sincerely. “You are different than them and I only worry how they might treat you. Most people are good, but there are some that would mistreat you. I want to make sure you’re ready for whatever may come, that’s all.”

While his lights didn’t brighten, he nodded by moving his body forward and back slowly.

“Papa?” Max called out when he had woken up the next morning and Roger wasn’t waiting for him.

He used his hand to pull the plug out of his side and rolled out of the room.

He rolled into the kitchen only to find it empty.

After searching the entire house and not finding him, he rolled out the front door to see if he was in the garden.

He was.

“Papa?” Max called out softly, seeing Roger lying on the ground and not moving.

“Papa!” he screamed, using his hands to softly shake him and then bumping into him, as if trying to wake him up.

Max rolled around their property, looking for anyone to help him, but in the end, he realized he was alone.

His lights went dimmer than they had ever gone as he looked over the Roger’s body. He didn’t notice the thunder in the background or pay attention to the rain that was falling on them both.

Only having clamps as hands, it took him days to dig a grave for his father.

His wheels slipped as he slowly dragged the lifeless body into the hole, and then it took him days more to refill it.

When he went to plug himself in that night, he was covered in mud.

As he was about to insert the plug, he hesitated. He turned his head and stared at it, contemplating.

‘All I have to do is not plug in,’ he thought.

Seconds turned into minutes as he stared at it.

The next day, his lights turned on, but he didn’t move, nor did he unplug himself. He just sat there, staring at nothing.

He knew that if he took the plug out, he would never put it back in, so he just sat there day after day, glowing, staring, going dark, glowing, staring.

“Ouch!” came a yell from outside.

Max lit up. He looked around at the decaying house. Almost ten years had passed since his father died and the house had fallen to ruins.

If it wasn’t for the solar panels outside his window, he would have run out of power long ago.

Curiosity got the better of him and he unplugged himself to see who had made the noise.

Every part of him squeaked as he slowly rolled out of his room.

Still covered in ten-year-old dried mud, he rolled through the dusty, vacant house toward the front door.

He couldn’t see well inside the tree line, but he saw a couple of shadows moving across.

He strained to listen.

“Are you alright, Sally?” a boy’s voice called out.

Max watched as one shadow moved towards another.

“I’m fine,” a girl shouted back.

After a few minutes, the boy reached the girl, and after making sure she was okay, they both started walking away.

Max wanted to run after them, but fear suddenly gripped him.

His father’s last warning echoed through his mind, ‘Most people are good, but there are some that would mistreat you’.

Max decided caution was in order, but he was even more afraid of remaining alone, so he slowly pushed through the screen door and rolled after the two children to see who they were.

The kids weren’t hard to follow. He just had to follow the sound of their laughter.

From behind some bushes, Max watched as they laughed and talked, never slowing in their hike through the woods.

Max wanted to jump out and join them, but every time he was about to, fear took over.

After about an hour he watched as they walked out of the woods to a house that looked similar to his, but in better condition.

They continued to play outside until their mother came out to tell them it was time for dinner.

Max looked around and not seeing anyone, he slowly rolled to a window to look inside.

It was a little high for him, so he used his clamps to grab a couple of small logs to stack them up. He then was able to carefully roll up high enough to peek inside.

His lights glowed as he watched the family eat dinner. He watched as they talked, laughed, and passed food around.

When the family was done, they spent some time together, then one by one, the lights went out until there were just two.

Max carried the logs to one of the windows that had a light still on and climbed up.

Through the window, he watched as the mother lay in bed with the girl, reading her a story.

Max’s lights dimmed and brightened like a heartbeat as he watched.

Suddenly, the mother glanced at the window. Seeing him, she shot up, startling him and causing him to slip off the logs.

He hit the ground hard, but quickly lifted himself up and started rolling as fast as he could towards the woods.

As he reached the tree line, he rotated his head around in time to see the mother run around the corner of the house to look for him.

She just barely caught a glance of him as he entered the woods.

If he had a heart, it would have been racing. He quickly rolled through the woods back the way he had come.

He felt driven to return to the safety of his home.

He all but crashed through the front door.

Once he was back in his room, he peeked out his window to see if he was followed.

After a few minutes of not seeing anyone, he calmed down and rolled back into his bed.

Still afraid, he reached down and plugged himself in.

As he drifted into sleep mode, he wished his father was there to comfort him.

The next morning, his algorithm told him he was groggy from plugging in so late the night before, but remembering what had happened and hearing movement outside, he shot awake.

He sat frozen as he heard voices coming from outside.

Finally overcoming his fear, he unplugged himself and slowly rolled to his window.

Outside, he saw the family looking around the forest for him. Their father was even with them.

Max felt like running, but instead willed himself to stay there and watch.

They walked out of the woods and started walking towards the house.

“I don’t know, it seems pretty run down,” the father said as they approached. “I don’t think anyone lives there.”

“Well, we’re already here, so we should go ahead and look,” the mother said.

“What did you see again, mom?” asked the boy.

“I don’t know,” the mother replied. “I was reading to Sally when I saw something outside the window. When I ran outside, I saw something run into the woods.”

“What was it?” Sally asked.

“I don’t know,” the mother replied. “It didn’t look like a child, but it was small. It looked like a remote-controlled robot or something.”

“Probably some creepy Peeping Tom,” the boy said.

“Whatever it was, I don’t want it coming back,” the mother said.

“Look, the front door is wide open,” the father said. “See, no one lives here.”

They were about to walk away when Sally saw Max in the window.

Mesmerized, she walked towards the window.

Max was frozen with fear.

‘Most people are good, but there are some that would mistreat you. Most people are good, but there are some that would mistreat you,’ his father’s warning kept ringing in his ear.

Before he knew it, they were staring at each other through the window, only inches apart.

“Hi,” Sally said suddenly.

“Hi,” Max replied with a tremble in his voice.

“Sally, what are you doing over there?” the mother asked.

Sally turned to her and shouted, “It sounds like a little boy.”

She turned back to Max.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Max,” he answered.

He began to shake a little when the girl was joined by the rest of her family.

“Are you alone?” Sally asked.

“Yes,” Max said, his lights dimming a little.

“Can we come in?” the mother asked.

In almost a whisper, Max answered, “Yes.”

The family walked away from the window.

Max turned his head to follow them and then continued to follow the sound of them coming until he was facing the family as they filled the bedroom doorway.

“Where’s your maker?” asked the father.

Having never referred, or thought of Roger as his maker, he instead said, “Papa died.”

“And you’ve been alone ever since?” the mother asked, placing her hand over her broken heart.

“Yes,” Max answered, his lights dimming.

Sally walked over to him and placed her hand on the top of his domed head.

His lights grew brighter than they had since his father died, when she said, “You’re not alone anymore.”
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Published on April 12, 2022 09:06

March 9, 2022

Lottery Winner
When the horn blared over the intercoms, every citizen stopped in their tracks and pulled out their identification cards.

Dressed in torn, decaying clothes, they all looked up expectantly at the nearest screen and prayed that they were the winner that week.

The entire city was silent as the picture of the week’s winner appeared on all the screens. Hundreds of images of one woman who was being declared the winner.

Everyone began to look around to see if she was close to them, but she was easy to find as she let out a cry of victory.

Though everyone was envious, all those around her began patting her on the back and congratulating her.

Half dancing, she made her way to the nearest automated Card Booth, scanned her ID, and waited for the escorts to arrive.

Within minutes, a limo pulled up to the curb, and a woman dressed in clothes that were as fancy as the clothes everyone else wore was tattered.

“Congratulations, Edith,” the woman said. “You have won and now you get to leave the city and share in the riches that await you outside.”

The woman smiled the best she could with the few teeth she had left.

Without touching the raggedy woman, the richly dressed woman guided her into the limo, joined her, and closed the door.

Everyone cheered as the limo drove off. Once it was out of sight, they all returned to their miserable lives.

Charlie starred through the dirty window of what used to be a clothing store, now empty except for the naked mannequins.

It had been almost a hundred years since man destroyed the world, leaving the few remaining at the mercy of those who had prepared and now led the world from outside the wall.

Resources were so low, that these mini cities had been sectioned off and most of those who survived were herded in and forced to live their entire lives off the rations that were distributed.

There was only one way to earn a better life and that was to win the lottery. Those who won were whisked away to live out the remainder of their lives in luxury outside the city walls.

Charlie allowed a moment to let his mind wander and imagine what life must have been like before the end of the modern world.

He let out a deep sigh and moved on.

There was nothing to do but survive. There were no jobs, no responsibilities.

The entire city woke up, ate breakfast, walked around aimlessly, and then ate lunch. They walked around some more, then ate dinner. Finally, when it got dark, they went to sleep to do it all over again the next day.

For the people within the city walls, this is all they knew. Everyone who had been alive before the end of the world, were long dead now.

Charlie walked the streets, only able to imagine what a different way of life could look like.

Throughout the days, people socialized. Some fell in love and some even had children.

Up on the walls were guards, though they weren’t really necessary. No one ever tried to escape. This is all they knew.

Workers from outside the city would come in to perform maintenance and restock the automated food dispensers, but they rarely said more than a few words to the people that watched them come and go with mild curiosity.

One day blended into the next. There was no concept of time. The only constant in their lives was the three-square meals a day, sleeping, and the lottery.

A week later, the sirens sounded again.

Everyone once again stopped in place and looked up to see who this week’s winner would be.

An old man turned his head toward Charlie, wearing a large smile, but Charlie didn’t notice.

He was looking at a picture of himself on the large monitor closest to him.

A cheer from everyone around him broke his shock, and he smiled, still coming to terms with what had just happened.

“Well, c’mon Charlie,” the old man said, seemingly just as happy for him as he would have been if he had won himself, but he really wasn’t. “Go scan your card so you can get out of here.”

Charlie stumbled a couple of times as he walked to the nearest booth and scanned his ID. He felt like he was in a daze. He couldn’t believe this was really happening.

Within a few minutes, the limo pulled up to the curb where he was standing, and the fancy woman stepped out.

"Congratulations, winner," she said with a wide smile. “Please come with me so I can take you to your new life.”

As if in a trance, he gave a quick wave to everyone who was watching, and then climbed into the limo.

He scooted over as the woman sat next to him.

Once the door was closed, she pushed a button and said to the driver, “We’re ready.”

The limo drove off.

The sensation was strange to Charlie. He had never moved without moving his legs, so he felt a little disoriented as he watched the people and buildings flash by as he sat still.

Outside the window, people lined the streets and waved.

He knew what they were all hoping. That the next week, it would be them.

With nothing to do, day in and day out, he walked. He knew every inch of the city, so as they drove down the streets for the last time, he felt sad. He felt he was leaving his best friend behind. He didn’t have a human best friend.

‘The city had become as close to one as any person’, he thought.

Finally, they reached the only gate in or out of the city. It was the only fortified structure. Charlie assumed it was because long ago, people had tried to escape, but that never happened anymore. If anyone attempted to leave, if they weren’t shot down, they were automatically disqualified from being included in the lottery, which in Charlie’s opinion was worse than death.

He looked out the back window as the inner gate closed, forever closing on what used to be his home.

As they moved toward the outer gate, Charlie’s mind raced at what he was about to see. There had been no factual stories of what lay beyond the walls, since none of the winners had ever come back.
‘Why would they?’ he thought.

The woman sat silent and watched him intently. This was her favorite part.

The outer doors opened up and Charlie’s eyes grew wide with astonishment.

He didn’t even notice the outer gates close behind him as he saw with wonder vast fields of grain, corn, and all other types of vegetables.

His home behind him now forgotten.

Then, the woman started talking.

“These are the fields that keep everyone alive,” she explained. “At the end, our smartest scientist gathered all the seeds they could and began planting.

“It was hard work, to be sure, but as you can see, it paid off.”

Charlie couldn’t stop marveling over what he was seeing.

He had no idea what to expect outside the city walls, but this was far grander than he could have ever imagined.

The woman already knew what was going through his mind.

“Of course, even though it looks like a lot,” she started again. “We are still very low on resources.

“If everyone was free to roam, chaos would ensue. Wars over territory and resources would lead to what little we had left being destroyed.

“So, it was decided that the only way that society was going to survive was to keep the majority of the survivors contained. So, in essence, a small group tends to the larger one.

“Outside the wall, we manage all the resources as one unit, and then share what we have with the rest of the world. It’s not perfect, I know, but so far it has worked.

“We haven’t had a single war, and very few deaths from a lack of resources.”

Charlie listened to every word, but his eyes were still fixed on the endless fields of crops.

He honestly didn’t care about the way the system was set up. He was always fed and now, he was a lottery winner.

“Of course, we still wanted to maintain a sense of civility, so we created the lottery to slowly bring people out in a way that wouldn’t lead to anarchy but would allow us to share in what he had outside the wall in an organized way.”

Charlie looked back to see the walled city getting smaller and smaller.

When he turned back around, his heart skipped a beat again.

Coming over the horizon was another vast city, but with no walls.

“Welcome to Central City,” the woman announced. “This is where the other survivors live. All the guards, food stockers, farmers, scientist, teachers, and more. This is where we work to keep everyone alive.”

Her smile faltered when she said the last sentence, but she quickly recovered.

The buildings were just as big as the ones he lived in, but they were much cleaner. All the windows had glass still, the streets seemed to be filled with more than just people walking.

There were people on strange contraptions with peddles on them. People were outside at a nearby park with some strange discs and he could here the sound of children playing.

The walled city now seemed eerily quiet compared to this place. Hardly anyone spoke in his city. People just moved around like zombies, waiting for their next meal, a chance to win the lottery, or die.

This place was full of life. He could feel the energy emanating from it.

A tear ran down his cheek. He had never been happier than he was at that moment.

“Is that where I’m going to live?” he asked.

“In a sense,” she answered as the car turned onto a road leading to the side of the city instead of directly to it.

“Where are we going?” he asked, sad that he wasn’t going to join all those happy people right away.

“We’ve got to get you cleaned up first,” she said.

“Oh,” he said and looked longingly back at the city.

Though he listened, her voice now seemed farther away as he imagined what his new life was going to be like in his new home.

“Of course, the fruit and vegetables were fairly easy,” the woman started. “As long as we practiced proper farming habits, the plants thrived.

“No, the problem we ran into were the animals. Unfortunately, they were susceptible to disease and death like the first humans that survived the end initially.

“We tried everything we could to keep them alive. As time went, we not only fought against nature, but also the growth of the population. After all, we not only had our mouths to feed, but your mouths as well. We need protein to live, and the plants just weren’t enough.

“We had to make some difficult decisions. Decisions that no one should ever have to make.”

Charlie didn’t fully understand what she was trying to explain, but as she talked, he saw they were driving toward a large building that was much dirtier and didn’t match the rest of the clean, vibrant city.

The limo drove into the building and Charlie didn’t like the way it looked or felt.

They came to a stop and his door was opened for him. Confused, he stepped out of the limo. Looking back, he noticed that the woman stayed in her seat.

She was looking down at her hands.

Two burly men stood on either side of him. One closed the door and then they both grabbed an arm and began leading him away.

Still unsure what was happening, he struggled a little, but the men held him tightly.

When they opened a door, it was filled with screams. His screams joined theirs.

Inside, he saw dozens of people chained to posts. They were missing limbs but alive. Then there were torsos hanging from the beams in the ceiling. They were not only missing their limbs but also their heads.

He looked back through the door, pleading with the woman still sitting in the limo.

As the door to the slaughterhouse closed, he briefly made eye contact with the woman who had won the lottery the previous week. Before he could do or say anything, he was knocked unconscious.

Outside the door, the lady pushed the button to notify the driver she was ready to leave.
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Published on March 09, 2022 13:31

January 24, 2022

Dead Man Walking

The gun shot might as well have been right in Frank’s ear as easily he heard it.

Instinct kicked in and quickly grabbed his own piece and first aid kit, then ran towards where the sound came from, now replaced with the sound of squealing tires.

There was already a crowd in the middle of the street.

Seeing that the immediate danger was gone, Frank hid his gun under the back of his shirt.

Also trained in first aid, he pushed through the crowd saying, “Let me through. Let me take a look.”

As he pushed through the crowd, there was a mixture of shock and sadness on all their faces.

Frank felt like he had been struck by a truck as he cleared the crowd to see his own son laying on the ground.

He threw himself into action, checking for a pulse, and not feeling one, began compressions. He pushed on his son’s chest with one hand while he opened the first aid kit and dumped all the contents on the ground.

He stopped the compressions just long enough to stop the bleeding and went back to trying to keep his son’s heart pumping blood.

Even though the ambulance arrived in under ten minutes, it was too late. His son was gone.

As soon as the ambulance drove off with his son’s body, Frank immediately started asking everyone that was there what had happened.

They told him that it was a drive by shooting and gave him the description of the car. It was all he needed.

“Frank,” one of the officers said when he saw the look in his eyes. “I know you’re angry, but you need to let us handle this.”

Frank wanted to scream but only stood silent.

The police had come to know Frank over the last few years. He volunteered at the local youth club and taught self-defense there.

They also had come to know how vocal he was against the local gangs, doing everything he could to dissuade teenagers from joining their ranks and informing the police whenever he saw suspect activity going on in the neighborhood.

He knew the gangs didn’t like him, but he knew what lines he could and couldn’t cross that would potentially put his own teenage son in danger. Or so he thought.

The gangs knew how close he was with law enforcement and Frank figured the thugs wouldn’t be stupid enough to incur his wrath. He had been wrong, and it had cost him his son.

Once all the questions were asked and the crowd dispersed, Frank remained there, staring at his son’s blood that now stained the road.

All of Frank’s rage almost forced him to hit the streets and make them all pay, but he was also in mourning and decided to let the police find justice for his son. He knew they would do everything in their power to find his son’s killer.

It wasn’t long before the day came when Frank saw a cruiser pull in front of his house and he had a gut feeling it wasn’t with hopeful news.

The officers’ faces confirmed his fears. He could only watch as they slowly made their way to his door.

Frank stood still as they told him that they couldn’t get anyone to come forward and that the case had, for the moment, gone cold.

He let them finish telling him how sorry they were. He watched as they returned to their cruiser and drove off.

The rage in him started to boil over again. Every part of him wanted to tear the city apart to find the men who had killed his son and make them suffer.

It took everything he had to get through the funeral. He wanted to be anywhere but there.

Even after everyone had left, he couldn’t bring himself to leave. All he wanted was to lay down by his son’s grave and die.

Eventually though, he found a way to walk away, though not all of him left that spot.

Over the next few days, he went through the motions of work.

Every time he looked at himself in the mirror, he recognized himself less and less.

Finally, one day he woke up and didn’t go to work.

He turned his phone off and walked down to the basement, feeling like he was in a trance.

As he opened his weapons locker, he felt like he was watching someone else inventory his weapons. He felt like he was in a trance.

He pulled out his arsenal one by one, examined them, and then put them in a duffle bag. He put all the ammo he had in another.

As he walked to the garage to put everything in the trunk, he passed the bathroom, where he saw his own reflection.

His eyes were glazed over and he only saw a shell. His soul had remained at his son’s grave.

Darkness welcomed him as he pulled out of the garage and drove off into the night.

Pulling up to a curb, he took out a pair of binoculars and started watching for the car that was involved in his son’s death.

He knew this warehouse to be a place where the gangs would drop off stolen merchandise to be sold later.

It wasn’t long before he saw the car that had been involved in his son’s death pull in, being greeted by half a dozen armed men.

Frank drove off and found another place to park a few blocks away.

He grabbed his camera and began taking pictures of the building from every angle.

He wanted to go in with guns blazing, but he had to be sure he lived long enough to find out who killed his son and ensure he was dead before he died himself.

After he was done, he found a small hill nearby where he could watch the place from a higher vantage point as he scrolled through the pictures he took.

The car that he was following exited the building.

Frank knelt up high enough to see which direction it went but not be seen himself.

Once it was out of sight, and no one was looking, Frank sprinted to his car and charged off to track it down.

The other car hadn’t gotten far, driving at a casual pace, and as soon as it was in sight, Frank slowed to keep from being seen.

He followed the car until it arrived at a small home.

From a few blocks away, he could see the same man who was driving it before get out, along with three other men, and walk into the house through the front door.

Frank got out of his car and walked in a large circle around the block, taking pictures of the house whenever it was in view.

Back at his car, he flipped through the pictures forming a plan of attack.

He knew there was no real covert way to get into the house, but didn’t see any more men through the windows, so he figured if there were more, they were in the basement.

The trunk didn’t make a sound as he opened it and grabbed a shotgun, two pistols, a knife and a smoke bomb he had collected some years before.

He cloaked himself in a leather trench coat and casually walked up the street.

As he walked in front of the house, he saw that no one was guarding the front door, and no one was visible through the windows.

Seeing his opportunity, he looked both ways up the street and seeing that it was empty, he walked up the front steps.

Instead of kicking down the front door, he crept by one of the windows and peeked inside.

As far as he could tell, it was empty.

He used the knife to jimmy the lock as quietly as he could.

Once the door unlatched, he pulled out one of his guns and entered. He walked with the pistol in one hand and the knife in the other.

He cleared the rooms of the one story house, and then pressed his ears to the basement door.

Through the door, he could hear music and voices.

‘Talk about fish in a barrel,’ he thought as he slowly opened the door.

He walked slowly down the stairs, walking along the edges to limit the creaking.

At the bottom, he pulled out his smoke grenade and took a deep breath before pulling the pin and tossing it along the floor.

He followed it and started shooting before the group of men even knew what was happening.

Avoiding the driver, he shot every armed man as they tried to raise their own weapons.

The driver pulled out a gun, but before he could shoot, Frank shot out his kneecaps. The instant pain caused him to drop his gun.

The whole assault took less than a minute and when it was over, the only two alive were Frank and the driver groaning on the ground.

Frank holstered his gun and stood over the driver holding his knife.

“Who the fuck are you?” the man shouted, half begging for his life.

Frank knelt low to the man and answered, “You killed my son.”

“What? Who?” the man replied.

Wanting to make sure he was the right man, Frank repeated, “You killed my son.”

Still seeing the confusion in the man’s face, he elaborated.

“My son was gunned down by you in your car,” Frank stated.

“That wasn’t me!” the man shouted, seeming happy that he wasn’t the one Frank was looking for.

“It was that car out front,” Frank said. “If you didn’t kill him, who did?”

The man’s expression changed from happy he wasn’t the one Frank was looking for, to one who didn’t want to snitch.

To help him along, Frank stabbed the man in his leg, eliciting a scream of pain.

“Who was it?” Frank shouted, shoving his knife even deeper.

“They call him Baby Nellie,” the man said between tears.

“That’s a dumb ass name!” Frank stated. “What does he look like!”

The man gave him Baby Nellie’s description between sobs and told him he was at that warehouse he had come from.

“Thank you,” Frank said, standing up.

The man, still sobbing, relaxed a little but it didn’t last long, as Frank pulled out his pistol and shot the man twice in the chest.

He patted the dead man down and found the keys to the man’s car.

Over in the corner of the basement, Frank found a small arsenal of weapons.

He quickly grabbed a couple automatic rifles, as many grenades as he could fit into his pockets and walked out of the house.

He was done being cautious. It was time to avenge his son, and he already knew it was a one-way trip.

The warehouse was void of anyone outside when he parked the car facing the main doors.

After ensuring all guns were loaded, he threw the car into drive and threw a heavy rock on the gas pedal.

As the car peeled towards the door, he picked up the first of a row of grenades he had laid in front of him.

Without hesitation, when the car crashed through the front doors, he began pulling the pins from each grenade and threw them into the huge hole the car had created.

He threw them in every direction, one by one until they were all gone. The sound was deafening, and he could barely hear the screams through the explosions.

Exhausting all the grenades, he walked in with a fully automatic AR-15 he had taken from the house and shot anything that moved. When he finished one magazine, he immediately slapped in another.

He never stopped shooting as he walked through the warehouse feeling a little like Robocop.

It wasn’t long before he began taking rounds himself, but they didn’t stop him.

He continued shooting as blood began to pour out of him and when he couldn’t stand any more, he dropped to one knee as he continued firing.

Finally, he ran out of bullets and laid down, feeling his life fading.
There were only three armed men left and they cautiously approached him, ready to shoot if he tried anything.

“Who the fuck are you?” one of the men shouted, keeping his rifle pointed at Frank.

“Are you Baby Nellie?” Frank asked while coughing up blood.

“Baby Nellie?” the man asked confused. “Motherfucker, that’s him over there. At least what’s left of him after one of your grenades blew him up. Now, before I cap your ass, tell me who you are!”

“A dead man walking,” Frank said with a smile as he opened his hand and let one last grenade roll out of his grip with the pin missing.

Frank was already dead when the explosion finished the job.
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Published on January 24, 2022 12:30

November 18, 2021

Death's Emissary

Death took a moment to look over the city he had been assigned to for over a century. In this moment, there was no one breathing their last breaths that he had to be there for, so he took a moment just for himself, which was rare.

He wasn’t actually the Death, but one of Death’s countless emissaries who carried out his duties for him around the world. Heck, around the Universe.

The emissary could hear the heartbeats of everyone in the large city. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he heard one stop, and that it was time to perform his duties.

He had been an emissary for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be human, or how he had been chosen to become an emissary in the first place.

Suddenly, he detected someone close to death and with a blink of an eye, he was standing next to a man taking his final breaths in a hospital.

The man looked at peace as the machines around him sounded alarms, which one of the nurses quickly silenced.

The family had “Pulled the plug”, and the man, who was unconscious, slowly drifted off.

“Is that me?” the man asked, now standing next to the emissary.
“Yes,” he replied.

“What happens now?” the man asked.

“Now, you go home,” the emissary answered.

The man watched his family as they cried around his bed, and then turned when he saw a bright light behind him.

“Where does it go?” the man asked.

“I don’t know,’ the emissary said honestly. “I’m only here to guide you through.”

The emissary gently took the man’s arm and without resistance, walked him into the light.

As soon as they walked into the light, the man disappeared and the emissary found himself alone with the grieving family.

Not wanting to intrude on their moment, he disappeared back to his favorite spot overlooking the city to wait for his next soul to collect.

It wasn’t long before he was at the scene of a double murder.

Well, one murdered and one still dying from his wounds.

He helped the one who had died pass through, but stayed with the one who was dying as the paramedics showed and began trying to save him.

“Who are you,” the emissary heard someone ask. He didn’t bother to look to see who was talking. There were almost always people talking or sobbing near him when he arrived.

“Hello?” he heard someone behind him continue.

Curious, he turned to see who was talking.

To his surprise, there was a woman looking right at him.

He turned to see who see was talking to, but there was no one in that direction.

“Hello, can you hear me?” the woman asked again.

Thoroughly confused, he looked behind him again, and not seeing anyone there, he turned back to the woman.

“Yes you,” she said. “Who are you?”

Still not understanding if this woman was crazy or blind, he moved to the side, watching her.

To his surprise, she followed him.

This had never happened to his knowledge, and he had no idea what he was supposed to do.

He continued to move around her, and she followed him, seemingly growing in frustration.

"Can you see me?" he asked, hoping she hadn’t really been looking at him and instead another person who was standing behind him now.

“What?” she asked flabbergasted. “Of course, I can see you. But who are you and why are you here?”

Before he could even start to try to explain, one of the detectives approached her and asked, “Who are you talking to?”

She turned toward the detective with a look of ‘Is everyone stupid tonight?’ but said, “Him!”

The detective followed where she was pointing and not seeing anyone, gave her a quizzical look.

Annoyed, she turned back towards where the emissary had been, but he was now gone.

The emissary watched her confusion from outside the window. He wasn’t sure how she had seen him.

He vanished to the hospital to help the last victim cross over, but immediately traveled back to the crime scene to watch the woman who had seen him.

She appeared to be a detective, but the emissary suspected that she was much more.

‘Maybe an empath?’ he thought.

In between delivering souls to the great beyond, he followed the woman through her daily routines, staying out of sight as much as he could. Hiding was new to him. He had never had to hide before.

Deep in thought, he looked up and saw that he had briefly lost track of where she walked off to while following her around a grocery store.

“Who are you?” the woman’s voice came from behind him.

He turned, shocked that she was confronting him again.

He started to say, “Emissary,” but realized that she wouldn’t know what that meant.

Hearing only the beginning, she responded with, “Emmitt?”

Trying to regain his composer, he only nodded.

“Why are you following me, Emmitt?” she asked.

He wanted to just disappear, but now that she could see him, vanishing right in front of her could change her views on reality, which was a rule he was not supposed to break. He assumed he was breaking a rule now, but he had no control over her being able to see him.

“I was just curious,” he said. He felt unable to lie. He had never had to lie before.

“About what?” she asked again.

Suddenly he felt that another person was going to die. He knew he had to leave but was unsure how to.

He looked passed her as if something had caught his attention. When she turned to see what he was looking at, he vanished.

“What the?” she asked, looking in all directions to see where he had gone.

Her focus was broken when her radio squelched.

Another possible homicide had just happened, and she informed dispatch she was on her way.

When she arrived, she instantly saw Emmitt standing at the crime scene looking over the body. She was surprised that once again, none of the other officers were paying him any attention.

She picked up her pace, ready to confront him, when all of a sudden, there was another person standing next to him, also staring down at the body.

Letting curiosity take over, she walked at an angle where they couldn’t easily see her. She wanted to see what they were up to.

Her eyes widened when a bright light appeared behind them, and Emmitt lead the other person through. Afterwards, Emmitt stood alone.

“What are you doing?” an officer asked her when he saw her standing off to the side.

When she looked back, Emmitt was gone.

Getting her thoughts back to her job, she followed the other officer to where the body lay.

Her eyes nearly popped out of her eyes when she recognized the body on the ground. It was the man who was standing next to Emmitt a few minutes ago.

A horrifying realization dawned on her.

She focused on her job the best she could, but all the questions she had for Emmitt when she saw him again burned in the back of her mind.

It was a couple of days before she saw Emmitt off in a corner again. He was intently watching her. Now that she suspected what he was, she didn’t see him as threatening as before.

Emmitt froze when he saw that she noticed him and began walking towards him. He was torn between wanting to vanish and wanting to see what she had to say to him.

“Hi Emmitt,” she said casually, which was somehow worse than her accusing him of something.

“Hi,” he sheepishly said back.

“So, I’m guessing you’re not human,” she said flatly.

He only shook his head.

“I’m a partial psychic,” she stated. “I don’t normally see ghost, or in your case, what? An angel? Death? But it does help me read people better.”

He only stared at her.

She stared back.

“Do you want to go somewhere and get to know each other better?” she asked flatly. She wasn’t one to beat around the bush.

He could only nod.

“Well, since it seems no one else can see you and you can appear anywhere,” she started. “Do you want to come over to my place?”

He nodded again.

Once they were back at her apartment, she watched as he walked around, looking at all the pictures.

“All the times you followed me, you never checked out my place?” she asked.

He shook his head.

She walked to him with two glasses of wine. “Would you like a glass?”

He shook his head and said, “I can’t touch.”

The rest of the evening into the early hours, they talked. Well, she talked. He listened. She tried to get him to tell her more, but most of his answers were one sentence and vague.

Seeing her finally doze off, he took one last look at her and then vanished.

The next day was busy for him. He had three souls to help cross over before the sun even started to set, but being a Saturday, he was sure he’d have at least one more.

And sure enough, he heard the fading heartbeat of another soul.

He couldn’t remember a time when he felt anything for anyone but seeing the detective’s body on the ground bleeding out, his heart ached.

“I don’t want to die,” she said when she saw Emmitt standing over her.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want her to die either.

Out of instinct, he knelt down and reached out his hand to touch her. He put his hand on her chest. He couldn’t feel her body, but he could feel her fading heartbeat.

Instantly, she took in a deep breath as the paramedic finished his triage enough to get her to the hospital.

“She might live if we get her the hospital right now!” the paramedic shouted.

They got her on a gurney and rolled her into the ambulance.

“She’s crashing again!” the paramedic called out when they were about halfway to the hospital.

Again, the emissary reached out his hand and she instantly recovered.

Even though he didn’t know what he was doing, he was surprised he had this ability, though it felt wrong somehow.

He had to revive her one more time while she was in surgery.

“What are you doing?” he heard a voice coming from behind him as he watched her lay unconscious in her recovery bed.

When he spun around to see who had spoken to him, he saw that Death himself stood before him.

He instantly felt guilt. He knew he had failed to perform his duties.
“I couldn’t,” Emmitt explained.

“When it is their time, it is there time,” Death stated, revealing with his expression that he was sympathetic.

Death moved toward the detective to fulfill their duty, when Emmitt instinctively moved slightly to block him, but stopped himself.

Death noticed Emmitt’s movement and stopped.

“You have been alone for a very long time,” Death stated. “Do you remember when you became my emissary?”

Emmitt shook his head.

“You were once human,” Death explained to Emmitt’s surprise. “Centuries ago, of course. You died and I made you into one of my emissaries because I saw that your soul was strong and compassionate enough to help other souls enter the great beyond, even if that meant you had to remain here forever alone.”

Emmitt watched him, not sure where Death was going, when Death started again. “I think you have been alone too long.”

“Emmitt?” he heard the detective’s voice behind him. “What’s going on?”

They both turned towards Death when they heard him speak.

“I will offer you both the choice,” he started. “I will allow you both to travel on to the great beyond together, or you may both remain here as my emissaries.”

Confused, she asked, “I don’t know what that means.”

Death explained all that being his emissary entailed.

“I think you both have the compassion and fortitude to help souls cross over when they pass away,” Death said.

Emmitt and the detective took a few minutes to talk over what they wanted to do, though Emmitt still didn’t say much. Only that he would agree with whatever she wanted.

“I think what you do is noble,” she said. “I think we could do some real good here.”

Emmitt nodded.

They both looked at Death and gave him their answer.

“It is done,” he said and vanished.

Emmitt looked at the detective who was now wearing the same type of cloak he wore.

Sensing another person was dying, he took her by the hand and smiled. He wasn’t alone anymore.
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Published on November 18, 2021 12:08