The ground shook under Carlos’ boots as he pounded down the rocky obsidian path.
His teenage daughter raced him past the first house-sized monster, her eyes wild with fear as she fled its shiny pink bulk.
He peered over his shoulder, back at the terrible golden light dawning from the ancient chest they’d found. The treasure of a lifetime. No, the treasure of legend, hidden in a secret cave, under a mountain at the bottom of the world.
Then the mountain had exploded, a shockwave of terror spreading outward at the speed of sound.
“Ashley, what did you do?” he gasped, the heat and ash in the air robbing his throat of all moisture. “What was in your mind when you gazed into the light?”
She turned to answer. Her eyes grew wide. “Look out!” Ashley pushed her father to the ground as an enormous orange mouth slammed to earth nearby. Mad, unseeing eyes glared above the minivan-sized muzzle.
“I should have known, the Ark’s power is in our vices,” he said, hauling himself to his feet, dragging Ashley after him.
“What are you talking about, Dad? Oh no! Yellow incoming! Run!”
The scent of brimstone filled the air, along with the chemical tang of fried plastic. As quick as it chomped the path ahead, the yellow maw rose again and shot toward them.
Carlos tackled his daughter this time, and rolled with her under the open mouth. Teeth surrounded them, falling, but the momentum of their roll carried them out from underneath the monster with no room to spare.
Ashley screamed, her souvenir chamanto poncho caught in its teeth.
Carlos dragged at her feet until she pulled free of the garment. Together, they hurtled down the path, surrounded on both sides by streams of oozing lava.
“That was close!” cried Ashley.
“When you opened the box, what were you thinking of?”
She shook her head. “What? I dunno! Can’t we talk after we get out of here?”
Despite the mortal danger, Carlos persisted. “It had to be the Ark’s doing, but it needed a catalyst.”
“Well,” she said, dodging a small alabaster boulder, “we skipped lunch today, and–“
“That’s it! It all makes sense now. Gluttony!”
Ashley screamed as a new horror burst from the ground in the path ahead, its shiny green bulk blocked their way to salvation. The staring headlight eyes fixed upon the two of them. The creature’s mouth rose into the air, its neck extending, overtaking them even as they backpedaled.
Yellow reared up behind them, trapping them. The air filled with the unearthly roar of the behemoths, now in all four directions.
Carlos could no longer shield his daughter, so he picked up the pearly rock and held it over his head with both hands and hurled it to one side. A ghastly crash followed as massive plastic mouths warred over the stone morsel.
“You did it, Dad! The hippos went for it! But why?”
“They’re hungry. Too hungry. It was their doom.”
I walk following the American up the path toward the summit.
He stops, and reaching into his pocket pulls out another candy bar, ripping open the end of the packet with his teeth and spitting it onto the warm lava rock at the side of the path.
“This is the way she came?” He asks between huge mouthfuls. Fine flecks of spittle fly from between his teeth as he talks. “The night she…you know.”
I nod. For a moment I stand there remembering Sarah. The way the light of the fire danced across her pale skin in the night. Her intoxicating laugh. The flirtatious way she looked across the camp fire at me after she’d had one too many drinks. I couldn’t think what she saw in him.
“I have done this six times before,” I reply, “It is the way she came.”
The American finishes his candy bar, the sixth one he’s had so far. The journey had been quicker with her. He drops the wrapper at the side of the path, desecrating the Earth beneath his feet. Gluttonous fool.
“Why do they come here?” He asks.
“Mostly they are thrill seekers,” I reply. “Some believe they are walking a fiery path to the Ark of the Covenant. They walk to the crater’s very edge and stare into the abyss.”
“Is it safe?”
I yaw my hand side to side at the American. “There have been six tourists go missing in recent months, including your girlfriend Senor. Some say its bandits, stealing their foreign money. Some in my village say we shouldn’t be encouraging the tourists, it disrespects our gods and makes the mountain angry. They fear the volcano, but for me, it is what I must do. This is my path to salvation.”
“Is that what Sarah was seeking?”
My memory returns to Sarah. Placing the necklace of wild flowers over her shoulders. The lust that shone in her eyes underneath the stars, her soft naked breasts smelling of the wild Inca Lilies.
“No”, I reply. “She sought something else.”
After several hours we each the crater’s edge. The American removes his pack and sits down. I reminisce over Sarah. The way her eyes burned as she stared into the wrath of the fire below. The memory is as intense as the smell of wildflowers against her soft skin. Those same eyes widening into dark craters themselves, burning with fear and betrayal back at me. I look down at the fading scratches on my forearm where she had tried to cling on, but hadn’t realized what was happening until too late.
The American mops his fat sweaty brow with a handkerchief. For a long time he is silent. I wonder if he is going to cry, but even now he soils her memory by reaching into his pack and pulling out another candy bar.
In a way mine too.
Finally he stands again, in front of me, and takes step forward to peer over the edge.
Creeds and Oaths
Mathew W. Weaver
We were five, now.
The flames danced, molten lava on either side of the narrow chasm. Ahead was the stairway, salvation. Behind us the floor crumbed, walls collapsed, ceilings crashing over the bodies of our fallen.
Brothers, we had been. Thirty knights in arms, ready to offer our lives for duty. Honor. Sacrifice.
Those words once had meaning.
Markus and Ahab still stood, bleeding but not broken. Alastar kept them from joining me, holding them at bay with his halberd as the precious minutes waned.
Rhyon’s broad-axe whined, chipping my shield with each shuddering impact, knocking me backwards with every swing. His eyes were no longer his; his teeth bared in a feral snarl.
“They were our BROTHERS!” I roared.
“They WERE my brothers!” he bellowed. My shield shattered, throwing me to the ground. My sword was drawn, but I would not stain it with the blood of my Order. Not even now.
“You would see God’s wrath rain down on us?” I cried, “You would have the earth erupt in fire, mankind punished for YOUR sins?”
Sparks flew as the axe blade met stone inches from my head.
“The Ark is MINE! Its riches are MY right!”
“You KILLED for it!”
“And I WILL KILL AGAIN!”
I ducked as the axe passed over my head. Markus cried out, and I saw crimson run down his side. He staggered, losing his grip on the mace as Alastar swung again.
Ahab screamed, and his voice joined with the one in my head as I watched his sister’s son fall into the abyss. A gout of flame rose to greet him, and Alastar had already begun to finish what he started.
“Hubris, Rhyon!” I cried, “You’ve fallen prey to your Greed!”
His axe met my sword, nearly wrenching it out of my grasp. I saw his mailed fist come, and I dodged, spun, and drove the hilt of my sword into the side of his head. The blow hit true, and he stumbled away.
“You will not kill me,” he snarled, “Even now, when all Creeds and Oaths have no meaning. At the cusp of immortality, at the dawn of the Final Age, you, Elethor Farstrider, dare not do what has to be done. That is why I will win.”
Ahab missed his parry, and Alastar drove the halberd into him. I watched the light leave his eyes, and Alastar released the handle, letting him fall.
Beneath the mountains of Gel Duror, thirty Knights had become three. And as I let my sword fall, as the axe took me across the chest and threw me down, I watched the sky lighten through the crater far, far above us.
“You shall not have the Ark, brother,” I whispered as he stood over me, axe dripping my blood, “You forgot how little time there was till sunrise.”
Understanding dawned, and he left me, running to the bridge even as it began to crumble, the sunlight beaming down into the cavern.
It was too late. The ground collapsed, and we fell, their screams in my ears.
A worldwide holiday celebrating a fictional character ( you must name the character)
Testing the first bullet-proof vest
The first mosquito of the season
A Long, Low Whistle
The peep hole was nothing more than a pine knot that had taken leave of its surroundings, fallen to the cellar.
George pressed his eye to it.
He saw a man’s boot, part of the Birmingham News and flashes of her apron.
Toenails clicked across the wood floor above. A nose snorted into the hole. He drew back and held his breath.
The dog whined, wagged his tail.
“Outside, boy,” she called. The screened door slammed.
“We got mice again, down in the cellar,” she said. “And the screen door’s torn. It’ll keep out those first couple of mosquitos, but we’re gonna have to get a new one. Buford keeps scratching to get inside and…,” she started.
“Stupid dog should live outside,” the Trooper said, without taking his eyes from his newspaper.
“It was that bad thunderstorm…,” she explained.
“You ever gonna make breakfast?” he asked without looking at her.
“Pancakes are almost done,” she said, stirring the buttermilk into the flour and sugar. .
Pans clanked. Water ran.
George shifted his weight to get a better look at them.
Outside, the dog sniffed the basement window, barked.
“Says here that your ex-boyfriend is on the run,” he said.
“What?” she faced him.
“Half the state of Alabama is looking for him. You seen him around here?” He watched her as closely as he would a convict.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she turned away, lifting pieces of sizzling bacon from the iron skillet.
“One thing’s for sure, if George shows up here, it’ll be a shame for him,” he sneered.
“Why’s that?” she asked, as if she were hardly interested in his answer.
“State Troopers have these new bullet-proof vests. He doesn’t stand a chance,” he said.
Her stomach knotted. “What if they aim for your head?”
“It’ll never happen. These guys shoot from a distance, they ain’t gonna aim for a head.”
She remembered the day George got caught. That was three years ago. He shot a man over a card game and took the money. They packed everything they could fit into a 1983 Toyota Corolla and drove all night, almost made it to the border. But less than a mile from Nuevo Laredo, there was a road block. They were looking for him.
George shot the Trooper six times before they apprehended him.
She’d done just as George planned and claimed she was his hostage. That way, she’d go free, instead of being an accomplice to murder.
The Trooper “rescued” her that night, asked her to marry him 6 months later. He didn’t know she took out a 250,000 life insurance policy on him.
“Says he escaped during the Bacchus Festival, down in New Orleans. Killed two guards on his way out. They lost him in the Bayou,” the Trooper read.
George removed the safety, slipped his gun into the knot hole, aimed for the balding head above him.
“Never was a patient man…,” she said.
Then, there was the faintest, “click”.
The last thing the Trooper heard was the train as it thundered over the mountain. Its long, low whistle cried out again and again.
And the dog howled in sympathy.
Shooting for the Heart
Jack sat, slumped over at the kitchen table and stared out the window. He was still dressed up like Clint Eastwood, complete with poncho, hat, steel plates under his poncho, and six-shooters on his side. But these were real guns with real bullets. His head pounded as he took a swig from the “hair of the dog that had bitten him” last night. Feeling sick to his stomach, it was all he could do just to sit and re-run all that had happened the day before on International Man-With-No-Name Day. It was a new world-wide event celebrating the invention of the bullet-proof vest. The special day was the latest “brilliant” idea launched by world leaders to help release pent-up aggression and reduce violent crime in the public sector.
Everyone the world over was to wear bullet-proof vests and meet up in the streets with the handguns of their choice. They were to fire upon each other until they had used up all their aggression or ran out of bullets, whichever came first.
In theory it made sense, but what actually transpired was more like mayhem. Not only were there men and women standing face-to-face firing rounds at each other in turn, but people would just be walking down the street, and someone would fire from a doorway or a window. Of course, return fire was made: It soon became a free-for-all.
A man walked into the bar, pulled a 45 and shot the bartender. He promptly pulled a nine millimeter and shot the customer; who then ordered a beer, and the bartender served it to him.
A woman went into the bakery and fired on the salesclerk as well as two other women who were leaving with a birthday cake. They, of course, returned fire and then went on about their business.
A husband was preparing breakfast for the family when his wife snuck up behind him and shot him in the back. Naturally, he spun around and shot her in the stomach. Then they kissed and sat down together to eat.
This went on ALL DAY LONG and well into the night.
It was actually quite exhausting and not just a little nerve-wracking.
Jack had come through virtually unscathed. Well, he had some bruising, but there was no external blood.
Convalescing there in the kitchen, Jack thought about how people “shoot” each other all the time – verbally and metaphorically – and then act as if nothing happened. He was surprised society was as congenial as it was.
Jack’s wife began whipping up a batch of pancake batter rather loudly.
He glared at her, “Do you HAVE to DO that?!”
She “threw daggers” at him, slammed the bowl down, and exploded, “Yeah! What do YOU ever do around here, ‘cept drink?! Ya lazy GIT!”
Jack shouted back, “Aw, shut up, you blood-sucking nag!”
Jack looked down and spotted what must be the first mosquito of the season on his arm. Reaching over, he squashed it, leaving a red smear.
“Place is quiet today.” Lou gestured to the empty booths.
“That’s cos it’s Saint Sherlock’s day,” Tony replied. “You think I’d invite Jonas to a deal if it was gonna be crowded?”
The waitress arrived and deposited two towers of pancakes in front of them.
“So tell me this,” said Lou, tapping at the Rolex on his wrist. “How come he aint here already?”
“He’ll be here.”
“He’d better be.” Lou dug his fork into the stack in front of him.
Tony glanced around the diner toward the door.
“How come yours are like that?” Lou said through a mouthful of pancake. Fine flecks of batter spat across the table as he spoke.
“They’re supposed to be like that. They’re gluten free, I’m intolerant.”
“You got that right.”
The small bell above the door jangled. Underneath Jonas searched around until his eyes came to rest on the two of them sitting in the gloom at the back of the diner.
“Gentlemen.” He approached and sidled across the seat on Tony’s side. “Happy St Sherlock’s.”
“Hey Jonas,” said Lou, “you been working out, or just eating out? Looks like you’ve put on a few pounds since last time.”
Jonas leaned forward across the table. “Check it out.” He undid a button mid-way down his shirt.
“You wearin a bra Jonas?”
“It’s a bulletproof vest dumbass. In case one of you idiots tries anything, capiche?”
“Bulletproof? You sure?”
“Sure as I’m sitting here, just tested. Anyway, enough pleasantries, you got my stuff?”
“You got the cash?”
Jonas swung a briefcase onto the table top, flipped back the latches and opened the lid enough to reveal the green of the notes inside, then shut it again.
“Okay.” Tony reached down beside him and pulled up his own case.
Across the table Lou placed down his fork. One hand rested on the counter next to his meal. The other had slipped below the table and gripped the 9mm trained on Jonas, sitting across from him.
Tony opened the case and turned it so that Jonas could see the contents.
“Alright I’ve seen enough, let’s do this. Nice and slow.”
Jonas and Tony placed the cases down alongside each other, where nobody would notice that they had swapped them around.
There was a high pitched thwap. The table top splintered around a small hole in the Formica.
Jonas’ head fell forward onto the counter, a small raspberry stain seeping across the table.
“What the hell was that?”
“Sorry.” Lou pulled his arm from beneath the table. A red welt was forming on his forearm. “I think I got bit by a mosquito.” He rubbed it. “First one of the season, dammit. I’m allergic.”
Tony picked up both cases and tried to shift past Jonas’ corpse without drawing attention. “I guess they haven’t come up with a bullet proof helmet yet.”
“You gonna eat those?” Lou said, pointing in the direction of Tony’s pancakes.
Tony shook his head. “Come on let’s get outta here.”
Marty McFly Day
“Can you believe we’re already in the future?” Sally asks her husband Dale while whipping together pancake batter in their kitchen.
Dale gives her a quizzical look. “What do you mean? The future? We’re always in the present.”
“You know, 2015, the year Marty McFly flew into the future.”
“We’re in the present, my Dear Sally. 2015 was Marty’s future 30 years ago. You hadn’t even been born yet.”
“Yes, I had. I was one when that movie came out, and we had it on VHS when I was a kid.”
“Oh, excuse me,” he says in a mocking tone.
“If only I could go back to the past and meet Marty McFly.”
“You do realize he’s a fictional character, right?”
Sally ignores his question and poses her own. “Did you know today is Marty’s birthday?”
“What?” Dale asks in disbelief.
“Yeah. June 9, 1968.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because he is my density — I mean — destiny.” Sally laughs at her own joke, which Dale doesn’t get. He gives her a puzzled look instead.
Sally envisions herself standing in front of the 1985 Hill Valley Clock Tower.
The DeLorean speeds around the corner and pulls up in front of her. The door swings open.
“Get in,” a young Marty McFly shouts.
Sally hops into the passenger seat.
“So where’d you like to go?”
“How about the old west? I loved the Old West Hill Valley in the third movie.”
“You got it.”
Marty types September 7, 1885 on the keypad and speeds up to 88 mph. Cars fade from around them, and horses take their place.
The car comes to a stop.
“Here we are,” Marty says. “Good old 1885. The day the first bulletproof vest was tested in Hill Valley. Wanna watch?”
“Do I?” she says emphatically.
A mosquito flies in through the window and buzzes around her ear. The DeLorean fades away, and she finds herself back in her kitchen with Dale.
“Damn, looks like mosquitoes are out already. I hate this time of year.”
Sally sighs. “I don’t know. I kind of like summertime. Besides, it’s Marty’s birthday, so today’s going to be a good day.”
“Right,” he says in a sarcastic tone that Sally doesn’t pick up on.
“I’m declaring today the first ever International Marty McFly Day. Wanna watch the Back to the Future movies with me tonight? They’re on Netflix, and I need to prepare myself for the 30th anniversary party that Bob’s throwing.”
“You’re not taking me to that,” Dale says in an annoyed tone.
“Fine. Then I’m not making you breakfast.”
“Oh, come on,” he says.
She gives him an annoyed look.
He huffs. “Fine. I’ll go with you. Now will you make me my pancakes already?”
Sally cooks the pancakes, daydreaming about her and Dale going to the party dressed as the older Marty and Jennifer from 2015, while Dale tries to come up with an excuse he can use later to get out of going to the party.