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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Facing the Cave

This flash fiction story originally appeared in MindFlights. The magazine is no longer active though the story still shows up. This is one of my allegorical fantasies.

"And though countless have tried," the bard said to the tavern audience, "The dragon that never dies continues to devour all who come to its cave."

Galak clapped with the people but noticed Sir Humblart, his teacher and friend, stared as if into another world. When Galak saw Sir Humblart's jaw set, he knew the story had stirred a desire in his master. Galak took another gulp from his stein in hopes of numbing the rising fear.

Sir Humblart rose from his seat. "Come, Squire. We have a dragon to slay."

The bard laughed. "Didn't you hear me? This dragon is death itself. No man can defeat death."

Sir Humblart smiled and his eyes lit as they always did when he would say something of importance. "Correct: no man can if no one attempts it."

"Attempt away! The dragon is always hungry." Laughter erupted from the patrons.

Sir Humblart nodded. "And if I return from death, then what?"

The bard stumbled over words, then blurted out, "I'll believe that when I see it!" More guffaws arose.

Sir Humblart downed the last of his ale and motioned for Galak to follow.

After grabbing supplies, Sir Humblart led Galak through the forest toward the undefeated foe.

"Sir, I have your sword," Galak said.

Sir Humblart didn't turn his head. "I'll have no cause for such weapons. Keep hold of it. You will need it."

Their feet crunched the dirt and dried leaves on the forest floor as they pushed toward—what? His death? Galak watched the armor-clad knight marching resolutely to face the monster that had sent so many to hell's gates. No hint of fear twitched across his face. No evidence of second thoughts surfaced in those coal-black, unblinking eyes.

In due time, they entered the clearing where the dragon's cave bore into the mountain. Strewn across the knoll lay scorched armor and rusted swords. Bones rested thick across the grass, piled by the cave opening. Many lives had been spent attempting to destroy the dragon.

A roar erupted from beneath the earth, and the ground shook. Smoke belched from the entrance as if dust long undisturbed exploded from its cloisters. Mournful cries underlay the horrific noise; Galak wanted to cry with them.

Galak fled behind a tree as he watched the beast burst from the cave and land a few feet from Sir Humblart. A mélange of greens and browns shimmered in the sunlight on its hide. The slender body tapered to a tail, which whipped to and fro. The other end held aloft a neck three times as long as any man's body. At the end of the neck, a broad head examined Sir Humblart with fiery eyes, and a forked tongue lashed the air.

"Sir, flee before it's too late," Galak yelled out.

Sir Humblart turned to Galak. "To free them, I must die." He faced the dragon, his feet together, lifted his arms as if to fly, and cast his head forward.

Now Galak knew his master had lost his mind. Perhaps the villagers brewed a stouter ale than they realized. He cowered behind the tree as a deafening roar caused him to cover his ears in pain. But he couldn't remove his gaze from Sir Humblart.

The beast's head dove, and its open mouth scooped in Sir Humblart. Its head flung back. Galak watched as a bulge slid down the dragon's neck. Apparently satisfied with its meal, the dragon lumbered to the cave.

Galak's stomach twisted, and bile rose up his throat. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks. Then he remembered: he still had the sword. He could yet save his master and friend. An attempt likely ending in death, but love demanded no less. He steeled himself, unsheathed the weapon, drew himself to his feet, and prepared to charge.

The dragon halted before reaching the cave. A mournful cry shattered the air, and the dragon thrashed about, as if attempting to throw an invisible rider. It spun and writhed until another shriek filled Galak's ears. He fell to his knees; the sword dropped to the ground.

The dragon teetered and fell over onto its side with a ground-shaking crash. Galak peered at it, but the dragon no longer moved.

The ground rumbled until a blast of air exploded from the cave and twirled into a vortex. Galak swore he heard joyous singing within the gale. The bones around him rattled before the swirling wind sucked them into its grip, and they flew beyond the mountain and into the sky.

The pull of the music and push of the wind encouraged Galak. He crept toward the beast, eying it through wind-whipped hair, ready to flee, but it did not move. Not until Galak came close enough, did he see a bulge pushing against the skin.

He gasped and stumbled in haste to retrieve the sword. He raced back to the carcass and swung the sword two-handed upon the base of the neck. Green blood spewed forth, and with it the dragon's body vomited out Sir Humblart, covered in chunky, pea-green slime.

In his acid-seared hand, Sir Humblart held a heart the size of a grown man's head. He arose and cast a bright gaze upon Galak.

"No man can escape death. It can only be defeated from within. And now, I have destroyed it." Sir Humblart cast the heart into the cave.

Galak's pulse quickened as Sir Humblart's eyes pierced through him. The master turned and proceeded down the path to the village.

Galak followed, as he had always done—but now, through death to life.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Eternal Clock

The ticking of the clock reminded me of my own mortality. I glanced out the window of my quarters. Starlight streaked by as we traveled at light speed four. The vacuum of space a few feet away, held at bay by inches of metal and transparent stealium, served to remind me of the truth as well.

"Captain," sounded over the comm.

"Go ahead."

"We're picking up a ship on long-range sensors on an intercept course."

I raised an eyebrow. "Who is it?"


"How long till they reach us?"

"About one hour. Forty-five minutes until we're in communication range."

I thought for three seconds. "Keep me posted if they change course. Captain out."

"Aye, sir."

I rocked back in my chair. Would this be a first encounter or and old friend? Or worse, an old enemy?

"Captain Bay," my own voice call from behind me.

I spun around. Another me, with more gray and wrinkles, stood before me. Different outfit. Same face.

I rose to my feet. "I'd ask who you are, but I think I already know what you'll say. Questions are, how, why, and do I believe you?"

The corners of his mouth turned up. He raised a finger, then walked to the cabin door and locked it. "It might not go over well if I'm found here by your crew."

I noticed the balding spot on the back of his head. I filtered my fingers through mine, pausing at the top of my head. "Let me guess. You're me from the future."

He nodded. "Yes. We need to discuss the approaching ship."

I grinned. "Nice hologram of me. Who's behind this? Is this Dan?"

He clenched his jaw. "Listen. I returned to warn you about that ship. It is a new species. Very hostile. I waited too long to respond. Only a few of us escaped. We've been hostile since then. If you respond first, take out their weapons, you'll have the upper hand."

I rubbed my jaw. "Let's assume you are who you say you are. Did you try to communicate with them?"

"Yes, but the translator didn't recognize their language. While we tried to understand, they fired."

I paced the floor, then turned to face him. "Okay. We'll know soon if your telling the truth. What does this species look like?"

"Small, furry heads. No neck to speak of. Four arms with six fingers on each. Fur all over. Oh yeah, and two big black eyes."

I nodded. "If that's what greets me, I'll know you're from the future. Then I'll shoot first, ask questions later."

He smiled. "Good. Now I'll be able to sleep at night." He held his wrist up, punched a few buttons, and then vanished.

I breathed deep. "So I'll be able to time travel one day. Interesting." But his warning gave me more prep time. I could have missiles loaded and ready to fire before they arrived. Just in case. I reached over to signal Lieutenant Reece in munitions.

"Captain Bay," my voice echoed in the cabin again.

I turned my head to see myself. "Forget something?"

He waved his hands. "Don't attack them. That didn't work. Their shielding is much stronger than ours. We barely made a dent before their weapons ripped our ship apart."

I feared asking this question. "That's twice now you've made it through the destruction of your...I mean, my ship. I thought a captain was supposed to go down with his ship."

"The crew has this mutinous plan to save their captain upon destruction of the ship. Watch out for the doctor's hypo-spray." He winked.

I leaned back. "So now what?"

He stared out the view port. "We must be trespassing in their space. Would be best to turn and run."

I smiled. "Sounds logical, but maybe you don't want me to see them and learn you're lying."

He turned and met my eyes. "You can wait until you see them, but by then it'll be too late. Your call, but I'd rather not have to make another trip back to convince you again."

I ran options through my brain. "Are you able to translate their language in your time?"


"Then you translate for us now."

He shook his head. "You're crew would know I'm not you. Too much age difference."

"I'll tell them I grayed my hair and plucked out some in the back."

"They'll buy that?"

"Probably not."

He pointed at me. "Try running. If that doesn't work, I'll be back."

"I'll give it due consideration." If he was me, he knew that meant I'd do it.

He let out a breath. "Thank you." He pecked away on his "watch" and vanished.

I waited five minutes. He didn't return. Must have worked. I reached for the comm to call helm.

"Captain Bay, it didn't work. Their ships are much faster than ours. They caught up and destroyed us."

I stood and stepped toward him. "So fighting doesn't work. Running doesn't work. What's left?"

He rubbed his forehead. "Not much. Who knew polluting the timeline was so hard. It's like God's going to have this turn out the same no matter what."

"I have an idea."

His eyes jerked open as my decision became his future.

I swung my fist hard upon his left temple. The spot I always protected in my boxing days. He collapsed like a sack of sand onto the floor. I slipped his time-watch off and stored it in my vault.

I dragged him into the captain's personal shuttle connected to the captain's quarters, programmed the greeting, "This is Ambassador Bay, I come in peace to make friends," to broadcast in all languages in the database. Surely if they've gotten around, they'd recognize one of them. I set the autopilot on a countdown, and exited the shuttle.

I hit the comm button. "Ensign Jones, I'm sending my shuttle to the oncoming ship as a decoy. As soon as it departs, turn the ship around and leave the system at full speed."

"Acknowledged, sir."

Docking clamps clunked open. Thrusters fired. Through the window, the wing-tipped craft glided away.

I saluted. "Good luck in retirement, Ambassador Bay." Sending someone who knew the alien's language in a non-threatening ship provided the best opportunity of first contact. Meanwhile, when my turn came to go back in time, I'd pass. The timeline was effectively polluted.

The ticking of the clock reminded me of my own mortality. And an eternity that would not be denied. No matter how hard we sought to change it.