Short Stories By Martin Alvarez
Table of Contents
Along For The Ride
The Final Account Of Dr. Fredrick Morrison
Along For The Ride
Dermin is usually a rather introverted man. He isn’t large by any means, but he isn’t a terribly small man either. He’s mostly bland in terms of looks, though no shortage of women have commented on his piercing hazel eyes.
He has few friends and fewer enemies, not for being a terrifying man, but for being a generally calm, unforgettable human-most of the time.
A low fog creeps along the forest floor, keeping the ground a secret from all but the lowly worms that dwell beneath. Every animal that calls this forest home has hidden themselves and their young atop trees, in burrows and bushes, under rocks and in fallen tree trunks.
They hide because a full moon has risen and they know better. Every month, and sometimes twice a month, for the last two hundred seventeen years when the Moon is full the animals of the forest have hidden from fear of being eaten, from an apex predator, from the Beast.
The forest is deathly silent now and not an owl or bat makes a sound. Even the trees, it seems, dare not rustle their leaves.
Far off in the distance a soft gallop is heard pounding the floor under the weight of six hundred pounds. Animals in their burrows can feel the vibrations. As it nears, leaves can be heard crunching and twigs cracking, followed by the beast’s breathing. He stops along the way, smelling trees here and there which he has marked-this territory is his own.
He isn’t hunting tonight, only enjoying the cool night and the moonlight which surrounds him in its soft energies, a mother’s warmth, when out of the shadows a sound makes his ears prick up.
Adjusting his ears he rises to his two hind legs and sniffs the air. He turns around-the sound is coming from behind. A few steps are taken in this hunched-over human-like stance before his senses pinpoint the source exactly. The fur on the back of his neck rises and adrenaline flows through his body as he realizes what’s going on and he thunders over the ground on all fours once again toward the thing walking around on his claimed earth.
The source of the noise, a male wolf, has wandered far from home in search of food. He is unfamiliar with this section of the woods and its traditions. While stalking around, his highly developed sense of smell picked up something that confused him. It smelled like him, yet simultaneously completely different. It wasn’t a domesticated dog, he had encountered them before with men and both smells were saved in his mind. They both almost matched this new scent as well.
The wolf didn’t have to wonder long before his questions were answered. The beast came smashing out of the darkness and slid to a stop only yards away.
Both creatures stood their ground. They began to circle each other, the wolf studies the steps of his opponent to learn how agile it is, watching its muscles to estimate its strength.
The beast need not watch anything but the wolf’s eyes. He knows he’s stronger, faster, meaner.
Hunger and pride cause the wolf not to run. He hasn’t eaten in days and knows he will die soon if he does not take this chance. But also nothing, not even a bear has won a show of fearlessness against him. All have fled or died. He thinks he is the strongest creature there is. He thinks all fear him. He thinks.
Both stop circling and bear teeth, growling, eyes locked on eyes.
What happens next is over in a flash of fur and teeth. The wolf jumps at the beast, who stands and catches him between his massive claws. The wolf struggles but in one effortless motion the beast squeezes him and shatters his spine. His razor-like teeth tear through the wolf’s throat with ease but he does not eat him, he’s not out to hunt. He discards the lifeless animal and bounds toward a hill, the highest hill in the forest.
Atop the hill is a wide clearing where nothing stands to block the Moon from bathing it in its light. In the center a wide boulder with a flat top protrudes from the ground.
When the beast reaches the clearing he stands upright and waits a moment before he slowly walks to the boulder and stands on top of it.
He looks at the Moon and then to the wolf’s blood on his body. Strange images, memories perhaps, flash through his mind. He looks down at the boulder beneath him next. He remembers being lost in these woods on a night like this-two hundred seventeen years ago.
He ended up on this boulder injured somehow, his own blood had poured out and dried within its cracks. He remembers not what happened next or why he survived, only that the Moon had saved him.
More images flash in his mind. Things, animals and creatures… and men, used to challenge him for this land. All had lost. Now they know.
He looks to the blood again and his heart begins to race. He looks to the boulder and his breathing speeds up and causes his chest to rise and fall.
Now they all know.
He looks to the Moon and his hazel eyes are ablaze like two pits of burning coals. A long howl erupts from deep within him and his breath is visible in the cold night air, illuminated by the Moon. The howl lets everything for endless miles around know-reminds them. It’s a sound that screams out:
“I am king!”
It echoes beyond to the nearby village and all those who have heard the stories of the full moon check once more that their doors are locked and their rifles are loaded with bullets cast in silver. All say prayers in the dark as they draw their curtains to block out the malicious white light.
All, but one.
Dermin is normally a calm, forgettable man, not terrifying in the least-most of the time.
“Which animal would I be?” Her words startled him, being the first words in a day that weren’t in his head.
“Huh?“ He looked up from his torn and muddy shoes and was again surprised, this time to see an orange sky, the sinking Sun setting the broken horde of clouds ablaze. The Sun was their prisoner for a week(roughly, the days seemed to meld together when one only had the Sun to tell them apart).
“You know, like if I were an animal, which animal would I be?” She stared at him with eyes like clean and pure windows into her electric soul, sparkling despite her muddy face and knotted hair.
He took another bite of his apple, chewed, swallowed, and took one more before answering. “You wouldn’t be an animal. Come on, let’s finish setting up a fort inside before the Sun sets completely.”
Inside. A word that was no longer the same. It now meant between a set of walls that were barely standing. Ruins, every building was two and a half, maybe three walls with no ceiling like a bunch of unfinished coliseums. Only there were no gladiators, no lions, no fools to entertain within the walls. The Big Show had already passed, the gladiators– every man, woman, child on Earth– had all given their lives in the grand arena. Few willingly, most not.
The bombs fell, the bullets flew, the bayonets stabbed and sliced. If any other humans where left, neither Debbie nor Mark knew of them.
The two met three weeks ago. That was two months after the Ghost bombs fell, their shock waves passing through the walls of whichever buildings remained leaving them as they were, but turning all life within them to ash. Debbie was rummaging through the crumbled halls of a university kitchen when she crossed a corpse laying in a spot where cabinets once were. Dead bodies were something she had very quickly gotten used to seeing. Since this one wasn’t grossly dismembered or as foul smelling as most of the others, she approached it to search for cigarettes.
After finding a pack of Marlboro menthols in his pocket, she noticed his stomach moving slowly up and down. “Gross! This one already has maggots in him.” She also noticed his head was rested on top of an old, leather-bound book. the words on the book’s spine were faded but she could make out the letters “H P ove raf”. Curious, she reached for the book when suddenly the corpse sat up and grabbed her by the wrist.
“Zombie!” Debbie grabbed the nearest object– a stainless steel frying pan– and hit him as hard as she could on his head. A loud “twang!” echoed through the kitchen and the zombie fell back down. When fresh blood trickled down from the spot where she hit him on his head, she realized with a quick jolt of surprise and embarrassment that her zombie was another living person who was just asleep.
With a gasp she rushed to find a rag and some water for the man’s head. “Oh no Debbie, you would kill the only living person you’ve seen in two months, you dummy. Dummy, dummy, dummy!” She continued to scold herself until she found what she needed.
The next hour was spent cleaning his forehead, calming him down when he woke up, helping him make a head bandage, and finally introducing themselves.
“My name is Debbie.” She offered with a smile.
“Such a sweet name for such a sweet girl.” He said sarcastically as he struggled to tie the bandage knot behind his head.
“Sorry about hitting you like that. Here, let me tie that for you. So, what’s your name?”
He chuckled, which was more of a quick puff of air that left his nose. “Zombie.”
Debbie’s face turned red. “I was alone for a long time, ok? I began to believe I was the only one alive anymore. Everyday I pass by at least ten more dead people, and you looked dead. Who uses a book for a pillow anyway? What’s it about?”
Remembering the book he grabbed it again, noticing the blood now smeared across the front and deciding it was fitting. “Mark.”
“Huh? It’s a book about a guy named Mark? Or BY Mark? Is it a Mark Twain book?”
“My name is Mark.”
“Oh,” she smiled and offered her hand for a handshake, “nice to meet you.” Since then they traversed the barren ruins of home together.
Now they were sitting on the steps of a destroyed library. “You wouldn’t be an animal. Come on, let’s set up a fort inside before the Sun sets completely.”
Debbie noticed Mark had been in a quiet, contemplative state for the past few days as if he were trying to figure out a math problem. She had also noticed he was looking up at the sky more than usual and seemed anxious or even slightly depressed that he couldn’t see the Sun, stars, or his real love, the Moon.
A few seconds after he got up, Debbie followed him over the loose step-stones and through the twisted steel frame into the library.
Mark always felt safest inside of libraries– now and long before the war had even started. He never seemed to fit in anywhere else. He felt like an outsider, an intruder even around his closest friends and family. But among books, among the words, thoughts, emotions, and flaws of dead men who voiced their acceptance out to him across the centuries through the pages of a book, he felt at home.
After their small fort had been built in a corner of the library where two walls still stood, they had a dinner of canned vegetables and SPAM and set out their sleeping bags to get ready for bed.
“We can take the tarp off. I doubt it will rain tonight.” Mark said, blowing out the candles which gave them light to eat by.
“Awesome!” Exclaimed Debbie and got up to help him take it down. As they removed the tarp, it was like setting free billions of of fireflies into an empty, dark cathedral. Their phosphorescence sprinkling the darkness with light, their tiny souls filling the lonely sadness with existence.
Since light pollution was no longer a problem, every single star, planet, far away galaxy that sent its light out across the void was visible to the naked eye again for the first time since the light bulb was mass produced and placed in every building on the planet. Mark hated the light bulb for that very reason and detested the ugliness of such arrogant places as Las Vegas and Paris.
“A shooting star! Make a wish, Mark.” They both closed their eyes in the soft silvery light. The Moon was still below the horizon but the vast amount of stars provided a dreamlike glow in which they could barely see each other.
“Ok, there. What did you wish for?” Mark asked, feeling a sense of rejuvenation to be beneath the cosmos again.
They were laying down now and Mark saw Debbie’s gray silhouette pull her sleeping bag up closer to her chin.
“I wished for the same thing I wish for every night: that I’ll fall asleep here, in this strange place on this strange new planet and wake up in my own bed. I wished that this would all be a dream– the ruins, the bombs, the war, all of it. Except meeting you, of course, that’s the only thing I can say I’m happy for in all of this. I just miss my family. I miss walking to the store and waving to people I know as they drive by, saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘have a nice day’ to the cashier. I miss watching the news or a movie. I miss people, Mark. What about you, what did you wish for?”
Mark stared into the stars and they stared into him. He thought back to the world that existed only a few months ago and remembered it all. He remembered his small family who barely kept in touch except for the forced phone calls on holidays and birthdays. He remembered the black smoke that noisy buses and cars assaulted his lungs with as they drove by. He thought about all of the pain, suffering, hatred, and ugliness around the world that the news reported twenty-four-seven. He thought about people.
“Also same as every night: I didn’t wish for anything, I thanked God for the bomb.”
They sat in silence, golden silence, for a minute or an hour, it was all the same now.
“So are you going to answer my question?” Debbie turned to look towards Mark. She studied the peaks and valleys of his skyward turned face.
“I already answered you. I said you wouldn’t be an animal.”
“What would I be then?”
“Animals kill, animals age, animals wage war. You, Debbie? You would be a river, teeming with life, your presence cleansing, refreshing. Never changing, yet never the same. You would be a tree, turning carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen. Turning bad to good. You would be the wind, your soft touch blowing away pollution and spreading far the seeds of trees and flowers. Do you see? You would be all the things that animals could never be, giving instead of taking. Only erasing pain and making beautiful the scenery by being part of it.”
Debbie lay silently, watching Mark until she was sure he was asleep. Then she turned to the stars and watched until sleep came for her on the tail of a comet and in her dreams, she too thanked God for the bomb.
This is a piece to honor one of the most influential and imaginative writers of fiction, the father of modern horror, and one of my favorite story tellers, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
Rest in madness, Old One.
I do not know the hour. I awoke in darkness, borne from a terror into nocturnal surroundings. I am bedridden due to an illness I contracted during a biology expedition in the Amazon jungle. Two colleagues-Dr. Samuel Drake and a pupil of his from the university-and I were searching for a new strain of a deadly bacteria only found in South America and in remote parts of Asia. The illness affected my spinal cord and has rendered my legs useless, condemning me to a lifelong prison sentence within the walls of my own room and mind.
The curtains are not drawn, so it is evident that my dear aunt has not yet arrived. She helps me through this insufferable time in which my mind and spirit yearn for the outside again, but can only rely on memories within this broken vessel.
It is of yet more misfortune that the wristwatch passed down to me by my father has stopped working precisely at 2:59 am, so that at the moment I am severed of my chronological bearings of this solid earthly realm, although I sense my time here is no longer in great abundance.
For this reason I will recount to you my terror as abruptly as possible whilst giving you as much detail so that you may realize the horror which I have witnessed in my sleep.
It must have been that yearning for travel and exploration I mentioned earlier which caused my soul to wander beyond the normal realm of dreams into a place in which fear and madness originated.
Many years ago my father spake of a hellish island he visited in a dream that was induced by a voodoo shaman in a sleep experiment. Shortly thereafter he went mad and was admitted into a ward for the mentally insane up east. He vanished two days later and has never been seen again.
I fear I have stumbled across the same island this night. The dream goes as follows:
I awoke on the deck of an old ship. It exhibited features of Norse, Roman, and Oriental design, but seemed to predate all three. It was most likely of a civilization which the aforementioned ones learned from or which dissolved into many.
From whence it came or to where it was headed I knew not. What I was sure of was that it had passed through a vicious storm. All parts of the ship were in poor repair; it was a wonder to me that it was even still afloat. The sail was missing and the mast was broken in half, with the top half absent. The wheel was nowhere in sight, side rails were in splintered remnants. One peculiar thing I came about while studying the wreckage was a gelatin substance smeared about in varied spots on the deck. For this oddity I could find no sensible source or reason.
If there had been other sailors they had either abandoned ship to find help or were taken by the storm, as a search of the ship led me to discover I was the only person aboard.
As for the scenery surrounding the ship and myself, there was not much variety. No moon was out and the stars were a brilliant explosion frozen across infinity above my head. I could not recognize any constellations, perhaps I was in a time long before or long after humans would poison the ground with every footprint left behind, polluting the air with every breath from their industrial lungs.
Silence was as abundant as the endless water, stretching from horizon to horizon in all directions. The night was cool and a thin, steamy fog was rising from the warm water, which was as black as oil.
I did not know how much time had passed, for it was always night in this unending oceanic dreamscape. I may have sailed for days or centuries, as time follows no rules in dreams.
After a time which seemed longer rather than shorter( I could feel a beard upon my face and my hair dangling to my shoulders), I began to notice a small, glowing dot in the distance. A tiny golden pearl in this otherwise black hell.
I began to feel anxious, perhaps at the realization that there existed other things beyond this ship in a lifeless sea.
After yet more time had passed, perhaps a day or two, I was only hours from the shore of what appeared to be an island. I realized then that the ship had gained velocity. By what force it was being driven was a mystery.
As the ship neared, it became evident that the light shone not from the island itself but from the water surrounding it. For a short distance around the island, yellow light was emitted from the water illuminating the outer edges of trees and sand near the shore. I had studied phosphorescent bacteria and plankton before and was intrigued by this occurrence in such a place.
Emerging from the water about a mile away from the shore were immense statues standing upon rocks. In the eerie upward-shining light, I could half-see the features of the statues, which were hellish in nature, a mixture of man and fish. A nightmare being I cannot describe in normal human language.
I remember distinctly that the feeling I had as I looked upon those ancient stone creatures was one of primitive fear. It was a fear I could not consciously control or find reason for. I knew that I should be afraid deep in the back of my mind, perhaps in a region of the cerebrum that was active hundreds of generations ago to aid in the survival of our ancestors when man was still among the bottom of the food chain.
I thought I saw human-sized beings fall or dive from atop the heads of the monolithic statues as I passed them(though, surely, no man could survive a dive from that altitude).
When the ship touched land I was reminded again of the silence which this world existed in. Even now as I stood at the helm of the ship and stared into the dark jungle of the island my ears rang with the absence of noise.
There was no wind, so when I heard rustling from within the vegetation of the island, I knew I was being watched.
I wished that I could push off and depart from this place of hidden evils but before I knew what I was doing I was descending a rope ladder onto the sand. I had not realized that I was barefoot until my feet touched the ground, which was more like mud than what was traditionally found on a shore.
It was not long until I reached the beginning of the trees. There was no cut path and I did my best to go between overgrown weeds and fallen tree trunks. It occurred to me that the island was more swamp-like than a tropical island.
I was no more than fifteen minutes into my exploration when I began to hear strange guttural sounds sonically enlaced with clicks from somewhere behind me. Soon after, the sounds were mimicked up ahead and on either side of me.
I tried to flee but successfully gained no more than four steps before I was grabbed by at least a dozen slimy hands.
My vision faded and I lost consciousness as silhouettes closed in around me. I regained consciousness in a small cavern with phosphorescent walls. Seaweed was strewn about and the ceiling was dripping with moisture and the same slimy substance which I discovered on the ship.
The ship! I immediately decided I must return to the ship and sail away from this island lest I encounter the same horrors which drove my father to insanity.
I rose to my feet and attempted to walk towards the opening on the opposite side of the cave but was immediately pulled back to the floor by a tentacle which held my waist. As I fought to be set free, the tentacle seemed not to become any tighter, nor any less tight. Nor was it fighting back. I calmed myself and inspected the tentacle closer. That which I had taken as an assailant was nothing more than a length of braided seaweed tied crudely and primitively around my waist as if to bind me to the cave like a canine to a tree. It troubled me no more than a minute to free myself of the slippery vegetation.
I was soon through the passageway and heading in any direction hoping to see light from an opening to lead me out. I had no sense of direction or depth and had only the dim glow of the luminescent slime coating the walls to see by, which my eyes were beginning to adjust to.
I was constantly coming to forks and intersections in the passages. I could not tell whether I was getting closer to finding my exit or going deeper into the island. With each step it was getting warmer and I could hear the pattering of footsteps on the soft ground behind me.
Suddenly my palms and waist began to itch where the seaweed touched me. I scratched myself with my nails as I walked but it did no good.
I turned down a corridor and was perplexed by what I saw. This passage was slightly brighter than the rest, as there was more of the curious slime on the walls. That which intrigued and disturbed me was not the slime, but the markings on the walls. It seemed to be an ancient hieroglyphic language which I could not read nor do I believe I would understand it if i heard it spoken.
The itching on my hands and body intensified to slight burning. I could not resist scratching harder yet with my fingernails. I began to feel dizzy which I suspect was due to an increase in temperature and decrease in oxygen.
My thoughts were becoming fogged, distorted, and not my own. I began to recall memories of an ancient palace under the sea, though I had never explored the deeps of the ocean.
I noticed something next which momentarily cleared my mind and reminded me of the goal of reaching the ship and returning home.
At the very far end of the corridor(whether it was the same one or whether I continued to walk and turn corners, I was unsure), I noticed an opening through which light was shining.
The itching was now near unbearable, a million fire ants seemed to be disassembling my flesh with their tiny jaws to feed their queen. I wished I could remove my skin if it would stop the burning.
I began to move toward the light and almost fell. I was dizzy and my legs felt heavy. Stumbling, I made my way. The itching now consumed my body in maddening invisible flames! Sweat poured down my face and glued my clothes to my body, the heat like an open furnace in a boiler room. Dozens of footsteps sounded behind me.
I had reached the exit which I hoped would lead me to salvation and realized the things behind me had chosen not to catch me. Instead, their intention was to herd me like cattle to my damnation.
I soon learned as I crossed the threshold that it was no exit, other than from sanity. It was an entrance into what I can only assume was the core of the island and the gate to Hell itself.
I stumbled into a large, open cavern with a small lake in the middle. Seated upon a rock in the center(similar in posture to the way a lion sits) was a statue far greater in size and hideousness than those which stood guard outside. It contained more of the strange writing around the base. Large bat-like wings were folded behind its back and terrible claws sprang from its feet. The most sickening feature was the mass of tentacles which covered up, or made up, the bottom half of its face. The statues eyes were intense even in their stone existence and stared through me to my very soul, which I was sure was no longer mine.
I could see this as clear as day due to the water being extremely luminant, lighting the cavern like an aquatic sun. The cavern walls were made of some clear stone, allowing the black ocean to peer through. I concluded it was through here that the light shewn upward through the water and lighted the island outside.
Boiling was the heat within the cavern, mixed with the razor-ripping sensation of my skin and fear of the daemonic statue, my mind began to crack. I felt claustrophobia begin to settle deep within my chest, feeling trapped and hopeless beneath this accursed island.
I began to scream and several hot, slimy, webbed hands grabbed me from behind, ushering me toward the water and the statue. I fought to free myself but given my weakened state, they were too strong for me.
They thrust me to the floor some six feet from the edge of the water, forcing me to kneel before the statue as a man to be judged before a mad king. The water was beginning to boil and I attempted twice to return to my feet but was quickly overpowered and had not the strength to attempt a third.
The light of the water faded until only the slime coating the ceiling provided dim light to see by. In the soft light I noticed what must have been hundreds more of the beings, silhouettes in the semi-darkness, entering the room and crowding the edges of the water.
A chant rose from the group in their guttural language. Light slowly returned to the room as they chanted, though not from the water. Through an opening in the ceiling which I had not previously noticed, moonlight began to replace the black emptiness, sliding sluggishly down the walls until everything was ablaze in flames of pale light.
I looked down to the water which was a chaotic, boiling cauldron now, adding pain to my skin with every splash that hit me(it did not seem to affect the other beings).
My attention moved from the water up to the face of the hellish statue and my heart sank to my stomach. Something odd perhaps about the angle of the moonlight shining on the face of the monument made it seem different, alive almost.
Sudden silence as the group simultaneously stopped chanting pulled my attention back to the ground and I realized every set of eyes were upon me. For the first time I was able to see the faces all around. Terror gripped my skeleton. These beings surrounding me were the same sickening combination of fish and men as the statues outside!
During a hunting campaign my father led in his late twenties, a rifle of one of his hunting partners misfired, grazing his face and burned a deep scar beneath his left eye… One of these monsters to my left bore the same marking! No, it could not be.
I began to scream once more, shattering the silence. It was then that two of the fish-men lifted me to a standing position and pushed me closer to the water until I was one step from a boiling death at the clawed feet of the beast.
They began chanting again, only this time in a lower volume and in a tone which rang with a greater malevolence. At the base of the statue the hieroglyphs began to glow as I felt a push from behind.
That is where the terrible nightmare ended as I was ripped from the realm of dreams by my own voice, screaming at full force. I have written down all that I remember. More details may have been left out but I cannot remember, as my mind is in a fog. I feel sleep beginning to overcome me once more, lulled by the resumed ticking of my father’s watch. It may be a peaceful sleep, if not for the oddly ticklish itching of my hands and waist…
The warm hoot of a train whistle that sounded out into nowhere in particular is what pulled Arnold from the blackness of sleep. He blinked the leftover drowsiness from his eyes, sat up, and after a deep breath in let out a long, loud yawn.
He only had a moment to look around and realize he was on the train that whistled before another man burst into his car from the door on the right. Both stared at the other, surprised, and exclaimed at the same time, “You’re nude!”
They looked at themselves and erupted in laughter.
“I suppose we are.” Said the other man with some laughter still in his voice. “Have you been in here the whole time?”
Arnold thought for a moment, but couldn’t remember. “I don’t know, I just woke up.”
“Me too.” Said the other man. “What’s your name?”
“Arnold. And yours?”
“Charles, but you can call me Chuck.”
The men were both standing now and looking around.
“I don’t remember getting on a train.” Arnold said looking outside through one of the windows. The scenery was all green and blue and purple, some red here, a splash of white there. Trees and flowers were in bloom and animals were chasing their young everywhere, coloring the windows beautifully like a painting of springtime by Monet.
“Neither do I.” Chuck replied, now searching behind cushions and under seats. “I don’t remember anything before I woke up.”
Arnold tried to think back but found nothing beyond that distant howling of the train whistle.
Chuck interrupted his attempts to remember. “Hey, Arnie! This door’s open, let’s explore the rest of the train.”
Arnold scrunched his face at the nickname but turned anyway to follow. He was just as curious to see.
The next car smelled of tobacco smoke and only had an easy chair on the left, which was facing the right wall. The wall of the car that the chair was facing was actually just a big window. It was one large pane of glass through which one could sit and enjoy the view of the trip. On the side table next to the chair was a small metal ash tray in which sat a partially-smoked cigar, still lit, next to a glass of watered-down whiskey.
“I think someone was here.” Arnold said as he squeezed the arm of the chair and noted how soft it was.
Chuck made no reply. He was standing about a foot away from the glass, his hands on his hips, investigating the scenery. What he saw now was a view of endless rolling hills of green grass. In the distance stood a great, lone apple tree. Its trunk was strangely curved almost like the letter “S” and on the floor around it were apples of all colors.
He felt an odd sensation of a memory in the back of his mind, but it quickly went away with a shudder. The tree made him feel uneasy, so he looked away to the left and ever farther in the distance at the dark clouds rolling over the horizon.
He turned as he heard Arnold open the door to the next car. “Wait for me!”
They entered what appeared to be the dining room. A table stretched almost the entire length of the car and was filled with plates of scrambled eggs, bacon, ham steaks, biscuits, bowls of cereal, pitchers of water, milk, and orange juice.
Arnold’s stomach rumbled and he realized he was more than just a little hungry. “I haven’t eaten yet, have you?”
“Not yet.” Chuck answered, his eyes never leaving the slabs of ham. “So we might as well. Somebody laid this out for us, it’s still warm. Let’s have some” He filled his plate with eggs, bacon, and ham and got a second plate to stack pancakes on.
Arnold too got a plate for eggs and bacon but paired it with two slices of toast and a bowl of honey granola cereal with nuts.
There was a chair on each end of the table. Chuck took the far seat in front of the door to the next car and Arnold sat in the chair near the door they just entered.
They sat in silence enjoying their first meal since they could remember, the only sounds were of them crunching toast, sipping juice, and tinking their forks on their plates. Occasionally they would make eye-contact with cheeks full of food and giggle.
Things went on like this for a few minutes(Arnold saw a clock above the door to the next car but it had no hands), until the room was suddenly filled with the sounds of violin music. They both jumped and Chuck, who had a mouth full of ham steak, began choking when he gasped and a piece of ham went down his throat unexpectedly.
As Chuck drank some juice and tried to regain his breath, Arnold looked around and spotted something that either wasn’t there before or that he missed because he was so focused on the food. Hanging from the ceiling above the table was a phonograph. In it was a small, dark yellow cylinder of wax slowly spinning to push the music out through the amplifier which was shaped like the front of a trumpet.
The music was slow and sad and was of only one violin with no other instruments to accompany it. They both began to search for a way to shut it off but were unsuccessful. The music began to get louder and more shrill until it seemed the musician was no longer interested in producing any sort of song, but only to make his violin screech.
The men were now covering their ears and rushing to open the door. Chuck yelled something that Arnold couldn’t hear.
Arnold still couldn’t hear over the noise but was able to read Chuck’s lips.
They frantically searched for a key, throwing the plates of food on the floor, digging through the ham and eggs, and pouring the drinks out. It was Chuck who pulled and old skeleton key from within the big plate of scrambled eggs and yelled “I found it!” But as soon as he held the key up the music stopped so that his words were screamed into the sudden silence and startled them both.
Barely two seconds had gone by for them to process what just happened before the door to the next car opened on its own and swung softly out.
Both men were hesitant to enter the pitch black room but Arnold found a light switch and they went in, not wanting to stay in the dining room any longer. A new song of a single trombone had started, but they quickly shut the door behind them and it became silent in the new car, which had no windows and looked like a closet.
Suits, shirts, dresses, and jeans all hung from both sides of the car on bars that went from one end to the other. Above the clothes, on shelves, were assortments of shoes and high heels.
“I guess we should get dressed.”
“Okay.” Arnold replied and pulled a green sundress from its hanger. He struggled to pull it over his body, but it was too small so he threw it on the floor and found a large shirt that went down to his knees. He put it on and only buttoned the first three buttons, though into the wrong holes. He then found some swimming trunks and pulled them on.
After trying on and throwing aside several pairs of shoes and high heels, he settled into a pair of fuzzy slippers. “Done.”
“Almost…. There, done.” Chuck was dressed in a pair of slacks that were too tight to button up, a yellow T-shirt with the silhouettes of three birds flying, a black tweed bowler hat, and flip-flops.
They stared at each other for a moment.
“You look nice.”
“Thanks, so do you.”
Laughter then filled the room as they fell to the ground cackling like mad hyenas.
Arnold stopped and sat up. “What was that?”
“What?” Asked Chuck, picking himself up from the floor.
“It sounded like-” Arnold didn’t have time to finish his sentence when a loud burst of thunder interrupted him.
“Let’s check it out.” Arnold got up and tried the door to the previous car but remembered what happened in there and pulled his hand from the doorknob as if it were a burner on a hot stove.
“No, this way, Arnie! Wow, this is great, come look!” Chuck called from the next car.
The car was entirely made of glass and the floor was a soft ground of Irish moss. Both men lay down on their backs looking up at the dark gray sky, the millions of raindrops landing on the car and immediately running in streaks in the opposite direction the train was going.
They sat silent for what must have been an hour, watching the raindrops occasionally light up blue from the lightning flashes striking the ground all around them. Each time the blue-white bolts shot down, it was as if a picture was being taken and all the raindrops in mid-air would freeze for just a fraction of a second and somehow Arnold knew that those particular sets of drops being flash photographed were as unique as his own fingerprint.
Either the storm had run its course or it was going one way and they were going another, but they were no longer under it. Slowly the clouds began to dissipate until blue sky was above them from horizon to horizon.
Surprised by the use of his formal name, Arnold scrunched his eyebrows and answered. “Yeah?”
“Have you wondered what we’re doing on this train? Or where we’re going?”
“Well I hadn’t…Until now. It just didn’t occur to me, but now that you mention it, I suppose I would like to know.” Arnold sat up now with his back against one of the walls.
“We should find out what’s going on. But first, I’m going to change out of these stupid clothes.” Chuck stood up and went back into the closet car.
Looking down at himself and now feeling silly, Arnold got up and followed. He walked in to find Chuck changing into one of the two business suits which were now the only clothing in the car.
“Hm.” Arnold muttered thoughtfully and then began reluctantly changing into the other one.
“I’m going to begin searching for a way out, a way off of this train. I think the best place to start would be talking to the conductor.”
“The conductor?” Arnold questioned as he finished buttoning up the suit.
“Well sure! This train isn’t driving itself.”
The men were now walking out of the closet, across the glass car on the way to the next one.
“But how do we know that? We’ve seen signs of other people, but no people.” Arnold looked outside as he walked and talked. The train was passing through a desert now, only cacti and tumble weeds spotted the scenery. Far off were red mountains and the sun was high and scorching.
“Maybe there’s a special car for employees or something. Either way, we’ll understand everything after we talk with the conductor.” Chuck opened the door and was walking through at a brisk, determined pace. He did so through the next five cars.
He seemed not to notice or care about the oddities he was passing. Arnold, however, was fascinated by some of the things in the cars, but had no time to stop and investigate as he was trying to keep up with Chuck.
In these cars were: a baby’s crib with a half empty bottle of milk(which they would have found was still warm had they stopped to check it), a poker table which was midway through a hand, a tent that sat in the middle of a car which was painted to look like the night sky, and a car that appeared to be the workroom of a maskmaker.
It was this car that Chuck finally stopped in. The walls were lined with masks of various types of animals, demons, even some famous people. But it wasn’t the masks that halted him.
On the table there was a skull with fresh papier-mache strips laid across the face and behind it was what appeared to be a roll of blueprints.
“Ah, this will be quicker than just guessing at how far the conductor is. For all we know, we could be walking the wrong way.” Chuck unrolled the prints as he talked.
Arnold moved the skull and a few other items off the table so they could lay them out. He let out a small gasp when they saw what the prints held.
“No.” Chuck said as he looked at a page which contained more than two hundred diagrams of train cars. He flipped the page and the following showed the same. So did the third and fourth.
“It doesn’t end.” Arnold said, adjusting his vest. He then added, “Wait, these pages are out of order.”
“You’re right.” Chuck replied and they scrambled to arrange the pages numerically by the numbers in the top left corners.
What they found when they were done was a set of diagrams, a sort of map of the train, in which the maskmaker’s car was the center and about three hundred cars spanned out in both directions and pictures of blank cars were on either end.
“These are cars that have yet to be explored, it seems.”
Chuck eyed Arnold contemplatively. “What do you mean?”
“Well, suppose each car in this train were created by someone, that’s why the cars on the end are blank; they haven’t been made yet.”
“That’s impossible. How can train cars be created while the train is in motion?”
“Maybe,” Said Arnold, staring at the blueprints, “the cars are already there and someone just designs them.”
“We have to find the conductor.” Chuck sounded less confident now.
“How can we be sure there is one? We’ve seen no sign of one yet, and the way these cars go on, we may never find him. Perhaps this train has no beginning or end, it just exists as it is and we’re stuck within it.”
“…Maybe you’re right. Suppose there is no conductor and the train drives itself. Suppose there’s no beginning or end. Then what are we?” Chuck began walking back toward the car they came from and Arnold followed.
“We’re just along for the ride.” Arnold said as they left the maskmaker’s car.
On the way back, the dining room’s feast was renewed with a large baked fish, a roast, wine, vegetables and fruit, bread, and more. Neither of the men wanted to stay for a meal again, the sight of the room chased away any appetite they may have built up. They hurried across the room and opened the door as quick as possible when the phonograph began playing a song of a woman singing a sad song in a language they didn’t recognize.
In the car that held only an easy chair and the window-wall, Arnold stopped to admire the changing scenery. Chuck held the door open, waiting for Arnold to come along with him.
“Go ahead.” Arnold told him as he sat down in the chair. “I’m stopping here for a while.”
Chuck stared back for a moment. “Okay. I’m going to see what’s beyond the cars we woke up in.” He shut the door gently behind him.
Arnold got up and went into the dining car and poured a small glass of whiskey and dropped in three ice cubes. He found a cigar and a metal ash tray along with some matches. He returned to the chair and lit the cigar and sipped the whiskey as he watched the desert fall away and fade into grass and trees once more. Only this time the trees were ablaze with red and yellow and orange leaves.
The lower temperature outside was cooling the glass of the the window which in turn was cooling the air within the car as well. It felt nice and Arnold enjoyed it as he thought about the time he had spent on the train since he had woken up. He pondered on what it all meant or if it meant anything at all.
He wondered about the conductor and figured there was one, though they couldn’t reach him. But there definitely was someone guiding the train and perhaps he and the maskmaker were the same person.
The train was now in the midst of a thicket of trees that were varied shades of red and yellow. Hardly any animals were out save for a few plump squirrels collecting the last of the nuts they could find.
Arnold had barely taken two sips of the whiskey and the cigar went mostly untouched as he sat thinking. It wasn’t long before the trees began to thin out and become more bare. He wondered where he had been before he awoke on the train and if it would ever make a stop.
In between the now leafless trees, flakes of snow began to fall. The first ones melting as they touched the ground, not being able to stick but serving the purpose of cooling the Earth so the flakes that would follow may last into sheets of fluff, making a difference as a whole.
The door to Arnold’s right opened up on its own, inviting him to walk through, so he obeyed. Once through, back in the car he woke up in, he saw the door to the car behind it was open also. He walked hesitantly toward the door, curious as to what he might find in the following car-Chuck’s car.
In it he saw stacks of paper-some were maps of train cars and some were notes and journal entries- littered about the floor and seats, some designed and some blank masks upon the walls, silverware and glasses piled in one corner, and sitting in the center of the car on the floor painting a twisted apple tree that was alone among hills and bearing apples of all colors, was an old man.
The man didn’t look up but continued to paint. Arnold spotted a small mirror on top of a paper stack and walked over to pick it up. Looking back at him in the mirror was another old man with a beard and hair as white as the snow that was now a thick blanket on the ground outside. He put the mirror down and looked at the door to the next car.
“It doesn’t end.”
Startled, Arnold looked at the man, who was still painting. “How long…”
“There’s no telling. But it doesn’t end. It’s just a bunch of shit that seems connected but isn’t. Things seem to relate to one another, but they really don’t. It’s no puzzle because there’s no answer…. You were right.” When he said the last sentence, he looked at Arnold and Arnold could see a sort of defeated acceptance in his eyes, along with a tiredness that was bone deep.
“I’ve seen as much of this damned train as I care to. I’m going to sleep now.” The man stood up and leaned the painting against one of the seats and lay himself down on another.
Arnold watched the man drift off to sleep and a minute or two after he lay down the train’s whistle sounded.
“Goodnight, Chuck.” Arnold turned and went back to his own car and sat for a moment looking out the window and not thinking, just enjoying the landscape. Then, he too, lay down and realized how tired he was. He closed his eyes and let sleep wash over him as the train entered a tunnel and everything became dark. The last sound he heard was the warm hoot of the train’s whistle.
Brinn stood amidst a vast ocean of silver sand. All around him was ink-black darkness, perpetual night, regardless of time or position of the sun. Earth stared over his shoulder, small and silent in the distance.
He held in his hand the Talon, a curved sword made from a phoenix’s claw and steel from an asteroid, forged in the fires of the Sun. Wielding it, he planned to terminate the Moon.
Opposite Brinn was Lunin, the keeper and soul of the Moon. It was he that kept it revolving around Earth so that farmers would know when to seed, and when to sow; so that the tides of the oceans would rise and fall when the time was right. So that the eyes of lovers and jewels of thieves may be discovered for the way they sparkled in the night.
Lunin looked how one would expect the Moon to look; his skin was gray like ashes the morning after a bonfire, his head was bald and he wore a flowing, white robe. Only his eyes showed any sign of color. His irises were glowing amber like the early-morning sun shining through fresh dripping pine sap.
They stared at each other for a long moment and it was Lunin who broke the silence. “Who are you? Why have you come?”
Brinn adjusted his grip on the Talon and then answered. “My name is Brinn, and I have come to kill you.”
It seemed as if an even greater silence fell upon the desolate rock on which they stood. As if the other planets had placed their focus on what was unfolding on the Moon; and perhaps they had. War and hardships, attacks and murders all had come to the planets and even the Sun itself, but never the Moon.
Once, war had raged between Mars and the Dark Entities that ascended from the deeps of the asteroid belt. During a short intermission in the fighting, Mars capitally punished one of his own generals for merely setting foot upon Lunin’s home.
The Moon was a protected jewel in the sky, watched over by the planets. Lunin was a peaceful soul. Murdering him is akin to slicing the throat of a Buddhist monk.
Again, it was Lunin who broke the silence. “What have I done to deserve death?”
“You blinded me in my time of need. You murdered my family!“ Brinn’s body was trembling with anger, his muscles pulsating as he fought the urge to plunge the Talon into Lunin’s heart.
“Surely you are mistaken, Human. To ruin you or any other is no interest of mine.” Lunin began to think this man was mad. Surely he must be to accuse him of such a barbaric and human thing.
Brinn was pacing around Lunin now, like a wolf observing its prey before the feast. “I was crossing through the Amazon jungle, my wife and son were suffering from poisoning of the blood, and it was I who had to find a cure. I know very little of such things, so I sought out help from the only medicine man I know.
“He lives on the western horizon, exactly where and when the Sun and Earth meet. Some even say it is he that is the bond, the fabric that binds the two.
“The journey there and back should have taken five days. Though halfway back I decided to continue on through the night instead of rest, and became lost.”
“Perhaps your nerves-“ Lunin began, but was interrupted by Brinn’s fury.
“No! Not my nerves. You hid that night like a coward when I needed your guidance most. I returned after eight days, but it was too late. Whether it was madness brought on by the illness or that she couldn’t bare the pain any longer, I’ll never know. When I entered our home I found them in each others’ arms on our bed, the blood drained from their bodies through incisions of the wrists.
“The blood was slightly moist. I had missed them by only a day at the most. Due to your laziness, or cowardice. So now I must avenge them!”
Lunin began to say that Brinn’s accusations were misplaced, but no words came out. Only an outward raspy breath. He felt as if fire ants were eating his stomach.
It was then that Lunin noticed the Talon at Brinn’s feet. It was plunged into the ground, a column of smoke was rising from the point of entry. The ground around the Talon was turning to lava, and was spreading in veins across the surface of the Moon. At the same time, as if he had been shot with a molten-tipped arrow, the same hot-orange veins spread across Lunin’s body from a point in the middle of his forehead. From deep inside the chest outward, he was turning black until he was an ash statue, slightly glowing on the inside like the coals of a bonfire that were left alone to die out.
Brinn stood staring and waiting until the glow completely faded from his slain enemy before pulling the Talon from the ground. When he did so, a soft lunar breeze like a mother’s sigh came and whisped the ashes away.
The glowing veins which ran across the floor like red lightning faded and left scars.
Brinn felt a strange motion sickness in his stomach and turned to see the Earth begin to shrink-the Moon was slowing down and the distance between the two was increasing.
He also realized at that moment that he was being watched. He tightened his grip on the Talon and spun around. He was startled to find ten people standing a few yards from him.
“Be wise of your next actions, human. You can neither harm nor frighten us.“ The man from the group who spoke had wings on his sandals. He held a staff which was wrapped with two snakes and had wings.
“Who are you?” Brinn retorted.
This time a different man answered, He was holding a bloody spear and cast not one, but three shadows; his own, one of a wolf, and one of a vulture. “We needn’t answer to you, vermin! Coward! I’ll slay you as you-”
“Easy, Mars, not quite yet. You, one who yields the Talon, what is your name?“ This man donned a great white beard and lightning danced across his robe.
“Brinn, you’ve committed murder and thus must be punished.“ The man with the beard was the one talking. He now turned to the first man who spoke, “Mercury, set up the boundary.”
Mercury pierced the ground with his staff. As he did so, a great shockwave burst out from the point where the staff met the ground like a blast from a soundless bomb. No one but Brinn flinched.
An almost invisible dome surrounded them; more like the moving, almost living skin of a soap bubble than the hard, lifeless glass of a window.
Another man, older yet than the man with the electric robe, walked slowly over to the staff and placed one hand on it and raised one hand in the air.
As he was doing this, the entire cosmos seemed to magnify to the semi-invisible threshold as if being viewed through a telescope.
A Pale man with sunken eyes who, though he appeared frail for his emaciated and short frame, emanated a strange sort of dark strength, noticed Brinn’s wonderment at the movement of the galaxies across the dome and stepped forward. His cold breath was visible as he spoke.
“What you see playing across the Window of Khonsu are the births and… deaths,“ he smiled at the word and took a few seconds to savor it on his tongue before continuing, “of the stars, galaxies, the Universe itself playing forward and in reverse. For within this dome we stand outside of time.”
Brinn was starting to learn who he was amongst. He had already heard two of the men identified as Mercury and Mars. He assumed the man with the electric robe and beard to be Jupiter, and figured the man who’s aura swam with death to be Pluto.
He had never personally met the planets(few had), but his father would often watch the heavenly bodies and converse with them as one would sit and talk with old friends.
Brinn’s father would often try to teach him to learn from them, though he was never interested. He did, however, remember their names and personalities as his father had described.
The old man who set up the barrier walked over to Brinn. Brinn attempted to raise the Talon but found he could not move it.
The old man spoke. “This barrier is important for two reasons; it gives us an impenetrable area in which to judge you uninterrupted, and so that when we are done we may return to the very second we began so no time will have been wasted on… you.” During the pause in his explanation, the old man eyed Brinn up and down as someone would look at a dead, decaying animal hanging from a tree.
He walked back over to the rest of the group and began speaking again. “You may or may not have realized by now who you are amongst. We are the souls of the planets. Lunin was our brother.”
“He was my twin,“ began a man who was at least a head taller than the rest of the group. His skin had a luminescent quality like a firefly, and around his head was a glowing aura which gave off light that shined pure and more beautiful than any other found on Earth. “He was my twin. We were opposites, yet the same. Like Yin and Yang. It was I that made him shine, but if we crossed paths he could blot out my light like a pale hand in front of a candle. I am only half of a whole now that he is gone.”
This man was Solis, the spirit of the Sun.
Jupiter had a great sadness in his eyes as Solis spoke. Once the Sun had finished what he had to say, Jupiter spoke, his voice louder and firm this time. “Let the council begin and do what we came to do. Brinn the accused, kneel.”
Brinn let a smile cross his face as he began to defy his orders. “I kneel before no-”
“Kneel! On your knees and bow your head. You will look none of us in the eyes as your judgement is passed!“
He didn’t know if it was out of fear, respect, surprise, or if some unknown force made him do it, but when Jupiter yelled Brinn fell to his knees and dropped his head.
Mars walked to where Brinn kneeled, pulled a sword from the sheath at his side and rested it lightly on Brinn’s shoulder. Blood dripped from the spot where blade met skin. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t attempt to make his punishment worse.”
Solis stepped forward, “First judgments, all who wish to-”
“Death!“ Mars interrupted as he spat the words out through his teeth like venom.
“you’ve made your opinion known, interrupt me no more.”
Mars only stared, his face contorted by anger verging on the edge of lunacy. He truly was the embodiment of war.
“Death would not be punishment enough.“ A new member of this cosmic council spoke for the first time; a woman, one of only two present. It was Earth, and her words were soft and gentle, though she was not feeble.
“What, then, do you propose to be adequate punishment?” Jupiter asked her.
She walked over to Brinn, her long, brown-and-blue dress flowing over her leather sandals. Her hair was long-almost to her knees-and alive. Brinn thought it seemed to be a silk-soft tree bark(with green leaves and various flowers in a band around her head like a crown and scattered throughout the rest of her hair) more than it did actual hair.
She looked down at Brinn, her green eyes speckled with fiery gold-and sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of Lunin and sorrow for the loss of humanity in her child, Brinn. “He must feel what we feel.”
“Feel what you feel?“ The question was so quiet it seemed as though the darkness of space itself had whispered it. It came from the ground where Brinn kneeled. “I have already as you call it, ‘felt’ as you have felt. Because of your beloved Lun-” his words were interrupted by his own grunts of pain as Mars sliced a millimeter deeper with the sword.
“Let him speak.“ Someone said from the crowd, so he was allowed.
“Your beloved Lunin took my family from me. He blinded and prevented me from returning with a cure in time. So I have felt loss. I have become so familiar with it that it has become a part of who I am now. I am no longer a complete man, now I am the man who has lost the most important parts of himself-the good parts. Half a man or less. So pass your judgement as you will, but don’t pass it as if I have not yet felt loss.”
After Brinn had finished speaking, a silence fell upon the area so that he almost felt as if he had been alone the enitre time and the strange people holding their council had all been in his mind.
The Universe and Time continued their dance outside of the dome.
Earth spoke again. “Perhaps you have felt loss, my son, but you are wrong in blaming Lunin for it. You were so blinded by pain that you could no longer see reason. You passed your pain onto another and that was unjust. Your loss may have affected you, but your barbaric acts have change the lives of billions, and that must be corrected.”
“Ah, yes, undo, replace. Perhaps Brinn should take Lunin’s place here.“ Instant protest from the crowd. The man who had said it was the youngest of the men, though he was still old and wise. He was tall, muscular, and nude. On both sides of his torso, just below the pits of his arms, he had slits that went down to the bottom of his ribs. These were gills. Scales covered his shoulders, abdomen, and calves. he wore on his head a crown of gold and pearls. In his hand was a ten-foot trident, also of solid gold.
“Are you mad, Neptune?”
“Why would you suggest such a disrespectful solution?“
“He would disgrace Lunin to rule his moon!”
“This rat could never take his place.“
Neptune only smiled and said nothing while he waited for the others to calm down so that he could speak again.
After they finished, he explained himself. “Lunin is no more. He can feel neither disgrace nor pain. He is among the stars, one with the very fabric that makes up all we see and breathe. He is one with us like never before. So I ask you, what better punishment than one that can reform a soul? Brinn will have only Time as his companion, as his teacher. He will learn that Lunin hadn’t time to ruin a human’s life. By being in Lunin’s place he will learn patience and humility, and will no longer be able to harm anyone. He will see that there are solutions other than violence, and by passing this as his judgement we will give him his first lesson.”
The silence that followed was more electric than the clamoring of objections that preambled his words.
Mercury disrupted the silence. “As the flower forgives the Earth for murdering it with snow and ice in the winter, and again blooms in the spring; so, too, shall time forgive the murder of our brother and let humanity bloom again in the ruins of this man’s soul.”
After he had finished speaking, outside of the barrier stars were rebuilt from scattered fire and repopulated the sky as the Universe rewound back to the moment when they had arrived on the Moon.
The membrane vanished and Brinn felt a hot wind blow across him like a mother’s first breath on a newborn baby. He wasn’t sure how long he waited, kneeling with his head down, before he realized he was alone. He raised his head and saw no one, nothing but silver mountains and valleys. He looked all around him before standing up. His legs felt weak, new.
Brinn wanted to leave. The loneliness of the Moon weighed on his mind and made him uneasy. He tried to go home, but couldn’t remember how he had gotten here in the first place. He ran awkwardly, hoping that his feet would move fast enough to carry him across the void. Something tripped him and his face hit the ground hard.
Brinn’s foot felt as if a jellyfish had wrapped itself around it and was burning him with poison. He sat up to inspect it when he saw what tripped him. Laying in the sand in multiple pieces was the Talon. The sight of it brought a pang of fear bubbling up in his stomach. He tried to pick it up, but it would have hurt less to grab an iron straight off of the fire.
“What is this? What is happening to me?!“ Brinn screamed as he punched the ground. “Devils! Come back and fight me! You’re all demons!”
But no one answered and no one returned to fight. For a long while he sobbed as he realized what happened to him. He was the Moon’s soul now, and the Moon was he.
Aeons had passed and Brinn had become one with the very thing that was his prison. Though, it was his imprisonment on the rock that had taught him to be free.
Currently he was standing atop one of the highest peaks on the Moon’s northern pole. He was watching the Sun and enjoying its warmth on his face when he heard a sound that brought an instant burst of nostalgia for something that he had forgotten to miss, as well as a bit of fear.
It was the sound of footsteps walking up behind him. He turned and was surprised to see Earth approaching him.
“I had almost forgotten that I wasn’t alone in the universe. It’s good to see another soul.“
Earth smiled, and Brinn smiled back. She spoke. “You are never alone. You need not do more than look out, in any direction, to see any one of us. We are here and will be here for eternity.
“I have watched you through time, child, and I have seen changes in you. Your soul is no longer broken. No longer is it raw from pain and hatred. You are changed and at peace. I have come to return you home.”
Brinn looked down at his feet and at the silver sand beneath them. He looked at the craters and mountain tops that he had come to know better than the patterns of lines on his palms. The Sun felt warmer on his skin now. “I am home.”
Earth only smiled, and without another word she was gone. Brinn tried to think back to his time on Earth, so short it was. Short and so long ago that it was as if it had only been a dream of a strange place. And a dream it may have been-his arrival on the moon was his awakening.
He looked to the Sun, the Earth, and bowed his head before descending the peak with a smile and repeating to himself, “I am home.”
Along for the Ride: And Other Stories explores the point of view of a literal beast in Rex Noctem and the outcomes of the far more terrible, figurative ones that lie just behind the self control of those in power with Purgation. Then, The Final Account of Dr. Fredrick Morrison takes us back to real monsters that spill over from our darkest fears into reality to pull us into the nightmares we harbor in our mind from day to day. Next, Along for the Ride ventures into an examination of life and to which unknown we are heading to from the darkness that we all come from, with a colorful, metaphoric depiction of all the puzzling mystery in between. Finally, Rebirth closes with a tale about the possibility of the consequences of our actions leading us to discover who we really are in Rebirth.