work to do, part 1 of 4

Photo by omar alnahi on

The wall split open with a sharp ripping sound and the dark creature slipped through the crack, hissing and spitting, furious at being dragged from its long slumber.  It gathered itself on the floor, coiled, and raised its head up.  Its long forked tongue tasted the air, once, twice, and then it’s violent green eyes found their target.  The witch held her ground and held the gaze of the beast she had summoned.  Then she carefully lifted her right hand aloft and snapped her fingers twice.  The monster blinked, shook its head slightly, almost a shudder but not quite, and then lowered its head back to its coiled body.

“Good,” the witch cooed.  “Very good.”

With her right hand she reached out and stroked the glittering, midnight scales.  There seemed to be twinkles of scattered light hidden beneath the surface, like thousands of stars hidden behind a veil of clouds in a moonless sky.  You didn’t know if you were really seeing the stars or if your brain just made you think you were because you knew they were supposed to be there.  She brought her right hand in front of the snakelike being’s jaws and, using all her considerable self-control to suppress a shudder, she let the snake’s tongue whip out and wrap around her wrist.

It wasn’t really a snake, of course, that was just the shape the summoned creature had chosen as it slid into this world.  It could have taken two other shapes, that of a bull or that of a falcon.  In time she would learn why it had chosen this form instead of the others but for now she needed it to taste her power and learn to trust her.  They would have time for the rest once this ritual was completed and her new pet had accepted her.

The crack in the wall began to disappear even as the snake’s tongue released her wrist.  She had passed the test.  It would submit to her command willingly. 

Smiling, she took her right hand and once again stroked the magnificent scales behind its head.  “My name is Sofia.”

In a whispering hiss, the creature replied, “I’m Dahlia.”

Sofia continued to lovingly caress the snake.  The wall sealed off.  Dahlia began to make a sound that make Sofia think of a cat purring.  It was not a natural sound to be coming from a snake, but Dahlia wasn’t a snake and wasn’t what most people would consider natural either. 

“We’re going to do great things together, Dahlia,” Sofia said.

a new quest begins

The night crowed, sharp and crackling, and the following silence yawned menacingly.  It wasn’t only that the darkness could produce such sounds, but the opposite and distinct nature of them that was truly terrifying.  Pulling the hood closer around his face to keep it from catching in the breeze and exposing the sensitive flesh below, the man stepped away from the pool of light around his front door.  There were things out there, beyond his sight, that he needed to fear, but there were also things that feared him justifiably.  Even apex predators could be prey in the right circumstances.  It was the manner of the world.


The eyes of the night weighed upon the man, a burden he reluctantly shouldered, as he carefully walked the dirt path.  The intelligence behind those vibrant pupils marked his progress with trepidation and hunger.  He noted their distance and appetite, preparing for the inevitable.  Some would come, he knew.  Some always did.  His journey was worth the risk of battle, though.  The success of his mission was more important than any injury he might sustain from the beasts in the darkness.


A low growl hanging in the air, punctuated by the harsh snap of a grounded branch, were not enough to cause the man to change his calculated pace.  Each step along the path had to be taken with the utmost care to avoid entanglements with the vines and bushes that ventured over the edge of the hard-packed surface.  Hurrying would embolden those hunting him and make it harder to defend himself when they sprang at him.  The nearness of the danger, however, weighed on him and he shouldered the added burden with a grunt.  It was one more thing to carry along with his concerns, his provisions, the necessity of his task, the treacherous conditions, and the oppressive darkness.


The breeze stilled in anticipation and the air grew acrid with the stench of decay.  The man stalled his progress and steadied his feet, balanced in his stance and senses.  He felt the small shift in the air around him, instantaneously giving him the speed and direction of the attack, and brought his staff up to deflect the assault before the creature could sink its claws in him.  The crack of impact thundered against his ears, but he didn’t care as an approving smile spread across his lips.  The beast had been sent tumbling back into the darkness and the man had come through completely unscathed.


He began walking again.  There were still miles to go that night and his purpose could not be unduly delayed.  A single victory was meaningless against the adversary he faced, but the load he carried somehow felt lighter all the same.  The man knew that each subsequent victory would reduce the heavy weight from his heart and mind, and each step brought him closer to saving the one he loved.


Lightning crackled over the mountains in the east.  The flashes mirrored off the clouds and slick ground in dizzying displays of the heaven’s might.  The storm, however, was far enough away that the thunder never reached his ears.  He considered turning left to take the path towards the hills so he might catch the outer banks of rain and soothe his tired body, but his legs kept him true to the southern trail.  There would be time enough for rest when he reached his destination.

Allowing his eyes to look down the length of the range that hedged the eastern horizon he saw it intersected his trail in the distance anyway.  The storm probably will have moved on by the time he reached the start of his slow climb, but he could at least hope the clouds would linger to provide some relief from the attentive sun.  It scorched the world with no consideration for soil or flesh.  It dried and parched to the point of splitting.  It showed no mercy and he had been woefully unprepared when he set forth all those days ago.

It had been a normal morning, with the songbirds of the meadow rejoicing the closing night and his old home creaking as it struggled to wake ahead of the coming day.  He had gone out just as the sky had started to brighten and warm to collect some odds and ends from his garden for breakfast.  The crashing of hooves echoing against the stillness of the morning had shattered the peaceful calm, even before the riders appeared and…

Well, then his quest had begun.  To track them down.  To repay them for their deeds.

Lightning flashed again in his periphery but he didn’t turn to watch the storm dance among the peaks.  His focus had returned fully to the south, the home of the raiders he followed, and the vengeance he planned on dolling out once he caught up to them.  No, he had not been prepared for the grueling nature of the trip but that mattered little when he had no plan for the return trek.

He gripped his staff tighter, sweat running down his hand to drip into the hard-packed dirt at his feet.  Calluses had formed quickly in the first days of his journey.  The scarred flesh of his palms, and feet, matched those of his heart.  The exterior ones would never heal because they wouldn’t be given the opportunity and the interior ones wouldn’t because there were none left who could aid their recovery.

There was no point in planning on a return journey because there was no one left to return to.

we should have

The cleaning crew found the skeleton sitting at an antique desk, the skull leaning across his left arm and a pen still firmly grasped in his right.  The parchment the deceased had been writing on had yellowed with time and the words had faded away.  They called the disposal unit and asked for the whole mess to be transported back to their lab for further examination.  The skeleton and surrounding area of the room had survived relatively unscathed compared to most of the ruins they had scrubbed so far.

Once the remains were safely moved to their lab the disposal unit notified them and they abandoned their remaining cleaning pursuits for the day to run tests on the anomaly.  How had he survived so much longer than the rest of his people?  Why were his remains still discernible while the rest of his race had been turned to dust?  Those questions were just the beginning of the information they hoped to glean as they strapped into their shuttle, blasted away from the scorched surface of the dead planet, and returned to the master ship.

After hours of careful examination they determined that the human had died of exsanguination.  They were disheartened by this discovery, for a time, because they had hoped to find some trace of the deceased’s blood to test for toxin and radiation levels to help them ascertain why he had lived while the rest had died.  However, they then noticed that the human had cleverly created a way to use his blood to refill his pen.  He wrote himself to death.

They found it curious that someone would willingly choose to expire in such a manner, but they could not judge him because they weren’t aware of the circumstances surrounding his decision.  Plus, they were elated to know that all the blood they would need, and then some, was there for the taking in the pages he had written.  It just needed to be extracted.

For documentation purposes, following proper protocol, they did a full scan of the parchment and preserved the man’s final words, his story of death, before starting the process to remove the blood from the page.  Eventually they were forced to admit that the tests were inconclusive and they could not ascertain why that one human had been able to survive the event that had decimated the rest of the planet.  There was nothing in his blood to indicate he had received a smaller dose of radiation or that he had built of antibodies to fight the toxins that had poisoned everything else.  There was no evidence that he was different in any way from the rest of the specimens they had collected and analyzed.

Being a species of logic, they could make the jump to the idea that he might have had a strong enough will to push on through the pain and disease longer than the rest of his kind, but they wouldn’t say that with certainty because there was no way to prove it.  In their published report of their findings they glossed over all speculation, included the data they were certain of, and also included a copy of the human’s writings.  They understood their was a warning in his words, and while they would never need to heed such advice, they found it fascinating all the same.

Here, in its entirety, are the man’s last words, preserved so that those who need to heed the lesson within have the opportunity to do so:

I’ve seen the damage assessments coming in, and so I know our history will be lost.  We were here for such a short time, compared to the stars we studied, I’m sure there are worlds out there who wouldn’t even consider what we had here as a history at all.  We were the brief flash of a dying spark in a universe full of steady and intense infernos.

But, to us, it still felt like we had at least the start of a full and meaningful existence on the planet we called Earth.  We had grown so much as a species.  We had learned and developed and studied and conquered and created.  We created so many beautiful things.  We also created many ugly things that proved our undoing…

Who sent the first rockets speeding into the atmosphere to deliver their nuclear payload doesn’t matter anymore.  The result is around me now, and around you if this letter somehow survives.  We vaporized ourselves over petty squabbles and misunderstandings.  We killed ourselves and our planet because in our pride we had grown ignorant over the generations.  Our excess made us greedy.  Our inventions made us lazy.  We forgot how to think for ourselves.  Most importantly, we forgot how to question the status quo and to continue searching for new knowledge.

My time is running short now.  I’ve written too much to survive.

Challenge yourself.  Never stop seeking knowledge.  Find new worlds.  Explore.  Adventure.  Hurt.  Heal.  Question everything.

We should have…

quest or madness

California Sunset, Ventura County

The heavenly orb, hot from the day’s work, settled into the ocean for a well deserved break.  The steam spread across the edge of the world, obscuring the last moments of light and offering a brief transition into night.  The dark earth reached upwards, clawing for position, spreading over the fading blues.

The ground I stood on had already blackened and I stepped forward without hesitation.  I could never reach the sun, it was always beyond my grasp, but I chased it nonetheless.  Some days I gained on it and somedays it eluded me entirely.  That didn’t matter, of course, because it was the chase, and the chase alone, that captivated me.

Soon enough I was shrouded in night.   My eyes adjusted quickly and my foot falls never faltered.  Was it destiny or fate?  Was it madness that urged me ever onward, ever forward?  No.  It was the seduction of the light.  I wanted to taste it on my skin.  I wanted to dive into its rays.

I smiled as I marched toward the edge of the world.  It would be a good night.  I was gaining on it again.