Kurt woke up from a deep sleep enlightened by a vision.
He slipped out of his sleeping bag and stirred the ashes in the crude fire pit until a faint glow suddenly appeared. Taking a piece of wood from the small pile of wood scraps next to where he lay, Kurt tossed it onto the glowing embers. Moments later it caught on fire and a small tongue of flame pierced the darkness.
He was living in The Aftermath – after men and women nearly succeeded in wiping Homo sapiens off the planet. The survivors were scattered throughout Earth’s ravished continents. Kurt, who traveled alone, was somewhere in North America.
He had no sense of history. Or family. He was an orphan who managed to survive in a cruel world by using his wits, and getting help from kind people. With no formal education, he learned to speak the broken English that people used in the region, by listening to them very carefully.
Kurt’s vision involved finding a key. Not just any key however. The Key to Eternity. It would offer answers to all the questions he asked. His quest was set, giving life to his vision. The next morning he packed up his little camp and set out for some ruins he noticed yesterday when descending into the big valley.
Ruins usually had inhabitants. He needed to enlist the help of others to help him find the key. Along the way he came upon a pond. He walked over to the edge and peered into the clear water looking for signs of fish.
His rugged face and long scraggly beard and hair stared back at him. No signs of fish. He wasn’t going to drink the water from the pond. Or eat the fish if there were any. He made a habit of drinking water from flowing rivers. It was something everyone had to learn if they wanted to survive.
Kurt traveled light. He carried a rucksack with a bed roll and his few belongings. His crude clothes were mostly made from bear fur. His jacket was made from fur and skin. He had a leather sheath for his knife and a leather lined canteen that hung from the broad leather belt he wore. His leather moccasins were supple and warm with fur linings. But his prized procession was his hat. It was a Cordova Stetson that he found in the debris of a museum a few years ago.
When he got to the outskirts of what was once a city, it was getting dark. As he walked down what use to be a city street he surveyed the blackened buildings with his sharp eyes. He thought he saw fleeting shadows on the top of a two-story building. He listened carefully.
A smile cracked his sun-drenched wrinkled face when he heard the voices. He followed them to what was once a sports stadium in another century, where he saw people building a bonfire. Small groups of people were quietly coming out from the shadows of the ruins. They gathered around the bonfire and threw pieces of wood that they brought with them into it.
Men and women’s voices carried lightly in the night, nearly mesmerizing Kurt until he remembered his quest. The city dwellers who wore remnants of factory-made clothing made generations ago, were increasing in number.
Kurt looked around until he found a wooden bar stool buried under some light debris. He carried it to the bonfire and tossed it in with the rest of the people’s offerings. Then he walked away from the bonfire and looked around. Small groups were morphing into larger ones until a crowd had gathered before an elevated stage. He worked his way closer and was able to make out the fine features of two women as they asked the crowd for silence.
After a dramatic silence, there was a puff of smoke between the two women and a tall man clad in black appeared. He took his top hat off and bowed. Murmurs of approval rippled through the crowd.
“What magic was this?” Kurt asked himself. “Did this man have the Key to Eternity?” he wondered. He worked his way a little closer to hear the tall thin man’s every word. He had to keep his mind open to all possibilities.
“All you have to do is believe in me,” the man in the black clothes and red cape shouted out to the gathering. “Bring me your little treasures and feed me well, and I can assure you that you’ll never go to hell!” he roared in a mighty voice for a thin man.
The gathering swayed in unison chanting, “Where will we go? Where will we go?”
“To Eternity!” the tall man shouted happily. “You’ll reside forever in a garden of delights when you follow me into Eternity!”
Kurt was a skilled survivor with the ability to sense a con from a mile away. His bullshit meter was ringing off the charts right now. “This man was a fake! Why did the gathering even listen to him? Couldn’t they tell?”
He’d run into this situation before with other false prophets. He knew the followers wanted to believe in something. No matter how absurd. He needed to find some people to help him in his quest, but it was proving impossible. How could his vision have been so wrong?
That night he had the vision again. When he woke up he knew what to do. He went out and found the tall man in black clothes and cut his head off with his knife. He mounted it on a pole and carried it to where the bonfire was the night before. He planted the pole in front of the empty stage. Then he went about building a new bonfire.
The first person to bring wood was a woman. Soon, she was followed many another woman. Then a man. Then groups of people until the gathering was as big as the night before.
Kurt got up on the stage and raised his hands over his head. The crowd grew silent.
“Listen children, he began, ” you will rest in eternity if you go through me. I’ve been asked to lead you to righteousness. God has granted me the key to eternity to share with you!”
A growing buzz in the gathering turned into shouts of joy as the people called out to him for deliverance.
As It Stands, false prophets in a dystopian future…why not? We have them now too.