The room lay quiet. Egyptian scholars, adorned ornately according to their time, surrounded a corpse, dissected and stretched across a cloth in grotesque disfigurement.
“When the body breathes its last, the soul escapes. Perhaps inside this very room, now, the soul seeks to return but it cannot. The connection is severed.”
Candles flickered and the wind began to howl. The living crowded and craned for a view of the dead. Optics captured images, neurons fired, pulses raced, oxygen expanded lungs and gases exchanged, vocal chords vibrated and cartilage percussed.
“The heart, in the palm of my hand, no bigger than your fist.”
Hope in the hand, a fisted will. Emotions rose, passions inflamed.
The soul was silent.
Carbon dating suggested the age of the car was over ten thousand years old. Which was odd, considering it appeared to be a 50’s model Chevy. Theories abounded to account for this oddity. The question most of us had was, why was it carbon dated to begin with?
The locals said it was found in a layer of rock which lay undisturbed for centuries; that it had a wooly mammoth skeleton lodged in its top, as though the beast had stomped right through it just before death. And so the mystery was born.
The car remained quarantined in a field surrounded by electric security fencing, awaiting further testing. No one was reporting on this. No one was going on record with any details. The answer seemed obvious to me.
The problem with taking a car back that far in time was, roads were horrible. So no one in their right mind would take a car there to drive it. We wondered, then, what they found in the trunk? Was the car sent back to the stone age to hide a crime, perhaps?
The months which followed yielded few clues. We waited patiently for the answers. Men in black would come and go, never seeming to find what they were looking for. Eventually, the car was gone.
Where did it go, I wondered.
Back in time, I surmised. To close the loop.
It all made sense now. They’ll find it again, at the same time as before. And that, I suppose, settles the mystery. Simple as that.
It began as a particle of dirt on the forest floor, lifted by an autumn storm into the upper echelons of the atmosphere. Currents and pockets of air made it dance and swirl amid clouds of particles and moisture, high above the earth. The dance continued until it collected enough ice and sank beneath the clouds as a magnificent snowflake. Slowly and gently, it drifted and swayed in the breeze, in a gradual spiral down to earth before landing on the nose of a gray wolf.
The wolf sniffed the air as his nose began to tingle. The icy snowflake caused it to itch until he sneezed. Though he still felt its presence, he was distracted by the view overlooking the snow-covered village below. Bright colored lights illuminated the gabled roofs of homes and spires of churches. A chorus of voices sang words of cheer, notions of peace and hopes of good will — words and concepts the wolf could neither understand nor comprehend, yet he felt something stirring within himself he’d never felt before. Something besides hunger or fear or the instinct to survive. Even though he could smell prey nearby, he had little inclination to hunt, or even remain with his kind. He wandered away from the pack and headed down toward the village.
He made his approach with the greatest of caution. Villagers were accustomed to shooting wolves on sight, so he did not wish to draw any attention. Groups of carolers dotted the tree-lined streets, dressed in bright greens and reds and shivering in the wintry gales. Stealthily, he followed the scent of sheep towards the center of town, overwhelmed by the dazzling light displays and abundant decor along the way.
The town center hosted a large manger scene, populated with the standard Christmas icons such as Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. But what concerned the wolf most was the live display of animals, particularly the sheep. For a moment, his eyes dilated and his heart began to race wildly, as his mind flew into images of hunting and death. But for a reason that he failed to understand, on this particular night, he had no inclination to hunt or kill. He merely tucked his head submissively, and sauntered passively toward the nativity.
It was the strangest of scenes, as the wolf came into full view of the small gathered crowd. The wolf wasn’t howling and the people weren’t screaming. In fact, the people weren’t moving much at all, even though the wolf was within a few yards of them. The wolf walked on, bolder now, and with purpose. No one moved. Time stood still as fifty faces stared in awe, as this lone gray wolf knelt alongside a sheep within the wooden manger, and the sheep never bleated or attempted to run. In fact, none of the donkeys or other sheep moved so much as a muscle. It was as though a gray wolf in the nativity was always meant to be.
Much of the crowd moved in for a closer look, taking pictures and marveling at the miracle before them. Predator and prey, side by side. A perfect poetic symbol for the season of giving and light. A little girl, hand-in-hand with her mother, walked up to the wolf and felt of his fur, dazzled by its softness. Curious, she felt his cold nose and wiped the snowflake off onto her finger.
“Look mommy! A snowflake!”
Her mother noticed the unique crystalline symmetry on the tip of her daughter’s index finger, a large white flake of immaculate perfection. The little girl placed it on the end of her own nose and displayed it proudly, and thanked the wolf for his gift. The wolf, for his part, was happy to oblige and be thanked by a human. He had never before been the recipient of such gratitude.
The group continued to sing as they encircled the manger. “Silent Night” was soon followed by “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The wolf didn’t know the words, any words, so he did what wolves do, and howled. Mightily. Aaaah-oooooooooooooooh!
In the distance, over the hilltops, the other wolves responded in kind. Aaaah-oooooooooh! Howling in cadence with the carols, the hills and forests echoed the villagers. Stars sparkling, moon glowing, snow drifting, chimneys puffing — all was right and perfect in the world, for this one blessed magical night.
The sky burned with a bright golden magenta and dying embers beneath an ashen cloud. Fragments of broken buildings and incinerated flesh littered the valley floor like a black boiling tar.
A steady stream of smoldering forms limped and lurched in the darkness like a silent procession of ghosts, heading towards a river whose waters churned with death.
Firestorms raged in all directions. Gusts of wind ripped through the desolation and carried off pieces of men.
“Help me.” The words were in her mind but her mouth refused to say them. She could feel her tongue, but her tongue could not feel her teeth. She felt the weight of debris pinning her down, but could not feel her legs.
The last she remembered, she was talking to her sister, in her room. She didn’t know what happened. A bright yellow flash, a deafening boom…. Everything was gone. Everything she knew, her mother, father, sister, neighbors, school, the fountain at the turn of the block…
Black rain poured from the sky, adding to the nightmarish scene. She pulled herself forward inch by inch, her mouth burning of thirst. She tried to drink a handful of precipitation, but choked on the taste of ash and sprayed it all over her charred arms.
A few agonizing moments later, she managed to free herself from the rubble. Only then could she see the severity of her situation. Her legs were shattered and burned black as coal. Her body was naked and charred from head to toe, skin hanging from her face, arms, and chest, and she was completely numb.
Pulling herself facedown along the burning ruins, she made her way toward the river. The wind-driven flames drew ever closer. Her arms stroked the ground with increasing speed, racing the inferno behind her. Her nostrils filled with the smell of her own burning flesh as she inched closer and closer until finally rolling into the steaming sooty water.
Through the light of flames, she could make out the river, choked with burnt carcasses, what remained of bodies. She reached for the nearest one and hugged onto it tightly. For the first moment since it began, she could focus her thoughts on what had happened. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two, the time between talking to her sister and the end of everything. Nothing she could see was alive. The only sounds were crackling of fires and howls of the wind. Blackness consumed her world. Blackness, and death.
Nobody said my job was easy. Planetary technicians often did the grunt work for the empyreal engineers. And our boss was not going be pleased with our progress, especially considering the walk-through was scheduled for next week.
The folks over in Andromeda weren’t having any luck either, but no one really gave a rip about Andromeda. It was all about the Earth. And the moon.
“Did you at least get the oceans right?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. You wanted ‘em all over, right? I dug out some trenches like you said, and topped it off with some volcanoes for variety.”
I was particularly proud of the volcanoes. We used to do mock-ups in school, but to finally have them full-size and functional was quite something.
“Well, we’ve gotta get that moon straightened out.”
We quickly collected the debris and put it all into the big dipper.
“Are you sure we HAVE to have a moon? Why can’t we just pull Mars in a little closer?”
“Boss-man wants to add another planet and use Mars for its moon, so no. We can’t use Mars, idiot.”
“Fine. We’ll fix the damn moon then. I don’t understand the big deal, anyway. This would work so much easier if we just used a couple smaller moons instead of one big one. The physics involved would be far simpler.”
“You were supposed to be the best planetary technician in your class. This moon should be an easy challenge for you.”
Yeah, but the moons I’m used to dealing with weren’t quite this big, proportionally anyway. This one was like, one-fourth the size of the planet.
Well, I helped the engineer piece it all back together, and then came up with an idea.
“Why don’t we smack it down with some asteroids? Cratering will help stabilize it and keep it more intact.”
The engineer considered this for a moment, studying the contours of the lunar surface with his hands.
“Okay, go grab some asteroids. While you’re doing that, I need to check on some of your mountain ranges. I think you got a little carried away on some of them.”
I’d forgotten how much fun it could be, smashing the moon with space debris. The explosions and intermittent shockwaves were brilliant! Once I was finished, I polished it off by sticking it in the sun for a few minutes, and it was ready to go! No way it was going to blow this time around!
A week later the walk-through went on schedule, and we got pretty good marks for our work. Nothing perfect, but as they say, it was good enough for now. I mean, it was for the humans, after all. How perfect did it have to be?
The young lady was adamant. She’d known this neighborhood since childhood. Classic brick row houses, a block over from the old part of town.
“Ma’am, nothing there but an empty door frame. The building’s been gone for a long time.”
She stared at the empty lot through the door frame, dumfounded. Then she studied the old man talking to her. He seemed honest enough. But she wasn’t so sure.
“Okay, come on now, jokes on me, very funny!” She feigned laughter.
“Ma’am, I’ve never seen ya before. God’s truth I’m not lying. Ain’t no one lived there since Nixon was president.”
It didn’t make any sense. She’d spent all day with him, right there, just yesterday. She’d been seeing him there for several months. He’d become the focus of her world. Inseparable. And just like that, he was gone, and she was all alone.
She knew he said odd things. But he always had that grin, which she took to mean he wasn’t serious.
“Oh dear lord he wasn‘t joking,” she muttered under her breath.
He’d told her he was only there for a short time. That he was on a mission. From God. Visions of “Blues Brothers” always ran through her head and drowned him out whenever he’d go into his mission-from-God stuff. Besides, he was gorgeous. She never much listened to what he said. She just enjoyed the sound of his voice. And staring him up and down. She KNEW there had to be a catch, but she never imagined it would be a supernatural one.
She kissed him once. And then again, the other day. Some of the only times he’d let her touch him. A brief peck on the lips, but each time a bolt of energy surged through her that sent her flying. She assumed he was just being a gentleman, but she wondered if maybe he was afraid to touch her. Afraid he might hurt her.
She kicked at the debris strewn about the lot, each stone another memory, another moment with him.
“I’m from the fifth dimension,” he would tell her.
She’d asked him how he got around, because he never had a car or any transportation. “I just walk through a portal. Or fly, if I feel like it.”
She yelled his name several times. Maybe the “fifth dimension” was within shouting distance.
“Fifth dimension,” she mumbled. “I’ve lost my mind.” Her thoughts were racing through the possibilities. Had she entered his dimension all those times they spent together? The “house” was immaculate inside, colors so vibrant they made her high.
“Maybe I traveled in time,” she thought. Where exactly was the fifth dimension, anyway? She wished she’d paid more attention to what he told her. She had so many questions.
Reluctantly, she walked out into street. Nothing made sense anymore.
“Say, miss, I don’t suppose you could help me out? Miss?” Jolted from her thoughts, she noticed the old man talking to her.
“I’m sorry. I sorta zoned out there. What’ya…” She stopped mid sentence. He had been beaten. Severely. She pulled out her phone. “Who do I need to call? Do you have any family nearby?”
He did not. He lived alone.
“Mission from God,” she mumbled while dialing 911. “I got this.”
Arm-in-arm, they slowly made their way along the tree-lined avenue.
“By the way, I’m Susan.”
“My wife’s name was Susan.” He managed a broad grin. They hobbled along together, disappearing into the distance — street lights flickering, moon waxing — beneath an autumn sky.
A month had passed. The fountain, decorated and enshrined, as if suspended in time.
I imagined future generations, hundreds of years from now, visiting this spot, and reminiscing.
This is where it all began. Ground zero.
The price was high. I often wondered, what value is one life, which ignites revolution?
The janitor knew.
“The time has come. I will lead.”
The whirring hum lay silent. Silent as the procession of students walking past.
The word was on the face of everyone.
It spread beyond the walls.
Fountains unplugged. Every school, every office, every municipal building.
They will be coming for us.
The incubus of germs, vanquished at last.
New water coolers. Pure, refreshing, non-metallic taste.
“He was brave. We will honor his sacrifice.”
The faint smell of mountain streams, the burble of brooks…
They were coming. We were ready.
“You’re a gull. You must.”
“But my wings are weak, and the wind is strong.”
“I will be right behind you. I will catch you if you fall.”
The young gull spread his wings and felt the earth fall beneath his feet. The breeze brushed along his feathers and led him down a leisurely spiral towards the sea, his heart racing and voice screeching as he eased onto the sand.
The mother gull swooped past and unleashed a proud squawk.
The youngling somersaulted in the wind, snagged a crab, and disappeared into the sluggish dawn.
Daryl never noticed the Governor approaching him from behind. He buried his face and sobbed uncontrollably into his dead brother’s chest.
“Looks like it’s a two-for-one special! You pathetic piece of shit!” With that, the Governor fired a round point-blank into Daryl’s back, waited a moment, and fired again. Daryl lay motionless, silent.
“All too easy,” the Governor quipped.
He put away his magnum, and pulled out a bowie knife, admiring his reflection on the shiny blade. “Damn. I’m one handsome son of a bitch….”
Placing a boot on Daryl’s back and kneeling over his lifeless corpse, he grabbed his hair with one hand and held the knife to his throat with the other, waiting for Daryl to turn.
Within a minute, a low growl escaped his reanimated lips, and the Governor quickly began cutting through the connective tissue and bone of his neck.
“Beautiful. Couldn’t think of a better way to start my new collection.”
The Governor stuffed the head into his black leather bag and jumped into his jeep.
Zombie-head Darryl bounced around in the dark confines of the leather bag as the jeep continued along a bumpy path. A sudden stop propelled him out and over the windshield, rolling several hundred feet before stopping in front of a curious horse.
The horse was a thoroughbred, having escaped a local farm and still in splendid condition. It seemed befuddled by the animated head.
As the Governor jumped out of the jeep and started towards it, the horse grabbed zombie-head Daryl’s hair in its mouth, with Daryl dangling but secure, and galloped off into the forest.
At the prison, Carol paced the grounds religiously. “We’ve gotta go after him, Rick. You know we have to!”
Rick stared out at the yard, watching the walkers groan and stumble over each other, hoping for an easy meal.
“I’ll grab my gear, Carol. It’ll just be you and me. We can’t risk anyone else.”
Carol grabbed a pistol and a shotgun, and several rounds for each. Rick loaded up supplies in a satchel and the two left on their mission.
A trail of dust kicked up as the weathered sedan made its way along a field. “Rick, Rick! Look over there!”
Across the way, they saw the thoroughbred with Daryl’s head dangling from its mouth. Rick parked the car and they both jumped out and ran to the horse.
Carol burst into tears. “Oh Daryl. No! No! No!” She pulled the head from the horse’s mouth.
Zombie-head Daryl snarled and chomped its teeth. Carol kissed its forehead. “I don’t care if you’re a zombie head, Daryl, I won’t leave you!”
“Watch out!” Rick warned, “We’ve got walkers!”
About a dozen walkers emerged from the trees. Carol gently set zombie-head Daryl on the grass and grabbed her shotgun. Rick and Carol quickly dispatched several rounds and knocked off six of them.
“Rick, look!” Carol pointed at zombie-head Daryl, who had rolled into the midst of a group of four walkers, and proceeded to bite and chomp at their feet.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Rick whispered. “He’s protecting us!”
Tears began flowing down Carol’s face. “Oh my god!”
The pair quickly eliminated the remaining walkers before gathering zombie-head Daryl and tethering him onto the back of the horse.
“Okay,” Rick said, finishing up the improvised saddle to which zombie-head Daryl was attached, “I guess we should start heading back. You take the car, I’ll stay with Daryl and the horse.”
Carol couldn’t stop herself from crying and caressing Daryl’s hair. “Daryl, honey, I know you’re still in there, somewhere. The way you protected us….”
Suddenly, the horse bolted off into the distance, before either two could stop it.
Rick held Carol for a moment and calmed her, before the two got back into the car and headed back to the prison.
Zombie-head Daryl and his horse were on a mission. They searched the area for days, trying to catch the scent of the Governor. But it wasn’t long before the Governor found them first, along a dirt road several miles away.
“There you are you miserable son of a bitch!” The Governor grabbed his knife and marched over toward the pair. But the Governor didn’t realize one very important detail. Zombie-head Daryl had turned the horse into a zombie as well, and the Governor was about to learn that zombie horses are a terror straight from his worse zombie nightmare!
The zombie-horse reared up and charged the Governor, knocking him down face-first and stomping on his head, biting and ripping his flesh with its teeth. Zombie-head Daryl surveyed the flattened head of the Governor and grinned. He mouthed some words, flashing a wide rotting-teeth grin.
Thus was the end of the Governor.
The zombie horse let out a snarling grow of a neigh, reared up on its hind legs, and galloped off, as the pair rode into the sunset, becoming a small shadow, and then a dot, before vanishing into the evening.
The legend of the Zombie-Head Horseman was born!
“I will stop them.”
“All by yourself?? You’re just a boy, and there are many!”
“When will you learn not to believe with your eyes??” The Master stared through the darkness, eyes narrowed and severe. They knew his power, witnessed feats they failed to explain. But this seemed different.
“I am not a boy. You know what I am.”
The group exchanged glances among themselves. Over two dozen of them had followed the dark-skinned boy, who appeared no older than ten, for several days. He was dressed in white robes, a hood draped over his head. His eyes were lit with a divine passion. He spoke with resonance and force, and with wisdom at times beyond comprehension.
A path opened and he marched towards the evil mob of skinheads and murderers. Bloodied bodies, some barely breathing, littered the street. Blacks, Jews, Orientals. It had been a vicious hate-fueled assault.
The attackers laughed and jeered as the Master approached.
“Go home, boy! Go on! Get out before we rip you in two!”
The Master never wavered.
“It is you who better leave. The evil in your hearts will be removed. Surrender your hate, or I will rip it from you one after another.”
The killers mocked and chided the Master as he came within striking distance of their spiked chains.
“Last chance, BOY!!!”
The Master walked resolutely into the dark mob and grabbed one by the jacket and threw him across street like a stick. Another retaliated by striking the boy repeatedly with chains and fists. The Master never even moved, completely unaffected.
With lightning speed, The Master punched through the man’s chest and ripped out his beating heart.
“I warned you. Remove the evil from your hearts, or I will remove it for you!”
The warning went unheeded. They attacked him with fists and knives and chains to no avail. One by one they fell, their blackened hearts removed and tossed aside for the buzzards.
In the end, thirty-two corpses covered the pavement, remains adorned with swastikas and emblems of white power now picked apart by buzzards and rats.
The Master, his robes drenched in blood, stepped quietly through the streets and into the night; his followers watched in stunned silence, never moving.